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November 28, 2013

The Miracle of Hanukkah and Thanksgiving

thanksgiving-hanukkahThe Jewish Festival of Lights began yesterday, November 27, 2013.  In commemoration of the victory by a small group of followers of Jewish High Priest Mattathias over Greek oppressors in the second century B.C.E., Jewish people around the world light the nine-candle Hanukkiyah, sometimes spelled Chanukkiyah, one candle for eight evenings.  The ninth candle in the center is lit first and then used to light the other eight candles.

The miracle of Hanukkah is celebrated by the ritual of lighting a candle on each of eight days to symbolize the miraculous blessing of a single vial of olive oil, found in the rubble of the Holy Temple after its desecration by the Greeks, burning for not just one day,  but for eight full days.

The Thanksgiving holiday in the United States begins today, November 28, 2013.  According to calculations, it will be 77,798 years, the next time Hanukkah—the Jewish Festival of Lights and Thanksgiving, the commemoration of the first successful harvest, most often associated with the Puritans and Pilgrims of Plymouth Colony, will happen within a day of each other.

We can be especially grateful for the chance to celebrate the miracle of life itself in both Hanukkah and Thanksgiving.  May we strengthen our resolve to work toward the miracle of global peace, remembering this from the great Irish novelist and poet, author of The Chronicles of Narnia, C. S. Lewis:

“Miracles do not, in fact, break the laws of nature.”

November 15, 2013

Apartheid, Perpetrators and Forgiveness

This video, narrated by Bill Moyers, provides a brief overview of Desmond Tutu’s role in the struggle against Apartheid.  Desmond Tutu, appointed by Nelson Mandela as Chairman of the South African Truth and Reconciliation Commission, shares his thoughts on forgiveness and its effect on the victim and the perpetrator. He has a moving and optimistic discussion.

Visit the Desmond Tutu Peace Foundation YouTube Channel

November 7, 2013

Saudi Women Take Their Place in the Driver’s Seat

Saudi-woman-drivingIn Saudi Arabia, a woman’s freedom of movement is very limited. Women are not supposed to leave their houses or their local neighborhood without the permission of their male guardian, and the company of a mahram (close male relative). However, out of necessity most women leave the house alone and often have contact with unrelated men to shop or conduct business.

Women are not allowed to drive in Saudi Arabia, although it is often tolerated in rural areas. Saudi Arabia has no written ban on women driving, but Saudi law requires citizens to use a locally issued license while in the country. Such licenses are not issued to women, thus making it effectively illegal for women to drive. Women have been detained or fired from their jobs for driving in the past. Furthermore, most Saudi scholars and religious authorities have strongly opposed letting women drive. Commonly given reasons for the prohibition include:

  1. Driving a car involves uncovering the face.
  2. Driving a car may encourage women to go out of the house more often.
  3. Driving a car may lead to women having interaction with non-mahram males, for example in a traffic accident.
  4. Women driving cars may lead to overcrowding the streets and many young men may be deprived of the opportunity to drive.
  5. Driving would be the first step in an erosion of traditional values, such as gender segregation.

But recently, a few dozen women defied this restrictive social code by getting into their cars and driving. Many posted videos of themselves doing so to spread the word.  In an effort to at least respect traffic laws, the driving campaign restricted itself to women with licenses obtained abroad.

Their movement’s goal is modest and they have gone out of their way to avoid anything that looks like a protest.  The women remain deeply loyal to the 89-year-old King Abdullah, and studiously avoid confrontations with the authorities.

“We don’t want to break any laws,” said Madiha al-Ajroush, 60, a psychologist who has been campaigning for the right to drive since 1990. “This is not a revolution, and it will not be turned into a revolution. We are looking for a normal way of life.  For me to get into my car and do something as small as get myself a cappuccino or something as grand as taking my child to the emergency room.”

Despite strong opposition to letting women drive, time may be on the side of the activists. They believe that the large number of Saudis who study and travel abroad and return with new perspectives on their culture, combined with the kingdom’s youthful population and the tremendous rise of social media will over time make the country more open to change.

November 5, 2013

The Father of Peace Research

Johan Galtung is a Norwegian professor and author, widely regarded as the “Father of Academic Peace Research.”  He is a mathematician, sociologist, political scientist and the founder of the discipline of peace studies.  His pioneering and continuing efforts have inspired the creation of Peace and Conflict Resolution academic programs in universities throughout the world.

Galtung was born in Oslo in 1930.  He experienced World War II in German-occupied Norway, and as a 12 year old saw his father arrested by the Nazis. By 1951 he was already a committed peace mediator, and elected to do 18 months of social service in place of his obligatory military service. After 12 months, Galtung insisted that the remainder of his social service be spent in activities relevant to peace, to which the Norwegian authorities responded by sending him to prison, where he served six months.

During his 40 year career, Johan Galtung has been a visiting professor at 30 schools on 5 different continents. He has written more than 100 books and over 1,000 articles about peace and conflict resolution, ecology, health, global governance, sustainable development and economic reform. In 1959 he stated the International Peace Research Institute in Oslo and directed it for 10 years. In 1964, he launched the Journal for Peace Research at the University of Oslo. In 1993 he co-founded TRANSCEND – A Peace and Development Network for Conflict Transformation by Peaceful Means which has members in more than 50 countries.

Galtung first conceptualized “peacebuilding” by calling for systems that would create sustainable peace. He envisioned peacebuilding structures that would address the root causes of conflict and support local capacity for peace management and conflict resolution.

He is one of the authors of an influential account of news values which are the factors which determine what coverage is given to what stories in the news. Galtung originated the concept of Peace Journalism, which is increasingly influential in communications and media studies.

Galtung is also strongly associated with the following concepts:

  • Structural violence – Widely defined as the systematic ways in which a regime prevents individuals from achieving their full potential. Institutionalized racism and sexism are examples of this.
  • Negative vs. Positive Peace – The concept that peace may be more than just the absence of overt violent conflict (negative peace), and will likely include a range of relationships up to a state where nations (or any groupings in conflict) might have collaborative and supportive relationships (positive peace).

Galtung’s opinions and predictions have sometimes made him a controversial figure, but his lifelong contributions to the field of peace studies and conflict resolution have earned him a lasting place among the key figures in the global peace movement.