The Common Good

The Money Trail and Values in Vietnam

Sojomail - June 15, 2005


06.15.2005 www.sojo.net
Quote of the Week » Injustice in Pakistan
Batteries Not Included » David Batstone: The money trail cuts across values in Vietnam
Action Alert » Colombia: No more "fuel for the fire"
Religion and Politics » Will the poor always be with us?
Globe Watch » Forty acres and a burro
Iraq Journal » Muslim Peacemaker Teams
Web Sitings » That's not Right | Left field | Leave me alone
Boomerang » Readers write
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QUOTE OF THE WEEK ^top

"This is all because they think they have the support of the U.S. and can get away with murder."

- Asma Jahangir, Pakistani lawyer and head of the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan, on the case of Mukhtaran Bibi. Bibi was gang-raped, but courageously testified to secure the conviction of her attackers. She then used money from her compensation and international aid to start schools in her community that intentionally served the children of those who wronged her. The Pakistani government has responded to the international attention her case has received by arresting her and holding her incommunicado - at the same time releasing those who raped her.

Source: The New York Times



BATTERIES NOT INCLUDED ^top

The money trail cuts across values in Vietnam
by David Batstone

I just returned from a two-week jaunt to Vietnam. As most of you know, Vietnam operates under one of the world's few remaining communist political systems. For the past 30 years, both North and South have been united under one government. Remarkably, about five years ago, the Vietnamese government made a public commitment to capital free markets. Once disdained, foreign investment suddenly became a welcome friend - that is, as long as the investment was made in venture with a Vietnamese-based company.

My trip started in Hanoi in the North, and continued to Ho Chi Minh City (formerly Saigon) in the South. I have many Polaroids to share, but one in particular - the story of Thuy - is worth telling.

Thuy was one of our Vietnamese guides. The 30-year-old woman was born right around the time of the fall of Saigon. She never experienced the American war in Vietnam. The only enemy she knew was poverty.

Both her parents were grammar school teachers. The government paid teachers a small salary, but it was barely enough to live on. Thuy cannot recall more than a few meals in her childhood that involved more than rice and a vegetable. Some days there was not even enough rice.

Thuy's parents could feed her mind adequately. They put a priority on education for all their children. By the time they reached 18, Thuy and her siblings were prepared for university. Thuy wanted to be involved in international relations, so she applied and was accepted to study in Russia, all expenses paid by the government. She focused her studies on languages, becoming proficient in Russian and English.

Today Thuy works in a government agency for women's development. Most of the time, she manages a project that offers small loans to women entrepreneurs, as well as social service clinics that address women's health needs. Thuy occasionally acts as a tour guide for visiting foreign groups like ours.

Thuy told me her family is far from wealthy today, but they now enjoy an abundance of food. The free markets are booming and are making a major social impact. The entrepreneurial energy in Vietnam is palpable; every corner is a hub of commercial activity. The government now can afford to pay livable wages to teachers.

Undoubtedly that is why Thuy is so grateful for the Vietnamese experiment. She directly benefited from free education and health care. Her family members also have had their lives transformed by the changing economics of free markets. Her work today promotes both: micro-capital for one-person businesses and delivery of free health care. Thuy is the embodiment of all that is right with Vietnam.

A curious thing: Many of my students and I noticed that this sacrificial, yet adventurous spirit was not atypical in Thuy's generation. It was quite inspiring, to be honest. Among a younger generation, on the other hand, we detected more aggression and downright animosity in our interactions, be they social or commercial exchanges. I asked Thuy about this impression, cautious of making a generalization based on limited experience.

Thuy confirmed what we were sensing, confessing to the same concerns. She was quick to point out that we would find that attitude only among young people in major cities, not in the rural areas. Her explanation was fascinating: the current generation of urban young people, the first fruits of a free-market economy, have much higher expectations for material gain. To put in shorthand, they want their own iPod, and they want it now. The inability of most to find the financial means to match their desires caused great frustration.

A Hindu master once remarked, "Quenching our desires with material gain is like seeking to extinguish a burning fire with butter." It seems no matter how much better off we are today than we were yesterday, we cannot answer the question: how much is enough?

I will watch with great interest how the Vietnamese government manages to stoke a flame essential for warmth in a cold, cruel world, which is at the same time a force that threatens to spill over the fire trails it so meticulously grooms.


Learn more:

+ Read about human rights in Vietnam, including persecution of Christians

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ACTION ALERT ^top

Colombia: No more "fuel for the fire"


Activists participating in nationwide vigils urge the U.S. to cut funding to the Colombian military. (Photo by Ryan Beiler)
Urge members of Congress to create an opening for peace by supporting an amendment to cut military aid to Colombia. Take action now - before the June 27 vote.

+ Click here to fax a message to your members of Congress

Time is up for Plan Colombia. This U.S./Colombia policy expires in 2005, but the administration is asking Congress to approve an additional $742 million to renew the failed plan. Until there is a plan that can bring hope for Colombia, we reject additional funding for futile military strategies.

In 2000 Colombian Mennonite Church leaders wrote a letter to North American churches to raise awareness of Colombia's internal conflict and the massive U.S. military "aid" package to Colombia legislated that year. Now Ricardo Esquivia, president of the Commission of Restoration, Life and Peace of the Evangelical Council of Colombian Churches, and Colombian Mennonite Church President Peter Stucky write, "[F]ive years have passed since we sent you early warning of the negative effects the military aid sent by the U.S. government to the Colombian government would have on the people and nation of Colombia.

"It pains us to confirm that our prophetic words...have been fatally fulfilled.

"The military aid sent to the Colombian government by the U.S. government through the so-called 'Plan Colombia' has been more than throwing kindling on the fire. It's been like gasoline enflaming the fire that consumes the Colombian society, prolonging and multiplying its lethal effects. [Plan Colombia] has not helped to stop the war, but rather has contributed to its growth."

+ Click here to tell Congress to cut military aid to Colombia


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RELIGION AND POLITICS ^top

Will the poor always be with us?
by Bryant Myers

One sometimes hears Christians, tired with the news of poverty and exploitation around the world, try to deflect the news by reminding us that Jesus said, "The poor will always be with you." This is offered as a way to stop the conversation.

Did Jesus say this? Yes. Does it mean what it appears to mean? Not really. ...

A little curiosity as to where Jesus came up with this statement reveals a rich and challenging understanding about God, his people, and the poor. The section of Deuteronomy that Jesus refers to begins with a complete contradiction of the claim that the poor will always be with you. "There should be no poor among you," states the law in Deuteronomy 15:4.

This unambiguous claim is followed by the reason why this is so. "For in the land the Lord your God is giving you to possess as your inheritance, he will richly bless you." The land that God is going to give Israel has more than enough for everyone. There are to be no poor because there will be enough. And more than enough. "For the Lord your God will bless you as he has promised, and you will lend to many nations but will borrow from none" (Deuteronomy 15:6). There will be a surplus, a surplus that can be traded with the nations of the world.

But there is a condition to the promise. "He will richly bless you, if only you fully obey the Lord your God and are careful to follow all these commands I am giving you today" (Deuteronomy 15:4-5). The blessing and abundance of the Promised Land are dependent on the faithfulness of God's people to God's commands. It is at this point that an apparent contradiction enters the text: "If there is a poor man among your brothers in any of the towns of the land that the Lord your God is giving you, do not be hardhearted or tightfisted toward your poor brother. Rather be openhanded and freely lend to him whatever he needs" (Deuteronomy 15:7-8).

How can this be? We've just been told that "there should be no poor among you," and then we are given instructions as to what to do if there is a poor person. Did Moses get confused? Is this a contradiction?

I don't think so.

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GLOBE WATCH ^top

Forty acres and a burro

Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez has twice been elected president of Venezuela, survived a coup attempt, and won a nationwide referendum on his presidency - despite criticism from the U.S. government and mainstream media of his "authoritarian" tendencies. (No such criticism was initially made of the forces that briefly overthrew his democratically elected government in the 2002 coup.) Now, reports The Christian Science Monitor, Chavez is again arousing controversy with a land reform plan that would take "underutilized" property from owners of large private holdings and give it to the poor.

Land distribution has been the root of many of Latin America's conflicts, with ownership tending to be concentrated in the hands of a few wealthy oligarchs while the vast majority - often indigenous peoples - are impoverished and landless peasants. When Venezuela's first land reform bill passed in 2001, 5.4 million acres of government land was redistributed to 135,000 poor families. However, concerns about environmental degradation have already been taken to court, as some landowners claim their vast holdings are used for eco-tourism and are unsuitable for farming or ranching.

+ Read the full article

+ Read more about Hugo Chavez in Sojourners magazine


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IRAQ JOURNAL ^top

Muslim Peacemaker Teams

Fifteen Iraqi Shia Muslims from Karbala and Najaf traveled to Fallujah to pray with Sunni Muslims and help in cleanup efforts after a U.S. assault on the city in May. The group - called the Muslim Peacemaker Team, which grew out of the Iraqi Human Rights Watch - has been working closely with Christian Peacemaker Teams (CPT) in Iraq since February and joined CPTers for the action. "Members of MPT sought to counter the growing reports of Sunni/Shia sectarian violence and to demonstrate unity in a tense time," CPT reported. CPT, an organization based in the historic peace churches, has been sending teams of nonviolent peacemakers into places of conflict since 1993. MPT has existed now for four months.

+ Read more about the formation of the Muslim Peacemaker Team

+ See photos of the street-cleaning action

+ Read more about Christian Peacemaker Teams in Sojourners magazine



WEB SITINGS ^top

That's not Right

For anonymous but insightful "reflections on the Religious Right, Christianity in the media, and other issues of faith, politics, and culture" (sound familiar?), visit the blog, Religious but not Right.

+ Go there



Left field

Noam Chomsky has decried professional sports for fostering "irrational attitudes of submission to authority" that function as "training in irrational jingoism." Dave Zirin's weekly column, "The Edge of Sports," seeks to prove that you can be a team player and fight the power.

+ Score!



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BOOMERANG ^top

Readers write

Gael Chaney writes from Martinsville, Virginia:

Thank you for printing "Debunking traditional gender roles," by Sandra Dufield [SojoMail 6/9/2005]. As a child of the '60s who came of age on feminism, I am deeply concerned about attempts to take away women's hard-won rights and freedoms. I agree that Satan is telling lies through the church when some of its leaders say that women must always be subservient to men. I'm thankful I belong to the Presbyterian Church (USA), which continues to support women's rights. I pray that my daughter will never be denied the full expression of her abilities - simply because she's female - as happened to me when I was growing up.

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Rachel Javellana writes from Chicago, Illinois:

I appreciated Sandra Dufield's article. I am appalled to hear of teachings meant for husbands and wives (and often misinterpreted to boot) being applied to groups of women and men who are colleagues - not in a marriage relationship. However, I find this article, and most of the discussion on this issue today, ultimately unsatisfying. I am a believer in Jesus and accept the teachings of the Bible, but, particularly as a married woman, I struggle to understand some of its teachings about marriage.

The verse that comes to mind speaks of the husband being the head of his wife, as Christ is the head of the church. No matter how much we say, "Oh, we don't do that anymore," we can't make the apostle Paul take it back, and we can't just ignore it. I am upset by the assumption that these teachings mean that wives are to obey husbands in every respect, but I don't feel that much of the current discourse on the subject clarifies or even directly addresses the issue. Conservatives say, "You have to obey your husband"; liberals say, "No, you don't." So, what are we to do? If the teachings don't mean that, then what do they mean? I certainly don't know. Liberals are defining themselves by their defensive role against conservatives, not by a proactive striving toward divine knowledge and courageous study of the scriptures, and to prepare ourselves for conclusions that - surprise, surprise - might not jibe with the liberal world.

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Kathy Hammerstrom writes from Portland, Oregon:

Judging from the names mentioned in Jim Wallis' article ["A kairos moment on poverty," SojoMail 5/9/2005], it is unsettling to think that half of the world's population (and the majority of adults suffering from poverty), women, were underrepresented in regard to "the diversity of religious leaders and traditions sitting around the table." Until women are recognized in the various faith traditions as equal partners in their religious communities and given real leadership positions as spokespersons, it will be difficult, if not impossible, to bring true balance to our efforts to solve any of the difficult issues affecting our world community.

----------

Shafique Keshavjee writes from Chexbres, Switzerland:

I was very pleased to read in your last issue of SojoMail all what is done against poverty and for the coming meeting of the G8 Summit. In Europe, the image of the American church is so widely negative (Christians supporting in a blind way President Bush, etc.) that it is very important that your actions be better known. I think also that a meeting of Christian American leaders with European ones would be very important.

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Peter Glynn writes from Houston, Texas:

Jim Rice has it right that we must adhere to higher ethical standards than terrorists and dictators ["Guantanamo and human rights: Practicing what we preach" SojoMail 6/10/2005]. Clearly we need to find a solution to Gitmo [Guantanamo]. However, modern international terrorism presents a major legal dilemma for which few people have proposed acceptable solutions. I strongly support human rights. While I am no fan of the far-right hawks, I am increasingly annoyed by the opponents of Gitmo who incessantly whine about U.S. policy but who present no workable solutions or alternatives, short of releasing the detainees, many of whom are murderous thugs. Should we just release these people so that they can go right back to planning the murder of Americans or other innocents? It is very easy to point out problems and there is no shortage of folks who make careers doing so. It is another thing altogether to offer solutions. Let's hear some solutions, please.

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Boomerang is an open forum for all kinds of views that do not necessarily represent those of Sojourners. Want to make your voice heard? Include your name, hometown, and state/province/country in a concise e-mail to: boomerang@sojo.net. We reserve the right to edit for length and clarity.


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