Dear Tanenbaum Community –
Dear Tanenbaum Community –
Dear Friends and Colleagues,
In light of rapidly changing circumstances around the world, we have extended the deadline for the Peacemakers in Action nominations to June 30th. We hope this gives everyone ample time to nominate a religiously-motivated peace activist working in an armed conflict – the next Tanenbaum Peacemaker in Action. Please help us find the people committed to responding to hate and violence worldwide!
Peacemakers in Action work in their communities and in the diplomatic sphere. They are the behind-the-scenes activists we need. By supporting these individuals, Tanenbaum is taking a stand against bigotry, extremism, and hate. With our Peacemakers, we transform communities. Stopping violence. Saving lives.
With appreciation for your help,
Mark, Janie, Élie, and Daniel
Tanenbaum Peacebuilding/Conflict Resolution Team
P.S. We know that submitting a nomination may take a bit of time and energy, but the rewards for our Peacemakers – and our humanity – are far greater. Please help by submitting your nomination and making it possible for us to select the next two Peacemakers in Action. Feel free to contact us with any questions at email@example.com. We’re here to help!
Daniel Green is the Conflict Resolution and Peacebuilding Intern at Tanenbaum. A note from Daniel: As a Tanenbaum intern, I have the unique privilege of participating in Peacemaker in Action Network calls every few weeks. Pastor James of Nigeria provided an update on Nigeria that had me curious about the dynamics of conflict in his region. Below is a researched account of the current multidimensional conflicts in Nigeria through the lens of Pastor James and Imam Ashafa’s latest efforts.
Violence in Nigeria is mounting to a point of crisis, and the Boko Haram insurgency only accounts for a fraction of it. In central Nigeria, an ongoing conflict between semi-nomadic herdsmen and farmers has swelled in recent years. Over the last four years, the frequency and severity of violence have persisted at alarming rates, with 3,600 deaths between January 2016 and October 2018. Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari’s government has been blamed for a paucity of state intervention, and in some cases, for allowing the assailants de facto “impunity.” In a vacuum of law, order, and prosecution, attacks and reprisals are carried out by both communities.
Tanenbaum Peacemakers in Action Pastor James Wuye and Imam Muhammad Ashafa work throughout Nigeria and the world. Some of their work takes them to the sites of these atrocities, to the interstices of warring groups. Leading their Interfaith Mediation Centre, the duo preaches peace and forgiveness in an attempt to reroute the lives of young militants and shift the bellicose ideologies of the old. However, peacemaking in this climate is particularly onerous.
Tensions first arose between herders and farmers in Nigeria in association with ecological and geographical challenges. As the majority Muslim Fulani herdsmen historically grazed their cattle in the northern Sahelian belt, which borders the Sahara Desert, their communities were the first affected by increasing drought and desertification. Contemporaneously, Boko Haram has carried out regular attacks in the North, extorted protection money from locals, and recruited younger residents for radicalization. With few alternatives, herders have moved their cattle southward, where ecosystems range from “derived savanna”–forest cleared for cultivation–to humid forests. Complicating the issue further, Nigeria’s population has surged since the mid-twentieth century: from 57 million in 1963, to 198 million in 2018. The U.S. government projects that between 2016 and 2050, Nigeria’s population will grow from 186 million to 392 million, making it the world’s fourth most populous country. In order to account for increasing food demand, farm settlements have expanded rapidly, swallowing up more and more tenable land. Thus, with herds encroaching on the prized arable central and southern regions of Nigeria, an almost Malthusian struggle over land and resources ensued.
A majority of assaults unfold over the so-called Middle Belt, a swath of land comprising several latitudinally central states. Those most affected lie to the center-east: Benue, Adamawa, Plateau, Nasarawa, and Taraba States, as well as Kaduna State, where Pastor James and Imam Ashafa base their operations. In mid-2018 the International Crisis Group (ICG) reported a spike in violence. Over 1,300 deaths between January and July of that year were attributed to clashes associated with herders and farmers. Over the same period, ICG estimated the displacement of approximately 300,000 individuals. After ICG’s 2018 report was published, a portentous statistic surfaced throughout Western reports on Nigeria’s tribulations: as of July, the “farmer-herder” violence had become six times deadlier than Boko Haram’s ongoing insurgency. The surge in violence has deeply troubled Pastor James and Imam Ashafa, who call ceaselessly for young Nigerians to lay down their arms and to accept forgiveness. However, amid the tangible horrors, a discursive polarization has further threatened the prospect of peace.
For Pastor James and Imam Ashafa, conflict mediation became more complicated when an ethno-religious element entered popular discourse. As Pastor James remarked in a recent Peacemakers in Action Network call, the conflict “has taken a new dimension.”
“Especially in regions where Christians are dominant, these attacks are perceived to be motivated by some form of religion,” Pastor James explained on a March 20th Peacemakers in Action Network call. Assailants often attack sacred places, he said, kidnapping pastors with the idea that ransom money can be extracted from their congregations. Targeting a community “of the cloth” serves a dual purpose–if not only to extract funds, to disintegrate its social standing and organizational capacity. With such a high rate of attacks on religious institutions it is not inconceivable that largely Christian farming communities would tend to perceive these brutal assaults as religiously motivated and targeted. After all, the Muslim Fulani represent about 90% of Nigerian pastoralists.
“However,” said Pastor James, “this does not stop at only Christian communities. In Muslim communities in the north of Kaduna State, [armed bandits] are also killing people, rustling cattle, raping women, kidnapping for ransom and taking the money, sometimes killing the captives after the money is received.” The distinction, Pastor James argued, is that these attacks in the northern states are not given a “religious coloration,” whereas attacks in Christian communities are. On an earlier call, in January 2020, Pastor James argued that the Islamic State in West Africa (ISWA), a Boko Haram affiliate, is vying for religious war in Nigeria. “ISWA is trying to instigate interreligious violence by killing their victims and saying they are killing them because they are Christian,” James said. Regardless of these discursive colorations, members of all communities are victims.
Crucial to an accurate understanding of this conflict, or these conflicts, is a conception of multidimensionality. In fact, when Pastor James remarked that the violence had “taken a new dimension,” what he meant was that it had taken yet another dimension. Media outlets have struggled to approach the crisis in Nigeria with nuance and tact. Western publications as reputable as the New York Times and the Washington Post have been criticized for their portrayal of African (and Asian) conflicts as black and white confrontations, as Manichean divides. This style of war reporting, in which two antagonistic sides are framed in intractable war, can have adverse effects on the potential of reconciliation and peace. In this case, lines have been increasingly drawn along religious affiliations. Even the Los Angeles Times published an article titled, “Guns, Religion and Climate Change Intensify Nigeria’s Deadly Farmer-Herder Clashes.” It is because of and against these circumstances that Pastor James Wuye and Imam Muhammad Ashafa call for peace at the grassroots level.
The duo’s plea is twofold. First, they argue that spirituality is essential to the process of reconciliation, not to the mechanics of conflict. The predominately Muslim Fulani herders, and the majority Christian farmers cannot be construed as two monolithic groups. Many among their ranks share a longing for peace. “[A] thing that religious leaders can do is to call for prayer regularly in their places of worship and also have time to educate the people on how to be safe, where to go, what to say and what not to say,” Pastor James said. Religious leaders have an enormous capacity to organize individuals at the community level, and in a country whose government and security forces intervene in conflicts only selectively, this mechanism is crucial to the peace process. Further, by “what to say and what not to say,” Pastor James does not mean that Nigerians ought to abdicate their freedom of speech to local churches and mosques. Rather, he posits that religious leaders can educate communities on how to discuss the violence that unfolds before them. This brings us to Imam and Pastor’s other point.
The second prong of the duo’s appeal is discursive. Because the violence in the Middle Belt and northern states is multidimensional, Nigerians must refrain from frivolously dispensing blame on this and that group. As Pastor James explained, violence reverberates in Fulani and Christian communities alike, be it wrought by cattle rustlers, armed kidnappers, farmers, herders, Boko Haram militants or any sort of violent profiteer. “Together, those who are concerned about the safety of their people can come together and condemn the attacks of violence against every individual and call them criminals, not by calling them by a particular name, but by calling them criminals and rejecting that action,” Pastor James urged.
The ideology and theology of Pastor James and Imam Ashafa’s peacebuilding is predicated on the fundamental equality of individuals, the recognition of their humanity, and the mutual respect or perhaps even love on which it is based, and to which it leads. Agapé, it has been called. It is a concept with which all Tanenbaum Peacemakers in Action are intimately familiar. It is an idea that will prove a crucial component in reconciling Nigeria’s disheartened communities.
By Daniel Green
We are Tanenbaum’s Peacemakers in Action Network: Religiously motivated peace activists from armed conflicts across the world and recipients of the Peacemakers in Action Award. Spanning different religions, beliefs and conflicts, we have experienced violence and reconciliation. We know the pain of loss, the destruction engendered by hatred, and the possibilities of peace.
The Peacemakers in Action Network is dedicated to conflict transformation and reconciliation. Our vision is to build a more peaceful, just, and sustainable world. As individuals who work to resolve armed conflicts, we stand together and raise our collective voice to denounce developments that threaten peace and human security.
Today, with profound sadness, we call on the people and the lawmakers of the United States to stop the proliferation of dangerous weapons across the U.S. and the rhetoric of hate that is fueling America’s epidemic of mass shootings.
This summer alone, mass shootings have left over 120 people dead, and many more survivors and families who will long carry their wounds. Tragedy struck again in California yesterday, where 3 people were killed at a Halloween party and too many others injured. As a Network, we are deeply pained and outraged. We work in 23 global conflicts and dedicate our lives to peace within our own communities—and we are heartbroken to see the United States, once a beacon of hope for all of us, devolve into repeated outbreaks of preventable violence.
Responsible societies throughout the world regulate and control weapon ownership and availability, especially military-style weapons of war along with high capacity ammunition. As a result, the citizens of these responsible countries live in greater security and safety. Incomprehensibly, this responsibility continues to elude the United States government at the expense of thousands of victims every year.
To those who support the current legislative inaction, ignore the overwhelmingly popular demand for change, and oppose comprehensive reform, we say to you: Your choice is tantamount to participating in these crimes. The guilt of those who fire the weapons at innocent civilians is shared with those who stand in the way of reasonable and responsible laws and policies.
We stand in solidarity with the women and men across the United States, and the world, urging U.S. lawmakers and weapons manufacturers to take overdue action on these crimes fueled by hate and misunderstanding. Only by doing this can the U.S. put an end to the reactionary cycles of violence that have become systemic in a nation once revered for its ideals and freedoms, and halt the spread of the very same weapons that go on to enable violence and conflict around the world.
Protecting humanity is a primordial need, and it is through reflecting inward, to the wisdom of our faith traditions, that we are reminded of our interdependence and that violence perpetrated against one group of people is violence directed at us all.
As Christians, Muslims, Jews, and Buddhists, we offer these reminders from the books of Genesis and the Quran:
Genesis, Chapter 1, verse 27
“So God created humankind in God’s own image, in the image of God He created them;
male and female God created them.“
Al Quran 7:56
“And create not disorder in the earth after it has been set in order
and call upon Him in fear and hope.
Surely, the mercy of Allah is nigh unto those who do good.”
Life is sacred, and it is our mission not to harm it, but to protect and honor it.
Peacemakers in Action Network
Dr. Sarah AK Ahmed – Iraq
José “Chencho” Alas – El Salvador
Betty Bigombe – Uganda
Abuna Elias Chacour – Israel/Palestine
Ricardo Esquivia – Colombia
Maria Ida “Deng” Giguiento – Philippines
Azhar Hussain – Pakistan
Dr. Ephraim Isaac – Ethiopia
Father Sava Janjic – Kosovo
Dishani Jayaweera – Sri Lanka
Hind Kabawat – Syria
Dr. Yehezkel Landau – Israel/USA
Dr. William Lowrey – USA/South Sudan
Rev. Jacklevyn Manuputty – Indonesia
Friar Ivo Markovic – Bosnia & Herzegovina
Rev. Canon Andrew White – Iraq
Pastor James Movel Wuye – Nigeria
For those who believe in equality, nonviolence and multi-belief understanding, 2017 was a challenge. We saw children bullied without mercy and how religious bias fuels hate (it’s the #1 cause of hate crimes in New York State). And still, more than one-in-three U.S. workers still experience (or witness) religious bias at work.
In my view, it’s up to each of us to counter the bigotry, hatred and violence that threaten the unity of our nation. That’s why—at Tanenbaum—we continued expanding our programs, staffing, and have stepped up our advocacy based on our core principles…making religious freedom a reality, while preventing discrimination against people based on their religious beliefs, race, gender or sexual orientation.
We were a public voice against acts of extremism, the Muslim ban, the RAISE Act, and white supremacy. And we opposed bigotry in amicus briefs to the U.S. Supreme Court.
Internationally, we supported collaboration among our 28 Peacemakers in Action and convened a Southeast Asia Intervention, where several Peacemakers trained more than 465 peace activists. We also welcomed two new Peacemakers to our Network. Dr. Sarah AK Ahmed is a Muslim from Iraq, serving internally displaced Kurds, Christians and others suffering from the trauma that engulfs her country. And James Lual Atak, a former child soldier, returned to South Sudan after his escape, to rescue and teach orphans…and anyone else in need.
And that’s not all. At home, we broke a new record, reaching over 1 million patients by partnering with NYC Health + Hospitals to provide religio-cultural competence training to their staff.
Meanwhile, our Corporate Membership program increased by more than 40% to include 38 global companies employing more than 5 million people.
I thank you for your support – we couldn’t do it without you.
Joyce S. Dubensky, Esq
Dear Member of 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.
Joyce S. Dubensky
“We are being slaughtered…”
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.
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
The week from July 9th to the 16th was a special one for Tanenbaum. We had the rare opportunity to visit with the diverse and passionate women and men, who are dedicating their lives to promoting peace, religious understanding, and a safer world – Tanenbaum’s Peacemakers in Action. This opportunity arises only once every few years, when we convene the Peacemakers in Action Network for a Working Retreat, where they have the chance to network in person and learn from each other, as well as from other experts in the field. This year, we were excited to have 18 Peacemakers with us, from global conflicts including Syria, Colombia, Nigeria, the Philippines and Israel.
In the middle of the Retreat, we spent a day in Manhattan. While there, some Peacemakers presented their work at the United Nations, while others discussed extremism, women’s issues arising in their work, and what the Peacemakers in Action Network has done for them on The Brian Lehrer Show. They also had a little “me” time for shopping, taking in The Met, and eating New York Pizza!
That evening, Tanenbaum leaders and friends met the Peacemakers. It was a moment to hear stories directly from the Peacemakers, as they shared their own experiences in battling extremism, conducting post-trauma counseling of those released from terrorists, and using music to heal post-conflict communities. Our Board Chair, Justin Foa, graciously opened his home for the event, which was sponsored by GHR, KAICIID, the Greek Archdiocese of North America, and Winebow. Without these wonderful partnerships, none of this – the Working Retreat or the Meet the Peacemakers evening – would have been possible.
Today, we so often feel helpless – and hopeless – as we face random acts of terror, hatred and exclusion. Tanenbaum Peacemakers remind us that there is reason to hope. To those of you who were able to be with us at the UN, who listened to the Brian Lehrer show or who joined us to meet the Peacemakers, we thank you. And to those of you who could not be with us, we hope to see you soon. For now, please enjoy a few pictures from our evening together with the Peacemakers in Action.
Join us at Harvard Divinity School in Cambridge, Massachusetts for the RPP Colloquium: The Evolving Field of Religious Peacebuilding: Tanenbaum’s Peacemakers in Action, Volume II
Click here to download the flyer!
When: Thursday, May 5, 2016, 6 – 8:30pm
Where: Sperry Room, Andover Hall, 45 Francis Ave. | Cambridge, MA
Sponsors: Religions and the Practice of Peace Initiative; the Religious Literacy Project; and the El-Hibri Foundation
Contact: Liz Lee-Hood
Religions and the Practice of Peace Colloquium Dinner Series
Space is limited. RSVP is required.
Joyce S. Dubensky, Esq., CEO, Tanenbaum and Hind Kabawat, director of Interfaith Peacebuilding, George Mason University’s Center for World Religions Diplomacy & Conflict Resolution, and Tanenbaum Peacemaker in Action will discuss Tanenbaum’s groundbreaking new book Peacemakers in Action: Profiles in Religious Peacebuilding Volume II.
As a religiously-motivated peacemaker working in Syria and surrounding areas, Hind Kabawat will share insights on the challenges and opportunities in religious peacebuilding. Dubensky will then explore the evolving field of religious peacebuilding and the individuals who make it their profession—including Tanenbaum Peacemakers, who so often work in violent conflicts and now collaborate through their Peacemakers Network for in-country interventions.
The event will be moderated by HDS Senior Lecturer on Religious Studies and Education Diane L. Moore, director of the Religious Literacy Project.
Co-sponsored by the Religious Literacy Project at Harvard Divinity School. With generous support from the El-Hibri Foundation.
About this series: Launched by HDS Dean David N. Hempton in 2014, this monthly public series convenes a cross-disciplinary RPP Working Group of faculty, experts, graduate students, and alumni from across Harvard’s Schools and the local area to explore topics and cases in religions and the practice of peace. A diverse array of scholars, leaders, and religious peacebuilders are invited to present and engage with the RPP Working Group and general audience. A light dinner is served and a brief reception follows the program.
People often ask me what can be done to prevent and stop violent extremism.
In our recent survey, people from across the world shared their answer. Overwhelmingly, they believe that education is the antidote to fear and prejudice. The message was loud and clear: religious understanding is essential to ending acts of hatred, large and small.
With that in mind and in honor of Women’s History Month, I’m excited to bring you Tanenbaum’s March Combating Extremism materials, which highlight women who are making history – today!
As you’ll see, we focus on women peace activists who are religiously motivated. They are unsung heroines who work to counter and prevent extremism. While women across the globe are doing this urgent and admirable work, this resource highlights a few who have been recognized by Tanenbaum, and also calls attention to other wonderful programs that support women working for peace.
Read, download, and share this month’s resource sheet! Challenge yourself and others to understand the significant accomplishments of these women. And then follow in their footsteps (safely!). Even small acts in your hometown can have big impacts.
Let’s make history – each of us in our own way.
Joyce S. Dubensky,
P.S. Momentum is increasing – but we need your signature! Sign and share our Peacemaker’s Statement Against Extremism on Change.org