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

Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Iran - Promoting Nonviolence and Peace


With all the rhetoric and concerns being voiced by world leaders about the situation in Iran, it is refreshing and reassuring to read the letter to the Iranian leadership signed by 35 U.S. national organizations. It is a direct, yet humble plea to use nonviolent methods in dealing with the conflict that has arisen surrounding the recent elections.

You can read the full text of the letter at Pax Christi USA.

I would have added one more thing to the letter - a poem by Abū Muṣliḥ bin Abdallāh Shīrāzī, also known as Saadi, a prominent Persian poet of the medieval period. This particular poem (which can be found at the entrance to the General Assembly Hall at the United Nations) is said to be an exact translation of one of the prophet Mohammed's Hadiths - a Hadith is a saying of Mohammed or a report of something he did - from Arabic to Farsi.

"Human beings are members of a whole,
In creation of one essence and soul.
If one member is afflicted with pain,
Other members uneasy will remain.
If you have no sympathy for human pain,
The name of human you cannot retain."

Compassion and nonviolence are found at the heart of the worlds religious traditions if we are able to cut through the false layers of hatred that we have created over the centuries. May we bear witness to that which connects us in our humanity in a time of such violence and hatred.

You can still sign the petition at Just Foreign Policy urging President Obama to continue a cautious approach with Iran and to continue efforts to engage Iran diplomatically. We must pursue peaceful resolutions to conflict at every step.



Photo by Leslie Angeline and Martha Hubert. Source: http://www.flickr.com/photos/codepinkalert/2924454809/

Friday, June 26, 2009

There Are NO Military Options!!!


One of the scariest phrases that I have heard spoken by various voices in just about every recent administration has been, "All options are on the table." It may, in fact, be one of the most overused (or should I say misused) phrases in public statements regarding U.S. relations (or lack thereof in many cases) with other nations.

Despite President George W. Bush's ridiculous claim that his first choice in dealing with Iran's nuclear program was diplomacy, he made it clear (in 2008) that "all options are on the table." We saw the futility of the Bush approach to "diplomacy" with Iran.

During her run for president, Hillary Clinton (in 2007) said that she would not rule out a military strike against Iran to take out its nuclear weapons production capabilities. While she spoke of "reaching out" to U.S. allies to work together, she said (regarding Iran) that "all options must remain on the table."

Recently the Pentagon updated its plans for using military force against Iran at President Obama's request. When asked about the possibility of use of military force against Iran in relation to its alleged nuclear weapons activities, Defense Secretary Robert recently Gates said, "...as a result of our dialogue with the president, we've refreshed our plans and all options are on the table." Ooh, isn't that refreshing???

The United States should, after decades of interventions (both covert and overt) around the world (and, of course, Iran), understand the futility of intervening in the affairs of other sovereign nations. In Iran's case, we have been eating the bitter fruit of our meddling that goes back to 1953 with the U.S. organized coup that deposed the democratically elected Prime Minister Muhammad Mossadeq. But we (in the U.S.) are poor students of history, and our collective amnesia now has people in this country screaming for freedom for the Iranians.

Ironically, as Chris Hedges reminds us in a very recent article, "Iranians do not need or want us to teach them about liberty and representative government." The title of Hedge's article, Iran Had a Democracy Before We Took It Away, sums things up, and the article provides us with a context with which to evaluate our [U.S.] hypocrisy in foreign policy. Essentially, our foreign policy has far too often been conveyed through the barrel of a gun, and if you didn't like it - TOO BAD!

The U.S. government will not change its methods of dealing with other nations on its own; the needs of the all-consuming National Security State far outweigh any desire of a president or other politicians to change direction. It will require pressure from every possible progressive organization and support from large masses of the populace. The question is, do we have the nerve to take it on. I sincerely hope so.

So let us remember that as much as the people of Iran want some form of democracy, they also do not want any foreign intervention; they remember Mossadeq. Right now we can send a clear message to Washington that the U.S. must stay out of Iran's internal affairs. CLICK HERE to sign the petition at Just Foreign Policy urging President Obama to continue a cautious approach with Iran and to continue efforts to engage Iran diplomatically.

We must remember that there are NO viable military options if we are to build a peaceful world. No matter whether we are dealing with elections or nukes, the only options are those of diplomacy and goodwill. Anything else is a disaster in waiting.



Thursday, June 18, 2009

Catholic Worker - A Model for Us All


The other day I received an email through the National Catholic Worker email list that announced the celebration of ten years of ministry for the Oscar Romero Catholic Worker House in Oklahoma City. Robert Waldrop began the email with this: "On July 29, 1999, I made a sign -- 'Oscar Romero Catholic Worker House' and put it on our front door, and the very next morning, a homeless person knocked on the door and asked for breakfast. As I fixed us breakfast, I found myself thinking, 'I guess this is what this is all about.'" That IS the way of the Catholic Worker - going out with humility and with a servant's heart, working to heal a bruised world.

In my peacemaking travels I have had the good fortune to become familiar with people directly involved with the Catholic Worker Movement. Born out of a collaboration between Dorothy Day and Peter Maurin in 1932, the first issue of the Catholic Worker paper was sold at a Communist Party May Day rally in New York City's Union Square. Although the paper's circulation took a dive as the far off Spanish Civil War (thanks for the correction) and WWII gripped the United States, it never wavered from its firm base in Christian pacifism (Catholic Workers have never been known for pandering). The movement has stood rock steady in its witness, resisting Cold War hysteria and opposing the war on Vietnam, and most recently the wars on Iraq and Afghanistan. It has also opposed nuclear weapons, the ultimate violence of all.

But in the midst of its witness and resistance to war and every other form of injustice, the Catholic Worker has served people in need, showing boundless mercy. And therein lies the model that the church (as a whole) has only partially embraced, the model of the Biblical scripture from Micah (6:8) that asks, "...what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with our God?" For those of us trying so hard to walk the road of peacemakers, this pretty well sums things up for me; it is the ultimate balance of justice, mercy and humility.

The Catholic Worker Movement is grounded in a firm belief in the God-given dignity of every person and has opposed every possible injustice you might imagine, including racism, anti-Semitism and the vast disparities of societal wealth. Tom Cornell summarized the goal of the movement quite well when he referred to it as creating, "a society..." that has "...no place for economic exploitation or war, for racial, gender or religious discrimination, but would be marked by a cooperative social order without extremes of wealth and poverty and a nonviolent approach to legitimate defense and conflict resolution."

Both Dorothy and Peter would be aghast at the state of the world today, and the church's complicity in it, but I am sure that they would be pleased with the Catholic Worker's continued, faithful commitment "to nonviolence, voluntary poverty, prayer, and hospitality for the homeless, exiled, hungry and forsaken" in our midst. There are many lessons to be learned from this most humble, hard-working group of people. They are worthy of our support, and yet they ask for little.

Click here to find a Catholic Worker community near you. You can help financially, or volunteer your time, as well as donate needed supplies. They are present in 38 states in the U.S., and 8 other countries.

And so I give thanks for a community of peacemakers that has been a model for all of us for over 76 years (since 1933). Here's hoping that we can someday create that "cooperative social order without extremes of wealth and poverty and a nonviolent approach to legitimate defense and conflict resolution" (Tom Cornell's quote) so that the Catholic Worker can take a well-deserved rest.



Click here to check out the Catholic Worker Web site.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

No Longer A Christian

Dear Friends,

I started this post one day (and then promptly forgot about it) back when the Israelis were hammering Gaza day in and day out; such madness! On that day I heard that the Israelis were considering holding a three-hour truce every other day as a humanitarian gesture; I was touched. Would not a true humanitarian gesture have been for the Israelis to stop the massive military offensive altogether and stop the killing!?!?!? Aside from a minority of voices in the Christian community, where was the outcry from the churches to stop the violence??? Oh sure, there was plenty of anger at Hamas and the Palestinians; but what about any anger towards the Israelis??? But I digress. I am writing this post as a sort of confession as well as a pledge.

For me, the journey down the peacemaking road has been (and continues to be) a wondrous adventure. It has its highs and lows, its laughter and tears, its elation and frustration. I have met many people who have helped me grow into my various roles as a peace activist, and I am grateful to all of them. Ironically though, my greatest frustration has been with what I see as the failure of an institution that has so much potential to build a better world, a world in which everyone has a place at the table and all are valued as equal, fellow human beings.
I'm speaking of the Christian church, that tenuous experiment begun roughly 2000 years ago when a Jewish carpenter started shaking things up and overturning tables in the temple, and sat down with prostitutes and tax collectors, and spoke of unspeakable things like loving one's enemies. That was so NOT Hebrew Bible stuff. He was one radical fellow, and quite ironically, the very church that claims him as its own has been, to a large degree, unable or unwilling to honestly follow him.

It all went pretty well for the first 300 years after his death, but then things started going downhill, and it's been pretty much of a mess for the past 1700 years (thanks in large part to Constantine). Now, let's be clear. There are many people in the church for whom I have great respect; people who really do try to follow Jesus' teachings. But then there a great many for whom the church is just a patriotic piety club, a place for socializing and pot lucks with some charity thrown in (to make us feel good about ourselves). But speak of real, across-the-board justice, and the sanctuary goes silent; you can hear a pin drop.

So I confess that I am not really a Christian. Oh, I AM a follower of Jesus and (among other things) his call to nonviolence. Whether or not he was truly the Son of God, who really knows; of course that's what faith is all about. But one thing I do know - he was one heck of a rabbi. He taught the greatest lessons that we can learn. But the thing that sets me even farther apart from the church (as I have experienced it) is that I embrace all that is good in all the world's religions, whether Buddhism, Judaism, Islam or any other. One of the greatest gifts in working with people outside my church has been the opening to (and understanding of) other spiritual paths. It is so wonderful to see the similarities while experiencing the richness in the differences that other faiths present.

Perhaps one day the the film will fall away from the peoples' eyes and they will see the contradictions with which they have lived for so long, and on that day the church will announce that it will no longer send its children to war, that it will welcome all people no matter their sexual preference or color or nationality or faith, that they will renounce violence of any kind, and that they will not support a government that squanders its treasure on war while abandoning social uplift. One day.

So, I have made my peace with the church. I am happy to do my best to just follow the ways of Jesus. But I will also embrace Buddha and Muhammad. So there is my confession. As for the pledge, rather than leave the church, I will continue to be a thorn in its side, as that seems to be what I do best. And, I will continue to embrace the world (ever the wandering Jew), seeking that elusive commodity - PEACE.

On the journey,


Photo Credits:
Peace symbol (sculpted by hikers in 2005) at White Sands National Monument, New Mexico, near the Trinity Site where the first nuclear weapon was tested in July, 1945 (photo by Momatiuk-Eastcott/CORBIS).
Antiwar protesters at Heroes Square in Budapest, Hungary, 2005, marking the second anniversary of the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq (photo by Zsolt Svigetvary/epa/CORBIS).

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

War Is Sin !!!


The day after I wrote a post on the hypocrisy of the church titled The War Prayer, I read Chris Hedges' June 1st piece in TruthDig.com titled War Is Sin. He lays out the case that war is the ultimate betrayal, and that the church is at the heart of that betrayal, helping "mold us into compliant citizens for the empire." This is an extremely powerful and fitting indictment of the church. Chris is no neophyte; he graduated from Harvard Divinity School and spent nearly twenty years as a foreign correspondent for the New York Times. He has seen the ugly underbelly of the beast, and he speaks real truth to power, a prophetic witness that you will not find in the corporate press.

As Chris tells it, "War exposes the lies we tell ourselves about ourselves. It rips open the hypocrisy of our religions and secular institutions. Those who return from war have learned something which is often incomprehensible to those who have stayed home. We are not a virtuous nation. God and fate have not blessed us above others. Victory is not assured. War is neither glorious nor noble. And we carry within us the capacity for evil we ascribe to those we fight."

I know only too well that the prophet is not welcome in his (or her) home town (or church). Chris speaks of those who go to war, and come back home to speak truth to power, to unmask the hypocrisy that pervades every level of society. And it is not just in the United States; the same lies are told in every nation that wages war. In the U.S., Iraq Veterans Against The War, Veterans For Peace, and Vietnam Veterans Against The War are organizations in which veterans come together in a prophetic voice against war.

Of course, as Chris reminds us, these "contemporary prophets" are often "condemned or ignored"; by and large, we Americans prefer to fly the flag proudly, particularly in our churches, and there is no room to question it - My country right or wrong!!! And so the killing continues, so long as we are insulated from it, and a steady stream of physically and spiritually wounded veterans return home, some of them able to speak out with a prophetic voice for peace.

What can we do to help bring an end to such madness? Here are just a few ideas.

  • Support returning veterans. Listen to their stories.
  • Support one of the veterans organizations listed above.
  • Stand with veterans (and others) on one of the street corners around the country in their weekly or monthly vigils for peace.
  • Speak out in your church, temple or synagogue against language that fosters violence in people who should be following the ways of peace.
  • Challenge the presence of the national flag in the sanctuary.
  • Start a dialogue in your church about what it means to be a Peace Church.

I'm sure you can come up with plenty of ideas. Share them with others. Speak out. Be sure to read Chris Hedges' article, War is Sin in TruthDig.com. Who knows; you might find your prophetic voice. As Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel once said, "There is the grain of the prophet in the recesses of every human existence." Don't be afraid to speak out; you are in good company.



Photo: Members of Veterans For Peace at the Martin Luther King Jr. Day nonviolent vigil and direct action Naval Base Kitsap-Bangor (Trident nuclear submarine base) in Kitsap County, Washington, January 19, 2009. Photo by Leonard Eiger, Ground Zero Center for Nonviolent Action.

Monday, June 1, 2009

Free Peltier NOW!!!


We routinely see or hear stories about people being unjustly imprisoned in countries like Myanmar, China, and Iran, but how often do we here about such things in the United States, which is supposed to have a just legal system? It would be hard to imagine (for most people in the U.S.) that some people languishing in U.S. prisons might be political prisoners. Leonard Peltier is is one such political prisoner; his crime - being Native American, and being in the wrong place at the wrong time (when two FBI agents were shot).

Leonard was wrongly convicted in 1977 (based on fabricated and suppressed evidence, and coerced testimony) of the murder of two FBI agents on June 26, 1975 on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation. The United States Courts of Appeal have repeatedly recognized government misconduct in both the investigation and prosecution of Leonard's case, but have never called for justice. Leonard has never been fairly considered for parole or clemency; this case has not been a high point of the U.S. justice system.

You can learn about the facts of Leonard's case at Friends of Peltier. You can also become familiar with the 1975 incident at Pine Ridge, Leonard's case and the plight of Native Americans on the Pine Ridge Reservation (one of the poorest places in the U.S.) by watching Incident at Oglala-The Leonard Peltier Story (video below, NOTE: Ignore the contact information at the end of the video; some is out-of-date).

Leonard Peltier is innocent! He is also in poor health due to medical conditions that have not been properly treated (or withheld in at least one case) in prison. He has recently applied for a parole hearing, and one is tentatively scheduled for July 27, 2009. I hope you will join me in writing a letter in support of Leonard's parole. You can find the Parole Commission's address and a sample letter at the end of this post. Please also consider signing the online parole petition.

Amnesty International issued a statement before Congress in 2000 saying, "Amnesty International considers Leonard Peltier to be a political prisoner... Amnesty International believes that Leonard Peltier should be immediately and unconditionally released." Without justice there is no peace. Let us help bring justice for Leonard Peltier. And let there be NO more political prisoners in the United States of America. FREE THE CAPTIVES!


Further References: Amnesty International APPEAL FOR THE RELEASE OF LEONARD PELTIER

Sample Letter (from Friends of Peltier)

United States Parole Commission
5550 Friendship Boulevard
Suite 420
Chevy Chase, MD 20815-7286

(Insert Date)

Re: LEONARD PELTIER #89637-132

Dear Commissioners,

Convicted in connection with the deaths on June 26, 1975, of Ronald Williams and Jack Coler, agents of the Federal Bureau of Investigation, Mr. Leonard Peltier remains imprisoned at the United States Penitentiary in Lewisburg, Pennsylvania.

The court record in this case clearly shows that government prosecutors have long held that they do not know who killed Mr. Coler and Mr. Williams nor what role Leonard Peltier "may have" played in the tragic shoot-out.

Further, in a decision filed by the 8th Circuit Court of Appeals on December 18, 2002, Mr. Peltier’s sentences "were imposed in violation of [Peltier's] due process rights because they were based on information that was false due to government misconduct,” and, according to the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals, in 2003: "…Much of the government’s behavior at the Pine Ridge Reservation and its prosecution of Leonard Peltier is to be condemned. The government withheld evidence. It intimidated witnesses. These facts are not disputed."

Despite these admissions, Leonard Peltier has served over 33 years in prison.

After careful consideration of the facts in Leonard Peltier's case, I have concluded that Leonard Peltier does not represent a risk to the public. First, Leonard Peltier has no prior convictions and has advocated for non-violence throughout his prison term. Furthermore, Leonard Peltier has been a model prisoner. He has received excellent evaluations from his work supervisors on a regular basis. He continues to mentor young Native prisoners, encouraging them to lead clean and sober lives. He has used his time productively, disciplining himself to be a talented painter and an expressive writer. Although Leonard Peltier maintains that he did not kill the agents, he has openly expressed remorse and sadness over their deaths.

Most admirably, Mr. Peltier contributes regular support to those in need. He donates his paintings to charities including battered women's shelters, half way houses, alcohol and drug treatment programs, and Native American scholarship funds. He also coordinates an annual holiday gift drive for the children of the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation.

Leonard Peltier is widely recognized for his good deeds and in turn has won several awards including the North Star Frederick Douglas Award; Federation of Labour (Ontario, Canada) Humanist of the Year Award; Human Rights Commission of Spain International Human Rights Prize; and 2004 Silver Arrow Award for Lifetime Achievement. Mr. Peltier also has been nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize six times.

Leonard Peltier is now over 60 years of age—a great-grandfather—and suffers from partial blindness, diabetes, a heart condition, and high blood pressure.

I recognize the grave nature of the events of June 26, 1975, and I extend my deepest sympathy to the families of those who died that day. However, I find aspects of this case to also be of concern and I believe Leonard Peltier deserves to be reunited with his family and allowed to live the remaining years of his life in peace. I also believe that, rather than presenting a threat to the public, Mr. Peltier’s release would help to heal a wound that has long impeded better relations between the federal government and American Indians.

Thank you for your time and consideration.



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