Moral Courage: The courage to take action for moral reasons despite the risks


“What gives you #TangibleHope in the world today? How do your values and/or belief systems come into conversation with this #TangibleHope?

Janess Gans Wilder, founder and CEO of the Euphrates Institute:

What gives me #TangibleHope is the moral courage of the people around the world with whom I have the privilege of working. Moral courage is the courage to take action for moral reasons despite the risk of adverse consequences. The task of interfaith activity and peacebuilding is not easy. It often involves taking great personal risks and sacrifices to address the issues of violence, extremism, racism, and discrimination non-violently.

A very meaningful and eye-opening example of this indomitable courage occurred for me last week. I was on a conference call with our Euphrates Chapter Leaders. (The Euphrates Insitute is a United Religions Initiative Cooperation Circle that has a network model much like URI, but on a much smaller scale. We currently have 25 local satellite groups around the world who further the Euphrates mission in their communities.) Our Chapter Leader from Sudan discussed how aggressively ISIS is recruiting in his area and how he is using it as an opportunity to increase his efforts to educate people about peace, bridge-building with the West, and turning the ‘Other’ into a brother as a counterpoint to the terrorist group’s narrative.

I asked him how he was dealing with being aligned with an American-based organization started by a former U.S. government official. “Isn’t that risky?” I pressed. “What about your personal security? Wouldn’t the government, and/or ISIS folks try to brand you as a spy, unpatriotic, infidel, etc, etc. How do you deal with that?

Everyone on the call got quiet to hear his response.  

“Of course it is risky,” he acknowledged. “You took risks in your life, going to war zones. And I take risks in mine. This is a big mission. We must take big risks. It’s because we believe in this and know it will help people. We must give the young people the chance for a different life.”

We were all touched. He repeated the ideas several times and with such sincerity. One lady even had to turn off the video, she told me later, because tears were streaming down her face.

His remarks served as a powerful reminder for me of the risks and sacrifices all of us are taking in this work, and to not take them lightly. The moral courage of folks like him who are working around the world to further peace, respect for other religions, finding common ground, overcoming oppression, is what gives me #TangibleHope on a daily basis.

In my own journey, moral courage has evolved from seeing the people of the Middle East as the “enemy” to seeing them as partners, friends. Through my work as a counterinsurgency analyst in Iraq, I was involved in the “military solution” as the way to deal with conflict, but ultimately found it to be a fruitless effort that did not stem the problem of war at the root. It felt like catching drops of water from a leaky faucet, which doesn’t actually fix the faucet.

I believe the transformation I experienced from seeing Iraqis as the ‘Other’ to seeing them as brothers is possible for each one of us when we open our hearts and minds to whomever the ‘Other’ is to us in our lives. (See my TEDx talk on this topic to hear more.)

I invite you to contemplate the question “Who is my ‘Other’?” Is it a group from a different religion, nation, ethnicity, race, gender, political party? Can you open your thought to having an encounter, a personal experience with your ‘Other’ in a fresh way? You may find the results to be utterly transformative.

Imagine each of us doing this. Talk about #TangibleHope.


Janessa Gans Wilder is a former CIA officer turned peacebuilder, social entrepreneur, and nonprofit executive. She is the Founder and Chief Executive Officer of The Euphrates Institute, an organization that builds peace and understanding about critical Middle East issues. She founded Euphrates after five years at the CIA focused on the Middle East, including serving 21 months in Iraq from 2003-2005. Janessa is a frequent speaker in interfaith, community, government, international, and educational settings. She has written dozens of articles and been interviewed by major news outlets, including CBS, CNN, Los Angeles Times, Christian Science Monitor, Democracy Now, and many more.

Regarding Terrorism: From a Muslim, Jew, Christian, and Sikh

Regarding Terrorism: From a Muslim, Jew, Christian, and Sikh

Regarding Terrorism: From a Muslim, Jew, Christian, and Sikh

As we review events going back to September 11, 2001, and before, we observe with horror an increase in the incidence of terrorism on our planet. We observe much of that emanating from the Middle East, the home of Judaism, Christianity and Islam. We observe a tradition from India, Sikhism, that has sought since its inception to wage peace, being targeted by violent ignorance in retribution for acts of terrorism not committed by Sikhs.

This editorial brings together a Muslim, a Jew, a Christian and a Sikh to provide some perspective. Dr. Aslam Abdullah, the leader of one of our local mosques, shares: “As a Muslim who believes in the absolute power and wisdom of the divine for giving His guidance to humanity, I am horrified when I read that people who confess to be Muslim by name are involved in terrorist attacks.  Surely such people do not understand what it means to submit to God to attain peace… Speak, I will, write, I must, confront those who advocate violence, I shall and use every opportunity to challenge terrorists, I do.  But in a world where leaders and parties often use their self-serving agenda to define terrorism and the nature of the fight against violence and injustice, I am left bewildered… Can we Muslims, Jews, Christians, Hindus, Buddhists, atheists and everyone else come together to stand for each of us and to fight the menace with a quality of compassion, rather than using religious or nationalistic labels to vent our fear and our anger, serving only political agendas?”

As the representative of the Anti-Defamation League, Executive Director, Jolie Brislin shared the following statement: “The cruelty and brutality of terrorism is evident wherever it occurs. The horrific terrorist attack of Easter Sunday in Lahore targeting Christians and children deserves special condemnation in a seeming never ending stream of terrorist events. This one because of when it happened and whom it targeted leaves one nearly speechless. It targeted Christians on a holy day and seems to have deliberately targeted children, of whom there were many among the murdered.”

My brother, Teji Malik, a Sikh, recites from his holy scripture, the Guru Granth: “Allah created us all from one light.  So whom shall we call good and whom shall we call bad?” He goes on to share: “It is rather strikingly clear that these terrorists, so-called God-lovers, have made their god into a piñata whom they hit when they engage in their terrorism… Little do they understand but they are also killing their own god through these horrific actions… we of the Interfaith Council of Southern Nevada are heartbroken with wet eyes which refuse to get dry.”

As a Christian, I stand with my fellow human beings in crying out, praying and redoubling my commitment to interfaith peacemaking. As Chair of the Interfaith Council of Southern Nevada, I observe how good it is when people of faith come together for the purpose of waging peace, seeking in humility a culture of compassion and mercy. Every Fall and every Spring, we bring together youth from across the Valley at our Camp Anytown, to wage peace.  Every one of our youth, early on, recognize their own pride and their own prejudice. Three days into Camp Anytown, everyone is singing the blessing of our common humanity.

Violence only leads to further violence; this is the teaching of all traditions of peace and the witness of history. May we have the courage to root out the causes of violence in our own hearts and thereby be the change that will one day transform the world.

We close with two quotes from the Buddha: “Overcome evil by good.” “All tremble at violence; all fear death. Putting oneself in the place of another, one should not kill nor cause another to kill.”

Aslam Abdullah, Muslim

Jolie Brislin, Jew

Teji Malik, Sikh

Gard Jameson, Christian

All Board Members of the Interfaith Council of Southern Nevada