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One Year Later, Girls Kidnapped by Boko Haram Still Missing

One year after the kidnapping of 276 Nigerian schoolgirls by terror group Boko Haram, more than 200 kidnapped children remain missing. 

The kidnapping on April 15, 2014, provoked international outrage and a viral twitter hashtag, #BringBackOurGirls. Many prominent personalities — including First Lady Michelle Obama and comedian Ellen DeGeneres — joined the global outcry, prompting Nigeria to launch a military offensive against the group. Also in the last year, the U.S. military and others have offered Nigeria assistance in finding the children. 

But few children to date have escaped from what is widely counted among the most ruthless terror groups operating in North Africa.

According to NBC

"The Chibok girls were just one group of many, many others who have been kidnapped since last year," said Biu, a woman's rights activist and professor in Maiduguri, Nigeria. "I cannot say that the #BringBackOurGirls campaign has made women and young girls in the northeast feel any safer."

While a few dozen of the Chibok girls have escaped Boko Haram captivity, more than 200 are still missing. To Biu, the international campaign to release the girls did little to bring them home — or stop countless others from being taken since.

Since then, NBC reports, Boko Haram's campaign of terror has continued "largely unabated." 

Read more here.

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Kayla Mueller's Words on Faith from Captivity

On Tuesday, the U.S. government confirmed that 26-year-old Kayla Mueller, a captive of ISIS since August 2013, has died.

While circumstances of her death remain unclear, details of the young woman's life and work — most recently helping refugees in Aleppo, Syria — have emerged in the last 24 hours, as family, friends, and members of her community share memories and anecdotes of her compassion and big heart for those in need.

The Washington Post reports

The Rev. Kathleen Day, who headed a campus ministry that Mueller joined at Northern Arizona University, recalled that she wrote in a letter from captivity that she tried to teach crafts to her guards, including how to make origami peace cranes.

“We just delight in that,” Day said, “that Kayla remained Kayla. She said she found freedom even in captivity.”

The Post also shared a letter written by Mueller to her family while in captivity. In it Mueller expresses her experience of faith: 

"I remember mom always telling me that all in all in the end the only one you really have is God. ...I have been shown in darkness, light + have learned that even in prison, one can be free."

Mueller's family on Tuesday referenced another letter in which Mueller had written of her faith, this time to her father in 2011. According to the family, Mueller wrote: 

"I find God in the suffering eyes reflected in mine. ... I will always seek God. Some people find God in church. Some people find God in nature. Some people find God in love; I find God in suffering. I've known for some time what my life's work is, using my hands as tools to relieve suffering."

In their statement, Mueller's family said,

"We remain heartbroken, also, for the families of the other captives who did not make it home safely and who remain in our thoughts and prayers. We pray for a peaceful resolution of the conflict in Syria."

The family has reportedly requested that expressions of sympathy be made to causes that Kayla would have supported. KPHO reports that additional information will be made available in the coming week.

Read more from The Washington Post.

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The NFL’s Chilling New Anti-Domestic Violence Ad Will Make You Stop and Listen

After the high-profile domestic violence cases of Ray Rice and Adrian Peterson, the NFL is speaking out with a new Super Bowl Ad. The commercial features a woman pretending to order a pizza in a call to a 911 operator as the camera rolls over shots of a disheveled home. The operator eventually comes to understand that the woman is trying to ask for help without alerting her abuser.

The NFL created the ad in partnership with No More, an umbrella organization that connects groups working to end domestic violence and sexual assault.

The Washington Post reports:

The spot stems from the league’s botched response to the Ray Rice elevator incident last fall and from the glacial pace at which it became concerned about the issue. The NFL initially suspended Rice, then a running back with the Baltimore Ravens, for two games, which caused an uproar. Only after video of him knocking out his then-fiancee in an elevator surfaced did the NFL reconsider. Rice was cut by the team and suspended indefinitely; although his suspension was overturned, he has not returned to the league.

No More aired spots all last fall that featured celebrities and sports stars struggling to talk about domestic violence and the league has committed 60 seconds, worth $4.5 million, to the Super Bowl XLIX ad.

This announcement also comes soon after Sports Illustrated agreed to run an edgy anti-domestic violence ad they initially rejected. Created by UltraViolet, this ad depicts a young woman being tackled by a uniformed football player and ends showing the hashgtag “#GOODELLMUSTGO.” Roger Goodell, the commissioner of the NFL, has come under serious criticism for his perceived negligence regarding issues of domestic violence.

Watch the No More ad below. Trigger Warning: Domestic Violence, Trauma

Read more at the Washington Post.

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Shooting in Paris: 12 Dead After Attack on Satirical Magazine ‘Charlie Hebdo’

Armed with AK-47s and a rocket-launcher, three masked attackers opened fire in the office of a French newspaper, killing two police officers and ten staff. After hijacking a car, the attackers are currently on the run. Parisian authorities are evacuating local schools and guarding other newspaper offices as they scour the city.

According to the Guardian, French President François Hollande has described the shooting as “a terrorist attack, without a doubt” and raised the terror alert in Paris to its highest level. This would not be the first time the magazine was subjected to terrorist attack. In an analysis of Charlie Hebdo’s commitment to satire, the Guardian reports:

In November 2011, the magazine’s offices were fire-bombed after it published a special edition, supposedly guest-edited by the prophet Muhammad and temporarily renamed “Charia Hebdo”. The cover was a cartoon of Muhammad threatening the readers with “a hundred lashes if you don’t die laughing”.

The petrol bomb attack completely destroyed the Paris offices, the magazine’s website was hacked and staff were subjected to death threats. But that did not deter the magazine, whose editor, Stéphane Charbonnier, has received death threats and lives under police protection.

Many have taken to twitter to show their support for the magazine, using the hashtag #JeSuisCharlieHebdo (“I am Charlie Hebdo”).

We ask for your prayers for the families of victims as well as for those who continue to search for the attackers.

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Leaders Across all Faiths Gather for Joint Declaration Against Modern Slavery

“There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.” Galatians 3:28

Thirty-five million people are trapped in a form of modern slavery.

35 million. Let that sink in.

Last week, the campaign to end human trafficking took a large step forward. Religious leaders from the Christian Catholic, Anglican, and Orthodox traditions joined with Hindu, Buddhist, Jewish, and Muslim leaders to jointly declare their intention to end modern-day slavery. The Joint Declaration of Religious Leaders Against Modern Slavery reads:

We pledge ourselves here today to do all in our power, within our faith communities and beyond, to work together for the freedom of all those who are enslaved and trafficked so that their future may be restored. Today we have the opportunity, awareness, wisdom, innovation and technology to achieve this human and moral imperative.

The moral imperative to end human slavery transcends every religious doctrine.

Christian Scripture affirms that “there is neither slave nor free, for you are all one in Christ.” The Qu’ran confirms the divine dignity of each human stating, “God has given dignity to the all children of Adam” (The Noble Qur’an, 17:70). The command to “protect the stranger in our midst” (Exodus 22:21) appears 36 times in the Torah — which according to the Talmud is more often than the laws of the Sabbath or of keeping kosher. Hindu leader, Her Holiness Mata Amritanandamayi called human enslavement, “an open wound on the body of modern society.”

Each major religious tradition acknowledges the inherent God-given dignity of each being. An excerpt from the declaration affirms that:

In the eyes of God, each human being is a free person, whether girl, boy, woman or man, and is destined to exist for the good of all in equality and fraternity. Modern slavery, in terms of human trafficking, forced labour and prostitution, organ trafficking, and any relationship that fails to respect the fundamental conviction that all people are equal and have the same freedom and dignity, is a crime against humanity.

An international faith declaration will not change the complex causes, intricate networks and international power structures that run deeply through the roots of modern slavery.

Yet, it is a start.

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Shooting at Florida State University

Early Thursday morning a gunman opened fire in a library at Florida State University, wounding three students before being fatally shot by police officers. Wielding a handgun, the shooter entered the library and forced hundreds of students studying for exams to flee or take cover behind bookshelves. NBC News reports:

FSU Police Department Chief David Perry said the library was “packed with students studying for final exams” and estimated that there were 300 to 400 people in the building. One group of students sought refuge behind rows of bookshelves. “Everyone started running to one side of the library, then to the back,” one 20-year-old communications student who asked not to be identified told NBC News. “People were saying, ‘Gun! There’s a shooter! Go! Go! Go!’" She said her group hid among bookcases for what she said felt like 20 minutes. Once given the all-clear, the group was escorted to a campus building next door where they stayed until 4 a.m.

Although the identity of the shooter is unknown, police officers believe he was acting alone and that there is no further threat to students at FSU.

WATCH the police report:

Read more.

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#SurvivorPrivilege

In his opinon column published on June 6, George Will suggests that colleges have "become the victims of progressivism," blaming a proliferation of victims on government overreach. In his first paragraph, Will disregards the validity of sexual assult on campuses, as he says:

[Colleges and universities] are learning that when they say campus victimizations are ubiquitous (“micro-aggressions,” often not discernible to the untutored eye, are everywhere), and that when they make victimhood a coveted status that confers privileges, victims proliferate. And academia’s progressivism has rendered it intellectually defenseless now that progressivism’s achievement, the regulatory state, has decided it is academia’s turn to be broken to government’s saddle.

In response to his article, survivors have taken to Twiter with #SurvivorPrivilege

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Japanese-American Human Rights Activist Yuri Kochiyama Dies at 93

Yuri Kochiyama, a Japanese-American human rights activist, died on Sunday at the age of 93. Kochiyama's family was among those Japanese-Americans interned by the United States during World War II.

NPR reports on her work:

Living in housing projects among black and Puerto Rican neighbors inspired her interest in the civil rights movement. Kochiyama held weekly open houses for activists in the family's apartment, where she taped newspaper clippings to the walls and kept piles of leaflets on the kitchen table. "Our house felt like it was the movement 24/7," said her eldest daughter Audee Kochiyama-Holman.

Kochiyama is also known for rushing towards Malcom X after his assination, where she appeared images of the incident, according to NPR:

Minutes after gunmen fired at Malcolm X in 1965 during his last speech in New York City, she rushed towards him and cradled his head on her lap. A black-and-white photo in Life magazine shows Kochiyama peering worriedly through horn-rimmed glasses at Malcolm X's bullet-riddled body.

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Author and Poet Maya Angelou Dies at 86

Maya Angelou, a renowned author, poet and civil right activist, has died at 86. Angelou, know for her autobiography I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, also authored six other autobiographies along with numerous collections of poems.

Throughout her career, Angelou she was active in the Civil Rights movement, working with Martin Luther King, Jr. and Malcolm X. She also served a one point as the Northern Coordinator for the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, a group founded following the Montgomery Bus Boycott by Dr. King and others.

NBC News reports her numerous achievements: 

Angelou was born on April 4, 1928, in St. Louis, Missouri, under the name Marguerite Annie Johnson. She grew up to become a singer, dancer, actress, writer and Hollywood's first female black director.

Angelou had an impressive list of accolades: She was a three-time Grammy winner and was nominated for a Pulitzer, a Tony, an an Emmy for her role in the groundbreaking television mini-series "Roots."

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The Families of Colombia's 'False Positive' Victims Are Still Fighting For Justice

Sojourners editors Rose Berger, Elizabeth Palmberg, and photographer Ryan Rodrick Beiler have all covered stories in the Colombian drug wars.
 
We've visited the Christian base communities. We've traveled with Witness for Peace. We stood in the cash-yielding coca fields of subsistence farmers. We've met with the priests and Protestant pastors who spend more time burying their congregants than marrying them. We've prayed with the families.
 
Writing for VICE, Ellie Mae O'Hagan continues the story of dangerous peacemaking and the demand for justice in Colombia:
I was there with the NGO Justice for Colombia to hear about the country's 'false positives' scandal, which first broke five years ago and shows no sign of relenting any time soon. The scandal has its roots in the Colombian 50-year civil war between the government and the left-wing peasant insurgent group FARC. In the early 2000s, then-president Alvaro Uribe, out of an apparent concern for the army’s reputation, started putting pressure on soldiers to increase their kill figures.
 
According to media reports, soldiers were promised cash payments and more vacation time if they produced the bodies of dead FARC guerrillas—an accusation the government denies. In an effort to increase their quotas, soldiers allegedly started luring young, impoverished men away from their homes with the offer of work. Once away from their families, the soldiers executed the men, dressed them up in guerrilla uniforms, and presented them as combat kills. Many victims were dismembered and buried hundreds of miles away from their families.

Read more.

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Egypt's Christians Under Attack: Interactive Map

Since the July 3 ousting of former president Mohammed Morsi, Christians in Egypt have faced a shocking spike in violent attacks. Human rights groups in the country claim that to date, Egyptian authorities have not prevented the persecution. 

Christians make up nearly one-tenth of Egypt's population of 80 million. While Egypt's Coptic Christians have faced longstanding persecution, many are reporting that tensions between Sunni Muslims and minority Christians are the highest they have been for decades. USA Today reports:

Churches, houses, monasteries, orphanages, schools and businesses belonging to Copts were attacked in nine provinces "causing panic, losses and destruction for no reason and no crimes they committed except being Christians," the Maspero Youth Union, a Coptic activist group, said Thursday.

Youssef Sidhom, editor-in-chief of the Christian weekly Watani, said the recent attacks are painful and vicious but it be worse if they are allowed to divide the two faiths.

USA Today has created an interactive map with real-time updates on attacks on Christian institutions, stretching from Alexandria to Qena. View the map here.

Read more of USA Today's story here.

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Afghanistan's Children of War

The United Nations issued a report on Wednesday stating that the number of civilians killed or wounded in Afghanistan rose by 23 percent in the first six months of 2013, with women and children faring the worst — killed by roadside bombs almost every day. An earlier UN report noted that

"Afghanistan remains one of the most dangerous places in the world to be a child."

Over a third of Afghans are living in abject poverty, violence is escalating as NATO forces withdraw, and years of international aid has done little to decrease the abuse of women and children.

Click here to see the Atlantic's photos series on Afghan children.

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Bradley Manning Acquitted of 'Aiding the Enemy'

A military judge ruled Tuesday that Pfc. Bradley Manning was not guilty of aiding the enemy. In 2010, he was arrested for allegedly passing classified materials to the website WikiLeaks. If Manning had been found guilty of aiding the enemy, he could have been sentenced to life in prison. The sentencing phase of the trial will begin Wednesday.

The New York Times reports:

Private Manning had already confessed to being WikiLeaks’ source for a huge cache of government documents, which included videos of airstrikes in which civilians were killed, hundreds of thousands of front-line incident reports from the Afghanistan and Iraq wars, dossiers on men being held without trial at the Guantánamo Bay prison, and about 250,000 diplomatic cables.

But while Private Manning had pleaded guilty to a lesser version of the charges he was facing, which could expose him to up to 20 years in prison, the government decided to press forward with a trial on a more serious version of the charges, including “aiding the enemy” and violations of the Espionage Act, which could result in a life sentence.

Read more

Image: Bradley Manning photo hangs on lightpost, photo by savebradley / Flickr.com

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DRONE WATCH: U.S. Reduces Strikes in Pakistan

In response to criticism, the U.S. has drastically reduced the number of drone strikes in Pakistan and is limiting them to “high-value targets.” The Associated Press reports:

The CIA has been instructed to be more cautious with its attacks, limiting them to high-value targets and dropping the practice of so-called "signature strikes" - hitting larger groups of suspected militants based purely on their behavior, such as being armed and meeting with known militants, said a current U.S. intelligence official and a former intelligence official briefed on the drone program. …

Two other senior American officials said the U.S. scaled back the number of attacks and tightened up its targeting criteria as a concession to the Pakistani army, considered the most powerful institution in the country and the final arbiter on the future of the drone program.

Read more here.

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Senator John McCain: Arizona's Stand Your Ground Law Should Be Reviewed

Sen. John McCain is requesting review of the recently publicized “stand your ground” law in the state of Arizona. Following an outpouring amount of controversy over the acquittal of George Zimmerman in the Trayvon Martin case, McCain is requesting action from Arizona state officials by asking them to reconsider the rules and regulations of the law. The Huffington Post reports:

Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) said on Sunday that while he does not question the decision of the jury in the Trayvon Martin case, he does think all states, including his own, should review their "stand your ground" laws.

Read more here.

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