Wednesday, April 6, 2016

A Peace Building Meeting

This evening, I had the honor of attending a meeting hosted by (and at) the Diocese of Raiwind and sponsored in part by the NCA (the Norwegian Church Association) and the Royal Norwegian Assembly. I did not get all of the names of everyone in attendance so I will, update this document as I can! I was an avid listener and had a couple of questions, but overall was there to listen and learn. Peace and bridge building are some of the things I am intensely interested in and since I am here, the Diocesan staff thoughtfully included me in the meeting.
People in attendance included: Raheel Sharoon (Development Officer for the Diocese of Raiwind), Noman Sajad (Raiwind Peace Building Department), Naufil Naseer (Programme Advisor of the Royal Norwegian Embassy), Thor Danielsson (Norwegian Church Association and Pakistan representative for the NCA, living in Islamabad), Thomas Berdal (First Secretary:Political for the Royal Norwegian Assembly), Amal Zara (Forman Christian College student in sociology and studying political science - and she's singing in my young adult group here at the diocese!), Rev.d Samuel from south Punjab, Ahmed from the Muslim community, Prame Prakash from the Sikh community, myself (a Postulant in the Episcopal Diocese of Louisiana), and others including members of the Sikh, Hindu, Muslim, and Christian Communities.
I share these notes as they are and with very little of my own commentary. I found it absolutely fascinating to hear the voices of many different religions in one room and to discuss the needs of people affected by terrorism. In Lahore, where most of these incidents are targeted, there is a great deal of grassroots work being done in peacemaking and connecting communities. The Diocese of Raiwind has been extremely active in creating, hosting, and continuing talks, community activities to build relationships between various groups, and in organizing events related to peace building. The day before I arrived, they had gathered local religious leaders together to discuss how to handle, examine, and move forward with regards to the Easter Day bombing in Gulshan-i-Iqbal Park that claimed the lives of 74 people and injured hundreds of others.

Raheel Sharoon began by describing the history of what the diocese has done in peace building. In 2004, the diocese began its work with the religious leaders and called it "interfaith diologue". In 2007, they started working with women and young people, primarily teachers. They trained teachers so that they would have some sort of knowledge and plan when an incident happened and know what their resources and connections would be and to have a plan. Pakistan has a reputation for marginalizing groups. (So does the USA). The country's textbooks have grossly distorted portions of history. The diocese has had most successful results from working with young people and women. Geographically, they concentrate on Lahore and immediate environs because it is such a large city and resources and range are limited.
The first question came from the Norwegian First Secretary Ambassador: 
? With attacks on the city and the recent Easter Day bombing, how has the blast affected your diocesan work, the city, etc.? Was it an attack on Christians?
Responses from the room:
- There are two perspectives: 
1. It was an attack on the Christian community and 
2. It was an attack on Humanity itself.
- The damage is done, but the interfaith coalition of religious leaders has come out of it.
- This was decidedly an attack on children. (I've heard this since I arrived....that the blast was done in the center of where young children were playing and the rides were not meant for adults to ride.)
- The main threat is to the children as soft targets
- This was an attack on Humanity to create fear
- The people crating this terror are NOT connected with any religion, in fact they may not be able to be considered humans
- We do not need to be fearful, we need to strengthen our faith and we should be united
- It was an attack on Christians, in part
- When there are so many great things happening which create peace and goodwill, the terrorists try to create a rift.
- This did not weaken our resolve.
- Recently, Bishop Samuel Azariah held a religious leaders meeting after the Easter Day attack. One of the things he asked the group in and out of the official meeting was "Should we be asking - who are the true Muslims? Or What is the true Islam?"

- We are in denial if we say that the people who did this are Muslims.
- Many of these suicide bombers come out of small "homegrown" churches that are disillusioned with the mainline denominations and choices of religions
- The Madrassa area happens to be where many of the Taliban come from.
- We MUST be building connections, trust, and friendship between groups so that those who feel marginalized may have another outlet.
- There is a deeply-ingrained mentality from many that other countries are to blame.
- We must engage all the religious leaders
- When a blast happens, first there is condemnation and then the people get together. They try to make an action plan
- Back to the question and including: How does an incident impact peace building? 
- The international media reports the attack as (primarily) "against Christians"

- Events such as last Sunday's interfaith payer vigil at the site of the bombing.
- Events such as this a public walk comprised of religious leaders down one of the busiest roads in Lahore.
- These events show solidarity with each other.
- It took us many years before the Christian and Muslim guests would eat together on our campus.
- Often, we we reach step #5 (out of 5), a terrorist attack is made and it takes us back to step #1.
 - We must also talk to our fellow peace builders in many places so as to keep our hope alive when something terrible happens (the world is indeed our community)
- Do you feel like the walk will cause you to become a target?
- If they (the terrorists) are being so relentless in their attacks, then why should we not be?

- Others asking questions about each other's faiths.
- "yes, my faith may be the right one, but it is not the only one"
- The number of people attending your events increases
- social media impressions
- On March 16th, 2016, The Diocese of Raiwind held a peace building conference and invited a member of the transgender community. (Here in Pakistan, the trans community is ostracized, refused basic living conditions, and refused most jobs.) This was the first time in our country that a church has invited them into this kind of interaction and we did it because they have been marginalized. We held a session on "getting rid of the victim mentality" When you have acceptance of groups and they listen to and learn from each other, you;be made a difference and this is an indicator of peace building results.
- Madrassa is showing signs of cooperation and community efforts to make connections with one another.
- Things happen slowly
- We must share our success stories
- Acess the roots of the people involved and not just the obvious religious leaders.
- Sometimes there must be a language change.

- There are higher numbers in this area.
- Other reasons include evangelizing religions.
- There has long been a mindset that each is trying to convert each other and there was a feeling of a long time that Muslims were forceably being converted by Christians. "We are the only way and the rest are heretics"
- When terrorists want to make a larger incident, they target Christians because they know that the West sometimes exaggerates this and that they make a huge picture of it.
- Our mindset is the issue. True religious leaders and these religions are peaceful.
- Young kids coming from poverty fall into bad groups. Sometimes it's because they have food.
- People are touchy about their religions because it has been used to divide  and control people.
- Why you do what you do...
- Even though you may have security, it is extremely expensive and if someone is going to come to you, expecting to die, they almost cannot be stopped. There comes a time when you either sit in a corner and close your eyes or you stand up and live. "I'd rather die by doing something good than to. Be sitting in my corner"
- Respect each other, religion is not responsible for what is happening these days, people are, especially when religious leaders criticize other religious leaders. 

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