"War is the greatest threat to public health." - Gino Strada, Italian war surgeon and founder of the UN-recognized Italian NGO Emergency

Thursday, January 29, 2009

Three Cups of Tea (And a Skateboard)


Many of you have heard of Greg Mortenson, the climber who took a wrong (or perhaps right) turn while descending from a failed attempt at the infamous K2 in Northern Pakistan in 1993. The people of the small, remote village into which he wandered nursed him back to health. After observing the village children sitting outdoors writing their lessons in the dirt with sticks, Greg vowed to come back and build a school for them.

Greg did return (and not without great difficulties) to build that school, and since completing it he has established a total of 78 schools in the farthest reaches of Afghanistan and Pakistan. The book, Three Cups of Tea, tells that remarkable story of determination and how one person with a dream can do more to promote peace in these countries than the United States has done through years of military action and so called diplomacy.

And now there is this crazy Australian in Kabul, Afghanistan trying to open the country's first skateboarding school. Oliver Percovich, who came to Kabul "impulsively" in 2007 because his girlfriend got a job in Kabul, brought his skateboards along. It didn't take long for the children - "Afghanistan has the highest proportion of school-age children in the world" (Seattle Times article) - to discover Oliver and his skateboards. The Times article states that for the roughly "seven million youngsters, sports are virtually nonexistent."

Early on, Percovich turned a "decrepit Soviet-style fountain" into a makeshift skate park, and since then has made plans for a much larger skateboard park and has acquired a ton (literally) of secondhand skate equipment.

Of course, there is always the issue of girls participating past puberty, as well as other religious issues. But maybe, just maybe, skateboarding could provide many Afghan children with a positive outlet for their energy and frustrations. It might even (as Percovich said) "help mend the nations' deep social and ethnic divisions.

Both Mortenson and Percovich are examples of people who think (and draw) outside the lines, and when it comes to doing something good for others, they definitely ignore those who say it can't be done. Mortenson's idea is bearing fruit, and hopefully that will bear out for Percovich. At a time when the only ideas the United States can come up with in this part of the world are of the military variety, we need people who think out-of-the-box and are willing to go out-on-a-limb.

Let us hope to hear of more big-hearted, big-thinking, determined individuals like Mortenson and Percovich for the sake of the children of countries like Pakistan and Afghanistan. Because after all, it IS about the children.

Assalaam Alaikum (Peace Be With You),


Notes: The photo of Afghan youth skateboarding is by Tyler Hicks, New York Times. You can read the article about Oliver Percovich and "Skateistan" at http://seattletimes.nwsource.com/html/nationworld/2008670707_skateboard26.html.

Friday, January 23, 2009

Dick's Bad Back - Oh The Torture!!!


It was quite a surprise to see the Dark Lord (Dick Cheney) in a wheelchair for the inauguration. News reports said that he injured his back while moving boxes into his new digs.

Now, don't you just wonder what's in some of those boxes. Do you suppose he slipped just a few remotely, possibly incriminating notes, memos, and scribbles on shotgun shell casings that he didn't want anyone to see?? And then, just as one of the movers reached for the one with "TORTURE STUFF" written on it, he grabbed for it, snarling, "Don't touch that!" And then, SNAP, leaving the poor fellow doubled over in tortuous pain. That's probably the closest he has come to feeling the kind of horrific pain most victims of his torture legacy must have felt. It's hard to imagine that a person such as the (one time) VP would be moving things himself, isn't it? Well, enough about Dick; just a little fun food for thought.

Perhaps someone should perform a ritual cleansing of The White House (with incense and all that sort of stuff) to purge those hallowed halls of all the bad karma that the previous administration left behind. But then again, perhaps the NEW administration will have to do that through its own positive actions. At least President Obama is off to a good start issuing executive orders outlawing torture, banning secret CIA prisons, and calling for the closure of the detention facility at Guantánamo Bay.

Congress should support the president's action by passing legislation to affirm U.S. compliance with international laws against torture and to restore enduring legal standards. Send an email urging your senators to cosponsor the Lawful Interrogation and Detention Act (S. 147), which would support the closure of the Guantánamo Bay prison, end secret detentions, prohibit interrogations of detainees by government contractors, and require greater cooperation with the International Committee of the Red Cross.



Sunday, January 18, 2009


Dear Friends,

Killing is wrong. Waging war is failure (on many levels). And, the weapons we create to fight wars are evil.

The Israelis have not yet used cluster bombs (which they used extensively in Lebanon in 2006) in Gaza. Instead, they are using another atrocious weapon, white phosphorous, that, when used in densely populated areas, can cause the most horrific burns and ignite anything that is remotely capable of burning. For a more through explanation of white phosphorous, click here.

What is so tragic is that while most nations have agreed to ban cluster bombs - the U.S. did not even send a representative to the December, 2008 meeting in Oslo, Norway where 94 countries signed the Convention on Cluster Munitions - white phosphorous is not covered by any weapons convention (chemical or otherwise). Of course, when the U.S. finally admitted (after repeated denials) in 2005 that it had used white phosphorous in Iraq, the Department of Defense (defending what???) stated that it was used to produce "obscuring smoke".

Speaking of smoke screens, the Israelis (having learned well from the Americans) have claimed they are not using white phosphorous in Gaza, although photos clearly show evidence of it in use. The Israelis claim that "any munitions that Israel is using are in accordance with international law." Whether using white phosphorous or just plain bombs and missiles, indescriminate killing of civilians doesn't cut it in terms of international humanitarian law. It is morally and legally wrong!

While nations spend a great deal of time, as well as human and financial resources to determine what weapons (and how those weapons) can be used in warfare, would it not be far more productive to spend that time and resources in determining why we even condone war at all?

The eve of Martin Luther King, Jr.'s birthday is a good time to consider not how we will fight wars in order to reduce civilian suffering and death, but how we will eradicate war altogether from our world so that one day "war" will be merely a word in the dictionary of archaic terms. We can honor Dr. King's vision of The World House, this great big house we have inherited, where "black and white, Easterner and Westerner, Gentile and Jew, Catholic and Protestant, Moslem and Hindu" must learn to live together in peace or face extinction, by working to end ALL war.

All of us who are dedicated to a peaceful world can play a role by continually driving home the message to our nations' leaders that War Is Not the Answer (to quote my Quaker Friends). We must show that if war is not the answer, that we know what the answer is. The Quakers have articulated an answer quite well, and a good place to learn about (and get engaged in the) prevention of violent conflict is at the Friends Committee on National Legislation.

So make a promise tomorrow on the holiday honoring Dr. King that you will work to bring an end to war (or continue to work for it), and then make a plan for yourself and get started. There is no time to waste!



Thursday, January 15, 2009

Dr. King - Beyond Vietnam

Dear Friends,

Continuing my writings on Martin Luther King, Jr., it is a particular pleasure on Dr. King's birthday to share a revision of an article I wrote in 2003 to show how he evolved far beyond the "civil rights" leadership for which he is best known. This post is a bit longer than usual, but I hope you will find it worth reading. In a time of unparalleled military spending by the United States along with an overwhelming focus on military solutions, Dr. King's message is needed more than ever.

At a time when our nation once again is embroiled in occupations of Iraq and Afghanistan, it is timely to consider the speech delivered by Dr. King nearly 42 years ago when our nation was immersed in another foreign misadventure. Dr. King delivered his "Beyond Vietnam" speech at New York's Riverside Church on April 4, 1967. It was an extraordinary speech in which he questioned not only the role of the United States in the world, but also the very nature of our economic system.

When we hear about Dr. King – generally once a year around the time of his birthday, January 15th – the news media refers to him as "the slain civil rights leader." But Dr. King was much more than that, and it is sad that our national news media have never come to terms with all that Dr. King stood for. The TV images the media convey are generally the same ones – battling segregation in Birmingham in 1963; reciting his dream of racial harmony in Washington in 1963; marching for voting rights in Selma, Alabama in 1965; and lying dead on the motel balcony in Memphis in 1968.

What about the period from 1965 to 1968? In the early 1960s when Dr. King was challenging legalized racial discrimination in the South, most major media were his allies, showing graphic footage of police dogs, bullwhips and cattle prods used against southern African Americans who sought the right to vote or eat at a public lunch counter. After the passage of the Civil Rights Acts in 1964 and 1965 Dr. King began challenging our nation’s fundamental priorities. He maintained that the civil rights laws meant nothing without human rights, including economic rights. He spoke out against the huge gaps between rich and poor, and called for "radical changes in the structure of our society" to redistribute wealth and power.

By 1967 Dr. King had become one of the country’s most prominent opponents of the Vietnam War as well as a staunch critic of overall United States foreign policy. In his "Beyond Vietnam" speech, Dr. King made a significant leap from fighting for civil rights for African-Americans to morally challenging U.S. dominion over the rest of the world. The "Beyond Vietnam" speech resonates as strongly today as it did then.

Dr. King spoke of the difficulty of working for peace in an atmosphere of mass conformity. "Even when pressed by the demands of inner truth, men (sic) do not easily assume the task of opposing their government’s policy, especially in time of war. Nor does the human spirit move without great difficulty against all the apathy of conformist thought within one’s own bosom and in the surrounding world. Moreover, when the issues at hand seem as perplexing as they often do in the case of this dreadful conflict, we are always on the verge of being mesmerized by uncertainty. But we must move on." He went on to say that, "the calling to speak is often a vocation of agony, but we must speak.
We must speak with all the humility that is appropriate to our limited vision, but we must speak." There is no other choice for us, because, "silence is betrayal."

Dr. King saw the connection between war and the evisceration of social programs in this country. He "knew that America would never invest the necessary funds or energies in rehabilitation of its poor so long as adventures like Vietnam continued to draw men (sic) and skills and money like some demonic, destructive suction tube." Dr. King saw "war as an enemy of the poor".

Further along, Dr. King spoke of his "commitment to the ministry of Jesus Christ." He was amazed that people would ask him why he was speaking against the war. "Could it be that they do not know that the Good News was meant for all men (sic)—for communist and capitalist, for their children and ours, for black and for white, for revolutionary and conservative? Have they forgotten that my ministry is in obedience to the one who loved his enemies so fully he died for them?" He went on to say that as children of the living God, "We are called to speak for the weak, for the voiceless, for the victims of our nation, for those it calls enemy, for no document from human hands can make these humans any less our brothers (sic)."

Dr. King spoke of "a far deeper malady within the American spirit" which, I believe, is greed. He said that it is our "refusing to give up the privileges and the pleasures that come from the immense profits of overseas investments" that governs our foreign policy, and makes the United States the "greatest purveyor of violence in the world today." He called for a "radical revolution of values" wherein we "shift from a thing-oriented society to a person-oriented society." He said that playing "the Good Samaritan on life’s roadside…will be only an initial act. One day we must come to see that the whole Jericho Road must be transformed so that men and women will not be constantly beaten and robbed as they make their journey on life’s highway. True compassion is more than flinging a coin to a beggar. It comes to see that an edifice which produces beggars needs restructuring."

Dr. King was not afraid to give a dire warning to the American people that, "A nation that continues year after year to spend more money on military defense than on programs of social uplift is approaching spiritual death." He hammered away at the need for everyone to speak out and use the most creative methods of protest possible, not just against the war, but also for "significant and profound change in American life and policy." He believed that, "Our only hope today lies in our ability to recapture the revolutionary spirit and go out into a sometimes hostile world declaring eternal hostility to poverty, racism, and militarism." The sword that we carry is love. "Love is the ultimate force that makes for the saving choice of life and good against the damning choice of death and evil. Therefore the first hope in our inventory must be the hope that love is going to have the last word."

As he neared the end of his speech Dr. King stated that, "We are confronted with the fierce urgency of now." Time does not stop for us to sit and ponder our actions. The time is now. "Now let us begin. Let us rededicate ourselves to the long and bitter, but beautiful, struggle for a new world." I call upon each of you to consider Dr. Kings words of 35 years ago and consider how they speak to you today. The sense of urgency today is great. The odds are great and the struggle is hard. But we have no other choice if we are to build a better world for all. We must act, whatever the cost. To be successful, we need to be in solidarity with each other, in our congregations and communities as well as with people throughout the world.

Martin Luther King Jr. left us with a beautiful legacy. He lives on through his words and beckons us to continue the work of peace and justice. The best way that we can remember and honor him is to work to build bridges of peace and understanding. Dr. King said that, "there is such a thing as being too late." Let us not be too late. Let us, every one of us, act now, and not rest until the job is done. Let each of us make that choice so that, "we will be able to speed up the day, all over America and all over the world, when justice will roll down like waters, and righteousness like a mighty stream."



Notes: This blog post is a revision of an article I wrote in 2003. Excerpts from Dr. King’s Beyond Vietnam speech were taken from A Call To Conscience: The Landmark Speeches of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., edited by Clayborne Carson and Kris Shepard, Copyright 2001. You can read the unabridged text of Dr. King’s speech (along with his other speeches) at the Martin Luther King, Jr. Papers Project.

Photo Credit: The iconic photo of Dr. King juxtaposed with the photo of Gandhi was taken by photojounalist, Bob Fitch.  Bob documented some of the most important social movements of the 60s and 70s, and has spent most of his life engaged in peace and justice work.

Sunday, January 11, 2009

Gaza the Strip Maul

Have any of you noticed that essentially every news story coming out of the corporate media (particularly television) about the Gaza crisis has had a pro-Israel angle to it? Have you noticed that every pundit produced by the networks has found some goofy metaphor for why it's alright for the Israelis to pound Gaza with its phenomenal firepower?

Well, John Stewart has pulled together the absolute best of the pundits in a recent bit he calls Strip Maul. If you don't yet believe that nearly every politician in Washington, D.C. is eating lox and bagels out of the hands of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC), watch this video!

Wouldn't it have been nice if the Israelis had at least cleared all of the 43 million meters of land containing cluster bombs in Southern Lebanon (from its last debacle) before starting to bomb the Hell out of Gaza. But lest I digress, the point is that this madness (leaving an estimated 917 Palestinians dead and 4100 wounded) must stop. The U.S. Senate (in a voice vote) gave its unanimous support to a resolution supporting the Israeli attack on Gaza, and the House of Representatives passed the resolution by a vote of 390-5.

If you don't think that blanket support of the Israeli's military action is right and that it will only weaken any chance of a negotiated ceasefire (not to mention any chances for peace), call (or email) your members of Congress and tell them what you think! The voices of reason and peace need to drown out the droning of the warmongers. Click here to find contact information for your members of Congress.

In such an atmosphere of mass conformity (as evidenced by Congress) there must be a counter presence for peace. You can be that presence.

Saturday, January 10, 2009

Building Bridges


Many people will celebrate the anniversary of Martin Luther King, Jr's birthday this year as we do every year. From my perspective the holiday in honor of Dr. King has been well sanitized, and tends to gloss over much of Dr. King's powerful and important legacy. In honor of one of the greatest peacemakers of our time I plan to write a series of posts leading up to the official observation of Dr. King's birthday. This is the first, and I hope you find it worthy.




The Rev. Joe Hale (in a 2006 United Methodist News Service story) posed the question, "Is it ever possible to make peace by destroying bridges?" He was speaking in reference to Israel’s indiscriminate destruction of Lebanon (in 2006), but he could have been speaking of any number of foreign policy decisions made by the U.S. government since September 11, 2001.

The events of that fateful day in 2001 sewed the seeds of fear, anger and hatred, and fueled decisions in the highest levels of government that have made our nation and the world a much more dangerous place. However, things could have taken a much different course, and (with a new administration dawning) we still have the opportunity to change course before it is too late.

To change course we must start building bridges rather than destroying them. To do so will require that our nation stop threatening other nations with regime change, fulfill our obligations under the Nuclear Non Proliferation Treaty and stop holding the threat of nuclear weapons over other countries, and start using true diplomacy rather than military action as a tool of foreign policy. It will also require major shifts in our patterns of energy consumption that have created such a huge reliance on oil. Our priorities must change dramatically.

But none of this can happen without changing ourselves and how we define and address the evils in our world. Not long after 9/11 and before completing the mission in Afghanistan, President Bush laid out the next stage in his war on terror and announced his plans to confront the infamous "axis of evil", rogue states that threaten the world with weapons of mass destruction. Many years before, Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr., spoke of a completely different axis of evil, one of racism, poverty/materialism, and war that mire people in misery, divide people against one another, and threaten the world with extinction.

President Bush (and apparently much of the Congress) believes in ridding the world of evil primarily through military action, and foreign aid/poverty assistance linked to what we determine to be "good" government and "good" economic practices. Dr. King believed in addressing racial and cultural tensions, committing unconditionally to free the world of the scourge of poverty, and utilizing nonviolent intervention in international conflicts.

What ultimately set the two strategies apart are their motivations. The current one is based on fear and hatred and the need for power; the other on faith and compassion and the quest for justice, which are values shared by the world’s great religions. And beyond the motivations we have seen the consequences of coercion and violence. Whether from a religious perspective or from that of secular humanism, we are called to build bridges instead of destroying them.

As Dr. King once so eloquently stated, "Love is the key that unlocks the door which leads to ultimate reality. We can no longer afford to worship the god of hate or to bow before the altar of retaliation. History is cluttered with the wreckage of nations and individuals who pursued this self-defeating path of hate." (from Where Do We Go From Here. Chaos or Community? C1968). Dr. King’s prophetic voice calls us to follow the well-worn path (of nonviolence) that Jesus laid for us centuries before (and that Gandhi, King and countless others followed); let us continue to build on that path and the bridges along the way, changing course, and connecting with ALL of humanity.

Note: This post is a revision of my article originally published by Every Church A Peace Church as the August 8, 2007 Daily Commentary at http://ecapc.org/articles/article-11903.htm.

Photo Credit: Bob Fitch took this photo of Dr. King during his years documenting the most important social movements of the 60s and 70s.  See his photo archives at https://www.imagequix.com/vando/3/

Thursday, January 1, 2009

No More Eye For An Eye!!!

I suspect that most of you reading this celebrated the coming of the New Year. But there are countless people around the world who didn't celebrate because they were too busy trying to survive, particularly those in Gaza.

The residents of Gaza are being pulverized by Israel's overwhelming air power, even as its immense armed forces mass at the border. Thanks to the United States (and companies like Lockheed-Martin that makes the Hellfire missile used by Israel in its attacks on Gaza), Israel employs the most advanced and powerful weaponry available with which to use against the people of Gaza - men, women and children. That is not to say that Hamas is innocent; far from it, but their rocket launchers are a far cry from the jets, missiles, smart bombs and other munitions that Israel has at its disposal.

Jesus said it; Gandhi took it even further when he said, "An eye for an eye makes the whole world blind." The Israelis, are perpetuating just such a cycle of violence with the murder of innocents in Gaza. Just the other day President Bush called for Hamas to stop its rocket attacks on Israel; as usual, he said nothing about the Israelis stopping their massive attacks on Gaza that have left so many civilians dead, injured and terrorized.

The Israelis (and the United States) have labelled Hamas "Terrorists". And while Hamas is complicit in the violence, Israel has used terrorist tactics on the people of Gaza in order to undermine Hamas. One has to wonder how the massive Israeli attacks on civilian targets, terrorizing men, women and children, can benefit anyone.

I have found the newspaper coverage to be less than stellar. I urge you to go beyond the corporate press to learn about the situation in Gaza. Common Dreams News Center has an extraordinary number of articles and opinion pieces on the crisis - the ones you won't see (for the most part) in the corporate press.

We need people to speak out (loudly) for an immediate cease fire! You can send a personalized email message to The White House and Congress (and get all your friends to do the same) urging them to bring about an immediate cease fire and end the economic blockade that is devastating all the people of Gaza. You can also send an email to President-elect Obama. The U.S. must stop supporting Israel without conditions!

So start off the New Year by acting for peace! Get your family, friends and co-workers involved. And who knows; you might even find some people in your church willing to get involved. Just remind them that it's about more than personal salvation. It's about putting on the sandals and rolling up their sleeves because they are empowered by the Prince of Peace "to bring glad tidings to the poor... to proclaim liberty to captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, and to proclaim a year acceptable to the Lord" (Luke 4:18-19).



Photo Credit: An injured boy is treated at the Shifa hospital in Gaza City. (Photograph: Khalil Hamra/AP)