Category Archives: Violence/nonviolence

More violence-inciting doctors

Further to the rush of commentary last week on “how could” a medical doctor engage in violence, as a handful of Muslim-immigrant physicians in Britain recently have, I thought of a few more names of violence-inciting docs (to add to that of the notorious Dr. Baruch Goldstein referenced by Juan Cole and others.)
They are, in no particular order: Che Guevara, Charles Krauthammer, Radovan Karadzic, and Frantz Fanon, all of them trained as physicians, but advocates in one context or another of the use of coercive violence. (The latter three of these, interestingly, were trained as psychiatrists.)
The Hippocratic Oath, of course, enjoins doctors to “do no harm”. But in reality, the practice of modern, western-style medicine often involves cutting into people, giving them powerful chemo drugs, or doing other things that in themselves are potentially risky or even sometimes life-threatening– but to do so in pursuit of the future (and hopefully greater) good of becoming either wholly or partially cured. Thus can perhaps too easily be inculcated the idea that “the end justifies the means”?

Violence begetting violence in the Middle East

One of the truest teachings of the Dalai Lama and of other nonviolence activists throughout history is that the use of violence to attain one’s goals will always cause more violence to cascade down into the future. And one of the most tragic things about gross inter-group power imbalances such as the one the world has known since the dawn of European-origin imperialism is that systems of violence initiated and maintained by the powerful nearly always end up resonating with particular harshness among those groups excluded from exercizing any meaningful power on the world stage…
Hence the fact that during the time of “White” colonization and colonial rule in Africa or the Americas, the vast majority of those killed by direct physical violence or through the imposition of damaging systems of administrative or ‘structural’ violence were the indigenes of the continents being colonized, not the colonizers… Hence, too, the fact that a large proportion of those indigenes killed by physical violence were killed in conflicts with their fellow indigenes— conflicts that were very frequently stirred up by the colonial powers, who would also systematically inject into them significant amounts of high-lethality weaponry.
It is so tragic to see, in these early years of the third millennium of the “common era”– that is, the era that is dated from the presumed year of the birth of the Middle East’s prime teacher of nonviolence, Jesus of Nazareth– the return to the Middle East of those older dynamics of violence begetting violence, and to see once again that the people on the receiving end of the killingwho are quite disproportionately those who were already impoverished and marginalized from power.
It is depressing, too, to see the seeds of further resentment, killing, and hatred being sown on a daily basis among the peoples of Lebanon, Palestine, Israel, and Iraq by the violence that has settled like a blood-sucking vulture onto their nations, pulling so many people into its fanatical grip.
But what can we expect when the “deciders” in the most powerful nation on the earth have already, for the past five-plus years, turned resolutely away from the use of the many, many nonviolent means that are available to such a powerful nation, and have stuck instead to the employment of extremely lethal means of violence to win their goals?
The violence employed by the US administration in Afghanistan and Iraq in the past five years has not “succeeded” in the goal of winning any increase in the security of the US citizenry. On the contrary, it has created and helped to incubate nihilistic, ‘cosmopolitan’ terrorists in far greater numbers than existed back in August 2001. But what it has “succeeded” in doing is spreading the seeds of violence in a truly viral fashion to so many already poor, hard-pressed, and marginalized places around the world– including Somalia, along with the nations of the Middle East.
All of us in the world need to take responsibility for working together to halt these now-spinning cycles of violence.
As U.S. citizen, I need to play my part to bring my government away from the truly major role it’s been playing in spreading violence around the world. I know that in Iraq, Iran, Lebanon, Palestine, Israel, and everywhere else where violence currently brews, there are citizens and political leaders who yearn to turn their communities and their countries away from the path of violence… But how much more powerful those nonviolence proponents elsewhere could be if the leaders of the most powerful country in the world would step up and say something simple and profound like, “The military means we turned to after 9/11 have not worked. We deeply regret the damage that we havecaused. And now we invite all the peoples of the world to a new peace conference where we can discuss how humankind can exit this phase of devastating violence and truly strengthen of the world’s mechanisms and capabilities in the field of nonviolent conflict resolution.”
And where are the voices of international conscience, meanwhile? Where is the new U.N. Secretary-General? Where are the leaders of the the world’s other, non-US “big powers”? Why are they not all alike speaking out and saying that the tragedies of violence in the Middle East and elsewhere must be halted, the politics of accusation and counter-accusation laid aside, and a new way sought?

Human Rights Watch and nonviolent mass action: a footnote

Readers will remember that back on November 22 I wrote a post here that strongly criticized the press release Human Rights Watch put out that day critizing the Gazans’ use of mass nonviolent action to prevent Israel from demolishing an apartment building in Jabaliya refugee camp. Indeed, they had strongly implied the action constituted a “war crime.”
My JWN post summarized the main points in an exchange of emails I had had over the preceding hours on the topic with Sarah Leah Whitson, the director of the Middle East division of HRW. (I have sat on the M.E. advisory committee of HRW since 1992 or so, and have seen a number of directors of the division come and go. It’s a high-stress job for reasons we can discuss on another occasion.)
On December 13, I participated by phone in a meeting of the ME advisory committee. To my disappointment, the Nov. 22 press release was not discussed.
Today, to my huge surprise and delight, I discovered (hat-tip to Philip) that back on December 16, HRW issued a follow-up statement that completely reversed the positions they had enunciated in the November 22 press release. Interestingly, they published that statement at the top of the web-page that still, lower down, contains the Nov. 22 release and has the same URL as the Nov. 22 release always had.
Here, inter alia, is what the Dec. 16 statement said:

    We regret that our press release below (“OPT: Civilians Must Not Be Used to Shield Homes Against Military Attacks”) gave many readers the impression that we were criticizing civilians for engaging in nonviolent resistance. This was not our intention. It is not the policy of the organization to criticize non-violent resistance or any other form of peaceful protest, including civilians defending their homes. Rather, our focus is on the behavior of public officials and military commanders because they have responsibilities under international law to protect civilians.
    Contribute
    It has also become clear to us that we erred in assessing the main incident described in the press release. We said that the planned IDF attack on the house of a military commander in the Popular Resistance Committee, Muhammadwail Barud, fell within the purview of the law regulating the conduct of hostilities during armed conflict. We criticized Barud for reportedly urging civilians to assemble near the house in order to prevent the attack, in apparent violation of that law. Our focus was not on the civilians who assembled, their state of mind, or their behavior (such as whether they willingly assembled or not), but on Barud for risking the lives of civilians.
    We have since concluded that we were wrong, on the basis of the available evidence, to characterize the IDF’s planned destruction of the house as an act of war. If the planned attack against the house – a three-story building housing three families – was, in fact, an administrative action by the Israeli government aimed at punishing a militant for his alleged activities, the law regulating the conduct of hostilities during armed conflict would not apply and could not be violated.
    An important consideration in this regard is whether the IDF had reason to believe that the house was being used for military purposes at the time of the planned attack. To date, Human Rights Watch has not obtained conclusive evidence as to whether the house was being so used, but eyewitnesses we have been able to speak with, including two journalists on the scene, claim they saw no such evidence. The IDF, moreover, has not responded to our requests to explain what military objective it could have had in targeting not a militant but his home after having ordered it vacated.
    We recognize that it is important to view the planned destruction of Barud’s house in light of Israel’s longstanding policy in the Occupied Palestinian Territories, sharply increased in Gaza since June, of demolishing houses not as legitimate military targets but as a punitive measure. HRW has repeatedly criticized Israel for unlawful demolition of houses.
    Our intention in issuing this press release was to underscore one of the most fundamental principles of international humanitarian law: the obligation of warring parties to take all feasible measures to spare civilians from harm. This includes the important principle that parties to a conflict, including military leaders and civilian officials, may not use civilians to “shield” against a military attack or otherwise unnecessarily put civilian lives at risk. Unfortunately, judging by the response, we did more to cloud the issues than clarify them in the press release…

By issuing this statement HRW has conceded many of the exact same arguments I made in my emails with Sarah Leah, and in my public blog post.
I strongly welcome HRW’s readiness to reconsider their position in the light of new arguments and new evidence, and to acknowledge openly that their November 22 press release had been wrong.
If I have one remaining quibble with them it would be over their notable lack of courtesy in failing to send the text of this retraction to me at the time, or indeed, at any point since then. Over the past 18 days I have been completely unaware of the fact of their retraction, which I learned about only by following a link to it on the Tabula Gaza blog.
Given the intensity of the exchanges between Sarah Leah and me at the time of the November 22 press release, I would consider it only common courtesy for her to have sent me, or had one of her many staff people send me, a copy of the retraction.
Indeed, you would think that all the M.E. advisory committee members should have been informed of the retraction, as a matter of course.
But the main story here is a good one. They did accept the main thrust of my arguments (and the results of a bit of additional investigation of their own.)
So thank you for doing that, Sarah Leah.

“We Want Peace” on YouTube

Hagit Tarnari, one of the dedicated pro-peace Israeli participants in our recent U.N. University conference on nonviolence in Amman, Jordan, made a little video at the end of the conference and has posted it on YouTube: here.
I’ve watched it three times, and find it incredibly moving… It brings all those people’s faces and strong, dedicated personalities so vividly back for me.
Among the people in the video you can pick out:

    * Vasu Gounden, the Executive Director of Accord in Durban, South Africa,
    * (me, looking very tired toward the end of the fourth day of the conference,)
    * Jan Benvie from Scotland– a leader in Christian Peacemaker Teams who co-led the whole afternoon’s proceedings with me on the second day of the conference. (She was on her way to northern Iraq, where she and two other CPTers have been investigating the possibility of re-establishing some of CPTs Iraq programs from Suleimaniyeh.)
    * Rabbi Moshe Yehudai, a lifelong pacifist and wonderful brave soul who also describes himself as a Zionist,
    * Nasser Sheikh Ali, a member of the Liberal Forum from Jenin, Palestine,
    * Murad Tangiev, from Chechnya, Russia, who has been working at the UNU and helped with the administration of this conference,
    * Neven Bondokji from Jordan, a talented and brave young woman who’s been working with CARE, trying to establish basic humanitarian/relief services for some of the hundreds of thousands Iraqi refugees in Jordan,
    * Dr. Koteswara Prasad, the Director of the Mahatma Gandhi Center for Peace and Conflict resolution in Madras, India,
    * Sheikh Abdul-Aziz Bukhari from Jerusalem, a Sufism teacher who is also the head of Jerusalem’s 400-year-old community of Uzbek Muslims, and
    * Hagit herself, at the very end.

You may or may not notice that not many of the two dozen or so Arab state citizens who took part in the conference appear in the video. Everyone was, obviously, given a choice whether to appear or not. All the people from Palestine and the other Arab countries who came to the conference participated fully, and in a respectful and friendly way, with all the other participants in all the conference’s formally scheduled activities. But these are people who want to continue to make a difference for good in their own societies, and I imagine it was with that in mind that some of them chose not to appear in a video that we hope will be widely available to a global public. But some of them did, and their participation makes the video particularly powerful and effective.
What a great way this video is, to share some of the energy from our conference! It was shot by a Jordanian cameraman who was at the UNU building working on another project, and came over and donated his time and expertise to Hagit’s project. I’m not sure who did the final editing and production work– I think, Hagit.
Great work!
JWN readers: please share the news about this video as widely as you can!

CSM column on our great gathering in Amman

My column in Thursday’s CSM is about our incredible conference on nonviolence, last week in Amman. You can read it here or here.
In the column, I just gave a tiny flavor of the conference, which was truly an amazing gathering:

    This assembly – a UN-sponsored leadership conference on nonviolence – brought together Israelis, Palestinians, Iraqis, Jordanians, Egyptians, and others from the Middle East. One-third of the participants came from farther afield – from Nepal, Uganda, Cameroon, Sri Lanka, Russia, South Africa, and elsewhere – and added a valuable global and comparative perspective to the mix.
    We saw very secular Israeli activists engaging passionately with socially conservative (and very articulate) veiled women from Jordan and the Palestinian territories. Pro-peace Israeli rabbis in yarmulkes worked with Muslim teachers in flowing robes. There were Christian, Hindu, Buddhist, and secular peace activists, and veterans of nonviolent struggles in South Africa, Northern Ireland, and elsewhere.
    On the final night, an Israeli rabbi and a young Arab woman sang a poem composed two hours earlier by a South African. It told of the dream of coexistence along the Jordan River.
    How did this happen – at a time of violence in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and deadly civil strife in Iraq?

Toward the end of the column I speculated a little on why this gathering turned out to be so successful, so harmonious and productive and inspirational– and this, at a time when the situation in the areas to the east of Jordan and to the west of it are wracked by such terrible, protracted violence.
I concluded:

    Our gathering thrived because of the great human qualities and rich experience of the participants. It helped, too, that so many Middle Easterners can now see that violence – whether direct physical violence or the violence of oppressive systems – simply does not “work.” So in key places, people have become more eager to seek alternatives.
    The achievements of Gandhi’s movement in India and of the (largely nonviolent) African National Congress in South Africa last century are solid examples of the effectiveness of nonviolent mass action that today’s peacemakers embrace as instructive models. The teachings of Gandhi, Dr. King, and others do not try to avoid the big political problems that conflict- ridden or oppressed societies face. Instead, they seek to mobilize new, nonviolent human energies in order to resolve them…

One factor I didn’t mention, that perhaps I should have, was precisely the ‘UN’ (or more directly, the U.N. University) sponsorship of it. I think just about all the participants in the workshop were people who deeply respect the work of the UN, and the principles of human equality, globalism, fair-mindedness, and non-violence that animate the world body. In retrospect, I think that was crucial… So I wish I’d written that.
Very different from, for example, having the seminar convened by a body with an explicitly “western” flavor…
Anyway, as I noted at the end of the column there:

    Now, we all need to work hard to nurture and strengthen this hopeful movement.

Indeed. That’s one of the main things I’m trying to figure out right now, along with my friends and colleagues who were at the seminar…

Well-organized people power in northern Gaza

I have long argued– including in this article on Hizbullah, or this article on the women’s organizations of Hamas– that the bedrock of the political strength of well-organized Islamist organizations like Hamas or Hizbullah has been their ability to build sturdy, resilient civilian mass organizations covering all sectors of society– rather than merely their creation of the (much smaller) armed organizations whose activities seem to get most of the coverage in the western media.
Well now, the Hamas women have played a hugely important role in defusing the latest crisis in the northern Gaza town of Beit Hanoun.
Over the past couple of days, the Israeli occupation forces, which had forced their way back into parts of Gaza after a short-lived withdrawal from the Strip, have been mounting extensive “search-and-screening” operations in Beit Hanoun. They had surrounded the whole town of some 28,000 people and cordoned it off, announcing a complete “curfew” (i.e. lockdown) on all residents except for men aged 16 through 50– and all these men were ordered by loudspeaker to report for screening to centers the IOF had set up.
However, according to that report linked to above, which is by AP’s Yakub Ralwah, a group of menwhom he described as “dozens of gunmen” on Thursday sought refuge in the mosque, instead…
Ralwah:

    …Most were thought to belong to the military wing of the ruling Hamas party.
    [Israeli] Armored vehicles quickly surrounded the building, and the two sides began exchanging fire that lasted throughout the night, the military and Palestinian security officials said.
    Israeli soldiers trying to pressure the gunmen to surrender also threw stun and smoke grenades, and knocked down an outer wall of the mosque with a bulldozer, causing the ceiling to collapse…

But then, as sporadic shooting continued this morning, Hamas’s radio called on Beit Hanoun’s women to walk as fast as they could to the mosque. And–

    Dozens of women left their homes to a hurry to the mosque, and en route, came under Israeli fire, witnesses and officials said.
    One woman, about 40, was shot and killed, and 10 others were wounded, they said.
    The army said troops spotted two militants hiding in the crowd of women and opened fire, hitting the two.
    By midmorning Friday, veiled women protesters had gathered outside the mosque, where troops were positioned in tanks and armored personnel carriers. The army said the gunmen in the mosque took advantage of the demonstration to escape because there were not enough soldiers to block the protesters from approaching the building, and troops did not want to shoot into the crowd.
    But live ammunition was fired in the course of the demonstration, wounding a Palestinian cameraman and an unidentified woman.
    Loudspeakers across Gaza called on people to come to demonstrations after Friday prayers to express solidarity with Beit Hanoun. By late morning, two rallies were already in progress in Beit Hanoun, and militants in the crowds were firing at soldiers, the army said.
    Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh of Hamas “saluted the women of Palestine … who led the protest to break the siege of Beit Hanoun.” Haniyeh urged U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan to witness firsthand “the massacres of the Palestinian people,” and appealed to the Arab world to “stop the ongoing bloodshed.”
    A spokesman for Hamas militants said 32 gunmen who had taken cover in the mosque escaped with the help of the women. The spokesman, Abu Obeida, denied reports that the men disguised themselves as women to escape, but one woman said she handed women’s clothing to some of the gunmen.

This action of mobilizing the women to come and form an unarmed interposition force around the Beit Hanoun mosque is very similar indeed to the action Ayatollah Sistani organized in Najaf back in August 2004. (See this , this, and this.) On that occasion, units of Moqtada Sadr’s Mehdi Army were holed up in portion of Najaf and the US occupation force was closing in on them… But Sistani called for “a million men” to march peacefully to the city. That call was answered by, at least, hundreds of thousands of Sistani’s supporters from around the area, and in the course of that procession, also, the Sadrists were able to make theirescape.
Hamas’s mobilization of women in this role is particularly notable. But they’re an impressive bunch. Go read that article on Hamas women that I linked to up at the top.
Regarding Hizbullah, their mass civilian organizations proved their strength and value a number of times during the horrible crisis of last summer. Most notable of these occasions was when just about the entire pro-Hizbullah population of the devastated towns and villages of south Lebanon answered Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah’s call to return en masse to their homeplaces starting on the very day the ceasefire went into effect, August 14. Helped by Hizbullah’s well-practiced social-relief and social support organizations, the southerners responded to that call in every way they could. As they did so, they defied and openly mocked the announcements the Israelis were making that civilians should “wait until it was safe” for them to return home. And by returning home– unarmed, and in huge numbers– they reclaimed the whole of south Lebanon for Hizbullah.
Actions like this, I should note, take considerable amounts of courage, self-confidence, trust in the leadership doing the mobilizing, and discipline. The women who gathered at the Beit Hanoun mosque today showed all those qualities.

    Update: This later filing by Ralwah tells us that two women were killed, and ten wounded. He also writes that shots were fired toward them as they approached the mosque. Imagine their courage as they continued toward their goal! You can also see some photos of the parts of the mobilization on the Yahoo website.

I have noted, a number of times, that the way Hamas and Hizbullah have been combining their use of armed action with the building and use of extensive, basically nonviolent, civilian mass organizations is very reminiscent of the way that South Africa’s African National Congress organized during the latter decades of the anti-apartheid struggle in their country. Nelson Mandela, remember, had been a key originator and the first implementer of the idea that the ANC should have an armed wing, in addition to its long-existing political organization; and it was for playing that role as head of theANC military that he was imprisoned by the authorities. That fact– and the fact that the ANC continued to keep its armed wing in existence right through to the conclusion of the peace negotiations, at which point it was integrated with the regime’s military into a new unified national defense force– both tend to get forgotten in a sanitized western media portrayal that glorifies the role of Mandela in the negotiations without saying much at all about the multifaceted nature of the ANC’s political strength…
Well, anyway, here today is a great new example of Palestinian people power in action. Yes, it is quite tragic that one of the women participants in that (unarmed) demonstration was killed by the IOF. But still, the women’s mobilization did serve to defuse the tensions around the mosque, most likely saving the lives of many more than one person at the scene. Plus, it no doubt helped show the leaders of Hamas and other Palestinian political groups– and the women participants themselves– the great value and strength of civilian mass organizations.
Yes, it would be great if Hamas transformed itself totally into an organization of civilian, nonviolent, mass action. (Ditto, of course, the state of Israel, which commands and is clearly prepared to use means of violent aggression and control that are hundreds of times more lethal than those used by any Palestinians.) But neither Hamas nor the state of Israel is, it seems, about to do that.
But still, absent a complete disarming of organizations like Hamas or Hizbullah, seeing them turn increasingly to, and recognize the value of, nonviolent means of organizing is a very important and constructive development.

Thuggish Israeli minister calls for killing Nasrallah

It seems to me that assassinating one’s opponents is– like torture– a slippery slope. Maybe the first few times you do it, you’re still a bit hesitant. But do it scores or hundreds of times, and it might become a habit. Heck, you might even start bragging about it in public.
It strikes me that has already happened in Israel. Here, today, we have Infrastructure Minister Benjamin Ben-Eliezer openly calling for the killing of Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah: “We should wait for the right opportunity and not leave him alive.”
I met Ben-Eliezer once, briefly, in the lobby of the Dan Hotel in Tel Aviv. He struck me even then as fairly thuggish. He strikes me even more that way now. He is one of the”grand old men” of the Israeli Labor Party, and was Sharon’s Defense Minister in the early years of this decade.
And of course, when he calls for assassinating leaders of neighboring communities, this is not just rhetoric. It may well have an effect on Israeli policy– especially since he has been a close advisor to neophyte Defense Minister Amir Peretz. Also, Israel has already assassinated Nasrallah’s predecessor, Abbas Musawi; Sheikh Ahmed Yassin, Abdul-Aziz Rantisi, and many other Hamas political figures– as well as considerably more than 100 suspected organizers of violent acts in Gaza and the West Bank.
(Of course, none of those individuals intentionally assassinated was ever given a “day in court”; no-one has ever been shown the “evidence” that brought about their killing. Also, numerous bystanders have also been killed in these lethal operations.)
How easy it has become for Israeli politicians to now speak openly about intentionally pursuing a policy of killing and destruction!
Here in the United States, the Bush administration has undertaken, certainly, a number of deliberate “targeted killings” (assassinations), along the Israeli model. But there is no open public incitement from powerful members of the government for this. Why, even George Bush says of Osama Bin Laden only that he wants him “Dead or Alive”. (And that is bad enough.) And Saddam Hussein, for all the considerable evidence against him, ended up in a courtroom.
I find it extremely disturbing in general that my tax dollars fund so much violence, escalation, killing, and oppression around the world. But somehow, the idea that a high-level recipient of US aid money can go around openly inciting lethal violence in the way that Ben-Eliezer is doing seems even worse than most things the Israelis do.
Killing anyone is wrong. Period. Where did Ben-Eliezer get the idea that it’s okay to carry on like this? Time, surely, for our leaders here in the US to call a halt to such incitement.

U.N.U. workshop on non-violence, October

Here’s an announcement for another project I’m contributing to. Again, please feel free to copy, distribute, and re-post this one.

    United Nations University
    International Leadership Institute

    A 4-day, workshop-style course on:
    “Non-violent approaches to conflict resolution, peace building, and reconciliation
    To be held at UNU-ILI headquarters, Amman, Jordan, October 28–31, 2006
    Non-violent approaches as espoused by Mahatma Gandhi and Martin Luther King have been powerful forces in resolving conflicts and effecting peaceful change and reconciliation. Yet this way seems to have lost momentum in the latter half of the 20th century and at the beginning of this century. Instead we see a world of intolerance with little respect for diversity, complexity and nuance but a readiness to resort to violent means, often mindless and brutal, to resolve conflicts. No sustainable development can occur amidst the continuing inter and intra-state conflicts that ravage many parts of the world in particular the Middle East and Africa. Under these conditions, democratic governance cannot be introduced or established nor can human rights be upheld.
    This course will explore reasons as to why the non-violent approaches have not been deployed to a much greater extent and what can be done to resurrect and reinsert them into the body politic of contemporary society as a means of peace building and reconciliation. Concurrently, leadership strategies for conflict prevention and its recurrence, mediation and arbitration will be discussed.
    It is anticipated that distinguished scholars from across the world will constitute the faculty. About 50 participants will be recruited with emphasis on developing countries, post-conflict and conflict societies. This course will be undertaken in partnership with the Friedrich Naumann Foundation, Germany
    —————
    For more information or to apply to the course, contact the Institute by fax at + 962 6 533 7068 or by e-mail: poapp@la.unu.edu; the closing date for applications is 30 September 2006.

Yup, I’m one of the “faculty” members there. The other faculty people look really exciting. I am looking forward to this a lot. Send in your applications! (Sorry I couldn’t find out yet how much the course will cost… But I know that UNU-ILI is trying to get funding for scholarship support for participants from low-income countries.)

A “Global Hunger Strike?”

A “Global Hunger Strike”?
Commonly understood, “hunger strikes” are intended as a form of non-violent action, a voluntary fast with an intended political or human rights aim. Yet I confess to being puzzled by recent, more casual, deployments of the “hunger strike” as a political tool. I apologize in advance if this suggestion seems far too cynical, even Thatcher-esque.”
I don’t have a set thesis here, rather a working question, for which I will be interested to learn the thoughts of jwn readers. My question is prompted by the pending 3 day “global hunger strike” to take place on July 14-16. Orchestrated by prominet Iranian dissident Akbar Ganji, these “global hunger strikers” are demanding that the Iranian authorities release all political prisoners held inside Iran, including former MP Ali Akbar Mousavi Khoeni, Professor Ramin Jahanbegloo and labor leader Mansour Osanloo.

Continue reading

Emma’s second birthday

    Here in the US of A, we’ve just had Mother’s Day, and we’re proceeding fast toward Father’s Day (June 18).
    I’m thinking of all the mothers and fathers who are deployed in the US occupation force in Iraq, many under very difficult conditions, and I’m hoping sincerely that they can all come home soon, safe and sound, to be reunited with their kids.
    And yes, of course, I’m also thinking about all the Iraqi moms and dads who have been separated from their children by the horrible circumstances of this war and wishing the same good things for them.
    … So here, with great gratitute and appreciation to the author is a very moving piece of writing from David Steinbruner, a younger friend of our family who has been working as an ER doc in the Green Zone in Baghdad. He sent it to his family and friends and gave me permission to publish it here.

Back in Baghdad. And someone turned the heat up. I have been back now for about a month. It was good, though jarring, to go home. Everyone who is here for more than 8 months gets two weeks of R&R. For most of us this means a trip home. Although the journey drags on several days and nights and requires multiple aircraft, it really is disturbingly quick. One moment I am sitting in Iraq, wrapped in a heavy cocoon of kevlar plates with a hundred rounds of ammunition strapped to my body and an M-16 slung over my shoulder and then . . . I am back. Stripped of all the tools of war, I step off the plane in Dallas wonderfully unencumbered and wondering if I have just been having a strange, uncomfortable dream. Returning is exciting, awkward and moving. The world at home has continued on without any powerful indication of my absence. Life did not pause while I was gone. My children, at that age where they seem to grow overnight, are now not nearly as young as I remember. I landed in Dallas around 10 am on March 19th, many hours and half a world away from my last shower, with an aching need to be in [my hometown]. After two days of travel, this need was stronger than hunger or sleep, as if everything in my life had come down to those next few hours. Emma, my very talkative two year old, was having a birthday in several hours and there was no way in hell that I was going to miss it, not if I had anything to say about . . . Relax.
This must be a pretty common feeling for a returning soldier. I was met in Dallas by a very nice mother/daughter team that told me when the next flight to [my home city] was and which airline and where to go. I made the flight with time to spare. Many odd stares on the plane. There just are not that many soldiers flying back to [that airport]. The new uniform is not immediately recognized and most look puzzled. “Are you in the Army?”
“Yes, just coming back from Iraq”
“Wow” Then silence.
They want to say so much, to ask, but they are not sure where to go with it. Most just say thank you. I just smile and say “Your welcome, my pleasure” Don’t worry, I am thinking, I know the dilemma you’re wrestling with and I don’t take it personally. The dilemma of a professional, volunteer, soldier in a conflict that defies easy answers. Wrestle away, I think, you are citizen of the Republic and it is your right and responsibility. Good luck.
I make it in time for the party. In a time-zone hopping induced haze, my father-in-law picks me up at the airport and deposits me at the door to Chuck E. Cheese. Now that is a bit of culture shock. Four days ago I was resuscitating wounded soldiers fresh from the deadly roads of Iraq. Now here I stand, dozens of kids blasting around in a sugar-induced frenzy. I am having trouble processing all this, when in walks my son Ryan and my daughter Emma. Behind them comes Gilda, slightly distracted and looking so beautiful it hurts me a little. If you ever forget how important your family is to you, I have a remedy. It may take some time and distance, but it will recharge your soul and remind you what really matters most.
Gilda sees me first and smiles. It is amazing what your wife can say to you without words. She bends down to Ryan [the ‘big’ brother] and whispers in his ear. He looks over to me, blinks once and seems to shake his head, just to make sure I am real. Then it is a sprint through the crowd and up into my arms. You know your child’s smell, like a memory that you had nearly forgotten but now seems so familiar. Emma follows slowly, confused, but curious. Ryan knows this man, who is he? I crouch down and smile, but wait for her to come to me.
“Emma, it’s Daddy.” She pauses, unsure but the voice sounds familiar. Where has she heard that before? I walk over to here, kneel and put my arms out.
“It’s Daddy, Emma, remember?” Please God, let her remember, it has not been that long. Something clicks. She remembers the voice from the phone (she was listening) and she comes over. She lets me pick her up as she might a family friend who seems nice. Ryan is coming over and touching me, just to make sure. Now Emma understands, this is Daddy, the Daddy who talks on the phone to Ryan, the Daddy in the pictures. This is my Daddy. Suddenly all the hesitancy is gone. I cannot put her down for long before she turns to say: “Up Daddy, hold” And so I do. Home just in time…

Continue reading