PHOTO ESSAY - A Peace of My Mind - Exploring the Meaning of Peace:
Hudlin Wagner, Florence Tsukayama & Zafar Siddiqui
Editor's Note: In a world that often asks us to consider the things that can separate us...whether that is race, politics or ethnicity... a collection of 55 photo essays by John Noltner asks this question: "What does peace mean to you?"
The following essays are excerpted from Noltner's "A Peace of My Mind", which has just been listed as a finalist for the Midwest Book Awards.
Hudlin Wagner: “When we talk about peace, we think about war. But we have to begin in our own land, in our own families, even in our own lives. Integrating the discussion of peace into our lives early on through our learning systems would help us consistently envision peace as achievable. Instead, our society has romanticized warriors: Genghis Khan, the Zulus, the Iroquois.
I believe in the goodness of human beings. A large percentage of people around the world do share a deep desire for peace, but we don’t often exercise a means of achieving it.
I’m hopeful because I’m seeing more and more individuals step forward. Neutrality won’t be an option. We are living in a time when the impact of not working together for peace leaves us only the alternative of destruction. We need to hear from the leadership of the next generation coming up around the world. We’re ready for it. We are accustomed to thinking about addictions as abusive and destructive. I would love to live in a society with people who are addicted to peace. Wouldn’t that be one hell of an addiction?”
In a world that often asks us to consider the things that can separate us...whether that is race, politics or ethnicity...A Peace of My Mind explores the common humanity that unites us."
Hudlin Wagner says that her perceptions of peace are a result of her tri-cultural background. She is black, Native American, and West Indian. Hudlin defines peace, initially as a physical feeling - a lightness of being, which includes a spiritual connection with the world and its order.
When Hudlin was a young girl, her parents decided that she should attend the local Catholic school. As the first student of color to attend the school, she found that none of the children would sit near her because they were afraid that her skin color would rub off on them if she touched them. When she asked her parents to send her to a different school, they told her, “This is your journey to be introduced to each individual human being - so you don’t recreate the stereotypes of every race.”
Flora Tsukayama: “I went to school - preschool all the way to senior high - in Japan. I’m Japanese, but I’m an American. I was born just 6 years after World War II, so a lot of my classmates’ parents fought in the war against the Japanese. On the military base where I attended school, my classmates who were Caucasian and African American, looked down on the Japanese and it was tough for me to be there, hearing slurs all the time. You just have to continue. I can only imagine what my father went through, working as a civil servant, working for the military, but on a smaller scale I was facing that in school.
So, when I came to Minnesota, I looked at the population and it was predominantly white and fears come back again. I wanted to protect my children. World War II was so far away that I knew nothing like that would happen, but there is always fear as a parent.
So I decided to volunteer in school, and if my children needed me, I’d be there. If anybody had any questions about our background or our culture, I could be there to explain it. Although I am an American, I wanted to be an ambassador - a positive person to teach positive things, and so I taught a lot of Japanese culture, crafts, origami.
I just want the school environment to be safe. You can’t educate anybody if they are worried or scared. Peace is when you have a peace of mind. You can be happy inside and outside - I think that’s when you have peace.”
Flora Tsukayama was born in Tokyo, Japan, six years after the end of World War ll. Flora’s father was a Japanese American who lived in Hawaii when Pearl Harbor was bombed. He immediately enlisted in the U. S. military and worked as a translator, eventually moving to Tokyo in order to assist the reconstruction effort. Flora’s mother was a Japanese citizen.
Flora attended a school for U.S. dependents in Tokyo, where she often felt unwelcome due to her Japanese heritage and endured frequent racial slurs and negative comments directed toward her.
Today Flora is a full-time volunteer in the public school system. She provides an adult presence in a hallway that was once notorious for bullying. Her time, attention, and compassion have helped turn that hallway into a more civil and open place.
Zafar Siddiqui: "Actually, I get my understanding of peace by the religion that I follow. Because . . . the word Islam comes from the root word in Arabic called salam, meaning peace . . . so it becomes imperative that I understand peace in a much deeper way.
I think that if anybody reads the Qur’an in its entirety . . . without any ulterior motive, then the message that it gives is nothing but peace. But if someone wants to achieve their political goals, they can always use the cut and paste approach. You take out a verse and use it out of context for your own goal. I think it happens in other religious traditions, too. [If] people focus on only one aspect, ignoring the bigger context, you are able to prove anything, from any book.
I would say that the more Muslims know about Islam, the more centrist they come. One of the biggest problems I see in the Muslim world is that they have gone away from Islam. As a result, we are seeing all of these problems where there is so much injustice, violence, and other things. But it’s my belief that if a Muslim follows Islam fully—how it is supposed to be practiced—then he or she will be a great moderate person in the sense of getting along with each other, because the Islamic teachings talk about how you have to get along with people of other faiths. In fact, Islam actually says, call Jews, Christians, and Muslims to common terms, to the fact that we all worship one God, the God of Abraham."
Zafar Siddiqui is an American Muslim who was born in India. He serves on the board of directors for the Al-Amal School, the first all-Islamic school in Minnesota and he leads the Islamic Resource Group, which is dedicated to educating people about Islam and Muslims.
Zafar defends the peaceful nature of Islam as a religion, and points out that fringe elements have misused the religion for their own purposes, just as radicals from other religions have done throughout history.