Study War No More

By on April 1, 2014
March 1984, while working in Lebanon Jerry Levin was kidnapped by Hezbollah and held for nearly a year in what would later be known as the Iran-Contra Hostage Scandal.

“I’m gonna lay down my sword and shield… I ain’t gonna study war no more…” those are the words of the old Negro spiritual “Down by the Riverside”.  For nearly a century, many have chanted the words of this song, but what does it mean to not study war?

From a scholar’s perspective one could surmise that study in this context means to ponder or dwell.  Consequently, the longer one studies a subject the more apt he or she is to act upon it.

Thus, the better part of reason has led UAB’s Neuroscience and Anthropology departments to form a course dedicated to the study and practice of Peace.  This is the first semester a course of this kind has been offered at UAB with the idea that students must be educated to understand the neurological nature and causes of violence, how to resolve conflicts amicably, as well as how to develop a global community of peace builders.

Peace Studies is an interdisciplinary field and the concepts discussed encompass science, psychology, sociology, theology, anthropology, and even economics.  Students enrolled in this course are engaged by authorities in each of these fields and they have a chance to role play with peace building exercises.

After a lecture on Islam, one student commented “I had not had much exposure to the Islamic faith before this lecture, so I am extremely grateful to have my horizon broadened on this subject. After all of the lectures on the Abrahamic religions, I feel that I have a very good understanding that all three of these religions can be extremely instrumental in our quest for peace.

In order to ever have a truly peaceful world we have to get back to the very basic teachings of each of these religions and leave nationalism and the idea that war can ever be justified behind us. We can learn a lot about peace from the study of Islam as well as Christianity and Judaism.”

Leading this ground breaking course are Dr. Sis and Jerry Levin.

In 1984 Jerry Levin, then CNN Beirut’s bureau chief, was working on assignment when he was kidnapped at the beginning of what would later be known as the Iran-Contra affair— a scandal involving the U.S. government who traded arms to the ayatollah of Iran and provided money to freedom fighters in Latin America.

Dr. Levin, who is a conservative southern Christian woman from Birmingham, found herself married to a liberal Yankee Jew and living in the middle of a Muslim country, where her life turned into story that one would expect to find within the pages of an Ian Fleming novel.

Initially, Dr. Levin cooperated with the State departments suggestions in the interest of quiet diplomacy.  However, after months of worry and ineffective negotiations, Dr. Levin decided to find another way to free her husband.

In the months that followed, Dr. Levin would travel to meet with Syria’s Foreign Minister Farouk Al Sharaa with who she engaged in talks about peace and conflict transformation.  She met Jesse Jackson, Lebanon’s Shiite army leader Nabih Berri, and a host of other players who all shared her vision for peace and worked with her to help free Jerry.  After nearly a year of captivity Jerry was able to escape and record his adventure in the book titled “West Bank Diary”.

For their efforts, the Levin’s have been honored by His Holiness, the Dalai Lama, and they continue to work with peace builders from around the globe such as Desmond Tutu, South African social rights activist, and Arun Gandhi, grandson of Mohandas Gandhi.

“Intro to Peace Studies has helped me decide what I want to do with my life.  Dr. Levin made me want to be a better person and help people.  After graduating college I plan to begin a career in humanitarian efforts so that I can help people around the world.  In this course I learned that peace is not just about ending war and violence, but it’s about creating an equal world where people can live freely and without fear,” senior International Studies major Shelby Brown said.

We were all born into a world filled with “concentric” circles of violence and the system is nearly inescapable.  Therefore, it is our responsibility to study peace with the hope that one day our children will have the right to live in a world free from conflict.

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