Panel Discussion Opening Remarks “Religion, Violence, and Coexistence: Civil Society Perspectives”

U.S. Institute of Peace, Washington, D.C.


Good Morning!  It is such a delight to be here this morning at the United States Institute of Peace.  I am Suzan Johnson Cook, the Ambassador-at-Large for International Religious Freedom.  I first want to welcome and thank each and every one of you for being here today including those who are tuned in online.   I want to express my appreciation and gratitude to our wonderful co-sponsor, the United States Institute of Peace, for hosting this important event here today.  I especially want to acknowledge Susan Hayward and David Smock for their hard work in helping conceptualize and coordinate today’s event.

I am truly pleased to be here today to discuss civil society perspectives on Religion, Violence, and Coexistence. Together with USIP we’ve gathered a distinguished panel of civil society experts to address a critical set of issues that have tremendous impacts not just on U.S. foreign policy, but on the way in which the world views religion and its role in societies all over the world.

The internet release of an anti-Islamic film on YouTube followed by violence and protests around the world serve as a stark reminder of the all-too-common relationship between religious extremism and violence–something we need to supersede with understanding, respect and coexistence.     It also reminds us that there is more work to be done in terms of improving our understanding of religious dynamics and engagement with religious actors.  The make-up of today’s panel acknowledges that government officials cannot do this work alone.  We rely on consultations and partnerships with civil society leaders and faith-based organizations to help us seek deeper analysis and more effective initiatives.

Today’s conversation allows government to hear fresh perspectives from scholars and civil society leaders on how to preserve our fundamental freedoms while advancing peace, security, and coexistence.  It also gives us an opportunity to hear expert opinions on the role the media plays in this arena.  So let’s meet our panelists…

We are delighted to have with us today USIP’s own, Manal Omar.  Manal serves as Director of Iraq, Iran, and North Africa Programs under the Center for Post-conflict Peace and Stability Operations.  Ms. Omar was previously the regional program manager for the Middle East for Oxfam – Great Britain, where she responded to humanitarian crises in Palestine and Lebanon.  Ms. Omar is a key civil society voice on gender and peace building; she has been recognized as one of 500 Most Influential Muslims by the Prince Alwaleed Bin Talal Center for Muslim-Christian Understanding at Georgetown University.   I hear that Ms. Omar has recently visited Libya and Tunisia and I will look forward to hearing her reflections on the work being done in these important countries.

Also joining us is Professor Marc Gopin from the School for Conflict Analysis and Resolution at George Mason University.  Marc Gopin is a professor of World Religions, Diplomacy and Conflict Resolution, and the Director of the Center on World Religions, Diplomacy and Conflict Resolution.  Professor Gopin is a subject matter expert on diplomacy with religious, political and military figures. Professor Gopin has been working on religion and peacemaking in the Arab-Israeli conflict for over thirty years. He is also an expert on peacemaking strategies for complex conflicts in which religion and culture play a role.  He recently worked with Syrian and Afghan religious actors involved in peace building. He conducts research on values dilemmas as they apply to international problems of globalization, clash of cultures, development, social justice, and conflict.  I have been fortunate to work with Professor Gopin as a part of the Religion and Foreign Policy Working Group; one of five working groups established by Secretary Clinton’s Strategic Dialogue with Civil Society.

Lastly, we are joined by Hoda Elshishtawy, Legislative and Policy Analyst for the Muslim Public Affairs Council.  We are thrilled Hoda has graciously stepped in for Haris Tarin, who unfortunately could not be here today.  Hoda earned her B.A. in Political Science from George Washington University with a concentration on international affairs and the Middle East.  She completed her master’s degree in Ethics, Peace and Global Affairs focusing on Islam, ethics and conflict resolution from American University’s School of International Service. She has experience working with programs involving dialogue development, interfaith cooperation, and conflict resolution.  Hoda also served as a female Muslim ambassador to public schools in an interfaith initiative to highlight the commonalities of the Abrahamic faiths.

Each of our panelists will provide opening remarks framing the issues of religion, violence, and coexistence through the contexts of their areas of expertise, followed by a question and answer session.  We’re thrilled to have Susan Hayward, from USIP here to serve as moderator.  Ms. Hayward is Senior Program Officer in the Religion and Peacemaking Center of Innovation, where she develops conflict prevention, resolution, and reconciliation projects specifically targeting the religious sector. She also coordinates an initiative exploring the intersection of women, religion, conflict, and peacebuilding in partnership with the Berkley Center at Georgetown University. Ms. Hayward works on-the-ground with religious actors involved in peace building in Burma, Colombia, Iraq, and Sri Lanka.  So, with that I’ll turn it over to Susan and our speakers.  Thank you.

Cross posted at http://www.state.gov/j/drl/rls/rm/2012/199449.htm

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