Marla Mossman: One person making a Difference for Peace

5 June 2017

In a series of interviews The Diplomatic Society Global Editor Srimal Fernando began interviewing notable personalities who sought to promote peace in the world. For this month’s edition we introduce you to Marla Mossman, a Peace builder based in the United States.

Photo: Marla Mossman, Fostering International Peace Lead on the Peace Alliance Leadership

On many levels Mossman plays an important role in the globally respected Peace Alliance Leadership Council. In January 2017 she took up her current appointment as Fostering International Peace Lead on the Peace Alliance Leadership Council.  UN Representative on behalf of the International Center for Ethno - Religious Mediation (ICERM) was a milestone in her career path firmly focused on being a Peace builder.  Prior to her current appointment Mossman travelled along the ancient trade routes around the Silk Road nations. Sharing her photographs and stories from her Journeys along the Silk Road nations Marla embarked on a project entitled Peace Caravans Project. Apart from this Marla has been lobbying with New York member of Congress who signed into Bill HR111 to establish a Department of Peace. Marla shares her experiences and unique insights in an exclusive interview with The Diplomatic Society.

Srimal Fernando (SF): Ms Marla Mossman, kindly explain to us what inspired you to enter the Peace Alliance? What work does the Peace Alliance carry out?

Marla Mossman (MM): When I began my Peace Caravan Project in 2006, my interest was in The Peace Alliance’s efforts to create a Department of Peace, where a Secretary of Peace is a Cabinet position right beside the Secretaries of Defense and State.
As a follower for over 10 years, it was in 2015 when I attended the Washington DC conference to learn from the national and international Peace Builders. We attended workshops to learn how to lobby our members of Congress and how to arrange meetings with the senior staff persons. For my congressional meeting, I was accompanied by several of the Peace Alliance’s Board of Directors. It was an enlightening and inspiring experience to Walk the Halls of Congress with these experienced, effective lobbyist who are dedicated Peace Advocates.  To discover how the Peace Movement had matured over 30 years, underscored their motto; “that things are Actionable when things are Measurable”.  It was then I knew that the Peace Caravan Project had found a vital and important partner for Peace.
A year later, through my Peace Caravan Project, I hosted a side event at the NGO/CSW 60 Conference at the United Nations with The Peace Alliance’s President Bob Basking as keynote speaker.
Everything has fallen into place since then, this past December answering their call to apply for a position on their newly formed Leadership Council. In January 2017 I was designated as the Fostering International Peace Lead on the Peace Alliance Leadership Council.   
Subsequently, after successfully lobbying my New York member of Congress, who signed onto Bill HR111 to establish a Department of Peace.  

Photo: Marla Mossman interviewing Former President of Kyrgyzstan at the Bulgarian Consulate in New York, December 2012

SF: What approach does Peace Alliance take to solve pressing issues in the world?

MM: The Peace Alliance champions peace building approaches to international conflict and atrocity prevention in hotspots through mediation, diplomacy, and effective on-the-ground programs. Important components may involve development, post-conflict justice, humanitarian aid, mediation and support for frameworks necessary for democratic processes.
On a personal level in my role as the Fostering International Peace Lead I am reaching out to collaborate with international organizations and individuals who are doing good in the world. I Skype speak with local people, listening to their points of view on their current situations. My plan is to build a network of conversation circles; to bring people together to discuss and enlist the practical tools for Peace which the Peace Alliance has focused into categories as the Five Peace Building Cornerstones:
•    Empowering Community Peacebuilding,
•    Teaching Peace in Schools,
•    Humanizing Justice Systems,
•    Fostering International Peace,
•    Cultivating Personal Peace.
SF: Can you tell us a bit about The Peace Caravan Project and the nature of your work? Why did you start all this in the first place?

MM: As a Jewish woman in love with a Buddhist, my soul stirred with questions of the relevance of these ancient religious teachings of Mohammad, Jesus, Moses, Abraham and Buddha in light of the wars and violent eruptions all over the world. It was 1996 and I decided to further my study of the Torah to find out why.
Raised Jewish, attending Hebrew School in my youth, it was decades later that I wanted a more in-depth understanding of the Torah from a mystical level. In my rabbi's library was a wall of books all crammed on shelfs that went from floor to ceiling. One day, my hand reached out and chose the thinnest book. It changed my life.
The Silk Route; A Judaic Odyssey by Samuel Kurinsky, is a research paper about the deposits of early Phoenician Glass Beads, found along the ancient Silk Road. It deduced, that religions were shaped by the merchant caravans that plied the desert trails to trade their goods. At night, resting in the caravansaries these men and women exchanged their stories of foreign places and the local customs. Unfortunately some merchants died along the way, and wanted to be buried in the traditions of their home. Hence, communities of diverse religions sprung up all along the Silk Road from the Mediterranean to the China Sea
Drawn to the Silk Road, I decided to walk in the footsteps of the great prophets and sages, as if it was a spiritual calling to photograph. To bear witness to the people living in the shadows of the great historical landmarks mentioned in the Bible, Torah, Koran and Vedas so that a new way to Peace would reveal itself.
In 2007 I received fiscal sponsorship from the New York Foundation for the Arts and as a nonprofit art project accepted tax deductible donations.
But, I didn't want to photograph war and violence showing people as victims. Instead, motivated by the mid-term report on the UN Millennium Goals which proclaimed, “Society views diverse cultures through the lens of tragedy of war or idealized notions of beauty of tourism advertising,” my images are of people out of the mainstream of history. They bear witness to disappearing traditions as the world becomes modernized, illuminating the cultural heritage and religious beliefs which make communities unique. I am on the frontline of soft diplomacy at home and abroad as a citizen ambassador of Peace, partnering nationally with The Peace Alliance to educate and legislate Peaceful Co-Existence.  When on International travel I choose to see beyond the labels and prejudices, staying with the Kurds, Hazara, Uyghur's, Palestinians, who are all treated as third class citizens in their own countries
As a Woman traveling alone without fear my motto is a "Trust is the Currency of the Solo Traveler"
Photo: Marla Mossman with flowers and sign greetings in Afghanistan

SF:  For your latest Peace Caravan Project Photographic Exhibition held in San Diego titled  ‘ Journey along the Silk Road’ how did you source the images for the exhibition?  Your thoughts on what this means? How do you get your message across?

MM:  The San Diego Exhibition was a "pop up" one day show that I did for my dear friend Patricia Frischer; founder of the San Diego Visual Arts Network, board member/organizer of The Encinitas Friends of the Arts fundraiser: Passage to the Silk Road, in support for their Public Art and Art Education programs. The selection was of landscape photographs and portraits of the people taken on my journeys through Turkey, Jordan, Syria, Israel and India. The portraits were of the local people in prayer; in temples, mosques, synagogues and, churches to depict each nation's faith. They convey a message of plurality and peace. The Peace Caravan Project's mission is to illuminate our differences, honor our diverse religions, as we share in our one humanity.
SF:   What challenges did you face during your service as a United Nations Representative for ICERM, a nonprofit advocator for non-conflict resolution and mediation?

MM:  Frankly, there has not been any real challenges to face, perhaps that is indicative of our Peaceful Mission. My designation as a UN Representative was given the past January on behalf of the International Center for Ethno - Religious Mediation. Basil Ugorji, (ICERM) Founder, President and CEO felt my compassion and empathy for the plight of indigenous people. And, knowing of my journeys to war torn areas and having stayed in the homes of many oppressed people, he knew I could relate directly with the international delegates.  It has been an honor to attend dozens of meeting, some of them high level conferences that speak directly to the concerns of people all over the world. It is my small contribution to mankind as the United Nations addresses the 2030 Sustainable Development's 17 Global Goals

Photo: Caravan on the Mingsha Sand Dunes, Dunhuang, China

SF:  Over the past six years with hundreds of thousands dead and millions displaced the humanitarian situation continues to deteriorate in Syria. Finding a diplomatic political solution to end the Syrian crisis and to bring peace in Syria has become a necessity. What are your thoughts on this?

MM:  In late 2007 when documenting the origins of the Great Religions for my Peace Caravan project I was a woman traveling alone through the Middle East. My point was to set an example that in the 21st Century, people should not live in fear of the other.
At that time, there were only a few American tourists visiting Syria, perhaps due to President George W Bush designating the Assad regime as the, “Axis of Evil”. Since that time, the situation has deteriorated with hundreds of thousands dead, millions of people fleeing their homes and historical landmarks destroyed. Today, Aleppo’s Old Souk is fire damaged, the Citadel, which had never been breached, had its door smashed, its internal ruins damaged. Queen Zenobia’s vibrant city of Palmyra had some of its major ruins destroyed.  Syria is forever changed.
I entered Syria via Kilis, Turkey and exited Syria at Bosra on the border with Jordan. Only when I was near these border towns was I able to receive data files on my phone. Up until that time the cellular network was for phone only.
This method of government control to limit and or shut down the internet occurred when I was in China documenting the ancient Silk Road in the Uyghur Autonomous Region. This type of control is an example of how Governments can disrupt people's lives.
This leads me to discuss my thoughts on a diplomatic solution to Syria’s humanitarian situation.
For many centuries Power had been in the hands of the few. Today, this Power is shifting to the many. Governments are nervously aware of how cell phones and the internet allow for People to People contact across all economic and social levels.  
I believe that the Syrian people must be able to feel safe and secure. My hope is that they will be able to go back to their homes, with safe zones created. All parties must come together in open forums to speak and be heard. Civil Society’s role is to listen to each other with open minds, open hearts. The Five Cornerstones of Peace’s Non conflict resolution methods must be enlisted.
Perhaps to some this might sound naive, however more military force is obviously not a solution. Communication, Education, Economic Opportunity, Equality, Peaceful Mind are the principal weapons to end the violence in Syria and Globally
SF:  Is there anything further you would like to share with Diplomatic Society readers?

MM:  When traveling on my Middle East journey, news reached me that the Chinese Government was planning to bulldoze the old city of Kashgar, to make way for a new economic zone to equal Shanghai on their Eastern coast. Kashgar, located in the far western region, on the border with Pakistan, has stood for 2,000 years as the Silk Road’s gateway to the west. More recently it is the epicenter for the Uyghurs who are an indigenous Islamic people.
The destruction had already leveled a large portion of the Old City and the relocation of the Uyghur community had disrupted many lives when I arrived in Kashgar in 2010 to document the old city as well as along the Northern and Southern routes of the ancient Silk Road. Going from one oasis village to the next was rough and slow on the single lane roads that surround the rim of the fierce Taklamakan Desert. It was as arid and as deadly as its Uyghur name describes, yet rich and fertile with the Uyghur traditions of makers of musical instruments, knifes, and their infamous silk.
The resulting photographs and documentary film: Peace Caravan Journey Along the Silk Road: Xinjiang Province, China which I produced/directed on my return visit in 2011, bears witness to the disappearing Uyghur culture. Shown at nationals and selected as a finalists in international film festival.  My Peace Caravan Project lectures, exhibitions, multimedia presentations and films inspire and inform to gain empathy and understanding so a bridge can be made to see the other as ourselves.
In 2013 I traveled to Uganda to produce and direct a documentary film about the M’Bale community of Jewish, Muslim and Christian coffee farmers who play music and work together to grow and export coffee in the name of Peace. ThIs film; KAWOMERA: Plant, Pray, Partner for Peace, won numerous awards including Best Documentary Short 2014 at the New York/Los Angeles Film Festival and Making a Difference Award at CommFest Toronto Film Festival.  
Both of these photographic bodies of works and films exemplify the Peace Caravan’s mission for Peaceful Co-Existence and to preserve the customs and traditions that make us all unique.
Today, I continue my efforts for Global Peace through collaborations in art, photography, film, advocacy and storytelling.