Thursday, July 11, 2013

Fasting with the hunger strikers at Guantanamo and here in our state prisons

Every year since 2001, when I first began fasting during Ramadan, I ask myself (and God): is this really what you want me to do? My answer is usually pretty clear: I'd prefer not to.

But God's answer is also clear: how can you refuse? Look at what is happening around you! Is this the kind of world you want? Do you want to go on feasting when some of your brothers and sisters are hungry, and when some are on a hunger strike for justice?

Given how our nation is treating people in our prisons, both at home and in places like Guantanamo, it seems a good idea to skip a meal or two and to ask ourselves: what can we do to end torture and inhumane treatment of prisoners?

It is amazing how clear the mind becomes when the belly is empty!

Consider situation in our prisons in California, where inmates are being subjected to what our courts are calling "cruel and unusual punishment," a violation of the US Constitution. Consider what is happening in Guantanamo, where detainees have had their charges dismissed and yet are told they will be kept incarcerated indefinitely. As a result of these injustices, nearly 29,000 inmates in California prisons are fasting for decent living conditions, and many of the detainees in Guantanamo are continuing their hunger strike, much to America's shame. Torture and inhumane punishment have become as American as apple pie, and drones. (See

Fasting during Ramadan is supposed to teach us, viscerally, to empathize with the poor, the marginalized. Jesus fasted and reminded us that the blessed are those who "hunger and thirst" after justice....

So this year I dedicate my fast not only to the One who told us to "love mercy, do justice and walk humbly"--but also to the hunger strikers at Guantanamo and our California state prisons.

I invite you to join me in praying for them, remembering the words of the apostle Paul:

"Treat those who are aliens/guests among you as if they were angels in disguise. Treat those in prison as if you are in prison with them. Treat those being tortured as if it is happening to your own body" (Hebrew 13).

If Americans, and especially our elected officials, took these words to heart, we would not be arguing so bitterly about prison and immigration reform. We'd be treating others as we would like to be treated....with respect and dignity and love.

You can help the hunger strikers by fasting, prayer, contacting your elected officials and letting them know what you think, and also by writing to the detainees in Guantanamo (as I recommended in a previous blog -- see

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