Leadership Council for Human Rights

~ Feet in the mud, head in the sky ~

Friday, March 23, 2007

Peacemakers in action

Thursday at the National Press Club, the Tannenbaum Center for Interreligious Understanding launched their newest book, Peacemakers in Action: Profiles of Religion in Conflict Resolution, which highlights the important role religious leaders play in resolving conflicts. Before introducing a few of the profiled peacemakers, the basic profile, techniques and common threads of a peacemaker were addresed

Relatively unknown to the media, a peacemaker is an individual who, regardless of gender or religious beliefs, serves as a religious leader to his/her country,. Some common techniques are put into practice by these religious leaders, including the use of religious texts/narratives in light of a contemporary context, peace education, and activating the “power of the pulpit” – essentially combining messages of peace with religious messages, nonviolent action, interfaith outreach, and the global community.

David Little, the book’s editor and a professor at the Harvard Divinity School, addressed the common threads drawn out by the profiles highlighted in the book. To begin with, Little said that religion itself is not a cause of violence. That becomes the case only after religion has been manipulated or taken to an extreme, he said, adding that religion can also serve as a source of peace and pursuing peace through nonviolent means promotes justice. However, religion can often prompt a hostile response in the short-term. Hostility, though, is best overcome by willingly bearing the costs of risk, he said. Little also highlighted the importance of women in peacemaking, particularly – as the Tannenbaum Center has spotlighted – in Afghanistan and South Africa. Even with these common threads, though, views on the use of force with peace vary among the peacemakers, Little said.

Joining the book launch via conference call was Reverend Canon Andrew P.B. White. As a British priest of the Anglican Church who resides in Iraq, White has come to be known as the “vicar of Baghdad.” When asked why he chose to stay in Iraq despite the violence – which he claimed is 100 times worse than what is reported on television – White replied, “We have to be as radical in our peacemaking as terrorists are in their war-making.” He continued by saying that since religion is part of the cause of the conflict, it must also be part of the “cure.”

This cure can only be achieved through relationships, trust and dialogue, which includes talking with the “really bad guys,” as White referred to them. “They’re really bad people but they’re so nice to me,” he said about these individuals. A line must still be drawn though, he said. Al-Qaeda in Iraq is one group White is deliberately not speaking with, since experience has taught him that dialogue with the group is frivolous.

White expressed hope for progress in the future, as he referenced a mechanism in place between Sunni and Shia religious leaders that could bring positive change. This effort needs government support, though, he said emphatically, as the Pentagon currently supports the unnamed initiative, but the State Department is reportedly attempting to undermine it.

Other efforts to bring about peace through the use of local religious leaders include the anticipated presence of women in upcoming meetings. Additionally, he argued that when people are allowed to hear each other’s story and become familiar with one another, hatred begins to disappear. White’s final recommendation was a reengagement with the Iraqi people that recognizes their cultural richness and diversity and meets local needs.

Despite the loneliness and severity of the work, hope prevailed in the voice of each peacemaker present at the book release.


Post a Comment

<< Home