U.S. Military Action Has Never Brought Peace to the Middle East and It Won't Now

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“U.S. military intervention is the problem, not the solution. Since the U.S. started bombing Iraq and Syria last year, ISIS has grown stronger.”

In the months since Cortright’s charge the world has witnessed millions of Syrian citizens fleeing the conflict. Having saturated the capacity of neighboring nations to accept refugees, displaced Syrians have continued north through Turkey and Eastern Europe, en route to Germany and neighboring countries. In September, Russia inserted itself into the Syrian military calculus, offering military support for, it claimed, the Assad regime’s fight against ISIS. Instead Russian bombs showered insurgent Syrian rebel forces. Recent reports confirm that Russia is actually helping Assad retake Aleppo, the largest city in Syria, from insurgent forces, with an Iranian assist.

In moments like these it is tempting to stand in solidarity with the disciple Peter, who tried to defend the helpless with military might. When Jesus was seized by temple police, Peter took out his blade and sliced off the ear of the high priest’s servant, Malchus. (Matt. 26:51-56, Luke 22:50, John 18:10-11). Jesus stopped him.

How Can We Help the Nonviolent Struggle in Syria?

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Three years ago, I was a U.S. State Department officer deployed to Turkey to work with the Syrian opposition. It was an amazing opportunity to support Syrian activists and civic leaders waging an improbable — yet remarkable — popular struggle, against a criminal regime that responded to peaceful protests with bullets and torture. For [the previous] eight months since the start of the revolution in March 2011, Syrian activists — Sunni, Christian, Kurdish, Druze, and Alawite — had used demonstrations, sit-ins, resistance music, colorful graffiti, online satire, and dozens of other nonviolent tactics to challenge the Assad regime. My task, along with that of my U.S. government and international colleagues, was to aid their efforts.

A year earlier, I co-wrote and published a book with Erica Chenoweth, called Why Civil Resistance Works: The Strategic Logic of Nonviolent Conflict. In it, we tested the conventional wisdom that only violence works against formidable foes like dictatorships and foreign military occupations. In studying 323 violent and nonviolent campaigns from 1900-2006, Erica and I found that nonviolent civil resistance was twice as successful as armed struggle — even against militarily superior opponents willing to use violence. We also found that nonviolent struggle helps consolidate democracy and civil peace.

Imagine Peace in the Middle East, Like a Poet, Like a Prophet

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The great Old Testament scholar Walter Brueggemann once observed that when you look at the Hebrew prophets, you find almost all of them were poets. Not just preachers, but poets … poets who wrote with a prophetic imagination.

Poets don’t just say more words.

They imagine the world differently.

They imagine possibilities beyond others’ imagination.

They create a new way of seeing things.

They call a new creation into being.

Seven Things Preachers Need to Say About Syria

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The Syrian crisis is escalating in unnerving ways with the arrival of Russian troops and the beginning of direct Russian military intervention. What had been a local and regional humanitarian disaster now risks becoming a superpower confrontation between Russia and the United States. Undoubtedly the introduction of Russian firepower on the scene will bring more civilian suffering, dislocation, and death.

If I were looking for handles for prophetic preaching on the Syria situation, I might select the following.

Wearing the White Hats

courtesy of

courtesy of

“IF THERE IS A SHELLING, stay away from the windows and crouch next to a sturdy piece of furniture—like a bed or a wardrobe.”

“In the case of a bombing, cover your head with your hands and scream for help.”

Although they read like lines from an emergency-preparedness instruction manual, these are actually from a children’s coloring book. The book follows Mahr, a little boy with big brown eyes and a bowl-shaped haircut, and “Bebo, the Puppy”—a slightly obese, striped orange dog—through a series of emergency situations, the kind that have been all too common in Syria.

“Just fold your hands over your head, like Mahr and Bebo, the Puppy.”

The book is illustrated, written, and distributed by Syria Civil Defense—a group of 2,600 volunteer rescue workers, renowned for saving civilians from explosions and barrel bombings in opposition-controlled Syria. The book is intended to instruct children, in a playful yet serious way, how to act during barrel bombings and shellings, which have become a part of daily life in Syria.

Mahr crouches next to a wardrobe during a shelling. After a barrel bombing, Bebo folds his paws over his floppy, cartoonish ears and screams for help. The wardrobe—another character in this Brave Little Toaster-like adaptation of a child’s perspective of the Syrian civil war—smiles down at both of them.

“Don’t worry—the civil defense is on its way.”

Although the Syrian revolution began as a nonviolent movement, inspired by the Arab uprisings in 2011, the Assad regime’s brutal and almost immediate crackdown on the demonstrations quickly escalated the protests into an armed revolt and, eventually, a civil war. Some protesters began to take up arms in self-defense, joined by defectors from the regime’s army, and later foreign fighters—forming what would become known as the Free Syrian Army (FSA), engaging in guerrilla-style military tactics to challenge the Assad regime.

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Obama Directs Administration to Resettle 10,000 Syrian Refugees

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As the the refugee crisis worsens, President Obama has directed his administration to resettle at least 10,000 Syrians over the course of the year, reports The New York Times.

Pressure on the U.S. has been mounting from European nations to increase its promised quota of 2,000. White House press secretary Josh Earnest made the announcement Sept. 10.

According to The New York Times,

The announcement brought a variety of reactions that underscored how the refugee crisis has become another polarized political question. Aid groups called the administration’s action a token one given the size of the American economy and population, while a number of Republicans warned that Mr. Obama was allowing in potential terrorists. “Our enemy now is Islamic terrorism, and these people are coming from a country filled with Islamic terrorists,” said Representative Peter T. King, Republican of New York. “We don’t want another Boston Marathon bombing situation.”

In Europe and In the U.S. — We Must Welcome the Stranger

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The pope’s teachings and his deeds have inspired people to put aside their differences and to work together for a common good. We hope that this momentum will carry over to the debates on immigration. We must work together push back against the hateful anti-immigrant messaging coming from some of our elected officials and candidates for office, and draw on the moral high ground we find in our faith and Scriptures. Including Matthew 25.

Beyond the need for broad-based legislative reform, ordinary people and communities of faith in the United States can also make a difference on an individual and family level. Just as the pope has called on European Catholic churches to “welcome the stranger” in their own parishes and homes, American churches, synagogues, mosques, and even individual homes should take up that challenge as well. It’s time for people in the United States and Europe to learn what it really means to welcome the stranger.

July Was the Cruelest Month

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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 /

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.