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Tanenbaum Peacemakers in Action Speak at United Nations

Leading grassroots peacebuilders and Tanenbaum Peacemakers in Action, from six of the world’s conflict zones, made a celebrated appearance at the United Nations on Wednesday, July 13, 2016.

The event, “Turning the Tide: Engaging Religiously-Motivated Peacebuilders in Conflict Zones,” addressed two topics: alternative approaches to combating extremism and ways that grassroots peacemakers build relationships and trust with community members, diplomats and government officials.

The first panel featured Tanenbaum Peacemakers Ms. Maria Ida “Deng” Giguiento (Philippines), Mr. Azhar Hussain (Pakistan), and Ms. Nozizwe Madlala-Routledge (South Africa), as well as H.E. Mr. Rubén Ignacio Zamora Rivas, Permanent Representative of El Salvador to the United Nations. H.E. Mr. Kai Sauer, Permanent Representative of Finland to the United Nations moderated the first panel.

Peacemaker Nozizwe Madlala-Routledge highlighted the need for multi-faith peacebuilding in South African communities. She noted how, “The interfaith movement between Christians, Muslims and Hindus, created in the struggle to end apartheid, continues today, providing a moral canvas for our government.”

Tanenbaum’s most recently awarded Peacemaker in Action, Deng Giguiento, discussed how she advises military leaders as a peacebuilder in the Philippines. She described once believing that she couldn’t work with the military: “I always perceived them as the enemy. But I was taught to pray for my enemies.” Following prayer with action, Deng sees positive results as she trains both military and community members with the hope of building a “lasting peace in Mindanao.”

The second panel reviewed innovative approaches to tackling violent extremism and the prominent but frequently overlooked role of women in this field. Panelists included Peacemakers Mr. Ricardo Esquiva (Colombia), Ms. Dishani Jayaweera (Sri Lanka), and Dr. Sakena Yacoobi (Afghanistan), as well as Ms. Faiza Patel, Co-Director of the Liberty and National Security Program at the Brennan Center for Justice at NYU Law School, and Mr. Andrew Tomlinson, Director & Quaker U.N. Representative. Ms. Lakshmi Puri, Assistant Secretary-General of the United Nations and Deputy Executive Director of UN Women moderated.

Ms. Lakshmi began the panel by discussing how “Essentially religion is about humanity. It is about rights and it’s about the equality of all creatures.” Then Sri Lankan Peacemaker Dishani Jayaweera described how she created the Female Religious Leaders Initiative after working with 300 male religious leaders from diverse faith traditions. She began the initiative “to explore the role of female religious leaders in peacebuilding and reconciliation” and their “interpretation of religion and spirituality.” Her work aims to include women in the religious peacebuilding process, essential for creating lasting peace.

Peacemaker Sakena Yacoobi, who has founded numerous schools in Afghanistan, expressed, “I really strongly believe that women are the victim in every country, women and children.” And she gave insight into the solution, “If we really want to bring peace – it is not through guns, it’s not through tanks, it is through education…. education is the key issue that brings transformation”.

Peacemaker Ricardo Esquivia (Colombia) spoke about the importance of including both communities and government offices in the peacemaking process to combat extremism. “[We] use a pedagogy of nonviolence to teach communities about non-violent action, and we mobilize [groups] to interact through dialogue and direct negotiations with local and national governmental officials.”

The event at the UN was part of the 2016 Tanenbaum Peacemakers in Action Network Retreat, which brought together Peacemakers from all over the world to exchange ideas and best-practices in peacebuilding. This year’s retreat focused on combating violent extremism and women in peacebuilding.


We extend our gratitude to the event’s sponsors: The Organisation of Islamic Cooperation (OIC), KAICIID, the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America (GOA), and the GHR Foundation.

Meet the Peacemakers

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.

RSVP: Tanenbaum Peacemakers at the United Nations

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Join us this July 13th for a unique opportunity to hear from six Peacemakers in Action on the critical issues facing us today.
Click here to download the invitation and be sure to RSVP today! Space is limited.

Tanenbaum Peacemaker Dr. Ephraim Isaac speaks at the United Nation’s Church Center Chapel

Tanenbaum was honored to be a part of the United Nation’s seminal event, Faith for the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), held at the Church Center Chapel. Tanenbaum Peacemaker in Action Dr. Ephraim Isaac (Ethiopia) spoke eloquently to a diverse crowd; attendees from diverse religious backgrounds and beliefs gathered to discuss how religion can further the quest to eliminate poverty.

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TANENBAUM Peacemaker Dr. Ephraim Isaac (left) with Karin Achtelstetter – Credit: @KarinWaltraut

“I am here of behalf of the Tanenbaum Center for Interreligious Understanding and as one of its Peacemakers in Action.

First let me congratulate you on your good efforts to deal with the critical question of poverty through the power of religion.

I used to be an incorrigible optimist. I am still, but a corrigible one. My remaining optimism is to see people like you here in this room that have the good will to do the good.

But, let us be realistic. In a greedy world where about 1% of the world’s population owns the wealth of the world and does not want to part with it, how do you propose to eliminate poverty in 15 years as you say? In a world where one American person would rather pay one million to travel to Africa to kill one elephant, or, where the King of Saudi Arabia would rent every room of the most expensive American hotel for several days and have a parade of over one hundred cars parked in a garage all of it decorated with red carpets…. especially at a time when thousands of Middle East refuges are seeking dire shelter, how do you convince the world to do what is right?

I am Jewish and yesterday, on Yom Kippur day, I chanted the Prophet Isaiah who said three thousand years ago (to paraphrase): You fast, you put ashes on yourselves, you exhibit your piety, and say to me “why do you not see our piety, how we humble ourselves with ashes on our heads?“  The Almighty responds, “Down with your piety, what I want is free the prisoners and those you oppress, feed the hungry, cloth the naked, help the poor…” If the great prophet has had so shouted about 3000 years ago, in other words, saying as we say today use your faith to help the poor, and that is what the Almighty G-d wants, and nothing has happened for 3000 years, how do you propose to abolish poverty in 15 years?

I know the World Bank has a lot of money, even if not as much as the 1% of the richest people in the world, and I know the religious people have all good intentions. Still how do we propose concretely to change the world?


Click here to learn more about Dr. Ephraim Isaac and Tanenbaum’s Peacemakers in Action.

Peacemakers in Action Network: A Model for the United Nations Office on Genocide Prevention

Photo Credit: KAICIID

Photo Credit: KAICIID

Last month, the United Nations Office on Genocide Prevention co-convened the “Forum on the Role of Religious Leaders in Preventing Incitement that could Lead to Atrocity Crimes.” The major outcome from the forum was a “Plan of Action for the Prevention of Incitement to Violence that could lead to Atrocity Crimes.” The Plan of Action is a draft document that will be revised and finalized during five regional meetings set to take place during the next year; and a “Declaration will be adopted at a plenary meeting of religious leaders” in 2016.

Eight major areas of consideration were highlighted in the plan – many of which are already being done by Tanenbaum and our Peacemakers: 1) “Monitoring” incitement to violence that could lead to atrocity crimes; 2) Developing, speaking out, and circulating “alternative” messages to counter incitement and hate speech (Tanenbaum Peacemakers do this!); 3) Engaging in dialogue with the speakers and the potential audience; 4) Developing and revising education, curricula and capacity building (Tanenbaum’s education program does this!); 5) Engaging in or strengthening inter-religious and intra-religious dialogue and activities; 6) Engaging in dialogue on grievances; 7) Strengthening clarity of thinking and of message (Tanenbaum is a thought leader on the issues that fuel extremism); and 8) Engaging with political leaders (Tanenbaum Peacemakers often do this).

The Plan of Action also referenced several additional focal points , including the “mapping and networking of religious leaders who actively work to prevent or counter incitement that can lead to atrocity crimes around the world.” At Tanenbaum, we believe the UN and its partners have a model to reference and further explore in Tanenbaum’s Peacemakers in Action Network.  Why not start where successes are happening – by learning about the religious Peacemakers already in action and having a powerful impact as they work together around the globe?

For well over fifteen years, Tanenbaum has identified religiously motivated Peacemakers working in areas of armed conflict, whose lives and liberty have been at risk in pursuit of peace. Thirty courageous Peacemakers with diverse experiences of conflict from 23 countries have been recognized for their peace work with the Peacemakers in Action Award. Convened every two years to share knowledge, successful practices and the common bond of their faith-driven work, the Peacemakers formalized their Network in 2011.

As a Network facilitated by Tanenbaum, the Peacemakers communicate regularly and even travel to each other’s homelands to work together to help build peace. Later this month, two Nigerian Peacemakers, Pastor James Wuye and Imam Muhammad Ashafa, will join their fellow Peacemaker, Dishani Jayaweera, in Sri Lanka to train religious leaders from different faith traditions (Buddhism, Hinduism, Islam and Christianity). Already well-known in Sri Lanka for their work in Kaduna state, Pastor James and Imam Ashafa will serve as inspirations, models and experienced Peacemakers to Sri Lankans hoping to bring lasting peace to a country still recovering from a decades-old conflict.

As the United Nations Office on Genocide Prevention smartly prepares to utilize a resource – religious leaders/actors – sorely underutilized in creating the conditions for a more peaceful world, Adama Dieng, UN Special Adviser on the Prevention of Genocide, should strongly consider the Peacemakers in Action Network as a model for its efforts to map and network religious actors actively working to prevent or counter incitement that can lead to atrocity crimes around the world.