WASHINGTON — It’s an idea that feels particularly poignant this Thanksgiving: American Jews and Muslims banding together to help the homeless and other needy people.
The interfaith collaboration has been going on for five years, but the recent exchange of rockets between Gaza and Israel is weighing especially hard on both communities this week. That's why a joint session of sandwich making or a group visit to a nursing home has taken on added significance.
“In this time of warfare it was a beautiful experience to see the two come together,” said Haider Dost, a Muslim student at Virginia’s George Mason University who worked with Jewish students to feed the homeless Sunday in Franklin Park, just blocks from the White House.
A 10-year-old boy holding a grenade approaches a group of soldiers. He does not respond to their shouts. One shoots him with his M-16 and the boy crumbles to the ground, dead.
Did he have a choice? It was do or die, kill or be killed. Still he killed a little boy, and those images still haunt him.
This is a classic example of psychological trauma: A person is put in horrific life-threatening situation where they do not feel they have control. That's the situation he found himself in. It was a no-win scenario — kill a little boy or have you and your friends all die.
Soldier suicides have reached epidemic numbers. As the AP reports, More soldiers are taking their own lives than are falling in battle. Add on top of that, the many who suffer from PTSD, and who as a result find themselves estranged from their home, their loved ones, and indeed from themselves.
Recently, I had the opportunity to visit the DMZ (Demilitarized Zone) between the two Koreas along with a group of students and faculty from George Fox University. As the most fortified border on the entire planet, the DMZ contains an arsenal of tanks, land mines, watchtowers, razor wires, artillery, and nearly two million armed troops ready to face off within a moment’s notice. Former President Bill Clinton described the DMZ as the “scariest place on earth,” a description more eerie coming from one of the few people in history to have had direct access to the “button.”
While observing the various sites within the DMZ, I thought about how the pacifist Quakers, who founded my school in 1885, would have reacted to such an experience.
People of Jesus work against demons — against the forces of evil that eat away at the goodness of God, the wonder of creation, the life of God in the world. Demonic forces roam the world, corrupting minds and bodies, cultures and governments, trying to bring ruin upon all that is good and beautiful. They dehumanize, devastate, and destroy life.
Weaponized drones are demons: evil spirits of the air, specters in the heavens, shadowy presences. They are forces of evil in heavenly places, triggering mental anxiety and bodily harm, instigating psychological damage and death, raining down terror and trauma.
Editor's Note: The following is a transcript of President Barack Obama's remarks to the UN General Assembly in New York City on Tuesday, in which he condemns global violence and extremism, framing the speech around the recent tragedy at the U.S. consulate in Libya.
THE PRESIDENT: Mr. President, Mr. Secretary General, fellow delegates, ladies and gentleman: I would like to begin today by telling you about an American named Chris Stevens.
Chris was born in a town called Grass Valley, California, the son of a lawyer and a musician. As a young man, Chris joined the Peace Corps, and taught English in Morocco. And he came to love and respect the people of North Africa and the Middle East. He would carry that commitment throughout his life. As a diplomat, he worked from Egypt to Syria, from Saudi Arabia to Libya. He was known for walking the streets of the cities where he worked -- tasting the local food, meeting as many people as he could, speaking Arabic, listening with a broad smile.
Chris went to Benghazi in the early days of the Libyan revolution, arriving on a cargo ship. As America’s representative, he helped the Libyan people as they coped with violent conflict, cared for the wounded, and crafted a vision for the future in which the rights of all Libyans would be respected. And after the revolution, he supported the birth of a new democracy, as Libyans held elections, and built new institutions, and began to move forward after decades of dictatorship.
Chris Stevens loved his work. He took pride in the country he served, and he saw dignity in the people that he met. And two weeks ago, he traveled to Benghazi to review plans to establish a new cultural center and modernize a hospital. That’s when America’s compound came under attack. Along with three of his colleagues, Chris was killed in the city that he helped to save. He was 52 years old.
In the bright light of these days’ events it is helpful to be reminded of unalterable truths that transcend party conventions and oppressive governments. The political gatherings and increasing pain of the Middle East conflicts confuse the consciousness. They divert attention and trouble our slumber. Corporate callousness and individual hopelessness has set in and we have turned our faces to that which inures us from the persistent discomforting news.
Pick your own, even if momentary distraction. For me it has been Washington National’s baseball in the drive for a championship and maybe a World Series appearance. My spirit rises or falls on the team’s performances and batting averages of the Nats mini gods.
The biblical Job sought less superficial solace from his and the world’s sufferings. He responded to one of his “comforters” saying “when the land falls into the hand of the wicked He (God) blindfolds its judges” (9:24).
“Stop fighting,” suggests Farzana, a brave 22-year-old Afghan stage actress.
Significantly, her statement is in sharp contrast to what seems to be the democratic world’s unquestioned modus operandi of today, exemplified by U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s pet-phrase for Afghanistan, ‘Fight, talk and build.’
What Farzana and the Afghan Peace Volunteers are sensibly suggesting is a ceasefire.
A ceasefire — like the one called for in Kofi Annan’s Six Point Peace Plan for Syria that Farzana and the Afghan Peace Volunteers also supported — is a first step towards ending the equally sectarian war and incendiary global politicking in Afghanistan.
It is crucially needed to stop the color-code chaos of ‘green-on-blue’ attacks in which 45 coalition security forces, mainly Americans, have been killed by "allies," Afghan security forces, or insurgents posing as soldiers or police.
It is what is needed to end the four Afghan decades of using mutual killing as a method of conflict resolution. The U.N. is uniquely well-positioned to do this, empowered by their original Charter to "remove the scourge of war from future generations."
Anne Montgomery died this week. I remember her words to me and to our young Iraqi friend Eva, sitting in the Al Monzer hotel in Amman, Jordan. This was in 2006, and she’d waited three weeks for a visa to enter Iraq as a peace witness. Anne had crossed into zones of conflict more times than any other activist I’d known. During these weeks with us, she’d been meeting and working with Iraqi refugees, many of them undocumented and struggling to eke out a living in Jordan.
Now the wait was over. The visas were not forthcoming, and Anne had decided she was needed most in the Palestinian West Bank city of Hebron, where the Christian Peacemaker Team — at that point, she had been a “CPT-er” for 11 years — was particularly short staffed and had requested a month of her time. She was going to attempt the crossing from Jordan into Israel by taxi, since Israel could very well have refused her entry, and we were to save a bed for her. But for the moment, we treasured the chance to learn from her in case this was a parting.
It was, and a greater parting has now come, so I take comfort in her words, and rededicate myself to taking direction from them.
In the spring of 2003 I made myself a T-shirt. It said: "We Are All Rachel Corrie." I wore it as a constant reminder of the cost demanded of those who are peacemakers.
On March 16, 2003, 23-year-old Rachel Corrie, a member of the International Solidarity Movement stood with others to defend a Palestinian home from demolition by Israeli Defense Forces. The photos of Rachel, in her bright red ISM jacket, confronting the Goliath earth mover were some of the first indications Americans had of how the IDF was using bulldozers as weapons of war. Though Rachel was plainly visible to the driver, he continued to move forward, using his machine to crush her to death.
On August 28, Israeli judge Oded Gorshen ll invoked the “combatant activities” exception, noting that IDP forces had been attacked nearby and ruled Corrie’s death an “accident.”
Bishop Kevin Dowling, the Catholic bishop of Rustenburg, South Africa, is co-president with Marie Dennis of Pax Christi International, representing the global Catholic peace movement. The massacre by South African police of 44 striking miners at British-owned Lonmin's platinum mine in Marikana is in Bishop Dowling's diocese. He is an active leader in the Catholic nonviolence movement.
Agenzia Fides reports from Johannesburg:
"Maybe tomorrow, August 29th, there will be the signing of an agreement between the unions and the managers of the platinum mine in Marikana (North West Province, in South Africa). This was reported to Fides Agency by His Exc. Mgr. Kevin Dowling, Bishop of Rustenburg.
"We hope the efforts of the government to sign a reconciliation agreement tomorrow among four trade union organizations and the management of the mine is successful," said Mgr. Dowling.
"Negotiations are still in progress and relate in particular to an increase in wages. Tension is still very high and workers who want to return to work are blocked with threats by strikers," said the Bishop, who is participating in efforts to negotiate with the other Christian leaders who are part of the South African Council of Churches.
On August 16, a union protest in the Marikana mine degenerated into violence: the police shot and killed 34 miners. In the fighting a total of 44 people died. In a statement sent to Fides Agency the Southern African Catholic Bishops'Conference (SACBC) called for a thorough investigation into the massacre and condemned the violence.
Read the rest here.
Agencia Fides, the Vatican news outlet for Catholic missioners, is the only news source for reports about Mussalaha, the popular faith-led peace movement in Syria. With violence fracturing along religious/ethnic lines, this inter-religious movement seeks to maintain safe havens for all Syrians who will lay down their weapons. Mussalaha is also smuggling food, medicine, and hope into blockaded cities, such as Rableh where more than 12,000 Christians have been under siege for more than 10 days.
Agencia Fides reports: Over 12 thousand faithful Greek-Catholics are trapped in the village of Rableh, west of Qusayr, in the area of Homs. Food is scarce, the faithful are living on "bread and water", medicine is lacking to treat the sick and wounded. This is the alarm raised by local sources of Fides that invoke respect for humanitarian law, that confirm what the international press is reporting on the situation in Rableh. For more than ten days the village of Rableh is subject to a strict blockade by armed opposition groups, which surround it on all sides....
...representatives of the popular initiative for reconciliation "Mussalaha" were able to carry a small load of humanitarian aid to the village. A representative of "Mussalaha" assured the faithful by claiming that "everything will be done to allow the delivery of humanitarian aid." An appeal was launched by His Beatitude Patriarch Gregorios III Laham, visibly moved, to all men of good will so that "Rableh is saved and all other villages affected in Syria, and finally for peace to be reached in our beloved country." Even the Apostolic Nuncio in Syria, His Exc. Mgr. Mario Zenari, called on all parties involved "to the strict observance of the international humanitarian law", pointing out that the resolution of the crisis in Syria depends first of all on its citizens.
Read the whole article.
Interethnic violence has flashed through India during the conclusion of the Muslim holy season of Ramadan during which Muslims fast from sunrise to sunset. Catholic leaders in northern India, where Muslim migrants have been particularly targeted, has called for common ground dialogue and hosted meetings with leaders of the conflicted communities based on the Catholic churches long-standing relationships with both communities.
Anto Akkara for ENI NEWS reports:
"Churches are initiating steps to broker peace and restore harmony in the northeast Indian state of Assam, which has been rocked by bloody clashes between local ethnic Bodo people and Muslim migrants.
'We have hosted leaders of both communities twice already. We are now preparing a larger meeting of both communities after Ramadan,"'Roman Catholic bishop Thomas Pulloppillil of Bongaigaon diocese that comprises the troubled region, told ENInews on 15 August 2012.
The clashses have left 78 dead and over 400,000 refugees."
Read the rest of the article here.
Following attacks on seven U.S. mosques in the last two weeks, including three attacks last weekend, many Muslim Americans are approaching the end of Ramadan on Aug. 19 under a cloud of fear as Muslim groups try to increase security without spurring panic.
According to reports, vandals shot paintballs at the Grand Mosque of Oklahoma City on Aug. 12, and in Lombard, Ill., someone threw a bottle filled with acid at an Islamic school while 500 people prayed inside. The night before, a neighbor fired an air rifle at the Muslim Education Center in Morton Grove, Ill., while on Aug. 7, two women were videotaped throwing pig legs on a proposed mosque site in Ontario, Calif.
Four hundred people gathered across from the White House last night with a single message: “We are all Oak Creek.”
Responding to the murder of six Sikh worshippers, the wounding of four others, including police officer Lt. Brian Murphy, and the suicide of perpetrator Wade M. Page, hundreds gathered to stand with the Sikh community as they invited prayers for the victims, the murderer, and his family. "Tonight, we are not Jain, Muslim, Hindu,” announced one speaker, “we are all Sikh tonight. We are all Oak Creek. We will not allow fear to overcome us."
In a response reminiscent of the Amish during the Nickel Mines, Pa., massacre in 2006, the Sikh community, the fifth largest religion in the world, is not used to the national spotlight in the U.S. But neither do they shy away from an opportunity to introduce their faith to a wider audience and to practice what they preach.
Editor's Note: The following is a question from Christian Piatt's book Banned Questions About Jesus. It is on sale on Amazon Kindle for $2.99 through July 25.
Jarrod McKenna: No.
Jesus did not come to bring peace but a sword. And we as disciples must wield the same sword Jesus brings, and no other.
The question is, what is this sword?
What is this sword that heals rather than harms enemies?
What is this sword that never collaborates or mirrors the Powers, thereby exposing their addiction to violence?
What is this sword that prophetically turns over tables of idolatry and injustice in a judgment that does not harm, hurt, coerce or kill anyone?
What is this fire that is ablaze with the very presence of I AM in response to the cries of the oppressed, this fire that does not destroy the bush in which it burns?
What is this power that is ablaze on the cross, sucking the oxygen of injustice and violence from creation then causes a cosmic backdraft in the resurrection, setting the world alight with the love that conquers death?
It's a sad day in Colorado. Our collective hearts hurt.
I didn't want to blog today. Blogging in response to everything that happens in the news can come across as knee-jerk, reactionary, self-serving, and exploitive. We're called to "pray without ceasing" — not to blog without ceasing. Sometimes reverent silence is what is needed.
The staff at Sojourners contacted me and invited me to write something in response to what just happened. So, I'm not writing a blog. I'm providing a Public Service Announcement.
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”.
In 1991, Rodney King was stopped and beaten by a group of Los Angeles police officers. The stop was not unusual, and the beating was a tragic reminder of the history and the reality of police brutality in the United States. The difference this time was that the beating was recorded on videotape. Rodney King became a symbol of racist injustice perpetrated by ordinary people, of injustice perpetrated by law enforcement.
Also in 1991, the Norwegian Nobel Committee awarded the Nobel Peace Prize to Aung Sun Suu Kyi, a Burmese activist for democracy. Under house arrest at the time, she could not travel to Oslo to receive the award. She was then and is today a symbol of patient persistent witness against oppression and for human rights.
On June 16, 2012, Aung Sun Suu Kyi received her 1991 prize in Oslo. On June 17, 2012, Rodney King was found dead in the swimming pool of his home. Both of these individuals are important because of their choices for peace.
I was asked recently, is there really any hope for Israel? The answer is yes, there is.
First, the state of Israel has lived its entire existence in the foxhole of the war paradigm. It is time to come out of the foxhole. It is time for Israel to exercise profound concern, not only for its own security and its own peace, but also for the security and peace of its neighbors—the Palestinians.
Second, It is time for Palestinians to recognize Israel’s right to be secure. Israeli mothers should never have to worry if their daughters and sons will return from a walk to the market. Every Israeli should not have to live in extreme fear and the ever present threat of war.
A provocative piece this morning from Akiva Eldar, chief political columnist and an editorial writer for Haaretz. He describes the weakness of the Israeli government when faced with non-violent protest:
“They say the Israel Air Force can carry out a pinpoint strike against Iran's nuclear facilities, yet the Israel Defense Forces loses its cool when confronted by a small group of bicyclists armed solely with cameras. The Shin Bet security service knows how to locate terrorists and assassinate them, but has no clue how to cope with nonviolent civil disobedience.”
After recounting all of the futile efforts at diplomacy and negotiations by the Palestinians in their suits and ties, Eldar advises:
“If Abbas was really so fed up he would replace his tie with a kaffiyeh and lead the masses in a protest march. The Oslo Accords have turned the Palestine Liberation Organization into the mechanism for maintaining the Israeli occupation. It's about time the Oslo generation of Palestinians admits the failure of the diplomatic option, hangs up its suits, weans itself from the pathetic honor it has accorded itself, and takes to the streets.”
I can hear Gandhi and Dr. King cheering.