Middle East

A Tribute to Mark O. Hatfield

1100808-markhatfieldMark O. Hatfield's political witness shaped a whole generation of students, teachers, pastors, and social activists in the evangelical community and beyond. The voice of Christians today who plead for social justice and peaceful alternatives to war would not have emerged with its strength and clarity in the 1970s without his leadership. His death underscores the vacuum of such spiritually rooted voices uncompromising in their commitments to peace and justice within the cacophony political rhetoric today.

One of my life's greatest privileges and joys was to work as an assistant to Senator Mark O. Hatfield for nearly a decade, from 1968 to 1977. I saw first-hand what courageous leadership, combined with unswerving compassion and civility, looked like within the political life of that turbulent and formative era. Those experiences are shared in my book, Unexpected Destinations (Eerdmans).

Inspired by Rosa Parks, Israeli and Palestinian Women Take a Swim

'The sun' photo (c) 2007, John - license: http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0/An account in The New York Times by Ethan Bronner reports that Israeli women and West Bank Palestinian women and girls have once again broken Israeli laws. They have gone swimming in the Mediterranean Sea.

More than two dozen Israeli women invited Palestinian women and girls from the southern part of the West Bank of the Jordan River -- who are not normally allowed into Israel and have no access to the sea -- to go swimming with them. Under Israeli military occupation since 1967, according to Bronner, "most had never seen the sea before."

Les Mis

I prefer my revolutions to be simple: A corrupt dictator/tyrant, an oppressed population, inspired reformers who risk their lives, calls for democracy, waves of marchers in the streets, background music from Les Misérables. The stories from Tunis and Cairo were epochal. The Arab spring was in full bloom as calls for participatory government could be heard from every corner of the Middle East.

Then there was Syria. The Assad government has been infamous in its intolerance to dissent. It is a military regime whose 30-year leadership under Hafez al-Assad (1930-2000) established it as one of the most severe in the region. In 2,000, after the death of Hafez, the world was intrigued to see his second son -- Bashar al-Assad -- ascend the throne. Bashar was an ophthalmologist who had studied in London, but because of his older brother's death in a car accident in 1994, he was called to follow his father. Bashar speaks English and French fluently and has been as critical of the U.S. as he has been of Israel.

Extremism, Terrorism, and the Attack in Norway

Similar to many of my Western counterparts, my first thoughts when I first heard about the attacks in Norway went to extreme Islamic terrorism. I had heard about the growing tensions in Scandinavia because of the increasing Muslim population and cultural shifts arising as a result. Thus, when I heard through a friend that a Norwegian school had been attacked, I assumed the attack to be a response from a Muslim terrorist group. I asked if it was al Qaeda or such other organization. My friend responded, "Probably." Thus, you can imagine my surprise when I saw the picture of the suspect who appeared very Scandinavian with fair skin and complexion.

According to the New York Times, the attacks in Oslo killed at least 92 people and the orchestrator left behind "a detailed manifesto outlining preparations and calling for Christian war to defend Europe against the threat of Muslim domination." If I had read that statement out of context, I would think one was talking about the Christian Crusades of the 12th century.

'We Are All One'

Hassan opened several letters and his eyes filled with tears as he caught the gist of the messages. "People were praying for us?" Hassan asked. "Thousands were praying all over the world," Andrew answered. "That explains it. There were times when I felt I couldn't go on anymore, and then I would feel a power beyond me as though there were others who were taking my suffering and carrying it for me." Andrew was moved by these words. "Hassan, that is exactly what happens. The scriptures say that when one part of the body suffers, all suffer. We are called to share in one another's suffering. When it is more than you can bear, there are others who, prompted by the Holy Spirit, pray for you and somehow remove some of that burden from you."

In that passage from Secret Believers, written by Brother Andrew and Al Janssen, Hassan represents a composite of thousands of Christians in numerous countries persecuted and imprisoned for no other reason than their faith in Jesus Christ.

For half a century the Dutch Christian called Brother Andrew has been ministering to persecuted Christians -- in Eastern Europe, the former Soviet Union, China, and now the Middle East. I met Brother Andrew in Bethlehem, where he asked me to pray for him as he headed to Gaza. At a time when many Christians seem to view Muslims as the ultimate enemy, Brother Andrew sees them as God-seekers who need the love of Jesus manifested through his followers who extend the hand of friendship. He reveals his own sincere love for Muslims -- even extremists -- as he visits them, hears their anguish, and respectfully presents the living Christ to them.

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8 Inspiring Movies About Social Change

1100629-gandhifilmAh the joy of watching movies in the summer! Of course, there are a number of summer blockbusters coming out that will woo crowds to the theaters, but with the sky-high prices of theater tickets these days, nobody will fault you for wanting to stay home and kick back with a rental. If you're looking for a film that will entertain and inspire you, consider adding some of these excellent films about social change to your online queue. If you have any other films to add to this list, please contribute your favorites in the comments section below. (To read more of my film reviews, check out my monthly column in Sojourners magazine.)

'Please Welcome Them'

Two years ago in Jordan, I met an Iraqi doctor whose father, a pastor, had recently been killed by Iraqi insurgents because he refused to close the doors of his Baghdad church. "It's God's church," the pastor told the rebels. "I can't close it." So they shot him and threatened to do the same to his son if the son didn't leave the country. The young doctor began his presentation with video footage of Iraqi citizens being lined up against a wall and executed.

I asked my Jordanian friends what they would say to Americans. "Pray for Iraqi citizens who are suffering," they said, "and care for refugees." They explained that Detroit has one of the the largest Arab populations outside of the Middle East and that many Arab refugees are now settling in the Chicago area as well. "Please welcome them."

The more than 4 million Iraqis who have been displaced in recent years have created one of the "largest humanitarian crises in the world today," according to Michael Kocher, a refugee expert at the International Rescue Committee. Millions of Iraqis who fled their homes to escape violence remain in desperate conditions in Iraq. Over 1.2 million more live in squalid camps or rundown neighborhoods in Jordan, Syria, and Lebanon.

As in most wars, women in Iraq have been uniquely victimized. In just the first four months of the war, 400 women and girls were abducted and raped. Armed groups target women in order to terrorize families and to force husbands, fathers, or brothers to yield to their demands. Sadly, the terror doesn't end when women flee the country.

Most Iraqi refugees don't have legal status in the countries to which they flee, so they can't work. Economic hardship leads to frustration and tension. Domestic violence is common. Even worse, widows who can’t feed their children are forced into prostitution.

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