vrijdag, maart 3, 2017

African meal during filmnight Who are we and how should we live together? During the current election campaign in the Netherlands the issues of diversity and intercultural tensions play a key role. What can the Netherlands learn from the situation in Nigeria? This was the central question during the first filmnight in the series ‘African solutions for European problems’ in the centre of Initiatives of Change in the Hague.

After sharing an African meal and watching the movie ‘The Imam and the Pastor’ an international group discussed the issue of interreligious and ethnical tensions in Nigeria and lessons for the Netherlands. Participants came from Nigeria, Netherlands, Indonesia, Sout-Africa, India, Ghana and Syria. Thus the Dutch situation was seen with the different perspectives of all these places in the world.

The imam and the pastor

In the early nineties imam Muhammad Ashafa and pastor James Wuye led opposing, armed militias, dedicated to defending their respective communities as violence broke out in Kaduna, Northern Nigeria. Both lost loved ones in the battle. ‘My hatred for muslims knew no limits,’ says pastor James in the movie. ‘But I realised I can not preach Christ with hate.’ When imam Ashafa approaches him, it is the start of a personal reconciliation proces that takes years.

Now the imam and the pastor work as a team for reconciliation of the religious communities in Northern Nigeria and beyond. They lead the Muslim-Christian-Interfaith Mediation Centre in Kaduna, that sends out interreligious taskforces to solve conflicts in Nigeria. ‘We can inspire people, because we understand them. We have been through the same. But we also know that it is better to dialogue then to take revenge. Otherwise you can not find peace yourself.’

Wanted: inspiring leaders

The movie shows the important role that community leaders can play in conflict resolution, says an Indonesion participant. ‘It is important to have leaders from the community itself, and not from outside or the state. The imam and the pastor say in the movie that they were misleading as leaders. They acknowledge their mistakes and that makes them strong.’

The Netherlands needs strong leaders as well, the participants agree. Who are the ‘imams and the pastors’ of the Netherlands? ‘And that should include leaders of non-religious communities.’

Don't blame everything on religion

Filmnight Imam and the pastor - february 2017The participants from Nigeria that were present emphasize that the conflict in their country is much more complicated then the movie shows. It is not a religious conflict only. Ethnic tensions, political relationships, poverty, ignorance and personal conflicts also play their part.

‘But religion is an easy divider,’ says a Nigerian woman, who experienced the conflict herself. ‘Maybe it is a about a peace of land, or someone can’t get a job, but then they say: it is because I am muslim or christian.’

Don’t go down that road, is her advice to the Netherlands. ‘Don’t let religion be a scapegoat. It is so easy to blame religions, when actually other issues are at stake. Don’t get carried away by this. Religion is misused to mobilize people.’

But if religion is such an powerful way to mobilize people for the worse, can it not also be used for the better, wonders a Dutch participant. Like the imam and the pastor, who are encouraged by their religion to work for reconciliation and inspire others with it.

Accept diversity

Discussion filmnight Imam and the PastorDiversity is a fact and we just have to live with that, is the message of imam Ashafa in the movie. ‘Allah has created diversity. We are different, so that we may know each other.’ In their daily collaboration the imam and the pastor try to respect each others differences, without compromising their own beleifs. ‘We co-exist.’

Interesting enough, in the area’s in Nigera where muslims and christians live together there are the least problems, says the Nigerian woman. ‘There people are just to one another. The other is part of the family or circle of friends.’ It is actually in the areas where there is a majority of one religion, that most problems occur.

Look at the individual

Because of diversity, it is important that we relate to individuals and not to ideologies, says a participant from Ghana who lived in Nigeria for a long time. See the person, that is also the plea of two participants from Syria who recently came to live in the Netherlands. ‘Look at me, not at my religion.’

In Februay, March and April Initiatives of Change organizes a series of three films about conflict and peacebuilding in Sub-Sahara Africa. What can we learn from these local African solutions to shed new light on European issues? The next movie night and discussion will take place on Thursday March 23, with the screening of the film 'An African Answer'. You find more information here. 

Report: Irene de Pous