Peace

Bridging the Persian Gulf

AT LAST, AFTER more than 30 years of isolation since the Islamic Revolution of 1979 overthrew the U.S.-installed Shah, American and Iranian officials are talking to each other. The late September telephone conversation between President Obama and Iranian President Rouhani was an important first step. If the two sides can reach an agreement on ending the nuclear standoff, it could pave the way for other forms of cooperation that could significantly improve regional and global security.

Because of the historical mistrust between the United States and Iran that goes at least as far back as the 1954 CIA-backed coup that overthrew Iran’s democratically elected prime minister, achieving progress will require diplomatic flexibility on both sides. The core objectives of the international community are to prevent Iran from developing nuclear weapons and to guarantee that its nuclear program is solely for peaceful purposes. This can be accomplished by convincing Tehran to accept binding limits on its nuclear program and by robust monitoring mechanisms to guarantee the absence of military-related activities.

Iran’s objectives are to gain international acceptance of its right to develop nuclear energy, including uranium enrichment, and to obtain relief from crippling sanctions. If Tehran takes steps toward accepting limits and agreeing to enhanced transparency and monitoring, Washington should offer an initial partial suspension of sanctions and pledge to lift additional sanctions as progress proceeds. This would help jump-start the talks and strengthen President Rouhani’s hand in the face of hardliners.

The initial suspension might aim to ease prohibitions on the financing of exports to Iran of specified civilian goods, including medical supplies, agricultural products, consumer goods, and related non-military goods and services. The European Union and the U.N. Security Council could adopt parallel measures.

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Grief, Courage, and Perseverance

swatchandsoda / Shutterstock
swatchandsoda / Shutterstock

[Editor's note: This article first appeared in our December 2013 issue to commemorate the one year anniversary of the Sandy Hook shooting.]

IN THE YEAR since the mass shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn., last Dec. 14, thousands more have died by gun violence, and the NRA seems to stymie sane firearm measures at every turn. How do we stave off despair, hold on to hope, and keep moving forward when the odds feel overwhelming? —The Editors

Bigger Than Politics
What do we say to those who are weary?
       

by Brian Doyle

WHAT WOULD I SAY to those who are weary of assault rifles mowing down children of all ages, every few months, for as long as we can remember now? Oregon Colorado Wisconsin Pennsylvania Connecticut Texas Massachusetts Minnesota Virginia do I need to go on? I would say that this is bigger than politics. I would say this is about money. I would say Isn’t it interesting that we are the biggest weapons exporter on the planet? I would say that we lie when we say children are the most important things in our society. I would say that the next time a tall oily smarmy confident beautifully suited beautifully coiffed glowing candidate for office says the words family values, someone tosses an assault rifle on the stage with a small note attached to it that reads Is this more important than a kindergarten kid?

We all are Dawn and Mary in our hearts and why we wait until hell and horror are in front of us to unleash our glorious wild defiant courage is a mystery to me.

I would also say, quietly, that this is bigger than rage and anger and snarling at idiots who pretend to hide behind the Constitution. I would say this is also about poor twisted lonely lost bent young men no one paid attention to, no one really cared about. And I would say that people like Dawn Hochsprung and Mary Scherlach, who ran right at the bent twisted kid with the rifle in Newtown, are the flash of hope and genius here. Those are the people I will celebrate on Dec. 14. There are a lot of people like Dawn Hochsprung and Mary Scherlach, may they rest in peace. We all are Dawn and Mary in our hearts and why we wait until hell and horror are in front of us to unleash our glorious wild defiant courage is a mystery to me. But it’s there. And there are a lot of days when I think the whole essence of Christianity, the actual real no kidding reason the skinny Jewish man sparked the most stunning possible revolution in history, is to gently insistently relentlessly edge us away from our savagely violent past into a future where Dawn and Mary are who we are, and you visit guns in museums, and war is a joke, and defiant peace is what we say to each other all blessed day long.

Brian Doyle is the editor of Portland Magazine at the University of Portland (Oregon) and the author most recently of The Thorny Grace of It, a collection of spiritual essays.

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An Insanity of Rationality
This spiritual disease thrives on violence and calls it good.
     

by Joan Chittister, OSB

THERE IS A MADNESS abroad in the land, hiding behind the Constitution, brazenly ignoring the suffering of many who, over the years, have died in its defense, and operating under the banner of rationality. It’s a rare form of spiritual disease that thrives on violence and calls it good.

They want a proper response to violence, they tell us, and, most interesting of all, they insist that only violence can control violence. If “the good guys” have guns, this argument goes, “the bad guys” won’t be able to do any harm.

The hope? The hope lies only in those who refuse to feed this addiction to violence.

This particular insanity of rationality argues that violence is an antidote to violence. Then why do we find scant proof of that anywhere? Why, for instance, hasn’t it worked in Syria, we might ask. And where was the good of it in Iraq, the land of our own misadventures, where the weapons of mass destruction we went to disarm did not even exist and the people who died in the crossfire of that insanity had not harbored bin Laden. So how much peace through violencehave all the good guys on all sides really achieved?

The insanity of rationality says it is only reasonable to arm a population to defend itself against itself. And so, day after day, the level of violence rises around us as hunting rifles and small pistols turn into larger and larger weapons of our private little wars.

Clearly this particular piece of childish logic has yet to quell the gang violence in Chicago. It didn’t even work on an army base in Texas where, we must assume, the place was loaded with legal weapons.

What’s more, it does nothing to save the lives of the good guy’s children, who pick up the good guy’s guns at the age of 2 and 3 and 4 years old and turn them on the good guy fathers who own them.

So the mayhem only increases while white men in business suits insist that their civil rights have been impugned, their right to defend themselves has been taken from them, and more guns, larger guns, insanely damaging guns are the answer. Instead of hiring more police officers, they argue that arming students and teachers themselves, nonprofessionals, will do more to maintain calm and control the damage in situations specifically designed to cause chaos than waiting for security personnel would do.

It is that kind of creeping irrationality that threatens us all.

And in the end, it is a sad commentary on our society. We have now become the most violent country in the world while our industries collapse, our educational system declines, women are denied healthcare, our infrastructure is falling apart, and there’s more money to be made selling drugs in this country than in teaching school. No wonder gun pushers fear for their lives and sell the drug that promises the security it cannot possibly give while the country is becoming more desperate for peace and security by the day.

The hope? The hope lies only in those who refuse to feed this addiction to violence. These are they who remember again that we follow the one who said “Peter, put away your sword” when it was his own life that was at stake.

The hope is you and me. Or not.

Joan Chittister, OSB, a Sojourners contributing editor, is executive director of Benetvision, author of 47 books, and co-chair of the Global Peace Initiative of Women.

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Drones and Terrorism: Is the U.S. Scapegoating Al Qaeda?

U.S. Drone, Paul Drabot / Shutterstock.com
U.S. Drone, Paul Drabot / Shutterstock.com

Is the U.S. scapegoating Al Qaeda? It’s an odd question, I know, but it reared its ugly head as I read about the new reports from Amnesty International and Humans Rights Watch on U.S. drone strikes. The scapegoating mechanism is a very precise instrument that accrues enormous benefits to the scapegoater. By accusing their scapegoat of wrongdoing, a scapegoater ingeniously hides from the reality of their own guilt. Now here’s the weird thing: a scapegoat does not have to be innocent to function as a scapegoat. Scapegoats can be evil, nasty, ruthless, amoral sons-of-bitches and still function perfectly well as a scapegoat. Which is why I ask the question: Is the U.S. scapegoating Al Qaeda to hide from its own guilt?

With that in mind, I invite you to read these few excerpts that raised the question for me, with key phrases in boldface:

[continued at jump]

The Peace Process

Dome of the Rock and Western Wall, Ryan Rodrick Beiler / Shutterstock.com
Jerusalem's Dome of the Rock and Western Wall, Ryan Rodrick Beiler / Shutterstock.com

What do you do with critical information on intractable justice issues when reputation, methods, or prevailing propaganda make it difficult for people to believe the truth? How does one find ways to strengthen the fragile line between democracy and the lurking dark social disorder? Limiting or reversing anarchy in the U.S. and abroad may depend on finding ways to persuade and protect the common good.

A current question is in regard to the 20-year Oslo peace process (which was to be completed with separate States after 5 years). When it failed, its successor peace plans promised to bring flourishing democracy and a just peace that would hold back the winds of war and be good for Israelis as well as Palestinians.

The strategy of negotiations with prolonged periods of stalling has only widened the occupation and allowed Israel to strengthen its hold on Palestinian property. It has been conquest by a 1,000 cuts on people (1,500 Israelis and 15,000 Palestinians dead), as well as uprooted trees and bulldozed property. Less than 10 percent of 1967 war land area of Palestine is fully controlled by the Palestinian Authority. It is as though a volcanic cloud blocks the sun. Even with Secretary of State John Kerry’s vigorous efforts to diminish the rumblings and forestall an eruption, those who assure us there are signs of hope declare time is growing mercilessly short.

Malala Yousafzai and the Tradition of Islamic Nonviolence

 United Nations Information Centres / Flickr.com
Malala Yousafzai attends Delivering on the Global Education Promise, United Nations Information Centres / Flickr.com

Malala Yousafzai has captured our love and imagination.

Malala was recently a guest on the Daily Show with Jon Stewart. By the end of the interview, Stewart was so enamored with Malala that he asked if he could adopt her. The remark was hilarious because it was true. After 5 minutes with this girl, who wouldn’t want to adopt her?

Malala is the 16-year-old Pakistani girl who fought for education in the face of persecution from the Taliban. She explained on the show that, “Education is the power for women and that’s why the terrorists are afraid of education. They do not want women to get education because then women would become more powerful.”

In the face of persecution from the Taliban, Malala says she “spoke on every media channel I could and I raised my voice on every platform that I could and I said, ‘I need to tell the world what is happening in Swat and I need to tell the world that Swat is suffering from terrorism and we need to fight against terrorism.’”

But it was what she said next that stole our hearts. She reflected upon what she would do if a member of the Taliban came to take her life.

If you hit a Talib … then there would be no difference between you and the Talib. You must not treat another with that much cruelty and that much harshly. You must fight others, but through peace and through dialogue and through education. Then I’ll tell him how important education is and that I even want education for your children as well. And I’ll tell him, ‘That’s what I want to tell you. Now do what you want.’

A Dogged Pursuit of Middle East Peace

A young woman prays for peace at the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem. Photo by Christine M. Anderson

GEORGE MITCHELL, the former U.S. senator who famously brokered peace in Northern Ireland, knows the path to peace is unpredictable. “Until it happens,” he said, “you can’t predict with certainty. ... You can’t take ‘no’ for an answer. ... You just have to keep at it until peace is achieved.”

After five years of stalled Middle East peace talks, Secretary of State John Kerry lured Israeli and Palestinian negotiators back to the peace table in July. Sadly, my desk is littered with articles by naysayers who seem more than willing to “take ‘no’ for an answer” when it comes to peace in the Holy Land.

Naysayers point to the expansion of Jewish settlements and the political power of Israeli hawks, as well as the divisions in Palestinian society that convince them there is “no true partner for peace.” Certainly years of disappointments and failed negotiations offer ample cause for skepticism.

But I agree with Faisal Abbas, who suggests that cynicism is a lazy option we can’t afford. “Negotiations may succeed or fail to achieve peace,” he writes, “but the alternative (not having these negotiations) is guaranteed to fail.”

He is not alone. For every pundit preaching pessimism, I find another betting on hope. “The deal is still workable. It is still politically viable,” writes Ben Birnbaum in The New Republic. He notes an increasing willingness to compromise in both Israeli and Palestinian public opinion, Kerry’s tenacity, as well as Arab League support for the peace process.

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The Knotted Gun

IN 1988, a bronze sculpture of Carl Fredrik Reuterswärd’s knotted gun was placed outside the United Nations headquarters in New York. As Kofi Annan, former U.N. secretary general and Nobel Peace laureate, remarked at its unveiling, the sculpture isn’t just a cherished piece of art, but a powerful symbol that encapsulates in a few simple curves the greatest prayer of humanity: not for victory, but for peace.

Inside the U.N. building is a mosaic representing all the nations of the Earth, accompanied by Jesus’ words, “Do unto others what you would have others do unto you.” For many seasoned peace campaigners, myself included, this prayer was partly answered when the 193-nation U.N. General Assembly overwhelmingly approved the Arms Trade Treaty in April.

The treaty seeks to regulate the international trade in conventional arms, from small arms to tanks, combat aircraft, and warships. It aims to foster peace and security by putting a stop to the destabilizing flow of arms to conflict regions. This process cannot, however, be only a matter of negotiation and numbers. What needs to undergird the treaty is protecting humans, made in God’s image. What needs to motivate the treaty is ensuring the possibility of what philosopher Hans Jonas called “the permanence of an authentically human life on Earth.”

The statistics are frightening. Globally, one person dies every minute from armed violence. This treaty will help halt the uncontrolled flow of arms and ammunition that fuels wars, atrocities, and rights abuses. The devastating humanitarian consequences of the two-year war in Syria, a war fueled in part by the irresponsible export of arms, underline just how urgently this treaty is needed.

What the conflict in Syria has exposed, as elsewhere, is the direct relationship of the arms trade to violation, rape, and murder, particularly of women and girls. Sexual violation has become the concomitant weapon to rockets, bombs, and guns.

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Let's Talk About Food: Naked, No Doubt Hungry, and Definitely Not Ashamed

Rodin's 'Le Baiser.' Courtesy of LaVonne Neff.
Rodin's 'Le Baiser.' Courtesy of LaVonne Neff.

It's odd that Christians — people who claim to believe that God created the earth, sustains it day by day, and intends to create a new earth — are often so mixed up about sex and food. How long would the earth's inhabitants last without coupling and eating?

And yet most Christian writers right up to the 16th century praised celibacy, sexless marriages, and arduous fasting. Bless Martin Luther for loving his wife (and the beer she brewed), but lots of us still seem to think that good sex and good food — if not actually sinful — are at least pretty low on the religious values hierarchy.

Has it escaped our attention that, according to our most sacred literature, God made a naked male and a naked female, put them in the midst of grain fields and orchards, and told them to multiply?

Let's Talk About Food: The Apple Wasn't the Problem

Adam and Eve, Drakonova / Shutterstock.com
Adam and Eve, Drakonova / Shutterstock.com

If we're going to talk about food, we need to start with theology. Before chocolate was invented, a snake put "sinfully delicious" and "decadent" on the menu. Somebody fell for the marketing ploy, and we've had a complicated relationship with food ever since.

We've also had a complicated relationship with sex, and with siblings, and with weapons of mass destruction. It's all there in Genesis (where the WMDs are swords). And pretty soon, right-thinking people started coming up with rules to keep people from doing bad things. You can have sex with this person but not that one. You really shouldn't deceive, sell, or kill your brother. Beat your swords into plowshares.

The rules helped to restrain bad guys, and they gave would-be good guys some helpful pointers. Still, there were plenty of bad guys to go around, and good guys could get pretty anal about what other people should or shouldn't do. Anyway, it's obvious that you don't create a good marriage simply by avoiding sex with the wrong person, and you don't have a pleasant Thanksgiving dinner simply by not killing your siblings, and you don't banish war simply by wiping out as many weapons as possible. The rules are helpful — adultery, fratricide, and genocide are really bad ideas —but if you want a Peaceable Kingdom, you're going to need more than rules.

Give (The Department of) Peace a Chance

Heart-shaped American flag,  pashabo / Shutterstock.com
Heart-shaped American flag, pashabo / Shutterstock.com

The U.S. has resisted this peacemaking policy for generations. Even as far back as 1792, a signer of the Declaration of Independence, Benjamin Rush, along with Benjamin Banneker, suggested the blueprint for an Office of Peace (intended to counter what was then known as the Department of War). President George Washington stated that his first wish was “to see this plague of mankind, war, banished from the earth,” yet legislation for a Department of Peace was not introduced until 1935, which, by 1969 wasfollowed by 90 additional bills. And so, while many U.S. citizens state a longing for peace and nonviolence, we seem to lack the political will and public motivation to make it a reality, and the result is a continued state of destruction. 

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