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Remembering 9/11-Reflections on Nonviolence

Friends,

On this 16th anniversary of September 11th, I chose to commemorate the tragic day by rejecting aloud the idea that violence is the core language of humankind. Instead, it is nonviolence—a transformational force acknowledged by many faiths and belief traditions—that resonates with me and that has moved mountains throughout history.

Drawing strength from their own faith’s perspectives, icons like Martin Luther King Jr., Mahatma Gandhi, and Nelson Mandela, as well as Tanenbaum’s lesser-known Peacemakers in Action, prove that nonviolence is an effective and loving way to combat oppression, violence and extremism in our time.

Learn more about the various ways our religious beliefs address nonviolence from our latest Combating Extremism resources:

Nonviolent resistance… avoids not only external physical violence but also internal violence of spirit. The nonviolent resister not only refuses to shoot his opponent but he also refuses to hate him.

–Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr., “An Experiment in Love”

In Remembrance,
Joyce S. Dubensky, CEO

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).

Combat Extremism – November Resources from Tanenbaum

Dear Friends,

Last week, ISIS sought to shatter our sense of security by striking at the heart of Paris, Beirut and Baghdad. As we mourn the loss of so many innocent lives, we remain resolved to defy ISIS and terrorism by firmly upholding our shared values – that we must treat others as we wish to be treated.

And when we abide by that Golden Rule, we build an inclusive, pluralistic society that does not marginalize those who are different.

One key strategy for doing this is by learning more about one another and seeking out ways to stand together. Today, we’re proud to continue our Combating Extremism campaign by sharing more practical resources you can use in your daily life or in a classroom.

Today, our focus is on the work of Tanenbaum’s Syrian Peacemaker in Action, Hind Kabawat:

  • QUESTIONS for Students and Educators: A question sheet that may be used by educators and creative parents alike alongside Hind Kabawat’s Testimony about strategies to pursuing peace in Syria! Using the primary documentation provided by Hind’s testimony, these materials may be useful for educators teaching about current events, conflict resolution and peacebuilding, The Cradle of Civilization and geography.
Read, download, and share! With these resources, you can gain a unique perspective into the Syrian conflict and examine Peacemaker in Action Hind Kabawat’s solutions. Challenge students and children to ask questions, research the answers, and take action by starting a discussion within your community or family. To learn more about Hind’s next project (to work with women who will rebuild Syria) click here.
Together, let’s work to prevent violent extremism. Peace begins with us.
With hope for a better future,
Joyce S. Dubensky,
CEO

P.S. Your signature makes a difference! Sign and share our Peacemaker’s Statement Against Extremism.

Click here to support our work with Hind, her fellow Peacemakers and our 2016 intervention in Syria.

Tanenbaum Helps Bring Religious Leaders Together to Build Peace in Sri Lanka

Three weeks before the People’s Forum 2015, the Centre for Peacebuilding and Reconciliation (CPBR)—an organization co-founded and directed by Tanenbaum Peacemaker in Action recipient Dishani Jayaweera and her partner Jayantha Seneviratne—held a four-day workshop, supported by Tanenbaum, where 50 religious leaders representing the four main faiths in Sri Lanka—Buddhist, Hindu, Muslim and Christian—came together. There, the religious leaders agreed on a set of recommendations for grassroots communities, opinion makers and national policymakers, as a “path for reconciliation and peace” in Sri Lanka, to be presented at the People’s Forum. From the list of recommendations they developed a National Road Map for Reconciliation, which lays out how best to advocate and implement those recommendations.

Exemplifying the power of the Peacemakers in Action Network, facilitated by Tanenbaum, Dishani invited her fellow Peacemakers in Action from Nigeria, Pastor James Wuye and Imam Muhammad Ashafa, to help implement a process with Sri Lankan religious leaders and develop the National Road Map for Reconciliation. As men of different faiths—James a Christian and Ashafa a Muslim—they once fought for opposing militias in the Kaduna State of Nigeria. However, after experiencing hate and violence destroy their communities, they joined forces 20 years ago to found the Interfaith Mediation Centre.

At Tanenbaum’s intervention in Sri Lanka, Nigerian Peacemakers Pastor Wuye and Imam Ashafa served as “living models” for the Sri Lankans; many attendees in the workshop were already followers of the Peacemakers’ transformative work in Nigeria! Their presence in Sri Lanka was not only inspiring but manifestly instrumental due to their wealth of knowledge and experience in conflict transformation. Pastor Wuye and Imam Ashafa’s contributions were well received during the development of the Road Map.

A crucial aspect to the process leading up to the People’s Forum, and one stressed by Dishani, Jayantha and the CPBR team, was the bringing together of religious leaders to collaborate with other socially active groups. Expressing a perspective similar to Tanenbaum’s philosophy, the CPBR team explained:

“[Religious leaders] have a ready source of knowledge and potential for peacemaking… and experience in caring for and advising local communities. They are highly intelligent, well connected, duly respected and very resourceful. They could draw out their existent source of knowledge, experience and resources and use it more deliberately for peacemaking.”[i]

The People’s Forum three weeks after the workshop was a remarkable success: bringing out the power of participatory processes towards ethnic and religious coexistence. Sri Lankans of every age, gender, faith and ethnicity presented their unique set of recommendations to 1,500 guests, including government bodies, religious leaders, civil society activists, the international community and community leaders from different regions. The recommendations were from heartfelt “grassroots perspectives,” and the event revealed how Sri Lankans believe the country should proceed towards reconciliation and peace.

Tanenbaum is proud to support the peacebuilding work of Dishani, Jayantha and the CPBR team, who over the years have established grassroots groups by engaging in a consultative process with women, men, children, youth, elders, and inter- and intra-faith leaders across every geographic region of Sri Lanka to facilitate dialogue, empower individuals for self-transformation and improve communities. With commitment, each group devised recommendations to further reconciliation and peace in their communities, with the end result of an impressive 2,688 recommendations. These recommendations ranged in their focus from those that could be implemented at community and regional levels as well as changes needed in national level policies; with the latter focusing on six key thematic areas, namely, opportunities for healing for those affected by war, implement the trilingual policy, restructure the formal education system, establish an inter-faith council to promote inter-faith culture, introduce media policy that respects diversity, and introduce constitutional amendments that ensure equality and equity.

After nearly three decades of civil war in Sri Lanka, the People’s Forum 2015 marked a historical event in the country by infusing hope among the participants for a future of reconciled communities and peaceful ways of citizen participation in governance. Since gaining independence from colonial rule in 1948, Sri Lanka has suffered from ethnic and religious polarization due to weak processes in nation building, resulting in the predominant Sinhala/Buddhist community competing with, and at times fighting against, other communities vying for equality in citizenship and fair share in statehood. Even though the war was ended in 2009 and victory declared by government forces, the country remains fractured and continues to struggle to overcome religious, economic and ethnic tensions.[ii][iii] 

The People’s Forum marked the culmination of 12 years of grassroots efforts by CPBR and seven years of inter-faith engagement, with the inter-faith journey since its inception accompanied by the United States Institute of Peace (USIP) and the German Federal Foreign Office’s (ifa) zivik funding program. Following the success of the People’s Forum, Dishani, Jayantha and the CPBR team, along with the country’s religious leaders, have initiated the process of building a broad coalition to implement the Road Map—a map created by the people of Sri Lanka for reconciliation now and for future peace.

The Tanenbaum-supported intervention in Sri Lanka leading up to the People’s Forum, and the Forum itself, show that when peace activists motivated by faith come together, peace is possible.

[i]  CPBR (2002).Socially Engaged Religions for Coexistence in Sri Lanka.

[ii]  David Feith (2010). “Tamil and Sinhala relations in Sri Lanka: a historical and contemporary perspective,” in Global Change, Peace & Security, formerly Pacifica Review: Peace, Security & Global Change, 22:3, 345-353, DOI: 10.1080/14781158.2010.510270

[iii]  CPBR (2015). People’s Forum 2015 – To Heal Our Past, to Build Our Future: The journey of community voices for national reconciliation.

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.

 

What the spring equinox means to Rufai Sufis

For people all over the world, the spring equinox is symbolic of renewal, rejuvenation and revitalization. For a group of Sufis in Kosovo, it is the mark of something much more. It is at this time that members of the Rufai branch of Sufism – Islamic mysticism – hold an annual ritual ceremony wherein they celebrate the birth of Ali ibn Abi Talib, the first cousin of the Prophet Muhammad and a revered figure in Islam. The ceremony also commemorates the celebration of the Persian New Year, Nowruz. The uniqueness of this ceremony is exemplified by music, chanting and dancing, fused with the clashing of cymbals and incantations of prayers in the languages of Arabic, Turkish and Albanian.

Photo Credit: Faisal Anwar

Photo Credit: Faisal Anwar

As men chant and sway in conjunction with one another, Sheikh Adrihusein Shehu, who presides over the practice today in Kosovo, removes an iron needle known as a zarf from the mihrab – the enclosed prayer space – behind him, blesses it with his lips, and inserts it slowly into the cheek of those taking partaking in the ritual.

The practice is said to be painless. Shehu’s eldest son, Sejjid Xhemal, expresses that “it is a good feeling, I feel spiritually stronger.” He also emphasized that those partaking are neither intoxicated nor in a trance, but that they are conscious of their practice.

During a tradition Nowruz ritual, a member of the Sufi sect pierces himself with a zarf - an iron skewer. [Credit: Ferdi Limani/Al Jazeera]

During a tradition Nowruz ritual, a member of the Sufi sect pierces himself with a zarf – an iron skewer. [Credit: Ferdi Limani/Al Jazeera]

The practice is rooted in an ancient tradition founded by a spiritual leader Pir Sejjid Amhed Er Rufai, whose practice is upheld until this day. “Our founder Pir Sejjid Ahmed Er Rufai made a miracle in his time to show others that God exists, and now we do this for tradition,” Xhemal said in an interview with Al Jazeera.

Friar Ivo, a celebrated Tanenbaum Peacemaker in Action and Catholic Franciscan interfaith worker in Bosnia, praised Sufism by stating that Sufi spirituality and practice is “very dedicated to peace and cooperation,” and that practitioners “are open to other religious experiences.” Friar Ivo expressed that despite Sufism having different branches, as a whole it should be should be celebrated.

In Kosovo, a relatively young country still recovering from political turmoil, Sheikh Shehu preaches a profound message of peace, tolerance and understanding, calling on his followers to look past incidental differences and to look towards transcendental commonalities.

“We all have faith, but in form we are different … one goes to church, one to synagogue, one to the mosque. But we are all going because of belief in God. We must turn toward love, who gives you the right to hate?” said Shehu in the interview with Al Jazeera.

Prior to the start of the Nowruz ritual. [Credit: Ferdi Limani/Al Jazeera]

Prior to the start of the Nowruz ritual. [Credit: Ferdi Limani/Al Jazeera]

In a world where we too often find the prevalence of darkness and hate, Shehu and his followers offer a radical and compelling message:
One of illumination and love.

A Child is Slaughtered…A Peacemaker Mourns

We are deeply saddened to report that a 5 year old Christian boy, named Andrew after our Peacemaker Rev. Canon Andrew White, was murdered and cut in half by Islamic State terrorists (ISIS) during an invasion of Qaraqosh, a small Christian town in Iraq.

“I’m almost in tears because I’ve just had somebody in my room whose little child was cut in half,” Anglican Canon Andrew White of St. George’s Church told the Anglican Communion News Service. “I baptized his child in my church in Baghdad. This little boy, they named him after me — he was called Andrew.”

“When this story came across the wires, we looked at it, thought of our Peacemaker in Iraq, Canon Andrew White. It leaves me without words. All we could do was to try to call him. But we haven’t been able to reach him yet.”
– Joyce S. Dubensky, CEO of Tanenbaum

Known as the Vicar of Baghdad, Canon Andrew White has declared to news sources that he refuses to leave Baghdad. VICE News filmed a short documentary series about Andrew and his work which can be found in our blog post here.

 

Top News Stories

Thousands of Yazidis are stranded without water and food in the Sinjar mountains after fleeing ISIS. IMAGE: EMRAH YORULMAZ/ANADOLU AGENCY/GETTY IMAGES

Under the cover of nightfall, ISIS terrorized the small town of Sinjar located in the mountainous region of northern Iraq. By the following day, thousands of atrocities had been committed and documented on social media – children beheaded, crucifixions in the park and deplorable acts of violence that haunt the soul.

A Friend Flees the Horror of ISIS is the story of Karim as published by The New Yorker. Karim is a Kurdish member of the Yazidis, a religious minority group in Iraq that has been vehemently targeted by ISIS because of their religious beliefs along with Christians and other minority groups.

IRAQ: Be Aware, Stay Committed: A statement by Joyce Dubensky, CEO, on the atrocities committed by ISIS against the Yazidi people.

Also in Iraq, Tanenbaum Peacemaker, Canon Andrew White, the ‘Vicar of Baghdad’, declared to the Huffington Post that he refuses to leave Iraq, despite Christian Persecution by ISIS.

Peacemaker, Canon Andrew White is Chaplain at Baghdad’s St George’s Anglican Church. In a CNN video, he estimated that St. George had approximately 6,000 members – and in the last ten years, more than 1,200 have been killed.
That is a death toll of 20% – or in other words, 1 in every 5 church members is now deceased.

On a more uplifting note, The Religious Market Theory of Peace is a new report that outlines seven reasons why religious freedom promotes economic growth. Research was conducted by Brian Grim, President of the Religious Freedom & Business Foundation, and Roger Finke, a Penn State Professor. They concluded from data analysis that religious freedom reduces corruption and fosters peace by decreasing violence related to religion – thus contributing to economic growth and stability.

 

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.