World Premiere at the United Nations
01 December 2006
“There’s been no event
like this in my twenty years at the United Nations,” said a Counselor
from the Nigerian mission, speaking of the world premiere of the “The
Imam and the Pastor,” at the United Nations headquarters in New York on
November 28th. The occasion was hosted by the Nigerian Permanent
Representative to the UN, and was received enthusiastically by the 170
diplomats, UN officials and other guests.
Introducing the film,
Ambassador Simeon Adekanye described the work done by Pastor James Wuye
and Imam Mohammed Ashafa, both of whom were present, as “a case study
in grass-roots mobilization for reconciliation and reconstruction.” He
said that their work had been recognized at the highest levels of the
Nigerian government and was a testimony to what could be achieved
representing Ibrahim Gambari, UN Under-Secretary-General for Political
Affairs, said that the lessons of their experience transcended Nigeria
and spoke to the heart of the UN’s mission to promote peace and
reconciliation. She was particularly impressed, she said, that there
are no external actors in the film. The initiative is “home-grown.”
“The UN Department of Political Affairs intends to use it as a tool of
Conflict Prevention,” she said.
Earlier in the day, the
film was screened privately for Carolyn McAskie, Assistant
Secretary-General for Peacebuilding, and Ambassador Ismael Gaspar
Martins of Angola, President of the new Peacebuilding Commission. The
Angolan, who described the film as “powerful,” suggested that its
message was needed urgently in the Democratic Republic of the Congo.
Ms. McAskie said the film underlined that peace must begin in the
hearts of people and spread from there to the family, the community and
At a time when many in
the world are wondering whether friendly relations are possible between
those of Muslim and Christian background, the Nigerian protagonists of
this film emphatically assert that they are.
In recent years, Nigeria
has been rocked by ethnic and religious conflicts, with tens of
thousands killed and whole communities devastated. In the 1990s, Pastor
Wuye and Imam Ashafa led opposing, armed militias, dedicated to
defending their respective communities as violence broke out in Kaduna,
northern Nigeria. In pitched battles, Pastor James lost his hand and
Imam Ashafa’s spiritual mentor and two close relatives were killed.
Now the two men are
co-directors of the Muslim-Christian Interfaith Mediation Centre in
their city, leading task-forces to resolve conflicts across Nigeria.
At the premiere, the
animated audience was hushed at poignant moments and roared with the
laughter of self-recognition at other moments when the protagonists
described their ongoing struggles to overcome distrust of the other.
“We stay together for the human family,” said Pastor Wuye, “just as a
married couple sometimes stays together for the sake of the children.”
Imam Ashafa opened a
lively question and answer period with a moment of silence in memory of
David Channer, the British filmmaker who first recognized that their
story should reach the whole world. Gay Rosenblum-Kumar of the UN
emceed the occasion masterfully and recalled Channer’s calling to make
known answers to the world’s ills. David’s son, Alan, produced and
directed the film, and introduced members of his production team from
Gaza, Lebanon and France. Rageh Omaar narrates the film.
Pastor James, who was
accompanied by his wife Elizabeth, and Imam Ashafa, were interviewed
live on Al-Jazeera English and introduced as the living proof that
religion can play a positive role in peace making. They were also
interviewed on UN Radio, which reaches a large audience worldwide.
There was also an
occasion marking the launching of a new book featuring their story.
Called Peacemakers in Action, it has been produced by the
Tanenbaum Center for Inter-Religious Understanding, edited by Dr. David
Little of the Harvard Divinity School and published by Cambridge
Imam Ashafa and Pastor
James were invited to speak at St. John the Divine Cathedral in the
Main Service of Sunday, in the presence of the Bishop of New York Mark
Sisk. They were introduce by Dean Kowalski as a "modern day miracle",
and their message was received by a standing ovation by the
congregation - several of whom came to talk with them afterwards.
Following New York, the
Nigerians will be in Washington, DC, where the film will be shown at
the United States Institute for Peace, which has supported their work
in Nigeria, at Georgetown and American Universities and at the World
Bank. There will also be several private showings.