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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

Tanenbaum Peacemaker Receives International Peace Prize

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.

Gaza and Israel: Which Side is Tanenbaum on?

As the Israel-Gaza violence escalates, I get more and more inquires about the organization I lead, asking where Tanenbaum stands and calling on us to speak out. In a number of ways, albeit not always directly, we have tried to say that we are torn apart by the violence on both sides. But that is not enough. It is time to try to clarify, though I know that many will not be satisfied because they want Tanenbaum and me to take a side.

We do take a side – it is the side of life. And the pursuit of a more peaceful world where differences – including religious differences – can thrive.

That means that Tanenbaum unequivocally condemns the use and abuse of religion in the furtherance of violence and geo-political aims.

It means that we denounce the extremists on both sides, who fuel war, horrific violence and hate.

It means that we oppose the verbal violence and rhetoric, the stereotypes and the “othering” that makes the human beings on both sides seem less human.

It means that Tanenbaum abhors war and violence, and that our hearts ache for the victims on both sides.

We are watching a human catastrophe for which words fail. Real people live in Israel and Gaza– people like you and me, who simply want to live their lives. Instead, they are being brutalized.

We see the Palestinian mother who watched her child die from a bomb. And the Palestinian father who is unable to keep his family safe. They are real, and I cannot imagine their agony. So too, is the Israeli mother who buries her son. And the Jewish child in Israel, who knows that she is alive today, only because Hitler did not finish what he started. And who also knows that the constant rockets mean that some of her neighbors are dedicated to making sure Hitler’s plan for her is finally realized.

These men, women and children – the real victims on both sides – are why Tanenbaum works to combat the abuse of religion and the violence. They are why we recommit ourselves to the pursuit of peace for all.

This is where we stand. On the side of life. The death and devastation must stop.

Free Islamic Peace Education Report

IPR

On July 28, many Muslims in the  United States and across the  globe will be celebrating the  conclusion of Ramadan, the    holiday of Eid-al-Fitr.

The Eid-al-Fitr is the festival  and/or feast of the breaking of  the fast, a time of mutual  acknowledgement for Muslims  who have been fasting  throughout the country and  around the world (depending on  their time zone).

To mark the Eid, we would like to share one of our blessings with you: what we learned when we convened four Islamic peace educators from vastly different backgrounds for a day-long exchange on their work in Islamic peace education.

The peace educators shared how they incorporate the topic of peace into their teaching. They shared their stories
and some of their Islamic peace education initiatives.

We – and they – learned from each other’s triumphs and challenges.

Participants included:

  • Jamila Afghani (Peacemaker in Action, 2008) from Kabul, Afghanistan;
  • Azhar (Azi) Hussain (Peacemaker in Action, 2006) from Dubai, UAE and Pakistan;
  • Sarrah Buker from Holmdel, New Jersey; and
  • Rabia Terri Harris from Stony Point, New York.

Today, we are excited to announce the release of Tanenbaum’s Islamic Peace Education report. The report traces each participant’s method and experience in advancing peaceful education from an Islamic perspective, often in the face of suspicion or adversity.

Download the report to learn more about this innovative information exchange.

Who’s watching the spiral of hate?

Who’s watching the spiral of hate?

For those of us who care about acknowledging the humanity in each person- these are dark days.

The Middle East is in flames. Religious practices across Asia and Southeast Asia are being snuffed out – from Christians and Falun Gong practitioners in China to Rohingya Muslims in Buddhist majority Myanmar. Christians are desperately fleeing their homes in northern Iraq. We object to this senseless hatred wherever it is found. And now, we see virulent anti-Semitism in Europe that horrifies us.

If you’re watching, you can see the anti-Semitic anger cutting across Europe as protestors respond to the conflict in Israel and Gaza. While we would always support the right to peacefully protest and express one’s views on the tragedy that is the Middle East, we still have to ask – Why are so many of the current protests devolving into hate, violence and, specifically, targeting hatred toward Jewish people?

At Tanenbaum, we condemn the violence that we see all around us – in the Middle East, in Africa and Asia. And that includes the violence that is threatening European communities, leaving many Jews fearing for their future. Frighteningly, what we are seeing in France and Germany is the tip of an iceberg. Data shows that anti-Semitism is a worldwide illness that has risen over the last 25 years.

As we watch the news unfold, we must pay attention to the violence being perpetrated in the name of religion and as a form of hatred for individuals of particular traditions. In addition to headlines that make us all so sorrowful, we must also make it a point to witness the harm that is not reaching the headlines. And that includes attacks toward Jews just walking on the street to synagogues being set aflame.

As we watch the spiral of hate seemingly spin out of control, we at Tanenbaum recommit ourselves to promoting and practicing respect – for all people. It’s time to end the spiral of violence.  And we all have to be part of the solution.

In Friendship,

Joyce S. Dubensky
CEO

South-South Exchange: Peacemaking in South Africa & Honduras

Transcending Cultural & Geographic Boundaries

Honduras is one of the poorest countries in the Americas, and in 2013, had the highest murder rate in the world. In 2011, as a response to extreme poverty and weak democratic institutions, an organization led by Hondurans began to grow. Known as the National Popular Resistance Front (FNRP), they were determined to eradicate the perpetual fear that plagued their daily lives.

Tanenbaum’s Peacemaker in Action Chencho Alas recognized the power of this growing movement and its potential to build democracy within Honduras. As an established community leader and nonviolent activist, Chencho was selected by FNRP to present his own peacebuilding techniques and approaches to their organization.

Chencho knew that the newly formed FNRP would benefit from a unique opportunity: a Network Intervention. He sought assistance from fellow Tanenbaum Peacemaker in Action Nozizwe Madlala-Routledge who had intimate familiarity with nonviolent resistance, reconciliation and peacebuilding. Chencho knew that Nozizwe’s personal experience and struggle as a Quaker leader during South African apartheid would ignite hope for Hondurans. Together, they worked to develop a plan for a mutual partnership.

In 2011 and 2013, Chencho and Nozizwe conducted trainings and facilitated a South-South exchange of knowledge and capacity building for peaceful reconciliation. In 2011, they led training sessions with over 50 Honduran leaders that focused on methods of peacemaking and nonviolent resistance. In 2013, Chencho and Juan Barahona, the leader of the FNRP coalition, traveled to visit Nozizwe and other South African leaders. Chencho and Juan participated in meetings throughout South Africa to learn about the South African process and model of reconciliation. Additionally, workshops included strategy sessions for participatory planning and network building.  Chencho absorbed this knowledge with the intention of adapting and replicating their peacebuilding models in Honduras. He understood the potential for integrating non-violent resistance along with the South African reconciliation process.

Nozizwe’s experience with post-conflict peacebuilding in South Africa proved powerful and inspiring for grassroots activists during the intervention in Honduras. Her struggle to overcome prejudice and her imprisonment in South Africa was a powerful example for Hondurans, helping to ignite their hope and dedication towards their own peacebuilding initiatives.

During the intervention in Honduras, Chencho presented his own approach to peacemaking that focuses on positive assessment of assets and abilities, rather than problems and needs. Nozizwe learned from this method and looks forward to incorporating this approach in South Africa.

Common challenges and situations faced by both Hondurans and South Africans helped Chencho and Nozizwe to quickly understand how South-South partnerships promote the exchange of best practices in ways that combat entrenched challenges including poverty and violence.

Following the successful interventions, the FNRP used tools enhanced by both Chencho and Nozizwe to form the LIBRE political party in Honduras. During the November 2013 elections, the LIBRE party held early leads in the polls and displayed great progress in becoming a political party that unifies Honduran society.

Network Interventions highlight the importance of the collaborative work in ways that propel substantive peacebuilding and information sharing within the Network. The South-South exchange initiated by Chencho and Nozizwe illuminates the importance of the positive relationships built through the Network and its power to transcend cultural and physical geographic boundaries.

Click here to download the complete Honduras and South Africa Interventions report.

We Are All Human Beings

Despite the rockets and the airstrikes wreaking havoc in Israel and Gaza, Peacemaker in Action Yehezkel Landau’s organization Open House held its annual Summer Peace Camp. Seventy Arab and Jewish children gathered at the peace education center in Ramle, Israel did what all children should do during the summer – they had fun together.

While the latest war in Gaza further complicates hope for peace between Israelis and Palestinians, a twelve-year-old camper relays her belief that there can one day be peace – by reminding us of what we too often forget in times of conflict:

“We are all human beings.”

To read more about this lesson in perseverance, click here for Open House’s July 2014 newsletter, Summer Peace Camp in the Midst of War.

Summer Peace Camp in the mixed Jewish-Arab village of Neve Shalom/Wahat as-Salaam.

Summer Peace Camp in the mixed Jewish-Arab village of Neve Shalom/Wahat as-Salaam.