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As Boko Haram rises, Nigerian Peacemakers Respond

Following the tranquility of evening prayers, the sounds of screaming children pierced Nigeria’s Dalori village as children were burnt alive. Boko Haram had arrived and three female suicide bombers detonated their vests, killing villagers who tried to stop their attack.

At Tanenbaum, we have witnessed the rise of Boko Haram through the eyes of our Nigerian Peacemakers in Action, Imam Muhammad Ashafa and Pastor James Wuye. (Once mortal enemies, they now work together to teach warring religious youth and others to peacefully resolve conflicts.) Although ISIS dominates international headlines, Boko Haram is the world’s deadliest terrorist group – according to the 2015 Global Terrorism Index Report. In 2014, ISIS slaughtered 6,073 people, while Boko Haram was responsible for 6,644 terrorist deaths.[i]

“Boko Haram is devastating Nigeria,” noted Tanenbaum CEO Joyce Dubensky. “As thousands of families are torn apart by kidnappings, murder and fractured communities, children are being burned alive. But the victims of this local massacre are not the only ones affected. The global Muslim community, Christians and humanity at large is also suffering from these attacks.”

Peacemakers Imam Ashafa and Pastor Wuye of the Interfaith Mediation Centre in Nigeria, agree. Imam Ashafa notes how the media’s focus is on the atrocities committed by terrorist groups that claim the mantle of Islam. He worries that this overlooks the majority of Muslims who live peacefully and take action against terrorism. “The Muslim community is also a victim. We would never make attention-worthy headlines because the media wants to broadcast how much blood has been shed and how many have died, not how many were saved and how many fight against ISIS and Boko Haram.”[ii]

“Self-proclaimed Muslim terrorists capture the headlines, and many people incorrectly presume that terrorism and Islam are synonymous. And that leads to stereotypes, hate and alienation. This is a cycle we have to stop,” says Dubensky. “One way we can do this is through education. By sharing practical information, for example among teachers and community members, we can reduce hatred and make sure our communities become informed by facts instead of fear.”

Tanenbaum offers a range of educational curricula and other materials including its Combating Extremism resources, which help teachers and individuals address extremism constructively in classrooms and communities.

 


 

[i] The Institute for Economics and Peace. 2015 Global Terrorism Index Report. Publication. Accessed February 1, 2016. http://static.visionofhumanity.org/sites/default/files/2015 Global Terrorism Index Report.pdf.

[ii]Nigeria’s Imam and the Pastor Talk Interfaith Conflict Issues.” University of Massachusetts Boston. December 9, 2015. Accessed February 01, 2016.

Tanenbaum Peacemakers Imam Muhammad Ashafa and Pastor James Wuye Prepare Nigerians for Upcoming Elections

On February 7, 2015, exactly one week before Nigerians were set to head to the polls, Nigeria’s Independent National Electoral Commission postponed the Presidential and legislative elections for seven weeks (until March 28th). Concerned that Boko Haram’s violent insurgency in the North would jeopardize the safety of voters around the country, the Commission’s Chairman, Attahiru Jega, heeded the advice of national security officials – delaying the election and announcing a “major” multinational military operation against the terrorist organization. This decision has been widely criticized both in Nigeria and abroad; some worry the postponement will delegitimize the elections and others fear an increased likelihood of election-related violence.

Despite the danger posed by Boko Haram and the challenges posed by this politically charged environment, Tanenbaum’s Peacemakers – Imam Muhammad Ashafa and Pastor James Wuye, Co-Executive Directors of the Interfaith Mediation Center – remain undeterred in their work. Much like their efforts prior to the 2011 elections, these Nigerian Peacemakers are tirelessly preparing Nigerian communities around the country for the election and for conducting it in a peaceful manner.

Interviewed before the elections were postponed, Pastor James discussed the unique challenges posed by Boko Haram, as well as by national ethnic tensions.

Rather than targeting Christians and pitting Muslims against Christians, Boko Haram targets “everyone,” not a specific religious group. Also, many Nigerians are unwillingly being “conscripted, and some are abducted from their families” to become members of the group. As a result, Pastor James believes the insurgents have actually mitigated religious tensions in the country.

Pastor James says that if the opportunity arises he would sit down and talk with the insurgents about their demands. He noted that, prior to the recent offensive, the government’s response to Boko Haram included “soft diplomacy,” which involved an effort “to reintegrate the young men and women who are involved in this insurgency.”

As the elections approach, Pastor James is also concerned about ethnic tensions. Nigeria’s population of more than 149 million people is made up of over 250 ethnic groups. He and Imam Ashafa are urging their fellow Nigerians to respect the election results and refrain from violence as a means of voicing any displeasure. They are focused on the role of religious leaders in the country and believe it will be critical – and, indeed, many of them have been “calling on the populace not to make provocative statements and to play by the rules of the game.”

Pastor James is proud of his homeland and remains hopeful for its future. Yet he understands the challenges that lie ahead and the great need for Nigeria’s “religious leaders to come together as they have before.”

Women PeaceMakers Conference: Defying Extremism

Defying Extremism: Gendered Responses to Religious Violence

Reflecting on the 2014 WomenPeacemakers Conference, Defying Extremism: Gendered Responses to Religious Violence, hosted by the Joan B. Kroc Institute for Peace and Justice

(November 19-21, 2014)

The Defying Extremism: Gendered Responses to Religious Violence Conference was a whirlwind. The three full days consisted of narratives, tools, ideas, questions, and some collaborative problem solving.

Situated overlooking San Diego’s sparkling waters, both the bay and the ocean, the Kroc School bustled with conference activities. The picturesque landscape would prove a stark contrast to the gritty realities of the conference content. However, the serious nature of the conference did not leave a gloomy shadow over the days or personal interactions of conference participants, including 49 speakers from over 27 countries.

Instead, the conference topic and subsequent testimonials, panels, and working sessions, all genuinely invigorated the participants. Testimonials, like that of Margaret Arach Orech, Vicky Ibrahim, Arno Michaelis, Maxensia Nakibuuka, and Mubin Shaikh set the scene each day for why we all gathered: to pick up broken pieces and re-build a society or life that was riddled with hate manifested through violent religious extremism. They did not only move forward from traumatic experiences, but had the incredible courage to look back in attempts to fix what is broken in society and garner lessons to share with others. Each testimonial shone as a beacon of hope for the day, as well as genuine and thoughtful reminders that participants had some serious work and thinking to do and share on how to effectively combat religious extremism.

Panels allowed various organizations and individuals to share valuable insights into issues such as “building effective policies,” “gender initiatives,” “analysis of realities behind the headlines,” and talking with extremists. Resounding messages included the integral need for gendered responses: the involvement of women’s voices at all levels of defying extremism, including at the policy level, organizational level, national, regional, and local levels, grassroots levels, etc. One panelist spoke of a humbling reminder: women are often the first targets of extremist violence, and should be, seemingly obviously, included in discussions and policies that counteract extremist violence. Additionally, women often see the first signs of extremist behavior, at home or stirring in society. Women are on the frontlines and have unique access and insight that should be heeded in order to defy extremism.

Another resounding message included social media. Over and over again, participants heard examples of religious extremists, particularly ISIS and Boko Haram, using social media to recruit for the respective “causes.” Potential recruits are lured in by multiple factors, one of which is money, which feeds into the next message, the need for economic opportunities and sources of income for people in conflict situations. Youth and the unemployed populations may join ISIS or Boko Haram for a source of income.

Defying violent religious extremism is multifaceted and multilayered and requires equally complex and individual responses. Overall, there is a need to understand the different dynamics involved in extremism and not place blame solely on one group or factor.

The panels were rich in content and context and sought to provide innovative ways of addressing violent religious extremism and how to robustly incorporate women’s voices into the common narrative of defying extremism. Workshops provided a unique opportunity to deeply discuss pointed issues and topics. Since participants came from diverse perspectives, a purposeful decision made by the Institute for Peace and Justice conference coordinators, workshop presentations and discussions for problem solving, or further nuance, brought varied approaches that allowed respectful debate and further probing of topics like LGBT and Gender Inequality: Developing Gay-Straight Alliances to Counter Extremism, Development of the Network of Religious and Traditional Peacemakers, and Fostering Synergies for Advancing Women’s Rights in Post-Conflict Islamic States.

Equally important were the conversations at breakfast, between conference sessions, and after the day. On the last morning of the conference, I shared breakfast with Maxensia from Uganda, Angeline from Jamaica, Margaret from Uganda, and a few other women. They work in different issues, different areas, and at varying levels of society. But, their shared outlook on always having hope truly humbled me. These three women working at different levels are peacemakers and embody all that I learn about in the classroom, including all of the horrifying realities, but they assured all of us at the table that if they wake up in the morning, there is always hope.

And, perhaps that was a takeaway from the conference: building networks of not just like-minded people doing similar work, but networks of diverse voices facing extremism, all of whom vigorously believe in and truly embody HOPE. And, amid all of the work that needs to be done to defy religious extremism, courageous men and women come together to thoughtfully and intensely work to find answers.

-Janie Dumbleton, Master’s Candidate in Peace and Justice Studies at the University of San Diego’s Joan B. Kroc School for Peace Studies

Top news stories you need to know

A collection of top news stories from July 4 – July11, 2014:

ISIS destroys shrines, Shiite mosques in Iraq •  Netanyahu calls father of slain Palestinian teen • 63 women and girls escape Boko Haram after clashes With Nigerian Military • ISIS shows off child recruits • Obama’s faith-based advisers divided over religious exemption for anti-gay discrimination • Learning More About The Hindu Religion

"Pictures posted on the Internet by the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) showed Sufi shrines were demolished by bulldozers. (Photo: Twitter)" - Al Arabiya NEWS

“Pictures posted on the Internet by the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) showed Sufi shrines were demolished by bulldozers. (Photo: Twitter)” – Al Arabiya NEWS

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

ISIS destroys shrines, Shiite mosques in Iraq
Jihadists have destroyed at least six Shiite mosques and four shrines devoted to Sufi and Sunni Arab figures in Iraq’s Nineveh province. Images of the destruction using explosives and bulldozers were posted by the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS/IS).

Netanyahu calls father of slain Palestinian teen
After a suspected revenge attack, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu called the father of Mohammed Abu Khdair, whose son was kidnapped and burned alive by suspected Israeli right-wing extremists.

“I would like to express my outrage and that of the citizens of Israel over the reprehensible murder of your son,” Netanyahu said. “We acted immediately to apprehend the murderers. We will bring them to trial and they will be dealt with to the fullest extent of the law,” he continued.

“We denounce all brutal behavior. The murder of your son is abhorrent and cannot be countenanced by any human being,” Netanyahu expressed.

63 women and girls escape Boko Haram after clashes With Nigerian Military
Nigerian security sources have reported that 63 girls and women have escaped from Boko Haram, the group that is trying to create an Islamic state located in northern Nigeria. The hostages were captured as a group of 68 girls and women during a siege that left their village of  Kummabza burned to the ground.

The Nigerian women and girls found the opportunity to escape during fighting between the Nigerian military and Boko Haram.

Over 200 schoolgirls abducted in April from Chibok remain held captive by Boko Haram in Nigeria.

 

ISIS Shows Off Child Recruits in Front of their "Registration Office" -SYRIA: direct

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

ISIS shows off child recruits
Using Twitter, a pro-ISIS combatant named al-Simsim published a picture of young children recently recruited by the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria. “May God give them strength,” was al-Simsim’s message in addition to a comments that children are “racing to join the ranks” of ISIS.

The children were photographed in ragged clothing in front of an ISIS “registration office” in al-Bab, a town in the Aleppo province of Syria.

Obama’s faith-based advisers divided over religious exemption for anti-gay discrimination
Faith-based advisers for President Obama are divided over an upcoming executive order that would legally prohibit discrimination against sexual orientation among federal contractors. The key issue is if this directive should allow a religious exemption. A letter to the president this Tuesday, July 8 stated:

“An exception would set a terrible precedent by denying true equality for LGBT people, while simultaneously opening a Pandora’s Box inviting other forms of discrimination.” The letter was signed by over 100 signatories.

Last week, a letter requesting an exemption had been signed by former advisory council members along with Obama’s former chief liaison to evangelicals. Their request stated, ““A religious exemption would simply maintain that religious organizations will not be automatically disqualified or disadvantaged in obtaining contracts because of their religious beliefs.”

Learning More About The Hindu Religion
After reviewing a map developed by the Association of Statisticians of American Religious Bodies, Arizona authors learned that Hinduism has the second largest number of members in their state. On a visit to the Ekta Mandir temple in Phoenix, Sarah Ventre narrates her compelling experience.

Peacemakers provide counselling services to abducted girls

Nigerian Peacemakers in Action Pastor James and Imam Ashafa to Help Provide Counselling Services to Abducted Girls

The extremist group Boko Haram kidnapped more than 300 schoolgirls from Chibok, Nigeria in April. The much-publicized incident has garnered international support via social media with the “#BringOutGirlsBack” campaign. Boko Haram is Nigeria’s main perpetrator of religion-based violence, deepening the Muslim/Christian divide and threatening the right to religious freedom.

In light of these recent events in Nigeria, Tanenbaum’s Peacemakers in Action Pastor James Wuye and Imam Muhammad Ashafa have sprung into action alongside Family Health International (FHI) 360 and USAID. Wuye and Ashafa’s joint project, the Interfaith Mediation Centre in Kaduna, will collaborate as one of the three groups working to provide counseling services to 57 recovered girl students from the Government Secondary School Chibok who were abducted by Boko Haram in April. The search continues for the remaining schoolgirls.

The Government Secondary School Chibok girls who escaped from Boko Haram have undergone significant trauma. The Nigerian state emphasized their willingness to provide services and support to the girls and to help them find their families.  Governor Kashim Shettima has expressed his concern for the girls to be rehabilitated and back in new schools. That’s where Peacemakers Pastor James and Imam Ashafa can help.

The Interfaith Mediation Centre is dedicated to working with their partners in order to provide services, including therapy for the girls. As Pastor James describes the deeply important project, he speaks about using a faith-based approach for recovery. The Interfaith Mediation Centre will work with the state-implemented structure and use their unique faith-based approach to counseling, recovery, and conflict resolution. They remain dedicated to helping the girls and other women who are survivors of the Boko Haram abductions.