By David J. Smith, December 9, 2015
We end the year dealing with violence both at home and abroad that is distressing and horrifying. We are just now starting to come to understand the attacks that took place in San Bernardino, CA. And this follows the tragedies in Paris, Mali, and Lebanon: all taking place within a few days. As an advocate of nonviolent means to change and a supporter of gun control, I’m deeply frustrated by what happened in California. Whether we focus on restricting the sale of certain weapons, make background checks more stringent, create safeguards on how guns operate, or prevent those who might use a firearm to cause harm, from obtaining one, we must do more.
Making sweeping generalizations about Muslims and immigrants only acerbates the problem by creating more distrust among Americans, as well as play into the strategy of extremists. I am disturbed by the rhetoric suggesting that because someone is an adherent of Islam, they are therefore more likely to be violent. This harkens back to misguided policies during World War II when we forcibly interned Japanese-Americans in violation of their civil rights. I am pleased that my city, Rockville, MD, recently passed a resolution welcoming refugees to our city. This was initiated by the city’s human rights commission, which I sit on.
We must continue to make efforts at lessen the influences that can lead in radicalization. I’ve written about this issue in the past year from the standpoint of community colleges (“The challenge of violent extremism,” Community College Daily, 5/14/15) and most recently in considering how we address the violence in Paris with our youth (“A Peacebuilding Approach to Teaching About Extremism,” Huffington Post, 12/2/15). We are a creative people and we must draw upon our ingenuity to develop ways of reaching out to those who might be susceptible to violence and extremism. We have clearly not been successful in our efforts up to now.
In 2016, we need to continue to promote ways of engagement with communities that might be isolated, including refugee communities in the U.S. Through dialogue and collaboration, which can lead to assimilation and community building, we can come together to work against those who might use violence to accomplish their objectives. Those who are drawn to violence are frequently lacking something in their lives and communities that they believe can be obtained through aligning themselves with fanatics. This need not be the case.
We also continue to deal with social injustice and racial stress in the U.S. Many Americans, particularly those who are African-American, feel that they are not benefiting from the liberties and protections our institutions and governments are charged with guaranteeing. They also believe that opportunities available to others in our society are denied them. Social justice is the concern of all of us. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s charge that “injustice any where is a threat to justice everywhere” should be our constant aim.
During the past year, I was honored to be hosted by colleges and groups around the U.S. to advance peacebuilding and conflict resolution
education. I traveled to Florida, Virginia, California, Georgia, Missouri, Kansas, Arizona, Arkansas, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania, Illinois, DC, and Maryland visiting 21 colleges and universities to work with educators and students to raise awareness of peaceful approaches to dealing with differences, and advance the global values of diversity, cultural appreciation, and peace. Working with Northern Virginia Community College, I directed two seminars: the 3rd Annual National Community College Peacebuilding Seminar, and a seminar on global public health. This past year, I was also honored to win the William Kreidler Award for Distinguished Service to the field of Conflict Resolution by the Association for Conflict Resolution, the largest U.S.-based association of conflict resolution practitioners. I am thankful to those colleagues who invited me to their institutions to work with them, and look forward to continuing to collaborate in the coming year. I am also grateful for the chance to teach at George Mason University’s School for Conflict Analysis and Resolution, and the constant inspiration of my students.
In 2016, I am looking forward to the publication of my book Peace Jobs: A Student’s Guide to Starting A Career Working for Peace. Information Age Publishing has promised that the book will in print by June. I will share on my blog and website when the book is out. I am grateful to all those who have helped in bringing my book to fruition, including colleagues who reviewed chapters and the 30 young professionals who shared about their journeys to becoming peacebuilders.
This past year saw the establishment of the Forage Center for Peacebuilding and Humanitarian Education, Inc. This not for profit, of which I am president, continues the work of my colleague Paul Forage who passed away in September. We will continue to host a spring full-immersion simulation for graduate students studying peacebuilding, humanitarian assistance, and related fields. The Forage Center will also undertake other training in 2016. If you are interested in our work, please let me know.
Personally, I am fortunate to have good health and a supportive family. My wife Lena and I have collaborated on several projects including the work of the Forage Center and the spring simulation in Florida. She is enjoying teaching nursing at Anne Arundel Community College.
Our daughter Sonya, who recently got her driver’s license, is in her junior year at Rockville High School, and our son Lorenzo is in his senior year at the University of Maryland. This past spring he studied abroad at Boğaziçi University in Istanbul. Lena and I visited him in March, and enjoyed our first visit to Turkey. We also visited Korea this past summer to take our daughter Sonya, who is adopted, on a homeland journey. It was a wonderful adventure for all of us!
I wish for each and everyone of you a restful, joyful and peaceful end of the year. And I look forward to continuing to work with you to promote peace in 2016! We have much to do.