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Nonviolence and Violence, the Shocking Difference

 For decades, there was hardly any opening in this strong police state to train and plan for creative and steadfast nonviolent social change. Some of us as peace activists did our best to introduce even the mildest ideas of social change at great personal risk to our Syrian friends. For over ten years I had been working steadily in Syria with Syrian partners on interfaith diplomacy and peacebuilding. We built bridges between both average people and between influential people across the spectrum from Alewite, Sunni, Shiite, Catholic, Protestant, and atheist. We engaged in what nonviolence practitioners refer to as exercises in solidarity.

We built a cadre of students in conflict resolution from young to old, inside and outside the government. We did this work with the grudging permission of the regime, through clever strategies of diplomacy. We also enjoyed the friendship of some Western …

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I think it is interesting that in just a few days we heard from the daughter of Emir of Qatar that MENA radical intervention into Syria was turning into a ruination of a legitimate struggle because of the violence and barbarism of the religious extremists. Then we heard from the daughter of Khomeini, father of the Iranian Revolution, that the current leaders may be ruining the revolution and replacing it with a dictatorship. What’s up with the new daughters of MENA? These women are not radicalized hippie eighteen year old children of farmers from the countryside. They are from the top elite of each country’s leadership. What gives with these women’s preference for nonviolence? Could this be a kindler, gentler effect of the Arab Spring? Or perhaps the culmination of longer processes at work? 

The answer is that the slow and steady increase of women’s voices …

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Conspiracy and the Tides of History

by mgopin on July 15, 2012 · 7 comments

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Allegedly this is a picture describing how the Polio vaccine is a US-Jewish conspiracy to annihilate all Muslims. It is from Pakistan where many friends of mine have told me of similar posters.  I would love someone to comment further on the veracity of this photo. The criminals who engage in this kind of behavior have some clear intentions, but what people may not realize is the origin of this.

This is much older than people think. It has deep origins in the antisemitic Middle Ages. Jews were always associated with cutting edge medicine by dint of their professional pursuits and their own health and eating practices. Those who wanted their knowledge, who respected science, brought in Jews in large numbers, sometimes to Muslim societies who rescued Jews from persecution in Christian lands, sometimes to Christian societies. But those past and present who see knowledge as a threat to …

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Syria’s Christian Conundrum

by mgopin on June 8, 2012 · 6 comments

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by Hind Kabawat, CRDC Senior Research Analyst and Expert on Conflict Resolution

This article was originally published by CNN here.

One of the most perplexing aspects of the Syrian revolution is the deep ambivalence felt by so many of the country’s Christians when faced with the prospect of freedom after four decades of authoritarian dictatorship. Some Christians have enthusiastically embraced the prospect of democratic change and a more open civil society, but many have not.

As a Christian, this provokes a great deal of sadness in me and others who are committed to transforming Syria into an open, democratic, inclusive, secular and religiously tolerant society. But the problem is that many, if not most, Christians in Syria do not believe that this will be the outcome of changing the regime.

On the contrary, they believe the present regime — corrupt and repressive as it has been — is the …

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This article was originally published on January 18th here.

At the beginning of December 2011, the Center for World Religions, Diplomacy, and Conflict Resolution at George Mason University convened a meeting of over twenty world famous Islamic scholars and dignitaries together with over one hundred and twenty clerics from every province of Afghanistan. The event was unprecedented in the history of Afghan conflict resolution. Never before had anyone brought together the beleaguered Imams of the Afghan provinces, men who had stood up for peace and risked their lives to fight against the misuse of their religion. These men stood witness as colleagues, who dared stand up at Friday prayer and advocate for Islam’s commitment to nonviolence, for women’s rights, and for tolerance, were assassinated by radical forces in the region and neighboring states whose only purpose was to keep the war going and Afghanistan divided. Nevertheless, these men …

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Just a few days ago was the longest night of the year. Another way of looking at is that this was night in which the tide of darkness began to turn back in favor of light. Bunched around this time are so many ancient holidays of lights and candles, of which Hanukah and Christmas are but two. Ancient rabbinic tradition suggests that the purpose of the small light at night is to teach that it takes only the light of one individual candle to illuminate the darkness of an entire room—or the world.

Peering at small lights at night, meditating on them, also has another interesting impact. It makes the blinding light of the morning sun feel almost miraculous. Indeed, many of the pre-monotheistic nighttime celebrations of light at this time of year are actually celebrations of the birth of light, and particularly sunlight. There is an inescapable reality to …

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Ineffective tightening of sanctions on Iran

by mgopin on December 12, 2011 · 7 comments

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This article originally appeared on the Al Jazeeera English website on Dec. 12, 2011.  You can view it by clicking here .

Washington, DC – There is a long record of the grim effects of sanctions in international struggles against those states deemed as “rogue”. Sanctions are seen as righteous instruments, a non-violent way to pressure problematic regimes to change. But when you really don’t care about a country or its people, then your true attitudes emerge in the way in which you use the sanctions instrument of policy.

Let’s take Iraq. Based on estimates of the massive increase in child mortality rates through the years of the sanctions in the 1990s, anywhere from 300,000 to a million people lost their lives. But no one in Saddam’s inner circle, none of the wealthy, and none of the killers, died from those sanctions. Such sanctions were touted as an enlightened and …

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The Project for Islamic Cooperation for a Peaceful Future in Afghanistan, November 30, 2011 - December 2, 2011

George Mason University Press Release

November 29, 2011

Media Contacts: In U.S., James Greif, +1 703 993 9118, jgreif@gmu.edu. In Turkey, Aziz Abu Sarah +1 571-236-0380, azizabusarah@gmail.com .

Istanbul, Turkey –From every province of Afghanistan, Imams and civil society leaders will meet together today with Islamic scholars for the first time during the Islamic Cooperation for a Peaceful Future in Afghanistan conference, an unprecedented gathering that will open on November 30 in Istanbul, Turkey. More than 80 Afghan scholars will meet with over 20 of the world’s most prestigious Muftis and Islamic scholars, with millions of followers across the world, from Pakistan to Indonesia.

The conference participants consider this gathering, discussion and commitment for peace and non-violence as the establishment of a historically significant point of reference for Islamic teachings of moderation, tolerance, peace and cooperation.

The conference is an academic forum created by the Center for World Religions, …

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Get on the Right Side of History

by mgopin on September 24, 2011 · 0 comments

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(A version of this essay was recently published in The Jerusalem Report.)

Across the world in the last 40 years politically organized religious forces have played an increasingly important role in national politics. From India to Indonesia, from Lebanon to Israel, from the United States to Russia, organized religion has increased its impact on politics.

We are also aware of the frightening rise of very violent religion, expressed through terror groups. For this reason, it is easy to misunderstand the relationship between religion on the one hand and between states and ethnic groups and their very secular interests, on the other hand.

Precisely because so many millions of people care about religion, religion has become an essential tool of secular state and ethnic interests. Indeed, what may seem to be a religious issue often turns out to be very secular state interests. Missing this relationship, it becomes easy

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By Hind Aboud Kabawat (Senior Research Analyst and Expert in Conflict Resolution, CRDC, George Mason University).

Damascus, Syria

May 20, 2011

Can our beloved Syria be saved from the brink of destruction? This is clearly the question on the minds of millions of our fellow countrymen (and countrywomen). And it is truly astonishing how quickly events have transformed the so-called “facts on the ground” in this country. One of the most locked-down societies in the Middle East quite suddenly erupted in rage, anger and frustration after forty years of political repression and economic stagnation. Just think of it: the first demonstration was on March 15, just a mere two months ago. But so much has changed in the minds, hearts and aspirations of the Syrian people that it is impossible to think that we can ever return to the status quo ante—the Syria of March 14th.

What the …

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