Stronger than the Storm

Tanenbaum Peacemakers in Action Pastor James Wuye (Nigeria), Dr. Yehezkel Landau (Israel/Palestine) and Imam Muhammad Ashafa (Nigeria)

“Only together, we were stronger than the storm.”
–    Tanenbaum Peacemaker in Action, Abuna Elias Chacour (Israel/Palestine)
 
To most people, the idea of the Tanenbaum Peacemakers Network’s Working Retreat may bring to mind images of a relaxing week, with people hanging out, enjoying good food and having friendly conversations. And in some ways this is true, but it’s very far from the whole story.
 
Tanenbaum’s Retreats—like the week-long session we just held—are unique because they bring people together who stretch themselves beyond exhaustion to pursue a vision of peace. In the face of often violent conflict, they work for basic rights (often in isolation) so people can live without extremism, hatred, and violence. Together they strengthen each other.

But don’t take it from me.  After our very first Retreat in 2004, Dr. Sakena Yacoobi recognized the value of the retreats, when she told me,
I go to many conferences, but this is the first one that’s for me. Thank you.
 
Her fellow Peacemakers agree, and believe their Peacemakers’ Network supports them and their work for peace.
 
“The need to study other religions is the same as needing to know ourselves better. That’s one of the best things Tanenbaum is doing – creating opportunity where people will study themselves at the very close range…It is the dream of Marc Tanenbaum really coming true.”
– Peacemaker Imam Muhammad Ashafa (Nigeria)
 
“You feel that you have a community. And it’s a team of the same wavelength…
And they’re always there, like the stars are there. So that’s a good feeling.”
– Peacemaker Dishani Jayaweera (Sri Lanka)
 
“This work has opened my eyes to a lot of other faith traditions and their perspective and perception of peacemaking… As I learn those new things, I contextualize them in my religion and it strengthens me more to do my work.”
– Peacemaker Pastor James Wuye (Nigeria)

The Power of Peacemakers

Friends—

This week, we welcomed two dozen religiously-motivated peace activists—Tanenbaum’s Peacemakers and some of their mentees—to our Network Working Retreat #PIAretreat2019. Throughout the week, they share their stories and explore ways they can respond to defeat violence. One participant broke our hearts as she shared the following: 

“I was working with the youth. A 12-year-old boy came to me. He told me he had to tell me something that I could not repeat.

His brother was in a gang. He did not want to be in the gang. But the gang told him he had to join the gang. He told them no but they said he must. He did not want to do it, but he was scared and did not want his family hurt or killed. He asked me for help.

And I had to tell him the truth. I could not help him. I could accompany him—but I could not help him and I could not go to the police—or my own family would be killed. What I could do was to try to keep him from the Hating.

He died a terrible death when he was 13.”
What struck me as she finished, was that this is only one of her stories. And yet she persists. Because she knows that peace is still possible.
Joyce S. Dubensky
Tanenbaum CEO

Collaborating for Peace

Friends—
 

Today, the United Nations recognizes the International Day of UN Peacekeepers. Yet at Tanenbaum, we also know that that the UN’s peacekeepers aren’t the only individuals working tirelessly to protect peace.

Across communities wrecked by armed conflicts, there are religiously driven community peacebuilders, who risk their lives daily to stop violence and extremism, and to pursue peace. Yet, these courageous individuals—Tanenbaum’s Peacemakers in Action—are too often ignored, even though they have dedicated their lives to peacebuilding.

The reality is that Tanenbaum’s religious Peacemakers know their communities and have firsthand experience collaborating on the ground. They are tireless and frequently at risk. To remain resilient, they need training, community and support from their Tanenbaum Network.

The Peacemakers in Action Network is a pioneering response to extremism and violence. Comprised of 28 religious peacemakers working in 23 conflict areas worldwide, they gather every few years for a Tanenbaum Working Retreat. During the week of community, they learn from each other and plan new ways of collaborating in armed conflicts—since 2011, our Peacemakers have partnered to train more than 1,300 peace activists worldwide.

We invite you to watch the video Hope Sustained: Educating for Peace. You’ll see Peacemakers Rev. Jacky Manuputty (Indonesia) and Deng Giguiento (Philippines) working with fellow Peacemakers Imam Muhammad Ashafa and Pastor James Wuye (both from Nigeria) in the Philippines, and later in Indonesia. Drawing on their decades-long experience in reconciliation work and international advocacy, these Peacemakers facilitated interfaith workshops, collaborated on methodologies in peacebuilding, including with Madrassa leaders, and interreligious dialogue.

Such work matters, as does the Working Retreat where the collaborations are planned. We ask you to join in this work. Through your support, we can give these religious Peacemakers, as well as the next generation of peacebuilders, the supportive opportunities they need to keep bringing peace to conflict-torn communities.

With gratitude to you and to our Peacemakers for never giving up, 

Joyce Dubensky
Tanenbaum CEO

Sri Lanka, Words From the Field

Friends –

Beyond the news headlines about terrorism in Sri Lanka, Tanenbaum gets to hear what’s really happening on the ground. For more than 22 years, our Peacemaker, Dishani Jayaweera has been working there. Now she’s struggling with a new conflict and mind-numbing violence.

We all need to hear what she has to say. Please take a look…

Dear All,

We received this from Nimal… as some of you know this is 2nd action of Nimal and interfaith group we formed in Anuradhapura as response to the newly started war.  

This is how they wanted to protect Islam community in last Friday prayer…As a strategy faith leaders from all 4 faiths were inside the mosque.

Jay, Sinthuja and me were in East in last two days…It was not that easy… last 23 years I am traveling ( even most hardest periods of 30 years’ war) this is a very first time I have to face rigorous checking/ screening… (Being Sinhala Buddhists and professionals always we were in safe zone in the war period). Danger is when I was went through those process I never felt uneasy…it means I am welcoming militarization… which I was very against when the civil war was there… how others will be welcoming military… is 100 times higher than I am… This is so scary…. (In long run).

Secondly, I met pastor group in Batticoloa who are working so closely with the affected communities… situation is so painful… their main requests were;

  1. Healing and psychological support (because this is 100% unexpected situation)…many children died, parents and siblings are in shock and denial…some are not even speaking to others… 

We will be going to meet the community in next week or other week… 

  1. Medicine and needed equipment + food (Protein drinks, some specific food according to the medical needs). Same day received a call asking two cooler machines for two children who faced some plastic surgery (their faces totally damaged). We visited them to with two coolers… it is so difficult…Likewise, there are many needs which we will be providing.
  1. Education support program for children who lost their fathers or mothers or both. As well as a special support system for affected children (next step).

We are working on those. 

Then we met our Islam moulavis (Ulamas). We were in Samanthurai – 2.30 to 4 .00pm (where Army forces found a storage place of ISIS).

At 6 pm we were in Periyanilaveni meeting our Hindu priests. Only thing I can say is ….whole Muslim community also in shock and denial. They are supporting arm forces… Their situation is more pathetic than anyone else… they had to take the responsibility for a war/violence which is not THEIR STRUGGLE.

“This is a Moment of Mourning, Understanding, Reflection, Learning and Unlearning” – Dishani Jayaweera

“This is a Moment of Mourning, Understanding, Reflection, Learning and Unlearning” – Dishani Jayaweera, Tanenbaum Peacemaker in Action

We can barely imagine what it must feel like to be in Sri Lanka today, as it reels from devastating attacks that targeted Christians on Easter Sunday and killed more than 300 people. Or what it is like in Paris when you can’t celebrate Easter at the nearly 900-year-old Notre Dame Cathedral. Or how the parishes of three burned Black churches in Louisiana are persevering and coming together to rebuild.

We can barely imagine. And like many, I lack the words. But Tanenbaum’s Peacemaker, Dishani Jayaweera, doesn’t have to imagine. After a lifetime working for peace, with diverse religious leaders and communities across Sri Lanka, she said it all… “We are in Deep Pain.”

But religious peacebuilders, like Dishani, don’t waiver. And her large and dedicated network of local interfaith peacebuilders are working hard to prevent further violence. Speaking from her core Buddhist beliefs, Dishani shares how she, as a Sri Lankan peace activist, is processing the shattering violence, fears and finding her commitment to stay the course. As she wrote to her friends late last night, “To face the reality we need BIG hearts… Sharp brains … billions of hands….Let’s come together…”

With a heavy heart,

Joyce

P.S. Help support Dishani and our other Peacemakers in Action Network.

Human Rights Are Relevant to All of Us, Every Day

Friends —

Human rights are relevant to all of us, every day. The UN Declaration of Human Rights, opens with a complex philosophical statement:

“Whereas recognition of the inherent dignity and of the equal and inalienable rights of all members of the human family is the foundation of freedom, justice and peace in the world…”

Whatever your opinion is of the UN’s effectiveness, this preamble to an international agreement on human rights matters. Because those human rights are the things we’re all entitled to have — safety, respect and freedom — including freedom to think and believe as we choose without bias, bigotry or oppression.

But these big ideas are not only about governments and policy removed from you and me. In fact, if we want to have human rights, we have to work at it.

As Eleanor Roosevelt said, 

“Where, after all, do human rights begin? In small places, close to homeso close and so small that they cannot be seen on any maps of the world. Unless these rights have meaning there, they have little meaning anywhere. Without concerted citizen action to uphold them close to home, we shall look in vain for progress in the larger world.”

Human rights are your right. They are also each of our responsibility. And when it comes to really helping our neighborhoods preserve human rights, it can start with countering fear and hate of neighbors we have never met, and making sure everyone is welcome and treated with respect. When people take human rights personally, they take them seriously. 

In sum…universal human rights not only anchor global governments and international corporations, but they anchor ordinary people to the value of every human life.

Read the story on Medium.

SDGs Are For You and Me

By Joyce S. Dubensky, CEO, Tanenbaum
Reposted from Medium, October 24, 2018

These days, most days are designated as special. Either they honor a person or event, or invoke reflection on a grand vision. And most of the time, we just ignore them. But today is UN Day. And if we pause for a moment without cynicism, we know that this matters.

I have reasons for saying this. For one thing, the UN adopted 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) two years ago that articulate 17 separate and related goals or visions. Alone that would be nice. Yet each had specified activities for meeting its vision. So it is more than a dream. It is a plan.

I’ve given these SDGs a lot of thought. Taken together, they describe a just, whole, fair and peaceful world — something I often call a “Lived Peace.” These goals address everything from ending poverty to ensuring clean water, equal education, equitable health care, security and safety. They are all important and Tanenbaum is proud to stand among the organizations worldwide contributing to the larger vision, particularly regarding our work with religiously motivated Peacemakers in Action.

Take for example, Sustainable Development Goal №16, which “promote[s] peaceful and inclusive societies for sustainable development, provide[s] access to justice for all and build[s] effective, accountable and inclusive institutions at all levels.”

This includes SDG 16.1, which promises to “significantly reduce all forms of violence and related death rates everywhere.”

Consider Ethiopian Peacemaker Dr. Ephraim Isaac. Working behind the scenes, Ephraim finally saw success when, this past June, the neighboring nations of Ethiopia and Eritrea reached an official peace agreement after two decades of conflict. As a national elder, Ephraim was featured in a September New York Times article covering Ethiopia’s newly elected president, Abiy Ahmed. Regarding President Abiy’s leadership style and frequent references to “the ideals of love, forgiveness and reconciliation,” Ephraim observed:

“It’s not political language. It’s religious language.”

Similarly, the late Peacemaker Fr. Alec Reid, who worked for peace in Northern Ireland was recently lauded in reviews of the newly-released documentary about Pope John Paul II’s historic trip to Ireland in 1979. Reflecting on Fr. Reid’s behind-the-scenes work in the peace process, the film’s director, David Naglieri, praised his facilitation as “absolutely critical” to its success — including how he sparked a secret dialogue between Hume and Sinn Fein’s Gerry Adams, a cataclysmic event that fueled the reconciliation process.

I could go on talking about how the work each of our Peacemakers is doing is relevant to promoting peace. But the truth is that the work our Peacemakers are doing is relevant not just to one, but to each and every SDG put forth by the UN to be achieved by 2030.

A few examples…

SDG №4 commits to “ensure inclusive and equitable quality education and promote lifelong learning opportunities for all.”

For more than twenty years now, Peacemaker Dr. Sakena Yacoobi has risked her life to teach women and children in Afghanistan. In the face of a brutally oppressive Taliban regime, she secretly taught them to read and used education to reclaim Islam — believing that if people had access to the verses themselves, they would see its underlying messages of peace, justice and equality.

She is not alone. Many Tanenbaum Peacemakers are creating equitable education. Consider Abuna Chacour, who created the Mar Elias Educational Institutions (MEEI) in Israel. As a Melkite Catholic priest who identifies as a Palestinian, Arab, Christian and Israeli, he established a school that welcomed Christian, Muslim, Jewish and Druze students in 1982. His vision: to educate, to build community, and to create the relationships needed for a peaceful Israel. Though his vision is not yet realized, his school continues to operate, now boasting more than 4,000 students from kindergarten through the university level.

SGD №8 vows to “promote sustained, inclusive and sustainable economic growth, full and productive employment and decent work for all.”

Longtime peace activist, Quaker and occasional politician, Peacemaker Nozizwe Madlala-Routledge now works through her organization, Embrace Dignity, to defang sex trafficking in South Africa. Her approach? Change the prostitution laws in South Africa, and support those wishing to exit prostitution through referrals to counseling, skills training, small business development and education providers. In addition, for the last six years, Embrace Dignity has also been chipping away at sex trafficking through policy change. It is advocating for the partial decriminalization of prostitution (i.e., the Nordic Model), which gives women help to exit the industry, while simultaneously holding buyers and sellers accountable.

To be fair, the SDGs are not a panacea. However, they do provide a roadmap that can lead to change. And they remind us that the power to make the world a better place lies in each and every one of our hands. The SDGs are about collective action, and Tanenbaum’s Peacemakers in Action Network demonstrate that, as individuals, we all play a crucial role in building a better future.

So today, my hat is off to the UN. Because when you put it all together, the SDGs…imagine a world in which difference is respected… and create a world that puts respect into practice.

What does Global Ethics Day mean in today’s world?

Today is Global Ethics Day. But what does that mean in today’s world? What do we mean by ethics? Do we mean our values? Or do we mean, how we live our lives?

One way to answer this is by referring to what I call, the musings of the Wise Ones. The oldest discussions of character for which there are records come from the ancient Greeks. They are best known from the reflections of such well-known philosophers as Socrates, Plato and Aristotle. Indeed, many of Plato’s “Socratic Dialogues” specifically examine virtue and the character of a virtuous person.

There’s the philosopher Herodotus, known for his proto-relativistic creed: “Man is the measure of all things.” And in more recent history, the assessment by the late literary giant, Elie Wiesel who observed, “There may be times when we are powerless to prevent injustice, but there must never be a time when we fail to protest.” Or the words of the 1952 Nobel Peace Prize winner, Albert Schweitzer who wrote, “Until he extends the circle of compassion to all living things, man will not himself find peace.”  

We can find values amid their ideas. However, I prefer to define ethics by considering the lives, and actions, of religious peacebuilders—individuals who, because of religion, dedicate themselves to pursuing peace. Around the world, such extraordinary yet unknown women and men exist. Driven by faith, they dare to do the work that others are afraid to take on. Tanenbaum’s Peacemakers in Action Network is a group of such individuals, a special breed from the world’s most violent crises. They offer critical insights, real-world skills and examples of ethical leadership that can inspire.

Take for example, Imam Dr. Muhammad Ashafa and Pastor James Wuye of Nigeria who have been publicly pursuing anti-corruption efforts to keep their country’s upcoming general elections fair and honest. Each has been a voice for safe elections, calling on their fellow countrymen to critically assess what politicians say, to be wary of false promises by politicians, to educate themselves and apply the core values of their religious traditions in their everyday lives and as they exercise their votes. Imam Ashafa noted:

“In every street in Nigeria, you find Churches and Mosques with people calling unto God but yet our attitudes to one another does not portray what we are learning in our various places of worship.”

Similarly, his peace partner Pastor James has added his voice to the Nigerian public’s pre-election preparation. In the past month, alone, he offered valued insights at a four-day interreligious dialogue between leaders of the Muslim Students Society of Nigeria and the Fellowship of Christian Students of Nigeria; and again at a capacity-building workshop for youth to better combat corruption. At the latter event, held in Northern-Nigeria, where Boko Haram has spread fear and violence, Pastor James spoke boldly on lingering criminal activities and banditry in the northern states. In so doing, he pursued truth while placing himself at risk. He stated:

“Those that are involved in curtailing these problems are benefiting from it financially, and that is why it is occurring.”

Such efforts are high profile in a country where extremism lurks. Yet these men pursue democratic processes even when laying low and remaining silent would be safer. They are not alone.

Elsewhere in Africa, Peacemaker Nozizwe Madlala-Routledge of South Africa’s Cape Town-based organization Embrace Dignity is helping women and girls in the sex industry, and those who are victims of human trafficking. Working directly with the women, while also putting herself “out there” with political leaders, Nozizwe and her colleagues are trying to move the Parliament of South Africa to pass an equality law that would decriminalize the act of selling sex – thus supporting women’s agency over their own bodies – but would also criminalize the act of paying for sex. Ideally, the law would lower the demand for solicited sex, while simultaneously decreasing the supply of women and girls being trafficked into the sex industry – similar to the Nordic model from 1999. In a recent IOL interview, Nozizwe explained:

“This law must be heavy on the buyers (of sex work), who are creating a demand. If there is no demand, there is no supply. Women are being thrown in the street either by family members or by desperation. That is what caused the demand. We elevate their voices so the government can hear them. We are showing the government that it can be done!”

So again, what do we mean when we talk about ethics? Values or actions that demonstrate values? Actions unveil a person’s moral and ethical character and reveal who they really are. So as we think about Global Ethics Day, let’s identify the strongest values we can muster…and then put them into action.

International Day of Peace

Friends,
 
This year’s International Day of Peace celebrates the 70th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. This document lays out a vision of human rights for all. As such, it is critical to all of us.
 
But what needs to be remembered is that the Declaration itself, and much of the work that has followed its powerful release, would not exist without women – including women of faith – who are involved in the peacebuilding process. As head of the Human Rights Commission, it was a woman, Eleanor Roosevelt, who was instrumental in composing the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. The work that has grown from that document would not exist if not for that one visionary woman.
 
​​​​​​​Yesterday, I had the privilege of speaking on a panel at the United Nations General Assembly called Keeping Faith in Sustainable Peace: Women of Faith as Agents of Transformation. I spoke alongside professor Hind Kabawat, a member of Tanenbaum’s Peacemakers in Action Network, along with Fatima Madaki, from Search for Common Ground and a KAICIID International Fellow. These women, along with myself, are living proof that women of faith can and should be recognized for the roles we play in the peace and reconciliation process, as formal and more often informal, agents of peace. Among our panel, we unanimously agreed that before anything else, UN leaders, diplomats, government officials and religious leaders within various communities MUST collaborate with women as allies and partners in the conversation. Women need more than a seat at the table. They need many seats. 
 
Early on, Tanenbaum saw the importance of women of faith in peace, and committed to formally recognizing women among our Peacemakers. Today, the Peacemakers in Action Network includes 10 women of faith – from all different conflict zones, who each live out their faith in different ways that build towards sustainable peace and inclusion. 
 
Too often the role women play as agents of peace is undervalued and often straight out ignored. Their work, their perspectives, their existence must be recognized. So today, to honor the past 70 years and look towards the next 70, let’s change how we work together – and make sure that we are working with the multitudes of women who make peace possible internationally.
 
And just in case you still have doubts about the power of religious and faith-based women peacebuilders…please take a few minutes to review Tanenbaum’s resource sheet, Women Who Pursue Peace and Justice, on the female peacemakers we recognize and partner with, and the important work they’re doing.
 
Yours in peace, 
 
Joyce S. Dubensky
CEO, Tanenbaum 

Genocide Finally Named in Scathing UN Report

Dear Friends,

This week, the U.N. released a report that calls for Myanmar’s military leaders to be prosecuted for genocide due to the ruthless and inhumane treatment of the Rohingya, a minority group from Myanmar.

What is happening to the Rohingya?

In Myanmar, religious and ethnic hatred has forced 700,000 Muslim Rohingya to fearfully flee their homes. This hatred was fueled, in part, by extremist Buddhist monks, who see the Rohingya as a religious and ethnic threat.

While this crisis may seem recent, it’s unfortunately part of a much longer story. At Tanenbaum, we’ve been watching this nightmare unfold. Given the new report, we are reissuing the following resources we created in late 2017:

The Rohingya crisis is a stark reminder that extremism touches people from all religions. By combating extremism anywhere, we combat extremism everywhere,

Joyce S. Dubensky
CEO, Tanenbaum


Image: UNHCR/Roger Arnold