Carl Stauffer, PhD
In the marketplace of ideas, the concepts and language of reconciliation have become quite popularized and at the same time diluted. Coming out of the turmoil of the South African political transition of the 1990s, it became abundantly clear to me that the term reconciliation was easily hijacked to serve the particular interests of any number of sociopolitical groupings.
For some, reconciliation was used to describe the political process of power-sharing. For others it referred to new political and legal democratic reforms that allowed former enemies to live together without killing each other. Still others would have used the term to describe a “good working relationship” with persons of another culture or race. While all of these notions have linkages to genuine reconciliation, they are only parts of the whole.
Authentic reconciliation requires us to move beyond mere social tolerance or political coexistence. It is concerned with repairing harmony in the life of a community or nation. By harmony, I mean the restoring of meaningful relationships—relationships of dignity, trust and collaboration. Harmony also infers a collective concern for the common good and a shared future view that gives hope and motivation to the idea of unity.1
Leymah Gbowee (MA '07), 2011 Nobel Peace laureate
On Friday of last week, I had the most fun day at work ever. I had the fortune of being the web & social media nerd for the alma mater of a Nobel Peace Prize winner! Liberian nonviolent peace activist, Leymah Gbowee, was one of three women to win the 2011 prize. She is also a 2007 alumna of Eastern Mennonite University’s Center for Justice and Peacebuilding (CJP), where I have been studying and working for the past three years. Leymah has been back on campus a time or two since I arrived in 2008, and I even got to hang around behind the camera while one of my teacher-colleagues, Paulette Moore, filmed this short interview with Leymah about her time at EMU. She is truly an amazing person and commands a powerful presence when you’re around her.
In my 10+ years as a professional web nerd, I’ve never been involved in anything that’s “gone viral,” until Friday. We weren’t caught completely off-guard at CJP, as we’d been hearing rumors of Leymah’s being considered for the prize for months. But that still didn’t prepare for me for riding the social media tidal wave on Friday morning, when the winners were announced. It was the quickest 5.5 hours of my professional life, keeping track of the activity on Facebook and Twitter, watching with amazement when at one point on Friday morning, “Leymah Gbowee” was one of the top-trending phrases in the U.S. on Twitter. When the digital dust settled by Monday morning and I checked stats, I saw that the EMU website as a whole doubled its traffic on Friday alone, not to mention the thousands of “likes” on the EMU News article which announced her winning.
In Six Things to Grieve on 9/11 Anniversary (EMU News), Lisa Schirch lists the following six items to grieve on the recent 10th anniversary of 9/11:
- The U.S. response to 9/11 has cost thousands more people their lives
- The global economic crisis is in part due to the U.S. response to 9/11
- The U.S. is still on a path of “Domination” not “Partnership” in the family of nations
- Americans lost their freedom to ask the legitimate question, “Why Do They Hate Us?”
- The U.S.’s Global War on Terror has made the world less safe, more hostile
- The U.S. is still not investing in a realistic security strategy
(This post also appeared on the Huffington Post on Sept. 12th.)
Dekha Ibrahim Abdi (left) at the Women, War and Peace forum at EMU in June
In July of this year, Africa lost one of its premier peacebuilders in a tragic car accident in Kenya. While Dekha Ibrahim Abdi’s passing is a loss to peace efforts in Africa and around the globe, it’s also a loss to me. I lost a friend and mentor.
Where do I begin to write about how Dekha has shaped my peacebuilding and my life? So many good memories, so much learning, and so many things yet unlearned.
Others will write of her brilliant mind, her analytical skills, her ability to see connections, her incredible teaching and facilitation skills. I’ve learned much from her in all of these areas and will miss them. And yet during these last weeks as I’ve remembered Dekha and the very deep lessons I’ve learned from her, it’s her personal qualities that stand out. I want to share a few stories that illustrate this.
Bonnie Price Lofton, MA '04
Sometimes one wishes that our experts in peacebuilding at Eastern Mennonite University (EMU) had called it wrong. One wishes that they had been mistaken in believing that a large-scale U.S.-initiated military response to the tragedy of September 11, 2011, would have serious global repercussions, worsening the destructive impact of the 9/11 attack rather than easing it.
But if you go back and read their post-9/11 essays, you will see that EMU’s conflict transformation professors— Jayne Seminare Docherty, Ron Kraybill, Howard Zehr, Barry Hart, John Paul Lederach, David Brubaker, Nancy Good, and Lisa Schirch, along with others — offered well-reasoned pleas to take a deep breath and to choose a truly restorative path after this tragedy.
They asked their fellow citizens and national leaders to step away from the natural, but ultimately destructive, instinct to strike back at the perpetrators. These professors of peacebuilding explained that such a reaction would feed the cycle of vengeance, cost us friends around the world, result in exponentially more deaths than those killed in the attacks, and actually play into the hands of the terrorists.
New 9/11 commemorative e-book
STAR was born from the ashes of 9/11. Who can forget the haunting images of that September day, the sky balmy, the smoke rising?
Soon after, Church World Service asked Eastern Mennonite University’s Center for Justice and Peacebuilding (CJP) to design a trauma training program for civil society leaders of all faiths whose communities, in the US or abroad, had been impacted by 9/11. Thus began STAR: Strategies for Trauma Awareness and Resilience, a week-long training program. Ten years later, this unique program continues to increase awareness of the links between trauma and cycles of violence. It provides tools for addressing trauma that go beyond the psychological, and include restorative justice, conflict transformation and spiritually/faith processes.
As the director of STAR for the first five years, I had the rich experience of facilitating over 50 week-long trainings with nearly 800 people from more than 60 countries. One thing that still amazes me is how a group of diverse individuals come together on Monday morning, strangers, and over the course of the week, forge a bond of human connection rare in our fragmented world.
John Paul Lederach
Inescapably, September 11, 2001 surfaced a question brewing under the surface of my faith and profession: How do we transform enmity?
The faith I embrace and the nonviolent conflict transformation I commit to professionally rise from the life and teachings of Jesus, who measures love in the paradoxical quality of how we respond to those who wish us harm.
The brutal events of that day brought life and work to a standstill. Wherever we were we stopped and watched, staggered. I felt a mix of deep sadness and anger beyond words. As Yeats put it, the center broke. And questions poured out. Unanswerable. Unspeakable. The central tenets of my faith and vocation seemed uprooted, naked and irrelevant to the rising impulse of seeking an adequate response.
In settings of violent conflict, peacebuilding inhabits a liminal existence, the carving of a home between people whose lives are defined and held together by enmity. It chooses to build relationships and trust where pain and hatred run deep. The violent acts in the Fall of 2001 challenged the very core of this vocation: How do we pursue justice and love those who wish us harm? Read more…
"Intro to Conflict Transformation" class, MK College, Ethiopia
Nearly three years ago, in the fall of 2008, I had just started the four-year saga known as “the dual-degree program” at EMU, between the Center for Justice and Peacebuilding (CJP) and the Seminary. There I was, a small-town Iowa boy, learning conflict analysis with Lisa Schirch and restorative justice with Howard Zehr. Around me sat peacebuilders-in-training from all around the globe. My cohort that year had an especially high number of students from across Africa. One of those students, Solomon from Ethiopia, took an interest in me and we quickly became friends. By the end of that first semester, Solomon was encouraging me to think about something beyond my wildest Midwesterner’s dreams: “You should come to Ethiopia.” Last year, when Solomon was graduating with much of my cohort, he introduced me to his visiting family: “This is Brian Gumm, and next year he is coming to Ethiopia to teach!” Solomon, it seems, had done the work of selecting my CJP practicum, often a daunting task for CJP students. Two months later, the end of last summer, it was official: In July 2011 I would be teaching “Intro to Conflict Transformation” at Meserete Kristos College in Debre Zeit, Ethiopia.
My family and I have only been back from this amazing experience for three days and there is much that I have to say about our month there. But for the purposes of this post, I want to focus on one thing: The wonderful humility, patience, and cultural sensitivity that the CJP teaching style exhibits and invites, and how it helped make the experience of this first-time teacher in a brand new culture go smoothly.
Class photo, "Peacebuilding and Public Policy" w/ Lisa Schirch; photo by James Souder
The sixteenth annual Summer Peacebuilding Institute (SPI) at Eastern Mennonite University came to a successful conclusion on June 17th, just over a week ago. During the course of SPI a few of my colleagues conducted sixteen interviews with students and instructors. (To my knowledge, the recurrence of “sixteen” is a happy coincidence.) Our interview subjects hail from nearly ten different countries: from Mexico to Myanmar, Iran to the U.S., and from Darfur to Northern Ireland. The series of questions were designed to elicit a sense for one overall question: What makes SPI so special?
Qualitative research which relies on interviews for data often demands a very long, tedious task: transcription. For these interviews, this job fell to me. I’ve never heard the words “transcribing” and “fun” appear in the same sentence, certainly not from my own experience with a handful of qualitative-style research projects. Though there is an upside to all the starting, stopping, rewinding, replaying, and typing: In my transcribing all the interviews, I started to get a deep sense for why this broad range of people thought SPI was so important. Sixteen people seemed to be saying this…
The Summer Peacebuilding Institute is people working at peacebuilding in a different kind of learning community.
"The road to Freetown"; Skye Christensen via Flickr
The heavy heat of the tropical afternoon sun was almost as oppressive as the news of ‘blanket amnesty’ being granted to all the rebel factions who had fought in the vicious 12-year civil war in Sierra Leone, West Africa. I was with the Sierra Leone refugee community in 2001, “sitting in the fire” of the shock of this BBC announcement of total impunity as it crackled and sputtered out of portable, transistor radios clutched to the ears of the refugees. In silence, I searched for understanding in the haunted and tearing eyes of my refugee friends and colleagues – people who had seen their families killed in front of their eyes, who had their villages pillaged and burned, many who had their arms and legs amputated in horrific campaigns of terror perpetrated by the rebels. These were a broken, heavy-hearted, and traumatized people. They were tired of war.
As these refugee friends begin to respond the news some of their eyes sparked with flashes of rage and vengeance – “If these rebels enter my village, I will kill them!” While many others, their eyes glazed with a hollow stare, shrugged their shoulders in wearied resignation saying, “What can we do, this is the only way to have peace – we must figure out how to live together somehow.” The injustice of blanket amnesty brought with it another ‘blanket’ of heavy apathy about the future. The polarizing and paralyzing emotions of revenge on the one hand, and apathy on the other were thick in the air.