syria

July Was the Cruelest Month

Image via /Shutterstock

July is the cruelest month, with apologies to T.S. Eliot. ... 

A movement has arisen in the past year to protest police brutality and the unjust killing of African Americans — an uncomfortable realization that the dream of civil rights has gone unrealized in a still-racist America. It's called Black Lives Matter, but in the summer of 2015, life seems cheap.

The Middle East’s Mental Health Crisis

Brain Illustration

Brain illustration, Maxim Gaigul / Shutterstock.com

National Minority Mental Health Awareness month is upon us in the U.S., and never has the scope and impact of mental health issues threatened to affect the long-term security of our country and world than now.

This year, the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs estimates that 10.8 million people are affected by the conflict in Syria, with 4 million refugees having fled the country. This is the largest refugee population coming out of any one conflict in over a generation. Similarly, in early 2015, UNHCR estimated that the total population of concern, due to the conflict in Iraq, exceeded 3 million people. Millions of people have experienced the unimaginable trauma of political and religious conflict and persecution in the Middle East, especially women, whom the Iraqi Ministry of Health determined were disproportionately affected by mental health illness due to the recent conflict. The scale and depth of the trauma demands a multi-faith, multi-sector, multi-discipline response, before it is too late.

New Arabic-Language Vatican Guidebook Aims to Explain Catholic Culture

Photo via Rosie Scammell / RNS

The Vatican's new Arabic-language guidebook. Photo via Rosie Scammell / RNS

The Vatican has released a new Arabic-language guidebook, the first of its kind, which aims to bring the culture of the Catholic Church to a new audience.

Titled The Vatican, its Significance and its Monuments, the guidebook hit bookstores around the Holy See late last month and goes beyond sightseeing tips.

The book’s author, Edmond Farhat, said he was compelled to write the guide after a lengthy diplomatic career representing the Vatican across North Africa.

Weekly Wrap 6.5.15: The 10 Best Stories You Missed This Week

1. I Went to Church with Bruce Jenner, and Here’s What Caitlyn Taught Me About Jesus
Caitlyn knows who Jesus is, and Jesus knows her by name. Whether that sits comfortably on a timeline or blog comment, I know firsthand that Caitlyn has heard the good news. And, Caitlyn has taught me more about Jesus.”

2. And the Award for Trailblazing Feminist Icon Goes to — Miss Piggy
The Sackler Center for Feminist Art awarded the Muppet with its First Award, which recognizes women for being first in their fields and has included the likes of Sandra Day O’Connor, because the character has “qualities that … women need to have to face the world as it is, and she gives us a good smile on top of it all.”

3. In Baltimore Schools, Free Meals for All
"Given the socio-economic status of the city, it's a no-brainer," [parent David T.] Clements said of the program. "Parents can now take that money and apply it to their futures."

4. Study Finds Global Warming Hasn’t Slowed
The latest study, published in Science, reverses previously held thought that global warming was on hiatus. Not so, according to the numbers, which were based on what the scientists say is more accurate land and sea temperature measurements.

5 Takeaways from the New Report by U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom

Photo via Nestor Aziagbia / RNS

A man in the Central African Republic shows a bandaged arm after an attack in the violence. Photo via Nestor Aziagbia / RNS

Despite much gloom and doom, there were a few silver linings in the report. Religious freedom and harmony have improved in Cyprus, resulting in greater access to houses of worship across the Green Line separating north from south. Nigeria witnessed its first peaceful democratic transfer of power earlier this year when Muslim northerner Muhammadu Buhari ousted Christian southerner Jonathan Goodluck at the polls. And Sri Lanka’s new government has taken positive steps to promote religious freedom and unity in the face of violent Buddhist nationalism.

Syrian Catholic Leader Pleads with U.S. Christians Not to Forget His Threatened Church

Photo via REUTERS / Hosam Katan / RNS

A man reacts to a bomb in Aleppo’s al-Fardous district on April 29, 2015. Photo via REUTERS / Hosam Katan / RNS

Just a few decades ago, Aleppo was home to about 170,000 Catholics, about a third of the city’s population. Since the war broke out, Jeanbart has seen a third of his flock reduced by death, dislocation, and emigration while Aleppo’s Muslim population has soared.

The threat of annihilation is constant, as Aleppo has become the main battleground between the government forces of President Bashar Assad and a motley assortment of rebels who include growing numbers of fighters affiliated with the fundamentalist terrorism of the Islamic State group.

Weekly Wrap 3.20.15: The 10 Best Stories You Missed This Week

1. An Open Letter to Franklin Graham

"Within one day, tens of thousands of [Graham’s] faithful followers liked and shared his short, patronizing post that called ‘Blacks, Whites, Latinos, and everybody else’ to ‘Listen up’ and tune in to his take on why so many black people have died at the hands of police officers recently. According to Graham, the problem is “simple.” It can be reduced to their lack of obedience and bad parenting. … Thankfully, we have a response: We invite you to join with us in signing on to an open letter to Rev. Graham calling him back to the Gospel's ministry of reconciliation. Sign on now.

2. PHOTOS: The First Day of Spring and a Total Lunar Eclipse

Space.com offers this gallery of images from this early morning’s lunar eclipse (not visible from the United States). In addition to coinciding with the vernal equinox — kicking off Spring, as snow fell across the Northeast — the eclipse also overlapped with the supermoon. ...And astronomers across the world geeked out. 

3. Ashley Judd Pressing Charges Against Misogynist Internet Trolls

“Everyone needs to take personal responsibility for what they write, and [for] not allowing this misinterpretation and shaming culture on social media to persist,” Judd said. “And by the way, I’m pressing charges.”

4. This Is What Life in Syria Is Like After Four Years of War

According to the U.N., 200,000 people have been killed. More than half of the country’s 21 million residents have fled their homes. Life expectancy has fallen by 20 years. It has becomes the world’s deadliest country for reporters. BuzzFeed interviews three Syrians to get a feel for life in the war-torn country.

5. Gay and Mennonite

From The Atlantic: “Mennonites are wrestling with the same questions faced by other churches across the country, made all the more complicated by their heritage: How should the faithful balance tradition and modern life? How should scripture inform people's understandings of same-sex relationships? And when members of a denomination disagree, how should they find their way forward?”

6. Pentagon Loses Track of $500 Million in Weapons, Equipment Given to Yemen

“In recent weeks, members of Congress have held closed-door meetings with U.S. military officials to press for an accounting of the arms and equipment. Pentagon officials have said that they have little information to go on and that there is little they can do at this point to prevent the weapons and gear from falling into the wrong hands.”

7. You May Be a ‘Poser’ Christian and Not Even Know It

According to Jarrid Wilson, author of Jesus Swagger: Break Free from Poser Christianity, cosmetic Christianity is an epidemic. Jonathan Merritt interviews the author to find out more.

8. U.N. Workers Accused in Nearly 80 Cases of Sexual Assault in 2014

United Nations personnel were accused in nearly 80 cases of rape, sexual assault and sex trafficking in 2014 alone, with the bulk of the cases involving peacekeepers deployed to some of the most troubled parts of the world.”

9. Where My Ladies At? Gender Avenger Tracks Inequality at SXSW and Beyond

Wondering whether your favorite conference or event has its equal share of men and women at the podium? There’s an app for that. The Gender Avenger Tally (soon available on mobile) lets people calculate via event hashtag the levels of gender representation. 

10. Happy Spring! Read Walt Whitman’s ‘The First Dandelion’

Simple and fresh and fair from winter’s close emerging,

As if no artifice of fashion, business, politics, had ever been,

Forth from its sunny nook of shelter’d grass — innocent, golden, calm as the dawn,

The spring’s first dandelion shows its trustful face.​

"This is how we fight terrorism": Saving Syria's sacred music

The destruction and looting of art and historical sites in Syria is " the worst cultural disaster since the Second World War,” according to anthropologist Brian L. Daniels.

The human losses are devastating: At least 210,000 people have died in the ongoing battle between the Assad regime and the Syrian rebels. ISIS has joined the violence and exploited the instability in the country, taking control of large parts of northern and eastern Syria.

And now, in the unofficial war over Syria’s cultural heritage, art is the main casualty. As of September 2014, five out of six of Syria’s Word Heritage sites had been destroyed including Aleppo’s 12th century Umayyad mosque.

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The Power of Peacebuilding

THE PEACE MOVEMENT needs a stronger response to the threat posed by the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria. It is not enough merely to oppose deepening U.S. military involvement. We must also identify viable diplomatic and political options for countering the ISIS danger and reducing violence in the region.

President Obama has said there is no military solution to the crisis in Iraq, but his administration has relied heavily on bombing as its main response to ISIS. Since August, the United States and about a dozen other states have launched more than 1,900 air strikes against ISIS and militant groups in Iraq and Syria. Approximately 80 percent of the strikes have been conducted by U.S. forces, mostly jet fighters but also armed drones. The strikes have had the effect of halting further ISIS encroachments into Iraq and have enabled Kurdish fighters to regain some ground in the northern part of Iraq. In Syria, however, ISIS reportedly has continued to gain ground despite the U.S.-led attacks.

U.S. military involvement in Iraq and Syria is having unintended effects that could make matters worse. Battling the United States gives ISIS a transcendent objective beyond its political agenda in Iraq and Syria and distracts local attention from its brutal policies. It allows ISIS to portray itself as the victim and to claim that it is defending Islam from Western attack. After the start of airstrikes in August, support for the group increased. The strikes in Syria have also targeted the al Nusra Front and have generated pressure for rival groups to close ranks. Unlike al Qaeda, ISIS has not declared war on the United States, but it may now rethink its strategic focus and plan attacks on the “far enemy,” to use al Qaeda’s term.

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Resisting ISIS

IN JULY 2013 in Raqqa, the first city liberated from regime control in northeastern Syria, a Muslim schoolteacher named Soaad Nofal marched daily to ISIS headquarters. She carried a cardboard sign with messages challenging the behaviors of members of the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria as un-Islamic after the kidnapping of nonviolent activists. After Nofal was joined by hundreds of other protesters, a small number of activists were released. It is a small achievement, but an indication of what communities supported in responsible ways from the outside could achieve on a larger scale in areas controlled or threatened by ISIS.

In the fight against ISIS, unarmed civilians would seem to be powerless. How can collective nonviolent action stand a chance against a heavily armed, well-financed, and highly organized extremist group that engages in public beheadings, kidnappings, and forced recruitment of child soldiers and sex slaves? One whose ideology sanctions the killing of “infidels” and the creation of a caliphate?

Nonviolent resistance alone cannot defeat this radical scourge. The global response must be multifaceted. Still, as the international anti-ISIS coalition led by the United States considers nonmilitary options to “degrade and ultimately destroy” ISIS, it should focus on empowering local civil society in Syria and Iraq with targeted resources, technologies, and knowledge to build resilience and deny ISIS the moral and material support it needs to wield effective control. Public and private investments in independent media and local self-organization initiatives, including those led by women, are two key ways to counter ISIS influence.

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