The International Fellowship of Reconciliation (IFOR)

FellowshipJust prior to the outbreak of World War I in 1914, English Quaker Henry Hodgkin and German peace activist Friedrich Siegmund-Schultze met on the platform of the railroad station in Cologne, Germany. Both men were highly dedicated to the principles of worldwide amity, pledging to each other that “we are one in Christ and can never be at war” – with a conviction that led to the formation of a very unique global organization known as the Fellowship of Reconciliation (FOR). The two men were not alone in their beliefs, since they had just met each other at a Christian pacifist conference in Konstanz, a city located in southern Germany. Siegmund-Schultze had a prior history of reaching out to Great Britain, having served as the secretary for a German religious organization promoting friendly relations between the two countries. Hodgkin’s dedication to the pledge led him to Cambridge, England, where he organized the “Fellowship of Reconciliation” in 1915 – whereas the German counterpart met stiff resistance and would not hold its first conference until 1932. With the advent of Nazi Germany, Siegmund-Schultze was forced to live in exile until the fall of Hitler in 1945. The American version of FOR sprang from a later conference Hodgkin organized in Garden City, Long Island in November of 1915, leading to the enrollment of over 1,000 U. S. members before the 1917 United States entry into World War I.

Nonviolence

The International Fellowship of Reconciliation is Strongly Dedicated to Nonviolence
Photo credit: ˇBerd / Foter / CC BY-NC

The international aspects of the movement became evident in the years intervening between World War I and World War II, especially in the late 1930s. Following the end of World War I, the different fellowships that had arisen throughout Europe and the United States agreed to form an umbrella organization known as the International Fellowship of Reconciliation (IFOR), under which the individual chapters  would be affiliated. Meeting in the town of Bilthoven in the Netherlands, representatives from 10 different countries met to found this worldwide organization, which chose Swiss engineer and pacifist Pierre Ceresole as its first secretary. Ceresole was also responsible for organizing the Service Civil International, which has a long history of employing volunteers to operate work camps in areas that have been affected by war. Throughout the 1930s, “Ambassadors of Reconciliation” visited with world leaders that included Adolf Hitler, Mussolini, and Franklin Roosevelt – for the purpose of espousing diplomacy and peace, rather than the bloodshed that eventually took place during World War II. After the war these efforts spread into other regions of the world, such as Latin America, the Middle East, Asia, and Africa – through the efforts of “travelling secretaries” such as Hildegard Goss-Mayr, who has been nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize three times and referred to as the “greatest living peacemaker” for her lifelong efforts in promoting world amity.

The IFOR International Secretariat is located in Alkmaar, Netherlands and it coordinates worldwide communication between member affiliates. The main governing body of the organization is a council that comes together every 4 years, developing policy, organizing programs, and regulating the day-to-day work of the association. At present, the international coordinator of IFOR is Francesco Candelari of Italy, who believes that “an organization that counts among its past and current members seven Nobel peace laureates should assume a leading role in conflict resolution and interfaith dialogue at the international level.” The overriding vision and mission of IFOR is that actions of love have the power to transform political, social, and economic injustice – thereby promoting peaceful coexistence for humanity on the planet. The main thrust and emphasis is to foster the empowerment of groups and individuals in their efforts to transform conflict into interactive engagements that involve constructive discussion and reconciliation. IFOR’s programs include a “Fellowship School” that offers nine weeks of training in nonviolent intervention to applicants ranging in age from 18 to 28, with the ultimate goal of providing

leaders for the global nonviolence movement. There is the strong inclusion of religious tolerance in the efforts of IFOR, involving interfaith delegations that are dispatched to areas of conflict and the publication of materials on nonviolence from a variety of religious perspectives. A strong proponent of disarmament, IFOR has offered backing to conscientious objectors, pontificated for an end to land mines, and called for the end of nuclear weapons and other forms of mass destruction.

Goss-Mayr

Hildegard Goss-Mayr – Noted Peacemaker
Photo credit: Fellowship of Reconciliation / Foter / CC BY-NC

The International Fellowship of Reconciliation has achieved a great deal of worldwide notoriety and success in its nearly 100 years of existence. Influenced by IFOR, diligent and persistent nonviolent resistance in the country of Chili led to the dissolution of military tyranny and the restoration of democracy in 1989 – and the impact of Goss-Mayr’s training in the Philippines played a major role in the peaceful overthrow of the Marcos dictatorship in 1986. Within the United States, the principles of nonviolence espoused by IFOR profoundly influenced the ideology of the Reverend Martin Luther King Jr., who was an admirer of Mohandas K. Gandhi. King’s interaction with the Fellowship of Reconciliation began in 1955 during the Montgomery Bus Boycott, when FOR veterans Bayard Rustin and Glenn E. Smiley (who was serving as the national field secretary for FOR) came to Montgomery, Alabama to join in the nonviolent efforts to defy racial segregation. As close advisor to King, Rustin became “one of the most influential and effective organizers of the civil rights movement,” even bringing together the now famous “March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom.”

The ideals espoused by IFOR are essential to any hope of ending international terrorism, for radical violence will never be eliminated through military efforts alone. As the Huffington Post noted in 2011, in many respects the Iraq War has only served as a “recruitment ad for al Qaeda” that “helped spawn a new generation of Islamic radicalism.” A respected champion of peace, the Dalai Lama has also noted this tendency, warning that “while today there is one bin Laden, after a few years there will be ten bin Ladens … and it is possible that after a few more years, there will be 100 bin Ladens.” The Fellowship of Reconciliation also cautions against the use of violent solutions to the worldwide problem of terrorism, especially drone strikes that often kill innocent civilians – thereby serving as a “recruiting tool for extremists.” Instead, the U. S. office of FOR has promoted 10 nonviolent ways that the threat of terrorism against American citizens can be reduced. One other way that peace and the struggle against terrorism can be advanced is by clicking on the link below and signing the petition to which this website is dedicated. Join us!

You can help promote the establishment of a monument dedicated to all American victims of terrorism, whether they died at home or abroad, by clicking the link above and signing the petition. Nothing is asked but your signature for a good cause.

Posted in Posts for the Cause | Tagged , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Seeds of Peace: Jumpstarting the Peacebuilding Process

One of the most familiar sayings in the world is the Seedoften quoted adage that the “pen is mightier than the sword.” Although it is an old axiom, there is great truth to the statement – and there is perchance no better example of that reality to international peace than the late John Wallach. A 1965 graduate of Middlebury College in Vermont, Wallach was the son of German immigrant parents that escaped from the Nazi regime of Adolf Hitler in 1941 and found their way to the hopeful shores of the United States. Attracted to the world of the media, publication, and writing, Wallach earned a master’s degree in social research and quickly found his way to Hearst Newspapers, where he served as Foreign Editor from 1968 to 1994 – writing syndicated articles through the New York Times News Service. During the 1970s and 1980s, he was a frequent guest to television news programs on networks such as CNN, NBC (Meet the Press), and PBS (Washington Week in Review) – speaking out on matters of foreign policy, international peace, and worldwide cooperation. His rise to prominence as a newsman included an appointment as the BBC’s first Visiting Foreign Affairs Correspondent – and for his role in breaking the Iran-Contra story he was the winner of the Edwin Hood Award, the National Press Club’s highest honor given to a writer.

Wallach’s wri1878379968_cf300ting career served as a springboard into the world of peacebuilding and international goodwill, even receiving the 1991 Medal of Friendship from President Mikhail Gorbachev for his role in promoting US-Soviet relations. For his coverage of the 1978 Camp David Egyptian-Israeli Peace Accords, President Jimmy Carter presented him with the Congressional Correspondents Award – but his image as a peacemaker perhaps reached its highest level of recognition during his 1997-1998 role as a Senior Fellow of the United States Institute of Peace, which published his book The Enemy Has A Face: The Seeds of Peace Experience. Writing in the hope of establishing lasting reconciliation and peace between Arabs and Israelis, Wallach utilized the book as a means of outlining the Seeds of Peace Program – a visionary idea of his for planting the hope of peaceful coexistence in the Mideast through “open dialogue and reconciliation between Arab and Israeli youth.” Experts in the promotion of diplomacy and peace, such as former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger, have described the program as a dynamic idea for true and everlasting peace in that area of the world.

Established in 1993 through the efforts of Wallach, Seeds of Peace is a very unique camp experience that allows young people and educators living in areas of ongoing violent conflict the opportunity to meet their “historic enemy” face-to-face, with the specific purpose of advancing the possibility of peace. Meeting at an international camp facility in Maine, over 5,000 young people (ages 14-16) and their educators from 27 countries have participated in the experience – striving to “prove that solutions exist, peace is possible, and there is reason to have hope for a better future.” Very strictly dedicated to remaining apolitical in order to allow participants to express their beliefs without fear, the activities sponsored by Seeds of Peace are funded almost totally by donations, although it has also provided programs funded by the U. S. Agency for International Development. Based in New York City, there are also offices located in Tel Aviv, Ramallah , Amman, Lahore, Mumbai and Kabul – with the overall emphasis of achieving 350 new Seeds graduates during the summer camp, as well as the organization of regional programs for those who have returned home to promote the ideals they have gained from the experience. Now more than 20 years old, graduates of the program derive from Egypt, the Palestinian territories, Israel, Jordan, Morocco, Qatar, Tunisia, Afghanistan, Yemen, India, Pakistan, Maine, Cyprus and the Balkans.

The Seeds of Peace International Camp experience incorporates an abundance of deliberately intensive activities focused on the confrontation of prejudice, problem solving and conflict resolution. Although the program includes traditional American events such as singing around bonfires, Color Wars, and swimming, the major emphasis of the curriculum is dedicated to dialogue “where Israeli and Palestinian campers heatedly discuss their identities, homelands, politics, and pain.” The follow-up program that reaches out to graduates of the original camp experience includes education in negotiation and mediation skills, exercises in active listening, and role plays. New abilities that are acquired are typically included as part of a group negotiation simulation, or by some other similar means that allows for practical application of the learned material. As one writer has noted, “initial fear and mistrust of the ‘enemy’ gives way to friendship and understanding, as the campers get beyond the stereotypes and grow to know one another as friends.” In a nutshell, the Seeds of Peace philosophy is committed to establishing common ground as part of the negotiation process, by raising the level of tolerance between cultures that have been in conflict.

spring-seminar-09-1

Seeds of Peace at the International Camp Experience
Photo credit: Seeds_of_Peace / Foter.com / CC BY-SA

So how important is cultural and religious tolerance to the promotion of peace and the lessening of terrorism in the world? As mentioned elsewhere on this website when discussing the Museum of Tolerance, there is no other issue more crucial to the realization of peace! As noted by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), tolerance is the “respect and appreciation of the rich variety of our world’s cultures, our forms of expression and ways of being human.” Without tolerance, international relationships can disintegrate into an open disregard for justice, outright violence, blatant discrimination, and social marginalization. In a similar fashion to Seeds of Peace, UNESCO has praised and sponsored educational programs that promote tolerance – as a means of ending the vicious cycle of revenge that can sometimes appear on the world stage in the form of transnational violence. As stated by the present Chairman of the Foundation for a Culture of Peace, Frederico Mayor Zaragoza, “let us educate for tolerance in our schools and communities, in our homes and workplaces and, most of all, in our hearts and minds.” All the more reason for the establishment of a monument such as the one sponsored by this web site. Please join us and sign the petition by clicking on the link below.

You can help promote the establishment of a monument dedicated to all American victims of terrorism, whether they died at home or abroad, by clicking the link above and signing the petition. Nothing is asked but your signature for a good cause.

Posted in Posts for the Cause | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment