War

Christians in Middle East: U.S. Attack on Syria Would Be Detrimental

Syrian flag illustration, Aleksey Klints / Shutterstock.com
Syrian flag illustration, Aleksey Klints / Shutterstock.com

As the Obama administration considers a strike in response to recent chemical attacks, the head of a global evangelical group said Wednesday that Christians in the Middle East oppose military intervention in Syria.

“There is major consensus amongst the Christian leaders in this region that any military intervention would have a detrimental effect … on Christians in Syria,” wrote Geoff Tunnicliffe, secretary general/CEO of World Evangelical Alliance, in a letter to the State Department, the White House and the United Nation’s Security Council.

Advice on Syria from Gregory the Great

Pope Gregory the Great, Carlo Saraceni [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
Pope Gregory the Great, Carlo Saraceni [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

As I began my morning devotions on Tuesday this week, Syria was on my mind. No surprise, right? The debate about whether to respond militarily to the use of chemical weapons is all over the news right now. Mostly folks are arguing about what actually happened and the larger geopolitical questions that a military strike involves, which are important and necessary issues. But here’s the question that was rattling around in my head as I turned to the day’s devotional readings on universalis.com: How does one respond to violence without becoming as guilty as the perpetrators you seek to punish?

 

The Ethics of a Syrian Military Intervention: The Experts Respond

Syria illustration, Aleksey Klints / Shutterstock.com
Syria illustration, Aleksey Klints / Shutterstock.com

As the Obama administration readies for a probable military strike against Syria, Religion News Service asked a panel of theologians and policy experts whether the U.S. should intervene in Syria in light of the regime’s use of chemical weapons against civilians. Would the “Just War” doctrine justify U.S. military action, and what is America’s moral responsibility? Here are their responses, which have been edited for clarity.

On Syria: We Must Use a Moral Compass to Guide Our Moral Outrage

ANDREW COWIE/AFP/Getty Image
Demonstrators protest against potential British military involvement in Syria in London Thursday. ANDREW COWIE/AFP/Getty Image

On Wednesday, President Barack Obama said that if Bashar al-Assad used chemical weapons against innocent civilians, there must be “international consequences.” The president is right. But what should those consequences be?

The issue here, again, is one that we have not decided how to deal with: terrorism. The definition of terrorism is deliberate and brutal attacks upon innocent people — whether by individuals, groups, or heads of state. By that definition, Assad is a terrorist. And terrorists who possess weapons of mass destruction and demonstrate their willingness to use them are most dangerous ones. But how should we respond?

I am in in the U.K., where political leaders last night backed off the decision to make immediate “military strikes” while the U.S. and other nations are considering them. The feeling here is that international and legal legitimacy need to be established first, that the U.N. inspectors should finish their examinations in Syria before any actions are taken, and that all other means of response should be fully explored first. These are good decisions.

Why is there such public “war fatigue” in the U.K. and the U.S. in light of Iraq and Afghanistan — and why is that creating reluctance to more military action? Because wars and military solutions have FAILED in response to terrorism — failed to achieve what they were purported to do.

The Reckless Right-Wing War on America

Photo courtesy Liz Van Steenburgh/Shutterstock.com.
The United States Capitol, American Flag and Bald Eagle. Photo courtesy Liz Van Steenburgh/Shutterstock.com.

It is tragic to watch contemptuous right-wingers declaring war on America.

With little heed for consequences on either actual people or the national interest, they declare war on the poor, the hungry, Native Americans, the unemployed, gays and lesbians, immigrants, minority voters, women, military dependents, and public education.

The recent farm bill — which gives public subsidies to agribusiness and denies food stamps to the hungry — is just the latest sortie in a determined decades-long assault on American values.

The Song Remains

THE FONDEST memories I have of Kathy Kelly are of her singing. It’s safe to say that her three nominations for the Nobel Peace Prize were not for her voice, which is sometimes sweet but often a touch out of key. At times I’ve imagined her feeling briefly self-conscious about this, but that passes. The song remains, and I am again reminded of just how deeply this woman can move me.

In spring 1999, in a small banquet room at Georgetown University, I first heard Kelly sing and speak about the suffering in Iraq. A crowd of about 200 people had gathered to hear about her work. She had been to Iraq dozens of times to put a human face on the conflict there and to defy the drastic financial and trade embargo that the U.N. Security Council had imposed shortly after Iraq’s 1990 invasion of Kuwait.

She briefly went over the statistics—the deep poverty, the lack of medicines, the estimated half-million children who had died, many due to the U.N. sanctions, enforced in part by a U.S.-led blockade—but she quickly moved on. Statistics weren’t her strength.

Instead she spoke from the heart. Kelly talked about the ordinary Iraqis she had met: the worn women who served her tea and biscuits they could barely afford, the countless kids in threadbare hand-me-downs who ran after her merrily in the street, the tired doctors who broke down crying as they remembered all the children they had lost, the stone-faced parents who accepted her condolences because they didn’t know what else to do.

She also told the story of Zayna, a 7-month-old baby girl who died of malnutrition shortly after Kelly visited her in the hospital.

Then she started singing “We Shall Overcome” in Arabic, after telling the crowd how her friend Sattar, an Iraqi engineer turned taxi driver, had spent hours sitting with her in Baghdad, patiently translating the lyrics into Arabic and teaching them to her.

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Star Trek: Into Darkness: A Call to Change Course

Star Trek: Into Darkness movie still. StarTrekMovie.com
Star Trek: Into Darkness movie still. StarTrekMovie.com

Star Trek: Into Darkness is a fascinating and complicated story that is well worth watching. Instead of providing a summary, I want to explore three related aspects of the movie: sacrifice, blood, and hope for a more peaceful future.

Live Long and Prosper – The Sacrificial Formula

In a reference to my favorite Star Trek movie, Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan, the current movie’s Spock (Zachary Quinto) restates the sacrificial formula: “The needs of the many outweigh the needs of the one.” This formula has generally been used throughout human history to justify sacrificing someone else. As René Girard points out, from ancient human groups to modern societies, whenever conflicts arise the natural way to find reconciliation is to unite against a common enemy.

Of course, there’s a lot of this going on throughout the Star Trek franchise. One conversation in Into Darkness explicitly points this out when Kirk (Chris Pine) unites with his enemy Khan (Benedict Cumberbatch), and explains it to Spock:

Kirk: The enemy of my enemy is my friend.

Spock: An Arabic proverb attributed to a prince who was betrayed and decapitated by his own subjects.

Kirk: Well, it’s still a hell of a quote.

Drones for Christ

LIBERTY UNIVERSITY in Lynchburg, Va., was founded by televangelist Jerry Falwell. Its publications carry the slogan “Training Champions for Christ since 1971.” Some of those champions are now being trained to pilot armed drones, and others to pilot more traditional aircraft, in U.S. wars. For Christ.

Liberty bills itself as “one of America’s top military-friendly schools.” It trains chaplains for the various branches of the military. And it trains pilots in its School of Aeronautics (SOA)—pilots who go up in planes and drone pilots who sit behind desks wearing pilot suits. The SOA, with more than 600 students, is not seen on campus, as it has recently moved to a building adjacent to Lynchburg Regional Airport.

Liberty’s campus looks new and attractive, large enough for some 12,000 students, swarming with blue campus buses, and heavy on sports facilities for the Liberty Flames. A campus bookstore prominently displays Resilient Warriors, a book by Associate Vice President for Military Outreach Maj. Gen. (Ret.) Robert F. Dees. There’s new construction everywhere you look: a $50 million library, a baseball stadium, new dorms, a tiny year-round artificial ski slope on the top of a hill. In fact, Liberty is sitting on more than $1 billion in net assets.

The major source of Liberty’s money is online education. There are some 60,000 Liberty students you don’t see on campus, because they study via the internet. They also make Liberty the largest university in Virginia, the fourth largest online university anywhere, and the largest Christian university in the world.

More than 23,000 online students are in the military—twice as many as students who live on campus. Liberty offers extra financial support to veterans and those on active duty, allowing them to be credited for knowledge learned in the military and to study online from a war zone.

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Al-Khatib and Al Jazeera: Listening to Victims in Syria

Violence in Syria illustration, Lightspring / Shutterstock.com
Violence in Syria illustration, Lightspring / Shutterstock.com

What the heck is going on in Syria? If you are like me, you have a problem keeping all the players straight, and the unfamiliar Arab names don’t help. Thankfully, the Syrian president has a relatively easy name to remember, Bashar al-Assad, but keeping track of who’s who and which side they’re on is a real challenge. Frankly, even when I can keep track, I’m very skeptical that I am getting anything close to the truth from news outlets, the White House, or our State Department. The talk about a “red line,” no-fly zones, arming terrorists, and weapons of mass destruction sounds a lot like the falderal we were being fed going into the Iraq war. So what’s a good citizen of the world to do? If I can’t make sense of the news accounts myself, who can I find to help me out? And if I can’t trust my government to sort out the good guys from the bad guys for me, how can I ever figure out what, if anything, my government should be doing in my name?

The Man in Row 26

In the weeks and months to come, thousands of refugees will walk quietly down jetways into worlds they've never imagined.

OUR PLANE SITS at the gate in Brussels well past our departure time. Slowly, the empty seats fill with Somali refugees whose flight a day earlier had been cancelled. After a night in the airport, they slide wearily into scattered seats.

Ten years together in a refugee camp in Uganda has melded the group into a close-knit family. What do they feel now, I wonder, knowing that on the other end of this flight they will scatter, not to empty seats but to unknown cities throughout the U.S.? From Syracuse to San Francisco, they will look upon a world they have never imagined. “When will I see my friend?” one little girl asks, not realizing she and her friend will live half a continent apart.

I watch a man a few rows ahead of me. I learn from his friend that he suffers from headaches. I know enough about refugees to realize headaches will likely be the least of his challenges. He and his family will face a confusing culture, strange language, unfamiliar religious practices, unknown yet required skills, and new technology—from flush toilets to garage door openers, from light switches to iPads. Then they’ll have to sort out schools and jobs and health care. They’ll be starting over, basically, with nothing.

Almost nothing. One suitcase per person contains the bit of their past they carry into their future. These slim and elegant humans are traveling very light. Unless, of course, you count the weighty baggage of war and displacement.

I talk with the striking Parisian who facilitates their travel. “They are so grateful the plane waited for them,” she says quietly. Grateful. After fleeing their homeland in desperation. After 10 years in a “temporary” camp. After hunger and disease. After leaving everything that’s familiar. After cancelled flights and cots in airport corridors. Grateful.

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