Tuesday, June 25, 2013

I asked for peacemakers and no one came...

The rooftop of the small monastery in Sulaimani
Over the last month  Christian Peacemaker Teams has received requests from at least two communities asking for CPT accompaniment. My colleague Tim Nafziger wrote in his blog about these requests ( article here). CPT has sent people to these areas, but is asking for reservists to continue the  support.

These requests strike me hard right now, especially as Tim mentions Syria in his article. Several weeks ago team mate Pat and I sat down for tea in the small monastery in Sulaimani with a Chaldean priest from Syria. Father Paolo Dall'Oglia has been living and working in a monastery in Syria called  Deir Mar Musa al Habashi for 30 years. I wrote a couple of posts about Mar Musa last year.(here and here).

Father Paolo Dall’Oglio is an Italian cleric with a Ph.D. in comparative religion and Islamic studies. He championed Christian-Muslim dialogue for three decades in a region where the line between state and religion is often blurred. He did it from his monastery some 80 kilometers north of Damascus. “I have worked to  create a monastic community dedicated to the service of harmony between Islam and Christianity,” he says" (taken from Micah CafĂ© blog here ).

Mar Musa (near Damascus, Syria) taken by Andres Rump

The community at Mar Musa has also walked the journey of practising and teaching non-violence. In September  2011 as the conflict in Syria was heating up they  called for a week of "spiritual jihad, through fasting, prayer and sakina (God-inspired peace of the soul) for reconciliation between the children of Mother Syria.". They implored for " reconciliation between citizens, on the basis of a common option for non-violence as the only method able to ensure sustainable reform and to avoid the slide into civil war and the vicious circle of revenge."

The people at the monastery pleaded for reconciliation and dialogue. They asked for two things. First, for the freedom of the international press in order to create objectivity though plural sources of media. Second,  they refused to accept military might as a way to supress the conflict. They suggested that " the Syrian government invite the International Committee of the Red Cross and Red Crescent as well as other impartial international humanitarian organizations (such as the global movement of scouts, Gandhian movements or nongovernmental organizations for the defense of human rights) to cooperate with Syrian nongovernmental organizations".


As we sat with Father Paolo that day he expressed that he had a deep affection for the Mennonites. But he hesitated to talk about non-violence. Soon we found out why. After the week of fasting in 2011 they published a document asking for 50,000 unarmed nonviolent  activists of the  global civil society. Dall’Oglio travelled and pleaded with international agencies to send these people to use the window of opportunity. But as he said, "no one came". (In an interview in April 2013 he does say that one group sent 100 peacemakers and another 300, but this was far from enough.. here.) The conflict escalated. Now he is advocating for an armed response on behalf of the opposition. "..Now we should assist the Syrian people in their right to defend itself. A no-fly zone would be the minimum of responsibility. All the modern weaponry is being used against the Syrian people."


Pat and Father Paolo in Sulaimani

I asked him at which point he changed his mind. He said that it was more like an evolution. After the peacemakers did not come the artillery of the regime began to kill the sons of all the people that he had grown to love. Then he felt the time of nonviolent intervention was past. He has received a lot of criticism for his new plea, but he is firm in it.

As I sat there I had many thoughts going through my head. I did not feel equipped to lecture him on the apologetics of nonviolence. He knew them very well and  I have never ever been close to the situation that he has witnessed.  He was expelled from Syria by the regime for his ideas and support for the opposition.

  I thought back to the speech made by Ron Sider  in 1984 that provided some of the impetus for the birth of Christian Peacemaker Teams. He said,
 "What would happen if we in the Christian church developed a new nonviolent peacekeeping force of 100,000 persons ready to move into violent conflicts and stand peacefully...  Together the Christian church could afford to train and deploy 100,000 persons in a new nonviolent peacekeeping force. The result would not be utopia, or even the abolition of war. But it might tug our trembling planet back from the abyss. (Ron Sider, 28 July 1984)"
The community at Mar Musa asked for 50,000 unarmed nonviolent  activists of the  global civil society. If we, as Mennonites or Christians and others who believe in nonviolence,  had managed to meet the challenge of Sider then there would have been 50,000 peacemakers left over for the conflicts that are happening in other regions of the world- for the Mikmaq nation in New Brunswick and the community of Las Pavas in Colombia and many more. 

Friday, June 7, 2013

Friday prayers at Mosgowti Hazrati Ibrahim

Today is Friday. Around 1130 am the environment around the mosque that is across the road begins to change. The sound of the occasional car and the twittering sparrows is taken over by more cars and people (mostly men) heading toward the mosque. About 12 noon the call to prayer comes and then immediately the message for the week is delivered to those gathered as well as all of the neighbourhood within earshot.

This can become irritating, if I let it. Sometimes I complain to myself that my peaceful day off is interrupted by a very loud message that I can not yet understand. But I can also appreciate that it is a community wide event. . The women's entrance is on the opposite side of the building, so I can not see the women coming. But I do see men and boys of all ages gathering for prayers.

A couple of weeks ago I stood on my roof with my camera. Most of the videos I took were not very good, but this short one gives you a taste of the wonderful voice of the man who calls the prayer.

After the last prayer is said the microphone clicks off and the people find their shoes and move quickly out of the mosque. But then something new happens. While the prayers have been going on merchants have gathered outside on the street. On the day I took photos there was a truck full of watermelons (shutti), and a vehicle with a pool on the back filled with live fish (masi). A green carpet provided the place for the scaling and filleting.

 Right beside it was another salesman yelling, "chickens- ?? per kilo". The hens were loaded squawking onto a scale and then were carried home to provide Friday supper.
I was thinking that this was a market opportunity for farmers in Manitoba. They could stand outside churches on Sunday and then parishioners could buy fresh food for their meals for the next few days without having to go to the supermarket.

Today I had a Kurdish conversation with my friend, Nazanin, from the plumber's shop. I think that we understood each other- that I am Christian and she is Muslim but that does not matter. And I would like to go to Friday prayers with her someday.

Landmines in the fields--an ever present danger

I am reposting a reflection I wrote after a recent delegation that came here to Iraqi Kurdistan. The delegation was made up of 5 German people and a new member of our team.  I co-led it with my son in law Laurens. (Many of our partners had seen photos of my family and recognized him. It led to many mother-in-law jokes as well as amazement that we are also friends.) We could not have done the delegation without the wise advice and translating skills of Mohammed Salah Mahdi.

6 June 2013
IRAQI KURDISTAN: Landmines in the fields--an ever present danger

 by Kathy Moorhead Thiessen

Field where the mine exploded 
As the recent CPT delegation climbed the road into the Quandil mountains in Iraqi Kurdistan we felt the coolness of snowfields still present at the end of May.  The tips of the rocky range marked the border with Iran.  We emerged from our minibus in the idyllic mountain village, Kani Spi, to spy the blue tractor moving below us on the field.  It made its way up to the yard and stopped.  Fifteen-year-old Halgurd (named for the highest mountain in Iraq) climbed out.  He greeted us and we all introduced ourselves.
As he spoke to Mohammed, our translator, he quietly and matter-of-factly told us that the day before a mine had exploded under his tractor.  “I was very scared.  But not even the tractor was harmed.  The mine made a big hole deep into the ground.  I was OK too.”  Halgurd’s father lost a leg to a mine and he knows people who have lost their lives to the same destructive weapons.
Later, his father, Mahmoud, told us again about their situation.  The shelling from Iran has stopped for now, and he hopes it will end forever.  However, the mines remain an ever-present danger. 
CPT Iraqi Kurdistan has visited with this family many times and written releases about life in Kani Spi.  The incident of four days ago impressed on the team again that their situation with the mines has not changed.  Mahmoud said, “We must keep a careful eye on our children, especially those who visit us.  Sometimes even the adults get absent-minded and may walk into the area of mines.”
Halgurd and two CPT delegates
sitting at the head of the
White Spring ("Kani Spi" in Kurdish.)
He requested that we go to the office of the authorities who are in charge of mine clearing in the region to ask them if they would come again to Kani Spi.  He said, “The mines that are far away on the mountains do not bother us.  We can avoid them.  But there are mines close to our house and we have asked them many times to clear them.  They still have not come back.”  He also asked that they come to look again at the field,although it was cleared again last year.  The mines have been there since the Iran-Iraq War in the 1980s when the mountains were littered with these tiny, inexpensive, and volatile weapons.  The weather and seasons sometimes bury them deep or bring them to the surface.  Then an incident can happen like the recent explosion.
That evening, we spoke with his wife, Maryam, and expressed our gratitude that the detonated mine had not harmed Halgurd.  “Thanks be to Allah,” she said.

The next day the delegation stopped at the mine clearing office in the nearby city.  We presented the director with a letter asking him to consider working again in Kani Spi.  We have not yet heard his reply.