Conference: The Hizmet movement and peacebuilding: global cases, Washington, D.C.
JAMES C. HARRINGTON Director, Texas Civil Rights Project
The international symposium, “The Hizmet movement and peacebuilding: global cases,” was inspiring, informative and strikingly diverse. It took place Oct. 25-26, 2013, in Washington, D.C., at the National Press Club. It was co-sponsored by the Rumi Forum, the Center for Peacebuilding and Development at American University, Mount St. Mary’s University, and the Woodstock Theological Center at Georgetown University.
The conference began well the night before with the 2013 Rumi Peace and Dialogue dinner and opening ceremony, honoring renowned chef José Andrés of Think Food Group, which provides food for the hungry with the Extraordinary Commitment to Community Service Award; Annette Lantos of the Lantos Foundation for Human Rights and Justice with the Extraordinary Commitment to Peace Award; and Prof. Ali Mazrui of Binghamton University with the Extraordinary Commitment to Education Award. South Africa Ambassador Ebrahim Rasool gave the opening address.
As a human rights lawyer, this reviewer found the diversity of the presenters particularly impressive and hope-inspiring. There were men and women from around the globe, academics and activists, with extraordinarily different backgrounds, representing a spectrum of ethnicities and races. Germany, Poland, Australia, the US, Turkey, the UK, Japan, Ethiopia, Sri Lanka, Nigeria,
Azerbaijan, the Philippines, Canada, Australia and the Netherlands were all represented. No less diverse was the audience, which included representatives from even more countries.
Three peace building themes seemed to predominate: action, spirituality and education. The conference had both a regional focus and a thematic focus. Four parts of the program showed flexibility and greater openness and transparency by the Hizmet movement (a group affiliated with Turkish religious leader Fethullah Gülen, and the largest civil society organization in Turkey) -- lack of which has in the past been a frequent criticism of the movement.
One instance involved Metin Çetiner of the Kimse Yok Mu (“Is anybody there”) solidarity and aid association, which has assisted victims of natural calamities around the world and helped set up hospitals and clinics in underserved countries -- it is now also working extensively with Syrian refugees in Turkey. He described at length not only the foundation’s impressive relief efforts, but also its financial expenditures and backing. It was an informative, and sometimes moving, presentation.
The second presentation of this kind was that of Dr. Pim Valkenberg and Alper Alasağ (Platform INS, the Netherlands) on the peacebuilding in regional perspective panel, “Weathering the Storm: Peacemaking Initiatives during and after Political Turmoil by the Hizmet Movement in the Netherlands,” in which they candidly discussed how Hizmet accepted and responded to criticism and setbacks in that country.
Third was having Dr. Joshua Hendrik on the authors’ panel. His evaluation of Hizmet was critical in various respects, but, to the movement’s credit, he is a frequent invitee to conferences and his observations are worthy of consideration.
Finally, the two-hour concluding deliberative session, “The Hizmet Movement’s Contribution to Peacebuilding,” which centered on areas where Hizmet could improve and suggestions as to where it should go in the future. The discussion was frank and carried significant suggestions for the movement’s roadmap.
All in all, it was an enlightening and oft-times quite inspiring conference, both because of its participants and themes, as well as for the audience members. A true measure of its effectiveness was that many of us left with a heightened spirit to work diligently in our own daily peacebuilding efforts.
WHAT: The Hizmet movement and peacebuilding: global cases
WHO: Rumi Forum, Center for Peacebuilding and Development at
American University, Mount
St. Mary’s University, and
Woodstock Theological Center at Georgetown University
WHERE: National Press Club, Washington, D.C.
WHEN: Oct. 25-26, 2013