Learning to be a peacemaker – Tools for Change
Three hundred and eighty people from more than 50 countries – mostly under the age of 40 – packed Caux for the fourth Tools for Change conference. More than two hundred participated in courses taught by an international faculty from 13 countries on topics ranging from dialogue to team building and family renewal. Participants wrestled with these questions: What does it take to build trust across divides of culture, ethnicity and politics? What tools do we need? Do our lives demonstrate the kind of change that we want to see in the world?
Sixty-five young Muslims from UK, the Netherlands, Sweden, France and Germany brought energy as well as a challenge to Caux. They were there because of the vision of Ajmal Masroor, a British imam who directs Communities in Action which provides consultancy and support to media and government agencies on Muslim issues. Ajmal had attended an earlier Tools for Change conference which, he said, led to “a profound change in my thinking.” He says young Muslims need support in understanding their own faith tradition and in how to become involved constructively in their communities. His vision is to train one thousand young European Muslims as peacemakers in the next five years. Most of the group in Caux were students and young professionals who were born in Europe of African, Middle Eastern and Asian parents. A singing group of Indonesian Dutch added to the variety with a repertoire ranging from Muslim worship songs to Michael Jackson.
Diverse panels explored “the DNA of a peacemaker” and the importance of quiet reflection. One American told of a difficult decision to apologize to a family member: “We don’t ever want to see ourselves as the perpetrators of what we don’t like in the world. But sometimes it takes a good friend or a long honest reflection to see where we really are and to be real with ourselves. And once we’ve seen it and faced up to it, to believe in the power of a small and simple movement in the right direction. And to know that one courageous step can change everything. “
Ginn Fourie, from South Africa, whose daughter was killed in a Cape Town massacre during the time of Apartheid, told how she forgave Letlapa Mphahlele, the commander of the liberation group who ordered the attack. Ginn said that forgiveness was not only possible but necessary to be able to deal with her daughters’ death. “In today’s world, we gave up giving forgiveness to the justice system,” which was given the sole right to take revenge, she said. She said that the process of forgiveness is long and difficult and that it takes time to give up a justifiable right of revenge. Today Ginn and Letlapa work together for reconciliation. They founded the Lyndi Fourie Foundation (LFF) in memory of Ginn’s daughter. The foundation raises funds for a farm for ex-combatants suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder, substance abuse and family dysfunction.
Hind Makki, of Interfaith Youth Core in Chicago, led a course on Honest Conversation with Cricket White of Hope in the Cities, Richmond. IFYC aims to build “a global movement of religious pluralism” among young people, using service projects and dialogue. Cricket and Hind also spoke together at a conference session. “Honest conversation starts with the decision to engage with someone or another group with whom one may disagree or be different from …and then the courage to act on that conviction,” said Cricket. “Honest Conversation is being transparent about you or your group’s responsibility for the current crisis or issue and sharing it with those on the ‘other side’. And this happens before the other side accuses you of that very thing.
“Why is it important to make one self or one’s side so vulnerable? In any situation in which there are two sides, each side knows what the other one has done. That is not a secret. But when one side steps forward and takes responsibility for those actions, it upsets the balance of ‘I insult you and you insult me’. It says ‘I want more than dialogue. I want to be a part of healing this wound.’ ” The presenters asked the conference participants to be quiet and consider: “What honest conversation do I need to have in my life? What might be a first step?”
Anjum Ali, co-chair of Hope in the Cities, Richmond and Erwan Floc’h, executive director of IofC France, spoke on “Identity: the need to belong.” Erwan painted a picture of the new face of France. There was a false impression that there were “recent immigrants on one side and on the other side a population that is 100 percent French.” The number of mixed marriages and young French who have at least one foreign-born grandparent is significant. France is “an evolving society and we need to redefine who we are.” He described the Initiatives Dialogue project which brings together diverse groups to explore their identity and the richness of their heritage beyond skin color, sex, religion or profession.
Anjum described her “crisis of identity” as the daughter of Pakistani parents who was born in the US, spent her childhood in Saudi Arabia and then returned to the US for college. “The one identity that no one could determine for me, that I had complete liberty to choose and which gave me a sense of control over who I was and to whom I belonged, was that of my faith. Islam was an identity no one could question. Facing discrimination in my youth undoubtedly led me down a path I might not otherwise have chosen… Clinging to Islam was also a spiritual survival, but if I am honest, I have to admit that wearing the hijab was a form of resistance.”
She asked, “Do we cling to our identities because there is a benign need to belong, or is it an act of resistance due to historical trauma and insecurity? For years it became quite comfortable for me to live within my shell of having only a Muslim identity. It was not until IofC’s Connecting Community Fellowship Program in the United States that I regained my sense of identity as a human and that I shared it with all of humanity.”
The BBC carried a feature article on the presence of the young Muslims in Caux. The reporter interviewed Ajmal Masroor who said: “Every one of them is very happy to be a European citizen – a citizen of their own country – but to remain a good and loyal Muslim.” He led the youth in four days of intensive training in the tradition of peacemaking in Islam before the Tools for Change conference. Topics included violence and extremism, characteristics of peace agents, and loyalty and citizenship.
The BBC quoted Peter Riddell from the UK, a conference organizer, “We are faced with a need to redefine what it means to be European. In many ways you could say that European culture has defined itself in opposition to Islam. So now the challenge is, whether we are going to embrace a European culture which includes a substantial component of Muslims, or whether we are going to reject that.”
At the conclusion of the conference, many of the young Muslims spoke of being challenged by new ideas and of their determination to take the spirit of Caux with them. “I have spent the last days completely out of my comfort zone,” said one. “I hope that I can have quiet times every day!” Leadership groups are forming in various countries to coordinate future activities.
Going down the mountain
Hennie de Pous gave the final keynote: “Young Muslims have looked into their religious identity with the aim to be better equipped to go into dialogue… They are free to give a worthwhile contribution to our European society. And what about the identity of other Europeans? Are we afraid of Islam because we are not rooted firmly enough in our Christian, Jewish and humanist traditions? Should we not take that tradition more seriously?”
To stand firm in their identity and to understand the present, Europeans also need to know their history. “People ask why black people are in the Netherlands. It is a direct result of colonialism and the slave trade,” said Hennie.
She concluded: “What do we take with us down the mountain? Only what becomes something integrated in ourselves will stay. And it only becomes something of ourselves, if we decide to do something with it, to act.”