Monday, September 2, 2013

What can we do to oppose the evils of empire: war in Syria, and torture in our prisons?

"The world needs to see gestures of peace and hear words of hope and of peace," --Pope Francis, speaking about the war in Syria. 

As summer winds to a close and the fall begins, my heart is torn. First, I feel hope and joy when I contemplate the legacy of Martin Luther King, a beacon of light that grows brighter each year. He showed us the beautiful power of nonviolence, and he had the courage and faith to carry this method to its logical conclusion--calling for an end to war and poverty. His spirit still lives on, as we saw in the recent celebration in Washington, DC, and in movies like "The Butler."

But another spirit is abroad in America--a dark and malignant spirit. The spirit of redemptive violence, empire and punitive justice.  

We see this vengeful spirit in our criminal justice system--the "New Jim Crow" and the struggles of our inmates who are fasting for justice and humane treatment. We hear the demonic drumbeats of war pounding furiously once again in Washington, DC--echoes of the run up to the disastrous Iraq war.

President Obama insists that President Assad used chemical weapons and "crossed a red line," violating international law, and therefore his regime must be punished with limited air strikes. Obama expresses concern that if we don't bomb Syria, America's "credibility" will be jeopardized. The President doesn't pretend that such punitive strikes would save lives, shorten the war, and accomplish anything except "send a message" that the use of chemical weapons will be met by retaliation from the world's "lone sheriff." Republicans like John McCain and Lindsay Graham differ from Obama only in wanting more than simply a punitive strike: they want him to launch a full-boar campaign to oust Assad. 

This sounds like Iraq revisited and we all know how that movie turned out, which is why 90% of Americans don't want a rerun of that war. Hundreds of thousands dead, millions of terrified Iraqis displaced, and a country in ruins, with 800 people killed in August. A staggering number when you consider that Iraq is a tenth of the size of the US. How would we feel if 8,000 Americans were killed in violent attacks each month? The situation in Afghanistan is not much better.

Unlike Iraq, we don't even have a shred of authorization from the UN to justify attacking Syria. We don't have the support even of a close ally like Britain. Most of the world doesn't believe we have the moral authority to make the grandiose claim we are interested in the welfare of the Syrian people. But for Obama, winner of the Nobel Peace Prize, the opinion of the world doesn't matter. Nor does he feel he needs authorization from Congress. His aids tell us he plans to launch a strike even if Congress votes against him.

If this happens, it would mean the US is even less of a democracy than Britain, where Parliament was able to put a stop to Prime Minister Cameron's desire to attack Syria. Cameron felt that he had to bow to the will of Parliament, and of the British people. King Obama seems to feel no such compunction.

In the face of such hubris, what can we do?

First, I think we need to fast and pray on Saturday, Sept 7, as the Pope recommends (see below). What we are witnessing in our country is not simply bad policy, but "spiritual wickedness" (to use a term that Rev Lawson is fond of). During the Vietnam era, Senator Fulbright called this "the arrogance of power." Because the US has the military means to inflict dire consequences upon those who oppose our will, we feel we have the right to do so.

This monumental hubris would make me feel hopeless if it weren't for the legacy of Martin Luther King. He claimed "the arc of the universe is long but it bends towards justice." He showed us that if we persist and are faithful, we can overcome even entrenched evils like racism and Jim Crow.

I believe there is a "force more powerful"--the power of love in action. That's what the peace movement and our Quaker Peace Testimony is about.

Moved by a motion of love,  I am calling on Friends and others to work together and commit ourselves to take whatever action feels right:

1)    Call or email your elected officials, using FCNL makes it easy to write letters to the editor of local papers. FNCL has produced excellent material explaining why diplomacy, humanitarian aid and negotiations are preferable to punitive military action.

2)    Fast for peace in Syria on Saturday, Sept 7, as Pope Francis recommends (see below)

3)    Encourage your friends and neighbors to do likewise.

4)    Veterans for peace has produced an excellent 11-point explanation of why military intervention in Syria is not a good idea. See
5) Remember the hunger strikers in Guantanamo and in our prison system here in California. Go to the FCL-CA website and write to Governor Brown, and to elected officials. One hopeful sign is that that State Senator Loni Hancock is calling for hearings on the hunger strikers and conditions in California's prisons. After the deafening silence of Gov Brown, this is good news. See You can also express your support by writing a letter to the hunger strikers at Pelican Bay. That's something we did at ICUJP and the responses we received from inmates were amazing: courageous, articulate, and faithful calls to justice by men living in subhuman conditions. See

Pope Announces Day of Fasting for Peace for Syria

VATICAN CITY September 1, 2013 (AP)

By FRANCES D'EMILIO Associated Press

Pope Francis on Sunday condemned the use of chemical weapons, but he called for a negotiated settlement of the civil war in Syria, and announced he would lead a worldwide day of fasting and prayer for peace there on Sept. 7.
Francis abandoned the traditional religious theme of the weekly papal appearance to crowds in St. Peter's Square and instead spoke entirely, and with anguish, about Syria.
"My heart is deeply wounded by what is happening in Syria and anguished by the dramatic developments" on the horizon, Francis said, in an apparent reference to the U.S. and France considering a military strike to punish the Syrian regime for a chemical weapons attack.
Francis reiterated previous appeals for all sides in the civil war to put down their arms and "listen to the voice of their conscience and with courage take up the way of negotiations."
With tens of thousands of people in the square applauding his words, Francis delivered his strongest remarks yet to express his horror at the use of chemical weapons.
"With utmost firmness, I condemn the use of chemical weapons. I tell you that those terrible images from recent days are burned into my mind and heart," the pope said, in an apparent reference to photos and TV images of victims of chemical weapons in Syria.
"There is the judgment of God, and also the judgment of history, upon our actions," he said, "from which there is no escaping."
Usually soft-spoken, Francis raised his voice as he declared, "War brings on war! Violence brings on violence.
His admonishment against resorting to arms as a solution recalled the repeated emotional implorations a decade ago by the late Pope John Paul II in a vain attempt to persuade the U.S. administration then led by President George W. Bush not to invade Iraq.
The deteriorating drama of Syria inspired Francis to set aside Sept. 7 as a day of fasting and prayer for Syria.
Francis invited Catholics, other Christians, those of other faiths and non-believers who are "men of good will" to join him that evening in St. Peter's Square to invoke the "gift" of peace for Syria, the rest of the Middle East and worldwide where there is conflict
"The world needs to see gestures of peace and hear words of hope and of peace," Francis said.
He said the prayer vigil in the square will last from 7 p.m. until midnight.


1 comment:

  1. A war can bring not just peace instability but also economic collapse.