It’s time to step up our game! Returning last month from a Euphrates trip to meet with peacebuilders throughout Israel, Palestine, and Jordan, and standing along the Syrian border hearing regime planes bomb ISIS in the distance, we realized that the scourge of terrorism, conflict, and fear needs to be countered–and countered now.
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We believe a critical weapon in the fight against terrorism, conflict, and fear is HOPE. Our aim is for you to feel this hope by being more informed about this critical region, inspired by grassroots visionaries who already have the solutions to the Middle East’s problems (they’re out there; you’ve just never heard of them!) and transformed into someone who feels empowered to make a difference in the world.
Consider these examples of how we’ve accomplished this goal in the past year:
In September, our trip participants were meeting directly with over a dozen Israeli and Palestinian groups who are fostering peace by humanizing the other side, empathizing with each other’s perspectives and experiences, and working to face deep-seated fears and hatred. You can see their amazing examples by watching our daily video blogs on the Euphrates YouTube channel.
“This trip transformed me to think more deeply about how to really love, when faced with prejudice, or fear, or hate. I learned to recognize what is the base of all challenges—fear.” –Rebecca Hoskyn
Last March, we recognized the groundbreaking work of Dr. Thomas Henry Taha Rassam Culhane, aka “T.H.,” as our Visionary of the Year 2014, who gave his keynote address at Principia College. T.H. has pioneered cheap, home-based biogas technology in developing nations, especially the Middle East, and was recently featured in the People Making a Difference section of the Christian Science Monitor.
“We’ve all got toilet waste. We’ve all got food waste. That can be turned into solutions.” –T.H. Culhane
This fall, we accepted a new group of undergraduate Fellows, who will be conducting research, holding events, and working to be more informed about Middle East issues, inspired by models of change, and transformed into global citizen peace-builders. Five Fellows graduated, and shared the following about the impact of the program:
“Euphrates exposes us to change agents in the field tackling global solutions and making a real difference in the world. It has been so inspiring to connect with these visionaries; their stories silence my doubts, and prove that sincerity is more important than brilliance. Without a doubt, it has made me believe I too can change the world.” –Jamison Rybak (Class of 2014)
“Every time I come to a Euphrates meeting, I feel as though my head is lifted above the clouds. When we look through the lens of love, respect, and integrity, we can see the world’s challenges in an uplifting and healing light. Each time, I’m reminded how revolutionary this way of thinking is, and yet at the same time, how obvious. This is what makes Euphrates special.” –Kynan Witters-Hicks (Class of 2014)
These successes have provided a strong foundation, but they haven’t gone far enough. We need to expand our reach and message in order to accomplish our mission: lessening terrorism, conflict, and fear.
This year, we plan to grow our efforts exponentially and we are grateful for your support.
Launch a brand new program…Beginning in February 2015, anyone around the world can start or join Euphrates Chapters, local groups for individuals who want to come together to learn, be inspired, and be engaged directly in the effort to combat terrorism. The chapters will have flexibility to plan activities they desire while keeping within the mission of Euphrates, to inform, inspire, and transform!
Increase our support of visionaries across the Middle East, highlighting the oft-untold local and regional stories of success and progress through a completely redesigned and updated website (to be launched in February at euphrates.org)! Our new platform will profile the work of grassroots peacebuilders so more people can be exposed to them and aid their efforts for peace. There are plenty of outlets to hear about our enemies, but far too few to learn about our friends! And of course we will continue our direct backing of visionaries in 2015 and beyond. Stay tuned for our exciting pick for the 2015 Visionary of the Year!
Expand our Travel/Study offerings…We will connect growing numbers of would-be peace practitioners in the West with peacebuilders in the Middle East in ways that mutually inspire, encourage, and bolster the efforts of these critical moderates and visionaries to continue their fight against extremism. These trips have become staples of our program, and first-hand experience is irreplaceable as we build a global community of educated citizens.
In this holiday season of giving, we give thanks for you, our community of benefactors and advisors and torchbearers lighting the way for peace and hope. We’d love to hear from you if you’re interested in getting involved and supporting any of these exciting developments!
With much gratitude from all of us at Euphrates,
Janessa Gans Wilder
Founder and CEO
P.S. We are thrilled to share with you an incredible opportunity! CBS has offered to run a Public Service Announcement (PSA) on the Euphrates Institute’s work if we can provide a network quality, professionally-produced video. This would allow us to share our story with a national audience. Could you help us raise an additional $20,000 with a second gift in support of this effort? We are grateful for any additional investment in our program.
Our Travel Study group just spent their first day in Israel. Janessa and Rick talk about their meeting with members of Combatants for Peace– former militants fighting on both sides of the Israel/Palestine conflict.
The first day of spring has passed, bringing with it warmer temperatures and plenty of sunshine.
Spring is symbolic of rebirth accompanied by the green of sprouting plants and the dewy eyes of young animals. Many cultures and religions have special traditions surrounding the warmer weather. One of these traditions is Nowruz, the celebration of the Persian New Year.
Nowruz begins on the vernal equinox. The tradition originated in Persia, now, the Middle East and Central Asia area, and has Zoroastrian roots. It is celebrated by people all over the world, but especially by those who live in Iran.
The first ceremony of Nowruz is Chahar Shanbe Suri and takes place on the last Wednesday of the old year. During Chahar Shanbe Suri people gather in the streets and build small fires to jump over (or stand next to), while shouting, “May my sickly pallor be yours and your red glow be mine.” In this way one can say good-bye to the old year and ready themselves for the New Year to come.
At the exact moment of the vernal equinox, families gather to celebrate the New Year, to exchange presents, and to give children sweets, a tradition called Tahvil. This year, Nowruz started on March 20 and it will end on April 1, thirteen days later. Families who celebrate Nowruz will often take this time off school and work to celebrate and prepare for a new year by cleaning or buying new clothes.
Nowruz is also celebrated by preparing a haft-sin table on which are placed different symbolic foods and items. Some of the items are apples, which symbolize health and beauty, and others are garlic, which symbolizes good health. A haft-sin table may even include colored eggs to symbolize fertility, like the ones many Americans are used to seeing in Easter baskets.
Nowruz brings with it a clean slate for the New Year, having reflected and learned from the past. It symbolizes the renewal of life and hope for the future.
In his address to the citizens of Iran on March 20, President Obama expressed his hope that a new year could mean a new chance at a beneficial and progressive relationship between the Islamic Republic of Iran and the United States.
Here is a link to President Obama’s “Nowruz Message to the Iranian People”: https:// www.youtube.com/watch?v=-g2nZ5-4AlY
Looking to the future of ecological sustainability, the United Arab Emirates provides the world with a vision of the two contrasting options that man will inevitably need to choose between: ecological neglect or ecological stewardship. Since the World Wildlife Foundation declared the UAE to be the country with the largest “ecological footprint” per capita in 2006, the UAE has chosen to take the path of ecological stewardship.
There are several explanations for the UAE’s unfortunate environmental track record, like the extremely inexpensive public access to electricity, giving little incentive for frugality. It is not uncommon to see one of Dubai’s towering skyscrapers with doors wide open and the AC blasting. Building alone can account for up to 70% of energy expenditures.
Why worry now about green technology? The UAE economy is driven by the high profitability of their oil and gas exports, and with 21st century construction demands, they have begun looking into this technology out of necessity to preserve export capacity. Due to the need to protect resources, green construction has become the most effective way to become efficient.
The UAE also recognizes that they need to improve in order to reverse their poor environmental image as well. Several measures to protect the environment and their resources have been initiated, such as sustainability regulations that include green building mandates.
The UAE has seen the emergence of local conservation groups who want to help improve upon their harsh environmental impact. The Emirate Environmental Group (EEG) recently had a project to plant 1 million trees in one year, as well as other initiatives to organize national recycling programs. Most importantly, the EEG hosts debates, workshops, and other programs to educate citizens on environmental issues.
Other efforts throughout the UAE to tap renewable energy can be seen by their construction of solar powered parking meters, traffic lights, and water heating in hotels nationwide.
The Masdar Initiative, a multi-billion dollar program that promotes innovation in green energy and resource conservation, is a recent effort funded by Abu Dhabi. This initiative is projected to create thousands of new jobs in clean and sustainable energy, which shows that change is not the only objective, but education as well.
By 2020 Masdar plans to complete the construction of Masdar City, a zero carbon emissions city, designed based upon the sustainable principles they promote.
As a result of these various efforts, the UAE has really become a world leader in the sustainability initiative. There are many efforts being made to better green construction standards as well as huge strides towards changing the norm to sustainability. It seems as though the UAE is truly seeking out long term sustainable solutions, not only through these physical advancements, but also by the advancing knowledge of ecological needs and the practicality of sustainability.
“I started thinking about that, and I used to think that the Talib would come, and he would just kill me. But then I said, ‘If he comes, what would you do Malala?’ then I would reply to myself, ‘Malala, just take a shoe and hit him.’ But then I said, ‘If you hit a Talib with your shoe, then there would be no difference between you and the Talib. You must not treat others with cruelty and that much harshly, you must fight others but through peace and through dialogue and through education.’ Then I said I will tell him how important education is and that ‘I even want education for your children as well.’ And I will tell him, ‘That’s what I want to tell you, now do what you want.'”
I think it would be impossible to ignore this message of peace and compassion.
And Malala Yousasfzai has been anything but ignored. The whole world has fallen in love with the 16 year old girl who has sacrificed so much to speak for education.
A little more than a year ago, in October 2012, Malala was targeted by the Taliban and shot in the head while returning from school one afternoon. Newspapers and televisions all over the world told her story, and the people everywhere prayed for her survival.
We all know this part of her story and we all know about the awards that she has been showered with since — winner of the Pakistan’s National Youth Prize, nominee for the international Children’s Peace Prize, Glamour magazine’s Woman of the Year, one of four runners-up for Time magazine’s Person of the Year, and the youngest person to be nominated for a Nobel Peace Prize– this impressive and deserved list goes on.
But what most of us don’t know is what brought her there.
Luckily, Malala tells us herself in her new autobiography, I am Malala, which was released on the one year anniversary of the shooting.
Malala has always attributed her ideals and empowerment to her father. In her book, she tells his story, and explains what it is he taught her that has enabled her to be so extraordinary. Her father, who was raised by a traditional Pashtun father, a prominent figure in their village in Pakistan’s Swat Valley, had to work hard throughout his childhood in order to keep going to school. His sisters and mother were illiterate.
During his years at Jehanzab College, he discovered a love for politics as well as a love for teaching. Along with a friend who had been teaching English at another local college, Malala’s father decided to move to a small city in the Swat Valley called Mingora and start a school. The costs of starting the school forced her father to live in dirt poor conditions, and over time his relationship with his business partner fell apart due to the fact that there were only 3 students attending the school for a while.
But just like Malala, her father has never been one to give up. Despite so many challenges, he continued to run a now full and lively school and has been a voice for change in education and women’s rights in their community for years.
According to Malala, he taught her the most important thing in the world– a love for learning.
It is this immense love for learning that has brought Malala to fight for girls all over the world.
It would be impossible for me to tell her whole story, but that’s what her incredibly eloquent and deep book does. She writes about more than just her own life– she tells the story of Pakistan. She explains the turmoil of its constantly changing government. She illustrates the plights of girls like her.
Malala only asks one thing of you: listen. Listen to her message. Listen to girls and women all over the world. Listen to each other.
Only by doing that can we understand one another.
Only through understanding will we find real peace.
The Euphrates Institute is an organization in the business of seeing the brighter side of things. We refuse to accept a worldview that casts a dark shade over different regions of the world. Yes, we primarily focus our attention in the Middle East, but any significant amount of time spent deliberating over the issues in the Middle East will prove to any individual that it is impossible to discuss this one section of the world without a global perspective. Therefore, as it turns out, the typical Euphrates Fellow is not solely casting a single light for a single group, but rather emanating a full-orbed glow with the intent of illuminating the dark places of all parts of the world. Hopefully this blog will show you that this is not simply poetic fantasy, but a practical and reachable way of life for anyone willing to give his time and energy to such a cause. Thus, you should consider yourself invited to join the Euphrates Institute in celebrating some of the good things happening on the other side of the world. Also, please make note that I apologize for using single-sex pronouns for generalizations; sometimes it’s just easier that way.
Perhaps because historically it has put wars on its heels – even forcing the fiercest of enemies to lay down their arms – sports seems to be a good place to start. Soccer is the most popular sport in Israel (although “football” is probably the proper term.) And, according to the Middle East Institute whose mission is to enlighten Americans on Middle Eastern issues, the Israeli major soccer league does not exclude Arab teams, who have proven to be skilled enough to play, at this level of competition. This allows Arab soccer stars to get exposure to an Israeli audience (Jackie Robinson anyone?). Nowhere else but on the soccer field is there this kind of minority opportunity for positive exposure between Arabs and Israelis. That’s not to say that it’s all rainbows and butterflies. Research provided by the Middle East Institute proved that Arab and Palestinian athletes were silenced and scolded by the Israeli media if they did not assimilate to Hebrew culture. This reaction from the Hebrew media discourages Arab and Palestinian athletes from discussing politics in post-game interviews; predictably, they are baited to do so.
Even though it’s not without its challenges, the sports world proves, once again, that there can be co-existence between even the most divided of peoples. When people set their sights on something else, like scoring a goal, making an accurate pass, or cheering as a fan for your favorite team, political issues seem to take a backseat. It’s not until we consciously bring to the front of our thinking our discrimination towards the “other” that we fall back into the spiral animosity that clouds thinking and creates an unsustainable way of life. Remember, darkness is really the absence of light. Thus, the darkness in the world, the shades of hopelessness, fear, and hatred painted across the globe really reflect the lack of hope, faith, and the willingness to build trust. Therefore, as a Euphrates Fellow, what I see is two peoples coming together to play a game they love for people that share that love. So that’s what’s lighting me up: shared love.
Being a female director in the film industry is often a struggle, even for those living in the Western Hemisphere. Women usually have a harder time getting funding for their ideas and endure stricter scrutiny than most male directors experience. But recently there has been a surprising emergence of female filmmakers in the Middle East. Despite the odds, these women are creating thought-provoking films that are taking the rest of the world by surprise.
Take Haifaa Al-Mansour from Saudi Arabia, for example; who recently finished a film titled “Wadjda”. The film attracted so much attention in the international arena that it is being considered for an Academy Award. There are no legal movie theaters in Saudi Arabia, and it is also illegal for women to vote and drive vehicles. “Wadjda” will be the first Saudi Arabian film to be considered for an Academy Award, and it is remarkable that its first award may go to a woman.
In her film, Al-Mansour tackles several of the social issues that prevail in Saudi. The main character, Wadjda, is a 10 year old girl who wants nothing more than to own a bicycle. Owning a bicycle could mean the freedom to go wherever she pleases. The release of this film is quite timely, as the second wave of protests in Saudi Arabia have begun, against the government’s ban on female drivers.
Other acclaimed filmmakers include Israeli Arab Ibtisam Maraana, Buthina Canaan Khoury of the Palestine Territories, and Marjane Satrapi from Iran.
Nadine Labaki from Lebanon is the most famous filmmaker from her country, which currently has no film industry. Labaki spent most of her childhood living through the Lebanese Civil War, but in her movie she wanted to show a side of Lebanon that did not include conflict. Her first film “Caramel” was a commercial success, and is about a group of women who work in a Hair Salon. Although she does not address the issue of violence and conflict, she does address the difficulties of being a woman in her country.
“Films coming from women in the Middle East are not just stories,” she says. “It’s also their cry for help.” These films also offer a different perspective of the events that most Westerners see on the nightly news.
Birds Eye View Film festival, a British Jewish festival that celebrates women filmmakers, will be dedicating the 2013 event to female filmmakers that have produced “ground breaking Middle Eastern movies”. It is great to know that women from the Middle East are being recognized in the film world hopefully the success of these pioneers will empower other women in the Middle East to freely express themselves.
For 68 years, the United Nations Education, Scientific and Cultural Organization, or better known as UNESCO, World Heritage Centre has been protecting and educating citizens around the world about cultural and national heritage. These heritage sites are sources of life and inspiration that have changed, or are proof of, the course of human history. UNESCO’s World Heritage mission is to encourage the protection of registered sites, oversee the creation of management conservation plans, provide emergency assistance to threatened sites, support awareness activities and the participation of the local population in the preservation of their cultural and natural heritage, and finally, to foster international cooperation in the protection of these significant sites. This article will explore sites around the Middle East that are gaining international awareness and support, allowing these culturally rich and significant places to be preserved and better understood. As archaeologists and historians uncover more information about these sites, the human race gains a better sense of how of history and cultures that were lost to time.
More than 2,000 years ago, the city of Persepolis (below) was the bustling metropolis of the Achaemenid Empire. Home to historical rulers Darius the Great and Xerxes, the city was founded in 515 C.E.. In its glory, Persepolis was the manifestation of the enormous power of the empire and stood as both a monument to the might of the kings and an indicator of the famous empires that would rise out of it. Viewing the excavated plans of the city, one can see the platforms of the huge throne rooms, staircases and annex buildings, which all comprised the royal city.
Another heritage site in Iran is Takht-e Soleyman. This site (below) is the principle site associated with one of the earliest monotheistic religions in the world, and is a testimony to the ancient belief of Zoroastrianism as well as association with many biblical figures. There is a significant Persian and Hellenistic influence in its architecture, which later is manifested in later religious Islamic architecture. The site, located in a valley of the volcanic mountain region, combines the traditional Iranian elements of fire and water, and is connected to an early cult associated with it, which lasted for more then two and a half millennia. In Iranian folklore, fire was thought to be the divine messenger between the visible world and the gods, while water was the source of life. After the original inhabitants abandoned the site, Mongols rebuilt part of the residence for the then-ruler of Iran. Evidence shows that the Mongols were very interested in researching and uncovering the practice of Zoroastrianism, though when the empire fell, the site then again fell into ruins.
In Israel, a major site is the Masada complex (below), built by Herod the Great, King of Judea. This site is famous for the “hanging” palace, comprised of three terraces, is a dramatic example of elaborate and sophisticated architecture. Though the city is built upon an isolated plateau, making the need for revolutionary engineering imperative. An ingenious water collection system using rainwater from a single days rain could sustain life for the cities thousand people for over a period of two years. This achievement facilitated the transformation and growth of the city from a barren hilltop to an opulent royal residence. To the Jewish faith, this site holds a special significance. Towards the end of the Siege of Masada, in the 10th C C.E. the tragic mass suicide of the Jewish refugees, who occupied the fortress, have made the site a permanent emblem of Jewish cultural identity.
To this day, the ruins of Petra (below) remain an important site to the Jordanian people, ever since it was discovered in a remote valley in 1812. Described as “one of the most precious cultural properties of man’s cultural heritage” by UNESCO, Petra is a historically rich and significant city. The ancient city was founded between the years 16th-13th Centuries BCE, by a nomadic group of traders. The buildings of the city were half carved out of the rock face and half built from other rock. Petra is highly valued for the vast extent of temples and tombs connected by a complex system of tunnels and dams. Altogether, the city is a unique and incomparable architectural achievement. Little is known of the inhabitants of the lost city, but their proficiency in both Egyptian and Hellenistic architectural styles is evident in their buildings. The city was a wealthy center of commerce, knowledge, and religion but fell into ruin under Roman rule in 300 BCE. Today, the elements threaten the integrity of the structures and many excavations are underway to uncover as much of the city as possible and to learn more about the illusive culture who created the astonishing city.
The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia recently faced the United Nations, one of the most prominent international organizations in the world, with a surprising rejection of a temporary Security Council seat. The Saudis government is angry that the Security Council has been ineffective in resolving the Israeli-Palestine issue currently under observation. King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia is the ultimate last call in terms of governmental decisions, and he was the one to ultimately denounce and reject the seat of the Security Council. Secretary Kerry is currently speaking with King Abdullah and his political advisors to come to an understanding regarding the seat.
The main speculation as to why they rejected the seat is due to their disapproval of the United State’s actions in the Middle East regarding Syria. Saudi Arabia has openly been quoted not supporting the United States making a peaceful agreement with Russia in order to reduce the use of chemical weapons in Syria. Instead, Saudi Arabia would like to have the United States use military force against the Syrian government. The fact that the Saudi government rejected the seat on the Security Council shows their intense disapproval of these developments.
Within the processes for election to the Security Council of the United Nations, there are: The United Nations has a security council of five permanent member states (Russia, China, The United States, France, Great Britain), and then a variety of other non-permanent states. Over a period of two years they rotate other nations into the position of non-permanent member. These represented countries are then supposed to represent all continents, while representing an array of global political issues. The term for Saudi Arabia would have started on January 1, 2014.
What this means for Saudi Arabia: Saudi Arabia can now continue its self-proclaimed “subtle foreign policy” without the title of “security council member”. This also broaches the subject of the effectiveness of the actual council itself. Some Saudis says that it is not effective, and so they refuse to be a part of it. To others it is a political statement made in protest to the United State’s actions toward Syria. Saudi Arabia can now, however, without the pressure of the Security Council continue it’s funding to Syrian rebel groups in the Middle East.
Most schoolchildren in the developed world learn about Einstein and Newton, Shakespeare and Wordsworth. Yet, the Middle East was leagues ahead of Europe in science and the thinking arts during the Dark and Middle Ages, and the contributions of those thinkers had a significant influence on the development of Western thought. However, schoolchildren in the West today rarely learn about the great thinkers of the Islamic and pre-Islamic world. When those thinkers do show up in curriculums, it is usually in relation to mathematics or science. It is almost unheard of, especially in the United States, for a student to study Islamic Literature in his or her formative years. And yet, the literary tradition in the Middle East is long and beautiful. Most of the region’s early literary tradition is poetic—writers preferred to use rhyming verse. One of the most significant examples of that poetic tradition is the qasida, a stunningly beautiful poetic form that is rooted in pre-Islamic Arabic tradition, but is still popular today in cultures throughout the Middle East and Asia.
The qasida is a poetic style with a very fixed structure. Although the length of the poem can vary, from about twenty lines to one hundred, all lines must rhyme. Traditionally, the poem contains three parts. The first is the nasib, a short and often symbolic opening that attempts to draw the reader in with a melancholic or nostalgic mood. The second part of the qasida is the rahil, which often literally or symbolically depicts a journey made by the poet. And the last part of the poem is a panegyric called the madih, which means praise; this part of the poem is often in praise on the poet’s own knowledge or the importance and power of his tribe. In later years, religious themes became prominent in the last part of the qasida. The one aspect that the form leaves almost completely up to the poet is the metre, which merely cannot be rajaz, which necessitates short verses.
Throughout the qasida’s existence, it has drawn criticism for its rigid structure. Poets have been accused of neglecting content in exchange for perfect attention to form. Some would even go so far as to deem the qasida monotonous, with its single rhyme scheme. Yet what these critics often fail to recognize is that the qasida is meant to be read aloud. The metre of the poem is up to the author, giving them complete control over how the poem should sound. In the 1940s and 50s, there was a resurgence of interest in hearing this poetry read aloud, and in Lebanon especially, people would throng to hear poets fill conference halls with the rise and fall of their voices. The qasida can have a rhythmic structure that encourages even the most easily bored of listeners to sit up and pay attention, waiting for the crest of the next wave of sound.
Despite the qasida’s strict structure and form, it has undergone changes through the centuries. In the 1950s and 60s, there was a movement to make the verse more free flowing, and to loose the content from its traditional form. Yet although the qasida has been changing for centuries, it still retains its beauty and remains a popular form to this day. Here is an example:
A heart turbulent with passion
has borne you off,
Long after youth has passed
and the time of old age come.
Thoughts of Layla trouble me
though her dwelling is now far,
Though there have come between us
hostile fates and grave events.
She lives in guarded luxury,
all talk with her forbidden;
At her door a guard wards off
When her husband is away
no secret is divulged;
Delightful is his homecoming
when he returns.
Then do not compare me
with an untried youth —
May laden rain clouds water you
when they let down their loads,
May low-lying Yemeni clouds water you,
and clouds spread out on the horizon
Borne on the southwind in the evening
when the sun inclines to set.
What good is it to remember her
when she is of Rabiah’s clan
And a well is being dug for her
If you ask me about womankind,
I am indeed
Discerning in their ailments,
Should a man’s head hoary
or his wealth decrease,
He will find no share
in their affections;
They seek abundant wealth
wherever they know it is found,
In youth’s first bloom alone
they take delight.
- Mufaddaliyah 119 of Alqamah (Translated from original)