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International Day of Peace

Friends,
 
This year’s International Day of Peace celebrates the 70th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. This document lays out a vision of human rights for all. As such, it is critical to all of us.
 
But what needs to be remembered is that the Declaration itself, and much of the work that has followed its powerful release, would not exist without women – including women of faith – who are involved in the peacebuilding process. As head of the Human Rights Commission, it was a woman, Eleanor Roosevelt, who was instrumental in composing the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. The work that has grown from that document would not exist if not for that one visionary woman.
 
​​​​​​​Yesterday, I had the privilege of speaking on a panel at the United Nations General Assembly called Keeping Faith in Sustainable Peace: Women of Faith as Agents of Transformation. I spoke alongside professor Hind Kabawat, a member of Tanenbaum’s Peacemakers in Action Network, along with Fatima Madaki, from Search for Common Ground and a KAICIID International Fellow. These women, along with myself, are living proof that women of faith can and should be recognized for the roles we play in the peace and reconciliation process, as formal and more often informal, agents of peace. Among our panel, we unanimously agreed that before anything else, UN leaders, diplomats, government officials and religious leaders within various communities MUST collaborate with women as allies and partners in the conversation. Women need more than a seat at the table. They need many seats. 
 
Early on, Tanenbaum saw the importance of women of faith in peace, and committed to formally recognizing women among our Peacemakers. Today, the Peacemakers in Action Network includes 10 women of faith – from all different conflict zones, who each live out their faith in different ways that build towards sustainable peace and inclusion. 
 
Too often the role women play as agents of peace is undervalued and often straight out ignored. Their work, their perspectives, their existence must be recognized. So today, to honor the past 70 years and look towards the next 70, let’s change how we work together – and make sure that we are working with the multitudes of women who make peace possible internationally.
 
And just in case you still have doubts about the power of religious and faith-based women peacebuilders…please take a few minutes to review Tanenbaum’s resource sheet, Women Who Pursue Peace and Justice, on the female peacemakers we recognize and partner with, and the important work they’re doing.
 
Yours in peace, 
 
Joyce S. Dubensky
CEO, Tanenbaum 

Preventing Syria’s Next Massacre – Guest post by Hind Kabawat

This article was published on Medium by Tanenbaum Peacemaker in Action, Hind Kabawat, on July 31, 2018


As I walked among the tombstones that demarcate the Srebrenica Genocide Memorial for the infamous 1995 massacre, I could not help but draw parallels with my country’s own conflict. These 8,000 innocent Bosniak Muslims, left to be slaughtered by Bosnian Serb troops under the command of Ratko Mladic, demonstrate the deadly consequences of the international community’s failure to protect civilians occupying the UN’s declared “Safe Haven” zone. I fear that it is this same fate that may befall some of the millions of civilians currently residing in Syria’s Idlib province.

For the past year and a half, the Idlib region has served as a safe haven for other regions of Syria that have seen violent conflict. As Bashar al-Assad’s offensive has seized control of most of Syria within the past year and a half using military aggression with the support of Iranian fighters, as well as aerial bombardment by their Russian allies, in areas such as Homs, Eastern Ghouta, and most recently Daraa, opposition groups have acquiesced to ‘reconciliation’ agreements under the condition that any opposition fighters or civilians unable or unwilling to live under regime control be granted the option to relocate to Idlib. These fighters, their families, and countless civilians have been transported in buses by the Syrian regime under the supervision of Russian forces from their homes to the Idlib province, in what is far from an act of reconciliation but rather a targeted practice of forced displacement and “demographic engineering”, which is a violation of Rule 129 of Customary International Humanitarian Law.

The population of Idlib, which once numbered around 750,000, has swelled to nearly 3.5 million in recent years due to the influx of internally displaced people seeking safety and security. Currently, the province is a distorted reflection of the diverse Syrian nation that existed prior to Bashar al-Assad’s violent crackdown on his own populace, containing Syrians from all over the country and from different ethnicities and religious groups. While a certain percentage of Idlib residents are members of armed opposition groups and an extremist presence exists in the form of Tahrir al-Sham (HTS) and a select few other radical groups, the vast majority of the province is populated by civilians. It is these individuals whose safety is of immediate concern.

While Idlib has been the evacuation point for the rest of Syria, there no longer remains anywhere for civilians to evacuate to in the event of an attack by the Syrian regime. Over 3 million refugees have entered Turkey since the Syrian conflict began, stretching Turkey beyond its ability to take in and care for those fleeing to its southern border, and there is no safe passage or open border elsewhere that residents of Idlib can hope to reach. Thus when the regime turns its eye to Idlib, which as of July 27, 2018 Bashar al-Assad directly stated his intention to do, these civilians will be trapped and left to be caught in to crossfire of the regime’s campaign against northern opposition groups.

According to the Geneva Conventions of 1949 and their Additional Protocols of 1977, civilians and all persons not taking part in combat may under no circumstances be the object of attack. The Syrian regime has repeatedly demonstrated its contempt for these laws, directly targeting civilian infrastructure such as hospitals and schools while also detaining civilians and peaceful protesters. As of July of this year, the regime has released more than 7,000 death certificates for detainees that bear evidence of their death under torture, demonstrating the confidence acquired by Bashar al-Assad’s continued impunity for his repeated war crimes and crimes against humanity.

Without international intervention, once the Syrian regime consolidates its hold in the country’s southern provinces, they will turn northward towards Idlib while maintaining their narrative that the province is under the sole control of al-Nusra despite clear evidence to the contrary. In line with his prior military tactics, observers and military experts expect this campaign will be marked by heavy aerial bombardment by Russian forces, targeting of civilian infrastructure such as schools and hospitals, and the use of chemical weapons. With nowhere else left to flee, millions of Syrians would be sitting targets.

With each disturbing image released from the Syrian conflict, of children pulled from piles of rubble and of mutilated corpses of women, men, and children detained by the Syrian government, the world has decried the brutality of the Syrian conflict and vowed to take action. The civilians, women, and children of Idlib standing waiting for those nations to fulfill their vow, or to leave them to their fate at the hands of a government whose repeated war crimes have been extensively documented, just as the people of Srebrenica did in 1995.

This article was written by Tanenbaum Peacemaker in Action, Hind Kabawat


Image: Srebrenica-Potočari Memorial. Credit: Remembering Srebrenica

Tanenbaum Announces New Peacemakers in Action!

 

Dr. Sarah AK Ahmed feeds a young girl who fled Mosul – FRRME August 2017

Dear Friends,

Today we’re thrilled to announce our 201Peacemakers in Action—Iraq’s Dr. Sarah AK Ahmed, a Muslim, and South Sudan’s James Lual Atak, a Christian. Both are extraordinary peace activists, driven by their faith and risking their lives for the chance of peace in the world’s worst conflicts.

Sarah defies extremists and exemplifies compassion by providing resources for Christian, Yazidi, and other religious and ethnic minority internally displaced persons. James provides safe haven and educational opportunities for orphans and women—regardless of their religious or ethnic backgrounds. Both have been threatened or caught in crossfire, yet they persist, improving the lives of those with whom they work.

James with children at Make Way Partners

Dr. Sarah Ahmed and James Lual Atak join 30 Peacemakers from 24 conflict zones.

In peace,

Joyce S. Dubensky
CEO, Tanenbaum

An Open Letter to Ethiopians At Home and Abroad

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.

Tanenbaum Peacemaker in Action Dr. Ephraim Isaac at an interfaith meeting in India with Ella Gandhi, grand-daughter of Gandhi, and Dr. Ephraim Isaac’s doctoral student from Sri Lanka.

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.

Tanenbaum Peacemaker in Action Dr. Ephraim Isaac with inter-religious leaders from Bahrain and the USA at the Museum of Tolerance in LA.

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.

Tanenbaum Peacemaker in Action Dr. Ephraim Isaac officiating at an Ethiopian Jewish festival in NYC.

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

A Holistic Approach to Peacemaking

A guest post by Tanenbaum Peacemaker Yehezkel Landau, D. Min.


Politicians and diplomats who try to resolve armed conflicts usually focus their efforts on achieving a pragmatic exchange of benefits between the warring parties. They aim for a compromise on the tangible issues in dispute, whether territory or resources or political power. Such a straightforward approach to conflict resolution is understandable, but it often fails because deeper aspects of the conflict—psychological, emotional, and spiritual dimensions—are ignored or downplayed.

At the same time, many peace movements attempting to transform violent conflicts into constructive partnerships also fail in their efforts because they focus most of their energy and rhetoric on protesting against injustices or abuses of power. This “prophetic” stance of decrying misguided policies is a natural and even necessary approach to peacemaking—but it is far from sufficient to shift the underlying dynamics in longstanding conflicts.

A more holistic approach to peacebuilding, one that takes more time but holds more promise for ultimate success, addresses various dimensions simultaneously:

On the pragmatic political level, compromises need to be negotiated on the disputed issues. These usually require tangible concessions on both sides, and political leaders need to acknowledge that these renunciations entail painful sacrifices for the different parties. Culturally appropriate symbolic expressions of collective grief have to be used while implementing the terms of the agreement. Economic incentives are usually a vital part of peace treaties, so that ordinary citizens experience some “peace dividend” that improves their quality of life. This aspect of peacemaking is the one normally adopted by diplomats and politicians. But to focus only on this dimension of any conflict risks an outcome that is politically expedient but not truly transformative or healing. The agreement may easily unravel when political circumstances change—for example, new leaders come to power—if the populations in conflict do not experience some cathartic, therapeutic shift in attitudes and feelings. Hence the need to incorporate the other dimensions of peacemaking outlined here.

On the cognitive level, new thought patterns need to be encouraged among the opposing parties. In prolonged conflicts, attitudes crystallize into ideologies that become integral to the identities on all sides. Victim scripts are often constructed to justify belligerent views of self and other, and the need for a defined “enemy” perceived as a threat hardens over time into an “us vs. them” worldview. The capacity for moral discernment, or conscience, becomes skewed to the point where two double standards of justice are adopted, rather than one inclusive understanding of justice encompassing both ends and means. Typically, the other side’s position is viewed as illegitimate and its militant actions are considered aggression or terrorism, while one’s own side’s position is considered righteous and its actions are deemed necessary acts of self-defense. To shift from this dualistic and antagonistic frame of mind, role playing or simulation exercises that encourage people to take the adversary’s perspective can help them gradually develop a dual- or multi-narrative perspective. If competing historical narratives are held in tension rather than seen as mutually exclusive, a combatant on either side may reach the point where s/he can think and say, “If I were on the other side, I would be fighting me, too.” This is one crucial element in developing empathy, but it still lacks the necessary element of “emotional intelligence,” the subject of the next section.

On the emotional level, intense feelings that keep both parties locked in what I call “antagonistic interdependence” need to be transformed if the conflict is to be truly healed and closure achieved. This is the “pastoral” or “priestly” approach to peacebuilding that needs to complement the “prophetic” critique of official policies. This approach aims at achieving a cathartic transformation of the emotional matrix that fuels the conflict at its deepest level, for individuals and for collectives. Here are what I consider the essential challenges confronting the emotionally intelligent peacemaker: How can we transform fear to trust, especially in situations of ongoing insecurity? How can we help people work through their feelings of anger, even rage, to the point where they can forgive the other side and ask for forgiveness in return? And how can people who are crippled by grief be helped to extend that emotional response to include compassion for the suffering on the other side, too? Fear, anger, and grief are the powerful forces driving most conflicts. They are irrational in nature and so not susceptible to reasoned arguments, which is why peacemakers need some basic psychological training or at least the ability to ally with mental health professionals.

Finally, on the spiritual level, a different understanding of holiness has to be cultivated, and here religious leaders and educators need to set an example. In the monotheistic traditions, God is viewed as sovereign over all Creation, thereby relativizing all claims to territory and power. In the context of Israel/Palestine, for example, that means that no one nation can claim exclusive sovereignty over the whole land; instead, the land belongs to God, and by the grace of God and under certain moral conditions both peoples belong to the land. This spiritual truth is obscured by competing nationalisms, which are, by definition, self-referencing and self-preferencing. To transcend such narrow partisanship, a shared vision of what is means to be partners in consecration (of both time and territory) has to be developed and articulated by religious leaders. Jews, Christians, Muslims, Druse, and others in the land called holy are hungry for an inclusive experience of genuine holiness. On such a spiritual foundation a new and liberating politics could be fashioned.

In closing, I invite you to visit the website for the OPEN HOUSE peace center in Ramle, Israel, which I helped to found in 1991: www.friendsofopenhouse.co.il OPEN HOUSE is a micro-laboratory that has been trying to develop a praxis of peacebuilding based on the holistic approach outlined here. Its programs for Jewish and Arab children, teens, and adults are based on 3 A’s: ACKNOWLEDGEMENT of the harm done to the other side (a shift in cognitive awareness and conscience), sincere APOLOGY for that harm (the moral and spiritual act of repentance), and practical AMENDS for the suffering caused (active compassion and restorative justice). If this model of peacemaking at the grassroots level were translated to the macro-political level, perhaps Israelis and Palestinians would experience unimagined breakthroughs in their relationship that would usher in a new era of mutual solidarity and cooperation.

For more information on holistic peacemaking and training workshops grounded in this approach, please contact Yehezkel Landau at yehezkel@landau-interfaith.com or by phone at 860-944-4504.

Safe but Scared in Kabul – Tanenbaum Peacemaker Jamila Afghani

Tanenbaum Peacemaker Jamila Afghani, Afghanistan

Yesterday morning’s deadly truck bombing in Kabul was a horrific tragedy. At Tanenbaum, it’s also personal.

The explosion, which killed more than 80 people and wounded hundreds more, shook Kabul as our Peacemaker Jamila Afghani was on her way to work. When we reached her later in the day, Jamila was at home with her family and all were safe. Safe, but very scared. They live close enough to the bomb blast that all her windows were smashed, and the walls cracked open.

At Tanenbaum, we work with Peacemakers from around the world like Jamila, who pursue peace in the places where violence and conflict are the norm. Jamila focuses on improving the lives of women and girls in Afghanistan, despite the violence and constant threats. She is a woman of faith and fearless vision. But on a day like today, her only words were that the bombing was “extremely terrifying” and that it struck “fear in my heart.”

As we continue to mourn the attacks in Manchester, Cairo, and Portland, we must remember those killed and injured in Kabul.

Terrorism has no bounds. It strikes with ferocity. By remembering all the victims, survivors and their families whether in Manchester or Kabul, we align with those who oppose hatred and terror. By acknowledging the random impact of terror on people from all backgrounds, nationalities and religions, we lay claim to our humanity.

Today, we are reminded that greater security and protection for civilians in Kabul and throughout Afghanistan is critically needed. As the international community takes action to stop the terror, let it remember the people of Kabul and the long Afghan war. Let us devote more resources to peacebuilding and diplomacy—and to advancing the work of religious Peacemakers like Jamila.

 


To read more about Tanenbaum Peacemaker Jamila Afghani, please visit her profile page here.

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.

Letter to Congress: RESIST Budget Cuts to Foreign Assistance

Dear Member of Congress,

    Click to view and download            Tanenbaum’s Letter to Congress

As a constituent from New York and as the CEO of the Tanenbaum Center for Interreligious Understanding, I write with deep concern about the proposed budget cuts to foreign assistance, especially as it relates to global conflict. At Tanenbaum, we identify and work with men and women driven by their religious beliefs and ready to risk their lives to end conflict around the world. These include deadly conflict, escalating violence and extremism that, over the past 15 years, has reduced world GDP by 13.3%.

U.S. foreign assistance is a vital tool for reducing violent conflict and the threat it poses to Americans. The Institute of Economics and Peace estimates that for every dollar we invest in peacebuilding now, the cost of violent conflict would be reduced by $16 over time. However, despite its proven success, there is shockingly little investment in peacebuilding. Just 2% of U.S. spending goes to peacebuilding and peacekeeping activities (around one percent of the $739 billion cost of conflict in 2015).

Despite minimal resources, peacebuilding practitioners offer a wide range of successful programs that reduce violence by addressing the root causes of conflict. One example is Tanenbaum’s Peacemakers in Action Network, which reduces violence in many countries, including Afghanistan, Nigeria and Colombia. Tanenbaum’s Peacemakers and so many other peacebuilders offer creative and impactful approaches to: land disputes, religious and ethnic conflicts, gang violence, gender-based violence, and extremism.

We need to invest in the preventive power of peacebuilding. The reductions for peacebuilding in the proposed budget will make us less safe while increasing the corollary military costs. I therefore urge you to resist draconian cuts to foreign assistance that will destroy our ability to prevent and reduce violence globally.

I look forward to hearing from you on how you are working to save lives and money through peacebuilding in the FY 2017 and FY 2018 budget processes.

Thank you,

Joyce S. Dubensky
CEO, Tanenbaum

A Hidden Impact of the Muslim Ban

This article was published on the Huffington Post Blog March 16, 2017


 

Photo Credit: CBC

President Trump’s re-issued travel ban was supposed to go into effect today. But courts in Hawaii and Maryland have issued temporary injunctions, blocking its implementation nationwide. President Trump has vowed to appeal, and the ban’s ultimate future remains uncertain.

Like so many others, we don’t see the executive order as simply affecting travel or ensuring safety. That’s why we join with those who call it a Muslim ban—because no matter how you frame it, the ban disproportionately harms Muslims and institutionalizes religious discrimination. As lawsuits emerge, civil and immigrant rights organizations take action, the press debates, and public protests proliferate, we are deeply troubled by the serious harm that many will experience because of the ban.

That said, we also recognize that there are less visible negative consequences. Like the ban’s impact on organizations like Tanenbaum that are battling against religious prejudice—prejudice that the ban actually fuels. In this way, the ban is doubly dangerous: it fans the flames of division while jamming the water hose.

Perhaps the ban’s most obvious impact on Tanenbaum is in our peacebuilding program. There, we work with religiously motivated Peacemakers, who daily risk their lives to counter some of the world’s worst armed conflicts. Currently, we work with 26 such individuals—including in Yemen and Syria, two of the six countries where travel to the U.S. is to be restricted. As a practical matter, this affects us, especially with our Peacemaker from Yemen.

Sheikh Al-Marwani has spent his life trying to prevent tribal warfare in Yemen, kidnapping of tourists, and the radicalization of youth. Today, he is caught in a brutal civil war and working to stop the terrorism that is destroying his country. Tanenbaum had hoped to bring him to New York so that we could document his work, learn from his lifetime of pursuing peace in the face of unbelievable odds, and provide lessons learned to the growing field of peacebuilding, as we do with all of our Peacemakers. Instead, he is precluded from coming —because of where he lives.

Tanenbaum also works to counter overt and subtle manifestations of religious discrimination and hate in workplaces and health care. Those were large tasks before the Muslim ban. Now they are even more complicated.

The ban’s effect on business has already made headlines, with many companies and industries responding to the original version and its revised form. Tech companies like Google, Facebook, Apple and Microsoft were on the front lines condemning the first order, and many signed an amicus brief challenging the first version in the Ninth Circuit. Their argument highlighted the ban’s real-world impact. It hurts business. It negatively affects their companies’ operations by infringing on their ability to recruit talented employees from around the world. Top executives at companies like EY, PwC, and Kaiser Permanente also issued statements reinforcing their commitment to diversity and inclusion within their workplaces, and reassuring frightened employees that they would support them in the aftermath of this ban.

The ban—and the associated hostile rhetoric surrounding Muslims and other religious minorities—not only affects talent acquisition and retention, it also creates an environment where religious disrespect and discrimination are flourishing, including at work. Complaints about workplace religious discrimination filed with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission rose sharply in 2016, after five years of steady decreases. Likewise, 52% of employers in an October 2016 survey reported that their workplaces were more volatile than previously.

As an organization that promotes respectful communication among employees and inclusion for people of all religious (and non-religious) beliefs, we are alarmed by these reports. And we are hearing from corporations that they are too. It’s hard to operate a successful business when your employees are afraid to come to work.

The ban also has negative implications for the health care institutions we serve. Not only do they often rely on foreign-born workers, but one quarter of all physicians practicing in the U.S. are international medical graduates; of them, more than 7,000 U.S. doctors attended medical school in one of the six countries currently named in the ban. It’s therefore predictable that the ban will exacerbate current physician shortages, particularly in the Rust Belt, rural areas and in specialties like primary care. This will prevent high-quality care from being delivered to patients – whether native born or immigrant. And if that weren’t serious enough, hate mongering in healthcare institutions—like the “White Power” graffiti in the Massachusetts Eye and Ear Hospital—causes concern among diverse patients, making them question whether it is safe to get the care they need and, if they do, whether they will respected by their providers.

It is sobering to contemplate the large scale, destructive human toll of the Muslim ban. It prevents refugees from finding safety. It targets people from one of the world’s largest religious groups because of their faith. It curtails freedom. It falsely leads people to believe their unfounded fears are legitimate. And it affects the daily work of organizations like Tanenbaum, seeking to create a world where differences are respected—for all of us. Because respect isn’t just a nicety. It’s a matter of life and death (just ask Tanenbaum’s Peacemakers and the medical practitioners we work with).

America doesn’t need a Muslim ban. It needs a fire extinguisher.

A Brave Testimony and a Surprising Turn of Events

“We are being slaughtered…”

Vian Dakhill, a Yazidi member of Iraq’s Parliament, to receive the Lantos Human Rights Prize | Safin Hamed, Getty/AFP

People across the world paused when Iraqi parliament member Vian Dakhill spoke those words during her haunting testimony in August 2014. As the only Yazidi then in Iraq’s Parliament, Dakhill plead tearfully to her fellow parliament members, imploring them to take immediate action and save the Yazidis from genocide and enslavement by ISIS.

Dakhill’s brave words were a catalyst for the rescue of Yazidis besieged on the Sinjar Mountain by ISIS. Unfortunately, her name again reached headlines as the U.S. immigration ban threatened to prevent her arrival in Washington D.C. to receive the Lantos Human Rights Prize on February 8th.

Fortunately Dakhill was permitted entry into the U.S. by the state department – but we find it ironic that a travel and immigration ban created to increase safety in the U.S., can prevent those who promote peace and justice from entering the country. Peace activists are our allies in the battle against violence and hate. We need to support them and recognize their ongoing efforts to address life and death issues happening now.

At Tanenbaum we know this firsthand. For almost 20 years, we have worked with religiously motivated men and women, like Dakhill, who risk their lives for peace in violent conflicts around the world. Every two years, through an international search process, we identify two such Peacemakers in Action.

The recognition we give these brave men and women should never be compromised.

Yet the U.S. travel ban will likely impair the work of many peacemakers and humanitarians. Already, we know that Tanenbaum Peacemaker in Action, Sheikh Abdulrahman Al-Marwani from Yemen, who we hope to bring to the U.S. later this year, may not be allowed to come.

There are ways to take action as it plays out in court: Read Against the Ban? 5 Things You Can Do Now and nominate a peacemaker for Tanenbaum’s 2017 Peacemaker in Action award.

In a time of great uncertainty, it’s critical that we continue all efforts to support those who work on the frontlines of global conflicts—and especially those working toward peace.


Top Image: Credit Vian Dakhill