Learning New Skills: The Art of Storytelling in Conflict Resolution

How do we change stories in which we are perpetual victims? This was one of the questions posed by Tanenbaum Peacemaker Yehezkel Landau in a workshop he led today about storytelling in conflict resolution. 

Stories play a variety of roles in conflict and can also help define and explain the personal work of individual peacemakers. One example: are the victim scripts of Jews and Palestinian obstacles to peace, keeping these two groups in perpetual conflict? Stories of suffering and massacres that are passed down and kept alive in collective memory can allow groups in conflicts to justify violence. Their “victim scripts” permit them to rationalize violence, viewing it as a result of “the story of what is occurring to them” rather than a form of aggression.
Tanenbaum’s Peacemakers explored these themes today at their ongoing Working Retreat at Drew University. They also broke into groups to complete a participatory exercise in which they practiced the art of positive storytelling by sharing their own story of the moment they came to discover their personal vocations as religious peacemakers.

*A special thanks to photographer Steve Latimer.

Peacemakers Survive First Full Day of Training!

Tanenbaum’s 15 Peacemakers in Action threw off their jetlag to participate in a full day of trainings from morning to night. They attended sessions about the Peacemakers Delegation to Nigeria, trainings on social media, a presentation about building networks, and a final group workshop to brainstorm the purposes of a potential Peacemakers in Action Network.

They also stopped their work to remember two Peacemakers who died in the years since their last retreat in Sarajevo, Osnat Aram-Daphna from Israel and Reverend Dr. Roy Magee from Ireland. Not to mention, some woke up at 4:30 am for Suhoor- a predawn meal before a day of fasting for Ramadan- while others had a special dinner in preparation for the Tisha B’av fast tomorrow. And the people who woke up early for Suhoor forgot their keys and couldn’t get back to their rooms until 7 am!
If only we could all have such energy and motivation!

Kicking off the 2011 Peacemakers in Action Working Retreat!

After flying in from the four corners of the world, the Peacemakers in Action shook off their jetlag to open the 2011 Working Retreat. 16 Peacemakers are with us at Drew University in Madison New Jersey, hosted by the Center on Religion, Culture, and Conflict. Activities opened with conversations to reacquaint old friends and meet new colleagues in the struggle for peace around the world.

In the next few days, the Peacemakers will explore opportunities for working together, learn from one another, and spread their message of interreligious understanding.

Here are a few photos from our first days together:

Imam Muhammad Ashafa greets fellow Peacemaker Rev. Dr. William Lowrey.

Najeeba Sirhan greets Friar Ivo Markovic.

Joyce Dubensky in conversation with Najeeba Sirhan and Yehezkel Landau.

Yehezkel Landau leads the group in an evening prayer, with Jamila Afghani and Mark Fowler in the background.

Yehezkel Landau and Ephraim Isaac chat before the start of Sunday's multifaith prayer service.

Rev. Benny Giay of West Papua, Indonesia, offers the sermon at Sunday's multifaith prayer service.
*A special thanks to photographer Steve Latimer.

– Clayton Maring, Assistant Program Director, Religion and Conflict Resolution


Gallup Poll Says U.S. Muslims Most Optomistic, Yet Most Likely to Experience Discrimination: News Roundup

In the news this week: the administration adopts new strategy for combating radicalization, Italy proposes a burqa ban, San Francisco’s circumcision ban is nixed permanently, and other news.

White House officials announced a shift in the approach to combating Muslim extremism this week. Plans include identifying accurate educational materials about Islam for law enforcement officers, engaging Muslim-American communities respectfully, and improved information sharing with local law enforcement. The administration also recognized that “inaccurate training” on Islam has occurred in the past and that new materials would be identified and made available online for officials to draw upon. For example, one F.B.I. document used in the past recommended two books by Robert Spencer, an anti-Muslim blogger and author whose work was repeatedly cited in the online manifesto of Anders Behring Breivik, the Norwegian accused of killing at least 76 people last month. (NY Times)

A Gallup report release this week found that Muslim Americans are the most optimistic religious group in the United States. Other interesting statistics include: Ninety-three percent of U.S. Muslims said they believe other Muslim Americans are loyal to the country, 92% said they believed that Muslims living in United States had no sympathy for al Qaeda, and 81% believe it is not possible to profile a terrorist based on demographic traits. Muslim Americans were also the group most likely to say they have personally experienced racial or religious discrimination in the past year, by a large margin. (CNN)

Chris Christie (Gov., NJ) announced he was nominating a Muslim to the state Superior Court this past January and received substantial negative attention from anti-Sharia critics. He continued to support Sohail Mohammed, despite the potential backlash, and just this past Tuesday Judge Mohammed was sworn in as Superior Court Judge. Christie says that all the anti-Sharia rhetoric is “just crazy” and that “ignorance is behind the criticism of Sohail Mohammed.” (Star-Ledger)

We often hear people in the West ask where the anti-terrorist Muslim voice is in majority Muslim regions. Well, a Pakistani religious party chief recently stated, ““Islam is a religion of peace and brotherhood and linking terrorism with it is not justified.” (

Yet another European country is considering a burqa ban. Italy’s proposed law would ban women from wearing veils that cover their faces and, interestingly, the legislation’s main sponsor is a naturalized, Muslim, female immigrant. (Time)

In a final ruling last week, Judge Loretta Giorgi affirmed her tentative ruling from the previous day in which she agreed with the plaintiffs that the proposed San Francisco circumcision ban ballot initiative is “expressly pre-empted” by state law because the evidence overwhelmingly suggests that “circumcision is a widely practiced medical procedure.” (Cleveland Jewish News)

Upon examining 1,800 U.S. adults’ reported religious beliefs, one university professor found that people who continue in their education are more likely to accept that there is truth in more than one religion. (USA Today)


Tanenbaum’s New University Partners Interviewing and Studying Peacemakers

With the continued support of the Henry Luce Foundation, Tanenbaum is developing new, cutting-edge case studies of relatively unknown, religiously motivated Peacemakers around the globe.
Last year, we forged strategic university partnerships to bring new voices and perspectives to our studies and to the field of religious peacebuilding. Our current partners include professors and students at the Kroc Institute of Peace at Notre Dame, the Center on Religion, Diplomacy and Conflict Resolution at George Mason, the Candler School of Theology at Emory, the Emannuel College at University of Toronto, and the Center for Justice and Peacebuilding at Eastern Mennonite University. Together we have made considerable progress on nine new case studies, logging hundreds of hours of in-person interviews and archival research to bring our Peacemakers’ stories to life.
Tanenbaum is also producing updates about the work of those Peacemakers featured in the first volume of Peacemakers in Action: Profiles of Religion in Conflict Resolution. Over the past few months we have been fortunate enough to speak in-person with Ricardo Esquivia BallestasBishop Ntambo Nkulu Ntanda, and Friar Ivo Markovic, and will interview many more of our Peacemakers during the upcoming Peacemakers in Action Working Retreat this August.

Thanks to the renewed support of the Luce Foundation, the next volume of in-depth and accessible Peacemaker in Action case studies is scheduled to be completed in mid-to-late 2012. Be on the lookout for more news about this next volume in Tanenbaum’s distinctive series of case studies over the next year. 

Congratulations Canon White!

Another Tanenbaum Peacemaker in Action is back in the news. Reverend Canon Andrew White, often called the ‘Vicar of Baghdad,’ was just awarded the International First Freedom Award. The award is given out once a year by the First Freedom Center, whose mission is to “advance the fundamental human rights of freedom of religion and freedom of conscience.” Reverend White is in good company, past winners of the prestigious award include Tony Blair, Vaclav Havel, and another Tanenbaum Peacemaker Father Elias Chacour

White is best known for his work in Iraq. He is the head of Baghdad’s St. George’s Anglican Church, the largest church in the country. In this role he tirelessly works to broker a better understanding between Baghdad’s Christian population and the city’s Muslim community. However, his work is not limited to the easing of tensions between Christian and Muslims in Iraq. Reverend White has been vigilant in his fight against the persecution of all religious minorities in the Middle East.

White is president of the Foundation for Relief and Reconciliation in the Middle East (FRRME). Through this group he has hosted numerous events that focus on reconciliation through a religious lens. Most notable amongst these events is the High Council Summit. The last High Council Summit, which took place in Copenhagen in January 2011, was a great success. At the conference, religious and ethnic leaders from across Iraq’s varied landscape came together to learn methods on how to “persuade their people to refrain from violence, engage politically and support the rule of law.” With another summit scheduled to take place later this summer, the International First Freedom Award only serves to reinforce that Reverend Canon Andrew White and his peace-minded brethren are moving in the right direction.
– Adam Kott, Religion and Conflict Resolution Intern

Tanenbaum Peacemakers Build Peace in Egypt

Unknown to many outside of the region, Egypt’s de facto police state exercises tight control over the people who are given access to its citizens. With this in mind, Tanenbaum was delighted when two of our Peacemakers from Nigeria, Pastor James Wuye and Imam Ashafa of the Interfaith Mediation Centre, were invited to train Egyptians on Muslim-Christian relations. Better yet, they’ve been invited back to deliver a post-election training!

The two religious leaders led a series of workshops in Alexandria and Cairo from June 13th to 16th. Their workshops promoted interfaith understanding, showed community leaders how to recognize indicators of conflict, and shared ways to mitigate violence in its earliest stages. 
The Imam and the Pastor were brought to Egypt by the Center for Arab-West Understanding in response to rising threats of strife between Muslims and Christians.  Following the overthrow of former Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak, religious extremists have used the resulting instability to inflame conflict between Christians and Muslims, resulting most notably in several high profile church burnings in Imbaba.
Participants in the workshops noted the obvious differences between the situation in Nigeria and Egypt, but were inspired by the deep friendship between Imam Ashafa and Pastor James. Through the training, participants learned how to implement an underutilized, but highly effective strategy for reducing tensions. They are going to build a local network and knowledge base, hopefully helping community leaders anticipate and resist rising sectarian conflict. 
Today, Egypt is at the heart of the world’s most unstable regions. And two Tanenbaum Peacemakers are there – building grassroots-level change. These same men are also affecting change in Nigeria, another unstable region that continues to experience violence on the basis of religion. 
In the weeks before this spring’s Nigerian elections, Tanenbaum sent a delegation of Peacemakers (Friar Ivo Markovic, a Franciscan Catholic from Bosnia, Yehezkel Landau, a Jewish Israeli-American, and Azhar Hussain, a Pakistani-American Muslim) to assist Imam Ashafa and Pastor James in reducing anticipated violence in the run-up to the contentious presidential elections. In a week of seminars, media appearances, and meetings with key government and religious leaders, the Peacemakers acted, and people responded. Their collaboration was so effective that one of Nigeria’s most prestigious peace organizations offered (for the first time) to support the Imam and the Pastor with desperately needed resources and training space.
In related exciting news, four of the five Peacemakers who comprised the Nigerian Delegation have confirmed attendance at A Rendezvous @ The Rubin on August 9th. Join us for the rare opportunity to meet these real life heroes and an unforgettable evening of mingling, global music, exotic food, and gallery tours at the beautiful Rubin Museum of Art in New York City. 
And in case you’d like to learn more about the Nigeria Delegation, you can find Tanenbaum’s recently released report on the day by day adventures of the five companions. The Nigeria Report is interesting – both as a story and because it documents new and effective interventions in the field of conflict resolution. It was presented at The Second Emory Conference on Religion, Conflict, and Peacebuilding on June 19th and will be presented this fall at the American Academy of Religions Annual Meeting. 
*Our thanks to Dr. Christopher Taylor, Professor of Religious Studies and Chair of the Department of Religious Studies in Drew’s College of Liberal Arts, as well as the Director of the Center on Religion, Conflict, & Culture for his contributions.


The Dressmaker of Khair Khana: One Story that Stands for Many Others

The acclaimed story of Kamila Sadiqi’s thriving dress business in Afghanistan under the Taliban’s repressive and demoralizing rule has touched hearts on a global scale. Kamila’s account, told by Gayle Tzemach Lemmon in The Dressmaker of Khair Khana, is an endearing portrayal of a woman who, led by her faith, felt it was her duty to help her family as well as her whole community. Encouraged by her father who stressed that the “pen is mightier than the sword,” Kamila used her education as a means of survival. She recognized that entrepreneurship was a powerful tool because of its ability to assist people—and she put it to use by employing over 100 people from her neighborhood. Kamila’s story is reminiscent of many other women in Afghanistan who, despite their constraints, have worked hard to assist their societies during periods of despair and hardship. Tanenbaum’s Peacemakers in Action, Jamila Afghani and Sakena Yacoobi, similarly serve as models of dedicated Afghani women who have used their education for their greater good.

While the Taliban High Court issued edicts that regulated the everyday lives of women, banishing them from Afghani society, these three remarkable women have risked their lives to help transform their country. Sakena founded the Afghan Institute for Learning in 1995 based on two core beliefs: the importance of grassroots movements that involve the entire community, and of education in building a just, peaceful, and equitable society. Since its inception, the organization has taught over 8,500 female Afghan teachers and serves 350,000 women and children annually in cities throughout Afghanistan. The organization offers literacy courses as well as practical training courses in sewing, embroidery, rug weaving, health education, counseling, English, information technology, leadership and human rights. For more than twenty years, Sakena Yacoobi has risked her life to teach women and children in Afghanistan. In the face of a brutally oppressive Taliban regime, she secretly used education to reclaim Islam—believing that if people had access to the verses of the Qur’an themselves, they would see its underlying messages of peace, justice, and equality.
In her youth Kamila Sidiqi similarly found a way to remove herself from the Taliban’s rigid idea of Islam. Her and her sisters began a neighborhood book swap at their home, where girls from Khair Khana would stop by to exchange books they had read for new ones. Among Kamila’s favorites were famous Persian poets whose verses defined the mystical Sufi Islamic tradition and chronicled human loss that sought comfort in God’s divine love.
In light of her family’s desperate situation, Kamila eventually decided to come up with a plan that would allow her to earn money while staying within the Taliban’s rules. Guided by her father’s words of wisdom and her religious beliefs, she was committed to fulfilling her duty to support as many people as she could. Her work would help her family, which is a sacred obligation of Islam. Kamila’s store offered a sense of community and life to women in Afghani society; it became a place where women gathered at a time when they were secluded from the public sphere. They would often talk about subject such as film and family, which gave them a sense that they were in the struggle together.
Jamila Afghani also recognized the power of education while working in Afghan refugee camps in Pakistan where she taught Qur’anic education classes.  After the fall of the Taliban, Jamila moved back to Afghanistan and founded the Noor Educational Centre (NEC) in Western Kabul. NEC serves women, youth, and children with literacy and health education and offers additional courses in English, library and other skills. NEC’s work has been transformative, to the extent that the mother of one Jamila’s students told her that, “Before I was praying to Allah to give me sons, but now I wish all of my sons were daughters and that my daughters were all like Jamila.”
Furthermore, in collaboration with Women’s Islamic Initiative in Spirituality and Equality, Jamila created the first holistic gender-sensitive imam training program in Kabul and the surrounding areas. The training helps imams understand what the Qur’an says about women and how to discuss gender issues with their congregations. The program represents a stride forward in bringing women back into the open in Afghanistan and challenging the Taliban as an Islamic authority.
Jamila prevailed over societal and familial opposition to become trained in international relations, Sharia law and Islamic education. She uses her knowledge to educate and mobilize women to bring their concerns and their capacity to make a difference to the attention of local, national and international audiences. As she told the UN Security Council, “Women must be consulted in peace negotiations and peacebuilding…Tap our networks that reach and assist women and their families. Women must be included to ensure peace and lasting security.”
The stories of these remarkable women connect people to the more familiar stories of soldiers and insurgents. The far-reaching and extraordinary work Jamila, Sakena and Kamila have done should be remembered by the international community throughout peace talks; women should be involved from the very beginning. It reminds us, as Ms. Lemmon emphasized in a recent Council on Foreign Relations conversation, that women don’t feel they are victims; they think about the people who are counting on them first. As a recent report from UN Women argues, peace agreements and reconstruction work better when women are involved in the building process. The inclusion of women not only improves the quality of the agreements reached, but also heightens their chance of implementation. Recognizing the capacity and power women have is essential to rebuilding a lasting peace for the future.
Nastasia Bach, Religion and Conflict Resolution Intern


Fourth Peacemakers In Action Working Retreat: This August at Drew University

We are pleased to announce that Tanenbaum will host its fourth Peacemakers in Action Working Retreat from August 6-12, 2011. Tanenbaum’s Peacemakers will convene over five days at Drew University’s serene campus in New Jersey to participate in collaborative trainings, community-building and outreach. The Center on Religion, Culture and Conflict at the University, where Peacemaker Yehezkel Landau is a Senior Fellow, will assist in preparations for the event.

Past retreats have been held in 2004 (Amaan), 2005 (New York), and 2007 (Sarajevo). Tanenbaum’s Working Retreats have been established to convene Peacemakers and facilitate the exchange of information between them in a series of formal and informal settings. This creates a forum where they can discuss and assess themes, techniques and effective strategies in religious peacemaking. The Working Retreats further enable us to draw attention to the field of religious peacemaking and increase recognition of the significance of Tanenbaum’s Peacemakers in Action award.
The Peacemakers not only use the Working Retreats as skills-building opportunities but they also become reinvigorated by spending time together. Peacemaker Canon Andrew White, who is working in Iraq, stated:
“We thank God, literally, for the role that Tanenbaum has played in bringing together various Peacemakers in Action. We suddenly find we have so much in common. And our peacemaking activities are never easy. They always involve pain and suffering and brokenness, but we never lose our hope. One of the reasons we never lose our hope is because we are not alone in this. And we come together to seek the future for a broken world, that one day it may be healed.”
Participants observed the power of Tanenbaum’s Peacemakers as a group of individuals to create change during the third Working Retreat in Sarajevo. As a result, the retreat concluded with a unanimous commitment to develop and implement a solid international network of peacemakers that is mobilized and reliable. This vision is now formally known as the Tanenbaum Peacemakers in Action Network.
Since that time a group of three Peacemaker representatives have worked with Tanenbaum staff to realize this vision by developing a structure and recommending parameters together. During our upcoming retreat the Peacemakers to reach consensus on the structure and functions of The Network thereby finalizing a plan to implement and officially launch the Peacemakers in Action Network.
We further hope to raise awareness about the Peacemakers and their work among general audiences in New York and New Jersey, as well as to leaders in the field of religion and conflict resolution and peacebuilding. For example, Drew University’s Center on Religion, Culture and Conflict will organize an event for students, teachers and the general public, featuring the Peacemakers.

This is a unique opportunity for Tanenbaum’s Peacemakers to spend time with their peers, make connections and to grow in fellowship with the Tanenbaum community. We are excited to once again be able to work with the Peacemakers to further the field of religious peacemaking.

Peacemaker Organizing Summit to End Sectarian Violence in Iraq

We received this dispatch from Canon Andrew White, one of our Peamcekaers in Action, and wanted to share it with you. Canon White and his organization, the Foundation for Reconciliation in the Middle East (FFRME), are organizing a summit that will bring together leaders from Iraqi Sadrists, Kurds, Sunni, Shia and Christian groups. This is precisely what it means to be a Peacemaker – working with on-the-ground leaders, who are often at odds, to broker peace.

Learn more (from FFRME's newsletter):

Crisis talks addressing sectarian violence have the "power to bring peace"
Iraq's religious leaders are to unite in a bid to end sectarian violence gripping the country, it was announced today.
The High Council of Religious Leaders in Iraq (HCRLI) will gather for a four-day crisis summit in Copenhagen in the New Year to address the increasing violence against the country's religious minorities.
It follows a recent wave of attacks on Iraq's Christian community, in which more than 100 people have died, including 52 during a siege at a central Baghdad church.
Since then, scores of Christians have fled Baghdad, with over 1,000 internally displaced to Kurdistan in the north of the country and many more fleeing as refugees in Syria, Jordan and Lebanon.
The HCRLI exists to bridge sectarian divides in the country. Its 10 key members include senior religious leaders from across Iraq's faith and ethnic groups – Sadrists, Kurds, Sunni, Shia and Christian.
The January summit, arranged by Hampshire-based charity The Foundation for Relief and Reconciliation in the Middle East (FRRME), will address current sectarian violence, and aims to enable leaders to take the first steps toward peace. FRRME also formed the High Council.
Canon Andrew White, Vicar of St George's Church, Baghdad, and President of the FRRME said: "The international community is awakening to the fact that all is not entirely well in Iraq. 
"January's Emergency Summit in Copenhagen will unite some of Iraq's most influential religious leaders.  Negotiations will be difficult and delicate. These men have significant enmity towards each other yet, because of the trust we have built up, they are willing to meet.  If they can work together they have the power to bring peace. If not, things will only get worse."
FRRME Director, Peter Marsden, added: "While it may seem strange for an Anglican clergyman to be chairing these meetings, Canon Andrew White is uniquely placed to do this work.  He has earned his relationship with these religious leaders through his commitment to Iraq since 1998.  They know him and they trust him. 
"He also has the advantage of being neither Sunni nor Shia; Arab nor Kurd.  In the Middle East there is a real tradition of 'the honest broker' and Canon White is just that."
The summit will take place from January 11-14 in Copenhagen.
For more information,  email