Thursday, July 24, 2014

The Violence We Want to Hear About

By Craig Hovey

It’s one thing to charge American media sources for being biased in favor of either Israelis or Palestinians (here is one example). But some commentators (like here and here) have been trying to make sense of the fact that Israel-Palestine gets more airtime than other conflicts, that the violence currently in Gaza is prompting much greater American media response, public protest, and analysis than violence in Syria, Ukraine, and northern Iraq. 

One commentator highlights the phenomenon by pointing to the fact that, last weekend, there was a higher death toll in Syria than total casualties so far in Gaza. He also cites a reporter for the Pakistani newspaper Al-Hayat who tweeted about anti-Israel protests in Pakistan but no anti-Syria protests even though Syria has 320 times the death-toll. 


This report (and this analysis) likewise show the relative lack of concern for Syria compared to Gaza, so much so that a Youtube video of Syrian children being used as human shields was largely ignored until it was re-posted with the false claim that it shows Hamas and children in Gaza.


There just seems to be something about the Israel-Palestine situation that consistently registers much more highly for the average American than other current conflicts. A former student of mine remarked that in his town people are wearing pro-Israel or pro-Palestine t-shirts like they are sports fans. 


Contrast this with the situation in northern Iraq. There are stories reporting ISIS’s order of female genital mutilation for the women of Mosel and the rape and murder of Iraqi Christians in Mosel while “the West is silent.” Why the silence?


I worry that no explanation is very flattering. Perhaps Americans are so fed up with Iraq that we simply don’t want to hear about it any more. It could also be that the idea of a persecuted Christian minority is embarrassing for some western believers for whom Christianity is a conquering force, or else is incongruous for western secularists for essentially the same reason, together with the assumption that these conflicts are only about politics and not about religion. 


Still more reasons must include the closer connection many Americans feel with Israel due to the large proportion of Israel that claims European or American ancestry. There is also a cultural connection in which western political and moral ideas such as democracy and how to wage war justly may be thought more plausibly to be expected of Israel compared to Arab nations. These last two points might help explain both opposition to Israeli policies and the prominent place that the Gaza situation has on the radar. We don’t have anti-Syria protests like we do anti-Israel protests because, according to the Al-Hayat reporter, the “only reason I can think of is Muslim killing Muslim or Arab killing Arab seems more acceptable than Israel killing Arabs.” 


It’s of course hard to know how to account for it all, but it strikes me that there is more going on than merely a need for journalistic balance or “equal time.” We actually seem to want to hear about some things and not others. 


Friday, July 18, 2014

The Toughest Job You’ll Ever Love

By Emily Wirtz

During my short month in Costa Rica—and it was much too short—I had the most incredible experiences, made some crazy friends and met some of the most amazing people. Ultimately, one of my goals while in this beautiful country was to learn more about the peace-keeping environment for which they are known. I had the opportunity to meet and talk with David Kaufman, “Don David,” the director and founder of the Conversa program and Peace Corps member.

After receiving a Spanish degree from Ithica College, Kaufman became a dedicated member of and language instructor in the Peace Corps in the Dominican Republic. Then going on to serve as the Spanish Language Coordinator in Puerto Rico, he was inspired to create the programs in Conversa based upon the same values.

Of his time in the Corps, Kaufman was more than eager to discuss. A lot of people are reluctant to join due to an environment foreign and possibly dangerous. “You’ll get frustrated, you’ll get sick,” he
explained, “but they take care of you.” The opportunities within the Corps as Kaufman describes them are endless and open to a variety of experience and skill levels. If a program doesn’t work, it gets adjusted. “The toughest job you’ll ever love” was a life changing experience for this American tico.

Wednesday, July 9, 2014

Conserva, Conserva - Student Report from Costa Rica

by Josie Schave

“So, in the United States, is it common for people to leave the lights on all the time?”

I blushed as I realized that I had left my room light on, and rose from the couch to go correct the situation.
“No, no, it’s fine—“

“No, no, I—“ My sentence was cut off as I tripped over one of Kevin’s toys. Blushing furiously now, I went to my room and shut off the stupid light. My host dad, Mauricio Cordero, was still sitting in the armchair, laughing at my goofiness. Oh yeah; I guess I should mention that all of this took place in Spanish.

From May 17th through June 14th, I had the immense pleasure of taking part in the AU in Costa Rica program in order to have an authentic immersion experience and obtain credits toward my Spanish major. During this time I stayed with Mauricio Cordero and Laura Calvo Alfaro, and their children Allison (age eight) and Kevin (age four). During my all-too-brief stay in Costa Rica, I realized that Costa Ricans have a true passion for protecting the environment— a passion that I could use some work on. Since the school I was attending was clearly a friend of the environment (one of their logos reads, “Conversa, Conserva”, or “converse, conserve), I decided it would be a logical place to start.

I decided to interview Sergio Álvarez, one of my teachers from Conversa, on the subject of conservation. I had noticed his passion for the environment during my second week at Conversa when he showed all of the students around campus and taught them all about the different trees and plants. The following interview was conducted primarily in Spanish (and secondarily in my third language: Spanglish).

My first question related to the history of conservation in Costa Rica: “Has Costa Rica always been friendly to the environment?” According to Sergio, it hasn’t. Between the 1940s and 1970s, Costa Rica had experienced 70% deforestation. In response to this, reforestation efforts started in the mid-1970s. Since then, 50% of the deforestation has been recovered, and 25% of Costa Rica is part of the system of National Parks and Reserves. Sergio remarked that part of the reforestation efforts had to do with improving tourism.

Friday, July 4, 2014

Hobby Lobby: Private and Public is the Real Issue

By Craig Hovey

The real issue with this week’s Supreme Court Hobby Lobby decision isn’t primarily religion; it is what counts as private and public. Religion is a factor, but only secondarily: religion is private (so is sex); state interests are public. The interesting development that has everyone talking—though it is an extension of the Court’s logic in the Citizens United case of 2010—is that corporations are now not only “persons” with rights, but the freedoms of corporations now include religious liberties on matters of individual conscience. (Some people, playfully, detect a sick irony in the idea that “corporations have a conscience.”) 

But I think all of this is secondary to the real issue of public v. private. 

The pro-choice Roe v. Wade (1973) decision famously asserted or upheld the right to privacy for individuals and backed away from personhood arguments for fetuses. I believe we are now witnessing the pro-life side using both the personhood and privacy arguments in their favor. If a fetus can’t be a person, how about a corporation? If pregnancy is a private matter in which the state has a very limited role, why shouldn’t the “personal conscience” of corporations be safeguarded from the state (in this case, from the mandates of Obamacare)? Some might cynically conclude that all of this rights-talk gets hauled out by either side only whenever it suits them and that this ad hoc deployment of such powerful legal arguments fails to account for how they can be turned around to argue the opposite. (The philosopher Alasdair MacIntyre predicted this in his 1981 book After Virtue—“rights” are floating free from more substantive moral traditions). Let’s test this. 

Suppose I have religious objections to war. As a matter of conscience, then, I might also object to whatever portion of my tax dollars that goes to support the Pentagon. Should I be

Monday, June 30, 2014

Two Presidents and the Quest of a Warless World

by Craig Hovey

This may seem like a non-sequitur, but today I’m thinking about two presidents: the president of the United States and a past president of Ashland University. Bear with me.

President Obama won’t have the United States fund just any old Syrian rebels with $500 million. We’ll only fund ones who have been “Appropriately Vetted.” I wonder what this vetting process involves given the administration’s stated goal of protecting Syrians against both the regime and extremists. We’ve also learned about the president’s announcement, in a speech at West Point, of plans to create a $5 billion counterterrorism fund to be used in the Middle East—$4 billion of which will go to the Pentagon. Meanwhile, the National Security Council maintains that “there is no military solution to this crisis [in Syria].” And of course 300 American military advisors are right now on their way to Baghdad. 


I’m struck by how readily military means are edged up to problems that admittedly have no military solution. If we zoom out, I think it’s clear that there was no military solution to the problem of Saddam Hussein over a decade ago, or at least it’s clear that Iraq’s current problems are partly the result of how a military “solution” failed to bring peace. War and peace are strategic issues and we discuss how effectively or ineffectively peace may be achieved through violence. 


Now, because Ashland University gets a new president this week, I’m also thinking about what a past president, J. Allen Miller (1866-1935; Ashland College president 1899-1906), thought about war. He wasn’t interested in the strategic questions, but in moral, spiritual questions and matters of conscience. Here’s a quote from a sermon he preached called “The Quest of a Warless World”:

“WE ARE CONSCIENTIOUS NON-RESISTANTS. This is the Historic position of the Church. We insist that MORAL and SPIRITUAL issues can not be arbitrated by FORCE. War is basically a moral issue. An appeal to ARMS is an appeal to brute force. Force can never make a wrong and an injustice, right and just, whether as between man and man or Nation and Nation. We refuse to be partners to the settlement of a moral issue on the basis that might makes right.

Thursday, June 19, 2014

How to avoid the same old mistakes in Iraq


As events in Iraq continue to intensify, the United States government is trying to determine the best way to respond in light of all of the lives and money that have already been sacrificed in trying to create a democratic government in that country.  In the U.S. News and World Report article shared here, Michael Shank and Yemi Melka of the Friends Committee on National Legislation address reasons why the U.S. should not use military force in this conflict.

Forget military strikes. The U.S. should address sectarian tension by promoting regional cooperation.
By Michael Shank and Yemi Melka
Published June 18, 2014
 http://www.usnews.com/opinion/blogs/world-report/2014/06/18/how-obama-can-avoid-old-mistakes-against-isil-in-iraq


As fighters from the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant, known as ISIL or ISIS, and bands of insurgent groups seize new cities and head south toward Baghdad, Iraq’s escalating humanitarian and security crisis necessitates a radical rethink in how the West handles this threat. If America wants to help the hundreds of thousands of Iraqi families impacted by this violence, it must be willing and ready countenance a completely different foreign policy path forward.
Washington’s current proposal for a military strike will only increase the volatility of the situation and imperil the population on the ground even more. In the nearly 10 years of the most recent American warfare in Iraq, the strong military arm of the Defense Department failed to guarantee stability and security in the country. More of the same approach, then, will similarly fall short.
What must be considered, instead, is first an understanding of how the West failed Iraq and, secondly, how it can help remedy these failures. To be clear, this current uprising resulted, in part, from devastating sanctions followed by years of bombing and the U.S. invasion and occupation of Iraq. Whether it was the overlooked importance of political reconciliation, the lack of sustainability and accountability in Iraq’s security force training or missteps in recruiting regional cooperation, Iraq will continue to witness instability unless these points are addressed promptly.  Read more here...



Michael Shank    Michael Shank, Ph.D., is associate director for legislative affairs at the Friends Committee
                        on National Legislation.

Yemi Melka Yemi Melka is a legislative intern with the Friends Committee on National Legislation.

Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Thoughts on Practical Ethics and Privilege


By Dan Randazzo

Last week, I surprised a burglar who had come into my house.

My spouse had just left the house. I was still home, as I was going to be working from home today. My spouse hadn’t locked the back door. I was sitting in my bedroom, when I heard footsteps on the stairs. I looked up, and then suddenly saw this large face peer into my room. I yelled, jumped out of the bed, and started to run after him. The burglar ran out of the house while I chased after him, yelling with some rather incoherent anger. At that moment, I didn't feel violated. Instead, I felt ANGRY; my thoughts followed the general theme that this is MY house, MY sanctuary, and how DARE you invite yourself in!

There's been a rash of burglaries in the neighborhood. It seems as if my area of Baltimore is being targeted by a group of people who are looking for houses where people are likely to have good “stuff,” and where people aren't likely to be home during the day.

I called my spouse immediately after I ensured that the person had left (as he admittedly had, and in a hurry), and she asked me if I was going to call the police. At this point, between the shock and adrenaline, I also felt an unusual constellation of ethical conundrums emerge.

For one, the man that I saw was definitely African-American. I questioned whether I should call the police with a very vague description of what was effectively a random African-American male. I truly didn't know anything else besides that. I definitely saw an African-American male who was wearing a grey t-shirt, dark boots, and dark gloves; that was the entirety of my memory of the person. I thought that if I told this description to the police, they might do exactly what they would up doing: canvassing the neighborhood, stopping anyone walking along who might fit this very vague description.