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Some of my earliest memories are of watching "Mighty Mouse" on Saturday morning TV (black & white) and on the commercial breaks being taught what it means to be a good consumer. Since then the essential message delivered by countless ads, and even the shows themselves, has been: "Get a job that will get you enough bucks to afford the products essential to happily live the American Dream. Happiness is just one purchase away."
The philosophy of consumerism heavily influences our attitudes toward government, our elected officials, campaigns, and elections. Don't we have a tendency to ask our elected officials "what have you done for me lately?" Haven't we become consumers of government services that we expect someone else to pay for and provide?
On Tuesday, the government response to the non-violent protest movement in Sudan took a deadly turn. For the first time, live ammunition was used and 11 people were killed in the streets of Nyala, the capital of South Darfur state. According to various reports, most of those killed were 17 and 18 years of age, but one report stated that some of those who lost their lives were as young 9 and 11. My heart goes out to the families of those killed and to those injured when government forces fired on the crowds.
This tragedy in Nyala comes at a time when, in a nearby region of Darfur, a program of reconciliation, reformation, and reconstruction has been underway for months bringing together people divided and displaced by years of war in Darfur.
I was frankly appalled to read the op-ed by Gerard Prunier in the NY Times earlier this month entitled “In Sudan, Give War A Chance.” Mr. Prunier writes: “The return to violence is not necessarily a bad thing. Soldiers killing one another in war would be far less devastating than thousands of women and children starving to death while waiting for a negotiated peace that will never come.” He then argues that a renewed war between South Sudan and Sudan, coupled with violent revolution in other marginalized regions stand the best chance of toppling the Bashir regime. I disagree on several counts.
When did the ability and willingness to compromise become a character flaw disqualifying a person from serving in public office? Tuesday, Sen. Richard Lugar lost a hard-fought primary battle after serving in the U.S. Senate since 1976. What was troubling was not that he lost but the reasons given for his loss.
As many sing of "Peace on earth and good will toward men" in their Christmas celebrations, I thought that you might like a break from the stream of bad news pouring out of the media and a chance to read an inspiring story of restored hope for peace in a region that many have given up on.
In October and November of 2011, Makki Ibrahim Makki, the Sudan Project Manager for the Institute for Sustainable Peace, returned to his home region in Darfur for the first time in ten years. I thought he went home to see his mother and get married. Turns out, he also had a peace project in mind.
We are very pleased to welcome Michael Jhin to the board of directors of the Institute for Sustainable Peace. Michael served fourteen years as the CEO of St. Luke’s Episcopal Health System in Houston, Texas and has served as CEO Emeritus since his retirement in 2004.
Michael wrote the below op-ed in January in honor of Martin Luther King, Jr.’s birthday. I am very pleased to share it with you here because it contains Michael’s personal reflections on diversity in America and speaks to important lessons from which we can all benefit as we seek to build sustainable peace.
- Randy Butler
Scenes of men on horseback and camels swinging clubs while racing at full gallop into the crowds of peaceful demonstrators in Tahrir Square in Cairo on Wednesday were shocking and disgusting. My heart had been stirred by the scenes of thousands marching in the streets of Cairo and other cities in Egypt, for the most part non-violently, demanding the end of autocracy and repression. After seeing the violence initiated by what we now know to be plain clothes security and employees of the ruling political party (see Nick Kristof’s Op-Ed “We Are All Egyptians” published Feb. 3 in the NY Times), who could fault any of us for asking how it could be possible for this people’s uprising to go forward successfully in a way that builds long term peace.
The “find someone from the other party to sit with” invitations for President Obama’s State of the Union address drew media attention and a few takers. The fact that a Democrat sat between two Republicans, or vice versa, might not seem like a news event; still it was a significant gesture. While most would say that it was only a symbolic act, I believe it was a good beginning in creating space for a dialogue.
John Paul Lederach, in his book, “Building Peace,” observes that contemporary wars are all identity based and involve deep rooted animosities where neighbor fears neighbor, blood has been shed, and hatred, prejudice and racism are primary factors and motivators in the continuation of conflict. (p. 29) If that is the case, top down peacemaking efforts and peace treaties cannot be effective in quelling the ongoing cycles of violence. Lederach contends, and our experience confirms, that contemporary conflicts require transformative processes rooted in social-psychological and spiritual dimensions that many international diplomats might consider “too soft.”