Tuesday, September 28, 2010

End Torture NOW

When President Obama ran for office, he promised that Bush policies on torture and state secrecy would change, that the US would follow the Geneva conventions, and that Guantanamo would be closed. Soon after his inauguration, President Obama issued a statement saying that the United States would end the practice of torture, but little has changed. He called for the closure of Guantanamo but has not yet done so. Invoking the state secrecy act, the Holder justice department refuses to investigate or prosecute cases of torture that took place during the Bush administration, and has even blocked efforts to seek compensation by victims of torture. President Obama needs to be pressured to live up to his promises, and Congress also needs to know this is an issue that voters care about.

What can we do to end US-sponsored torture?

First, educate ourselves and our neighbors about this problem. Invite expert speakers to your meeting, organize interfaith panel discussions, or show the NRCAT-sponsored video "Ending US-Sponsored Torture Forever; a study for people of faith." (Copies are available for free.)

Second, become involved with organizations like the Quaker Initiative to End Torture (QUIT) and the National Religious Campaign to End Torture (NRCAT). NRCAT recommends specific actions we can take to make a difference. For instance, the Department of Health and Human Services declined to investigate the CIA’s alleged torture experiments. We are urged to tell the President and the Attorney General to ensure a thorough investigation of the allegations.

NRCA also provides a wealth of information and templates for op ed pieces we can submit to local newspapers. It not only alerts us to specific legislation and opportunities to make a difference inside the Beltway, it can help us to make the connection between national and local issues (such as the cruel and inhumane treatment of inmates in our prisons).

During the conference, we also learned about local actions that we can take. Here are a few examples:

  • Friends in Boise, Idaho, have helped convince local religious leaders to take a stand against torture--no small achievement in this conservative region. Boise Friends also crafted a minute on torture that was approved by North Pacific Yearly Meeting.
  • Friends in Berkeley has worked with others to convince the City Council to approve a resolution calling for a “Say no to torture” week, Oct 10-16.

  • Chuck Fager and others have been working locally in Fayetteville, NC (the site of Fort Bragg) to convince the city council to do something about rendition flights taking off from the county airport. No action has been take yet, but Chuck is convinced that "patience and determination" will ultimately pay off. (He has written an excellent little booklet with that title, with "tools for ending torture and seeking accountability." You can order it by emailing him at chuckfager@aol.com)

We heard inspiring stories about anti-torture work in Monterey, Los Angeles and other places. I told about the work done in LA by Interfaith Communities for Justice and Peace when it launched a NRCA campaign just prior to the election of Obama. I explained how important it is for non-Muslims to stand in solidarity with Muslims on this issue since sometimes Muslims are nervous about taking the lead without support from those of other faiths. Muslims are most likely to be victims of US torture so it is a vital concern for this faith community.

We had events at a synagogue, mosque and cathedral, with participation from major religious leaders from LA as well as by experts on this subject. Interfaith delegations went to over a dozen Congressional offices. We circulated petitions urging Obama to end torture. The South Coast Interfaith Council, one of the largest interfaith groups in the Long Beach area, with over 140 congregations under its umbrella, took a strong stand against torture. Dedicated activists like Betsy Hailey and Virginia Classics have continued this work with the Valley Interfaith Council, All Saints Church in Pasadena, etc. I am the official rep for Santa Monica Friends Meeting to ICUJP. Our Meeting approved a minute opposing torture which was approved by Pacific YM a couple of years ago.

NRCAT supports these local efforts in a variety of ways, sometimes providing expertise and sometimes grants.

Speakers at this conference included Scott Horton, a human rights lawyer and activist; Terry Kupers, a psychiatrist who has studied torture and "cruel and unusual punishment" in US prisons; Hector Artistizabal, an actor/psychotherapist/healer from Colombia; and Father Roy Bourgeois, the Jesuit priest who had made it his life's work to end torture in Latin America and to close the infamous School of the Americas.

Five years ago, in 2005, the first QUIT conference took place at Guilford College in North Carolina and drew 130 people. The next two conferences drew over 100 people. This one at the Ben Lomond Quaker Center attracted only 35, in part because of the economy, in part because of the location (there are fewer Quakers out West), and in part because many people imagine that torture is no longer an issue with the Obama administration. Sadly, this isn’t true. President Obama has continued Bush’s torture regime. Little has changed.

John Calvi, one of the founders of QUIT, is a Quaker spiritual healer who became aware of this issue when victims of torture from Central America came to him for trauma healing. This first-hand experience with victims of torture had a profound effect upon John. He began to investigate the issue of torture, and what he discovered shocked him deeply. He was especially horrified to learn that children were being detained at Guantanamo. As will discussed later, the show case trial that is now taking place at a military tribunal in Guantanamo involves young man who was fifteen-year old when he allegedly killed a US soldier. This teenager has been tortured, threatened with sexual assault, and denied basic rights guaranteed under international and US law. From a legal as well as PR viewpoint, this case is a train wreck and an PR disaster. Yet the trial goes on. John told us it is very hard emotionally to accept the reality that “torture has become a world-wide business, and that the US has become the McDonalds of torture.”

“This is subject we don’t like to think about,” John admitted. “It can make us very uncomfortable.” John was moved to tears when he told us that he looks forward to the day when he no longer has to address this issue, when he is “out of work,” and when torture is truly and finally abolished.

It was comforting to explore this issue among the beautiful redwoods and to find healing in nature and in the company of kindred spirits. As John reminds us, to do anti-torture work we must take care of ourselves so we don't become overwhelmed emotionally. During this conference, we learned how to transform our anguish into a loving commitment that can bring healing as well as an end to torture.

On Friday night, Terry Kupers spoke about “cruel and unusual punishment” and torture that is taking place in American prisons. Kupers, an psychiatrist and Professor at the Wright Institute, is one of the leading experts on mistreatment of prison inmates in the USA. He shared horrendous stories about how inmates are treated at super max prisons where people are kept in segregated cells without bedding, books, TV, clothes, or any contact with the outside world. Such sensory and social deprivation is a form of torture. Unfortunately, these forms of psychological torture have been exported to other countries.

What can we do? He said that conservative legislators who support prisons oppose torture and inhumane treatment since it makes prisons look bad. Many who are not persuaded by moral arguments are moved by financial considerations. Super max prisons are terribly expensive and usually lead to longer and more costly sentences.

Inmates by law are entitled to a safe environment in which to serve their sentences. Many are subject to sexual harassment. In Michigan 500 women inmates won a law suit against prison guards who raped them; the settlement was 15 million dollars. Such sexual harassment goes on in prisons throughout the country. Many of those at prisons like Abu Graib were prison guards in US prisons and simply continued practices common here in the USA. (See http://www.freep.com/article/20090721/OPINION05/90721056/Ending-prisoner-rape-in-Michigan)

The prison system of California has been considered a form of "cruel and unusual punishment" because of overcrowding. Overcrowding leads to violence and jeopardizes the safety of inmates. Our prison system can be considered a form of psychological torture, and has been described as "barbaric" by Time magazine: . http://www.time.com/time/nation/article/0,8599,1997219,00.html

We need to tell our elected officials (as well as our friends and neighbors) that the humane treatment of inmates, e.g. drug rehabilitation, is more cost effective than the vengeful treatment of inmates.

Father Roy Bourgeois told his personal story, beginning with the time he served as a chaplain in Vietnam. There he observed that torture was commonplace, and has been a routine practice of the US military ever since. He later became concerned about the use of torture in Bolivia and El Salvador and other parts of Latin America.

When 500 El Salvadoran soldiers went to Fort Benning to be trained by the US military, Roy and others opened up a little house called “Casa Romero” to address the issue of torture. They dressed up a high-ranking officers and brought a boom box with the final sermon of Archbishop Romero where he made a plea to the military asking them to lay down their weapons and stop killing their fellow compasenos. Bishop Romero was a prophetic bishop. He didn’t start out that way—he was a “company man”—you don’t get to be a bishop if you’re an advocate for the poor and for peace—but Bishop Romero had a heart of compassion and he heard the cry of the poor, and he spoke out. So Roy and his friends went into the Fort Benning dressed as officers and climbed a pine tree and began playing the sermon of Bishop Romero. The soldiers came out with their weapons and Roy came down from the tree (but left the boom box there). Roy and his friends were brought to trial, and they were sentenced to prison for a year and a half.

Recently Roy Bourgeois went to Colombia with some other activists and dressed up as "Uncle Sam" (Tio Sam) and engaged in street theater with the military. Dressed as Uncle Sam, he thanked the soldiers for turning over their country to the US.

A man of courage and faithfulness, Father Roy has also spoken out in favor of the ordination of women. The Vatican has threatened to excommunicate Roy, but he remains firm in his commitment to speak the truth to power, beginning with those in his own church.

I should also add that Father Roy is one of the kindest and most loving men I have ever met. He is living proof that you can be both gentle and strong.

Scott Horton, a human rights lawyer and author, has been a tenacious investigator of torture. This year he broke the story that three alleged suicides at Guantanamo were actually murders perpetrated by secret US units. Here are some notes I took during his presentation:

We are all familiar with what happened in the Bush era, and we looked forward to change we can believe in. Has this change happened? If not, why not?

Attorney General Gonzalez recently wrote an article justifying use of torture. He argues that this is justified since the president needs unlimited power during time of war. Gonzalez reduces the Constitution just to the exec branch.

Before becoming President, Obama denounced torture, warrantless wiretaps, State Secret Acts, and promised “to restore standards of due process that have made this country great.”

He issued an exec order condemning torture, outlawed water-boarding, black sites operated by CIA, etc. Now black sites are operated by a different group called JSOC, which is much more secretive.

Obama’s failure to close Guantanamo is troubling. Take the showcase trial of Omar Khadr, who was apprehended in 2002, when he was 15. He has been charged with homicide and giving material aid to terrorism. This case is severely damaging our reputation around the world. First, he was a juvenile offender. Under international law, trials need to be conducted within six months or so. It took two years for him to get an attorney and another three years for charges to be raised. He was kept in solitary confinement and then with adults—both prohibited under international law. He says he was tortured and coercively interrogated. One of Khadr’s interrogators admitted that Khadr was tortured. In 2002 US signed a treaty saying that child soldiers would be treated as victims, to be rehabilitated, not punished. Instead, Khadr was labeled as an enemy combatant. Khadr was a Canadian citizen, and came from a dysfunctional family. His father was a militant Islamist who pushed his son into service of the Taliban. Normally, charges would be brought against the parents, not the child, for reckless endangerment. In Oct 2007, in the midst of the trial, the prosecutor named Davis resigned. Jim Haines, one of Dick Cheney’s protégés, told Davis that the cases should be brought up in a way that would influence the elections. Davis said some of the cases were weak and might lead to acquittals. Haines said there would be no acquittals. Six prosecutors resigned as a result. The Canadian courts ruled that Khadr was tortured and the government had a responsibility to do what it could to removed him from Guantanamo. (See article by Andrew Sullivan, below.)

After Obama is elected, the defense shows that key evidence of interrogation was deliberately destroyed—which is a felony, namely, obstruction of justice. Doctors discover that Khadr was blinded in one eye while under US custody, and a wound inflicted on him six inches in size. Evidence is also introduced indicating he probably didn’t kill an American soldier.

Horton says this case is a "nightmare and train wreck" from a legal standpoint.

From the standpoint of Nuremberg, this case doesn’t make sense as a war crime trial. By bringing this case, the US shows it fails to live up to international law and its own standards of justice. Second, the actual evidence is weak and contradictory. Prosecutors introduced evidence that a soldier confessed that he shot Khadr while he was unarmed and captured—this is a war crime. Third, the only evidence they have is a confession by Khadr, exacted through torture. Fourth, it is bogus for the US to claim it is a war crime for a civilian to kill a soldier. If this is true, we are committing war crimes every time we authorize private security forces to kill civilians. This is what Horton calls the “Khadr boomerang.”
Why are they doing this? Why didn’t he reverse course and pull this case?

The Obama team asked the prosecutors to reevaluate their cases under new standards, but so little pressure was exerted that the prosecutors simply said, “We are going forward. Nothing wrong was done.”

Why didn’t White House intervene? Some White House staff such as Greg Craig et al were serious about abolishing torture. These people were forced to resign.

Rohm Emanuel: “Look forward, don’t look back.” In other words, continue the Bush policy. This policy is seen as ridiculous in Europe, where efforts have been made to prosecute Americans guilty of aiding and abetting torture. (See article below about Spanish judges.)

The President has decided it isn’t politically advantageous to oppose torture.

JSOC (Joint Special Operations Commission) operates a black site at Bagram etc. Some of the worst practices took place at JSOC sites. JSOC was exempted from the regulations on torture.

The use of torture seems to have lessened after 2005, but it hasn’t disappeared.

Anyone who wants to know more about torture should definitely follow the writings of Scott Horton. He is amazingly well-informed.

Hector Arizstizabal, a native of Medillin, Columbia, was a victim of torture and lost his brother to the violence in his country. A psychotherapist, he fled Columbia and came to the USA where he earned a degree in Marriage and Family Therapy. For the last 15 years he has been involved wit the Theater of the Oppressed and gives workshops in hot spots around the world, including Israel-Palestine, Afghanistan, and Columbia.

He led us in light-and-lively games, and then some exercises to help us get in touch with our feelings about torture at a feeling level. His healing work is truly amazing. His joy and enthusiasm inspire hope. He is one of the most powerful healers I have ever encountered.

We concluded the weekend workshop by sharing stories of what we are doing in our own communities to end torture.

We ended our conference with a time of worship in the redwood circle, an outdoor worship space, where we met on each previous day. During our last meeting for worship, a young man named Noah Merrill, who works for the AFSC in Washington, DC, gave a short message that inspired me to write this poem:

Breathing hope

(written at a quaker conference to end torture at the ben lomond quaker center in the redwoods near santa cruz)

“for love to enter
and lies to cease,
we must breathe hope”

these words were spoken by a young man
aptly named noah
as we sat in a circle and worshipped
under the tall magnificent trees
whose silence
is deeper than we can know
our anger and pain and fears subsided
in the deep, healing silence
in the comforting shade of trees
whose hopeful branches are uplifted towards the light
whose leaves turn light and air and water
into cathedrals of peace

this everyday miracle is accomplished
one cell,
one leaf at a time
with water from deep below
and light from a nearby star
and from the surrounding air,
the unseen molecules of air
enveloped by this deep mystery
we sit and wait for the light
to transform us
light that comes from we know not where

we breathe in, we breathe out, we let our breathing go
we know not where our breath goes, our life goes,
we know only this
we are one with these trees
and with each other
and with all who live and suffer
trusting this light will be transformed
in us
through us
beyond us
into words and actions deep and strong as these trees

Torture Business Close to Home

Jappensen, an airline company that helped the CIA arrange flight to "render" terrorism suspects to countries where they could be tortured, is located in San Jose, CA. Rendition is illegal under US and international law, but the Obama administration used the old Bush excuse of "state secrecy" to deny defendants their day in court to sue the airline. On Sept 6, the appeals court sided with the administration and threw out the case on state secrecy grounds, even though it is no secret that Jeppensen arranged for the defendants to be flown to countries where they were tortured. The Obama administration won praise from The Wall Street Journal for upholding Bush policies, but those who oppose torture (such as the ACLU) are outraged.

Quoth the Wall Street Journal:

"Another week, another legal vindication for the Bush, er, the Obama Administration's war on terror. On Wednesday, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals cited the executive branch's state-secrecy privilege to dismiss an ACLU attempt to challenge the legality of sending terror suspects from the U.S. to other countries. Our friends on the left are now going nuts about "torture flights," but we'll take this decision as evidence that this Administration has its grown-up moments."

For the views of those who oppose torture, see:


Obama's Use Of Tortured Evidence
by Andrew Sullivan

12 Aug 2010 10:48 am

Jennifer Turner at the ACLU argues that "although President Obama promised transparency and sharp limits on the use of tortured and coerced statements against the accused," a detainee captured during the Bush years and sentenced earlier this week at Guantanamo Bay continues America's pattern of abuse.

Khadr, then 15 years old, was taken to Bagram near death, after being shot twice in the back, blinded by shrapnel, and buried in rubble from a bomb blast. He was interrogated within hours, while sedated and handcuffed to a stretcher. He was threatened with gang rape and death if he didn't cooperate with interrogators. He was hooded and chained with his arms suspended in a cage-like cell, and his primary interrogator was later court-martialed for detainee abuse leading to the death of a detainee. During his subsequent eight-year (so far) detention at Guantánamo, Khadr was subjected to the "frequent flyer" sleep deprivation program and he says he was used as a human mop after he was forced to urinate on himself.

In closing arguments before the judge's ruling, Khadr's sole defense lawyer, Lt. Col. Jon Jackson, told the judge, "Sir, be a voice today. Tell the world that we actually stand for what we say we stand for."

Though President Obama promised that coerced evidence would not be used against detainees in the military commissions, today's ruling suggests that as a country, we stand for abusing a 15-year-old teenager into confessing, and using those confessions against him in an illegitimate proceeding.

The danger of torture is not just the act of torture. It is the way in which the powerful can produce the confessions they want. And the necessity of proving, in this case, that imprisoning and torturing a 15 year-old was not a mistake makes the government double down even further. What happens is that physical force is introduced into the system of alleged justice. There is no justice then; just power.

"Philippe Sands, the British lawyer, and author of Torture Team, which provided much of the first-hand evidence for [Spanish Judge Baltasar] Garzón’s case... stated that there was 'no legal barrier' to prevent Judge Garzón’s prosecution from proceeding...

"He also explained that [U.S. Attorney General] Eric Holder’s [recent decision to appoint a special investigator] is only a first step, 'limited to cases in which interrogators may have exceeded the limits formally approved by lawyers in the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel,' [and] that the architects of the 'legal decisions that purported to justify the use of torture are not in immediate danger in the United States...' "


Spanish judge resumes torture case against six senior Bush lawyers

The Spanish newspaper Público reported exclusively on Saturday that Judge Baltasar Garzón is pressing ahead with a case against six senior Bush administration lawyers for implementing torture at Guantánamo.

Back in March, Judge Garzón announced that he was planning to investigate the six prime architects of the Bush administration’s torture policies — former Attorney General Alberto Gonzales; John Yoo, a former lawyer in the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel, who played a major role in the preparation of the OLC’s notorious “torture memos”; Douglas Feith, the former undersecretary of defense for policy; William J. Haynes II, the Defense Department’s former general counsel; Jay S. Bybee, Yoo’s superior in the OLC, who signed off on the August 2002 “torture memos”; and David Addington, former Vice President Dick Cheney’s Chief of Staff.

In April, on the advice of the Spanish Attorney General Cándido Conde-Pumpido, who believes that an American tribunal should judge the case (or dismiss it) before a Spanish court even thinks about becoming involved, prosecutors recommended that Judge Garzón should drop his investigation. As CNN reported, Mr. Conde-Pumpido told reporters that Judge Garzón’s plans threatened to turn the court “into a toy in the hands of people who are trying to do a political action.”

On Saturday, however, Público reported that Judge Garzón had accepted a lawsuit presented by a number of Spanish organizations — the Asociación Pro Dignidad de los Presos y Presas de España (Organization for the Dignity of Spanish Prisoners), Asociación Libre de Abogados (Free Lawyers Association), the Asociación Pro Derechos Humanos de España (Association for Human Rights in Spain) and Izquierda Unida (a left-wing political party) — and three former Guantánamo prisoners (the British residents Jamil El-Banna and Omar Deghayes, and Sami El-Laithi, an Egyptian freed in 2005, who was paralyzed during an incident involving guards at Guantánamo). The newspaper reported that all these groups and individuals would take part in any trial.

It is, at present, uncertain whether another attempt to stifle Judge Garzón will derail him, as he is not known for letting adversaries stand in his way. At the end of June, the Spanish Parliament pointedly passed legislation aimed at “ending the practice of letting its magistrates seek war-crime indictments against officials from any foreign country, including the United States,” on the basis that no Spanish Court should be able to judge officials of foreign countries except when the victims are Spanish or the crimes were committed in Spain.

However, on Sunday, when Público spoke to Philippe Sands, the British lawyer, and author of Torture Team, which provided much of the first-hand evidence for Garzón’s case, Sands explicitly stated that there was “no legal barrier” to prevent Judge Garzón’s prosecution from proceeding. He explained that he believed the recent decision by US Attorney General Eric Holder to appoint a special investigator to investigate cases of torture by the CIA is related to the Spanish lawsuit and the importance it has acquired because of its instigation by Judge Garzón. Sands told Público, “The recent decision by Eric Holder emphasizes how appropriate the Spanish investigation is. Many commentators believe that this decision has had a significant and direct impact in the United States, reminding people that there is an obligation to investigate torture.”

He added, “Judge Garzón’s actions have acted like a catalyst, and are supported by many people in the United States, including some members of Congress. He has reminded everybody that a blind eye cannot be turned to these actions and that there are people who are not going to let that happen.” He also explained that Eric Holder’s gesture is only a first step, “limited to cases in which interrogators may have exceeded the limits formally approved by lawyers in the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel,” that the architects of the “legal decisions that purported to justify the use of torture are not in immediate danger in the United States,” and that there is, therefore, “no legal barrier to the continuation of the Spanish investigation.”

He concluded by stating that it was “important” that Judge Garzón proceeds with the case in Spain, because, although Eric Holder “has confirmed the importance of the Convention Against Torture, he has taken only a first step that “does not really address the actions of those who were truly responsible for its violation.”

Note: I wish to extend my thanks to Carlos Sardiña Galache for alerting me to the latest developments in this important story, which was not mentioned in the English-speaking press, and for translating crucial passages.

FORUM (FORUM & FOCUS) • Jun. 19, 2009
Taking On Torture

By Stephen Rohde

As the debate continues over whether President Obama will seek criminal prosecutions against former Bush administration officials for authorizing and carrying out torture and cruel, inhumane and degrading treatment of detainees, one of the victims is taking the law into his own hands.

Jose Padilla, an America citizen labeled an "enemy combatant" by Bush, has filed an unprecedented civil lawsuit against John Yoo, former deputy attorney general in the Office of Legal Counsel, seeking $1 in damages and a declaration that Yoo violated his constitutional rights.

On June 12, in the first court ruling addressing Yoo's role in the "war on terror," U.S. District Judge Jeffrey S. White, a Bush appointee, denied Yoo's motion to dismiss the suit. White, quoting Alexander Hamilton, wrote: "[War] will compel nations the most attached to liberty to resort for repose and security to institutions which have a tendency to destroy their civil and political rights. To be more safe, they at length become willing to run the risk of being less free."

For White, the task was to "strike the proper balance of fighting a war against terror, at home and abroad, and fighting a war using tactics of terror."

Padilla was arrested in 2002 at Chicago's O'Hare Airport. After Bush declared him an enemy combatant, Padilla was transported to a naval brig in Charleston, S.C., where he was detained for three years and eight months, without charges or access to legal counsel.
We hear much about the abuse of detainees in Guantanamo and in secret CIA prisons around the world, but few are aware of the torture that is alleged to have occurred right here in America. Padilla and his legal counsel have alleged numerous abuses.

While he was detained, government officials subjected Padilla to interrogation tactics and policies such as: extreme and prolonged isolation; deprivation of light and exposure to prolonged periods of artificial light, sometimes in excess of 24 hours; extreme and deliberate variations in temperature; sleep adjustment; threats to subject him to physical abuse, including threats to cut him with a knife and pour alcohol into the wounds; threats to kill him immediately; threats to transfer him to a foreign country or Guantanamo, where he was told he would be subjected to far worse treatment; making him believe that he was being administered psychotropic drugs against his will; shackling and manacling for hours at a time; forcing him into stress positions; requiring him to wear earphones and black-out goggles during movement to, from and within the brig; introduction into his cell of noxious fumes that caused pain to the eyes and nose; lying to him about his location and the identity of his interrogators; government agents banging on the walls and bars of his cell or opening and shutting the doors to nearby empty cells; withholding of a mattress, pillow, sheet or blanket, leaving him with nothing to sleep or rest on except a cold steel slab; forced grooming; sudden and unexplained suspension of showers; sudden and unexplained removal of religious items; constant surveillance, including during the use of toilet facilities and showers; deprivation of access to any form of information about the outside world, including radio, television and newspapers from the time of his imprisonment until summer 2004, at which time he was allowed very limited access to such materials; denial of sufficient exercise and recreation and, when permitted intermittently, only in a concrete cage and often at night; denial of any mechanism to tell time in order to pray in keeping with the Muslim practice; denial of access to the Koran for most of his detention and complete deprivation or inadequate medical care.

According to the lawsuit, Yoo was "the de facto head of war-on-terrorism legal issues" and a "key member of a small, secretive, and highly-influential group of senior administration officials know as the 'War Council.'" As Yoo admits in his book, "War By Other Means," he "developed an extrajudicial, ex parte assessment of enemy combatant status followed by indefinite military detention, without notice of opportunity for a hearing of any sort ... completely preclud[ing] judicial review of the designation."

Declining Yoo's request to abstain, the court noted "the irony of this position: essentially, the allegations of the complaint are that Yoo drafted legal cover to shield review of the conduct of federal officials who allegedly deprived Padilla of his constitutional rights. Now, Yoo argues that the very drafting itself should be shielded from judicial review. Padilla's allegations here are that the creation of such legal cover was itself an unconstitutional exercise of power."

Notably, the court pointed out that like any other government official, "government lawyers are responsible for the foreseeable consequences of their conduct." For example, in Lippoldt v. Cole, 468 F.3d 1204 (10th Cir. 2006), the court found an assistant city attorney liable where she researched the law and drafted a letter denying a protest group's application for a parade permit based on the content of their speech.

Although senior city officials revised the letter, and others approved and eventually signed the denial of the permit, the court found that the drafting of a legal opinion justifying unconstitutional conduct was "a substantial factor" in the decision to deny the parade permits and violated the plaintiffs' First Amendment rights.

Similarly, in Anoushiravani v. Fishel, 3:2004CV00212 (D. Ore. July 19, 2004), in denying a motion to dismiss by two Department of Homeland Security attorneys who advised customs agents that they could constitutionally refuse to release seized property, the court held that the attorneys could be liable for their personal participation in the deprivation of constitutional rights because the seizures were a foreseeable result of their legal advice, citing United States Securities and Exchange Commission v. Fehn, 97 F.3d 1276 (9th Cir. 1996), in which the court found that a awyer may be liable for substantially assisting in a violation of the law by issuing advice in violation of the law.

According to the complaint, Attorney General John Ashcroft relied on Yoo's opinion in recommending that Padilla be taken into military custody. Yoo allegedly has represented that "he had security clearance to, and in fact did, 'read the intelligence reports' on Mr. Padilla before purporting to provide legal authority for Mr. Padilla's designation and detention."

Following a meeting of the War Council in July 2002 in which Yoo and fellow council members "'discussed in great detail how to legally justify' 'pressure techniques proposed by the CIA,' including waterboarding, mock burial, and open-handed slapping of suspects, [Yoo] wrote his August 1, 2002 memo, stating that acts of interrogation would not constitute torture unless they caused pain 'equivalent in intensity to the pain accompanying serious physical injury, such as organ failure, impairment of bodily function, or even death.'"
Padilla alleges that Yoo "intended or was deliberately indifferent to the fact that Mr. Padilla would be subjected to the illegal policies [Yoo] set in motion and to the substantial risk that Mr. Padilla would suffer harm as a result. [Yoo] personally recommended Mr. Padilla's unlawful military detention as a suspected enemy combatant and then wrote opinions to justify the use of unlawful interrogation methods against persons suspected of being enemy combatants. It was foreseeable that the illegal interrogation policies would be applied to Mr. Padilla, who was under the effective control of the U.S. Southern Command - the same military authority that controlled Guantanamo - and was one of only two suspected enemy combatants held at the Brig."

The court held that "the specific designation as an enemy combatant does not automatically eviscerate all of the constitutional protections afforded to a citizen of the United States."
While it remains to be seen whether Obama will have the courage to go beyond his lofty rhetoric that no one is above the law, the first real opportunity to hold a key Bush lawyer accountable for his direct participation in the discredited and shameful program of torture and abuse may well come from a man who was himself victimized by that very program.

Stephen Rohde, a constitutional lawyer and author, is chair of the ACLU Foundation of Southern California and president of Interfaith Communities United for Justice and Peace.

Monday, September 20, 2010

Becoming a Friend of God: The Spiritual Journey of a Sufi Quaker

"Take one step towards me, I will take ten steps towards you. Walk towards me, I will run towards you." [From the Hadith Qudsi, or The Holy Sayings of Mohammad, which are believed to come directly from God.]

“But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and was filled with compassion for him; he ran to his son, threw his arms around him and kissed him.” Jesus’ parable of the Prodigal Son, Luke 15:21

The First Steps in my Journey as a Sufi Quaker

I became a Friend, that is, a Quaker, in 1984 at about the same time that I encountered my first Sufi, a Tamil-speaking teacher from Sri Lanka named Bawa Muhaiyaddeen. I met this Sufi saint in Philadelphia, where he was well known and much appreciated by many Quakers. Some Friends even joined his Fellowship.

At that time I was editing a multi-faith publication called Fellowship in Prayer (now called Sacred Journey). The pay was modest, but the perks were priceless: thanks to this job, I had the opportunity to interview and worship with a remarkable array of spiritual leaders from various faith traditions.

One of my assignments was to interview Bawa Muhaiyadeen, who who first came to the United States in 1971 and established the Bawa Muhaiyaddeen Fellowship in Philadelphia. This Fellowship grew to over 1,000 followers in the Philadelphia area, with branches spreading throughout the United States and Canada, as well as Australia and the UK. I knew very little about Sufism at this time, but I was eager to learn more about it. Having just earned my Ph. D., I asked one of Bawa’s followers a decidedly academic question:

“I have heard that Eastern religion emphasizes union with God, while Western religion emphasizes communion with God. What does Sufism emphasize?”

The man smiled, paused to reflect, and then replied, “If a plane is flying at 30,000 feet, and another plane is at 20,000 feet, but you are on the ground, what difference is it to you the altitude of the planes?”

This zinger was just what I needed at the point in my spiritual journey. I realized that to understand Sufism, it wasn’t enough just to ask academic questions. I would need to walk the path, or at least one very much like it.

I want to make it clear that I’m not belittling academic studies. I have the utmost respect for scholars of religion, particularly ones like Huston Smith and Karen Armstrong, who have dedicated their lives to promoting interfaith understanding. If you want to know about Sufism, I heartily recommend the work of Carl W. Ernst and Annemarie Schimmel. I have also provided a short list of books by and about Sufis for those who want to delve more deeply into this topic.
But books alone will not give you a taste of Sufism, any more than cook books will give you a taste of haute cuisine. To understand Sufism, or any other religious practice, you must acquire first-hand knowledge and experience. As the Psalmist says: “Taste and see!”(34: 4).

For the past twenty five years, I have practiced Quakerism and had close friendships with Sufis who have opened my heart and mind to what it means to be a “Friend of God.” During this time, I also followed the example of Huston Smith and learned about various religions by practicing them. For nine months, I lived in a Zen Buddhist center in Providence, RI, and practiced meditation. Perhaps not coincidentally, Coleman Barks, one of the most popular translators of the great Sufi poet Rumi, was a student of my Korean Zen master, Soen Sa Nim. The spiritual world is indeed a small one, with many interconnections!

I also spent a year at Pendle Hill, a Quaker center for study and contemplation near Philadelphia, where I studied with many outstanding Quaker teachers, such as William Taber, Sonya Cronk, and William Durland.

Since 9/11, I have adopted many Muslim practices, such as fasting during Ramadan, praying five times a day, and worshipping with Muslims whenever I have the opportunity. I read the Quran daily along with the Bible. Prior to 9/11 I didn’t have a single Muslim friend, but today some of my dearest and closest friends are Muslims, and I have come to feel a part of the Muslim “family” here in Los Angeles. To these kindred spirits, I owe an eternal debt of gratitude for opening my mind and heart to the spiritual dimensions of Islam.

In 2002, I published a pamphlet called “Islam from a Quaker Perspective” which attempts to explain Islam to Quakers, and Quakerism to Muslims, in the most succinct possible way. This pamphlet was co-published by three Quaker organizations—Friends Bulletin, Wider Quaker Fellowship, and Quaker Universalist Fellowship—and circulated over 5,000 copies in 100 countries. It was even translated into German. In this pamphlet, I focused on mainstream Islam and deliberately omitted any reference to Sufism. I did this in part because I wanted Friends to understand what the majority of Muslims believe and practice, and to appreciate what James Michener called “the world’s most misunderstood religion.”

Now I would like to go deeper and explore the inner world of Islam and Christianity as I have experienced it through my study and practice of Quakerism and Sufism. I will explore a wide variety of motifs which are interwoven with the theme of spiritual friendship:

1) Simplicity: how we simplify our lives to become closer to God. This is practice shared by both Sufis and Quakers.

2) Importance of women in both traditions. Both traditions honor the spiritual power and wisdom of women and produced great women teachers/saints.

3) Ecstatic devotion to God. Thomas Kelly (who wrote "Testament of Devotion") is the Quaker I consider to be closest in spirit to the Sufis. In this section I will discuss how we can imagine God as both Friend and Lover.

4) Social witness. Sufis, like the Quakers, often stood in solidarity with the poor and oppressed, and challenged the rich and powerful. To be a Friend of God means to be a Friend of “the least” among us.

5) "Universal" vs. Islamic Sufism.

6) Methods of enhancing God consciousness through ance, chanting, and silent meditation. Techniques for developing intimacy with God.

7) Story telling/parables. Both Sufis and Quakers avoid theologizing, preferring instead to convey their theology through stories and narratives.

8) Attitude towards scripture. Both Sufism and Quakerism lay more emphasis on direct experience of the Divine than on the written word about the Divine.

9) "Hidden saints." In both traditions, there is the recognition that some of the most enlightened souls are not necessarily widely known. They do their work quietly, behind-the-scene, as it were. Cf. the sage in Taoism. Being a Friend of God means a willingness to embrace anonymity.

10) Intellect and spirit. Both traditions take non-dogmatic approach and welcome seekers who question traditional ideas about religion.

11) The "double search," as Quaker theologian Rufus Jones called it. We are seeking God, but God is also seeking us.

My hope is that what I have to share abut Sufism and Quakerism will inspire you to go deeper in your spiritual life and to become more intimate with the source of truth within you and within others.

Mysticism and the Path of Friendship

Sufism and Quakerism are often regarded as mystical branches of their respective religious traditions. Mystics are usually solitary individuals who have had compelling inward experiences of the Divine. But Quakerism, with its emphasis on silent worship and the direct experience of God/Christ through the Inward Light, has been described as a form of “group mysticism.” Sufism has also been regarded as a form of “group mysticism” since many of its practices—chanting the names of God (also called zikr) and dervish dancing—are corporate, not individualistic. Sufism and Quakerism also refer to its practitioners as “Friends,” or more precisely, as “Friends of God/Truth.”

I don’t want to engage in an academic comparison of Quakerism and Sufism, however useful and interesting that might be for scholars of religion. Instead, I would like to suggest how Quakerism and Sufism can help bring us into an intimate relationship with God/Truth. Such a close, intimate and loving relationship with the Divine is, I believe, at the heart of both religious faiths, and the ultimate source of our inner peace and happiness.

I also want to explore questions such as: What does it mean to be a “Friend of God”? And how does one become a Friend of God? And how does being (or seeing oneself as) a Friend of God influence how one lives one’s life?

I realize that some may find the word “God” or “Truth” off-putting. Some may doubt or deny existence of a transcendent being, while others may imagine God as an impersonal force (“Light” of “Eternal Goodness”) and find the idea of “befriending” God to be strange or naïve.
Depending on our beliefs, we can relate to the universe or Ultimate Reality in a virtually limitless variety of ways. At one end of the spectrum, we can see the universe as a hostile place governed by impersonal forces with which we can have no relationship. Such, for example, was the tragic vision of Thomas Hardy. At the other end of the spectrum, we can see the universe as a benign place from which human beings emerged for a reason or were created for a purpose. Walt Whitman (who was a great admirer of the Quakers, particularly the famous Quaker preacher Elias Hicks) had this optimistic view of the universe. One of the goals of religion is to help us find and embrace a life-enhancing relationship with the universe, and with its Creator/Sustainer.
Early Friends called themselves “Friends of the Truth,” which was another way of saying “Friends of God” since Friends used the word “God” and “Truth” interchangeably. Quakers later adopted the name the “Religious Society of Friends.” (“Quaker” was a derisive name given to early Friends by their opponents, but it has come to be accepted and widely used without its negative connotation.)

The term “Friend of God” (wali or waliullah) has been used by Muslims to describe those who demonstrate a high degree of God-consciousness. The term “Friend” has also been applied to Sufis in general. (Indeed, in Sufi writings, God is often referred to a “The Friend.”) A website from the Chishti Sufi order makes clear that becoming a friend of God is, or should be, the goal of our spiritual life:

A dervish [Sufi] is a friend of GodAnd a friend of a friend is a friend,So if you don't know how to be a friend of God,Try to be a friend of a dervish.

Friendship is of course a key component in many religious traditions, not simply of the Abrahamic faiths. The Buddha was once asked by one of his students if friendship is an important part of the spiritual life. “No,” replied the Buddha emphatically. “Friendship is everything in the spiritual life.”

The spiritual life is about being in a healthy, life-enhancing relationship with oneself, other people, life in all its forms, and the Divine. There are many names for such a relationship: spiritual friendship, agape, or simply love.

Jesus summed up the spiritual life with two commandments: “Love God and love your neighbor.: These two commandments can be a bridge for the three Abrahamic faiths, as a group of Muslim scholars recently pointed out in a document called “A Common Word.” In the Gospel of John, Jesus went a step further and gave his students a single commandment: “Love.” If we love selflessly, Jesus said, and if we are willing to sacrifice our lives for our friends, then we become Friends of Christ and of God. It is this passage that inspired George Fox to call his followers “Friends of Truth.”

Members of the Religious Society of Friends regard friendship, in its deepest sense, as the core of our faith. The 17th century Quaker William Penn (founder of Pennsylvania) spoke eloquently about friendship: “A true friend unbossoms freely, advises justly, assists readily, adventures boldly, takes all patiently, defends courageously, and continues a friend unchangeably.” Friendship for Penn was a spiritual bond that enhanced life and transcended death: "Friendship is the union of spirits, a marriage of hearts, and the bond thereof virtue… Death is but crossing the world, as friends do the seas; they live in one another still.”

With these words in mind, let’s look at the nature of spiritual friendship as it was understood by Sufis and Friends.

The Scriptural Basis for Being “God’s Friend”

Sufis describe their saints as “Friend of God” (waliullah) in part because this epithet was used to describe Abraham, who is considered the first Muslim, i.e. the first human being to surrender to and find peace with God.

Yet the idea of being a “Friend of God” is problematic to those who think of God as the Creator of the Universe, the “Lord of Lord and King of Kings,” the transcendent Other. As Aristotle pointed out in the Nichomachean Ethics, friendship implies equality and likeness. It is hard to imagine being friends with one’s boss, or even one’s parents, much less with the transcendent Creator.
Yet Abraham is called “a friend of God” in the Quran as well as in the Bible (see Surah 4.125). In the Bible Abraham is called a "friend of God" three times (2 Chroni. 20: 7, Isa. 41: 8; and James: 2, 23). The bond between God and Abraham was so close that God called him "My friend" (Isaiah 41:8). Abraham is also called a Friend of God in the New Testament: “And the scripture was fulfilled that says, "Abraham believed God, and it was credited to him as righteousness," and he was called God's friend” (James: 2, 23).

Was this bond of friendship based on obedience? Or love? Or both? Conservative theologians (whether Christian or Islamic) tend to emphasize that Abraham became a friend of God because he obeyed God’s will. Certainly Abraham was faithful to God, but so were other prophets, such as Noah and Moses. What made Abraham different from these other prophets was not his obedience, but his intimacy with the Divine. He and his wife entertained three angels in their tent who were emissaries from God (in some Christian traditions, these angels are regarded as manifestations of the Holy Trinity and are depicted as such in iconography). When God wanted to destroy the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah, Abraham was able to bargain with God. It is clear that Abraham enjoyed an intimacy with God that no other prophet, except Jesus, experienced.
For this reason, Muslims refer to Abraham with the special epithet Khalilullah (“Friend of God”). The term “khalil” has a much deeper meaning in Arabic than the word “friend” has in English, as one commentator explains:

But the English word 'friend' does scant justice to the idea of khalil which, in Arabic, denotes the dearest or most sincere friend who has no rival in the love and reliance placed upon him. (Daryabadi, The Holy Qur'an, Vol. 1, p. 91A).

This is the kind of intimacy that Sufis strive to achieve in their relationship with God. As the Quran makes clear, God is not only transcendent, beyond whatever we can know or even imagine, God is also immanent: “nearer to [us] than [our] jugular vein” (Sura 50:16).
Jesus also conceived of God as immanent and accessible, like our “papa” (as “Abba,” the homely Aramaic term for “father,” has sometimes been translated). Jesus does not refer to God as a Friend, but he does call on his disciples to become his friends and, by extension, friends of God. Jesus said, "Ye are my friends, if ye do whatsoever I command you" (Jn. 15: 14).

Becoming a “Friend of God” may seem like a impossible goal, like becoming a saint. But Sufism and Quakerism both teach that everyone has the potential to become a Friend of God. Indeed, becoming intimate with one’s true self, and with the universe, is the goal of our spiritual life; and these traditions teach us it is not as difficult as one may think.

As the Tao The Ching teachers, a journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step. And as the Jesus and Mohammad both make clear, if we take a single baby step towards God, God will rush to embrace us with love and friendship deeper than anything we can imagine. I will now examine some of the steps that can lead us closer to friendship with God.

Friday, September 10, 2010

Coming to Unity through Harmony: Dealing with Conflict in the Interfaith Movement and One's Personal Life

Eid mubarak! Yom Tov! Have a blessed Muslim holiday and a happy Jewish New Year!

In honor of this special day, I am including a preview of a talk I am scheduled to give at the Unity Church of Pomona on Sunday, Sept 12. This talk explores the challenges of interfaith work: how we can deal with conflict and make decisions in a way that brings us closer to each other and to the Spirit.

I am also taking part in an Interfaith Walk for Peace and Friendship this Sunday at 5:00 PM, starting at a synagogue and ending up at a mosque. See http://www.unityofpomona.org/

I hope each of you find a way to celebrate this holy weekend, the end of holy month of Ramadan and the beginning of the Jewish High Holy Days. In honoring the sacred in faiths other than our faith, we honor those who died during the 9/11 attack, and those who have dedicated their lives to making sure that no one ever dies, or kills, again because of a religious rationale.

It is an honor and a joy to be invited to speak here today, and I want to thank my friend and colleague Jan Chase for inviting me. Before coming here, I went to your website and read the principles of the Unity Church, and what you all are doing to further unity and harmony in your community, and I am in awe. You people are doing incredible work, and you have an incredible leader in Jan. Let’s take a moment of silence to reflect in gratitude for Jan, for this wonderful spiritual community, and for this opportunity to learn more about how we can come to unity with Spirit.

I was asked to speak today about the interfaith movement and the role that Quakers are playing in this effort. As you probably know, Quakers are a peace church, and have been involved in peace work for nearly 350 years. In keeping with our Quaker commitment to peace, I want to speak about the role of conflict in our lives, and how we can deal with conflict in ways that promote unity and harmony.

When I became a Quaker twenty five years ago, I had a deep yearning for peace--inner peace and peace in the world. And I became involved in various peace ventures, including a book project that was jointly edited and published in the Soviet Union and the United States. The purpose of this book was to dispel stereotypes through stories and poems about the peoples of both countries. This book along with countless other efforts at citizen diplomacy laid a foundation of trust and understanding between Americans and Russians which enabled our political leaders to end the Cold War.

While I yearned for and worked for peace, I wasn’t a particularly peaceful person. I had strong opinions, very thin skin, and a rather large ego. I had good intentions of course, but you all know where good intentions can lead. As the old saying goes, the road to hell is paved with good intentions.

I also had an aversion to conflict. Let me put it more bluntly. I hated conflict. How many of you hate conflict? Let me see some hands. How many of you dislike conflict? How many of you enjoy conflict? Wow! I like your honesty.

I think many of us enjoy conflict more than we care to admit. If not, why would Hollywood movies about conflict be so popular? Why would books and newspapers and news casts about conflict attract us?

I would go so far as to say that we Americans, like many other peoples in the world, are addicted to conflict, and to war.

We need to recognize this unpleasant fact, and admit it, if we are going to change. As long as we claim to be peace-loving people, and yet spend more than all the rest of the world combined on military weapons, we aren’t going to change.

Furthermore, unless each of us recognizes and takes ownership of the conflict in our own lives, we aren’t going to change and we aren’t going to make a difference as peace makers.

Over the years, I have practiced techniques that have helped me to deal with conflict in productive ways, and I invite you to try these techniques.

· A daily practice of prayer and meditation.
· Fasting during the month of Ramadan—fasting slows us down and helps us to feel more empathy for the poor and needy.
· Giving up meat and alcohol. This is good for one’s health, good for the environment and good for one’s soul.
· Practice Compassionate Listening and Nonviolent Communication. I’ve studied these techniques and I can testify they help enormously.

The best practice I know for peace making is to not cling to one’s personal opinions, to listen non-judgmentally to others, and to center down as much as possible in deep stillness where there is true peace.

All these techniques have helped to free me from my addiction to conflict, but I still have much to learn. Becoming a peace maker is a life-long task, like learning to play a musical instrument.

George Lakey, a Quaker who has traveled all over the world teaching conflict resolution skills, recently came to our Quaker gathering to talk about facing up to conflict. Thanks to wise Quaker teachers like George, I have also come to see conflict not as something to be avoided, but as an opportunity for spiritual growth.

When conflict arises, I think: what practical steps can I take to help resolve this conflict? What can I learn from this conflict? How can I be an instrument of Divine peace?

You may be wondering: How does all this relate to Quakers and the interfaith movement?

I believe that 9/11 was a wake-up call from the Divine to religious people throughout the world: what are we going to do to make religion the solution, not the problem, in the 21st century?

Nine years ago, religious fanatics tried to launch a holy war by attacking the centers of economic and military power in the world’s largest superpower. They wanted to make Americans so fearful we would be drawn us into an endless conflict that would drain our resources and cause our empire to crumble. And our government responded in just the way the terrorists wanted: it launched a perpetual war to achieve perpetual peace

This ill-conceived war has gone on for 9 years, and it is scheduled to go on another 40-50 years, if military strategists have their way. Our military leaders are calling this the “Long War” and its goal is to subdue and pacify the entire Middle East, from the Mediterranean Sea to the borders of India.

This war will cost trillions of dollars and countless lives. And it will undoubtedly bankrupt our nation, and probably the world, both financially and morally.

But there is an alternative.

The alternative for Quakers has been to recognize “that of God,” the Divine Spark, in everyone. Three hundred and fifty years ago William Penn, the Quaker founder of Pennsylvania. wrote: "The humble, meek, merciful, just, pious, and devout souls are everywhere of one religion; and when death has taken off the mask, they will know one another, though the liveries they wear here make them strangers."-

He put these words into practice. The colony of Pennsylvania was called “the Holy Experiment” and was one of the most tolerant places in the Western world. Everyone could practice their religion freely there, even witches. Even Voltaire, no friend of religion, praised Pennsylvania.

William Penn advocated establishing a league of nations for Europe by which kings could settle their differences without war. This was the precursor to the United Nations.

Quakers also became a peace church, along with the Mennonites and the Church of the Brethren. In 1660, when England and the rest of Europe were still reeling from nearly a hundred years of religious wars, one of the longest wars in European history, the Quakers issued a statement renouncing war:

“We utterly deny all outward wars and strife and fightings with outward weapons, for any end, or under any pretence whatsoever; and this is our testimony to the whole world."

For the last 350 years, Quakers have stood by these words. We have resisted all calls to war. And we have worked for peace—both inward and outward. We have formed organizations like the American Friends Service Committee, Friends Committee on National Legislation, and the Quaker UN office to promote peace and justice.

I don't want to leave the impression that Quakers are perfect or always live up to their ideals. In 1893, when the first Parliament of the World's Religions took place in Chicago, two Quaker delegations took part because the Quakers had split into two competing groups--the Orthodox and Hicksites. These two groups were not on speaking terms! In fact, these groups did not reconcile until 70 years later, in 1953!

Becoming a part of the interfaith movement or any religious community doesn’t mean our conflicts end. It doesn’t mean that every meeting we hold ends with us singing kumbaya. What it means is that we are committed to dealing with conflict in a way that leads to harmony.

Harmony doesn’t mean unity. When an orchestra plays together, everyone doesn’t play the same notes or the same instrument. Members of our orchestra play different instruments and different notes, but they play in harmony. Or at least they try. Harmony is the goal. To achieve this goal, we should keep in mind the old joke about a man who asked a New Yorker. How do you get to Carnegie Hall? The New Yorker responded: “Practice, practice, practice.”

Conflicts are an opportunity to put into practice our religious teachings and convictions. Look at how the interfaith community has rallied together to respond to the conflict over opposition to the mosque in lower Manhattan. Or plans to build a mosque in Temecula. Or the threat to burn the Quran. Each of these challenges has brought us closer together and strengthened our bonds of friendship and trust.

Even more challenging are conflicts within our organizations. Every peace group I know that does serious work faces internal conflicts and challenges. And if we can deal with conflicts in an honest and compassionate way, we become stronger, not weaker.

One of the most difficult challenges we face in life are so-called difficult people. How many people here have had to deal with a difficult person? Please raise your hand. How many of you here has been a difficult person at some time in your life? Please raise your hand.

In dealing with difficult people, let me quote the wise words of a Buddhist teacher named Pema Chodron.

“When we generate compassion for difficult people..., we get to see our prejudices & aversions even more clearly. It can feel completely unreasonable to make compassion a wish for these irritating, belligerent people. To wish that those we dislike & fear would not suffer can feel like too big a leap. This is a good time to remember that when we harden our hearts against anyone, we hurt our selves.”

Can we generate compassion for people we find difficult? Can we feel compassion for bigots? For self-serving politicians? For people we strongly disagree with, whether in the news or in our families?

Let’s pause and think of one difficult person in our lives. Let’s take a moment to wish that person happiness and peace. Let’s surround that person with thoughts of love.

How do we stay grounded in love while dealing with conflict? George Fox, the founder of Quakerism, was a strong, charismatic leader and he was jailed many times for his religious beliefs. At one point, he was approached by some military officers and asked if he’d like to join Cromwell’s army—which would have been a ticket out of jail. Fox turned them down with this memorable phrase: “I live in that power and life which takes away the occasion of war.”Note that Fox didn’t say, “I’m a pacifist.” Pacifism is an idea, a belief system, a mental construct. George Fox was talking about a way of life, and an inward power that comes from experiencing the Presence of the Spirit.

To be peace makers, we need two things: First, we need to practice a way of life that leads to peace. A life of simplicity, integrity, and lovingkindness.

Second, we have to be in touch with an inward spiritual power so deep and strong we don’t let ourselves get caught up in the anger and violence of others.

The Quaker-inspired Alternative to Violence Project calls this “Transforming Power” and is helping violent offenders in prison to get in touch with that power so they can resolve conflict nonviolently.

My teacher Gene Hoffman developed a technique called Compassionate Listening which is currently being used and taught in Israel/Palestine to help Palestinians and Israelis hear each other’s stories in a compassionate, nonjudgmental way. Compassionate listening starts with the premise that there is “that of God,” a Divine Spark, in each person. Each person therefore has a piece of the Truth, something we need to hear in order to be whole.

Such compassionate listening doesn’t mean that we agree with the other person, but rather that we honor the other person’s narrative and feel empathy for what he or she has gone through.

Such deep listening is what we Quaker have contributed to interfaith understanding. The Quaker ecumenist Douglas Steere called such deep listening “mutual irradiation.” This means listening to each other beyond words, listening out of the Silence, discovering our divine unity as well as our divine uniqueness.

Along with deep listening, it is also helpful to keep a sense of humor. George Lakey, the Quaker who travels all over the world giving conflict resolution workshops, gave a talk about combating terrorism at Pendle Hill, a Quaker study center near Philadelphia. George was so funny he made us laugh almost continually for the first half hour of his talk. Then he pointed out to us how important humor was in overcoming fear and defusing conflict. Laughter is what helps us to see past our pain and fear and hurt, to see the daily trials of our life through the eyes of eternity.

I’d like to say a final word about the title of my talk. Conflict often arises because we don’t know how to make decisions in a way that honors the Divine in each other. Look at the acrimonious debates in Congress and elsewhere in the political world. Even when we come together to make decisions by voting, we often end up polarized. The majority tyrannizes the minority, or sometimes vice versa.

Friends use a decision-making process called “Coming to Unity.” This means we don’t vote; we wait until everyone is in unity with a decision. This isn’t the same as consensus, a secular term which means unanimous consent. “Coming to Unity” means “Coming to Unity with the Spirit.” It means feeling an almost mystical sense of oneness with each other and with our Transforming Power when we finally agree on a decision.

A Quaker theologian named Eden Grace beautifully describes how Quakers do business and come to unity through seeking to be in harmony with God’s will. This statement was prepared for a special session of the World Council of Churches in 2000:

Since our [Quaker] method of transacting business presumes that in a given matter there is a way that is in harmony with God’s plan, our search is for that right way, and not simply for a way which is either victory for some faction, or an expedient compromise. What we call "the Sense of the Meeting" is not the collected wisdom of those present, but the collective discernment of God’s will. There is no place for activities such as motions, seconds, amendments and votes in our process of collective discernment. Our bold affirmation is that God does indeed have a will for us, that God is actively trying to communicate that will, and that we are capable, through corporate prayer, to discover that will. A sign that we have achieved our goal of discerning God’s will is the experience of Unity which is recognized and affirmed by those gathered. (see http://www.edengrace.org/quakerbusiness.html)

Coming to Unity is what brings real peace to a community. When we are in unity with each and with the Divine, we feel it in our hearts and are at peace. And this, I believe, is the real work of the interfaith movement: helping us all come to Unity through harmony. It isn’t easy. Coming to Unity is a discipline that takes years and years of practice, but I can testify that it is well worth the effort.

I am glad to be here today in a community that is seeking to live in harmony with the Divine. Thank you so much for inviting me. And I look forward to seeing you at this evening’s Interfaith Walk for Peace and Friendship. May all of you find peace in your souls and bring peace to the world!

Saturday, September 4, 2010

How to Overcome Islamophobia

Thank you for inviting me to speak to you this morning about Islamophobia and what we can do to overcome it. I am grateful to Kate Carpenter for enabling me to speak today rather than in a few weeks from now because there is the possibility that we could see a particular ugly outbreak of Islamophobia on September 11.

As some of you may have heard, a pastor named Terry Jones in Gainesville, FL, has been calling for the burning of the Qurans on September 11. His church has a sign on its front lawn saying “Islam is of the devil,” which happens to be the title of a book he has written. His church also has a sign condemning the mayor of Gainesville for being gay. Jones is an equal opportunity hater: gays and Muslims are equally abominable in Jones’ eyes.

Almost every sane person agrees that burning Qurans is a “terrible idea” and “could cause trouble or even death when broadcast on Muslim television,” as Chris Mathews put it when he interviewed Jones on Hardball. The National Association of Evangelicals has condemned the idea of Quran burning. Even the fire department of Gainesville has challenged Jones. But Jones is insistent on doing what he feels is the Lord’s work. And other bigots may follow his example. Thanks to the internet and Facebook, this idea has gone viral and thousands have spewed out their hatred of Islam in response of Jones’ call. We might even see some Qurans burned here in Southern California.

Another cause of concern is the unfortunate coincidence that September 11th falls on one of Islam’s most important holidays, Eid Al-Fitr—the final day of Ramadan. The reason that Eid Al Fitr is falling on 9/11 is because Muslims use a lunar calendar and the month of Ramadan cycles forward 11 days each year. Nonetheless, one can easily imagine Islamophobes and the right-wing media using pictures of Muslims celebrating to bolster their case that Muslims supported the 9/11 attacks, or at least are insensitive to the feelings of Americans who lost their loved ones. Some Muslims I know are choosing not to celebrate Eid on 9/11, but it’s a little like asking Jews to change the date of Yom Kippur or Christians to change the date of Easter for political reasons.

I don’t think it’s a coincidence that this summer we have seen an outbreak not only of Islamophobia, but also of xenophobia. When I began my trip across country in June, the big issue was the draconian laws against undocumented workers that were passed in Arizona. Anti-immigrant feelings were being stirred up all over the country by politicians bent on re-election. It is clear that the outbreak of Islamophobia in August was fomented by politicians concerned more about the upcoming election than the best interests of the USA. The controversy over the Islamic Center in lower Manhattan has been a useful recruiting tool for radical Muslim extremists. The hatred that has been unleashed on the internet has angered and inflamed anti-America feelings throughout the world and made it difficult to “win Muslim hearts and minds” (our official US policy) and to bring about a peaceful resolution of conflict in the Middle East and Afghanistan Those who fuel this hatred have done a grave disservice to the USA, as well as to their own souls.

Will Sept 11 be a scary or hopeful occasion?

I’ve talked about the scary scenarios for 9/11. What about the hopeful signs?

I find it a hopeful sign that Sherrel Charley of Whittier California has called for non-Muslim women to wear an head scarf (hijab) on Sept 11 as a way to express solidarity and support for Muslims. Her facebook page has garnered thousands of positive responses from Muslims around the world. I hope that non-Muslim women will wear a head scarf on 9/11. There is much misunderstanding about the headscarf, which is seen by some as a symbol of sexist oppression, and by others as a sign of religious identity. When women have a free choice about whether to wear a head scarf, as they do here in the US, it can be a powerful expression of one’s religious identity and one’s conscience. This is certainly the case with the young Muslim woman who has sued Disney for the right to wear a headscarf while serving customers in a Disney-owned restaurant. This woman was honored by the Islamic Shura Council of S. California not for wearing a head scarf, but for standing up for what she believed is right.

Therefore, I see it as a hopeful sign that non-Muslim women are saying: “We stand with our Muslim sisters (and brothers).”

Another hopeful sign is that there will be some special worship services during this period. On Sunday, Sept 12, I am giving a talk at the Unity Church in Pomona as part of something called the 11 Days of Global Unity. At 5:00 PM there will also be an Interfaith Peace Walk in Pomona beginning at a local synagogue and ending at a church, with participation from Muslims, Jews, and Christians.

Santa Monica Friends Meeting has scheduled a special worship service on Sept. 11 at 7:00 PM-9:00. Please invite Friends and neighbors to attend. See

A third hopeful sign is that some of us are offering to be available to go to mosques as “rapid response teams” in case there is an incident such as a Quran burning or an anti-Muslim demonstration. I hope that Friends will contact their local mosque to let them know that they have supporters willing to stand in solidarity with them in case there is any incident.

Finally, it is hopeful that people of all faiths have been signing petitions and expressing their support for the proposed Islamic Center in Lower Manhattan, and for proposed mosques in other parts of the USA, that are being targeted by Islamophobes. A small group of Temecula residents have opposed the building of a mosque in their city, but the Temecula Interfaith Council has stood in solidarity with the Muslim community and they have received many expressions of support. I personally circulated a letter on their behalf among Santa Monica Friends and Interfaith Communities United for Justice and Peace. The imam of Temecula sent back an appreciative letter for our support.

I believe that the vast majority of Americans are tolerant, and only become worked up when their fears are preyed upon by unscrupulous politicans and the media. But in order for sanity to prevail over bigotry, we must do our bit.

Overcoming Islamophobia, like overcoming any form of bigotry or racism, will take a long, long time, and lots of patience. Fear of lslam dates back to its rise as a perceived threat to Christianity in the 7th century. But the rise of Islmophobia in the US is a relatively recent phenomenon and goes back only to the 1980s and 1990s. I would argue that the rise of Islamophobia is related to the fall of communism. With the elimination of the Soviet Union as an existential threat, America experienced an enemy-deficit and needed "evil doers" to justify its massive military and its paranoid world view. Many in the holiness movement needed an evil force to replace “godless communism” as its anti-Christ. Given what Douglas Hofstadter called “the paranoid style of American politics,” it is not surprising that Muslims became the target of fear in the 1990s. Islamophobia has become an extremely useful tool for politicians and preachers who want to prey on people’s fears in order to enhance their own power and careers.

What can we do to help Americans to become less fearful and to stop demonizing Muslims? How can we help Americans to have a realistic understanding of what Islam is all about?
Here are some suggestions:

1) Listen to the voices of moderate Muslims, and urge others to do likewise. If anyone says, “Muslims don’t condemn terrorism,” advise them to go the website or subscribe to the listserv for the Council on American Islamic Relations (CAIR) or the Muslim Public Affairs Councils (MPAC). These and every other Islamic organization in the USA condemn terrorism in general, and usually issue specific terrorist acts within hours of their occurrence.

2) Get to know your Muslim colleagues and neighbors. Invite them to dinner or coffee. Make friends. People who are Islamophobic get most of their info about Muslims from the internet or TV, usually from biased sources. When you can share positive stories about your relations with Muslims, it helps dispel fear and stereotypes.

3) Educate yourself about Islam by reading Muslim authors like Reza Aslan (There is no god but God and How to Win a Cosmic War) or Akbar Ahmed (Islam Today and Journey into America: the Challenge of Islam).

4) Be aware of the “talking points” of Islamophobes and have a response for them. (See below for some of these)

5) Show respect for Muslims by reading the Qur’an, fasting during Ramadan, or wearing a head scarf (hijab) or showing other sign of solidarity with Muslims.

6) Write a letter to the editor, or to en elected officials, expressing your support for religious pluralism.

7) Visit a mosque during “Open Mosque Day.”

8) Organize an “interfaith café” and invite people of different faith traditions to attend.

Some talking points:

Do Muslims worship a different God from Jews and Muslims, a “moon god” named Allah? Anyone who has read the Qur’an or talked with Muslims knows this is nonsense and that the word “Allah” simply means “God” or “The God” and is used by Arabic-speaking Christians and Jews to refer to the same God who was worshipped by Abraham, Moses, Jesus, and Mohammad. Do Jews, Muslims, and Christians all have the same understanding of God? Of course not! There is even vast differences of opinion about God among Christians and Jews: Martin Luther King’s understanding of God is very different from Jerry Falwell’s, and Abraham Heschel’s understanding of God is different from Dennis Preger’s. By the way, just because Muslims use a crescent moon symbol doesn’t mean that Allah is a moon god. Are Christians pagan because we have a Christmas tree (an ancient druid ritual) and celebrate Easter (the name of a fertility goddess)?

Does the Quran calls for the killing of all infidels? There is a passage in the Quran calling for killing infidels, but only in self-defense and only when they attack Muslims first. Furthermore, Muslims are obligated to honor treaties. The prophet Mohammad is reported to have said in Hadith 145: “He who kills a Jew or a Christian with whom a treaty or agreement has been made will not sense even the smell of Paradise.” The Quran allows for self-defensive war, but not for holy war to spread religion. The Quran says: “There shall be no compulsion in religion.” It also calls for religious toleration towards Jews and Christians who are peaceable. Granted, today there is much intolerance of other faiths in Muslim countries, but our government supports these countries with aid and arms. Much of Islam’s intolerance is the legacy of colonialism and occupation by Western powers. Most Muslims believe Islam is a religion of peace, and the word Islam is related to the word “Salaam,” meaning peace.

Does the Quran justify suicide bombing and terrorism? The Quran makes very strict rules about war (do not kill civilians, destroy houses of worship, uproot treest) and suicide is condemned by Mohammad, who is reported to have said in Hadith 149: “He who kills himself….will be an eternal denizen of Hell….” In March 2010 a conference of Muslim scholars from Saudi Arabia, Turkey, India, Senegal, Kuwait, Iran, Morocco, Indonesia and other countries met in Mardin, Turkey, and issued a fatwa (consensus of scholars) repudiating a reading of the Quran that has been used by violent extremists like Osama bin Laden to justify their personal calls for jihad. That same month in London a leading Pakistani scholar issued a 600-page fatwa against terrorism. Here in the USA, virtually every reputable scholar and leader condemns suicide bombing and terrorism.

Just as we shouldn’t judge all Christians by the behavior of the Ku Klux Klan, or right-wing Christians calling for a holy crusade against Islam, we shouldn’t judge all Muslims by the extremist elements.

See also http://www.coe.int/t/dg4/youth/Source/Training/Study_sessions/2006_EYCE_FEMYSO_en.pdf