The Common Good
July-August 1995

Incident at the Border

by Rachel Johnson, Aaron McCarroll Gallegos | July-August 1995

Canada detains our publisher.

Live From Death Row, the new book by inmate Mumia Abu-Jamal, continues to stir controversy. Abu-Jamal, an award-winning journalist, was convicted and sentenced to death in 1982 for the murder of a Philadelphia police officer, though many, including the human rights organization Amnesty International, question the fairness of his trial. Last year, National Public Radio abruptly canceled commentaries it had recorded with Abu-Jamal because of pressure from Philadelphia's Fraternal Order of Police and members of the slain officer's family.

After the publication of Live From Death Row, which is a strong indictment of America's prison system, Abu-Jamal was reprimanded for continuing to write. "So strongly does the state object to my writing they have begun to punish me (while I'm in the most punitive section that the system allows) for daring to speak and write the truth," Abu-Jamal wrote just after his death warrant was signed in June.

Abu-Jamal, whose execution date is set for August 17, 1995, was recently visited on death row by Steve Wiser, a Bruderhof pastor. Wiser said that Live From Death Row is being smeared by the big news networks, and while Abu-Jamal felt some sorrow about this, he wasn't bitter. "I have no time for bitterness," Wiser quoted Abu-Jamal as saying. "I'm too busy being blessed."

"Mumia has suffered tremendously," said Wiser, "but he has gone beyond hatred and bitterness to a real peace, and actually a real love. He's not a Christian or a Muslim, yet he has a very deep grasp of Jesus-far deeper than most Christians. Jesus was tried and put on death row by the state and executed. And here American 'Christians' are doing the same to Abu-Jamal." Wiser said that, at the least, Abu-Jamal deserves a fair trial.

Mumia Abu-Jamal passed on a word specifically for Sojourners readers, urging them to speak out against the death penalty. "Any voice against the death penalty," Abu-Jamal said, "is a voice crying aloud in the wilderness."

Ending Child Prostitution

The organization End Child Prostitution in Asian Tourism (ECPAT), estimates that more than one million children are involved in Asia's sex trade. This fast-growing international market is the result of the pressures of poverty in Asian countries as well as the consumer demand from countries such as the United States, Germany, Australia, Japan, Holland, and several in the Middle East that encourage this type of industry.

In a climate of economic disparity, children are often tricked into prostitution with promises of legal job opportunities or are sold into prostitution by family members. Sex tourism in Asian countries is often perpetuated by government and law enforcement officials who reap the benefits of the trade. Because consumers are demanding prostitutes who are less likely to have been exposed to the AIDS virus, younger and younger children-even those under the age of 10-are now being forced into prostitution in greater numbers.

Efforts to end child prostitution are being made on both the global and local levels. Groups such as ECPAT are attempting to educate the public and push for legislation, especially in "consumer nations," against child prostitution. ECPAT has organized a conference for August 1996 that will include groups such as the World Health Organization, the International Labor Office, and the Working Group of the Convention on the Rights of the Child. ECPAT may be contacted at 500 Huron, Toronto, Ontario, M5R 2R3, Canada; (416) 323-9726.

Individuals are also combating child prostitution in their communities. The Washington Post recently profiled Anuradha Koirala in Nepal who organized a shelter for children rescued from brothels and for those in danger of being enslaved by prostitution. She not only provides them with shelter and food but offers them loans to start their own small businesses such as fruit stands. Koirala maintains the shelter by personally borrowing money and through private donations. She has also organized police, college students, professionals, and activists to go into the community and convince people not to sell their children into prostitution.

Cutting a Deal With the American Family?

The Christian Coalition released its 10-point "Contract With the American Family" on May 17 with the support of a host of Republican leaders, including House Speaker Newt Gingrich, and presidential candidate Sen. Phil Gramm.

Included in the contract are proposals to end current limits on public religious expression such as school prayer; transfer federal funding for the Department of Education to families and local school boards; ban late-term abortions and cut off federal funding for organizations such as Planned Parenthood that offer abortion as an option; restrict access to pornography on cable television and the Internet; and end federal funding for the National Endowment for the Arts and Humanities, the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, and the Legal Services Corporation, which offers legal aid to low-income people.

The executive director of the Christian Coalition, Ralph Reed, stated that the proposals are "10 suggestions, not the Ten Commandments." The Contract with the American Family, says Reed, "is not an attempt to legislate family values, but to urge Washington to value families."

Maybe so, but Reed also mentioned that the Christian Coalition will spend $2 million in a nationwide campaign to enact its proposals. And Newt Gingrich declared that House Republicans would push for a floor vote on each measure of the Christian Coalition's agenda.

The contract also encourages the support of private charities through the transformation of public welfare programs into "a system of private and faith-based compassion." Bread for the World, a faith-based anti-hunger organization, points out that in order for churches to do this, each congregation in the United States would have to raise an additional $190,000 over the next five years to make up for the $66 billion in cuts that the House of Representatives have approved.

Many religious leaders criticized the proposal, including those representing Quakers, United Methodists, American Baptists, the United Church of Christ, and the Presbyterian Church (USA).

"Most poor people live in families too, and those families need food for their children and jobs that pay," said David Beckmann, Bread for the World's president. "If there is to be a Contract With the American Family, it must include provisions to reduce massive hunger, poverty, and joblessness."

The Rush to Judgment

While the blame for the Oklahoma City bombing quickly turned away from the Middle East with the arrest of suspect Timothy McVeigh, it wasn't soon enough for one family. In fact, a report published by the Council on American-Islamic Relations, A Rush to Judgment, cites 227 incidents of anti-Muslim harassment and hate crimes in the days after the bombing.

The study reports that on April 20-one day after the federal building was blown up-the home of Sahar Al-Muwsawi and her family, Iraqi refugees in Oklahoma City, was attacked. The assailants shattered the windows of the family's home and shouted anti-Muslim insults, causing Sahar Al-Muwsawi to miscarry and deliver a stillborn son. The family named the child Salaam, which means "peace" in Arabic, and held a simple funeral according to Islamic tradition.

Briefly Noted

In a joint effort, the Mennonite Central Committee and the Honduran Mennonite Peace and Justice Committee led a successful movement of religious, grassroots, and human rights organizations to abolish the peacetime military draft in Honduras. While the voluntary military service law eases fears of forced conscription, it only abolishes obligatory military service in times of peace. Work is still being done to obtain conscientious objection and alternative service legislation during wartime.

The United Farm Workers announced that it has reached an agreement with Chateau Ste. Michelle winery in the state of Washington. The deal ended a boycott against the winery that the UFW declared in 1991 and provided for Washington's first farm labor election. In early June, farm workers voted 53-33 to be represented by the UFW. n

Incident at the Border: Canada detains our publisher

Joe Roos, publisher of Sojourners and a pastor of Sojourners Community in Washington, D.C., was denied entry into Canada on April 22 while on his way to Ottawa to attend the Associated Church Press (ACP) annual convention. When Canadian immigration officials singled him out at customs and questioned him, Joe acknowledged that he had been arrested seven times and convicted six times for using nonviolent civil disobedience-public praying and singing-to protest U.S. government policies. Canadian immigration officials responded by sending him back to the United States the same day.

Since Joe was convicted of nonviolent civil disobedience within five years-as recently as 1991 when he protested the Persian Gulf war-the Canadian immigration services technically had legitimate grounds for denying him admission. However, Joe believes they erred in not offering him the option of applying for a minister's permit before sending him back to the United States. He hoped his experience would help officials clarify this policy-especially since many people arriving in Canada are seeking asylum from hostile and oppressive conditions.

Joe believes that after the Oklahoma City bombing, Canadian officials were especially sensitive to security concerns. "Though my opposition to my government's policies was nonviolent civil disobedience as opposed to violent acts of opposition," Joe said, "at that point Canadian immigration services were not able to make those kinds of distinctions."

Due to the efforts of the Canadian Church Press, the ACP, and a few members of Parliament, Joe was able to return to Canada two days later for the remainder of the convention-where he ended up being elected president of the ACP. Joe was able to laugh at jokes describing the turn of events as a brilliant campaign tactic before the ACP elections. In hindsight, Joe saw the experience as a "clear opportunity to testify about actions of faith and conscience to another government bureaucracy," which is "part of the reason we do actions of civil disobedience in this country."

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