By Yevgeny Baburin
World renowned peace scholar, author and activist, Johan Galtung will be the keynote speaker at the International Interfaith Initiative (III) conference on Tuesday October 7 at the Indiana War Memorial. A Plenary Session with local expert panelists will occur between 2:00 and 5:00 pm and a Public Discussion entitled Nonviolent Strategies for Sustainable Peace will take place from 7:00-8:30 pm. Both events are free and open to the public.
Galtung will discuss religion, civil society, environmental stewardship, cultural diversity, education, politics and the media. “Given the enthusiasm and diversity of the planning committee a lot of folks are interested in what Dr. Galtung has to say,” said Charlie Wiles III program director.
Johan Galtung was born in1930 in Oslo, Norway and lost his father in the Holocaust. Among his numerous achievements and recognitions are publications of over 100 books and 1,000 articles. In 1959 he founded The International Peace Institute whose “mission [is] to conduct high-quality academic research on questions relevant to the promotion of a more peaceful world.” It was the first institute of its kind and Galtung is considered the father of peace journalism.
“Peace journalism is about bringing news that promotes peace, not war…the media reward acts of violence with coverage, but hardly does so in the case of acts of peace,” said Galtung in an interview with D+C Magazine.
III was founded by German philanthropist Herr Klaus Martin Finzel in 2006 with the support of then Mayor Bart Peterson to promote understanding among different religious groups. A focus on bringing religious acceptance at a young age is apparent. III brought middle school students from private religious and public schools to tour each other’s schools and hold in depth discussions on topics of religion.
Director of Development for III, Charlie McDonald, said “For III the ultimate goal is for Indianapolis to be a united nations of religion and have our own facility and museum where world religious leaders can meet and develop ideas to strengthen civil society.”
III is hoping to bring a diverse crowd to the conference to hear and discuss the ideas offered by Galtung.. The planning committee and panel of respondents show a picture of diversity. “We have people on the panel from all sides of the political spectrum,” said McDonald.
Respondents to Galtung include Imam Mikal Saahir from Nur-Allah Islamic Center, Indianapolis refugee advocate Maria Figueroa, Rabbi Lew Weiss, Assistant Professor of Education at IUPUI Robert Helfenbein, David Hoppe from NUVO, and Tim Swarens from the Indianapolis Star. “If we’re going to have a valuable dialogue we have to have people from diverse perspectives. We can’t have people that think exactly as we do,” said McDonald.
Galtung’s strength is that he is not just an academic. He actually puts himself in areas of conflict and experiences them first hand. Maria Figueroa, a former student of Dr. Galtung, said, “He is an academic and a practitioner at the same time… I was listening to someone that [could] explain conflict from an academic and grassroots level.”
“The main thing is: Are nonviolent strategies to resolve conflict viable? Can we depend less on military strength and more on the strength of diplomacy? Will it achieve the security interests that we want?” commented Wiles. In a time of an unpopular war and looming presidential elections, these are timely questions and Galtung is in an international authority on nonviolent strategies that resolve conflict and offer alternatives to war.
Member of the planning committee and senior fellow at the Sagamore Institute for Policy Research John Clark says, “This is an important time to step back and really reflect. It’s been going on 40 maybe 50 years that there has been peace studies. It parallels [Galtung’s] career.
Can III attract enough people from both sides of the war debate to have a two-sided dialogue? This is a necessary step to having progressive discussion of war and peace. “I know the organizers would very much want war supporters to come,” said Clark, “The diversity will be greater among ages than among hawks and doves.”
Currently Galtung is working with Transcend: A Network for Peace and Development he founded in August of 1993 with his wife Fumiko Nishimura. According to the website it is a conflict mediation non-government organization. Trancend’s mission is “to bring about a more peaceful world using action, training, dissemination and research.”
Galtung’s visit comes at an interesting crossroads in American politics. According to Wiles, “the topics of the conference are really timely during the current political season while we publicly discuss issues like war and peace and the appropriate role for US foreign policy.” He said Galtung will speak about reducing spending on military hardware and investing more in social welfare such as education and healthcare.”
For more information about the conference visit www.internationalinterfaith.org