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Peacemakers in Action Media Update, Nov 2011-Jan 2012

Featured story: Bill Lowrey works for peace in Jonglei State

South Sudan became the world’s newest country in 2011, after a largely peaceful referendum in support of splitting off from Sudan in the north. Independence represented a new dawn for the people of South Sudan at the end of decades of conflict with the north.
 
The hope and excitement for South Sudan is still palpable in the new nation, but conflicts—many violent and intractable—persist. Longstanding internal tribal divisions have escalated into brutal attacks, centered on cattle raiding and exacerbated by high-powered weaponry. The conflicts spiral out of control as tribes carry out retaliatory raids, furthering the cycle of violence.
 
In Jonglei State just this month, dozens have been killed in tribal violence, and many thousandssome estimates as high as 150,000—have been forced to flee their homes. The state had been declared a national “disaster area,” but the South Sudanese government is all but powerless to curb the fighting due to a fundamental lack of resources and infrastructure. Humanitarian aid groups face similar obstacles in responding to the needs of the wounded and displaced.
 
Peacemaker in Action Bill Lowrey has worked for many years to make peace on the ground in Sudan and South Sudan, and he is responding to these crises. In recent months, he has conducted trainings and workshops in South Sudan with religious leaders and members of the government, encouraging local leaders to revive traditional conflict resolution methods to settle disputes nonviolently.
 
Back in the United States, Bill has worked with members of the Sudanese diaspora to push for peace back in their home state of Jonglei. This Jonglei Peace Initiative, made up of members of the four main tribes of Jonglei State, recently met in Washington, D.C. and issued a statement condemning the violence and outlining the first steps toward peace. The group plans to send its own members to Jonglei to advocate for peace at the community level. Click here to read the full statement.
 
The conflict in Jonglei is bloody and fierce, but Bill Lowrey and the Jonglei Peace Initiative are working to put an end to the violence and foster peace between the tribes. Their efforts align with the vision of South Sudan as a new nation united to create a better future.
 
Hind Kabawat, Syria
 
As the violence in Syria persists, Hind continues to advocate for peaceful solutions. She wrote an article discussing the crackdown of security services on opposition student protestors and calling on both sides to seek a resolution through forgiveness and reconciliation. http://www.omeganews.info/?p=893
 
Pastor James Wuye & Imam Ashafa, Nigeria
 
In the aftermath of the Christmas Eve bombings in Nigeria, two authors held up Pastor James and Imam Ashafa as an example of interfaith cooperation in Nigeria. The first was Tanenbaum President Georgette Bennett, and the second was Imam Mohamed Magid, President of the Islamic Society of North America. To read their perspectives on the violence and James and Ashafa’s reconciliation efforts, click the links below.
 
Betty Bigombe, Uganda
 
Betty urges the government to involve youth in all of its activities, saying, “Most youth are creative and can cause positive change in society. I challenge ministries which haven't engaged them to do it immediately.”
 
The Global Peacebuilding Center at the United States Institute of Peace posted an excellent short video of Betty describing her experiences negotiating with the LRA. http://vimeo.com/33796663
 
U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton quoted Betty in her keynote address at the International Crisis Group’s “In Pursuit of Peace” award dinner. Betty is mentioned in relation to her critical role inside peace talks between the government and rebel negotiators.
 
Rev. Canon Andrew White, Iraq
 
Andrew has been awarded the International First Freedom Award by the First Freedom Center, a non-profit organization founded to advance religious freedom. The Center recognized Andrew for his extraordinary reconciliatory work in the Middle East. Congratulations Andrew!  http://www.firstfreedom.org/education/ffacurrent.html
 
 
Sakena Yacoobi, Afghanistan
 
Sakena will be honored for her leadership and humanitarian efforts by the German Media Prize this February. The annual event seeks to honor outstanding personalities for exceptional performance, leadership and visionary qualities. This year, the prize chose to focus on “quiet peacemakers,” who have had little media coverage in relation to the impact of their work. Well done, Sakeena!
 
Rabbi Menachem Froman, West Bank
 
Rabbi Froman hosted female musicians in Tekoa’s synagogue to protest the increasing exclusion of women from the public arena. According to Rabbi Froman, Jewish precepts are not meant to keep men and women away from each other, but “to protect the main thing, which is the connection" between men and women.
 
Rabbi Froman also spoke out against “price tag” activists, who present settlers as “gangsters” who cannot live together in peace with Palestinians.  http://www.ynetnews.com/articles/0,7340,L-4164498,00.html
 
Benny Giay
 
Protestors in West Papua marched in late November to commemorate the 50th anniversary of their independence movement. Benny is quoted by Survival International about the mounting tensions between Papuans and the Indonesian government.
 
Less than a week later, Benny relayed details about a remote Papuan village, which had been burned in retaliation for the deaths of two police officers. The people of the village fled into the bush and are now refugees.

 

Violence Swells in Nigeria: News Roundup

In the news this week: increasing violence erupts in Nigeria, republican candidates utilize religious language, prejudice against atheists, and other stories.

A series of Christmas Day church bombings rocked Nigeria on Sunday in what appeared to be a coordinated assault by a radical Islamist sect with suspected training links to Al Qaeda, raising the sect’s violent antigovernment struggle to a new and more dangerous level that the Nigerian authorities seem powerless to contain. At least 25 people were killed. NY Times
 
Muslim organizations worldwide have condemned bomb attacks on three Nigerian churches during a Christmas Mass, saying the attackers do not represent true Islam.
 
“We condemn the unconscionable and inexcusable attacks on Nigerian churches and offer sincere condolences to the loved ones of those killed or injured,” the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) said in a press release obtained by OnIslam.net on Monday, December 26. International Islamic News Agency
 
If you’re North American, there is a high statistical likelihood you already “love someone of another faith,” as Harvard sociologist Robert Putnam puts it.
 
In fact, Putnam’s studies suggest each one of us, on average, has at least two friends, as well as one extended family member, of another religion (including atheist). Vancouver Sun
 
In more overt ways than ever, Republican candidates vying for support from Iowa caucusgoers are turning to religious language and imagery in their advertisements, seeking to appeal to the Christian conservative base that will play a pivotal role in determining the victor here. NY Times
 
Naama Margolese is a ponytailed, bespectacled second-grader who is afraid of walking to her religious Jewish girls school for fear of ultra-Orthodox extremists who have spat on her and called her a whore for dressing "immodestly."
 
Her plight has drawn new attention to the simmering issue of religious coercion in Israel, and the increasing brazenness of extremists in the insular ultra-Orthodox Jewish community. CBS
 
If you took time to name a group that is still stigmatized but overlooked in the movement for mutual respect, are there any you would choose?
 
One that comes to mind is the non-religious, a group often referred to as atheists. Huffington Post
 
Catholics who have pushed back against a White House policy that would require many religious insurers to cover contraception are getting a high-profile assist from dozens of evangelical leaders.
 
“We write in solidarity, but separately — to stress that religious organizations and leaders of other faiths are also deeply troubled by and opposed to the mandate and the narrow exemption,” the leaders wrote Wednesday (Dec. 21) in a letter to President Obama. Washington Post

 

Tanenbaum Peacemakers the Focus of College Course

Since Tanenbaum published Peacemakers in Action: Profiles of Religion in Conflict Resolution in 2007, the Tanenbaum Peacemakers have been popping up in curricula around the country and around the world.  Dr. Pamela Couture, Jane and Geoffrey Martin Chair in Church and Community at Emmanuel College in Toronto, has taken the study of the Peacemakers to a new level, developing a course called “Religious Peacemaking” that uses the stories of the Peacemakers as course-long cases. The course culminates in a Peacebuilding Conference featuring Peacemakers Jose “Chencho” Alas and Rev. Canon Andrew White on January 18-19. It is heartening to see the Peacemakers connecting to the next generation of religiously-motivated leaders while carrying out their critical work.

 

Guest Blogger and Peacemaker Canon White: Life in Baghdad Continues to Be Awful and Wonderful

All the time I am asked why I still remain in Iraq.

Most of the Coalition staff have left, the violence is as bad as ever, if not worse, but I am still here.
 
I have no intention of leaving because these Iraqi people are now my people. I am their priest. As the violence increases, many of the remaining Christians have fled. I say to them: I am not leaving you; please don't leave me.
 
For all the years I have been here, since 1998, I have been the only Anglican priest here, but this year everything changed. In September, the first ever Iraqi Anglican priest, Faiz Bashir, was ordained priest by our Bishop Michael Lewis, Bishop of Cyprus and the Gulf. Even though I have had my colleague Faiz with me for many years as a layman, it is wonderful having him as a priest.
 
The past year has been so bad for Christians. A year ago, on 31st October, a very serious massacre took place in the neighbouring Syrian Catholic Church; 58 people were killed that Sunday afternoon, but that was only the beginning.
 
People were killed, tortured, kidnapped and maimed in the days following. My own director of security, an Iraqi Soldier, had his legs blown off by a bomb underneath his car near our Church. The warnings came thick and fast from an Al Qaida terrorist group. All Christians were warned to leave the country. The fear amongst many was very real and many fled to neighbouring countries or up North to Kurdistan.
 
It was clear that something urgently needed to be done. The violence and murder was being done in the name of religion. As the wartime Archbishop of Canterbury William Temple said, "When religion goes wrong it goes very wrong". Religion had indeed gone very wrong.
 
In these circumstances we realised that we needed the religious approach to solve these issues. The government may have increased security around the churches, but people were not being killed in the churches, but in their homes.
Spread over the whole of Iraq, they were being targeted in their places of residence because it is always known who the Christians are. We were seeing some of the worst targeting of Christians ever.
 
I have been the director of the High Council of Religious Leaders in Iraq – a group made up of the most senior of religious leaders in the country, especially amongst the Sunni and Shia Muslims. We urgently needed to bring the group together out of the country to try and deal with this crisis. The original funding for this work came from the Pentagon, but that had stopped.
The Danish Government met our urgent need. They funded us in total and, by the end of January 2011, we were able to meet in Copenhagen.
 
We met together as Muslim and Christian religious leaders and discussed in depth the whole crisis. This though was not just about talking. We had to do something radical to bring about change.
 
On our penultimate day, the Islamic leaders decided they needed to do something only ever done once before and by the same group. That was to release a joint Sunni and Shia Fatwa (Islamic Injunction). This was done, providing a total Islamic banning of all killing of minorities.
 
Such Fatwas are binding to the majority of Muslims. Writing them is one thing but they must then be distributed to all the religious community lower down.
 
You also need to get the message out to those who are involved in such evil activity. When you are working for peace you cannot just work with the nice people, you have to work with those who are causing the violence.
 
A barrage of calls was made. The Fatwa was emailed to all the Islamic institutions and leaders. The day the Fatwa was released the violence and murders stopped in total. The government and various diplomatic missions in Baghdad could not believe that the effect had been so immediate.
 
Since then, the High Council has continued to keep meeting but what it has shown is religion must deal with religion. We need politicians and diplomats to wake up to the fact that much of the terrorist activity in the world today is religious and the best diplomacy in the world will never be able to deal with this – but there are a very few of us who can.
 
As we look at Iraq today, we see a nation still rent apart by violence and corruption; things are hard to describe, they are so awful. Life is still bomb barricades, razor wire and soldiers at every corner and totally surrounding us at the church where I live. Yet more could be achieved if only we would take seriously a totally different approach to deal with religion. So often, people say to me that religion is the cause of so many problems. I may be a religious leader, but I agree with this statement because:
 
"When religion goes wrong it does go very wrong."
 
So I say that life in Baghdad is awful and wonderful.
 
I have shown what is awful, but what is wonderful? It is simply the people – and especially the children.
 
My congregation of over 4,000 is simply the most wonderful. They love me and I love them. So we have to meet all the needs of our people, giving each family food every week, running a huge clinic of doctors, dentists and a school all in our church compound – but not just for the Christians, but the whole community.
 
In our church, religion is right not wrong.

 

Peacemakers Network at Work: Non-Violent Conflict Resolution in Honduras

From José "Chencho" Alas, Tanenbaum Peacemaker in Action:

Two years ago, Honduras was in turmoil. The military gave a coup d’état under the orders of the Supreme Court and installed in the presidency Roberto Michelleti who was the head of the National Assembly. Since that, fourteen journalists have been murdered in the Central American country, and with them many more grassroots activists have disappeared, been murdered, or left the country due to the violence. 

The dialectic principle works. The coup has served to make thousand and thousand of people aware that they need to be organized to find democracy in Honduras. Since 2009, people started becoming organized in the Front of Popular National Resistance (FPNR). Directly or indirectly, there are close to one million people participating in the task of building a free country.
 
I have been invited by the FPNR to facilitate a workshop about Appreciative Inquiry Methodology (AI) that I use for peace building and to help become organized as a national network. AI is a powerful tool to think positively, a key element for non-violence strategy.
 
I invited Nozizwe Madlala-Routledge to accompany me. Nozizwe participated in the anti-apartheid movement, was confined to a prison for a year, and when South Africa became a democracy she became deputy minister of defense and latter, deputy minister of health. Nozizwe and I received the Peacemakers in Action award from Tanenbaum Center for Interreligious Understanding. She will help facilitate the workshop. Tanenbaum is sponsoring her participation. The workshop will be held on 3-6 of November.
 
 

Nominate a Peacemaker Today!

Imagine… a more peaceful world forged by peacemakers working across religions, across borders, and across differences. At Tanenbaum, we are committed to making this vision a reality. Tanenbaum is opening the nomination period for its Peacemaker in Action award, which recognizes religiously motivated men and women who put their lives at risk to advance peace in areas of armed conflict around the world. You have until November 30th to nominate an individual who is:

  • Religiously motivated
  • Working in an area of armed conflict
  • At risk of violence or detention
  • Locally-based
  • Relatively unknown
Awardees who are named a Tanenbaum Peacemaker in Action receive a cash prize to strengthen their work, but that is just the beginning. Tanenbaum also creates greater recognition of the Peacemaker’s work by promoting it to the public and producing an in-depth case study. New awardees also join an extraordinary group of their peers, becoming a member of Tanenbaum’s Peacemakers in Action Network. Tanenbaum periodically convenes the Network so that members can learn from each other, build a powerful community of peace-practitioners, and work together to impact conflict-torn communities around the world.
 
Take a look at the award criteria and if you know someone you would consider a Peacemaker, visit https://tanenbaum.org/2011-2012-peacemaker-nominations for nomination instructions.
 
Clayton Maring
Assistant Program Director
Religion and Conflict Resolution

 

Peacemakers in Action Media Update, July-September 2011

Check out the latest media coverage of some of Tanenbaum’s Peacemakers.

Benny Giay, West Papua Indonesia

Benny tells us in emails that the situation in West Papua is precarious. Civilians are shot every day, and he is investigating the death of a pastor who was shot in August. He is busy preparing a peace framework to integrate into the Christian education programs at his church. He is also negotiating with the Indonesian police and security officials, trying to mediate the conflict with the Papuan independence movement.
 
Read this article for more information about the conflict in West Papua, and to read about Benny’s concerns for the security of his church and his own personal safety.
 
 
Betty Bigombe, Uganda

Betty’s plate is full as the woman MP of Amuru district and Minister of Water for Uganda. Click the links below to read about her actions on some of the most recent issues for her ministry and her district.
 
Two new profiles of Betty’s work negotiating peace with the LRA are also available online. You can read more in the links below.
 
 
Chencho Alas, El Salvador
 
Chencho’s work with the Foundation for Sustainability and Peacemaking in Mesoamerica has been focusing on Honduras lately, where tensions have simmered since the coup in 2009 and a land dispute has escalated violently. Read more about the current situation at the New York Times.
 
You can also follow all the latest news from Chencho at his new blog.
 
 
Nozizwe Madlala-Routledge, South Africa
 
Nozizwe and her NGO, Embrace Dignity, forge a new approach to ending prostitution and sex trafficking in South Africa, challenging both the pro-legalization lobby and the “moral right.”
 
 
Rabbi Menachem Froman, Israel/Palestine
 
Read about the July housing protests in Israel, and hear Rabbi Froman’s thoughts in this article and video.
 
Rabbi Froman visits Mahmoud Abbas, President of the Palestinian Authority, at the end of Ramadan and states his support for Palestine’s bid for statehood with the United Nations.
See a photo of Rabbi Froman with Abbas here:
 
After a mosque in a West Bank community was burned in retaliation for the demolition of several Jewish homes, Rabbi Froman visits the community to condemn the retaliation and call for peace. He is joined by members of Eretz Shalom, a settlers’ peace movement. Find the article and video below.
 
Check out the video below for Rabbi Froman’s thoughts on numerous issues facing Israel and Palestine today.
 
 
Canon Andrew White, Iraq
 
Andrew recently returned to Iraq from Beirut, where the High Council of Religious Leaders held another conference. Participants reaffirmed their commitments to achieving peace through dialogue, rather than military efforts. FRRME hopes that these talks will build the momentum for grassroots dialogues, and increase the sense of unity in Iraq. Challenges still remain, however, and just days after the conference, 22 Shia pilgrims were killed in an apparently sectarian attack.
 
GodTV, a Christian television channel, recently spent time with Andrew and his church, St. Georges. Check out the special they produced online.
 
Andrew was also interviewed for Christianity Today and the Berkley Center for Religion, Peace, and World Affairs. Read about those interviews below.
 
 
 
Sakena Yacoobi, Afghanistan
 
Check out these recent videos of Sakena. First, hear her address the World Forum Foundation, on her work in Afghanistan and the effect of poverty on children. Then, listen to her acceptance speech at the Enterprising Women Hall of Fame induction, giving her perspective as a businesswoman.
World Forum Foundation – http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UIt2NNrK3UE

Enterprising Woman – http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=o_B396BjNoc&feature=related

A New Cooperative International Network: Working to transform conflicts and build a more peaceful, just and sustainable world

This morning, in a hail of clapping, the Peacemakers at Tanenbaum’s Working Retreat created a Network to facilitate their work across borders.

The new Peacemakers in Action Network will contribute toward the transformation of conflicts and the reconciliation of people in building a more peaceful, just and sustainable world. Specifically, the Peacemakers Network is committed to four goals:
 
1.     Continual personal growth and mutual support as religiously motivated peacemakers
2.     Sharing our wisdom, experiences and practices with one another to strengthen each other’s work
3.     Sharing beyond our Network to influence a wider community of peacebuilders, including both state and non-state actors
4.     Expressing our solidarity with one another and speaking out with a collective voice, responding to contemporary issues that affect peace and human security.
 
To help facilitate their coordination so that they can achieve these goals, the Peacemakers elected five Network leaders: Jamila Afghani from Afghanistan, Chencho Alas from El Salvador, Reverend William Lowrey who worked in Sudan, Nozizwe Madlala-Routledge from South Africa, and Friar Ivo Markovic from Bosnia.
 
In addition, the Peacemakers formed three Working Groups in Education, Interreligious Understanding, and Gender & Human Rights. These Working Groups have already identified their activities in the year ahead, including such projects as pooling the Peacemakers educational resources, starting to translate them for local populations, and looking at how to mainstream women into the community of peacebuilders.
 
The Network is owned and operated by the Peacemakers themselves, and Tanenbaum has committed to supporting them in a variety of ways. In addition to our education, communications and executive staff, Tanenbaum’s Conflict Resolution staff will help fill the role of a Network Coordinator until a full-time staff member can be hired.

Introducing the Global Peacemakers’ Network!

Today something ended.  And something new began. 
 
Our time with the Peacemakers is coming to an end for this 2011 retreat.  And today, everything changed.  The Peacemakers gave up being just a community of peace practitioners, who sometimes come together because of Tanenbaum so that they can share, learn new techniques and be nourished.  Today, these individuals spoke as one voice and reached a critical decision – changing our work and theirs forever. 
 
They now stand in partnership with Tanenbaum – our Peacemakers in Action – and they committed to taking action together.  The horrors of war are just too great, the risks of terrorism too vast, the human needs to be met too serious.  And these individuals – whose lives are really so necessary and so threatened – are committed to working together with Tanenbaum as their sponsoring organization so that they can increase their impact globally and transform conflicts across the world.  It's time for those who hate to beware. The Peacemakers in Action Network is here!
– Joyce S. Dubensky, CEO, Tanenbaum

 

Peacemakers and Experts Share Ideas for Peace

The 2011 Peacemakers in Action Working Retreat is moving along at full steam. Today the Peacemakers engaged with prominent academics in the field, including Rabbi Dr. Marc Gopin, Dr. Joseph Montville, Dr. Chris Taylor, and Dr. Beth Fisher-Yoshida. Our network is growing by the day, and Tanenbaum is excited to meet new people who share our concern for intolerance and discord.

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