Today, on Palm Sunday, violent extremists struck at the heart of Coptic Christians, when suicide bombers killed at least 44 people and injured more than a hundred in two churches in Egypt. Both churches were filled with congregants, peacefully gathered to celebrate one of their holiest days.
ISIS claimed responsibility for the brutal attacks – crimes against humanity, this time, against a minority Christian community in the Middle East. Not only did these communities lose loved ones on this holy day, but the extremists tried to destroy the feeling of communal security that houses of worship can provide.
Tragically, these suicide bombings are not isolated events. Instead, they are the latest in a litany of attacks against Coptic Christians in recent decades, including the destruction of 40 Coptic Churches in 2013, the beheading of 21 Copts by ISIS in Libya in 2015, and the murder of 30 at a cathedral in Cairo last December.
Today, as we keep the Coptic Christian community in our thoughts, let us honor the victims by recalling the significance of the palm branch. For many, it’s a symbol of peace and victory.
Together, we can choose to define peace as more than just freedom from violence. We can define it as a world where justice is practiced, where differences of belief (or lack of belief) are respected, religious minorities are welcomed and their freedoms protected. Today, on what is a holy day for so many worldwide, let’s recommit to pursuing peace by accepting others and honoring the freedom of peaceful worship.
Wishing all who celebrate, a blessed Palm Sunday,
Joyce S. Dubensky
In the wake of continued violent extremism and escalating intolerance fueled by fear and misinformation, Tanenbaum remembers what unites us in striving for a just society. Shared visions of generosity, gratitude, friendship, and forgiveness tie us together in our search for peace and justice.
Learning more about one another allows us to stand together in this search. This month, Tanenbaum shares another practical resource for use in daily life or in a classroom.
- Calls and Prayers for Peace and Justice: Read calls and prayers for peace and justice from many of the world’s great religions and philosophical traditions. They echo common threads that connect us, regardless of our different beliefs or lack of belief.
- QUESTIONS for Students and Educators: A question sheet that may be used by educators and creative parents alike alongside Calls and Prayers for Peace and Justice, which explores common themes, shared ethics and similar visions of peace that emerge across different faith and philosophical traditions.
P.S. Your signature makes a difference! Sign and share our Peacemaker’s Statement Against Extremism.
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
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.
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.
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.”
A lot of my work at Tanenbaum involves our Peacemakers. Men and women who are driven by religion to pursue peace and confront violence, hate and horror, even when doing so puts them at risk – either because they may be injured or because their freedom may be circumscribed. These Peacemakers are a special breed, coming from places where the world’s most violent crises often play out. Perhaps because this is my perspective, I have been particularly moved by the tragic deaths of unarmed black men in Ferguson and Staten Island, and I have also been touched by the local peacebuilders in our midst, who are trying to help us move beyond the pain and toward justice.
These are very difficult and complicated times. Community members question the seeming intractability of racial tension in America, the use (and abuse) of power by police officers and the fairness (and unfairness) of the judicial system. Many are angry and frustrated, moved by a profound sense of injustice. And yet, we see police in New York who have shown restraint and significantly upheld our freedom to protest. Additionally, there are those who seek to capitalize on the unrest – by perpetuating the divide, looting, and menacing law enforcement and community members alike.
Standing amid all this tension are anti-racist religious and spiritual leaders, who are working locally and tirelessly to promote peace.
In Ferguson, religious leaders called on their community to respond peacefully to the grand jury’s decision in the Michael Brown case, and to take positive action such as by working collectively and voting. In New York City, spiritual leaders across many faiths have also united to pursue justice following the death of Eric Garner during an arrest by police. Some of them have protested and watched as members of their communities were incarcerated, while others have called on their congregations to speak with one voice for equal treatment for all
In response to the death of Eric Garner, a coalition of NYC religious and spiritual leaders are calling on our political leaders to make changes that they hope will help rebuild the community’s trust with police officers and government officials. In a signed letter, they delineated a series of actions they hope will move us forward, including a call for NY Attorney General Eric Schneiderman to appoint Special Prosecutors to investigate and prosecute incidents when there is a question of excessive force and wrongful death involving police officers. Whether in response to their voices or otherwise, I am delighted to note that Mr. Schneiderman has now asked Governor Cuomo to take state action to enable such a process to move forward, subject to subsequent legislation.
These generally unknown anti-racist religious and spiritual leaders in New York are not household names like Martin Luther King, Jr. But even though they are not widely acknowledged, they are active in our midst, seeking to heal our communities and to restore trust.
So, while we always support the Tanenbaum Peacemakers working in places like Iraq, Nigeria, El Salvador and Israel, we also pause today, and thank those who are working at home, striving to make our communities safer for all of us.
– Joyce S. Dubensky, CEO
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
Tanenbaum Peacemaker Receives International Peace Prize
A Tanenbaum Peacemaker in Action is back in the news! Ricardo Esquivia’s organization, Sembrandopaz, which is based in the town of Sincelejo, in Sucre, Colombia, was just awarded the 2014 World Vision International Peace Prize.
The award is given out annually by World Vision International to acknowledge courageous “individuals or organizations that excel in peacebuilding or peacemaking”. There were six finalists from India, Pakistan, Yemen, Canada, Bosnia-Herzegovina and Colombia vying for this year’s award. In the end, it was Ricardo’s organization that was selected for their “dedication to an inclusive, holistic and just peace,” becoming the first Latin American foundation to receive the World Vision International Peace Prize.
Ricardo is known for his fearless work in building national and regional dialogues with legal and illegal armed groups. Sembrandopaz supports sustainable development initiatives in Colombia’s Caribbean region. Additionally, Sembrandopaz works with grassroots organizations to improve their capacity for facilitating peace at the community level.
Based on the traditions of the Mennonite Church, Sembrandopaz is devoted to the transformation of communities and their peaceful and sustainable development.