Nonviolence, Peace

The constructive power of nonviolence: My experience with Marpo Village

by Renji George Joseph

Marpo Village is situated in the Kauwakol Block of Nawada District in Bihar State of India. This is a remote, highly underdeveloped village in the valley of two adjacent hills which borders Jharkhand State and Bihar State. After this village the bordering areas are hillocks and thick forest areas. Even to day one has to travel nearly two hours from the Block Head Quarters of Kouwakol through mud and kachha (not concrete) roads to reach this distant village.

This area has experienced repeated confrontation between the violent forces of Naxallite movement and the armed forces of the Bihar State. The people living in this area have been victims to both the impacts of combing operations by the State Forces and the violent activities of the Naxallites. In the 1990s and in the beginning of 2000 period these social tensions have been at their peak.

The village and its sub-hamlets together hosted more than 2000 families. The small villages around this main village added another 2000 families making a total population of more than 20000 persons occupying this entire valley and the hillocks There was exactly no other livelihoods to this large population other than agriculture. The area was (is still) a drought prone area with the entire rainwater running off the hillocks and drained in to the rainfed rivers towards Kouwakol. The entire irrigation of all these villages depended on a Check Dam built joining the two major hills down the valley. Toward the end of 1990s this Check Dam had broken and the people in this area had been frequenting the relevant government offices for reconstructing their only water source for agriculture and drinking water through recharge of the drought hit water table. The relevant officials hardly responded.

The Naxal Forces occupying the forest areas above the hills at the borders used to employ violent interventions occasionally to deter the police and para military forces from their camps and training areas. Unfortunately, one of these operations misfired during this period resulting in the death of some Monks of the Jain Community which suddenly pushed the area in to national media. Suddenly there was lot of blaming, counter blaming, combing operations, armed combats, suppressions, searches and a lot of structural violence and social tensions in the entire area making life all the more difficult for the villagers…

Click here to read the entire story.

Nonviolence, Peace

Martin Luther King, Jr: It is nonviolence or nonexistence

by Ingeborg Breiner
former International Peace Bureau Co-President & former Director of UNESCO

Some of us would remember exactly where we were on the day 50 years back when Martin Luther King Jr. was murdered so hideously. Very few “survive” being killed in the way that Martin Luther King has done. The civil rights movement and the struggle against racism are forever linked to his name, his words and his deeds. As we mark the 50th anniversary of his death it is of high value to have this collective reflection in order to look more deeply into what his legacy means, and may mean, in the 21 Century.

Even though his name may be most strongly linked to the fight against racial segregation, his opposition to war and encouragement of non-violence remain of great inspiration. His criticism of the Vietnam War, of the drafting of young, colored men from disadvantaged families and the role of the military industrial complex, made him a very central person for “the 68-generation”. Those in this generation with links to the Hippie movement were particularly receptive to dreams about a new and more just society, less hierarchical and less authoritarian, without war and based on love and equal possibilities

In his memorable speech in Memphis on the eve of his death, Martin Luther King expressed in clear terms the urgency and necessity of non-violence: ‘Men for years now have been talking about war and peace. Now no longer can they just talk about it. It is no longer a choice between violence and non-violence in this world, it is non-violence or non-existence”…

Read the entire article on page 11 of the IPB January 2019 newsletter by clicking here.

Nonviolence, Peace, UN Report

Is it sufficient simply to acknowledge the nonviolent heroes among us?

by Mary T. Yelenick
Pax Christi International NGO Delegation to the United Nations

It is not difficult to find heroes at the UN: individuals and communities who, in the face of enormous challenges, maintain a commitment to peace and nonviolence. Najlaa Sheekh, a Syrian refugee in Turkey, exemplifies the power of nonviolence in the midst of the ravages and soul-grinding consequences of war.

I first met Najlaa late last Fall, at a forum at the UN sponsored in part by Peace Direct, celebrating women from around the world who were making a difference in their communities. The following day, Najlaa joined our UN-NGO Syria Working Group for a discussion of her life and work.

Najlaa and her family once lived a comfortable life in cosmopolitan Damascus. With the breakout of war in Syria, that life ended. A brutal barrel-bomb attack killed members of her family and demolished parts of her neighborhood. In the aftermath, her younger son could not be found. Najlaa and others searched frantically through the rubble for him, eventually finding him – alive, but seriously injured. The only way for Najlaa and her family to secure the medical care her son needed was to flee to Turkey. Her son did survive. But Najlaa and her family remain refugees.

Upon arrival in Turkey, Najlaa was haunted by the number of older Syrian women in the streets desperately begging for food for themselves and their families. She was also deeply saddened to learn that the only real way for young Syrian refugee women – many of whom had been raised in deeply conservative families – to survive was to join the local houses of prostitution.

Herself personally experiencing the deep loss and trauma of displacement, Najlaa recognized that the nightmarish existence now confronting Syrian refugee women could not be borne alone. So she approached and introduced herself to other women, inviting them to join with her, in her small rented home, to discuss what they could do collectively to adjust to their new realities.

These small gatherings gave birth, in 2013, to a new organization, Kareemat (meaning “women of dignity,” in Arabic). Over the years, Kareemat has functioned as a place of gathering and stability for Syrian women refugees and their families. Kareemat offers counseling and vocational training for women, teaching them sewing and other life skills. To Najlaa’s immense pride, young Syrian refugee women are no longer forced to work as prostitutes; instead, they have acquired , through Kareemat, work skills and community connections that enable them to live a less degrading and dangerous life. In addition to helping Syrian women lead better lives, these new avenues of employment for women afforded by Kareemat also help combat negative stereotypes of Syrian women in Turkey.

Kareemat also engages in a variety of peacebuilding activities: hosting workshops on the dangers of war; facilitating discussion groups regarding the impact of violence against women; and presenting film screenings to raise awareness of the important role of women leaders in effective conflict resolution.

Kareemat also engages in activities designed to dissuade young Syrian refugees, whose passions are sometimes stoked by their vengeful elders, from returning to Syria to pursue armed retaliation. When Najlaa’s own eldest son vowed repeatedly to return to Syria to seek vengeance, she responded that if he insisted on returning to Syria, she would also return, with him, to remain always by his side. Her threat of accompanying him – which her son recognized would place his mother in mortal danger – convinced him to relinquish his dream of retaliation and violence. Instead, both he and his brother have now renounced any plans of revenge, and are directing their energies instead to acquiring an education.

This accomplishment, Najlaa said – her turning her two sons away from perpetuating the cycle of violence – is her proudest personal achievement.

Najlaa’s vision, courage, and fortitude, alone, would have made her remarkable. But what will stay with me most is the message she had for those of us who might be inclined to simply romanticize her story, without connecting it to our ourselves.

Najlaa explained that she recognized that traveling to the United Nations was a once-in-a-lifetime gift and opportunity for her, and for the women of Kareemat. When she arrived in the United States, she realized that her first obstacle was the fact that few of the people she would meet spoke Arabic, and that she would thus not be able to convey, in her own tongue, the urgency, or nuances, of her personal story. Instead, she would have to rely on the sensitivity and goodwill of an interpreter. (Luckily, her interpreter, Lebanese journalist Sawssan Abou-Zahr, who had previously published an excellent article about Najlaa, https://www.peaceinsight.org/blog/2018/10/remarkable-story-kareemat-and-its-founder, was both an effective and empathetic translator.)

Thus, the first words spoken to us by Najlaa – this woman who has accomplished so much, in unfathomable circumstances – were an apology to us for not being able to speak English. At that moment, I felt the tyranny and imbalance of a world in which people given vast power over the lives of others – the global decision makers – do not speak even the same language as those who suffer the consequences of their decisions.

Najlaa then described to us, repeatedly, her burning desire and goal of returning to her homeland, to help rebuild her country. It is the Syrians themselves, she said, who must solve Syrian problems. It is not for other countries to do. The people being sent to resolve the Syrian crisis should not be special envoys from international organizations, jetting in and out. It should be Syrian women. For it is the women of Syria who best know Syria. It is the women of Syria who best know Syrian families. It is the women of Syria who best know Syrian needs.

Najlaa’s story was both heart-wrenching and memorable. Yet I sensed her holding back.

Finally, after about an hour of questions-and-answers, there seemed to be a shift in our group dynamics. Najlaa sat back, paused, looked at us closely, and asked if she could be frank with us. She seemed finally to trust her audience – despite the imbalance of power and access – to hear what she was really trying to say. We (with some discomfort), urged her to speak honestly.

I want you to listen to me, Najlaa said to us. I want you to remember my words. I want you to remember my story. I want you to think about the way that you, being privileged, are connected with this story. I want you to think not simply about what we Syrian refugees are experiencing, but about what you can and must do to change that story.

She then explained that, in preparation for this trip to the UN, she had made cards (no easy task, living as a refugee) to share with the people she met, listing the contact information for her and for Kareemat. Najlaa had made a significant effort the day before, she said, personally to hand a card to everyone in the room.

And yet at the end of the meeting, most of her cards remained on the table. People had accepted her card, but had not cared enough to take it with them.

Mary Yelenick is Pax Christi International’s Main Representative at the United Nations (UN) in New York. She is member of the UN-NGO Syria Working Group as well as the UN – NGO Security Council Working Group.

Nonviolence

This is what nonviolence looks like in Kenya on the International Day of Peace

by Teresia Wamuyu Wachira, IBVM
Pax Christi International Board member

During this year’s International Day of Peace (21st September 2018),  the Programme for Christian-Muslim Relations in Africa (PROCMURA) whose work is supported by St. Paul’s University where I serve as a Senior Lecturer in Peace and Conflict Studies, set three days of different activities in Nairobi, the capital city of Kenya, in order to bring together Christians and Muslims. Peace practitioners, peace scholars, government officials especially in the Security sector, University chaplains, lecturers, students from universities across Kenya, youth and women organisations, all engaged in these activities with the aim of creating a culture of peace — especially among Muslim and Christian communities. There was a different theme for each day.

The theme for Day One: Moving Kenya towards sustainable peace and development: Countering/preventing violent radicalization and violent extremism.

This day began with public lectures by scholars, Church leaders and government officials respecting gender balance. The auditorium (with a sitting capacity of 1800) was filled to capacity by mainly university students and other youth and women activists and peace builders. The presenters touched on the ‘approaches of countering radicalization and violent extremism from a Christian, Muslim, Gender, and Youth and Media perspectives’. There were plenary sessions where the audience was given the opportunity to seek clarifications or share their own personal experiences. One experience that remained with me was the sharing of one of the youth who said that he was on the verge of joining a militia group but the generosity of the people during one of his music concerts was a turning point. He made a decision to spend his life serving people by utilizing his talents for the good of humanity. There was also an opportunity for cutting of the peace cake and lighting of “Candles of Peace” which were given to a representative of all the groups present. The Christians also visited the mosque and the Muslims were allowed to break for their prayers at the appropriate times.

The theme for Day Two: Peace Walk – Christian and Muslims Together for Peace: Stop Violent Radicalisation!! Stop Violent Extremism!!

The walk was from August 7th Memorial Park (where the American bomb blast took place) to Eastleigh (where one of the most populated slums (Mathare) is situated. The peace walk started off with prayers (Christian and Muslims), the Kenya national anthem; and flagging off the walk.

All the participants donned a white t-shirt with the Christian and Muslim symbols and at the front engraved the words: “Peace Walk” and “Christians and Muslims together for peace”. At the back were the words, “Stop Radicalisation!! Stop violent extremism”.

The walk was animated by the Kenya Administrative Police Band and a youth-led peace caravan. The youth sang songs of peace, chanted peace slogans and informed the people about the theme of the day and its importance.
“We the Christians and Muslims are saying no to violence, no to radicalization, no to violent extremism and yes to peace.” There were three key stopovers mainly in the less privileged areas of Nairobi where radicalization and violent extremism is more pronounced.

On the last day, Day Three: There were special Church services and prayers for peace and victims of violent radicalization and violent extremism. Both the Christians and Muslims were involved in this too.

My Short reflection on the three days activities

Reflecting on the three days where I experienced us, Christians and Muslims sitting together in the same room, worshiping and eating together, visiting the churches and mosques without fear of one another, singing and dancing in rhythms of peace and not violence, playing football and walking together as we left our footprints of love, sisterhood and brotherhood as opposed to footprints of blood, speaking in one language of peace and love, the language of active nonviolence, I am convinced that another world is possible; a world where everything is turned upside down — our prejudices, our old held beliefs that continue to inform our decisions, especially regarding ‘us’ and the ‘other’. I am convinced of a world where children will play games without fear of a bomb, machete, spear, arrow, bullet, nuclear weapon; where people will not be afraid to embrace each other because they are different; where differences will be solved while sitting together, speaking to each other and sharing a meal as opposed to throwing different ‘missiles’ at each other and causing untold pain and suffering to each other.

Through these activities I was also reminded that what unites us is more profound than what separates us. Violence severs us from each other and indeed from our true self. We were all created equal and have one common home, the earth, that embraces us irrespective of our colour, religious affiliations, race, ethnicity, gender and education backgrounds. “I live in hope that one day swords will be beaten into ploughshares and spears into pruning hooks and that no nation shall learn or experience war or violence any more.” (Isaiah 2:4).

To read about the work of PROCMURA, website: http://www.procmura-prica.org/en/; the contact for their link with the St Paul’s University is http://www.spu.ac.ke/old/spu-academics/centre-for-christian-muslim-relations-in-eastleigh.html.

 

Nonviolence, Peace Spirituality

Review: “Choosing Peace” outlines how the Catholic Church can return to nonviolence

choosingpeacebookA review of “Choosing Peace – The Catholic Church Returns to Gospel Nonviolence”, ed. Marie Dennis. Orbis Books, 2018, 270 pages.

Reviewed by Henrietta Cullinan in Peace News 

This collection, expertly edited by Marie Dennis, guides us through the complex discussions that took place at the 2016 Rome conference ‘Nonviolence and Just Peace’ organised by a host of Catholic organisations including Pax Christi International. Its delegates wrote a statement, appealing to the Catholic Church to ‘re-commit to the centrality of gospel nonviolence’.

Most inspiring are the testimonies of those working on the ground in conflict zones. We learn of their efforts to live nonviolently in dangerous situations, and their painstaking work in bringing the most battle-hardened groups to the negotiating table in Sudan, Uganda, Colombia and Afghanistan.

In the two chapters on scriptural evidence and traditional Catholic thought we read of the nonviolence in Jesus’ life and teachings, later taken up by his disciples. Gandhi, we are reminded, read the Sermon on the Mount every day for forty years. Jesus’ words at the time of his arrest, ‘put down the sword’, are interpreted by some Christians as an instruction to avoid armed conflict at all costs.

Another chapter (‘Active Nonviolence’) outlines the results of Maria Stephan and Erica Chenoweth’s by-now-famous study of 323 major violent and nonviolent campaigns around the world between 1900 and 2006. They found that the nonviolent campaigns succeeded twice as often, and resulted in more democratic and peaceful societies, than the violent ones, mainly because they enabled much wider participation…

Click here to read the entire review.

Nonviolence, Peace

The power of nonviolence

by Pat Gaffney
General Secretary, Pax Christi UK

Building on the 2016 gathering in Rome (see previous page), Pax Christi International created the Catholic Nonviolence Initiative, invited by the pope to ‘revitalise the tools of nonviolence, and active nonviolence in particular.’ The project has been organised around five international round tables, to pull together and document experiences of the theory, thinking, theology and practice of nonviolence to help the evolution of Catholic church teaching on nonviolence.

I have been involved in the round table on the power of nonviolence. As well as the models, tools and approaches that we identified through our sharings from the front line (see below), our group has offered many ways in which the Catholic church can move forward in revitalising the tools of nonviolence. Among them are these:

  • Identify and scale up existing Catholic-affiliated unarmed civilian peacekeeping programs and give them special recognition and support. Answer the question: ‘Where’s the Catholic peace army?’
  • Revitalise or institute a lay community dedicated to nonviolence that takes the vows of nonviolence. Consider integrating this with a more robust encouragement to conscientious objection to military service for Catholics. Consider a lay youth movement that takes a vow of nonviolence.
  • Institute an archdiocese for nonviolent peacekeepers to provide the Catholic church’s full range of pastoral ministries and spiritual services to those representing the Catholic church on the front lines of violent conflict.
  • Advocate for funding, research, models and legislation for nonviolent civilian-based defence in national and international settings.
  • Review church-related investments at all levels to screen out revenue from military-related products and services or weapons manufacturing. Support positive shareowner action to address the underlying problems that lead to armed conflict and target investments to address conflict triggers and build positive peace.

As Erica Chenoweth noted: ‘We have a critical mass of actors within the Vatican institutions and outside who could mobilise, effect change.’…

Read the rest of this article in Peace News by clicking here.