Faith & Social Justice: In the spirit of Richard Overton and the 17th C. Levellers

Book Review: We Who Dared to Say No to War

WeWhoDaredWe Who Dared to Say No to War:  American Antiwar Writing From 1812 to NowEd. Murray Polner and Thomas E. Woods, Jr.  Basic Books, 2008.

I have just read a public library copy of this gem and it is on my Christmas list for my own copy.  High school and college courses in U.S. history should use this as a supplement.   Beginning with the War of 1812, the editors collect writings against war during every war fought by the USA:  The Mexican-American War, the U.S. Civil War, the Spanish-American War and the Philippine-American War, World War I, World War II, the Cold War, the Vietnam War, Iraq and the “War on Terror.” 

A major strength of this collection is the ideological range of the selections.  One editor, Murray Polner, comes from the liberal end of U.S. politics (he leans toward democratic socialism). The other editor, Thomas Woods, Jr., is a strong conservative (libertarian).  But, popular myth to the contrary, war is not a “conservative vs. liberal” issue, but a moral issue that has been opposed on many different grounds. (Likewise, there have been both liberal and conservative militarists.)  Some of the writers collected here were against all war, but others wrote only to oppose particular wars. 

Here we find writings from the famous (Daniel Webster, Henry Clay,  Transcendentalist-Unitarian minister Theodore Parker, Abraham Lincoln (while a U.S. Congressman–against the Mexican-American war), Alexander Campbell (founder of the Disciples of Christ), William Jennings Bryan, Helen Keller, Jane Addams, Eugene V. Debs, Dwight D. Eisenhower, Daniel and Philip Berrigan and others.  But we also find writings from those who are nowhere near as well known, such as Jeanette Rankin (Republican Representative from Montana, first woman elected to Congress and only member of U.S. Congress to vote against entry into both WWI and WWII), John Randolph, Church of Christ minister David Lipscomb, Russell Kirk, Elihus Burritt and others.

I am not certain why the editors began with the War of 1812 rather than the U.S. Revolutionary War (or some of the wars during the Colonial period), nor why the Korean War was omitted, but this is an amazing collection that shows that anti-war speeches and writing is a thoroughly American tradition.  A nice bonus is a comilation of “Great Antiwar Films” described and rated one to 3 stars by historian Butler Shaffer.  Scenes of anti-war protest from every period of U.S. history are illustrated by a great selection of photos scattered throughout the volume.  A great bibliography finishes out the fine volume.

The reading can be depressing since it shows how seldom peace folk have been able to stop the war machine.  It is depressing to realize how many times the press abandoned its duty to uncover propaganda and lies–this cheerleading in place of investigation did not start with the run up to the invasion of Iraq in 2003. (In fact, it is bizarre to find that many of the same bogus arguments were given for invading Canada in 1812 as were given for invading Iraq in 2003.)

But this collection need not be read in such depressing light.  Those who are against war, especially in time of war, often feel isolated and the drumbeats of militarism and shrill cries of their neighbors claim that they do not love their country.  The warmongers try to claim the heritage of the nation for themselves.  A collection like this shows that anti-war feeling and action have a strong claim to the central American tradition.  Protest, agitation, resistance are all part of the warp and woof of this nation (and doubtless of many other nations, too).  Learning this history empowers ordinary people to join in the antiwar tradition–and can work to change the nation from its embrace of a culture of imperialist warfare to a culture of peacemaking.  A war-state undermines democracy and liberty, but working against war strengthens a democratic republic.

It’s now on my Christmas list–put it on yours, too.

October 23, 2009 Posted by | Afghanistan, books, citizenship, democracy, Iraq, just peacemaking, peace, politics, social history, terrorism prevention, U.S. politics, violence, war | Comments Off on Book Review: We Who Dared to Say No to War

“Truth” Beats “War” in Fighting Terrorism

The Bush administration had fantastic dreams of a “Global War on Terrorism” (war on a method?) or even a “Global War on Terror” (war on an emotion of fear?) that could be won by simply killing terrorists everywhere–and never mind the civilians caught in the struggle.  Of course, this ended up creating terrorists faster than we can kill them–as was widely predicted by everyone other than the neo-cons.  The Obama administration has a more realistic view of the limits of military force, but still thinks military violence a necessary component of the fight against terror networks and their safe havens in Afghanistan and Pakistan.  The Obama administration recognizes the risks of killing innocents and that they could actually strengthen the extremists’ hands–it’s been very open about this, which is a refreshing change. Yet, frustratingly, infuriatingly, the Obama administration also seems stuck in the “logic of death” that is military thinking. It cannot see a way to end the threat of al Qaeda or the Taliban without military violence.

But strong truthtelling seems to work better.  As this BBC report shows,  the Taliban are losing the hearts and minds of Pakistanis in the conservative Swat area after global exposure of a video of the beating of a girl.  Maybe showing more videos of the cruelty and injustice of the Taliban all over Pakistan and Afghanistan will help them lose ground.  But photos of dead children, hit by unmanned drone bombs, will undermine this.  Civilian deaths, which can be minimized but not eliminated in war, will play into the hands of the extremists.

So, why not try a “war of images,” instead? Truthtelling, bearing witness, speaking truth to power–these nonviolent strategies do not prevent  terrorist acts per se, but they go much further than violence in eliminating the support for terrorist groups–and without that support, they whither and die.

June 6, 2009 Posted by | terrorism prevention | 3 Comments

Frank Schaeffer on Anti-Abortionist Responsibility for Tiller’s Murder

I urge everyone to read this article by Frank Schaeffer.  I don’t support any claim that ALL pro-life groups support anti-abortion violence.  Just the opposite.  Nor do I want to infringe on the civil liberties of anti-abortionist groups.  I supported the Free Access to Clinic Entrance legislation, but I do not want to oppose silent (or even noisy) vigils outside clinics where abortions are performed.  Even if you are very pro-choice, far more than I am, please consider the consequences–we don’t want to lose the right to protest peacefully outside military bases or recruiting centers, right?  Free speech, even offensive or violent free speech, is to be protected.

But there is a far-right network of groups that supports anti-abortion terrorism that operates on the fringes of the pro-life movement.  Groups like Operation Save America, Operation Rescue, Missionaries to the Unborn, etc. celebrate people like the murderer of Dr. Tiller as HEROES–comparing them to those who tried to assassinate Hitler in order to stop the Holocaust or to John Brown who tried to incite a holy war against slavery.  They are NOT trying to persuade citizens to change the laws.  They are not trying to create the climate in which most abortions are rejected because babies are welcomed.  They are not trying to prevent unwanted pregnancies or make adoptions easier.  They are not, as Feminists for Life and others do, connecting abortion to the second class status of women, to male sexual predation (including date rape, incest, and much more).  They are not even trying to get <i>Roe v. Wade</i> overturned.  They are, instead, trying to create an atmosphere of fear in which women fear to seek abortions because of threatened violence, doctors and hospitals fear to provide abortions because of threatened violence, and even churches and other faith groups fear to welcome pro-choice members like Dr. Tiller because of threatened violence.  They are advancing their goals by means of terrorist violence–and it is working.

Frank Schaeffer shows that while most Religious Right leaders did not directly participate and usually condemn the murders, they contributed to the atmosphere that encourages this violence.  I remember reading Dr. Francis A. Schaeffer’s A Christian Manifesto in 1980–it encouraged the overthrow of the American government by force if all else failed in saving “Christian civilization.”  It justified violence against abortion providers and pro-choice politicians if all legal and nonviolent means failed.  The Religious Right still has members and even leaders who promote this–and far more who give ambivalent voices.

Dr. James Dobson gave away 100,000 copies of Frank Schaeffer’s A Time for Anger which counseled anti-abortion violence as a last resort.  During the 1990s, I engaged via the email list of  the Society of Christian Philosophers, a young student at Jerry Falwell’s school, Liberty University.  I was a seamless garment, consistent-ethic-of-life person at the time and, in dialogue with me, this student became one, too–eventually going to Duke Divinity School to study with famed pacifist theologian Stanley Haerwas.  But the student also revealed to me that the “bomb the clinic/kill the abortion doctor” view was widely held among both faculty and students at Liberty University.  When Jerry Falwell himself retreated from this view after a series of bombings in the ’80s and ’90s and called on Christians to use ONLY LEGAL MEANS to end abortions, the student (before I became his friend) led a petition drive among students to reverse this policy, calling it a sell-out to the unborn.

There are websites where rightwing anti-abortion groups make heroes out of the assassins of doctors who perform abortions–getting others to write to these assassins in jail, and even to emulate their actions.

If terrorism is the use of violence and the threat of violence to intimidate others for political gain, then this is terrorism.  And if al-Qaeda, Hamas, and Hezbollah are terrorist groups who promote terror tactics using warped forms of Islam, then many of these anti-abortion groups are terror networks who appeal to warped forms of Christianity for their justification.  They are Christian terrorists.

Suppose I am wrong in claiming that while all abortions are tragic, some are the lesser of evils.  Suppose the pro-lifers are right that all abortions are the moral equivalent of murder.  Then they are right to oppose this and to try to change this.  But they cannot do so by adopting violent means.  Violence just begets more violence in a downward spiral.

I have seen this before.  In the early 1960s, I saw the assassinations of the brothers Kennedy, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., and many more martyrs in the struggle against segregation.  By the late ’60s and into the early ’70s, the Left in America (including factions of the peace movement and the student movement, along with the Black Panthers and the American Indian Movement) had adopted the same kinds of violent terror tactics that the White Citizens Councils and KKK and John Birchers had done earlier.  The bombings of black churches led to the bombings of ROTC buildings and National Guards barracks–until by 1974 one had police in many cities as practically occupying armies.  The very fabric of our society threatened to unravel.

I don’t want to see this repeat–by either the right or the left.  Yet. the first reported arson on a clinic offering abortion goes all the way back to 1976.  Since that time there have been over 200 arsons or bombings of clinics and hospitals where abortions are provided.  Beginning with the assassination of Dr. David Gunn in 1993, there have been at least 10 assassinations and attempted assassinations in the U.S. and Canada of health personnel connected with providing abortions. (Dr. George Tiller himself was shot in both arms in 1993 and now has been killed in his Withita, KS church.)  Both clinic personnel and women seeking abortions have been attacked with acid in over 100 cases since 1993.  From 1998-2002 over 500 letters containing or threatening to contain the deadly virus Anthrax have been mailed to clinics and health care providers connected to abortion services.  Women seeking to enter clinics offering abortions have been punched, kicked, beaten (all the while people yell, “We love your baby!”), given abusive speech, and much else.

The result of this terrorism has not been to change the laws–but it has reduced greatly the number of places where women can seek legal abortions in this nation.  U.S. Marshals are having to provide protection to vulnerable doctors and other clinic personnel in the wake of Dr. Tiller’s murder.

If you and your church oppose abortion without making clear your opposition to all such violence, then you are part of the problem.  If you use terms like “Tiller the killer” and make comparisons to Nazis or talk about the the murder of abortion providers as “justifiable homicide,” then you are part of the problem.  You are contributing to an atmosphere of violence.

But you aren’t ending abortions, but merely driving them back underground.  You are not creating the kind of culture which can welcome life.  And, like the Left wing zealots that bombed ROTC buildings or the Rightist racists which bombed black churches, you are threatening the fabric of our democratic society.

Vigorous debate, yes.  Political organizing, yes.  Peaceful protests, yes.  Creating alternatives, yes.  In all issues of conscience this is our duty.  But violence, no.

Christians in this nation have been shocked by the recent Pew Report showing that all churches are declining and that “none of the above” is a growing religious category.  I’m not.  When the German churches backed Hitler, the next generation grew disillusioned with the churches–and they have never fully recovered.  When the American churches of the 50s and 60s supported segregation and the Vietnam war, they lost the next generation.  Now we have a generation which has seen huge church support for the Afghanistan and Iraq wars, for torture, for the demonization of Muslims and gays, and for anti-abortion violence.  So, we look to lose another generation. 

U.S. Christians,  it is time we took a long look in the mirror.  In the words of the famous Pogo, “We have met the enemy, and he is us.”

 Operation Rescue is a group that constantly tries to have it both ways.  It always bemoans clinic violence, but spends more time saying that the doctors like Tiller had it coming (Randall Terry,”He reaped what he sowed.”).  They also tend to share membership overlaps with the crazies in the fringe groups.  For instance, it seems that people in Operation Rescue helped Dr. Tiller’s assassin track his victim’s movements.

Groups encouraging anti-abortion terrorism in the name of being “pro-life” include:

The Army of God; American Coalition of Life Activists; 34 signers of the “Justifiable Homicide” statement celebrating the murder of Dr. David Gunn in 1993.  Operation Save America; Missionaries to the Unborn (has deck of “black heart” cards with “death merchants”–doctors who perform abortions–on them; rebukes pro-life groups for denouncing Tiller’s murder or for offering to aid the police in capturing those who would commit clinic violence);

June 2, 2009 Posted by | abortion, assassination, atheism, Christianity, civil liberties, human rights., terrorism prevention, violence | 10 Comments

Are We Back to Assassinating Abortion Doctors?

Well, it appears that Dr. George Tiller, M.D., of Witchita, KS, a physician who would perform abortions, has been assassinated in his church by a “pro-life” activist.  We’re back to this.  A number of clinics where abortions were performed were bombed in the ’80s and there were a number of doctors and clinic personnel killed in the ’90s by anti-abortion activists.  This form of domestic terrorism then died out.  Anti-abortion activists stopped comparing such actions to attempts to assassinate Hitler during the Holocaust. 

But we’re back to it, it seems. 

I don’t think this is typical of the pro-life movement, but I have talked to many in it who seem happy that this kind of violence intimidates many doctors and hospitals into refusing to provide abortion services.  It is terrorism which works.

I connect this murder not to the mainstream movement against abortion, but to the rise in rightwing extremist violence that began late in last year’s presidential campaign–and includes the mass murder in a Unitarian church in Tennessee just after the election because “liberals gather there” and the murderer could not get to high profile liberals like Obama.  This kind of rightwing violence is being fomented by the ravings of those like Glenn Beck and Rush Limbaugh who dominate much of American airwaves.

There is nothing “pro-life” about assassinations. It is not “justifiable homicide” no matter what one’s views of abortions are.  It is domestic terrorism. 

There is also nothing Christian about this.  I understand opposition to abortion.  For most of my life I believed all abortions were morally wrong and I still believe that most abortions are immoral, but some are tragically the best of bad options.  But killing “the born” to prevent killing “the pre-born” (as anti-abortionists refer to gestating fetuses) is a betrayal of anything pro-life.  It simply adds to the cycle of violence.

June 1, 2009 Posted by | abortion, assassination, terrorism prevention | 23 Comments

World Can’t Wait: Nationwide Peace Protests 19 March 2009

Protests of “Obama’s War,” against continuing occupation and war in Iraq, Afghanistan, & Pakistan will take place on 19 March–the 6th anniversary of the U.S.’ illegal invasion of Iraq under false pretenses.  It is sponsored by the World Can’t Wait coalition and other anti-war groups.  Although I disagree with the tone of the advertisement, I am all in favor of these protests.  Peace doesn’t come just by an election.  We need to keep up street pressure and other kinds of pressure from to counter the pressure of the hawks:  Politicians in this country tend to protect their right flank, and be more sensitive to attacks on their patriotism and “dovishness.” Without countervailing pressure from peace groups nothing happens.

FDR once said to workers pushing for Social Security, “I agree with you. Now MAKE me do it.”  At the signing of the 1964 Civil Rights Act, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. told Pres. Johnson that a voting rights act was needed next. LBJ replied that the votes were not there and wouldn’t be for another 10 years.  “I’ll get you those votes in the streets,” replied King and the Voting Rights Act was passed in 1965. 

I may be naive, but I think Pres. Obama wants to end the Iraq Occupation COMPLETELY on a faster time table than he has announced–if for no other reason than he needs the money for his domestic agenda.  I think he is realizing that there is no military solution to Afghanistan, but is afraid to leave safe havens for al Qaeda in the mountains between Afghanistan and Pakistan. (Peace folks definitely need to propose alternatives here.)  The Beltway Consensus that we need to escalate in Afghanistan as we de-escalate in Iraq–which was nearly absolute as recently as last summer–is coming undone.  It is being challenged in the media and in Congress–and not just from peace or progressive circles.  Polls show the majority of Americans AT LEAST WORRIED about escalating in Afghanistan.

So, now is the time for street pressure.  19 March is a good place to begin. Look up local marches in your area.

UPDATE:  Thanks to citizen activism, the debate is widening in Congress and the press. Today, Rep. Russ Feingold (D-WI), a strong progressive who was a role model for Obama when he first ran for the U.S. Senate, urged Obama to speed up his Iraq withdrawal, deeply cut the “transitional forces” and to re-think Afghanistan entirely.  Keep it up, folks.  And drop Sen. Feingold an email thanking him for speaking out–then send a copy to your Rep. and Senators.

March 3, 2009 Posted by | Afghanistan, foreign policy, Iraq, peacemaking, terrorism prevention | 1 Comment

Book Review: We Can Have Peace in the Holy Land

peace-in-holy-land2Jimmy Carter, We Can Have Peace in the Holy Land:  A Plan That Will Work. Simon and Schuster, 2009.


Full disclosure: 1. Jimmy Carter is one of my heroes. I voted for him when I turned 18 and took his loss to a B-grade movie actor almost as hard as he did.  2. Like Carter, I have a deep passion for a lasting peace between Israel and Palestine–a just peace.

Those biases do not blind me, however.  I recognize that Carter was only an average president (you have to win reelection to have a chance at being a great president, even though second terms are usually much rougher than first ones).  Since his good diplomatic skills abroad were not matched with an ability to get even his own party to cooperate domestically, perhaps Carter would have made a better Secretary of State than president.  Even his human rights policy wasn’t perfect–if he hadn’t backed the Shah, perhaps the Iranian revolution would not have turned in an anti-Western direction and history would have been very different.  Carter’s great record in his post-presidency cannot make up for the average job he did as president.

I also know that the odds are stacked against a Middle East peace deal.  In fact, the odds have been getting worse since 2001:  After the collapse of the Clinton-backed talks, Ariel Sharon deliberately provoked the Second (more violent) Intifada and Arafat and the Palestinians played right into that.  Whereas the first Intifada had been led by a nonviolent wing (allthough the Western media focused on those, like the stone throwing youths, who broke nonviolent discipline), the 2nd Intifada centered on suicide bombers–many of them women!  Then came the Likud election of Netanyahu and then Sharon and things got continually bloodier while Bush didn’t care.  Then came the re-occupation of the West Bank, Arafat a prisoner in his own compound, civilian deaths skyrocketed and the suicide bombings increased.  Then Israel built its “security fence,” a huge wall that ate up miles of Palestinian land and turned large sections of the West Bank into giant  open air prisons.  Plus the constant bulldozing of Palestinian homes. Then, after Arafat’s death, the Palestinians became frustrated with a weakened Fatah in charge of the Palestinian Authority and elected Hamas–which led to an ever worse situation. Civil war broke out in the Territories and Fatah claimed the West Bank and Hamas got Gaza.  The Hamas rocket attacks (even if mostly missing any targets) were designed to provoke a disproportionate response and they succeeded–With the Israeli total war against Gaza.  Just when things seem like they can’t get any worse, Israeli politics takes a sharp turn to the FAR Right. For although the Kamida Party won the most votes, they don’t have enough to form a government, not even in coalition with Labor.  So, Netanyahu and Likud will return to power in coalition with rightwingers so extreme (like Avigdor Liebermann) that even the ISRAELI press likens them to “Jewish fascists.” In such a context, can any peace plan be realistic?

When Carter promoted his book and plan on MSNBC’s The Rachel Maddow Show (my favorite cable news program, hosted by the only out-lesbian in U.S. broadcast journalism–a young Rhodes scholar with a D.Phil. in political science from Oxford and a veteran of the liberal radio network, Air America–and a quirky sense of humor), Maddow asked him if the (then-upcoming) Israeli elections would make a difference in the chances for peace.  He said that the particular cabinet would mean more, although he was clear that a Likud victory would be a setback.  But Carter puts his hope in several facts which give us a window (but narrow one) for a lasting peace:

  • Despite all the negative events and crimes on both sides, vast majorities on both sides of the Israeli-Palestinian divide (upward of 80%) still favor a two-state peace solution.  No matter who is in power in either side, those numbers MUST push them to peace–especially if the U.S. and Europe prods them.
  • The basic shape of a successful, lasting peace deal has been agreed to IN PRINCIPLE by all parties since the late ’70s:  The Israel-Palestine borders return to the pre-1967 ones (these are the only borders that have been recognized by international law); Israel removes the Jewish settlements from Palestine and either removes the wall or moves it BACK to the border, NOT cutting off any Palestinian land; Palestine is an unarmed state except for police/security forces; Palestine gets a seaport; Jerusalem is a shared city.  These are agreed to by ALL the major parties–the question is how to get there.
  • A major sticking point is the problem of the Jewish settlers in the West Bank.  Carter suggests removing only about 85% of them, leaving the settlements just outside Jerusalem. IN RETURN, Israel would trade Palestine an equal amount of land, acre by acre, to create a corridor that connects the West Bank and Gaza, making Palestine a far more viable nation state.
  • Another major sticking point is the “right of return.” When Israel was founded in 1948, and again during the 1967 war, thousands of Palestinians lost their homes–some of which had been owned for 2000 years. Under international law, such refugees and their descendants are entitled to return to those homes.  But if ALL the Palestinians returned to homes in Israel, they would outnumber Jewish Israelis, making a Jewish state impossible.  Carter suggests that Palestine could accept in its borders the majority of returnees. Others could be compensated monetarily for lost homes.
  • A solution of this kind has been proposed for years.  A few years  ago, the Arab League sweetened the deal for Israel:  IF they would agree to such a two-state peace, then EVERY MEMBER of the Arab League would not only recognize Israel’s right to exist, but cease harboring pro-Palestinian terrorist groups and open FULL DIPLOMATIC relations with Israel. This is something Israel has wanted for over 50 years: It would greatly strengthen its security and economy. To date, only Egypt and Jordan, out of the Arab League, recognize Israel–and the recent Gaza war has led many in their publics to call for cutting off these diplomatic ties.
  • There are Arabic citizens of Israel, not just in Palestine.  Because Israel’s birthrate is  low and Diaspora Jews no longer are moving to Israel, the high-birth Arab Israelis are threatening to soon outnumber the Jewish Israelis.  This would be sped up considerably if Israel simply tried to annex the Palestinian territories. This would mean the death of a Jewish state.  This demographic clock (which all in Israel know about) pushes even the most hawkish Israeli to try to find a peaceful two state solution before it runs out and demographics destroy the Israeli experiment as 50 plus years of war never could.
  • There is also a clock for Palestine: the desperation and despair of the youth.  The rise in suicide bombings  is a sign of a lack of hope for the future.  Between the settlements and the Israeli army, Palestine could soon find it impossible to HAVE a viable state.
  • The Obama administration, unlike the Bush administration, is very interested in a two-state peace.  Obama did not reveal just HOW MUCH he was interested in this until after the election. During the campaign he said far more about the imperative of U.S. protection of Israel than  he ever did about the rights of Palestinians.  It is now clear that he was keeping the pro-Israel Right from using his concern for a Middle East peace as a “wedge issue” to win the election and put the hawkish McCain in the White House.  But since the election, and even more since inauguration, Obama has signalled that U.S.-Israeli-Palestinian relations are changing:  He placed his first presidential overseas phone call to the head of the Palestinian Authority. He appointed George Mitchell as special envoy for Middle East peace. (Mitchell, a former U. S. Senator, was instrumental in negotiating peace in Northern Ireland. He also has street cred with both Palestinians and Israelis.) Obama has warned Israel against more Jewish settlements in the territories–even threatening to cut off U.S. military support.

So, while making peace in the Holy Land will be hard, it is not impossible.  Carter’s book is a step-by-step plan to get it done and he has been advising Obama on this since the election.  And Carter, we remember, negotiated the 1978 Camp David Accords which led directly to the Israel-Egypt Peace Treaty– not one line of which has ever been violated. 

It seems to me that the level of distrust between Palestinians and Israelis is the major obstacle to peace–and requires outside intervention.  The U.S. must be a major player not because of any U.S. peace virtues (if we even HAVE any) but because we are the one nation Israel CANNOT ignore–they depend heavily upon us for economic and military support.  The European Union and the Arab League must be deeply involved because Palestinians need them.

Like Carter, I have deep faith-based reasons to care deeply about this: Christians are to be peacemakers; we have a sense of solidarity with Palestinian Christians–many of whose communities date back to the very first generation of Christians; we have a sense of solidarity with Jews  because our faith is the daughter of Judaism; we have (or should have) a sense of solidarity with mainstream Muslims because ours is a sister faith.  We want a peaceful land that is Holy to all  3 of the Abrahamic monotheistic faiths.  We won’t agree on whether Jesus is the Messiah or the Son of God (God has no children, say Muslims and the Trinity is disguised polytheism say Jews), but we have much else in common and deep reasons to see peace come to the Holy Land.  For Carter this is the cause of his life because he believes it is the very will of God.

But American citizens, whether or not they share anything like Carter’s religious reasons for working for Middle East peace, have deep reasons of self interest to push for success here.  1)The plight of the Palestinians is the NUMBER ONE recruiting tool  for extremist, anti-Western Islamist groups that promote  violence and terrorism.  Some of them, like Hezbollah, are sincere, but many are simply cynically using the Palestinians for their own ends.  In any case, a two-state peace robs these groups of their single biggest recruiting tool. It robs Hezbollah of a reason to exist!  As Arab League nations said to  then-Sec. of State Colin Powell in 2002 when he was trying to recruit allies for the invasion of Iraq–it would be better to make peace between Israel and Palestine. Such a peace is the single-biggest blow to Islamist terorists possible. 2) The U.S.’ apparent one-sided support for Israel channels this concern for the Palestinians into a hatred of America if such hatred were not there previously. 3) The Israel/Palestine fued and series of wars and crises is a drain on U.S. resources: in terms of the level of military support to Israel (our largest % of foreign aid, of all types, is military aid to Israel) and in terms of constant drain on our diplomatic resources. 4) The constant humanitarian crises in Palestine is also a drain on our resources–an economically stable and peaceful  Palestine would not need such support from either Europe or the U.S. 5) We get a constant influx of Palestinian refugees into the United States–it’s amazing that none of the anti-immigrant Lou Dobbs types don’t rail against this.  Our already over stressed social safety net (whose strength was eroded by GOP fiscal priorities long before the current economic crisis) doesn’t need the added burden–and it is inevitable that a few extremists come in with the legitimate refugees. 6) A prosperous and peaceful Israel and Palestine could import U.S. exports, helping us get out of recession.

So, there are many compelling pragmatic as well as moral reasons to invest heavily in Middle East peace.  It won’t be easy–and the recent Israeli elections are the biggest obstacle since the Palestinians elected Hamas!  But it CAN be done–and Jimmy Carter’s book outlines the way forward.

UPDATE:  Even as he is forming his government, new PM Netanyahu is telling reporters that he will work with Obama for peace with Palestine.  While his past record should make us skeptical, we should also see this as a hopeful sign that even Netanyahu realizes that the political context has changed.  Now, if only Obama will push all parties equally instead of returning to the usual U.S. carrot and stick policy:  all carrots for Israel and all sticks for Palestine.

February 22, 2009 Posted by | Baptists, books, foreign policy, Israel-Palestine, Jimmy Carter, just peacemaking, terrorism prevention | 13 Comments

Closing Gitmo & Secret Prisons; Banning Torture

President Obama today issued several welcome Executive Orders rolling back some of the worst abuses of the Bush era:

  • An order to close the detention center at Guantanemo Bay Cuba completely within the year.  Some of the detainees will simply be released or repatriated, some will be tried in regular courts and some who are clearly dangerous but who cannot be tried in either civilian or military courts because Bush folk screwed up and tortured them no one knows yet how to handle.  If the Obama people follow the law, they may have no choice but to release these people because their attorneys can file writs of Habeas Corpus.  This is a legal and national security mess (and a MORAL mess) that Bush created that will  be hard to clean up.
  • An order to close the so-called “black sites,” the ring of secret CIA prisons around the world created by the Bush administration. I hope the Obama administration allows international human rights observers and journalists to see all of these gulags.
  • An order to place all interrogations under the standards of the U.S. Army Field Manual (which spells out interrogation techniques allowed by international law, especially the Geneva Conventions), effectively banning torture.  Several sources seem to see a loophole for expanding those interrogation techniques in the order, but given the people Obama is putting in the Office of Legal Counsel, I don’t really fear that he will allow torture to sneak back in. [UPDATE: The Obama people told the Washington Post and the L.A. Times today that this is NOT a loophole. Rather, because the CIA doesn’t want to be guided by the Army Field Manual, this will develop a similar guide that is just as compliant with the Geneva Conventions as the Army Field Manual. This is what was done from 1947 when the CIA was created until the Bushies suddenly considered the Geneva Conventions “quaint.”] I worry more that what is ended by executive order could be allowed again by another executive order in a future administration.  Congress should act quickly to require all interrogations be controlled by the standards of the Geneva Conventions and the relevant treaties against torture. Statute removes this from simply policy differences. [ UPDATE: Sen. Diane Feinstein (D-CA) is reintroducing legislation that will make the Army Field Manual standards apply to  all interrogations, thus making it harder for a new president to reverse Obama’s decision and return to Bush torture practices.  Hooray!  However, there is some irony here since many, including myself, have been critical of DiFi for not doing more to stop the Bush people from torture, spying on Americans,  etc. So, maybe she’s seen the light.] Prosecuting past abuses will also put all future administrations on notice.
  •  We need to be vigilant, here. All politicians like to give themselves “wiggle room” vis-a-vis the law and Obama the Constitutional Scholar will struggle with Obama the Commander in Chief in a world of terrorist networks.  Congress, the courts, and WE, the PEOPLE, need to work against any temptations to backslide back into the Bush era.  Faith networks like Evangelicals for Human Rights and the National Religious Coalition Against Torture need to play our part–because stupid pro-torture TV shows like “24” are shaping public attitudes where moral authorities do not speak up. UPDATE:  Aaron Weaver has posted the public reaction from my friend, Baptist ethicist Dave Gushee, founder of Evangelicals for Human Rights, on these orders at this link!
  • An order reoking Bush’s efforts to hide all presidential and ex-presidential papers forever in presidential libraries, undercutting the post-Watergate “Presidential Records Act.”  This will add transparency back into government–and sunshine is still the best cure for skullduggery.  Why did W issue this order BEFORE 9/11? I think it was to bury evidence of just how far his father, George H.W. Bush (or Pres. 41), was involved in the Iran-Contra crimes.  The statute of limitations has expired, but at least future generations will know. And, of course, no limitations have run out on Jr’s own crimes.  Prosecute NOW!

This is a good start.  It’s also welcome news that former Sen. George Mitchell, who negotiated an end to the fighting in Northern Ireland during the ’90s, is being sent as special envoy to the Middle East and Richard Holbrooke as special envoy to Afghanistan, Pakistan and the region. (I also think some Muslim American faces should be part of these efforts.) I  am still nervous about Timothy Geithner as Treasury Secretary and keeping Bob Gates on as Secretary of Defense, but these bold moves begin the process of restoring the U.S.’ moral stature (never as large as we Americans usually believe–read our history–but seldom as far off course in modern history as in the last 8 years).

These efforts will also be controversial. Many Americans voted for Obama for other reasons and only 51% approve the closing of the Gitmo gulag.  58% approve banning all torture, which is still too low a percentage, imo.

This is all the more reason to fulfill this campaign promise quickly, while Obama enjoys an 83% approval rating.  (Psst. Mr. President: For the same reason, this would be a great time to repeal the “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” ban on GLBT folks serving openly in the military–a repeal now supported by many military brass, and to urge Congress to pass quickly the Employee Non-Discrimination Act [ENDA–bans discrimination in hiring, promotions, etc. for GLBT persons, with religious liberty exceptions for churches,  synagogues, etc.] & the repeal of the Defense of Marriage Act [DOMA–the federal law against same-sex marriages signed by Bill Clinton in ’96]. If you wait until later,  these measures will be much harder to do.)

January 22, 2009 Posted by | civil liberties, human rights., terrorism prevention, torture, U.S. politics | 4 Comments

SOA Vigil

The annual vigil to close the School of the Americas, Ft. Benning, GA, the U.S.’ own tax-supported school for state-supported terrorists and human rights abusers, is going on right now.  You can see pictures and keep up with developments here.  Several people, including many of the older youth, at my church are there this year.  Friends from the BPFNA and FOR will be there. My prayers are with them and my prayer for all the people of Central and South America are that this horrendous school will soon be closed. Far too many peasants, priests, nuns, and human rights workers have been killed in Central and South America by graduates of the SOA.  It’s time to padlock this “School of Assassins” forever.

November 17, 2007 Posted by | human rights., terrorism prevention, U.S. politics | 1 Comment

New Report: “War on Terror” Failing; Fueling Terrorism

As reported today by Reuters, a new report by the Oxford Research Group studying terrorist incidents and the activity of known international terror networks concludes that, 6 years after the 11 September 2001 attacks on the United States, the “war on terror” is failing and is, instead, fueling an increase in support for extremist groups, especially those with a radical Islamist ideology.  The report concludes that “a fundamental re-think is required” if global terrorist networks like al-Qaeda are to be rendered ineffective.  I have noted before that the practices  of Just Peacemaking provide such an alternative way to oppose terrorism.

The report’s author, Paul Rogers, who teaches Peace and Global Studies at Bradford University in the U.K., calls the decision to invade Iraq, “a disastrous mistake” that has given a recruiting and training ground to al Qaeda. He also warns about the drift toward war with Iran which would compound this disaster.  Al-Qaeda can, according to Bradford, be contained and rendered ineffective, but this will take policy changes on every level, including withdrawal of all foreign troops from Iraq, coupled with intensive diplomatic engagement in the region, including Syria and Iran. (Note: In the U.S., presidential candidates Bill Richardson and Dennis Kucinich, both longshots, have proposed this, although Kucinich wants an international force of UN peacekeepers to replace U.S. and coalition troops until Iraq can provide its own security. By contrast, the frontrunners, Clinton, Obama, and Edwards, have only proposed pulling out “combat troops” or “changing the mission” of a reduced number of troops to just fighting Al Qaeda in Iraq–which didn’t exist before the invasion.  The “frontrunners” need to be confronted with this report and urged toward bolder moves.)

The Oxford Research Group report, called Alternatives to the War on Terror, also had proposals for Afghanistan: immediate scaling down of military activities, injection of far more civil aid (especially outside Kabul in rural areas), and negotiations with militia groups aimed at bringing them into the political process.  The U.S. likes to claim that it “never negotiates with terrorists,” but the claim is a blatant falsehood.  The U.S. has supported terrorists it believed on “our side,” and, in its better moments, has helped guerilla groups turn from armed conflict to becoming political parties.  The latter is what is being urged here.

Even if such changes are adopted quickly, the ORG report claims that “it will take at least 10 years to make up for the mistakes made since 9/11.” “Failure to make the necessary changes could result in the war on terror lasting decades.” Of course, many of the Neo-Cons in an out of the Bush administration have WANTED a decades long “war on terror,” and used this endless war scenario to justify the concentration of near-absolute power in the presidency! They have cynically used people’s desires for security to dismantle the system of checks and balances that make us a democratic republic and have undermined the rule of law.  Whether such moves will be undone in a new administration, of either party, remains to be seen. “Emergency” Powers tend to be much harder to give up, if history is any guide.

Finally, Professor Rogers warns against war with Iran.  Such a move would make matters far worse. Whatever our difficulties in dealing with Iran, he warns, a military attack by Israel or Western Nations would play into the hands of extremists (like pouring kerosene on an open flame) and add greatly to violence throughout the entire region.

This report needs to be sent immediately to the U.S. Congress, the British Parliament, and the French government at a mininum (naming only those with the most belligerant recent words about Iran).  But the final task of heeding such warnings will lie in the hands of the citizens of world.  That’s us, folks.

I don’t know the full recommendations of this report, but I would think there are several other steps to take to correct the mistakes made since 9/11:

  • Close the Prison at Guantanemo Bay, which has become almost as infamous a symbol as the prison at Abu Ghraib.
  • Close all secret prisons run by the CIA.
  • Ban all cruel, inhuman, and degrading treatment of prisoners, whether prisoners of war or “enemy combatants.”
  • Restore Habeas Corpus and make all trials of terrorism suspects conform to international law.
  • Hold a regional Middle East Peace Summit in which all issues: the 2-state solution in Israel/Palestine, tearing down the wall, return of the Golan Heights, stability of Lebanon, etc. are on the table.
  • Fund education throughout the Muslim world so that poor parents aren’t forced to turn to extremist madrassahs.
  • Send Bush, Cheney, Rumsfeld, Rice, Gonzalez, etc. to the International Criminal Court at the Hague to stand trial for war crimes.

October 8, 2007 Posted by | just peacemaking, terrorism prevention | 5 Comments

Colin Powell warns of a “Terrorism Industrial Complex”

Thanks to Bruce Prescott for this story.  And thanks to Bruce’s son Will for the interview with Powell for The Oklahoma University Daily.  Powell should have broken with this TIC long before and his horrible snow job before the UN has undermined greatly his credibility, but, at least his chastened attitude is better than the Petraeus shell game.

September 13, 2007 Posted by | foreign policy, Iraq, terrorism prevention | 1 Comment