The following letter was written by Tanenbaum Peacemaker in Action, Dr. Ephraim Isaac. You can read more about his work here.
Dear Beloved Brothers/Sisters,
“We must learn to live together as brothers [and sisters]
or perish together as fools” Martin Luther King, Jr.
Our beloved country Ethiopia has been known since ancient times as a land of peace and tolerance. The Greeks, the Hebrews, the Persians, the Prophet Muhammed, famous Renaissance scholars, (and maybe even Luther, the founder of Protestantism) all hailed Ethiopia as a home of a tolerant and peaceful people.
The past year I was a member of a doctoral dissertation committee for a Sri Lankan university student of psychology on the tragic Sri Lankan Civil War of 1987-2009. An estimated 100,000 civilians (according to one statistic), not counting military deaths, perished during that conflict. I learnt from reading the thesis that the root of that conflict was bitter ethnic hate among the Tamils, Sinhalese, and Moors. Unfortunately, what was originally and rightly meant to promote ethnic pride was turned into a philosophy of ethnic superiority and hatred by some politicians. The discrimination that occurred in state sector employment practices and demand for separate states over time turned into a potent and bitter hatred and generated fear that escalated into inter-ethnic hate and death and destruction.
So, today, when I hear abusive or strong words of hate from some of my compatriots, maligning one or another of our beautiful people, be it the Tigre, the Oromo, the Amhara, or any of our many other linguistics communities, it pains me very much. If I were a person capable of anger, which I am not, I would say I am madly angry. When we hate our fellow Ethiopians, we empower external forces that wish to do us harm.
Right now, I am at the famous Mayo Clinic retreat as a keynote speaker on the value of cultural diversity in the health services. Many of the doctors I meet agree with me that hate is a psychological disease that is as bad as cancer. It is a miserable illness that needs to be treated. Otherwise, it will destroy the person who harbors it. It affects the brain and heart of the hater and boils the nervous system. It can actually shorten the life of a person who is afflicted by a hateful mind. In short, we do more harm to ourselves than to others through hate.
On the contrary, love and respect of others calm the brain and nervous system. Some psychologists I know say that the positive reinforcement of others rather than their punishment gives people more positive life options. To work for the good of others and reach across lines and look to the future rather than to attack people indeed bring joy and happiness, and rich personal fulfillment.
All of the religions of our country teach love and compassion. The great prophets of Judaism, Christianity, and Islam taught love and compassion. They said love not only your neighbor but even the stranger. Jesus even taught “love your enemy as yourself.” Hating people and considering them enemy should be abhorrent to any decent Ethiopian.
I have travelled through western Ethiopia when I was at Haile Selassie Secondary School in the early 1950’s on foot or mule back in Wallaga, through southern and eastern Ethiopia as Executive Director of the National Literacy Campaign of Ethiopia (succeeding General Tadesse Biru) in the late 1960’s and early 1970’s, and in northern Ethiopia, Axum, Lalibela, and Gondar when I was doing my Harvard doctoral research in the mid-1960’s. Every Ethiopian in the country side and villages I met all over the country was a humble, loving, and kind person. I do not remember meeting any arrogant, hateful, and disrespectful village person. On the contrary all imbue kindness patience and love. I do not remember being asked whether I was an Oromo, Amhara, Tigray, or other linguistic group. Their first question was “are you tired, are you hungry, do you want to come in and drink coffee?” Most of the people I encountered were poor but far richer in soul and spirit than some of us today who harbor anger and are hateful in heart.
Nobody denies that there are political differences among us. We have serious problems that we have to deal with. Those of us who are now ardently working for peace, plan to work with the Government and all political Opposition parties to find a resolution of all problems and conflicts. I think we should focus on the dangerous problem – that I called “hate” – to wash it away from our minds so that we can sit down together calmly as brothers and sisters to solve our national problems.
Nobody denies that we need in our country strong and genuine democracy. But the road to genuine democracy and political agreements is not paved by hate and anger, but through calm dialogue and respectful discourse. Then, we can form “a covenant” of timeless co-existence.
Brothers and sisters, please forgive me if I sound too accusatory. I love you also who send the hateful messages over the air waves. I pray for you so that G-d can open your heart and mind so you can repent and turn your energy from the way of anger and hate to the highway of love and kindness. We must free ourselves from the fault line of linguistic group antagonism and form instead active coalition of women, men of different communities in order to bring genuine democracy. Moreover, we all can build together our beloved homeland and fight together against our true enemies – poverty, disease and illiteracy.
Let us become an exemplary people to all of Africa as a people who love and respect each other. May G-d’s light shine upon you and give you and guide you in the way of peace.
– Dr. Ephraim Isaac, Tanenbaum Peacemaker in Action
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 email@example.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).
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.
On Monday, our friend Michal Froman was attacked by a Palestinian teenager in the West Bank settlement of Tekoa. Thankfully, the pregnant Michal survived the stabbing, avoiding life-threatening injuries to herself and her unborn child.
The recent violent attacks in Israel/Palestine have been extremely troubling, further indicating that the ongoing struggle for Middle East peace remains woefully out-of-reach due to self-serving politics. But yesterday’s attack hit close to home for me, Tanenbaum and our Network of Peacemakers from around the world.
Ms. Froman is the daughter-in-law of the late Rabbi Menachem Froman, one of the first recipients of Tanenbaum’s Peacemakers in Action award. Rabbi Froman spent his life promoting reconciliation between Jewish settlers and Palestinian residents in the West Bank and Gaza. He envisioned a “humane state,” one in which all people — Jewish and Muslim, Israeli and Palestinian — treat each other with respect and dignity. Rabbi Froman’s work brought many people together, including political leaders, and he perceived the conflict as a tragedy of “two peoples loving the same land.” By seeking the common ground of having a shared faith in God, his work often transcended politics and motivated his own work on a deeply spiritual level. Rabbi Froman dedicated most of his life to promoting reconciliation between Jewish settlers and Palestinian residents in the West Bank and Gaza.
So it was no surprise to hear the reports of Michal Froman recognizing her attacker’s humanity when describing the 15-year-old to police and the media. Her father-in-law surely would be proud and so are we.
Joyce S. Dubensky
And when we abide by that Golden Rule, we build an inclusive, pluralistic society that does not marginalize those who are different.
Today, our focus is on the work of Tanenbaum’s Syrian Peacemaker in Action, Hind Kabawat:
- Tanenbaum Peacemaker in Action Hind Kabawat’s Testimony at U.S. House Committee hearing on the Islamic State and Religious Minorities: Read Syrian Peacemaker Hind Kabawat’s innovative strategies to protect religious minorities and all people in Syria, including her full testimony.
- 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.
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.
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.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.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.
Right now, all we can do is pause, hope, and for those who pray – to pray.
Canon Andrew White, one of Tanenbaum’s Peacemakers in Action, was interviewed from Baghdad where he continues to tend to the dwindling Christian community and their neighbors.
He remains in Iraq, even though he tells us that ISIS is descending on Baghdad. Word is that they are about 5 miles out. Andrew is supposed to have some protection from Iraqi soldiers assigned to defend him. But his soldier told him that, if ISIS comes, he will take off his uniform and run! Andrew believes that ISIS must be defeated by ground troops – but there are none. And meanwhile, the roads out of Baghdad are blocked.
And so I ask you to join us today – to pause and remember Andrew and all the Iraqi people.
Thank you for caring,
Joyce S. Dubensky, CEO
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.