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An Alliance of Peace and Freedom Fighters

Tanenbaum Peacemaker Jose “Chencho” Alas speaks with Pope Francis at “Mercy for Peace and Reconciliation” in Rome

When Tanenbaum Peacemaker in Action, Jose “Chencho” Alas returned from “Mercy for Peace and Reconciliation,” a historic symposium in Rome organized by KAICIID and the Pontifical Council, he reflected on how our divided nation can heal and proclaimed, “We must build a large alliance of freedom and peace fighters.” 

Religious leaders and religiously motivated leaders who attended the November symposium represented diverse religions and nations including Syria, represented by Tanenbaum Peacemaker Hind Kabawat, Egypt, Lebanon, Saudi Arabia, Argentina, Austria, Spain, and the U.S. among others. This was an especially poignant experience for Salvadoran Chencho, a former Catholic Priest and lifelong advocate for the poor, whose own interactions with faith communities and leaders, given the geographical bounds of his work, are often restricted to those solely within Christianity. In Rome, Chencho found commonality and shared visions with fellow peacebuilders and religious leaders of the Buddhist, Hindu and Muslim traditions.

Pope Francis spoke eloquently about having a heart for the other as the basis for reconciliation, Chencho and a selected few were asked to provide testimonials of their own work and lives. Chencho spoke of his life’s work to advance the rights of and empower Salvadoran peasants. His unwavering dedication – despite nearly dying for his convictions in the service of others – was clear to those in attendance. When asked what he took from the reflections by his fellow religious leaders on the topics of mercy, peace and reconciliation, Chencho beautifully synthesized his love for both ecology and faith:

At the symposium, listening carefully to the reflections, full of genuine spirit by participants of many different religions, I found a way to describe mercy and reconciliation in an easy-to-explain way. As I’ve loved trees since childhood, the following image came to mind: Mercy is the sap that through the roots nourishes the tree’s trunk, its branches, leaves, flowers, and fruit. In religion, mercy is that sap, that living material and spiritual element that provides unity in our diversity, just as in the tree we see that the roots are not the trunk, or the branches, or the fruit, but all the elements enjoy the same life. We can be Muslim, Jewish, Christian, Catholic, and so on, but if we share mercy we live the unity the human family needs to be in peace.

When asked how these lessons from Rome could be applied to healing divided nations today, Chencho stated:

…we, members of different religions shall be united by values and principals based in justice and solidarity to confront any form of oppression, discrimination, or denial of freedom of faith. We must build a large alliance of freedom and peace fighters.

In addendum to Chencho’s powerful words, together we can declare “…we, as a nation, members of different religions, races, ethnicities and gender shall be united by values and principals based in justice and solidarity to confront any form of oppression, discrimination, or denial of freedom of faith.”

As our shared values unite us, we take the steps needed to heal divided communities, one person at a time.

By Ritu Mukherjee
Evaluation Program Assistant


To learn more about Chencho’s work in El Salvador please purchase a copy of his Land, Liberation, and Death Squads published by Wipf and Stock Publishers by sending a message to orders@wipfandstock.com or calling 541-344-1528.

Sixty percent (60%) of the income is for the Foundation for Sustainability and Peacemaking in Mesoamerica (discover-peace.org).

RSVP: Tanenbaum Peacemakers at the United Nations

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Join us this July 13th for a unique opportunity to hear from six Peacemakers in Action on the critical issues facing us today.
Click here to download the invitation and be sure to RSVP today! Space is limited.

An Attack Close to Home

Dear Friends,

On Monday, our friend Michal Froman was attacked by a Palestinian teenager in the West Bank settlement of Tekoa. Thankfully, the pregnant Michal survived the stabbing, avoiding life-threatening injuries to herself and her unborn child.

The recent violent attacks in Israel/Palestine have been extremely troubling, further indicating that the ongoing struggle for Middle East peace remains woefully out-of-reach due to self-serving politics. But yesterday’s attack hit close to home for me, Tanenbaum and our Network of Peacemakers from around the world.

Ms. Froman is the daughter-in-law of the late Rabbi Menachem Froman, one of the first recipients of Tanenbaum’s Peacemakers in Action award. Rabbi Froman spent his life promoting reconciliation between Jewish settlers and Palestinian residents in the West Bank and Gaza. He envisioned a “humane state,” one in which all people — Jewish and Muslim, Israeli and Palestinian — treat each other with respect and dignity. Rabbi Froman’s work brought many people together, including political leaders, and he perceived the conflict as a tragedy of “two peoples loving the same land.” By seeking the common ground of having a shared faith in God, his work often transcended politics and motivated his own work on a deeply spiritual level. Rabbi Froman dedicated most of his life to promoting reconciliation between Jewish settlers and Palestinian residents in the West Bank and Gaza.

So it was no surprise to hear the reports of Michal Froman recognizing her attacker’s humanity when describing the 15-year-old to police and the media. Her father-in-law surely would be proud and so are we.

Joyce S. Dubensky
CEO

Confronting Religious Violence

Union Theological Seminary
October 2-3, 2015

3,000 female captives held by ISIS. American Journalist Eliza Griswold told the story of one of these women, relating how, with the intervention of her father, she managed to survive and became one of the lucky few who escaped her captors.

Griswold offered poignant narratives obtained from members of the Iraqi minority communities living under ISIS during her remarks that marked the first day of the conference on Confronting Religious Violence hosted by the Union Theological Seminary early in October. Injecting a personal and human element into her remarks, Griswold spoke of a father she had interviewed who was forced to pose as a member of ISIS to purchase his daughter in order to get her back from the ISIS traffickers who had kidnapped her. Although there was a happy ending for this family, the tragic realization that so many others will not have such good fortune is heart wrenching.

Griswold spoke eloquently of the fine line she must always walk as a journalist and the need to avoid any appearance of being an activist. Although most people would agree that the powerful stories of the people who live amidst this terror are essential to the discussion of religious violence, they give rise to the question of “what do we actually mean by ‘religious violence?’”

Rev. Serene Jones, President of the Union Theological Seminary, started the conversation with the concepts of “Informed piety” and “compassionate wisdom,” tenets of the Seminary, along with “intellectual responsibility and a seriousness of focus” that must pick up where “religious violence” has become a trite reference when framing the complex nature of the conflicts we face today. We must understand current global conflicts contextually and not simplify their complex births with crude and ironically loaded terminology that has become ‘obsolete,’ ‘irrelevant’ and ‘ambivalent.’ In an effort to do just that, the conference sought to bridge the divide between the scholarly, religious and policy-making worlds. The historical, theological, political and legal discourse regarding the causes as well as the interpretation of and response to current trends of religious violence were explored. Speakers spanning a broad range of disciplines highlighted the shortcomings of the current mainstream understanding of “religious conflict” and specifically addressed the fallout from the war in Iraq and the current crisis in Syria. The conversation, although occasionally heated, found a consensus when the term “religious violence” came under review. However, while all agreed that religion does indeed matter, their thinking diverged on how it matters.

Father Patrick Ryan S.J., the McGinley Professor of Religion and Society at Fordham University stated, “We people of faith have seldom looked inter-subjectively at war.” Father Ryan’s examination of the “fatal subjectivities” of the Abrahamic faiths, both in antiquity and modernity, was a powerful moment of reflection during the conference, which revealed how deeply religion does indeed matter.

In contrast, scholar Dr. Hossein Kamalay of the Asian and Middle Eastern Cultures Department at Barnard College sought to highlight the deficiencies in using the history of Islam and its theological underpinnings to understand today’s religious violence. Paraphrasing his argument, he suggested that violence could not be solely understood in terms of religion and belief but that it must be understood within the context of the economics, politics and the ever importance of power relations in a particular situation. Moreover, what we choose to study from the past greatly matters and it is in what we do not examine in history that may hold a key to understanding our present circumstances, i.e., what could have been done to create a situation of peaceful coexistence. It matters what people believe but let us not just speak of belief.

Dr. Scott Tenner presented a unique legal and historical perspective of the current crises in the Middle East. After his presentation, one was left to ask why longstanding international legal bodies have been underutilized and rendered futile during this extensive crisis. Continuing the legal discussion, Dr. Najam Haider of Barnard College spoke of the evolution of Islamic law from antiquity to the present. In contrast to what most people believe, it should be noted that Islamic law is inherently flexible and was therefore never codified.

Solutions remain elusive, but understanding the nature of conflicts will allow policymakers, academics and activists to respond in an appropriate, opportune and effective manner, which is what all those who work in the field of conflict resolution and peacebuilding seek to accomplish!

Extremism and white supremacy – A conversation with Arno Michaelis

We were so happy to host an event at Foa & Son with our friend, Arno Michaelis. Previously affiliated with the white supremacist movement, Arno has now rejected extremist philosophy – and is working with youth to counter the danger that it poses. We were able to have an intimate conversation among a few of our close friends, diving into topics such as: extremist narratives and the conditions in which hatred thrives, addressing extremism across cultures, the utter exhaustion from harboring hatred, and personal transformation.

It was enlightening for many when Arno described a personal moment of clarity. While watching his young daughter playing with children of varied backgrounds at daycare, he realized that the children did not see color. They simply wanted friends to play with. He saw parents lovingly greet their children and he recognized qualities of his relationship with his daughter in them. By being open to new experiences, shared humanity is the antidote to hatred.

To learn more about Arno’s work, visit My Life After Hate.

For high quality photographs, please contact Nicole Margaretten, Communications Manager at nmargaretten(at)tanenbaum.org

 

Peacemakers in Action Network: A Model for the United Nations Office on Genocide Prevention

Photo Credit: KAICIID

Photo Credit: KAICIID

Last month, the United Nations Office on Genocide Prevention co-convened the “Forum on the Role of Religious Leaders in Preventing Incitement that could Lead to Atrocity Crimes.” The major outcome from the forum was a “Plan of Action for the Prevention of Incitement to Violence that could lead to Atrocity Crimes.” The Plan of Action is a draft document that will be revised and finalized during five regional meetings set to take place during the next year; and a “Declaration will be adopted at a plenary meeting of religious leaders” in 2016.

Eight major areas of consideration were highlighted in the plan – many of which are already being done by Tanenbaum and our Peacemakers: 1) “Monitoring” incitement to violence that could lead to atrocity crimes; 2) Developing, speaking out, and circulating “alternative” messages to counter incitement and hate speech (Tanenbaum Peacemakers do this!); 3) Engaging in dialogue with the speakers and the potential audience; 4) Developing and revising education, curricula and capacity building (Tanenbaum’s education program does this!); 5) Engaging in or strengthening inter-religious and intra-religious dialogue and activities; 6) Engaging in dialogue on grievances; 7) Strengthening clarity of thinking and of message (Tanenbaum is a thought leader on the issues that fuel extremism); and 8) Engaging with political leaders (Tanenbaum Peacemakers often do this).

The Plan of Action also referenced several additional focal points , including the “mapping and networking of religious leaders who actively work to prevent or counter incitement that can lead to atrocity crimes around the world.” At Tanenbaum, we believe the UN and its partners have a model to reference and further explore in Tanenbaum’s Peacemakers in Action Network.  Why not start where successes are happening – by learning about the religious Peacemakers already in action and having a powerful impact as they work together around the globe?

For well over fifteen years, Tanenbaum has identified religiously motivated Peacemakers working in areas of armed conflict, whose lives and liberty have been at risk in pursuit of peace. Thirty courageous Peacemakers with diverse experiences of conflict from 23 countries have been recognized for their peace work with the Peacemakers in Action Award. Convened every two years to share knowledge, successful practices and the common bond of their faith-driven work, the Peacemakers formalized their Network in 2011.

As a Network facilitated by Tanenbaum, the Peacemakers communicate regularly and even travel to each other’s homelands to work together to help build peace. Later this month, two Nigerian Peacemakers, Pastor James Wuye and Imam Muhammad Ashafa, will join their fellow Peacemaker, Dishani Jayaweera, in Sri Lanka to train religious leaders from different faith traditions (Buddhism, Hinduism, Islam and Christianity). Already well-known in Sri Lanka for their work in Kaduna state, Pastor James and Imam Ashafa will serve as inspirations, models and experienced Peacemakers to Sri Lankans hoping to bring lasting peace to a country still recovering from a decades-old conflict.

As the United Nations Office on Genocide Prevention smartly prepares to utilize a resource – religious leaders/actors – sorely underutilized in creating the conditions for a more peaceful world, Adama Dieng, UN Special Adviser on the Prevention of Genocide, should strongly consider the Peacemakers in Action Network as a model for its efforts to map and network religious actors actively working to prevent or counter incitement that can lead to atrocity crimes around the world.

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.”

Tanenbaum Peacemaker Rev. Benny Giay meets with Indonesian President

West Papua Coat of Arms

West Papua Coat of Arms

Reverend Benny Giay is a dedicated peace activist in his native West Papua, a territory in Indonesia where the indigenous community has struggled for decades to gain independence. Over the years, the Tanenbaum Peacemaker has sought to bring international attention to the plight of his people. Through his writings and tireless activism, Rev. Giay has exposed state-sanctioned human rights abuses (often putting his life at risk) and offered nonviolent approaches to achieving peace and reconciliation in his homeland.

Last month, protesters in West Papua’s Paniai district were attacked by authorities. Five people were killed. The incident occurred just weeks before a planned visit to the province by Indonesia’s new President, Joko “Jokowi’ Widodo, to celebrate Christmas. Dismayed by the lack of an official response from Jakarta, Rev. Giay, along with other Church leaders in West Papua, questioned President Jokowi’s silence and even called on the President to cancel his upcoming trip to the region.

In an effort to assuage the concerns of West Papuans, President Jokowi met with Rev. Giay and Karel Phil Erari, who were representing their respective churches, at the State Palace in Jakarta on December 26, 2014. On the eve of the President’s visit to the Papuan capital, Rev. Giay proposed concrete steps the Indonesian government should take in the pursuit of justice, including launching an independent investigation into the killings.

Local NGOs and church associations have begun their own unofficial inquiries into the December 8th tragedy. The Indonesian Communion of Churches found the Indonesian Military responsible for the shootings and has submitted its report to the President. However, as of last week, Human Rights Watch Indonesia reports that the Indonesian Military, which is conducting its own internal investigation, has refused to cooperate with The National Commission on Human Rights, Indonesia’s national human rights institution.

Photos from Defying Extremism – 2014 Conference

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