Day 38: Andy Shallal

Today’s Peacemaker is DC-area artist, activist and entrepreneur (owner of Busboys and Poets) Andy Shallal. Anas “Andy” Shallal was born in Baghdad, Iraq in 1955. While serving as the Ambassador of the Arab League, his father moved the family to the US in 1966 but as the Ba’athists and Saddam Hussein seized power through the ’70’s, the family could not return. Andy got a degree from Catholic University and enrolled in Howard University medical school. He also worked as a medical immunology researcher at NIH before returning to the restaurant business that his family had entered.

andyshallal (1)After opening and running three successful restaurants with his brothers in DC, he sold his interests and opened the first Busboys and Poets in 2005. Now with 6 locations in the DC metro-area, these are more than restaurants; they are bookstores and market-places that promote social awareness and justice causes, and where fair-trade products are sold, and where organic, earth-friendly food and beverages are promoted. These places also are gathering places for community events that promote dialog and understanding. These efforts to promote healthful and sustainable practices has gained recognition by the US Healthful Food Council. Shallal is also one of the co-founders of Think Local First, promoting and supporting local business owners and sustainable practices.

In addition to the businesses, Shallal has been active in a number of political and social justice causes (among his teachers was Colman McCarthy). He is a member of Restaurant Centers Opportunity United that promotes good wages and working conditions for restaurant workers. He has been active in numerous peace movement organizations, including Iraqi Americans for Peaceful Alternatives, and the Peace Cafe that promotes Arab-Jewish dialogue. He participated in many events protesting the second Gulf War, and spoke at the “counter-inauguration” of GW Bush in 2005. He also catered Cindy Sheehan’s anti-war camp/vigil outside Bush’s Crawford Ranch.  He has received the UN Human Rights Community Award, the Mayor’s Environmental Award, the Mayor’s Art Award, the Washington Peace Center’s Man of the year, and numerous leadership awards in employment and sustainability practices. His artwork can be seen in all of the Busboys and Poets locations as well as other places throughout DC.

As he has become successful, he has also recognized the tension that comes with advocating for equality while being rich. In 2013, he stated “I am increasingly uncomfortable with my comfort.” He has spoken out for higher minimum wages, and raised concerns about the difference between healthy communities and gentrification. He was outspoken in advocating that Walmart stores opening in DC pay decent wages and provide for worker rights.  In addition, despite his financial success, his two daughters attended public high schools and colleges.

For today, here are two quotes of his that reflecting the spirit of Shallal:

“Every culture from around the globe contains an infusion of food culture that is relative. So we all have something to share.”

“If we continue to think of ourselves as color-blind, then I think we’re always going to be tripping over ourselves.”

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Day 37: Neil Snarr

Neil Snarr grew up in New York and Indiana in a conservative household. After a stint in the Army and obtaining advanced degrees in Theology and Sociology, Neil took a teNeil Snarraching job at Wilmington College. WC is a small Quaker liberal arts college in Southwest Ohio. Not long after arriving at WC, Neil began attending Quaker meeting and has been deeply involved with Friends ever since.

At WC he taught a variety of courses in Sociology and Global Issues. He also taught frequently in Wilmington’s prison program, which was a central aspect of WC’s social justice-oriented mission. In the 1960s, Neil began taking students to Central America and Mexico to learn Spanish and about the realities of the region. This was the beginning of his decades-long interest in taking students abroad and concern for native people throughout the world.

In the 1990s Neil began taking a handful of students to Spring Lobby Weekend, organized by FCNL in Washington, DC. At Spring Lobby Weekend, students learn about an issue of concern to Quakers, learn how to lobby, and then apply this knowledge on Capitol Hill. What began as a few students in a van has evolved into a charter bus loaded with 50-plus students, faculty, staff, and community members from Wilmington, Ohio.

In the academic realm, Neil has done research on post-disaster housing in Central America, edited a book on Nicaragua, and co-edited a book on global issues (now in its 6th edition). Additionally, he has served on various Quaker committees including Friends Committee on National Legislation (FCNL) and Quaker United Nations Office (QUNO).

Upon retiring, Neil has remained active. At WC he raises money for student travel to Quaker-related issues and has researched the history of local desegregation efforts. Most recently, Neil received recognition for selling $10,000 worth of Palestinian fair trade olive oil. His support of Palestinian olive farmers fits well with Neil’s long-held mantra that “if you want to help disadvantaged people, you should buy their products.” Neil has also been instrumental in enabling WC students to join William Penn Quaker Workcamps as participants and leaders in DC, West Virginia and Pine Ridge.

In alignment with his dedication to education as peacemaking, there are these words from Maria Montessori: “Establishing lasting peace is the work of education. All politics can do is keep us out of war.”

Day 13: Dr. Marc Gopin

Marc Gopin is the Director of the Center for World Religions, Diplomacy and Conflict Resolution (CRDC), the James H. Laue Professor at the School for Conflict Analysis and Resolution at George Mason University, Arlington, Virginia. Gopin has pioneered projects at CRDC in Afghanistan, Iran, Syria, Palestine and Israel. Gopin directs a unique series of overseas educational and practice experiences ranging from conflict and peace intervention in Palestine and Israel, to support for Syrian activists and refugees in Turkey and Jordan, to pioneering educational classes in the Balkans and Northern Ireland. The classes are open to all for either a certificate or credit. marc-syria-comment

Gopin has trained thousands of people worldwide in peacebuilding strategies for complex conflicts. He conducts research on values dilemmas as they apply to international problems of clash of cultures, globalization and development, and social justice. The direction of his new research and teaching investigates the relationship between global trends in nonviolence and new approaches to global conflict resolution. His fifth book, Bridges Across an Impossible Divide: the Inner Lives of Arab and Jewish Peacemakers (Oxford, 2012), explores the role of self-examination in the resolution of human conflict as portrayed in the lives and testimonies of indigenous peacemakers.

Gopin has engaged in back channel diplomacy with religious, political and military figures on both sides of conflicts. He has appeared on numerous media outlets, including CNN, CNN International, Al Jazeera English, Al Jazeera Arabic, Al Arabiyah, The Jim Lehrer News Hour, National Public Radio, Voice of America, and the national public radios of Sweden and Northern Ireland. He has been published in numerous publications, including the International Herald Tribune, the Boston Globe, the Christian Science Monitor, and his work has been featured in news stories of the Times of London, The Times of India, Associated Press, and Newhouse News Service. He received a Ph.D. in ethics from Brandeis University in 1993. He was also ordained as an Orthodox rabbi at Yeshiva University in 1983, although he eventually stopped identifying with any Jewish denomination. In recognition of Gopin’s work and dedication to the hard work of peacemaking, take a moment to reflect on his words:

“The fact is that it is easy to demonize, it is the lazy primitive brain’s way out of stress. It takes work to see good and bad existing side by side…I will never again assume that if someone is from a victim group that they have an evolved moral mind, and I will never again assume that education has anything to do with empathy, balance, and the capacity for making peace between enemies.”

(Thanks to http://www.marcgopin.com much of this information. This site has great postings.)

Day 8: Bahá’u’lláh, Founder of Bahá’í Faith

Bahá’u’lláh (1817-1892) was born Mírzá Ḥusayn-`Alí Núrí in Tehran, then the capital of Persia. Some authors claim his ancestry can be traced back to Abraham, Zoroaster (founder of the ancient religion Zoroastrianism) and to the last king of the Sassanid Empire. His teachings and religious works spoke of humanity as one single race and that the age has come for unification as a global society.

Early in his life, he joined the Bábí movement, a rapidly growing movement across the Persian empire that faced widespread opposition from the Islamic clergy. This movement was a progressive movement that eliminated successorship and invited doubt to faith with messages of a Promised One to come who will make all things manifest, and that no other person’s writings should be binding until then.  

When the leader of the Bábí movement was executed in 1850, a group of his followers

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Gardens in Haifa, Israel

 

plotted to assassinate the Shah in retaliation. Bahá’u’lláh condemned this plan, but his influence did not stop the attempt that failed and resulted in the plotters being rounded up and killed, while the rest of the Bábí movement was imprisoned in an underground dungeon. It was during this imprisonment that Bahá’u’lláh had several mystical experiences and received a vision of a maiden from God that he was the prophesied one. Upon his exoneration and release from prison, he was exiled from Iran and chose to go to Iraq in the Ottoman Empire rather than to Russia, where he had been invited.

As he made his way to Baghdad, the outgoing and accessible Bahá’u’lláh was increasingly seen as the spiritual leader of the movement, whereas the appointed nominal leader, Mirza Yahya,  was often living in hiding and disguised. Resentment built in the community as Yahya tried to discredit Bahá’u’lláh so, in 1854, he decided to leave Baghdad and pursue a solitary life and not become a source of disagreement in the community. For two years he lived as a hermit in the Kurdistan. His penmanship brought curiosity from local Sufi instructors, and as he began to take guests, he became noted for his learning and wisdom, and people started seeking his wisdom. He also wrote several books during this time. He emerged as the unifying leader of Bábísm, although facing many conflicts, exiles, detentions, and attempts on his life from Yahya as well as Persian and Muslim clerics. Yahya was finally discredited in 1867, and Bahá’u’lláh’s followers started calling themselves Bahá’í’s.

Shrine of Bahá'u'lláh in Bahjí

For the remainder of his life, Bahá’u’lláh continued to write and form the foundations of the Bahá’í Faith. He wrote letters to world leaders asking them to cast away their material possessions, and to rule with justice and protect the rights of the downtrodden. He called for reductions in armaments and for reconciliation of differences. To Christian monarchs, he asked them to be faithful to Jesus’ call to follow the promised “Spirit of Truth.” His final imprisonment was in Akka, the citadel city in Ottoman Palestine (now Israel). As he became a trusted and respected person there, the prison conditions were eased and he was able to move about more freely. He continued to write, with many works outlining his vision for a united world, as well as the need for ethical action. He died and is buried in a shrine in Akka (above).

For today, reflect on these two pearls of wisdom: “Religion without science is superstition. Science without religion is materialism”, and “The earth is but one country, and mankind its citizens.” 

NOTE: There are few photographs of Bahá’u’lláh, and out of respect for the faith’s customs, I have not put one here.

 

Day 26: Hanan Ashrawi

Hanan Ashrawi (b. 1946) is a Palestinian Anglican. Her family was forced to flee to Jordan during the 1948 Palestine War. During the six day war, she was studying in Beirut. She was declared an absentee by Israel and denied re-entry to the West Bank. For the next 6 years, she traveled and completed her education, including getting a PhD. from the University of Virginia. She was allowed to re-join her family in 1973.  She became a leader after the first Intifada as a Palestinian Delegate to the Middle East Peace process. She has since become a leader of the Third Way party within the West Bank. In 2003 she was awarded the Sydney Peace Prize, drawing praise from the likes of Mary Robinson (former UN High Commissioner for Human Rights) and Bishop Tutu. She is not without her critics (such as making statements denying the conditions of Jewish refugees from Arab countries), but people such as Israeli politician Yael Dayan “think she’s very courageous, and she contributes quite a lot to the peace process.”

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While optimism is vital to peacemaking, so is realism. Here are Ashrawi’s comments following one previous accord: “Beyond the emotionalism and the obvious sense of relief on all sides, I think that there is a recognition that reality may intrude, that perhaps the steps ahead and the days ahead are going to be much more difficult than one expects.” In what ways might our work for peace and our resistance to change be creating conflict in our own lives and community?

Day 7: Sheikh Abdul Aziz Bukhari

Sheikh Abdul Aziz Bukhari (1949-2010) was a Sufi leader who devoted his life to peace in the Middle East. His funeral in Jerusalem in 2010 was attended by Rabbis, Muslim and Druze sheiks, Christian clerics and lay people of diverse faiths as a testament to his ability to reach across divides. He was the head of the mystical Naqshabandi Holy Land Sufi Order and Uzbek Community.

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He co-founded Jerusalem Peacemakers, and was a participant in the Interfaith Coordinating Council in Israel. In 2008, he told a reporter that religious leaders have to take a role to work in the community on the grassroots, to help people find that violence will not solve our problem, and that this can be done when we act as a family, remembering that God created us to live here in peace and harmony.  For today, take a moment to reflect on his words:

“The stronger one is the one who can absorb the violence and anger from the other and change it to love and understanding. It is not easy; it is a lot of work. But this is the real jihad.”

Day 2: Widad Akrawi

Today, we are putting the Peacemaker spotlight on  Widad Akrawi. Ms. Akrawi has often found herself in precarious situations, and has used the powerful tool of bearing witness and telling the story to address injustices primarily in the Middle East. Widad Akrawi was born into a secular family in the Kurdistan region of Iraq in 1969. In 1988, she was secretly involved in documenting torture and other violations of human rights throughout Iraq. This has led her on a path committed to the global struggle for human rights, peace, social justice, democratic governance and ethnic reconciliation. You can see more about her work at http://www.widad.org.

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Among her many writings of wisdom, for today take a moment to reflect on these two:

“Although peace can be negotiated by governments, it is ultimately the responsibility of the people themselves to make it last. All of us have a role to play to create a world in which peace can flourish”

“If you are positive, you’ll see opportunities instead of obstacles.”

In what ways can simply being optimistic help you to see options for personal action – perhaps at some sacrifice or discomfort – while maintaining your personal footing?