Wednesday, June 20, 2007

Peacebuilding in Iraq and Afghanistan: Building Security from the Ground Up

Featured Speakers: Samuel Rizk, Forum for Development; Hero Anwar, REACH; Jana El Horr, American Islamic Congress; Hamid Arsalan, Eastern Mennonite University.

The objective of this panel was to hear from four individuals working on the ground in Iraq and Afghanistan, because of the amount of “policy buzz” around the Hill and lack of general public visibility of the situation.

Samuel Rizk from the Forum for Development started the panel by speaking about his experiences in Middle East communities. He explained that he has been working with media communication to encourage peace in Iraq. To encourage accurate media communication he has worked to relay regional experience to national and grassroots organizations, created 3-year contracts with organizations to work on conflict resolution and coordinated a network to build sustainable partnerships. The goal of these efforts has been to reintegrate people into the society that was demolished by the terrorist overhaul and dictatorial government. Some of Rizk’s efforts have included: establishment of the Dalia Center and the Youth Art Exchange program. The Dalia Center is a small project with the ultimate goal of encouraging cross-boundary (ethnic, religious and social) cooperation. The Youth Exchange program promotes peace from the group up by engaging Iraqi children in theater, art and music exchanges with Lebanese youth. Rizk concluded his presentation by suggesting foreign troops be withdrawn from Iraq because there is truly no room for political development when foreign troops are present.

Hero Anwar followed Rizk with a presentation on her organization, REACH, and its role in grassroots peacebuilding. Anwar explained that REACH programs target marginalized, poor and vulnerable groups to help them find ways to constructively discuss their needs that lead to collaboration instead of conflict. REACH also works to improve household economies for independent economic productivity and to assist in the development of civil society. Currently, Anwar has projects working with water and sanitation, microcredit, sustainable agriculture practices, development of Community-Based Organizations (CBOs) and building civil society institutions. One example is REACH’s CBO Network, which was created to encourage different religions to gather around common needs. This network is especially important because REACH is not associated with a political party and thus is able to maintain a neutral standing.

Jana El Horr of the American Islamic Congress followed Anwar with suggestions about how US organizations can help. El Horr explained that the US approach to development and aid is often from a “top-down” mentality, whereas bottom-up approaches are too frequently forgotten. Working from the bottom up, we can empower Muslims to speak out against human rights violations and cultivate a sense of basic human rights in their communities. Currently, with the disconnect between NGOs and civil society, there is no collaborative approach to encourage this type of thinking. El Horr hopes that by uniting benevolent forces, we can expedite the peace process.

Hamid Arsalan emphasized several of the same ideas regarding the importance of peacebuilding from the ground up. The process needs to be initiated and carried out by the people of Afghanistan to ensure sustainable rebuilding efforts and restoration. Arsalan mentioned that UN involvement may be the only way to peace. Specialized agencies such as the United Nations High Commission on Refugees (UNHCR) are familiar with doing this type of work and are designed to allocate their budget to promote peace-building in conflict zones which consistently displacing more and more individuals. This is especially important because the international community as a whole has had trouble trying to intervene and help with peace-building because of the serious security threats in the most highly affected zones.

Arsalan made six distinct policy recommendations:

1) Implementation of community development projects
2) Build human dignity through self-reliance, a key to overcoming other issues
3) Prepare communities for women’s education through UNICEF
4) Create education projects that are tied into economic development
5) Develop strong collaboration with a USAID presence
6) Actively involve civil society leaders

He hopes that through these specific changes to current policy in Afghanistan, we can involve the Afghan people in developing their own peace and security policies.

Location & Sponsor: Friends Committee on National Legislation

Date: June 7, 2007
Time: 12:00-1:30pm
Approximate Number of Attendees: 30
Intern Attending: Elysa Severinghaus

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