Female Defiance and Education in Afghanistan

Rukshana, who the Taliban stoned to death at age 19

Rukshana – the Taliban stoned her to death at age 19

 

On October 25th the Taliban stoned to death Rukshana, a 19-year-old Afghan girl, on the grounds that she had committed adultery. After Rukshana’s father forced her to become the third wife of a 55-year-old man, she ran away with Mohammad Gul, a 22-year-old young man who she loved. Unmarried, Gul is alive and recovering after receiving 100 lashes as punishment; however, Rukshana was forced into a pit dug in the dirt, deep enough to only leave her head above ground. Encircled by male Taliban officials, rock after rock was thrown at the young girl until she died. In the face of such brutality, viciousness and callous disregard for life, how do we fight back? …what can we do instead? 

Violence from without, violence from within, violence against women…  In his newsletter, Nicholas Kristof suggests how we can fight back against such ruthlessness. Moreover, in a 2010 op-ed, Kristof asks: …what can we do instead? That is, instead of responding to violence with more violence. His question was in response to the escalating violence in Afghanistan during 2010 following Obama’s decision to increase troops in the region, which in Kristof’s words resulted in mostly…more dead Americans and Afghans alike; however, in light of the recent tragedies that have left us shocked, fearful and vengeful, Kristof’s question remains pertinent. In his newsletter, he suggests that we can fight back through the social justice works that are being performed by the women in these dangerous regions.  Explaining in his op-ed that while there’s abundant evidence that…bombs harden hearts, schooling, over time, transforms them. Kristof is referring to the many locally administered Afghan schools that have flourished despite the heavy hand of the Taliban. The voices of these courageous women must be amplified and their work brought to light by those of us who never want to see another viral video of the sadistic murder of a young girl.

Kristof highlights the work of one such woman, Dr. Sakena Yacoobi, Executive Director of the Afghan Institute of Learning (AIL). Dr. Yacoobi was first recognized by Tanenbaum as a Peacemaker in Action in 2002. She is a shining example of how women, in particular, can bypass patriarchal regimes and empower young women through education and professional development, thereby creating social networks for local Afghans to turn to. Kristof’s recognition of Dr. Yacoobi is essential as her growing network of institutes can serve as a model for other women who desire to strengthen the bonds not only between women living under dangerous regimes, but to provide alternative avenues for men who seek lives absent of violence. Dr. Yacoobi eloquently recounts the challenges she has faced during her May 2015 TED Talk. Recalling Taliban members who had asked for the same opportunities as the girls studying at AIL, Dr. Yacoobi poignantly explains, We cannot only train women but forget about the men, because the men are the real people who are giving women the hardest time.

Support of the local, including activists and organizations, is essential to bolstering human development in these regions. Kristof’s op-ed compares the failures of alien educational institutions in Afghanistan versus thriving native institutions, such as AIL. Even in the most dangerous regions, like Taliban controlled areas of Afghanistan, education …is possible, provided the work is done without Westerners and in close consultation with local people, Kristof explainsFor example, his op-ed points out that while government schools regularly get burned down because they are seen as foreign installments, in 2010 Dr. Yacoobi’s AIL supported over 300 schools all of which remain unharmed. 

Establishing gender equality and educational facilities is fundamental for conflict resolution and peacebuilding, although these stories frequently go unheard. Tanenbaum, like Kristof, understands the vital and urgent need to disseminate stories of human development and accomplishment in a sea of violent, inhumane and dark tragedies. And due to our great respect for his ceaseless efforts to place a spotlight on the courageous work of those fostering development in some of the most troubled areas of the world, Tanenbaum will be honoring Nicholas Kristof at our May 2016 Annual Gala, together with his wife Sheryl WuDunn, a Pulitzer Prize winner, best-selling author and business executive who fights for justice. Kristof’s determination to focus on the work of women in the field is absolutely essential for furthering the on-going success of these dedicated activists. Kristof and organizations such as Tanenbaum are serving to rectify this uneven coverage and to highlight models of civic engagement that will inspire others in war torn regions around the world.

Today we are faced with a similar choice; that is to say, of responding to brutality with further dehumanizing violence or embracing those who are experiencing the very same fear. Patient and thoughtful responses are most crucial in times of uncertainty. The stories of Tanenbaum’s Peacemakers in Action and those highlighted by the superb reporting of Nicholas Kristof offer local alternatives to violence.

For more information about the work of Tanenbaum Peacemakers in Action and other unrecognized or under-recognized individuals, please subscribe to Mr. Kristof’s newsletter and Tanenbaum’s email updates.

Ritu Mukherjee
Conflict Resolution | Tanenbaum

 

Combat Extremism: Get the Facts on Islam Diversity

Have you seen the recent #Notinmyname social media campaign? It’s an initiative led by young British Muslims to show defiance and solidarity against ISIS and the terrorist group’s actions. Their goal? To see how a “simple message” can show the world how ISIS misrepresents Islam.

Projects like this remind us of the great diversity among followers of Islam (and indeed all religions).
No one group is the voice for all Muslims.

Today, Tanenbaum therefore shares another practical resource for you to use at home, in the classroom, with your congregation or in your community.

Read, download, and share! Challenge others to ask questions, research the answers, and counter those who stereotype an entire religion. Know the facts and stand up against Islamophobia!

Together, we can become more informed citizens as we work to prevent violent extremism. Peace begins with us.

Tanenbaum Urges Religious and Cultural Competency Training for Aeroméxico

Yesterday Sikh American actor Waris Ahluwalia was denied entry onto an Aeroméxico flight from México City for wearing a turban. Aeroméxico personnel requested that he remove the turban – or purchase a ticket on another airline.

Speaking on behalf of the Tanenbaum | Center for Interreligious Understanding, its CEO Joyce Dubensky condemned the conduct of the Aeroméxico personnel. “What happened to Mr. Ahluwalia is a travesty. It is humiliating, disrespectful and unnecessary, even in these days when security is a real issue,” said Dubensky. “Sadly, this is not a unique experience.” Over an 18-month period, the Sikh Coalition found that 105 complaints (53%) filed against the U.S. Department of Homeland Security alleged religious discrimination.

Dubensky added, “From Mr. Ahluwalia’s perspective, this was a personal injustice. And for Aeroméxico, it was really bad business. In this climate of heightened security, Aeroméxico does not have to compromise safety for respect. As México’s largest airline, Aeroméxico must train screening personnel on how to respectfully screen passengers wearing religious headwear and clothing.”

One solution that Tanenbaum proposes is having screeners provide privacy for people who wear turbans or other religious coverings so they can be screened, if appropriate, by a same-sex airline employee. “In many instances, people will cooperate with airline personnel in private, as long as they are not being asked to publicly expose themselves and violate their religious beliefs,” Dubensky explained.

Like many Sikhs, Ahluwalia described how his turban and beard represent his commitment to justice and equality. “As fellow travelers, we should all encourage airlines and national security agencies to practice religious and cultural respect, while maintaining real security. Because what happened to Mr. Ahluwalia is inexcusable and it shouldn’t happen to anyone.” Dubensky said.

Tanenbaum offers a range of trainings and resources to help companies leverage religious diversity, create inclusive work environments and meet financial business goals.

Tanenbaum’s MFA Speaks Out – Don’t Demonize Refugees!

Dear Friends,

At Tanenbaum, we know that many of the people who are today’s refugees are just like us. People of many different cultures and beliefs, and ways of practicing them. They are orphans. They are parents with children.

Our nation is now in the midst of a debate about these individuals. The undertone is divisive, suggesting that only Christians should be brought in, that refugees can be equated with rabid dogs, and that all people who follow Islam (i.e., 1.6 billion people) must be treated as prospective ISIS activists. Tanenbaum objects to the hate-mongering that is going hand in hand with legitimate cries for appropriate security measures. And our President, the founder of Tanenbaum’s Multifaith Alliance for Syrian Refugees project, had something to say about it.

Take a look.
Please stand with us, and fight the hatred that breeds violence and hate,

Joyce S. Dubensky,
CEO

Click here to stand with us and support our work

Reflections on the People’s Pope by Tanenbaum CEO Joyce S. Dubensky

Dear Friends,

Joyce Dubensky with friends at the 9/11 Memorial

Joyce Dubensky with friends at the 9/11 Memorial

I was among the privileged to be at the 9/11 memorial site in New York City when Pope Francis made his way to the stage to give blessings and speak. People from different faiths and practices  gathered to share prayers for peace; it was an interfaith ceremony held in a place where so many are remembered and so much was lost.

I took away from the crowded room, filled with diverse holy people, some things the Pope said – or that I interpreted from his words.  They are meaningful for me, as a Jewish woman. And perhaps for you, as well.

Pope Francis remembered those who suffered on 9/11 at the hands of individuals who somehow believed inflicting harm was their duty. He linked the lives that we lost, and the pain of those who forever remember them, to people who suffer today amid violence and war – because others continue to impose undue harm.

He spoke of mourning and how peace is not just an abstraction. As I listened, I thought of the child crying, hungry and frightened in war-torn conflicts. I must hear her cries, as if she were my own.

The People’s Pope urged us to seek pathways to peace amid our differences. A peace that stops the fighting but, also, the poverty, destruction and hopelessness.

The People’s Pope sees all people. And he reminds us to join with him.

Join us by reading and sharing our Shared Visions, a project that reminds us how the world’s religions share many core values.

With great gratitude,

Joyce S. Dubensky
CEO

Tanenbaum Peacemaker Dr. Ephraim Isaac speaks at the United Nation’s Church Center Chapel

Tanenbaum was honored to be a part of the United Nation’s seminal event, Faith for the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), held at the Church Center Chapel. Tanenbaum Peacemaker in Action Dr. Ephraim Isaac (Ethiopia) spoke eloquently to a diverse crowd; attendees from diverse religious backgrounds and beliefs gathered to discuss how religion can further the quest to eliminate poverty.

EphraimIsaac-UN-Chapel2015

TANENBAUM Peacemaker Dr. Ephraim Isaac (left) with Karin Achtelstetter – Credit: @KarinWaltraut

“I am here of behalf of the Tanenbaum Center for Interreligious Understanding and as one of its Peacemakers in Action.

First let me congratulate you on your good efforts to deal with the critical question of poverty through the power of religion.

I used to be an incorrigible optimist. I am still, but a corrigible one. My remaining optimism is to see people like you here in this room that have the good will to do the good.

But, let us be realistic. In a greedy world where about 1% of the world’s population owns the wealth of the world and does not want to part with it, how do you propose to eliminate poverty in 15 years as you say? In a world where one American person would rather pay one million to travel to Africa to kill one elephant, or, where the King of Saudi Arabia would rent every room of the most expensive American hotel for several days and have a parade of over one hundred cars parked in a garage all of it decorated with red carpets…. especially at a time when thousands of Middle East refuges are seeking dire shelter, how do you convince the world to do what is right?

I am Jewish and yesterday, on Yom Kippur day, I chanted the Prophet Isaiah who said three thousand years ago (to paraphrase): You fast, you put ashes on yourselves, you exhibit your piety, and say to me “why do you not see our piety, how we humble ourselves with ashes on our heads?“  The Almighty responds, “Down with your piety, what I want is free the prisoners and those you oppress, feed the hungry, cloth the naked, help the poor…” If the great prophet has had so shouted about 3000 years ago, in other words, saying as we say today use your faith to help the poor, and that is what the Almighty G-d wants, and nothing has happened for 3000 years, how do you propose to abolish poverty in 15 years?

I know the World Bank has a lot of money, even if not as much as the 1% of the richest people in the world, and I know the religious people have all good intentions. Still how do we propose concretely to change the world?


Click here to learn more about Dr. Ephraim Isaac and Tanenbaum’s Peacemakers in Action.

Don’t Threaten My Religion!

By: Sara Wicht

Editor’s note: Teaching Tolerance and Tanenbaum produced a free, five-part webinar series on religious diversity in school. The Religious Diversity in the Classroom Webinar Series and accompanying resources examine how awareness of religious diversity affects global citizenship, and how teaching about religion across grade levels and subject areas can help meet important academic standards.


In the webinar Applications for High School Educators, we offered practical suggestions for teaching about religious diversity in ways that reduce prejudice, promote mutual respect and help students prepare for college and their future careers.

One concern participants expressed was that teaching about faiths other than students’ own faiths would somehow undermine their religious or nonreligious beliefs.

It’s natural to worry that inclusive teaching may be perceived as a threat to some students and families—but the benefits far outweigh the risks. Here are recommendations for maximizing those benefits.

Include Religious Perspectives to Meet Common Core Demands

According to the Common Core State Standards, students who are college and career ready actively seek to understand perspectives and cultures other than their own through reading and listening, and they are able to communicate effectively with people of varied backgrounds. We want our students to evaluate multiple points of view critically and constructively. To reach these goals, curricula need to expose students to a variety of time periods, cultures and worldviews.

The Common Core Speaking and Listening Standards emphasize preparing students to participate effectively in a range of conversations and collaborations with diverse partners. Lessons that leverage perspectives from diverse religious beliefs and practices are an effective way to meet these standards. Rich, age-appropriate lessons on religion’s role in literature, history, culture, philosophy, politics and current events prepare students for participation in an increasingly diverse workforce and enable them to negotiate worldviews and experiences different from their own.

Include Religious Diversity to Meet Social and Emotional Learning (SEL) Demands

When introducing religious and nonreligious belief systems into academic content, consider developing essential questions that focus on individual student identity, the value of diversity, the interaction of religion and justice, and how beliefs can inspire action.

The Teaching Tolerance Anti-bias Framework (ABF) is one way to approach these topics. The ABF allows educators to set social emotional learning goals grounded in 20 anchor standards that can apply to a range of anti-bias, multicultural and social justice issues. The ABF supports prejudice reduction work through the Identity and Diversity domains, and collective action through the Justice and Action domains.

Identity and Diversity

Instruction aligned to the Identity and Diversity domains aims to reduce prejudice and help students—and families—open up to learning about worldviews different from their own without perceiving their beliefs to be under attack.

For example, you can align a question to Identity Standard 5: Students will recognize traits of the dominant culture, their home culture and other cultures and understand how they negotiate their own identity in multiple spaces.

A question to help students think about the world’s diverse belief systems might be: What part do culture and history play in the formation of our individual and collective identities?

This approach will help students position themselves in relation to diverse belief systems without having to rank or justify that position and without feeling their own beliefs are being threatened.

Like the Identity standards in the ABF, the Diversity standards also foster social emotional learning and prejudice reduction.

You may consider aligning a question to Diversity Standard 8: Students will respectfully express curiosity about the history and lived experiences of others and will exchange ideas and beliefs in an open-minded way.

A question to help students think about diverse belief systems using this standard might be: What are the challenges of celebrating what we have in common while also honoring our differences?

Justice and Action

The Justice and Action domains of the ABF also lend themselves well to essential questions that can drive student inquiry about diverse religious worldviews without causing students to feel threatened. These domains recognize that students need the knowledge and skills related to collective action.

The Justice standards aim to build student awareness around individual and systemic bias and injustice. For example, Justice Standard 13 states: Students will analyze the harmful impact of bias and injustice on the world, historically and today.

The Action standards work to build students’ skills and confidence to take a stand against bias and injustice even when it’s not popular or easy. One example is Action Standard 18: Students will speak up with courage and respect when they or someone else has been hurt or wronged by bias.

Communicate With Families

Strong communication between school staff and families is important in any school, and it is especially important in schools committed to anti-bias education. Set a tone of inclusion and respect through early communication and transparency. You can find suggestions for how to make sure communication is culturally sensitive—along with ways to include family and community wisdom, increase connections among families and use local resources—in the Critical Practices for Anti-bias Education guide from Teaching Tolerance.

Instruction grounded in these academic outcomes presents religious and nonreligious voices through a framework of literacy and SEL. These approaches reduce the risk of proselytization and, in turn, help reduce the fear some students and families may feel. They can also make learning about diverse belief systems a positive experience that contextualizes—rather than diminishes—their own beliefs.

 

Wicht is the senior manager of teaching and learning for Teaching Tolerance.

Take this Non-Expert Advice

Take this Non-Expert Advice
By: Mark E. Fowler

Overview: How to teach about religious diversity without being a world religions “expert.”

Editor’s Note: This blog post was written in response to a request from a participant in our spring webinar with Teaching Tolerance, Religious Diversity in the Classroom: Applications for High School Educators. Click here to watch the recording via a free registration process.

Have you ever had to teach a subject you weren’t very familiar with? Outside of class, you were reading the textbook just ahead of your students, asking other teachers and community members for help and looking for digestible summaries of topics when trying to prepare. During the trainings and webinars that Tanenbaum provides, it’s clear that many participant teachers feel this way about teaching the major world religions. They often ask for more information and have said that their lack of knowledge about different religions prevents them from broaching the subject at all.

Teaching about religion may sound difficult if you do not have a background in religious studies or a personal affiliation.  But Tanenbaum and Teaching Tolerance believe that educators are completely capable of addressing religious diversity in a respectful, informed way – expert or not!  What’s more, teaching about religious and nonreligious identities helps students develop religious literacy – a vital skill for the twenty-first century.

Developing religious literacy includes a basic understanding of the histories, central texts, beliefs, practices and contemporary manifestations of several of the world’s religious traditions, as they arose out of and continue to shape particular social, historical and cultural contexts. This literacy equips our students with the ability to get along and work with a diversity of identities.

According to Tanenbaum’s education consultant, Kim Keiserman, “As teachers, we have to become accustomed to learning new things along with our students. We may know some things in our subject area very well, and other areas are less familiar to us.” When teaching about diverse beliefs, which serve as important personal identity markers for billions of people, it is not possible to know the practices and traditions of every person. Tanenbaum’s World Religions Fact Sheet gives teachers a general overview of the world’s major religions, but when it comes to teaching about religious diversity, the method of presenting information may be equally as important as your personal mastery of the topic, maybe even more so. Fact sheets like this one show the vast diversity and scale of the major world religions, which may seem intimidating at first. As with all subjects, your knowledge and comfort with teaching about religion can grow over time.

We emphasize that teachers don’t have to be “experts” as long as they follow good practices:

  • Ensure a safe, inclusive classroom environment when discussing religious differences by following Tanenbaum’s Seven Principles for Inclusive Education.
  • Communicate with parents about the learning objectives, explaining that their children will be learning about religious differences, not being indoctrinated into different religions.
  • Allow students to explore their own identities, recognizing that the more they understand themselves, the more they can understand others.
  • Learn alongside your students with up-close exposure to diverse traditions. Expose them to the “lived religion” of real people by allowing them to read primary sources and personal stories, interact with guest speakers, interview community members and take field trips to houses of worship.
  • Explore the commonalities among different belief systems, as well as the differences. Tanenbaum’s Shared Visions project reminds us that the world’s religions share many core values. Read shared visions on the value of education here.
  • Examine your assumptions about religion. The American Academy of Religions suggests that teachers “examine what assumptions they harbor about religion generally and religious traditions in particular.” Teachers who are aware of their own biases will be better able to overcome them and present facts and ideas in an objective manner.

In a previous blog post, we encouraged teachers to coach students to “be honest about the limits of our understanding. … While we can learn a lot about them, we cannot completely understand the lived experiences of people or how their belief system influences their identity and daily lives.” This advice is relevant for teachers as well. As you discuss religious traditions in the classroom, be wary of the burden of being a spokesperson—the assumption that any one person’s perspective represents the experiences or beliefs of an entire group. Just as we may not know all of the answers to questions about a particular faith, no one person can be expected to speak as the authority on his or her faith tradition.

Navigating the teaching of world religions can be hard for teachers who are used to having all the right answers about a particular topic. However, the study of religious diversity provides an excellent opportunity to model attitudes of respectful curiosity to students. If you don’t assume you already know everything about a group of people, then you will be less likely to form stereotypes or hurtful generalizations. With this attitude in mind, students can follow suit.

Fowler is the managing director of programs at the Tanenbaum Center for Interreligious Understanding. He would like to acknowledge the significant contribution of Rachel Sumption to this blog post.

Tanenbaum Peacemaker Father Sava Travels to the U.S.

Father Sava Janjic, a Tanenbaum Peacemaker in Action who has been tirelessly pursuing peace and reconciliation in Kosovo for decades, concluded his recent trip to the U.S. last week in Boston, where he presented at the Colloquium on Orthodox Christianity and Humanitarianism: Ideas and Action in the Contemporary World. The Colloquium was sponsored by the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America’s Office of Inter-Orthodoxy, Interfaith and Ecumenical Relations. Father Sava and Joyce Dubensky, Tanenbaum CEO, both had the privilege of sitting on the Colloquium’s “Experiences from the Frontline of Crisis Response and Delivery (Around the World)” panel on Friday, May 8, 2015.

Prior to his trip to Boston, Father Sava traveled throughout California with His Grace Bishop Maxim of the Western Diocese before spending a few days in Washington DC and New York. While in New York, Father Sava spoke to an intimate gathering at the Serbian Orthodox Cathedral of Saint Sava on Tuesday, May 5, about life in Kosovo and the plight of Kosovo Serbians.

Tanenbaum CEO Joyce Dubensky with Peacemaker Father Sava Janjic

Tanenbaum CEO Joyce Dubensky with Peacemaker Father Sava Janjic

During his talk at St. Sava, Father Sava touched on a number of topics. He lamented the “second class” treatment of Kosovo’s Serbs; expressed concern over ethnic and religious extremism; and described how his monastery, Decani Monastery, was vandalized late last year with graffiti by ISIS sympathizers. While the Serbian Orthodox Church does not get involved in politics, Father Sava told the audience that the church promotes the equal treatment of all citizens, engaging in interfaith dialogue to help foster communal bonds among Kosovo’s differing sects.

Despite difficult challenges and numerous setbacks for Kosovo, Father Sava believes it’s critical to maintain hope and to continue to strive towards peace and a better world. He refuses to give up on his people.