A huge statue of the Virgin Mary towers over churches, monasteries and mosques in the Syrian city of Maaloula, where a dialect of the Aramaic language of Jesus is still spoken.
The town has managed to stay out of the Syrian conflict between Sunni Muslim rebels and the regime of dictator Bashar Assad, as have most of Syria’s 2 million Christians.
But worsening violence has forced the community into a corner: Continuous clashes between the rebels and the regime in this isolated town of 2,000 people as well as other Christian towns over the past two weeks have many Christians worried that they will no longer be allowed to stay neutral.
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.
By now most of the world knows the royal family in England is celebrating the birth of little baby George Alexander Louis. The commentators panted as they caught the first glimpses of the magic baby, about everything from the infant's apparent ability to withstand a media onslaught to the ever-so-newsworthy fact that his father drove the family home with his own two hands.
Meanwhile in Iraq, several hundred prisoners of the infamous Abu Ghraib facility escaped, many of whom were known or suspected members of Al Qaeda. Considering the attention given to the few dozen detainees still held in Guantánamo Bay, it seems reasonable to think that such a breakout would arrest the headlines around the globe.
But instead, we stayed focused for the most part on baby George. I remarked about this to my friend, sharing my concern about the apparent distortion of priorities. He suggested that it simply is a sign of cultural fatigue, or even resignation. Sometimes, after all, these stories that have international importance seem so big, so abstract, and so far away that it is hard to wrap our minds around them. It’s easier instead to set our attention on something more hopeful — albeit remarkably more superficial — that won’t keep us awake at night.
A fundamental principle [of ancient Greek tragedy], often overlooked, is that the double and the monster are one and the same being.
- René Girard, Violence and the Sacred (p. 160)
The debate about the use of drone strikes in the so-called “War on Terror ” has shed light on an inevitable calculus of war: how many civilian casualties can be tolerated in pursuit of our goals? President Barack Obama, in his speech on May 23 at National Defense University, referred to the drone strikes in Pakistan, Yemen, and Somalia, admitting, “It is a hard fact that U.S. strikes have resulted in civilian casualties, a risk that exists in all war.” But of course, our wars and our use of drones were conceived as a legitimate response to the civilian deaths on 9/11 and a defensive maneuver to prevent future attacks.
Obama Defends Drone Attacks
In his speech, Obama further justified the use of drones by stating it reduces the number of civilian casualties compared to boots-on-the-ground wars. Though the numbers are hard to determine, it has been reported by the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation that civilian casualties caused by our invasion of Iraq number somewhere between 55,000 and 60,000. In Afghanistan, from the time reporting began in 2007, the Guardian reports that the total number of civilians who have lost their lives in the armed conflict to be 14,728. For drone strikes, the highest estimates put total civilian deaths at around 950, indisputably a better number.
The Illogical Logic of Violence
Reducing the number of deaths caused by our use of violence is a worthy goal, and Obama does seem genuinely engaged in drawing the number down. So for the sake of argument, I will take him at his word. But (you knew there was a but coming!), he is trapped, as so many of us are, within the logic of violence.
Today, March 19, 2013, is the 10th anniversary of the “Shock and Awe” campaign that was intended to rid the world of the threat of Saddam Hussein’s weapons of mass destruction in Iraq. As it turned out, the threat was a lie. There was ample evidence at the time to prove that the WMDs didn’t really exist, but were manufactured in Saddam’s imagination for political gain.
So why did we fall so easily for this lie? Answers to this question often come via an analysis of the particulars of the Iraqi situation and include discourse about oil fields, geopolitical calculations, even psychological analysis of the relationship of Father and Son Bush. These are good discussions to have. We can learn a great deal from them about our thirst for security and insatiable appetite for oil, political power, and revenge.
"Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons [and daughters] of God.”
Matthew 5: 9 from the Beatitudes
I grew up watching casualty reports from the Vietnam War on TV. My Uncle Bill, a lieutenant colonel in the Air Force, was serving there. My family watched the news every evening to learn about the latest casualty reports. I was too young to understand the anxiety of my parents, but I felt the tension while Uncle Bill was deployed.
As an adult, it’s been a different story. I understand and experience things more fully and have an emotional connection to what I see and hear. That has been true for the last decade. Ten years ago, the Iraq War began. Ten years marked by conflict, violence, and loss. Ten years of debate about why we went to war and why we remained. Ten years dealing with death and injury – 4,488 U.S. deaths and 32,321 soldiers coming home with significant injuries. Suicide rates of soldiers are so high it is impossible to ignore – some while in Iraq and others after returning home. Traumatic brain injuries, grieving families, moral injury, and multiple limb loss are just a few of the constant reminders of the tremendous costs of war. The toll on the nation’s economy has been long lasting as well. The jobless rate among veterans is staggeringly high.
The human toll has been significant. But military personnel aren’t the only causalities of this war. Numbers vary, but statistics tell us more than 100,000 Iraqi citizens also have been killed and nearly 3 million have been displaced.
These figures cannot be ignored. And they are the results of war.
A few weeks back at the Justice Conference we had the chance to sit down with Jeremy Courtney, cofounder of the Preemptive Love Coalition, to tell the story of his amazing work in Iraq providing heart surgery for children.
Special thanks to Matthew Willingham and everyone at the Preemptive Love Coalition for providing us with footage from Iraq to tell their story.
The video below is a first in our new series Sojo Stories, where we sit down with individuals to hear their stories about using their talents for the common good.
We’re approaching the 10th anniversary of the invasion of Iraq — an appropriate time to reflect upon the antiwar ferment that gripped the globe at that time.
Virtually the entire world opposed the U.S.-led invasion. Feb. 15, 2003 was the largest single day of antiwar protest in history. An estimated 10 million people demonstrated against the war in hundreds of cities on every continent — more than a million in London and hundreds of thousands in Barcelona, Rome, Sydney, Berlin, and New York.
John McCain angrily insisted on “right” and “wrong” answers to his questions of Chuck Hagel yesterday. As a theologian and a religious leader, I want to say that John McCain is “wrong.”
I watched the hostile questions that Sen. McCain asked Hagel in the hearings on his nomination for Secretary of Defense. The angry attacks from McCain were about the Iraq War, for which McCain was one of America’s leading advocates. Hagel had previously called the war in Iraq the biggest American foreign policy mistake since Vietnam. Obviously furious, McCain tried to force Hagel to say the last “surge” in Iraq, which McCain had made his cause, was right after all. Despite the aggressive and disrespectful questioning from his former “friend,” Hagel wouldn’t submit to McCain’s demands and said these questions would be subject to history — and to theological morality, to which John McCain has never submitted his views. In fact, his repeated desire to invade other people’s countries is offensive moral hubris.
Ross Douthat posits that President Obama’s nominations of former Sen. Chuck Hagel as Secretary of Defense and John Brennan as Director of the Central Intelligence Agency represent the synthesis of two strains in former President George Bush’s foreign policy. Hagel as one of those who turned against the war in Iraq, and Brennan as one of those who defended controversial counterterrorism policies.
“To the extent that it’s possible to define an “Obama Doctrine,” then, it’s basically the Hagel-Brennan two-step. Fewer boots on the ground, but lots of drones in the air. Assassination, yes; nation-building, no. An imperial presidency with a less-imperial global footprint.
“This is a popular combination in a country that’s tired of war but still remembers 9/11 vividly. Indeed, Obama’s foreign policy has been an immense political success: he’s co-opted foreign policy realists, neutralized antiwar Democrats and isolated Republican hawks.”
Counter-insurgency wars, such as those in Iraq and Afghanistan, frequently place soldiers in morally ambiguous situations. What they did or didn’t do in those situations can leave lasting moral effects. Following an epiphany at an antiwar rally, Rev. Rita Nakashima Brock:
“… has devoted the years since then to tending the spiritual wounds of warriors, seeking theological answers to the condition among veterans called “moral injury.” In her current position at Brite Divinity School in Fort Worth, she has begun the first program in the nation to develop a treatment that she terms 'soul repair.'
“Moral injury might best be defined as an affliction of the soul, as distinct from a specific mental health condition like post-traumatic stress disorder. It arises, to speak in a very broad way, from the way a combatant’s actions in war seem to violate and thus undermine the most deeply held moral beliefs.”
Her “Soul Repair Center” is now teaching congregational leaders how to address moral injury among veterans.
The variation in the proper way to pray is one among several differences that exist between Shiites, who make up about 15 percent of Muslims globally and in America, and the majority of Sunnis. Until recently, those differences mattered little in the United States, where the two groups bonded as Muslim minorities and prayed in the same mosques.
"There weren't enough of either to justify the cost of building sectarian mosques, and because in general, early generation immigrants were less focused on establishing formal houses of worship," said Andrea Stanton, a religious studies professor at the University of Denver.
That is changing, however, as American Shiites are increasingly establishing their own mosques. According to "The American Mosque 2011," a survey sponsored by several Muslim American organizations, 7 percent of roughly 2,100 mosques in America are Shiite, and most have been built in the last 20 years.
One reason: Shiites have become numerous and financially strong enough to manage the expensive process of buying or building their own mosques. Another factor: the growth in Shiite populations as immigrants flee persecution in Iraq, Bahrain, Saudi Arabia, Afghanistan, and Pakistan, where Taliban gunmen recently executed at least 22 Shiite bus passengers.
In September, 2003, I wrote a piece for Sojourners magazine on the "Project for the New American Century," a neo-con organization to which a number of key Bush administration officials had belonged, including Vice President Richard Cheney and Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld. In its grand plan for the future, released in September 2000, it urged a “transformation” of the American military into a robust global presence capable of fighting multiple wars, with a network of bases in critical regions around the world. But, the report said, this transformation was "likely to be a long one, absent some catastrophic and catalyzing event—like a new Pearl Harbor."
From its beginning, the project was obsessed with Iraq.
Only days later after the catastrophic 9/11 attacks, the Project released a letter arguing that "even if evidence does not link Iraq directly to the attack, any strategy aiming at the eradication of terrorism and its sponsors must include a determined effort to remove Saddam Hussein from power in Iraq."
Now it seems that strategy began well before 9/11. In a New York Times op-ed this morning, author Kurt Eichenwald wrote of the series of briefings the Bush White House received from the CIA in the spring and summer of 2001, all warning of an attack to come.
On the PBS Moyers & Company, Bill Moyers recently interviewed Karl Marlantes, a highly-decorated Vietnam veteran, Rhodes Scholar, author, and PTSD survivor. Their deeply moving discussion focused on what happens to young soldiers in combat, the eventual trauma of having killed fellow human beings, and the assistance they need upon returning home.
"'Thou shalt not kill' is a tenet you just do not violate, and so all your young life, that's drilled into your head. And then suddenly, you're 18 or 19 and they're saying, ‘Go get ‘em and kill for your country.' And then you come back and it's like, ‘Well, thou shalt not kill' again. Believe me, that's a difficult thing to deal with," Marlantes tells Bill. "You take a young man and put him in the role of God, where he is asked to take a life - that's something no 19-year-old is able to handle." …
“The people that fight it are going to be fighting these battles, these spiritual, psychological battles most of their lives. And they need help. And I think that we have to be prepared as a nation that if we're going to commit a 19 year old to war, we're going to have to give him some help. And we're going to have to give his family some help. I mean, for every soldier with post-traumatic stress, there's a wife that is sitting there wondering what in the hell is happening to her husband. And why is this- what's going on here? She needs help and the kids need help.”
Earlier this week, former President Jimmy Carter critiqued the United States for its (read: our) deteriorating record on human rights and rule of law in the last decade.
But those responding to Carter's New York Times Op-Ed (“A Cruel and Unusual Record”) have largely missed his main point. In the spirit of the Sermon on the Mount, Carter wants to lead America in removing the log from our own eye in hopes of honoring God and regaining our position as champions of human rights and rule of law.
During his visit to Cairo for the Egyptian elections, Carter met with the Grand Imam of Al Azhar — the most authoritative voice in Sunni Islam. Discussing human rights, religion, and the historic election that was taking place outside, Carter exhibited a rare humility in articulating his convictions. I feel that a whole range of human interactions might be improved if we would each remove the log from our own eye before trying to remove the speck from our neighbor’s.
Sitting with women’s rights activists and top Christian leadership; in private briefings and press conferences, this self-critique proved central to Carter’s efforts to build trust and advance human rights in Egypt and around the world.
After decades of lectures from the White House and U.S. State Department, much of the world has grown tired of the West’s wagging finger and “holier than thou” attitude. There may have been an era when this posture had a greater effect, but the U.S. has lost too much of its moral credibility in the wake of Abu Ghraib, Guantanamo, and drone strikes carried out against the President Obama's “Hit List”.
Last month, White House counter-terrorism adviser John Brennan acknowledged in a public speech at the Woodrow Wilson Center that the United States was using armed unmanned drones to kill alleged militants.
Brennan’s acknowledgement was the only “new” news.
Beginning in earnest under President George W. Bush and dramatically escalating under President Barack Obama, the United States is now using drones in four countries (Afghanistan, Pakistan, Yemen, and Somalia), and has used them in two others (Iraq and Libya). Going by the names Reaper and Predator, firing missiles named Hellfire, the drones are responsible for thousands of deaths, including hundreds of women and children.
There are three major reasons opponents of the unmanned death planes usually give. First, in fighting against terrorist and insurgent organizations, the United States has adopted a kill — not capture — strategy. With a “kill list” of targets, the attacks aim at known or suspected leaders.
Second, the attacks can be carried out with no danger to American troops. Remotely guided from distant locations, drones are a way of carrying out risk-free military operations. Third, with the attacks increasingly under the control of the CIA rather than the military, they can be conducted with a high degree of secrecy. Whom the drones targeted and killed, and how many civilians may have also been killed, is free of scrutiny.
This coming fiscal year, the United States is set to spend more than $640 billion dollars on the Pentagon and war, accounting for more than 60 percent of federal domestic spending. In excess of $85 billion of that will be spent on the war in Afghanistan alone.
This unfathomable amount of money was approved by the House of Representatives in the National Defense Authorization Act. These funds will serve to bring suffering and pain to innocent people, further militarize the world and undermine peace and stability for generations to come—all on the backs of those who struggle at home.
In the backdrop of such spending, we’re told that we’re in a financial crisis. Elected officials tell us it is time to make tough choices. There isn’t enough money for programs like “Meals on Wheels” and for ensuring everyone has access to adequate healthcare. Our schools and bridges must wait to be repaired. New roads and schools must remain unconstructed.
Yet some of us know better.
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