"The Christian must discover in contemplation, and in the giving of his life, those symbolic actions which will ignite the people's faith to resist injustice with their whole lives, lives coming together as a united force of truth and thus releasing the liberating power of the God within them." - James Douglass, Contemplation and Resistance.

Saturday, May 31, 2008

A Reply to Jonathan Wilson-Hargrove

Faces of Integrity: Jonathan Wilson-Hargrove, is the author of New Monasticism: What It Has to Say to Today's Church (Baker).

"Hope, St. Augustine wrote, has two beautiful daughters. They are anger and courage. Anger at the way things are and the courage to see they do not remain the way they are. We stand at the verge of a massive economic dislocation, one forcing millions of families from their homes and into severe financial distress, one that threatens to rend the fabric of our society. We are waging a war that devours lives and capital, and that cannot ultimately be won. We are told we need to give up our rights to be safe, to be protected. In short, we are made afraid. We are told to hand over all that is best about our nation to those like George Bush and Dick Cheney who seek to destroy our nation. A state of fear only engenders cruelty; cruelty, fear, insanity, and then paralysis. In the center of Dante’s circle the damned remained motionless. If we do not become angry, if we do not muster within us the courage, indeed the militancy, to challenge those in the Democratic and Republican parties who herd us towards the corporate state, we will have squandered our courage and our integrity when we need it most." - Chris Hedges, - "The Corporate State and the Subversion of Democracy"

Hope, like the power of the Word of God, cannot be confined to personal hope, but must open out into hope for all mankind. That means that one of the gifts of the Holy Spirit (perhaps the primary gift) is to work for justice in the world. This work must not be artificially bound by the constrictions of corporate capitalism, which would mean capitulation to the powers of this world, but must conduct "experiments in truth" that seek alternative economic structures.

The attitude of some of the best Christian thinking about social justice is well characterized in the following quote by Jonathan Wilson-Hargrove, "People like John Perkins of the Christian Community Development Association have helped me to see that the political hope of the God movement is both more radical and more effective when it stays committed to the grassroots and to the practice of entrusting everyday people with the tactics of Jesus. You’re right: We ought not let the empire hold our imaginations captive by believing that the gospel is only personal. But neither should we imagine that we can jump to good national and global policy without being transformed ourselves." - Response to Zack Exley: Avoiding 'Resident Alienation' in Pursuit of New Humanity (by Jonathan Wilson-Hartgrove)

I fully understand and endorse this tactic and the attitude that underlies it, but I want to explore that attitude more fully. He says: "We ought not let the empire hold our imaginations captive by believing that the gospel is only personal." Much hangs on what he means here by "personal". If it means "individual", "non-social", "having to do only with me as an individual before God", then the tactic of keeping the focus on the local community makes sense. The social side of the Gospel could then be fulfilled by working in the local community. But it seems to me that this meaning of the terms represents a variation on the same captivity of the social imagination as the empire's insistence that the Gospel is exclusively personal. If we do not act outside of our local community, then we have implicitly accepted the notion that we have no power beyond that local community. The tactic also blends in smoothly with the emphasis on personal salvation since it emphasizes personal action in daily life.

The attitude that first we must save ourselves and only when we have realized God's power in our lives will we have a genuine alternative to offer the world appears to be solid Christian doctrine. But it seems to me that this is a deliberate truncation of our power to understand and transform the world. If the founding fathers of this country had adopted that attitude, they would have continued on the path of the Pilgrims and built Christian communities and accepted the oppression of the British empire because those political realities were beyond the scope of the local community. The larger issue is what we understand in the terms "personal" and "social" from the Christian perspective. We are committing acts of social and political significance every time we pump gas or buy groceries. Those who control the gas pump and food prices have an agenda that is right now causing the starvation of 18,000 children a day. To refuse to challenge those making decisions that starve children by an explicit analysis of the current economic power structures and public actions such as anti-war rallies and protests at the G8 conferences is to say in effect, "The empire is right. Our message is only for local communities and individuals. It has nothing to say about how the larger world is organized." It is also socially incoherent because local communities can never be disconnected from that larger world. Forces in that world also have the power to destroy those local efforts if they succeed enough to offer a threatening example. A quick glance at the history of Christian utopian communities in 19th century America reveals how rapidly and carelessly the world can snuff out the vision of such communities.

That said, I applaud and encourage the efforts to build Christian communities that can serve as an example to the world. But at the same time, I believe we need to take up once again the work of the liberation theologians to provide a coherent analysis of the structures of social sin and develop a strategy for confronting those structures at the appropriate level.

A good example is the growing practice of torturing the opponents (or supposed opponents) of U.S. foreign policy in order to terrorize or extract information from them. What type of sin is being committed here? Is it the personal sin of the torturers? Or is it the social sin of a complacent society dedicated to the pleasures of consumption and not too squeamish about what needs to be done to maintain those pleasures? Clearly, it is both and much more that could be added. Creating a Christian community that builds up the image of God in each member works against the attitude behind torture. But does it address the immediate reality that thousands of people are being tortured to support the unjust social structures that our inaction is partially responsible for? Is the "local only" approach of the "new monastics" the approach of Dr. Martin Luther King (before it was "democratized", as Jonathan described it (though I would use another word): direct nonviolent confrontation with the powers of injustice? This seems to be the most effective strategy for bringing about the "Beloved Community", but few have the courage or vision for it today.

I can end no better than with Jonathan's own words, "The call to conversion is total. We desperately need new imaginations as well as a whole new world. The good news is that God has already made all of this possible in Jesus. I hope we can struggle to live into it together." - Response to Zack Exley: Avoiding 'Resident Alienation' in Pursuit of New Humanity (by Jonathan Wilson-Hartgrove)

Interrupt the World

"In a secret videoconference last November, Maliki and Bush signed an agreement, a cynically titled “Declaration of Principles for a Long-Term Relationship of Cooperation and Friendship,” which outlined plans for the establishment of permanent American military bases and preferential treatment for US energy conglomerates and investors to exploit Iraqi oil reserves." - "Thousands of Iraqis protest agreement for indefinite US occupation"

Thus the empire plans to finalize its control over Iraqi oil fields by the permanent stationing of 50,000 troops in 20 massive bases, according the Debka-Net-Weekly, a site associated with Israeli intelligence. The final end of democracy in America has cast its shadows ahead of the event in many ways. One of them is signaled by the manner in which the permanent commitment of troops to occupy and control Iraqi resources no longer requires even a rubber stamp approval by the imperial Senate: "Crocker reasserted the administration’s position that the bilateral deal did not need to be and would not be submitted to the Senate for approval. Instead the so-called Status of Forces Agreement would be imposed by executive order." - "Thousands of Iraqis protest agreement for indefinite US occupation"

The agreement allows U.S. troops to kill or incarcerate any Iraqi citizen deemed to be a threat to the empire's plans for total control of the resources of that country. It is likely that such agreements will serve as cover for contingencies such as the accidental victory of a Democratic candidate for president, though that eventuality has no doubt been effectively planned for in many ways. The new president will be compelled to maintain occupying forces in the Middle East by such agreements, as well as by the pressure of manipulated public opinion, especially if control of Iraqi oil can be leveraged to lower gas prices. Thousands of incremental surrenders by the American public have paved the way for this assertion of control, from the current acceptance of torture as an instrument of American policy, to the implicit acceptance that vast public opposition to the war is no longer a factor in the calculations of empire.

The Iraqis themselves, whose voice is openly ignored by the U.S. media, are quite aware of what the agreement implies for their country, "Another leading Sadrist, Sheikh Mohannad Al-Gazawi, decried the agreement, stating that it 'binds Iraq and gives 99 percent of the country to America.'" - "Thousands of Iraqis protest agreement for indefinite US occupation" He could have easily added that it gives 100% of the country to the empire of global capital. We can only hope that the new masters of Iraqi resources will not find it necessary to completely eliminate the native population, as the Israelis have decided to do in Palestine.

The protests that flared out across Iraq as soon as news of the agreement became known embody the Iraqi understanding of the plans long laid. "The Association of Muslim Scholars declared that any Iraqi signatories of the document would be looked on as 'collaborators with the occupier." - "Thousands of Iraqis protest agreement for indefinite US occupation" The U.S. intended from the beginning of the invasion to break up Iraq into warring social segments so that it could weaken and eliminate opposition. It is likely that current division into three segments of political dominance, Kurd, Shiite and Sunni will be formalized and a low-intensity civil war encouraged so as to keep each faction focused on sectarian fighting. This accomplishes two major purposes for the Americans. The first is that it diverts resources from resistance to imperial plans. Secondly, it aids in the ethnic cleansing process that would otherwise need to be carried out exclusively with American resources.

It would seem that the "Vietnam Syndrome" is finally at an end. The empire, having neutralized the ability to mount effective protests, can now proceed in its project of controlling the last remaining fossil fuel resources without hindrance. Yet...control can never be complete, one spark of resistance can connect with another. The forces we struggle against realize the nature of our power, but their power is based in the weakness of violence. "The exploited of the world vastly outnumber the exploiters. In order to remain in power, the privileged must therefore rely on economic controls, torture and murder by police states, military intervention, and a threatened last resort, weapons of annihilation. The Third World War, which is now being fought through interest, will some day be fought, if the exploiters find it 'necessary', by nuclear explosions on the poor in the Third World - in the name of a defense against terrorism." - James W. Douglass, "The Nonviolent Coming of God"

But the power we wield is not based in weakness. "Evil's power lies in darkness, our own darkness. Evil's power to destroy life comes from our denial of its presence and our refusal to accept responsibility for it. The essence of our life-destroying evil lies in our unseen unacknowledged cooperation with it. As we began to claim personal responsibility ... we experienced the faith to overcome the evil which was in us and on the trains: faith in the redeeming power of nonviolent love, faith in the cross." - James W. Douglass, "The Nonviolent Coming of God"

The power we wield is the spiritual equivalent of the nuclear explosions that power the sun. "Is there a spiritual reality, inconceivable to us today, which corresponds in history to the physical reality which Einstein discovered and which led to the atomic bomb?...Might there not also be, as Gandhi suggested, an equally incredible and undiscovered law of spiritual change, whereby a single person or small community of persons could be converted into an enormous spiritual energy capable of transforming a society and a world?"

Sunday, May 25, 2008

Touch the Truth of the World

"Redeem the times! The times are inexpressibly evil. Christians pay conscious -- indeed religious -- tribute to Caesar and Mars; by approval of overkill tactics, by brinkmanship, by nuclear liturgies, by racism, by support of genocide. They embrace their society with all their heart, and abandon the cross. They pay lip service to Christ and military service to the powers of death." - Daniel Berrigan, Statement of the Catonsville Nine

In 2008, Christians gladly embrace a society dedicated to war in a country that has no enemies other than those it has itself created. We can't struggle against death because we are satisfied with the life that this worship of death provides us. In order to maintain it, we will invent or even manufacture enemies so that death can be endlessly justified. The Iraqis are clearly not our enemies, yet we have declared never ending war on their people until they concede to our demand for absolute control of their resources.

"The US is holding hostage some $50 billion of Iraq's money in the Federal Reserve Bank of New York to pressure the Iraqi government into signing an agreement seen by many Iraqis as prolonging the US occupation indefinitely. US negotiators are using the existence of $20bn in outstanding court judgments against Iraq in the US, to pressure their Iraqi counterparts into accepting the terms of the military deal, details of which were reported here yesterday." - Patrick Cockburn, "U. S. Extorts Iraq to Approve Military Deal"

While Iraqi children starve and American smart bombs obliterate the oldest civilization on earth, the U.S. threatens to steal 20 billion of desperately needed funds and then require the Iraqis to rebuild the country we destroyed. They must immediately (before July 31) accept permanent military occupation in order to escape a worse hell than the one imposed so far. We have brought them to the brink of such desperation that they might yield. Yet, against all reason and realpolitik, they remain miraculously unbending, while Christians remain predictably silent, unaware that their religion has anything to do with political justice.

In order to save itself from slow genocide, Iraq must submit to permanent military occupation. For now and the foreseeable future, "American forces will be able to carry out arrests of Iraqi citizens and conduct military campaigns without consultation with the Iraqi government. American soldiers and contractors will enjoy legal immunity." - Patrick Cockburn, "U. S. Extorts Iraq to Approve Military Deal" The empire will retain the power of life and death over every Iraqi citizen.

The price of "freedom" is high: "Human beings are machine-gunned and bombed from the air, automatic grenade launchers pepper hovels and neighbors with high-powered explosive devices, and convoys race through Iraq like freight trains of death. These soldiers and Marines have at their fingertips the heady ability to call in airstrikes and firepower that obliterate landscapes and villages in fiery infernos.

The cost to Americans is equally high: "They can instantly give or deprive human life, and with this power they become sick and demented. The moral universe is turned upside down. All human beings are used as objects. And no one walks away uninfected.
War thrusts us into a vortex of pain and fleeting ecstasy. It thrusts us into a world where law is of little consequence, human life is cheap, and the gratification of the moment becomes the overriding desire that must be satiated, even at the cost of another’s dignity or life." - Chris Hedges, "Collateral Damage: What It Really Means"

"The vanquished know the essence of war — death. They grasp that war is necrophilia. They see that war is a state of almost pure sin, with its goals of hatred and destruction. They know how war fosters alienation, leads inevitably to nihilism, and is a turning away from the sanctity and preservation of life. All other narratives about war too easily fall prey to the allure and seductiveness of violence as well as the attraction of the godlike power that comes with the license to kill with impunity." - Chris Hedges, "Collateral Damage: What It Really Means"

I conclude with words from Robert F. Kennedy, whose inspiration we should be celebrating today. 40 years after his death, he remains and even increases as a shining beacon of sanity. Here he considers why we fail to take the risk of acting for radical change in our society:

"First is the danger of futility, the belief that there is nothing one man or one woman can do against the enormous array of the world’s ills -- against misery and ignorance, injustice and violence. Yet many of the world's great movements of thought and action have flowed from the work of a single [individual] .... Few will have the greatness to bend history itself, but each of us can work to change a small portion of events, and in the total of all those acts will be written the history of this generation...

The second danger is that of expediency, of those who say that hopes and beliefs must bend before immediate necessities. Of course, if we would act effectively, we must deal with the world as it is. We must get things done. But if there was one thing President Kennedy stood for that touched the most profound feelings of people across the world, it was the belief that idealism, high aspirations, and deep convictions are not incompatible with the most practical and efficient of programs – that there is no basic inconsistency between ideals and realistic possibilities, no separation between the deepest desires of heart and mind and the rational application of human effort to human problems. It is not realistic or hardheaded to solve problems and take action unguided by ultimate moral aims and values. It is thoughtless folly...

A third danger is timidity. Few are willing to brave the disapproval of their fellows, the censure of their colleagues, the wrath of their society. Moral courage is a rarer commodity than bravery in battle or great intelligence. Yet it is the one essential, vital quality for those who seek to change a world that yields most painfully to change."

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

2500 Children Imprisoned by Bush

Iraqi child murdered by U.S. ignorance and complancency

"At least eight of those children, some reportedly as young as 10, were held at Guantanamo. They even had a special camp for them there: Camp Iguana. One of those kids committed suicide at the age of 21, after spending five years in confinement at Guantanamo. (Ironically and tragically, that particular victim of the president’s criminal policy, had been determined by the Pentagon to have been innocent only two weeks before he took his own life, but nobody bothered to tell him he was slated for release and a return home to Afghanistan.)" - Dave Lindorff, "Bush's War on Children"

As Christians, we believe that God protects children, but we are the hands that he uses. But so benumbed has our God-formed conscience become that we make not a whimper at 10 year old terrorists locked up without charges at Guantanamo. Such is the price of our "safety". Truly have we succumbed to that deadening of conscience described by Thomas Merton, "The great danger is that under the pressures of anxiety and fear, the alternation of crisis and relaxation and new crisis, the people of the world will come to accept gradually the idea of war, the idea of submission to total power, and the abdication of reason, spirit and individual conscience. The great peril of the cold war is the progressive deadening of conscience." - Thomas Merton, "Cold War Letters"

"I say Bush’s behavior is criminal because since 1949, under the Geneva Conventions signed and adopted by the US, and incorporated into US law under the Constitution’s supremacy clause, children under the age of 15 are classed as 'protected persons,' and even if captured while fighting against US forces are to be considered victims, not POWs. In 2002, the Bush administration signed an updated version of that treaty, raising the 'protected person' age to all those 'under 18.'" - Dave Lindorff, "Bush's War on Children"

Monday, May 19, 2008

The Fist Pounds at the Door

"'The financial crisis that we now face was created by design. It is intended to destroy the labor movement, crush the middle class, quash Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security, reduce our foreign debt by 50 or 60%, force a restructuring of America’s debt, privatize all public assets and resources, and create a new regime of austerity measures which will divert more wealth to the banking and corporate establishment." - Danny Schechter, "Behind the Rise in Prices: A Plan to Torpedo the Dollar"

As Christians, we are called to think deeply about economic realities. Cardinal Ratzinger's instructions on liberation theology accuse Marxists of fomenting class warfare in a way that is contrary to the Catholic faith. Without going into a detailed critique of Ratzinger's interpretation of liberation theology, suffice it to say that his method is the opposite of Thomas Aquinas. Rather than discovering the truth of opposing positions by excavating the fundamental truths which are being proposed by one's opponent, he focuses on extreme positions and narrows and exaggerates their tendency. Thus he spiritually dessicates liberation theology of its fundamental truth by creating a false image of it derived from a narrow selection of extreme positions. For our purposes here, let us merely state the obvious - class struggle is a reality of the capitalist world. It was not invented by Marxists. The socialist insight recommends a strategy to end injustice and the oppression of one class by another. Liberation theology does not seek to foment hatred between classes, but to end the actual hatred embodied in the repression of one class by another. A close study of the Bible shows this recognition of injustice to be a biblical insight as well.

So let us imagine for a moment that we were free and that we weren't constricted by thousands of years of compacted oppression in the form of current economic relations. What kind of economy would a lover of Jesus Christ create?

Would we have a division of labor in which some give orders and others obey mindlessly without the opportunity to grow in wisdom and understanding? Would we have an economic structure that is essentially a dictatorship of the owning class? Or would the recognition that we are all children of God lead us to cultivate the gifts and talents of each?

Would we have an ownership system in which some own the means of production and others work for wages? Built in to this system is opposition between the interests of workers and owners. What benefits one side disadvantages the other side. A system that absolutizes property rights and relativizes worker's rights cannot be called Christian. The words of Catejan, commonly considered the greatest commentator on St. Thomas Aquinas, are relevant here, "Now what a ruler can do in virtue of his office, so that justice may be served in the matter of riches, is to take from someone who is unwilling to dispense from what is superfluous for life or state, and to distribute it to the poor. In this way he just takes away the dispensation power of the rich man to whom the wealth has been entrusted because he is not worthy. For according to the teaching of the saints, the riches that are superfluous do not belong to the rich man as his own but rather to the one appointed by God as dispenser, so that he can have the merit of a good dispensation." - Cardinal Tommaso Cajetan, St. Thomae...Summa Theologica cum commentariis Thomae de Vio Cajetani. In other words, our goods are owned by God and given to us so that we can share in His goodness and mercy by freely sharing them with others. Does not class warfare arise from an economic system that contradicts the Gospel root and branch?

Would we have an division of labor in which creative and humanly fulfilling tasks were the exclusive domain of a tiny minority at the apex while the vast majority are treated as human machinery to be tossed aside as soon as their usefulness for profit generation is ended? Does God truly will that some are naturally subordinate to others, that the talents of most are not worth developing while others can explore even the dimmest sparks of nascent creativity? Does the subordinate class truly grow in holiness through obedience to its corporate master? Is this really the vision of the Gospel of Jesus Christ?

Finally, would we have a system in which buyers and sellers must manipulate each other in order to survive? In which the smooth application of the techniques of attacking the good of the other must be the most highly cultivated skill set? I contend that such techniques are not an abuse of the system, but inherent in it and that the "virtues" it supposedly engenders are directly contrary to the attitudes and commitments of the Gospel.

Would a follower of Jesus Christ submit to a system which privileges industries that work directly for the destruction of human good precisely because they do NOT benefit the vast majority, but only a tiny minority at the apex of this system of injustice?

"The U.S. spends a fortune on military expenditures. Why? ...why don't big businesses...push as hard or harder for government spending on schools, or hospitals, or rebuilding and generating better housing, all of which can also generate profits? The real reason is conflicting interests at the heart of our economies. What makes military spending a wonderful pursuit, from the point of view of capital, is precisely that it does not benefit anyone but owners and to a degree the coordinator class. Military spending does not enlighten or uplift workers. It does not make workers more secure and confident. These failures, looking down from the offices of the owners, are good because they mean workers can continue to be exploited unmercifully. If, instead of building missiles, tanks, rocket launchers, military bases, etc., the same productive capacity went to education, health, housing, public transport, etc., then the expenditures would leave workers better off, more stable, more confident, better informed, and due to all this better able to bargain for a larger share of society's outputs, eating into owners' profits. That is why owners prefer military spending. It isn't that the elites love bombs like Dr. Strangelove. They are not perverse in that way. It is that owners don't want expenditures to actually benefit working people. A mindset, if you think it through, that is arguably even more perverse. Could markets be any more contrary to human need?" Michael Albert, "Parecon and Solidarity"

Could any economy be more contrary to the Gospel of Jesus Christ than the one which currently holds the world in it's grip and is primarily directed from power centers in the United States?

The judgment on the system of global capital is found in the Book of Jesus ben Sirach, "He who loves gold will not be justified, and he who pursues money will be led astray by it. Many have come to ruin because of gold, and their destruction has met them face to face. It is a stumbling block to those who are devoted to it, and every fool will be taken captive by it." Sir 31: 5-7.

Sunday, May 18, 2008


But "None of this compares with the rage boiling over in Burma, where cyclone survivors have badly beaten at least one local official, furious at his failure to distribute aid. There have been dozens of reports of the Burmese junta taking credit for supplies sent by foreign countries. It turns out that they have been taking more than credit — in some cases they have been taking the aid. According to a report in Asia Times, the regime has been hijacking food shipments and distributing them among its 400,000 soldiers. The reason speaks to the threat the disaster poses to the very existence of the regime. The generals, it seems, are 'haunted by an almost pathological fear of a split inside their own ranks…if soldiers are not given priority in aid distribution and are unable to feed themselves, the possibility of mutiny rises.'" Mark Farmaner, director of Burma Campaign UK, confirms that before the cyclone, the military was already coping with a wave of desertions.

The Bush regime is also dealing or failing to deal with a wave of desertions from their occupation of Iraq, and for much the same reasons, "As Farmaner puts it, after elections the junta leaders 'are going to be wearing suits instead of boots.' The cyclone, meanwhile, has presented them with one last, vast business opportunity: by blocking aid from reaching the highly fertile Irrawaddy delta, hundreds of thousands of mostly ethnic Karen rice farmers are being sentenced to death. According to Farmaner, 'that land can be handed over to the generals’ business cronies' (shades of the beachfront land grabs in Sri Lanka and Thailand after the Asian tsunami). This isn’t incompetence, or even madness. It’s laissez-faire ethnic cleansing." - Naomi Klein, "Regime-Quakes in Burma and China"

The Burmese generals are applying the same strategy to the Irrawaddy delta that Bush applied to New Orleans. The goal is to eliminate undesirable populations, much as the Israelis are attempting in Palestine and surrounding areas and teaching to the U.S. to apply in Iraq, where already 1.2 million Iraqis have been cleansed from our oil lands and 4 million displaced. In the same way that Bush is buying a country estate in Paraguay to shelter himself and fellow war criminals in case he is forced to leave office next year, the Burmese generals are "Taking a page out of the playbook of Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet, [they] have drafted a Constitution that allows for elections but guarantees that no future government will ever have the power to prosecute them for their crimes or take back their ill-gotten wealth. As Farmaner puts it, after elections the junta leaders 'are going to be wearing suits instead of boots.' The cyclone, meanwhile, has presented them with one last, vast business opportunity: by blocking aid from reaching the highly fertile Irrawaddy delta, hundreds of thousands of mostly ethnic Karen rice farmers are being sentenced to death. According to Farmaner, 'that land can be handed over to the generals' business cronies' (shades of the beachfront land grabs in Sri Lanka and Thailand after the Asian tsunami). This isn't incompetence, or even madness. It's laissez-faire ethnic cleansing." - Naomi Klein, "Regime-Quakes in Burma and China"

Saturday, May 17, 2008


"Dozens of marchers were injured, including women and children, and two Arab Knesset members, Mohammed Barakeh and Wassel Taha, were bloodied by police batons. Mounted police charged into the crowds, while stun grenades and tear gas were liberally fired into fields being crossed by families. Eight youths were arrested.

Shehadeh, who was close to the police when the trouble began, and many other marchers say they saw the Jewish rightwingers throwing stones at them from behind the police. A handful of Palestinian youngsters responded in kind. Others add that the police were provoked by a young woman waving a Palestinian flag.

"None of the police were interested in stopping the Jews throwing stones. And even if a few Palestinian youths were reacting, you chase after them and arrest them, you don’t send police on mounted horseback charging into a crowd of families and fire tear gas and stun grenades at them. It was totally indiscriminate and reckless."

"Clouds of gas enveloped the slowest families as they struggled with their children to take cover in the forest.

Therese Zbeidat, a Dutch national who was there with her Palestinian husband Ali and their two teenage daughters, Dina and Awda, called the experiences of her family and others at the hands of the police 'horrifying'.

'Until then it really was a family occasion. When the police fired the tear gas, there were a couple near us pushing a stroller down the stony track towards the road. A thick cloud of gas was coming towards us. I told the man to leave the stroller and run uphill as fast as he could with the baby.

'Later I found them with the baby retching, its eyes streaming and choking. It broke my heart. There were so many families with young children, and the police charge was just so unprovoked. It started from nothing.'"

This "nothing" is the violence empire requires in order to enforce its control of the world's populations. Discriminate deterrence is the pregnant phrase used by Jim Douglass to describe the moral logic of destruction, "The frame of reference for every nuclear threat, as for low-intensity conflict, has always been to deter our political and economic colonies from breaking free from control...Our security system needs low-intensity conflict and the threatened annihilation of cities to deter Third World peoples from revolution, just as Rome need crucifixion and the threatened annihilation of cities to deter its provincial rebels." - James W. Douglass, "The Nonviolent Coming of God"

Deterrence requires slow killing of the defenseless, the Palestinian, the Iraqi, the Native American, the Son of God.

Friday, May 16, 2008

People of Resistance

"Over the past 450 years of martyrdom, immigration and missionary proclamation, the God of shalom has been preparing us Anabaptists for a late twentieth-century rendezvous with history. The next twenty years will be the most dangerous—and perhaps the most vicious and violent—in human history. If we are ready to embrace the cross, God’s reconciling people will profoundly impact the course of world history . . . This could be our finest hour. Never has the world needed our message more. Never has it been more open. Now is the time to risk everything for our belief that Jesus is the way to peace. If we still believe it, now is the time to live what we have spoken." - Ron Sider, Mennonite World Conference

Within American culture, which is "a primary, massive, militarized, anti-human disbeliever", we are the people of resistance. This resistance takes many forms, some of which may lead to martyrdom, a tradition still fully alive among Christians who fight the Iraq occupation, nuclear weapons, and global starvation.

But our resistance is first of all to the violence that lies coiled in our own hearts. We begin the struggle by resisting images of the enemy that have organized (or disorganized) our imagination. The "enemy" is an idol we have made for ourselves, an inner opponent of the mind whose illusory power we must break. Our battle is not against flesh and blood, against individuals to whom we impute a moral depravity of which we ourselves are free.

One of the primary purposes of the media message multipliers is to constantly reinforce the notion that social problems are actually personal problems that can be solved by personal decisions. This partially constitutes the inner connection between the corporate media and the Christianist megachurches. The psychological operation they attempt is to dissolve social bonds by emphasizing the individual and his or her choices as the only social reality. This emphasis on individual choice directly reinforces corporate power by paradoxically reducing the individual's power to merely choosing between varieties of consumables.

In other words, the enemy is not an individual or a collection of individuals. In the language of Paul, we struggle against principalities and powers, evil in high places, but not individual, personal evil, except in ourselves. The corporate media emphasizes the latter initially because it tends to make for more dramatic and entertaining stories that draw in viewers, but the covert purpose is to reinforce the notion that the only type of responsibility is individual, thus implicitly absolving corporations of their crimes.

In fact, these crimes are driven by inhuman social forces that we must begin to master if we are to fulfill the role that God intended for us. A good illustration of this can be found in the words of Thomas Merton, "'Our sudden, unbalanced, top-heavy rush into technological mastery,' Merton saw, had now made us servants of our own weapons of war. 'Our weapons dictate what we are to do. They force us into awful corners. They give us our living, they sustain our economy, they bolster our politicians, they sell our mass media, in short we live by them. But if they continue to rule us we will also most surely die by them." - James W. Douglass, "JFK and the Unspeakable"

Our understanding of the pathology of power must penetrate more deeply if we are to understand the nature of the "Unspeakable", by which Thomas Merton meant that power which assasinates good Presidents and seeks to immolate all humanity in a nuclear holocaust. The primary purpose of most social discourse broadcast by the corporate media is to "break down the social bonds that lead to people having sympathy and supportive feelings about one another. That contributes to transferring profit and decision making into the hands of concentrated private power. A component of that is to undermine the normal relations - sympathy and solidarity - that people have." - Noam Chomsky, "The United States of Insecurity", Monthly Review, May, 2008.

Fear, hunger and isolation are the psychological states most conducive to maximum corporate profits. They are also the states that induce maximum individual vulnerability, leading to irrational choices that reinforce indebtedness and subservience to the corporate power structure. A particularly instructive case study is the implementation of the neoliberal program in Chile after the military takeover by Pinochet. A helicopter trip by one of Pinochet's generals is described by William Kavanaugh as follows, "The purpose of Arellano's trip was not merely to stimulate, but rather to simulate, the atmosphere of internal war that the regime needed to justify its policies. Violence was used not as a response to threats to the state, but rather to create the threats from which the only possible protection was the state itself. This type of terror is a mode of governance which is self-justifying. At issue is not "repression" as such, since there was little to repress, but rather the production of chaos and scripting of bodies into a drama of fear. Within the liturgies of fear, the state thus shows itself as both menace and protector; to be truly omnipotent the state must be both the taker and the giver of life. Torture victims speak not only of the pain they endure but of the pervasive sense of powerlessness they are made to feel at the hands of their tormentors." - William Kavanaugh, "Torture and Eucharist"

The purpose of the torture in Chile, as well as Iraq, and soon in the United States, is to atomize the individual. This aligns precisely with the corporate agenda by maximizing the vulnerability and dependence of the individual consumer. In the same way as torture, the corporate media "breaks down collective links and makes of its victims isolated monads. Victims then reproduce the same dynamic in society itself, with the net result that all social bodies which would rival the state are disintegrated and disappeared." - William Kavanaugh, "Torture and Eucharist"

And further, "One way to think about this destruction of the victim's world is to say that the effect of torture is the creation of individuals. Pain...is the great isolator, that which cuts us off in a radical way from one another. With the demolition of the victim's affective ties and loyalties, past and future, the purpose of torture is to destroy the person as a political actor, and to leave her isolated and compliant with the regime's goals. Torture is consonant with the military regime's strategy to fragment the society, to disarticulate all intermediate social bodies between the individual and the state ... which would challenge the regime's desire to have all depend only on it." - William Kavanaugh, "Torture and Eucharist"

The goal in both cases is isolation and vulnerability, along with the breakdown of the social bonds that might form alternative power centers to corporate organizational structures. But social problems don't have individual solutions. For instance, in the case of global warming, Al Gore presents the solution as mass voluntary changes in individual behavior. But the logic of capitalism is that economic agents always act by rationally calculating their greatest economic advantage. The short term advantage sought by these decisions will in most cases result in behaviors that will lead to further emission of greenhouse gases. He is forced to posit this as the only solution because the real one might involve coercing individual decisions and he is committed to a belief system in which free and rational economic decisions will inevitably lead to the greatest good of the greatest number.

So we must begin to play a new game, one which challenges the pathological libertarianism which holds much of the U.S. in its grip. The following definition of solidarity from a talk by Michael Albert would make our Christian commitment real: "Solidarity is for me to do well, I have to be concerned with others doing well and vice versa. The economy causes me to seek benefits in ways that benefits others too. Solidarity is not a rat race economy in which we advance only at the expense of others, but is a mutually beneficial economy, in which we advance in concert with one another. Moreover, once stated thusly, favoring solidarity isn't even controversial. Who would say that they would rather have a society that makes us anti-social, greedy, and mutually suspicious, as compared to a society that produces mutual aid and empathy?" Michael Albert, "Parecon and Solidarity"

Apparently most Christians don't even suspect a connection between a society that promotes atomization and competition and the anti-Christian attitudes they profess to deplore. They accept and even bless the mystification of social relationships as the "human nature", a state of mutual strife to which there can be no alternative. Or they promote a "one soul at a time" solution in which as individual souls are saved, society will gradually (how gradually?) start to resemble the New Jerusalem.

But God calls us to be social creatures and has given us the capacity to create social solutions.

"And I heard another voice out of heaven saying:
'Come out, my people, out of her,
so that you do not share in her sins,
and so that you not receive her plagues;
because joined together her sins go up to heaven,
and God remember her injustices."

Revelation 18:4-5

A Headless God in a Sacked Temple

"After killing this Iraqi insurgent, Emanuele said he and his patrol dragged the body from a ditch, took pictures, and left the man 'to rot in a field.'" © Iraq Veterans Against the War

"The veterans spoke about extremely lax rules of engagement handed down by commanding officers, which they said virtually guaranteed atrocities would be committed, and which in turn created a violent backlash among Iraqi people and a continued cycle of violence." - Aaron Glanz, "Iraq Veterans Describe Atrocities to Lawmakers", May 17, 2008.

The two war parties play a game about the Iraq occupation which consists in one side pretending that the war is a noble cause bringing something called "democracy" the the benighted Iraqi people. The other side pretends that the occupation has been incompetently handled and that professional management is called for. The truth is that policies that guarantee atrocities are quite deliberate. The rules of engagement which our soldiers carried out were intended to produce terror in the Iraqi population.

"'We have beaten our drum to try to raise the issue of the dereliction of duty committed by a number of generals who have been promoted and promoted again and continue to perpetuate the lies [that] paint a rosy picture of the situation in Iraq,' he said." - Aaron Glanz, "Iraq Veterans Describe Atrocities to Lawmakers", May 17, 2008.

Well may they beat that drum. In fact, these generals were promoted because they executed their duty with accuracy and aplomb. Painting a rosy picture of the situation in Iraq is precisely what they have been promoted to carry out. Far from dereliction, the acceptable Lie represents mission accomplished. Truth is the derelict standing trial for treason.

"Rep. Maxine Waters (D-CA) praised the veterans who spoke Thursday. 'I want to thank you for having more courage than many members of Congress have — for coming here in defiance of what you have been instructed and taught to do,' she said. 'They attempted to tell you that you should be satisfied by everything that you saw and everything that you did and everything you witnessed, but you’re not. I praise and honor you for that.'" - Aaron Glanz, "Iraq Veterans Describe Atrocities to Lawmakers", May 17, 2008.

To defy instructions is the act that only the humble who will inherit the earth can carry out. To be unsatisfied with orders to degrade the image of God is the only duty: "'When encountering these bodies standard procedure was to run over the corpses, sometimes even stopping and taking pictures, which was also standard practice when encountering the dead in Iraq,' he told the Congressional Progressive Caucus, which organized the hearing." - Aaron Glanz, "Iraq Veterans Describe Atrocities to Lawmakers", May 17, 2008. Instead, the principalities and dominions demand degradation of corpses because it instills the proper level of terror in the Iraqi population - people that will soon be found unnecessary.

Defy the instructions, you poor, you forgotten - defy the headless gods!

Stand Somewhere

"War will exist until that distant day when the conscientious objector enjoys the same reputation and prestige that the warrior does today." - John F. Kennedy

The corporate media and politicians of every stripe constantly shine the image of the warrior until it glows and blinds because such profound perversion of the human spirit validates the system that makes war on the humble who will one day inherit the earth. The re-militarization of Europe, fueled by the "discovery" of new enemies, has begun in the Czech Republic, where hunger strikers have begun work of suffering love: "'We have tried almost everything, but our government has failed to listen to us. They continue to ignore the fact that more than two thirds of Czechs oppose this plan,' said Jan Tamas in reference to the March 2008 polls showing 67% of Czech disagree with the planned US deployment of a missile defense radar site in the Czech Republic. 'We are calling on our friends from abroad to support us in our struggle, as this is not only a local issue.'" Please help end the new Cold War by going to No Star Wars and signing the petition.

Like the 68% of American who oppose the illegal occupation of Iraq, European democratic resistance to war revival has been effectively neutralized. Still, those willing to starve for justice continue to be raised by the Holy Spirit. In Czechoslovakia, in Palestine, in Iraq: "We needn’t have worried. Disagreeing with the structure of one exercise, a woman challenges me early on. After some wrangling to have my way, I concede, saying, "Salaam, Ashti" (peace), and she replies, "No, democracia!" We smile together at her wisdom."

The wisdom of hunger strikes Czechoslovakia. A woman in Iraq equalizes the wisdom of democracia, which is peace. Shalom finds a body when listening to the voices of the ignored, a voice that grows the louder the more the corporate media endeavors to drown it in a sea of trivia. The voice of the demos shouts peace.

In Iraq, a woman rips her heart apart: "We end the day with the Heart Exercise: Those who wish to do so tell their stories about how violence has affected them. Each holds a pink paper heart while sharing, and at the end, tears a piece from the heart, symbolizing the brokenness that violence leaves behind.

"We do not interrupt with translation. Instead, we listen with our hearts. Voices clutch with emotion; eyes brim with tears; sounds of anger and sorrow fill the room; fists are clenched, heads shaken in disbelief. The first two who share, a Muslim and a Christian from the Mosul area, leave the heart whole. Next comes a Muslim woman, statuesque and proud, the same woman who reminded me of democracy.

Her voice trembles. She regains her composure and continues. Her voice rises, the emotion intensifies. Virtually everyone in the room is in tears. She crumples the intact paper heart in her hands and rips it in two.

I do not understand the words of her story, but I do know that violence has not just broken her heart; it has torn her asunder." - Christian Peacemaker Teams.

Indeed Pentecost has come and we have been torn asunder. Can you discover the peace that lives in the voice of silence? Then rip the paper heart in two and come join in the living peace where pure hearts grow.

Peace grows between the cracks between official media positions, "The marchers are an eclectic group. Some are die-hard protesters. Some are soldiers’ relatives who spontaneously joined after seeing the small parade pass through their towns.

Many of them are veterans, including an 89-year-old man who fought in World War II. He rides in a car along the marchers’ route, and meets the group each evening when they stop to rest.

At each town, they try to engage the community in conversation." - "An Antiwar March Through Towns Unused to One"

Thursday, May 15, 2008

Laissez-faire Ethnic Cleansing

"Nowhere in the world, in no act of genocide, in no war, are so many people killed per minute, per hour and per day as those who are killed by hunger and poverty on our planet." —Fidel Castro, 1998

"Contrary to the 18th century warnings of Thomas Malthus and his modern followers, study after study shows that global food production has consistently outstripped population growth, and that there is more than enough food to feed everyone. According to the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization, enough food is produced in the world to provide over 2800 calories a day to everyone — substantially more than the minimum required for good health, and about 18% more calories per person than in the 1960s, despite a significant increase in total population."

The key point is that the "food crisis" is artificially induced by corporate agriculture in order to promote the deployment of Genetically Modified Organisms (GMO). These GMOs guarantee profit to the major agribusinesses by forcing farmers to use patented organisms.

"Scientific research is vitally important to the development of agriculture, but initiatives that assume in advance that new seeds and chemicals are needed are neither credible nor truly scientific. The fact that there is already enough food to feed the world shows that the food crisis is not a technical problem — it is a social and political problem." - Ian Angus, "Global food crisis: Capitalism, agribusiness and the food sovereignty alternative"

Rather than "access to technology and science to boost yields", the peoples of the earth need access to compassion that would privilege the needs of the hungry over the guaranteed profits of agribusiness giants. Or to put the matter as plainly as possible: "The global food industry is not organized to feed the hungry; it is organized to generate profits for corporate agribusiness." - Ian Angus, "Global food crisis: Capitalism, agribusiness and the food sovereignty alternative" Creating profits for agribusiness has nothing to do with feeding the hungry of the world. On the contrary, promoting hunger is the business plan required to guarantee maximum profitability for the foreseeable future.

"Rather than asking how to increase production, our first question should be why, when so much food is available, are over 850 million people hungry and malnourished? Why do 18,000 children die of hunger every day?

Why can’t the global food industry feed the hungry?" - Ian Angus, "Global food crisis: Capitalism, agribusiness and the food sovereignty alternative"

Because that's not what it is designed to do. But they have magnificently achieved the goals they were designed for:

"This year, agribusiness profits are soaring above last year’s levels, while hungry people from Haiti to Egypt to Senegal were taking to the streets to protest rising food prices. These figures are for just three months at the beginning of 2008.[6]

Grain Trading

* Archer Daniels Midland (ADM). Gross profit: $1.15 billion, up 55% from last year
* Cargill: Net earnings: $1.03 billion, up 86%
* Bunge. Consolidated gross profit: $867 million, up 189%.

Seeds & herbicides

* Monsanto. Gross profit: $2.23 billion, up 54%.
* Dupont Agriculture and Nutrition. Pre-tax operating income: $786 million, up 21%


* Potash Corporation. Net income: $66 million, up 185.9%
* Mosaic. Net earnings: $520.8 million, up more than 1,200%"

Over the past three decades, transnational agribusiness companies have engineered a massive restructuring of global agriculture. Directly through their own market power and indirectly through governments and the World Bank, IMF and World Trade Organisation, they have changed the way food is grown and distributed around the world. The changes have had wonderful effects on their profits, while simultaneously making global hunger worse and food crises inevitable." - Ian Angus, "Global food crisis: Capitalism, agribusiness and the food sovereignty alternative"

The empire works by extracting value from all human and material resources and converting that value into financial assets. When the resources are agricultural, it uses extractive methods to produce the maximum amount of high profit margin crops and leaves human and ecological refuse behind for others to clean up or attempt to salvage. "We now practice farming as an extractive industry supported by other extractive industries: mining topsoil and fossil water, growing only a handful of predetermined 'high value' crops and discarding/exterminating all other cultivars, and seeking 'best price' in markets regardless of distance and appropriateness (if it makes more money to grow palm trees for biofuel to ship to wealthy customers overseas, then by all means destroy peasant smallholdings that produced food for local people, or forest that maintained water circulation and climate stability, in order to establish massive monocrop palm oil plantations)." - Stan Goff, "The Politics of Food is Politics"

Instead of food as commodity, food should be treated primarily as a source of nutrition for the communities and the countries where it is grown. By overcoming the lies which support the system of food domination, all the people on earth could be fed and impending capitalist ecocide averted. Charity means organizing for justice to all God's creatures, not gathering guilt-money from the anti-human exploiters who starve 18,000 children a day.

Friday, May 09, 2008

Embrace the Biblical Vision of Shalom

"The richness of the biblical vision of peace is conveyed in the Hebrew word 'shalom'. Shalom means right relationships in every area -- with God, with neighbor, and with the earth. Leviticus 26:3-6 describes the comprehensive shalom which God will give to those who walk in obedient relationship to God. The earth will yield rich harvests, wild animals will not ravage the countryside, and the sword will rest. Shalom means not only the absence of war but also a land flowing with milk and honey. It also includes just economic relationships with the neighbor. It means the fair division of land so that all families can earn their own way. It means the Jubilee and sabbatical release of debts so that great extremes of wealth and poverty do not develop among God's people. The result of such justice, Isaiah says, is peace (32:16-17). And the psalmist reminds us that God desires that 'justice and peace will kiss each other' (Psalm 85:10). If we try to separate justice and peace, we tear asunder what God has joined together." - Ron Sider, "God's People Reconciling"

The ANZAC Ploughshares movement recently released the following statment: "This morning, 30 April 2008, we entered the Waihopai Spy Base near Blenheim.

Our group, including a Dominican Priest, temporarily closed the base by padlocking the gates and proceeded to deflate one of the large domes covering two satellite dishes.

At 6am we cut through three security fences surrounding the domes - these are armed with razor wire, infrared motion sensors and a high voltage electrified fence.

Once inside we used sickles to cut one of the two 30-metre white domes, built a shrine and knelt in prayer to remember the people killed by United States military activity...

We are responding to the Bush administration’s admission that intelligence gathering is the most important tool in the so-called War on Terror. This war will have no end until citizens of the world refuse to let it continue. The ECHELON spy network including Waihopai, is an important part of the US government’s global spy network and we have come in the name of the Prince of Peace to close it down." - ANZAC PLOUGHSHARES DEFLATE AND UNMASK WAIHOPAI, Jonah House

The vision of shalom must be acted on by Christians, not merely prayed about. The ANZAC Waihopai Ploughshares members have carried out the gospel imperative "Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God." - Matt 5:9. They have made the living the inner transformation spoken about by Paul in Romans. "In terms of the Gospel, the history man's liberation from injustice is an outward aspect of the inward growth of man into God. Liberation is the consequence of God's explosion of love in history, made visible in the cross of Jesus of Nazareth. Liberation is the political expression of humanity's transformation in love. It becomes possible whenever man turns from the will to power and instead acknowledges in his depths the power of Love." - James W. Douglass, "Resistance and Contemplation"

When we act in this way, we become the power of God, not by shouting in the streets, but by living kingdom values in the ambiguous risk of the present. We bear witness to the futility of war, its waste of resources, its unavoidable injustice, to the "inherent powerlessness of matter at its most powerful to resolve the injustices of man's spirit." The cynical materialism which rots the heart of "just war" Christianity sets aside the power of the Holy Spirit, the power of truth and justice to transform hearts. We cannot conquer evil with bombs no matter how smart - indeed, faith in such bombs is at the heart of evil. "The dead end of war forces the Christian conscience into a confrontation with the issue of war itself, and into a growing recognition of that gap between the intention of peace and the execution of the sword which in the light of the Gospel reduces the notion of a just war to legalized fratricide. To a Christian the most embarrassing fact about the just-war doctrine, yet one which even saints have glossed over, is its apparent opposition to the cross of Christ, which Gandhi perceived as the essence of non-violence."

"They shall beat their swords into ploughshares, their spears into pruning hooks; nation shall not lift sword against nation; and there shall be no more training for war." - Isaiah 2:4

In the early days of the faith, martyrs laid down their lives, often prosperous ones, to bear witness the Lordship of Christ in opposition to institutionalized injustice as practiced by the Roman Empire. Today, once again, some of us are called to lay down our lives, "...we must not only abandon mistaken ideas and embrace the full biblical conception of shalom. One more thing is needed. We must take up our cross and follow Jesus to Golgotha. We must be prepared to die by the thousands. Those who have believed in peace through the sword have not hesitated to die. Proudly, courageously, they gave their lives. Again and again, they sacrificed bright futures to the tragic illusion that one more righteous crusade would bring peace in their time. For their loved ones, for justice, and for peace, they have laid down their lives by the millions...

What would happen if we in the Christian church developed a new nonviolent peacekeeping force of 100,000 persons ready to move into violent conflicts and stand peacefully between warring parties in Central America, Northern Ireland, Poland, Southern Africa, the Middle East, and Afghanistan? Frequently we would get killed by the thousands. But everyone assumes that for the sake of peace it is moral and just for soldiers to get killed by the hundreds of thousands, even millions. Do we not have as much courage and faith as soldiers?" - Ron Sider, "God's People Reconciling"

"Jesus vicarious death for sinful enemies of God is the foundation of our commitment to nonviolence. The incarnate one knew that God was loving and merciful even toward sinful enemies. That's why he associated with sinners, forgave their sins, and completed his mission by dying for them on the cross. And it was precisely the same understanding of God that prompted him to command his followers to love their enemies. We as God's children are to imitate the loving characteristics of our heavenly God who rains mercifully on the just and the unjust. That's why we should love our enemies. The vicarious cross of Christ is the fullest expression of the character of God. At the cross God suffered for sinners in the person of the incarnate Son. We will never understand all the mystery there. But it's precisely because the one hanging limp on the middle cross was the word who became flesh that we know two interrelated things. First, that a just God mercifully accepts us sinful enemies just as we are. And second, that God wants us to go and treat our enemies exactly the same way. What a fantastic fulfillment of the messianic promise of shalom. Jesus did bring right relationships -- both with God and with neighbor. In fact, he created a new community of shalom, a reconciled and reconciling people. As Ephesians 2 shows, peace with God through the cross demolishes hostile divisions among all those who stand together under God's unmerited forgiveness. Women and slaves became persons. Jews accepted Gentiles. Rich and poor shared their economic abundance. So visibly different was this new community of shalom that onlookers could only exclaim: 'Behold how they love one another'. Their common life validated their gospel of peace." - Ron Sider, "God's People Reconciling"

"There is finally only one question: Do we believe Jesus enough to pay the price of following him? Do you? Do I?" - Ron Sider

Still I Would be Your Faithful Servant

"I’m saying we are the ones we have been waiting for, that we are creating the alternative. If that is what we are doing, not just going through some exercise of opposition, some knee-jerk resistance or recalcitrance, then we have a lot of work ahead of us — and need to take the work more seriously, and ourselves less so...

"We were so used to being marginalized and written off and now there we were on the front page. It took some adjustment. Starting in 2003, just about every demo we’ve organized has gotten great press coverage. Sometimes the tone is snarky, and reporters always ask why we did not have more people — but we got covered.

Eventually, I realized we were getting press coverage not just because of our cutting edge, awesome demonstrations. But because we were manifestations of popular sentiment against the war. At a time when the administration is desperately trying to distract the American people from the war and the economy those two things are becoming fused in people’s minds, and we are part of triggering, directing and sustaining that discussion. And that discussion turns the wheel of action." - Frida Berrigan, "Dismantling Peace Movement Myths"

The myth Frida was countering here is "We are marginalized and we are not having an impact." She points out that to compare ourselves to the demonstrators of the sixties is self-defeating, not for all the media-multiplied reasons about how effective and popular those protests were, but because contrary to that same media, our current protests are having an impact, despite the impression successfully implanted by the message multipliers.

The reason for the power of the myth is not far to seek. We have only to look into our own emasculated passion for justice, our satisfaction at the "prosperity" we have managed to enjoy. Or in the words of Daniel Berrigan, "Creatures like ourselves are whipped into shape (into shapelessness), morally inert, our passion surgically removed like a circumcision, at birth. Shortly thereafter we fall in line. We submit to authority good and bad, we grow fatalistic, we accept the shape of things as inevitable. The shape of life today. How terrible to reflect that Christians, people like ourselves, have been seized on as perfect instruments for fascism, nazism. And, dare we say it, for Americanism?" - Daniel Berrigan, "Uncommon Prayer"

And the triumphant irony is that this state is described as "being a Christian". Told that Christianity means submission to authority, whether corporate or governmental, that the Christian accepts the "shape of things", we begin to see challenges to injustice as Satanic. The conventional, whatever is widely accepted, become the boundaries of Christian reality and to restrict ourselves within those boundaries becomes Christian meekness, that interior sense of moral goodness which flushes our hearts with self-satisfaction. The same self-satisfaction suffused the functionaries of the state apparatus in Nazi Germany, most of whom confused Christianity with utter submission to whatever "shape of things" the government wished to impose.

The conventional wisdom today is to contrast the passion of the 60's with the bleak student anti-war landscape of today, but as Frida rightly points out, "The average 'lifespan' of a 60s activist was about six months — from turning on at their first protest to tuning out and going back to Middle America. You don’t end war in six-month increments — no matter how much you rage during that period. Can we see ourselves today — in 2008 — building an anti-war movement founded on the idea that war is a failure of the imagination, that war is wrong, and that it must be resisted and opposed even if it is not affecting one personally? I think we can." - Frida Berrigan, "Dismantling Peace Movement Myths". Precisely. Those of us who were present in the 60's tend to morph our memories in the direction of heroic struggles, but honesty compels us to admit that most of our 60's activism was limited, conditional, and soon compromised. It might have been intense while it lasted, but the revealing symptom was that it did not last. Delving a little deeper, we realize that for many of us, sixties radicalism was primarily, if not wholly, a fashion statement. Today's students usually make different fashion statements, but the style of our fashion statements does not and did not validate our commitment to justice.

In fact, the quality of student participation today may be higher than that of the sixties, precisely because radicalism is no longer rewarded. To persist in the face of apathy and incomprehension requires a quality of engagement which is what the typical sixties radical lacked. While the commitment to marijuana and sexual self-indulgence was usually sincere, actual anti-war activity was almost always hedged with dozens of qualifications and compromises, which most often culminated in the abandonment of political activism. During the seventies, there was often a "spiritual" excuse for this abandonment, but in the end both spiritual and political commitments were forgotten.

It is not fashion statements that change societies. It is the sixties generation that started and maintains the 12 billion a month Iraq occupation, that brought us global neoliberalism, and starves millions each day to fund its nuclear war machine decades after the Cold War ended. When your basic commitment is to style, war and torture can supply as compelling fashion statements as peace and justice. It is genuine commitment to God's justice that ends wars, both the kind fought with bombs and the kind fought by the International Monetary Fund. We should have founded our radicalism more deeply during the sixties, but the opportunity to do so has not abandoned us. Our shame is all the greater if we cannot bring ourselves to act when, "The latest polls about the war have more than 70% of Americans opposed to the war, and when the question gets more general — 80-something percent of Americans are dissatisfied with the direction this country is going." - Frida Berrigan, "Dismantling Peace Movement Myths" The numbers weren't even close to this during the Vietnam war.

The words of Daniel Berrigan about our apathy during Vietnam should now be applied with more force to our abandonment of the Iraqi people, "We allowed the Vietnam war to go on for some fifteen years of multiplied horror. Most of us found our lives not at all thrown off track by the longest, bloodiest crime in all our history. It is as though a Kitty Genovese, with a Vietnamese face, were being slowly with exquisite cruelty, murdered under our window. She cried out for many hours, for days, for years. The murder went on. She was a child, she was a village woman, she knew nothing of ideology, of why she must must die, of what passion drove the knife. She knew only that she was dying. She sensed there were humans about, listening at the darkened windows. Where were they? How could they let her die for years and years?" - Daniel Berrigan, "Uncommon Prayer"

Where were you? Where are you?

Monday, May 05, 2008

The Global Food Crisis

How Can Grown Men do This to Little Children?

Brave Israeli soldiers fighting the global war on terror by stealing cloth from a girl's orphanage.

"At 1:00 a.m. on Wednesday 30 April, the Israeli military raided the Hebron Girls' Orphanage in the H1 area of Hebron. [In 1997 the Hebron Protocol (part of Oslo II), signed by the Israeli Government and the Palestinian Authority divided Hebron into two areas: H2 under Israeli military control and H1 under Palestinian control (civilian and security)].

Acting on orders issued by Major General Shemni, soldiers looted the workshop of all its sewing and processing machines, office equipment, rolls of cloth, finished clothing, and supplies. CPT members documented, with still photos and video, approximately forty Israeli soldiers emptying the workshop contents into two large trucks. The estimated value of the physical material taken is $45,000 U.S. The cost in terms of the fear instilled in the hearts of the little girls living above the workshop is much higher." - Christian Peacemaker Teams

The answer to the question above is that in order to steal the hope from a people and destroy their will to live, it is necessary to make life unlivable for the children of that people, be they orphans or family children. Please see the videos at Orphans Under Threat if you wish to see how the Israelis treat the weakest and most vulnerable human beings on the planet. Struggling to survive and find a trade, the Israelis steal the last shred of hope from girls who have lost everything, their land, their people, their home. They do this to make the land "safe" for themselves and their children. But there is a God who sees their deeds and he has acted before and he will again.

"I am talking to you today from this place, from my home, from my school, from my class," Shriteh told a handful of independent media and assembled local and international supporters at a press conference Apr. 7 inside the Al-Shar'iya Girls Orphanage. "But tomorrow I'll be talking to you as a lonely, lost person from the street." - IPS News Service

To Know Yahweh is to Achieve Justice for the Poor

"ExxonMobil was top seller of petroleum products to the Pentagon between FY 2003 and 2007, for a total of $4.2 billion. Moreover, ExxonMobil has benefited mightily from the rise in the world oil price, a significant portion of which has been traced directly to the Iraq War by noted economists such as Joseph Stiglitz and Dean Baker and by Congress’ Joint Economic Committee. ConsumersforPeace.org estimates that ExxonMobil’s windfall war profit over the five years of the war, directly related to the war, amounts to $39 billion." - AN APPEAL TO CLERGY AND LAITY CONCERNED ABOUT EXXONMOBIL AND IRAQ

"In 2007, the price of grain rose by 42 percent, and dairy products by 80 percent, according to United Nations figures, and food inflation has accelerated further in recent months. In the last twelve months alone, wheat prices have increased by 130 percent, and rice by 74 percent.

As the Observer noted on April 6, 'A global rice shortage that has seen prices of one of the world’s most important staple foods increase by 50 percent in the past two weeks alone is triggering an international crisis.' In March and April, mass hunger spawned violent rioting in Burkina Faso, Cameroon, Egypt, Indonesia, Ivory Coast, Mauritania, Mozambique, Senegal, and Haiti." - Sharon Smith, "The Revolt over Rising Food Prices"

The nature of the crisis is as obvious as it is ignored by the corporate media and "gospel of prosperity" churches. Despite the glassy smiles and complex analysis of mainstream economic experts, there is no food shortage. In fact, there were record harvests last year. The shortage is one of compassion. People are unable to afford food because of the speculative profits of commodity traders, exacerbated by the trend toward biofuels. This trade in commodities, of course, aids the oil and gas companies whose profits have soared enormously since the Iraq occupation began. Equally, agribusiness has never done better, "The agricultural/food business is now the second most profitable industry in the world, lagging only behind pharmaceuticals." - Sharon Smith, "The Revolt over Rising Food Prices"

The rise in oil prices also leads to massive shifts in how crops are allocated, "Now the law of supply and demand has dictated that the new market for biofuels should reduce the production of corn for food by 25 percent in the U.S.—triggering a man-made shortage and a rise in corn prices. Speculators have been hoarding crops on the expectation that prices will rise further. Meanwhile, investors around the world have been fleeing the falling dollar to buy up commodities such as rice and wheat, adding to the speculative momentum and forcing staple prices higher for the world’s poorest people." - Sharon Smith, "The Revolt over Rising Food Prices"

For Christians to respond as Christians, we must break some taboos. First, let us be absolutely clear about what God expects of us in this situation, "Is not this the fast that I choose: to loose the bonds of wickedness, to undo the thongs of the yoke, to let the oppressed go free, and to break every yoke? Is it not to share your bread with the hungry, and bring the homeless poor into your house; when you see the naked, to cover, and not to hide yourself from your own flesh? Then shall your light break forth like the dawn, and your healing shall spring up speedily; your righteousness shall go before you, the glory of the Lord shall be your rear guard. Then you shall call, and the Lord will answer; you shall cry, and he will say, Here I am. If you take away from the midst of you the yoke, the pointing of the finger, and speaking wickedness, if you pour yourself out for the hungry and satisfy the desire of the afflicted, then shall your light rise in the darkness and your gloom be as the noonday. And the Lord will guide you continually, and satisfy your desire with good things, and make your bones strong; and you shall be like a watered garden, like a spring of water, whose waters fail not." Isaiah 58: 6 - 11.

Unfortunately, centuries of meekness before the masters of empire have unstrung these words until they have become mere pleas for charity. In fact, they are pleas for justice. To give charity at this point means to sustain the system of organized hunger so that speculators and agribusiness cartels can rack up yet higher profits, while guaranteeing that in one or two years another "crisis" will ensue with more calls for charity. The taboo we must break is the one against understanding why the hungry are hungry in a world that produces an abundance of food for all. Then we must act on our understanding.

The fundamental blindness is to believe that the system of free market agribusiness can ever solve the hunger problem. It cannot simply because it is not and will never be in its interest to do so. Hunger is its profit engine and a well-fed world would not garner maximum profits. Instead we must work for a world where "Food is a human right and governments have a responsibility to see that their people are well fed. In addition, there are known ways to end hunger—including emergency measures to combat the current critical situation, urban gardens, agrarian reforms that include a whole support system for farmers, and sustainable agriculture techniques that enhance the environment. The present availability of food to people reflects very unequal economic and political power relationships within and between countries. A sustainable and secure food system requires a different and much more equitable relationship among people. The more the poor and farmers themselves are included in all aspects of the effort to gain food security, and the more they are energized in the process, the greater will be the chance of attaining lasting food security. As President Hugo Ch├ívez of Venezuela, a country that has done so much to deal with poverty and hunger, has put it,

Yes, it is important to end poverty, to end misery, but the most important thing is to offer power to the poor so that they can fight for themselves." - Fred Magdoff, "World Food Crisis: Sources and Solutions"

Or in the words of Jeremiah:

Shame on the man who builds his house by not-justice,
and completes its upstairs rooms by not-right,
who makes his fellow man work for nothing,
without paying him his wages,
who says, 'I will build myself an imposing palace
with spacious rooms upstairs,'
who set windows in it,
panels it with cedar, and paint it vermilion.
Are you more of a king
for out rivaling others with cedar?
Your father ate and drank like you,
but he practiced justice and right;
this is good.
He defended the cause oft he poor and the needy;
this is good.
Is not this what it means to know me?
It is Yahweh who speaks."

- Jer. 22: 13 -16.

Sunday, May 04, 2008

Let Yourself be Devoured by a Zeal for Justice

"The International Longshore and Warehouse Union (ILWU) carried out an eight-hour work stoppage at West Coast ports on May 1 to demand an end to the war in Iraq." - wsws.org

For eight glorious hours, the country’s principal gateway for cargo container traffic from the Far East was shut down. It was a noble gesture, but just as the Democrats in Congress are incapable of doing more than pretend to end the war, American labor, whose collective might could shut down the war mechanism, cannot assert this power. No matter what torture revelations, trillion dollar debts, or millions slaughtered, the war will go on because it is required in order to fuel the global empire. It is also quite likely that a new war will also be required to consolidate its control of the world's primary energy resources. And the new war will be unconditionally approved in the same way as the previous one. The message-amplifiers in the corporate media will adjust the volume of propaganda as required in order to assure general public approval.

In carrying out this action, the longshoreman lived out Isaiah's imperative, "Is not this the fast that I choose: to loose the bonds of wickedness, to undo the thongs of the yoke, to let the oppressed go free, and to break every yoke? Is it not to share your bread with the hungry, and bring the homeless poor into your house; when you see the naked, to cover, and not to hide yourself from your own flesh? Then shall your light break forth like the dawn, and your healing shall spring up speedily; your righteousness shall go before you, the glory of the Lord shall be your rear guard. Then you shall call, and the Lord will answer; you shall cry, and he will say, Here I am. If you take away from the midst of you the yoke, the pointing of the finger, and speaking wickedness, if you pour yourself out for the hungry and satisfy the desire of the afflicted, then shall your light rise in the darkness and your gloom be as the noonday. And the Lord will guide you continually, and satisfy your desire with good things, and make your bones strong; and you shall be like a watered garden, like a spring of water, whose waters fail not." Isaiah 58: 6 - 11.

Who are the hungry and the oppressed? The people of Iraq, cursed to have oil under the ground of their blessed and ancient land, who have suffered far beyond what the makers of misery in Washington could endure for a single day. Compromise is not possible between the imperatives of empire and the waters of justice.

"Compromise is as impossible between the Church of Christ and the idolatry of wealth, which is the practical religion of capitalist societies, as it was between the Church and the state idolatry of the Roman Empire." - R.H. Tawney, "Religion and the Rise of Capitalism"

To stand against this idolatry is a fiery cry for righteousness. The contrast between the post-modern equivocators of our time and the carriers of that cry from former eras is as palpable as the image of John Ludlow in his days of shadow and the pink-cheeked purveyors of despair, "At the monthly meetings, you would often see there a bent figure sitting with the face of one who come out of other more heroic days. There a nobility in the prophetic head which made the rest of us look very cheap. And now, again when some pink, youthful, cheerful pessimist... had plunged us all into the abyss of despair, the old man would rise and shake with the passion of old days that forever haunted him with their wickedness and woe, and bid us cheer up... The fire still gleamed in his eyes so that they shone with passionate light which is only to be seen in men who have know Maurice. He quivered with an underground, volcanic vehemence which no years or gray hairs could tame; he was devoured by a great zeal for justice. We felt we were listening to the man Maurice found so hard to hold...A deep, strong noble soul, he retained to the last his democratic faith in the people, his passinate pity for the poor and downtrodden, his fiery cry for righteousness." - John Cortner, "Christian Socialism", p. 152.

Perhaps the first dim red gleams of an awakening volcano have colored our despairing cheeks.

Carry it On, Urges the Lord

In spite of the fact that my Filipino wife keeps calling him a "divil", I continue to believe in the humanity of Dick Cheney and George Bush. Yet the divilish nature of this administration has now been fully confirmed by no less than Gen. Ricardo Sanchez in his new book, Wiser in Battle, where he writes, "And the investigators were now telling me that the plan called for a Phase IV (after combat action) operation that would last twelve to eighteen months. To say I was shocked would be an understatement. I had never seen any approved CENTCOM campaign plan, either conceptual or detailed, for the post-major combat operations phase. When I was on the ground in Iraq and saw what was going on, I assumed they had done zero Phase IV planning. Now, three years later, I was learning for the first time that my assumption was not completely accurate. In fact, CENTCOM had originally called for twelve to eighteen months of Phase IV activity with active troop deployments. But then CENTCOM had completely walked away by simply stating that the war was over and Phase IV was not their job, that decision set up the United States for a failed first year in Iraq. There is no question about it. And I was supposed to believe that neither the Secretary of Defense nor anybody above him knew anything about it? Impossible! Rumsfeld knew about it. Everybody on the NSC knew about it, including Condoleezza Rice, George Tenet, and Colin Powell. Vice President Cheney knew about it. And President Bush knew about it. There's not a doubt in my mind that they all embraced this decision to some degree. And if it had not been for the moral courage of Gen. John Abizaid to stand up to them all and reverse Franks's troop drawdown order, there's no telling how much more damage would have been done.

In the meantime, hundreds of billions of taxpayer dollars were unnecessarily spent, and worse yet, too many of our most precious military resource, our American soldiers, were unnecessarily wounded, maimed, and killed as a result. In my mind, this action by the Bush administration amounts to gross incompetence and dereliction of duty." - Gen. Ricardo Sanchez, "Wiser in Battle"

Though the corporate media has attempted to bury Iraq in silence this year, the thankless job of cleansing Iraq of excess humanity continues, "Citing 'security officials,' Agence France-Presse said that 1,073 Iraqis were killed last month. This is undoubtedly a gross underestimation of the real death toll. One hospital alone in Sadr City reported taking in 400 bodies. The two major hospitals in the area, which is home to more than 2 million people, said that they had received nearly 2,500 wounded. The medical facilities are overwhelmed with the number of casualties. They report that they lack sufficient numbers of severe trauma specialists to treat the wounded and are running low on basic supplies, including clean water." - "Five years after 'mission accomplished,' sharp rise in Iraqi and US casualties", Bill Van Auken, wsws.org

The current attacks on the Mahdi army are intended to weaken a key political opponent to the control of Iraqi oil assets by U.S. interests, "The military has been ordered to achieve a political objective deemed crucial for rescuing Washington’s faltering attempt to impose colonial domination over the oil-rich country. It is to take on and defeat the Mahdi Army and thereby weaken the Sadrists, who have voiced opposition to both the US occupation and the bid to open up Iraq’s oil reserves to exploitation by US-based energy conglomerates. The aim is to complete this task before October provincial elections, which Sadr’s followers would otherwise be expected to win in the key southern provinces that contain the bulk of Iraq’s oil assets." - "Five years after 'mission accomplished,' sharp rise in Iraqi and US casualties", Bill Van Auken, wsws.org

What most anti-war activists fail to realize, though perhaps the awareness has begun to seep in, is that without systemic change there can be no end to this war. The empire requires control of energy resources in order to continue its economic hegemony, therefore the Iraq occupation must continue until that control is achieved. We know that without the birth of ecological spirituality among those in power, the empire will continue to lay waste the planet. The occupation in Iraq cannot end because control of the last major oil reservoirs is fundamental to the operation of global capital at this stage in the exhaustion of the remaining carbon-based energy resources. When Cheney dismisses the anti-war opinions of the American public, he is simply being clear-sighted about what is necessary to continue dominance. And, despite all rhetoric to the contrary, most Americans are fully complicit in support for those requirements.

What the imperialists really fear is that the arms they use to enforce their claims when the propaganda fails might be attached to heads which develop consciences, abnormal growths to be sure, but mass outbreaks have been known before. A recent case is that of Ryan Jackson, an Iraq war veteran who began to rethink his involvement in the Army: "'I feel ashamed every day,' Jackson wrote in his recent conscientious objector (CO) application. 'I feel ashamed for taking part in the killing of others, and for allowing my comrades to be killed themselves. By putting on a uniform, I am showing my support...I can no longer be a part of the Armed Forces or any organization of a violent nature.' After two and a half years of honorable service, Ryan says he could no longer ignore his conscience. 'Once my beliefs started to evolve and change, I became a different person,' he explains. 'It starts to take a hold of you, giving you hope that you can make a difference, that you can change what you are doing, and that it is not too late!' After surrendering to the military at Fort Sill, he was ordered to return to his unit at Fort Gordon, Georgia—which he did without escort. Once he arrived at Fort Gordon, however, he was placed under arrest. Ryan has been held in the brig under pre-trial confinement for the last week." - Courage to Resist, "Army imprisons outspoken war objector"

Promote this outbreak of conscience - support Ryan Jackson by going to Army imprisons outspoken war objector