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.

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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. Perhaps the most noted director of IFOR is Francesco Candelari of Italy, who believes that “an organization that counts among its past and current members six 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.

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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.

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Remembering 11-M: The Madrid Atocha Train Station Memorial

TrainEveryone remembers the anniversary of 911 in the United States, but how many of you out there are familiar with the events of 11-M? That combination of numbers, a hyphen, and one letter refers to March 11, 2004, the date of a diabolically-planned and horribly bloody terrorist attack in Madrid, Spain. Referred to as “the worst Islamist attack in European history” by one writer, the events of that day involved the explosion of 10 bombs on commuter trains headed into downtown Madrid, killing 191 people and severely injuring at least another 1800. Packed with dynamite and nails, the bombs literally tore train cars apart and shredded the bodies of those who died or were injured. Coming just three days before national elections, the attacks were first thought to be an attempt by the Basque separatist group ETA to influence the vote – which led to considerable political finger pointing and controversy that continues even today. The destruction leveled by the bombs came simultaneously, indicating a higher level of sophistication in organization that was later attributed to a group of 6 men led by Jamal Zougam, a Moroccan national who was sentenced to 43,000 to 50,000 years in prison. A Spaniard named Emilio Suárez Trashorras received 34,715 years in prison for supplying the dynamite that was used in the explosions.

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The Atocha Train Station Memorial Is Cylindrical
Photo credit: UR Living Learning / Foter.com / CC BY-NC-ND

The investigation of 11-M turned up no direct connection with al Qaeda, although there are indications that Zougam apparently had close ties with the Madrid al Qaeda terrorist cell. Rather than directly connected to al Qaeda, the attacks seem to be the result of self-radicalization inspired by articles posted on al Qaeda websites. The similarities between the Madrid attacks and the Boston Marathon bombing in the United States are obvious, demonstrating the influence such internet connections have in the realm of transnational violence. Zougam was the owner of a cell phone store located in the Lavapiés neighborhood of Madrid, so it was very likely his telephones that detonated the bombs, which were delivered to the sites of the explosions in backpacks. Train passengers who survived the attacks later identified him as the man who was “leaning against a carriage of one of the trains bombed on 11 March.” Indications from the Boston Marathon bombing are that the explosive devices were also delivered to the site in backpacks, and like the Madrid tragedy they were detonated remotely by cell phone. Zougam apparently acted in league with other Moroccan nationals and similarly inclined Indian nationals, all of whom were implicated in the violent crimes.

Spain’s ultimate construction of a memorial dedicated to the bombings came about with a great deal of controversy, largely due to the political ramifications of the attacks – but also owing to the fact that many Spaniards had previously died in other terrorist attacks implemented by Basque separatists – and none of those tragic deaths have been memorialized through a monument.  Ultimately, it was decided that the memorial, now

located in the Madrid Atocha Railroad Station, would be dedicated specifically to those that died in 11-M – thereby abandoning a national monument dedicated to those that have died in other acts of terrorism in Spain. Before the construction of the monument, the need for catharsis was obvious, necessitating the installation of “video walls” at the station – where Madrileños conveyed their respects to the victims of the March 11 terrorist attacks by leaving electronic messages, in lieu of notes and flower bouquets. One writer referred to this unique means of expressing grief and fear as a “high tech sanctuary” providing a “window to the souls of 192 people” that perished in the explosions. The need for a monument was obvious, as conveyed in the words of one citizen of Madrid, who stated “I don’t know anyone who died in the bombings, but I feel for them all the same.”

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The View Inside Has A Spiritual Quality
Photo credit: airefresco / Foter.com / CC BY-NC-ND

The Atocha Train Station Memorial is a 36 foot tall cylinder that rises directly out of the ground, in the form of a tower that is illuminated at night by lamps shining from the base of the construction. Floating balloon-like inside the cylindrical structure is a colorless film that is inflated by air – inscribed with thousands of messages of condolence that were made in the days and months after the attacks. Visitors enter the chamber from below, where they view the messages from inside a construction that is composed of glass blocks. Occurring on the third anniversary of the atrocity, the dedication ceremony took place just outside the Atocha Train Station and was attended by King Juan Carlos, Queen Sofia, and President Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero. Political fallout from the tragedy was very evident in the form of hecklers, including one survivor of the attacks who lifted a sign calling for the criminal trial of former President José María Aznar at The Hague. Fraught with controversy, the memorial is nevertheless one of the world’s most interesting and touching monuments dedicated to the victims of terrorism.

There are certain lessons to be learned from the Atocha Train Station Memorial, not just in Spain but in the United States and around world as well. As with the Benghazi attacks in recent U. S. history, the Madrid tragedy became an issue of political finger pointing, rather than a rallying point for promoting world peace. Would those who have died in terroristic events want their deaths tied to political maneuvering, or would they instead wave the flag of intercultural dialogue, tolerance, and peace? Families that have lost loved ones to acts of terrorism are quick to provide an answer to that question, and it has nothing to do with politics and everything to do with world amity. Likewise, critics in Spain have pointed to the need for a national monument dedicated to ALL victims of terrorism, due to the many that have died in other terrorist attacks. This is also true in the United States, because hundreds of citizens of that country have died in heinous acts of transnational violence in places such as Lockerbie, Kuwait City, Beirut, Istanbul, Athens, Dhahran, and Nairobi – just to name a few. Like the victims of ETA in Spain, none of those victims have been recognized through a monument. Join this website in moving such a cause forward – click on the link below and sign the petition!

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.

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