Whenever I give talks on the effects of the Israeli occupation on Palestinian livelihood, the status of nonviolence as a means to resisting the occupation, and how I believe nonviolence is the only way to move forward to resolve the conflict and create a lasting peace between Israelis and Palestinians, one of the first and immediate questions I get from foreign visitors to my office in Bethlehem is, What you said is good, but what about the Muslims? Do they also believe in nonviolence? Do they understand it?" Even if I don't mention religion in my presentation -- and I rarely do -- this question always seems to make its way in our discussions.
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.
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.
The other day the mail brought an advertisement for something I desperately need (or so the ad suggested). If I ordered it right now, the ad said, I would save a hefty percentage off the usual price. In vain I searched the flyer for the price. None was listed -- not the total, not my monthly payment. I was apparently supposed to place my faith in the kindly marketers and order it anyway.
I guess I should be used to this sort of marketing. After all, that's how our federal government does business. Shall we a. fight a war in Iraq? b. add a war in Afghanistan? c. subsidize medical care for seniors and the poor? d. rescue failed financial institutions? e. subsidize growers of corn and soybeans? or f. fund interstate highways?
How strange sightings, the Cold War, and the national security state add up to a truth we'll never know.
[Editors' note: As part of Sojourners' campaign to end the war in Afghanistan, we will run a weekly blog about issues in Afghanistan to educate our readers about the latest news and developments related to the war, the U.S. military's strategy, and the people impacted by our decisions. Read more about our campaign at www.sojo.net/afghanistan.]
The United States government has quietly terminated a popular exchange program for high school students from Afghanistan after numerous participants fled to Canada as refugees rather than return home.
The program, the State Department's Youth and Exchange Study (YES), was established in 2002 to provide scholarships to students from countries with significant Muslim populations, and "allows participants to spend up to one academic year in the U.S. while they live with host families, attend high school and learn about American society and values." In 2007, YES Abroad was established to provide a similar experience for U.S students in selected YES countries.
After months of good-faith reforms and patience, the drama is back in Egypt's Tahrir Square as protesters are preparing for a potential showdown with the state's military rule. The movement, among other things, is demanding an end to military rule -- a more radical call that reflects both the frustration with the status quo and the hope for a better way.
Two weeks ago, at the "Day of Persistence," Egypt saw its largest resurgence of public protest since former President Hosni Mubarak was ousted in February. The nation-wide protests show Egyptians camping out in Cairo's Tahrir Square, staging sit-ins and blocking traffic in Alexandria, and threatening to shut down Suez's tunnel access to Sinai. So why are the people confronting -- albeit nonviolently -- an interim government that has promised elections and a new constitution? A glance at the collective demands drafted in Tahrir Square make clear that the movement's demands -- both political and economic -- have not progressed much under the military rule of the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces.
It's funny the things that you remember. I can remember one time when I was a teenager watching an episode of the Montel Williams show. I don't remember the topic, but I do remember Montel criticizing the U.S. government for spending too much money on military defense and not enough on domestic needs. I remember thinking to myself, "That's the stupidest thing I've ever heard." In the world that I knew, the idea of slashing military spending was absolutely, totally, utterly UNTHINKABLE! I personally had never met anyone who thought that way, so I assumed that anyone who would suggest such a thing had to be either a) naive; b) stupid; c) a tree-hugger; or d) unAmerican.
That was then.
I don't know if it's because I changed or because America has changed (or both), but for years it seemed like the only ones who suggested slashing military spending were groups that few Americans could identify with: like hippies, pacifists, environmental and civil rights activists, and conspiracy theorists. Today, the idea that a significant portion of the nation's economic woes is due to wasteful Pentagon spending can be found both on the left and on the right ends of the political spectrum. It can also be found in the Pentagon.
Meet "Mr. Y."
[Editors' note: As part of Sojourners' campaign to end the war in Afghanistan, we will run a weekly Afghanistan news digest to educate our readers about the latest news and developments related to the war, the U.S. military's strategy, and the people impacted by our decisions. Read more about our campaign at www.sojo.net/afghanistan.]
- Afghan president's half brother killed by a bodyguard: "President Hamid Karzai's half brother, the most powerful man in southern Afghanistan and a lightning rod for criticism of corruption in the government, was assassinated Tuesday by a close associate."
Don't get me wrong -- I love sitting behind my computer here at Sojourners, or proofreading a stack of magazine-pages-to-be, fresh from Art Director Ed Spivey's printer. But sometimes there's no substitute for being on the scene, live and in person.