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Police and Youth in El Salvador: Insight from Tanenbaum Peacemaker José “Chencho” Alas

Following is a guest article written by Tanenbaum Peacemaker in Action, José “Chencho” Alas.


Historically, El Salvador has been a very violent country.

“Our work with community police and young people is ecological. To avoid the use of plastic bags, we made banana-leaf baskets, which was a real success. We gave each participant a moringa seed; we asked each to give it a name, proclaiming it a younger brother or sister and pledging to care for it and transplant it in an optimal place in their yard.”  – José Chencho Alas, Tanenbaum Peacemaker in Action

In 1932, we had the massacre of 30,000 indigenous people at the hands of the army and the National Guard, ordered by General Maximiliano Martínez, who later became the country’s president. That began a 50-year military dictatorship characterized by successive massacres. In the 1980s, a war burst out that lasted 12 years with a death toll of 80,000. The Peace Accords were signed in January 1992 and immediately the United States began to repatriate Salvadoran gang members who were filling California prisons. This began the war in our streets, particularly among the young.

For the next 20 years the Salvadoran oligarchy was in power, which closed its eyes and allowed the growth of gangs for political reasons. Every time we had elections, they promised the people that if they voted for them, they would stop the violence. In 2009, representatives of the left, of the FMLN, won the elections, but by then the evil had been done. The gangs controlled territories of the country, imposed taxes on the population and killed and killed, not only civilians but also police officers, 58 last year.

It wasn’t until March 2016 and after demonstrations of political power by the famous gang MS-13 and by Barrio 18, that the different active forces of the country decided to put an end to crime by creating a plan called Secure El Salvador. Government, civil society, many churches and NGOs participate in this plan. The result is clear. Crime has dropped from 23 percent to 8.2 percent, but whether this can be sustained remains an open question. The plan is based on social prevention measures, youth education, creation of micro-enterprises and violent prosecution of crime.

It’s in this environment that we have begun to work, facilitating peace workshops for community police, youth and community leaders. We have chosen the department of Cabañas, El Salvador, one of the smallest departments, formed by nine municipalities. Its capital is the city of Sensuntepeque and it has a population of about 150 thousand people.

The concept of community policing is relatively new; little by little it’s spreading in Latin American countries. It takes as its starting point local communities’ needs and interests, both in the prevention of crime as well as in its prosecution and the well-rounded growth of its inhabitants. The mutual work is based on the trust generated by an environment of communication and support, not only in regards to denouncing and fighting crime and its perpetrators but also in the creation of projects of common benefit. The basic purpose is to achieve community coexistence in security, harmony and peace. The function performed by police officers is as peacemakers, a value that allows them to raise their own self-esteem.

Our workshops have three objectives:

1) to give to the participants a methodological tool that generates trust, positive relationships;
2) train in techniques of organization of groups and networks; and
3) work on projects that facilitate police interaction with communities and their respective organizations.

In regards to the methodological instrument, we are teaching the management of appreciative research (AI). The first phase of AI, the discovery of the existing positives at the individual level, in a community, organization or institution, is fundamental. It allows us to discover what’s already there; this becomes the basis for creating a powerful vision that, put into practice in projects, destines us to human growth and material well-being.

The creation of a vision and its projects cannot be achieved if we are not organized. Our objective is to facilitate workshops in each of the municipalities and then form a departmental network of community police, youth and community leaders.

In our first workshop on May 2, we had the participation of 17 middle-school students and leaders from various communities and 12 members of the community police. The project we chose was tree planting, a lovely experience that united us. We started with a nursery of moringa, a tree considered a marvel for its curative properties of 300 diseases, according to some university studies and popular lore. The cultivation of this tree, native to India, has extended to several tropical and semi-tropical regions of the planet. In India, people began to use its seeds and leaves more than 3,000 years ago.

We have the unconditional support of the departmental police commissioner and junior officers, as well as the support of the secondary education centers. We consider our work as something new, in the sense that we do not start by enumerating problems but by discovering and evaluating the positive that already exist in us and the others. Growing in the positive we resolve our problems. The police-youth-community leaders relationship is fundamental for peace.

Written by Tanenbaum Peacemaker in Action, José “Chencho” Alas.

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).

Something for Your Holiday Menu…

Dear Friends,

I’m sure you’ve seen accounts of people canceling their family Thanksgiving—or at least, thinking about it. While family gatherings can sometimes include tension and conflicts, it’s particularly hard for divided families and friends who found themselves on opposite sides of our acrimonious and divisive election.

So the question now is how can we celebrate one another and begin anew the process of living respectfully with our differences, rather than fearing them? In addition to simply making the commitment, this Thanksgiving you can:

  • Share The Golden Rule: Begin dinner with the Golden Rule. It is a universal tenet shared by all traditions. Consider printing it, passing it around, and letting each guest read the words of respect and caring for others that come from so many different beliefs. It can be a moment of sharing and a reminder that can help set the tone for the evening and lay the foundation for healthy conversation.
  • Beware of Words that Inflame: Watch out for the words that inflame. Want to talk about Muslims? Immigrants? Jewish people? Christians? Evangelicals? Women? Race? Sexual orientation? Talk about a person but not “them.” Stay away from words like “all,” “none,” “always,” and “never.” And don’t say, “those people.”
  • Listen: My mother used to say I had two ears and one mouth for a reason. Take time to listen fully before responding. Resources, like this New York Times article, are sprouting up everywhere, reminding us that we can – and should – engage in civil, rational, fact-based discourse. What better time than Thanksgiving?

We wish you a meaningful holiday and invite you to use this Thanksgiving as an opportunity to reaffirm your commitment to all people and all Americans.

Joyce S. Dubensky,
Tanenbaum CEO

Colombia’s Transition to Peace: Lessons and Inspiration from South Africa

Tanenbaum Peacemakers Ricardo Esquivia and Nozizwe Madlala-Routledge

Tanenbaum Peacemakers Ricardo Esquivia and Nozizwe Madlala-Routledge

“She [Nozizwe] could speak about both things — how to end the conflict and then what comes after that…to have someone from South Africa, who came from the grassroots, but who participated in the government and the truth commission, that was really key for us. So there was a lot of interest. Not only at the university at the conference, but in general society. There were interviews on television and the newspaper and with students. Her wisdom and all her knowledge helped illuminate this path along which the country can go. It was a very precise and opportune time for her to come. And her voice of experience really contributed a lot.”

These were the words of Tanenbaum Peacemaker in Action, Ricardo Esquivia, as he described his fellow Peacemaker from South Africa, Nozizwe Madlala-Routledge’s visit to his country Colombia. An active member of the Peacemakers in Action Network (PIA Network), Ricardo hosted Nozizwe less than two months after the Peacemakers convened in New York for Tanenbaum’s sixth Working Retreat – and he noted that Nozizwe’s visit wouldn’t have been possible without Tanenbaum bringing them together.

Ricardo is the founder and director of Sembrandopaz, a nonprofit community organizationdedicated to facilitating the construction of a culture of peace building capacity among grassroots organizations in Colombia.” His wife and English translator, Lillian Hall, leads the organization’s international relations and project management coordination. In 2005, Ricardo received the Peacemakers in Action award for his lifelong work of bringing communities in conflict together to reconcile their differences and lay the groundwork for a peaceful future.

It was a critical time for Colombia. After almost fours years of brokered negotiations in Havana, Cuba, the nation was hopeful for a long-awaited peace and a more just and equitable future. Despite this, Colombia experienced a temporary setback. Just days after an historic peace accords signing between the government and the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia — two sides at war for over fifty years —   millions of Colombians voted “yes” to either accept or “no” to reject the peace deal in a national referendum. By an incredibly narrow margin (50.2 % voting “no”; 49.8% voting “yes”), the people of Colombia, galvanized by former President Alvaro Uribe’s “no” campaign, rejected the peace deal.

In the days leading up to the referendum, Nozizwe visited Colombia and delivered the keynote speech at the 1st International Peace Studies Conference at the University of Cartagena. After spending her first few days in Cartagena for the conference, Nozizwe traveled with her hosts to Sembrandopaz’s offices in Sincelejo, to speak with individuals living in rural communities. Along the way, the Peacemakers visited an Afro community in Mampuján, which led to some special moments.

African Roots

“African Roots” Quilt. From Mampuján, Colombia

Sembrandopaz works closely with Mampuján, an afro community that was displaced in 2000 by Colombian paramilitaries. The community is still unable to return to its land. However, as the first community in Colombia to receive its reparations as victims of the armed conflict, they are “emblematic” of how justice is being realized in Colombia. In Mampuján, women address the community’s painful past by weaving applique quilts that visually narrate their experiences, including massacres and displacement, as well as their African roots. When the Afro-Colombian women received a visit from Nozizwe, a South African woman who had struggled with armed conflict and the difficult transition to peace, there was an immediate sense of unity. Wanting Nozizwe “to take back a piece of Mampuján” to South Africa, the women created an applique for one of Nozizwe’s dresses. In turn, Nozizwe taught the women a South African song in Zulu, “a special moment in which the Afro people of Colombia felt themselves transported to Mother Africa.

Tanenbaum Peacemaker Nozizwe Madlala-Routledge (left) in Colombia

Tanenbaum Peacemaker Nozizwe Madlala-Routledge (left) in Colombia

Everywhere Nozizwe went, she touched people with her message of peace. There was a heartfelt connection between Nozizwe and a young woman from Zambia, Lweendo, a Sembrandopaz volunteer, (during Apartheid, Zambia opened its borders to fleeing refugees from South Africa), as well as a young Afro-Colombian staff member from Colombia named Yesica. Ricardo described how Yesica and Lweendo shared similar dreams in their work toward peace and reconciliation – and so they were profoundly inspired by Nozizwe and her role in South Africa’s peace process.

In Sincelejo, Nozizwe met with women from five different communities Sembrandopaz works with — Alta Montaña, Libertad, Mampuján, Pichilín, and San Jacinto — as well as peasant leaders and a group of local peacemakers. Many of the women Nozizwe spoke with were of Afro-Colombian descent, “women who have lived [Colombia’s] armed conflict in different ways.” Nozizwe listened to the problems they face in their communities (e.g., access to education, employment and birth control). And Nozizwe responded by encouraging the women to use their talents and skills to create “a new society of peace.” Nozizwe spoke to the similar experience of women in South Africa, who were organized and worked together to effect change in their country. While working with others toward peace, Nozizwe described how she developed leadership skills, and she stressed to the importance of visualizing hopes for the future. Nozizwe also encouraged the women to network with other women in their communities.

Yesica Blanco of Sembrandopaz with, Nozizwe Madlala-Routledge in Cartagena, Colombia

Yesica Blanco of Sembrandopaz (left) with Peacemaker Nozizwe Madlala-Routledge in Cartagena, Colombia

Nozizwe also engaged with broader civil society. During a moving encounter, she listened to an ex-combatant who had demobilized ten years ago and now works with an entire network of women ex-combatants. After a tearful embrace, Nozizwe called her “my sister.”

Nozizwe Madlala-Routledge featured in article about peace.

Nozizwe Madlala-Routledge featured in article about peace.

Thanks to fortuitous timing, Nozizwe’s impact also reached beyond the local community level. Just prior to Nozizwe’s to visit to Mampuján, Colombia’s First Lady, María Clemencia, had met with the same women who weave the storytelling applique quilts. (In fact, the women have been asked by the Colombian government’s high peace commissioner’s office to create an enormous quilt which will contain what the peace accords will look like in people’s lives, with all six points of the peace accords represented.) The First Lady was told about Nozizwe’s upcoming visit and this led to a formal request from the office of President Juan Manuel Santos office for Nozizwe to deliver a videotaped message of peace for the Colombian people. The importance of Nozizwe’s work in South Africa, and the hope her message carries, was apparent to all parts of society, including the President.

Despite the disappointing setback of the failed referendum, Ricardo and Sembrandopaz’s work continues. They have been practicing their vision of peace for twenty-five years in what Ricardo describes as a “post-conflict period.” Nozizwe’s visit to Colombia was short but her presence was undoubtedly felt by those she met.

“Secuestro” (Kidnapping). Quilt. From Mampuján, Colombia

For Ricardo, however, this was more than a visit from his fellow Peacemaker in Action, “it was an opening.” Nozizwe has already invited her new friends from Mampuján to come to South Africa to share their stories; and she encouraged one of the young Sembrandopaz staff members to participate in a leadership program at a local university in Johannesburg. The community members who had the joy of meeting and talking with Nozizwe reciprocated; they extended Nozizwe an open invitation to return to Colombia.

Two Peacemakers inspire hope for a peaceful Colombia – oceans apart – but near in their shared vision for peace. And their work together will continue.

By Michael McShane
Peacemakers in Action Network Coordinator, Tanenbaum

 

Tanenbaum’s Peacemakers in Action featured on WNYC’s The Brian Lehrer Show

Tanenbaum Peacemakers in Action Pastor James Wuye with Friar Ivo Markovic, interviewed by Brian Lehrer on WNYC Credit: Shumita Basu

Tanenbaum Peacemakers in Action Pastor James Wuye with Friar Ivo Markovic, interviewed by Brian Lehrer on WNYC Credit: Shumita Basu

On Wednesday July 13, award winning radio talk show host, Brian Lehrer, seized the opportunity to interview two Tanenbaum Peacemakers in Action, Pastor James Wuye of Nigeria and Friar Ivo Markovic of Bosnia-Herzegovina. (Click here to listen to the show)

Known for thoughtful, candid and sometimes difficult conversations, Brian Lehrer’s daily radio talk show on WNYC, The Brian Lehrer Show, received a George Foster Peabody award in 2007 for “Radio That Builds Community Rather Than Divides”. In 2015, Tanenbaum honored Brian Lehrer as a Media Bridge Builder.

And in 2016, Lehrer interviewed Nigerian Peacemaker Pastor James Wuye who started his peace work by helping teach warring religious youth militias to resolve their conflicts peacefully. Today, Pastor James is busy with his innovative peacemaking work against Boko Haram with his former enemy, now close friend Peacemaker Imam Muhammad Ashafa.

Also on the radio show was Peacemaker Friar Ivo Markovic, a Bosnian Croat Franciscan Catholic who fostered peace in Bosnia following the collapse of the former Yugoslavia. His innovative peace work continues through the use of the arts to promote peace, for example, by bringing young people together from diverse backgrounds and religions.

To begin the interview, Lehrer asked Friar Ivo about the violent sectarian conflict that followed the breakup of Yugoslavia in 1992. Friar Ivo recalled those days. It was a terrible time. War between three sides. Three religions. Three nations, and I felt obliged to do something. Friar Ivo described how he had conveyed critical information to the outside world about the war, and how, in those dark days, he wanted to show the “positive power” of religious belief. When Brian Lehrer asked Friar Ivo about his interreligious choir based in Bosnia, Friar Ivo described the choir as “a symphony” of religious diversity, and shared how participation in the choir promotes reconciliation as choir members spend time with individuals from different faiths.

Next, Brian Lehrer asked Pastor James Wuye about his transformation from violence to reconciliation: “Pastor James, I read that you did not start your religious career wanting to make peace. That in 1992, violence broke out in Kaduna between Christians and Muslims and as a Christian pastor you wanted to fight and kill Muslims at one time. Is that true? Can you describe that time?”

Pastor James replied, “When I was younger I was a Christian activist. There were challenges in those days, misunderstandings between people of opposite religions usually escalated into violent killing of people or destroying places of worship. It became imperative to me as a young person to learn to defend the church…Listeners cannot see that I have an artificial limb here which I lost as a result of my effort to protect the church from young Muslims who were wrongly programmed to hate. With that kind of hate, hate begets hate.”

Brian Lehrer then asked, How did you change? How did you go from killing each other’s family members to brokering peace?” And Pastor James continued, “I had a turning point… my leader told me, ‘James you cannot preach Christ with the kind of hate that you have for the Muslims. You have to love them, you have to forgive them, you have to learn to do what Christ would have done if he were here.’ And that was the magic.”

It was this realization that moved Pastor James to begin working with former enemy (and now his fellow Tanenbaum Peacemaker) Imam Muhammad Ashafa. Together, they created the Interfaith Mediation Centre, a grassroots organization that trains Nigeria’s militia-involved youth, along with women, religious figures and tribal leaders to become civic peace activists. Pastor James is dedicated to providing hands-on trainings, but he also believes that the strongest weapon you can use against your enemy is to love your enemy excessively…you can disarm your enemy through love.

Brian Lehrer also asked Pastor James spoke about his work with victims of Boko Haram. Pastor James revealed how he has to ask families very difficult (but important) questions: “If your daughter arrives today with a baby from their captor, what will you do?

Brian Lehrer is a master; he elicited core truths from the powerful stories of two Tanenbaum Peacemakers. He concluded by putting their connection to Tanenbaum into context and asking more about Tanenbaum’s Peacemakers in Action Network, and Network interventions, including the 2014 Syrian intervention when Peacemaker Hind Kabawat (Syria) invited her fellow Peacemakers Friar Ivo and Nozizwe Madlala-Routledge (South Africa) to train Syrian peace activists.

Hear our Peacemakers in their own words – Click here to listen to the full, 20-minute recording.


We want to express special thanks to Brian Lehrer and WNYC for their curiosity and for giving the Peacemakers the opportunity to share their work with New York.

Combating Extremism: Reasons for Hope in Dark Days

Dear Friends,

People often ask me what can be done to prevent and stop violent extremism.

In our recent survey, people from across the world shared their answer. Overwhelmingly, they believe that education is the antidote to fear and prejudice. The message was loud and clear: religious understanding is essential to ending acts of hatred, large and small.

With that in mind and in honor of Women’s History Month, I’m excited to bring you Tanenbaum’s March Combating Extremism materials, which highlight women who are making history – today!

  • Women Who Pursue Peace and Justice: A resource sheet highlighting the efforts of religiously driven women in armed conflicts and women-centered programs that counter violent extremism (CVE).

As you’ll see, we focus on women peace activists who are religiously motivated. They are unsung heroines who work to counter and prevent extremism. While women across the globe are doing this urgent and admirable work, this resource highlights a few who have been recognized by Tanenbaum, and also calls attention to other wonderful programs that support women working for peace.

Read, download, and share this month’s resource sheet! Challenge yourself and others to understand the significant accomplishments of these women. And then follow in their footsteps (safely!). Even small acts in your hometown can have big impacts.

Let’s make history – each of us in our own way.

Joyce S. Dubensky,
CEO

P.S. Momentum is increasing – but we need your signature! Sign and share our Peacemaker’s Statement Against Extremism on Change.org

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.

 

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.”

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