Tuesday, December 30, 2014

One Hundred Years Ago — Christmas Truce

By John Stratton

What if they gave a war and nobody came?

This was a favorite slogan during Vietnam protests. The idea is wonderful. “They” have declared war, as “they” do for whatever reasons “they” declare war, but this time no one comes to the party. No soldiers, no war. It made a kind of cosmic comic sense; it still does.

The amazing thing is that it once happened: Christmas Eve, 1914.

When I first heard the story, I assumed it was apocryphal, a wish that people had for peace in the carnage of World War I.
The Christmas Truce 

For a generation, World War I was known simply as the Great War. Before that it had been known by different hard-to-resist propaganda slogans: the War to End All Wars and the War to Save the World for Democracy. Like most wars it was a failure: probably 7 million combat deaths, another 3 million military deaths from disease, accidents, malnourishment and maltreatment in POW camps; perhaps 6 to 10 million civilian deaths, perhaps more. Twenty million deaths in a war that was the prelude to another World War in 25 years, when two or three times as many would be killed. Twenty million deaths in a world with a total population of less than 2,000 million (2 billion). Perhaps one or one-and-a-half percent of the world killed. Shall we note there were probably 20 million non-lethal casualties of one sort or another.

But the Christmas Truce was not apocryphal. It was real, a spontaneous gesture reaching across no-man’s land on Christmas eve, 1914.

The War had begun just months before. The assassination of the Archduke Ferdinand of Austria and his wife in Sarejevo occurred at the end of June, and that set in motion the dominos of mutual defense alliances. Of course it could have been stopped, but no one was willing to stop it. Young men rallied to the cause — whichever cause they rallied to — as a way to test their manhood. The recruiters, including the press for both sides, said it would be over by Christmas, but it was just beginning.

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Human Up!

By Peter Slade

In the aftermath of the US Senate Select Committee on Intelligence (SSCI) report on the CIA’s detention and interrogation program that revealed, among other things, that two psychologists were paid $81 million to design and participate in the CIA’s so-called “enhanced interrogation” techniques, Fox news got an exclusive interview with Dr. James Mitchell - one of the psychologists that Physicians for Human Rights is calling a war criminal.

I watched the interview online and found the experience equal parts disturbing and morally disorienting.

Dr. James Mitchell presents himself as a reluctant torturer. A man compelled to abandon his “moral high ground” by the events of 9/11 to save American lives. That the interrogation techniques were in fact torture (whatever legal definitions the CIA hides behind) is clear from the interview. Dr. Mitchell told Megyn Kelly that “the techniques are so harsh that it’s emotionally distressing to those who are administering them.” One can only imagine how distressing they are for the subject of those techniques.

Thursday, November 20, 2014

Videos from "Shall We Drone On?"

Have drones become the weapons of our age? These "unmanned aerial vehicles," sometimes used to assassinate human targets in remote areas, raise a host of constitutional, legal, moral and strategic questions. Here is a two part presentation from earlier this month that was sponsored by ACN and given by two faculty members from Ashland University. Dr. Craig Hovey is executive director of Ashland Center for Nonviolence and associate professor of religion and Dr. Michael Schwarz is assistant professor of history.

Thursday, November 13, 2014

Why Aren’t You Listening? The Role of Hip Hop in Social Justice Movements

By Sharleen Mondal

Music—both when it is heard and performed—has long been recognized for its power to inspire. Across cultures and time periods, music has played a key role in social movements, including, for instance, protest songs composed to signify a united commitment to a common cause of justice for all. The song “We Shall Overcome,” an anthem of the Civil Rights Movement, has been translated into countless languages and continues to enjoy enormous cross-cultural appeal. On my first trip to Bangladesh in the late 1980s, I forged bonds with people I was meeting for the first time in part through a shared appreciation for the artists of the time—Roxette, Michael Jackson—but also “Amra Korbo Joy,” the Bengali version of “We Shall Overcome.” Despite the geographical gap between us, that song united us with a common understanding of what it meant to breathe sounds and words into a melodic, shared expression of the struggle for something better. Decades later, I was struck by Bollywood melodrama’s refashioning of “We Shall Overcome” in My Name is Khan (2013), wherein through that song, a Muslim South Asian immigrant to the United States who experiences horrendous Islamophobia forms a deep connection with a small church community in Georgia devastated by Hurricane Katrina. In real life and in fiction, the power of one song to mobilize and connect people for peace is evident.

And yet, some genres of music are less frequently associated with healing and connection. The recent so-called “loud music trial,” for instance, involved Michael Dunn shooting Jordan Davis, an unarmed black teenager, at a gas station in Jacksonville, Florida, triggered by Dunn’s disgust at the music Davis was playing in his vehicle—what Dunn reportedly called “thug music.” Dunn’s phrase betrays a fundamental disconnect between a widespread view of rap and hip hop as violent and culturally inferior, and a long history of the genre which has historically grappled, with brutal honesty, with issues such as class struggle, racism, police brutality, poverty, and the prison industrial complex. And while hip hop cannot be excluded from the wide-ranging cultural forms in our society that are tainted with homophobia, sexism, and other forms of violence, changes within the genre, mainly amongst progressive underground artists, have taken the genre to a new level.

This past Saturday, as I attended a performance in Cleveland featuring Brother Ali, I was struck by the discrepancy between a popular perception of hip hop which pervades particular communities, which discount the entire genre from having anything meaningful to offer, and the power of progressive hip hop to inspire and motivate social justice, a power widely recognized as a matter of course within other communities (mainly social justice community organizers comprised primarily of immigrants, people of color, and working-class people). The messages conveyed through song and speech throughout this particular show that I attended would not have surprised anyone familiar with this strain of the genre: a frank, unapologetic calling out of homophobia and sexism. The dire need for working-class people to organize and address—through creative and community solutions—economic and structural oppression. The injustices being committed globally in the name of wars on terror that are terrorizing countless innocent people. The lessons of previous social justice workers and the need to know their legacy, to converse with one’s community, to struggle together to understand acts of violence that strike one’s community, and to act in unity against injustice.

As we consider the role of cultural work, such as art, literature, and music, in shaping both our understanding of and participation in movements to forge peace and justice in our communities, it is important to ask along the way what narratives we are not listening to, and for what reason. If hip hop can help mobilize one of the most important movements in our cultural moment against police violence in Ferguson, articulate the pain and courage of Arabs and those living under a violent and long-standing occupation, and even help with depression and mental illness, perhaps the question for peace and social justice workers who have long dismissed the genre might be this: why aren’t you listening?

Sharleen Mondal is Assistant Professor of English at Ashland University, where she teaches Victorian and postcolonial literature and gender and women’s studies. She has also served as a trained advocate, translator, and volunteer for Chaya, an anti-domestic violence organization serving South Asian communities in the Seattle area. She has served on the ACN Steering Committee and is currently beginning volunteer work with ASHA Ray of Hope, based in Columbus, OH, and the Akron Area Interfaith Council.

Sunday, October 12, 2014

Repentance, All the Way Down: A Columbus Day Meditation

By Myles Werntz

One of the questions which a day like Columbus Day presents is not whether or not Columbus should be celebrated, but what should be done instead of celebration. Columbus’ diaries and the historical record speak abundantly to the reasons for not celebrating Columbus, but should we perhaps celebrate another exemplar? Should we, as Seattle has recently done, reform the day into Indigenous People’s Day?  Or should there be perhaps another exemplar celebrated, such as Bartolome de las Casas?

In looking at this day from the perspective of nonviolence, there seems to be no easy answer, and certainly no perfect exemplar. Columbus, as the historical record attests, engaged in slavery, forced labor, and dismemberment of the indigenous people. The indigenous people were no pacifists, engaging in skirmishes with their neighbors. De las Casas, while famously advocating against the Spanish enslavement of the indigenous people, initially proposed that the Spanish enslave Africans instead of the North American natives. Any alternate celebration, while moving away from Columbus, only appears to celebrate violence again in a different form. 

Wednesday, October 8, 2014

Domestic Violence Awareness Month: What Can We Do?

by Sharleen Mondal
courtesy of the Florida Times Union website jacksonville.com

October is Domestic Violence Awareness Month and this year, it arrives on the heels of the highly publicized case of former Baltimore Ravens’ running back Ray Rice, who was indefinitely suspended from the NFL after video exposed his physically violent attack against Janay Palmer in an elevator (see a timeline of the events of the case here). With regard to the NFL, the conversation about domestic violence and the league’s poor handling of the Rice case continues. The Seattle Seahawks’ quarterback Russell Wilson, for instance, has penned a call to recognize the need for NFL players to handle aggression productively, and for fans to donate to the National Domestic Violence Hotline. Meanwhile, cultural workers like comedian Megan MacKay have produced work not only to entertain, but also to provoke audiences to discuss recurring narratives of survivor-blaming and lack of adequate accountability for abusers.In the midst of the broader public controversy, it might be easy to lose sight of two critical questions: how does domestic violence affect me? What can I do about it?

Wednesday, October 1, 2014

Redtail Run Brings Nations Together

By Emily Wirtz

If you asked for my opinion, I’d have to tell you that I would prefer to walk a mile on hot Legos before I’d ever choose to run a marathon. But others aren’t so wary of long distances. In 1992, massive groups of indigenous and Native Americans began to run.

Elder men of a native community carry prayer staffs.
In Native American culture, an Eagle represents the spirit of the northern continents, while a condor represents the south. The year of 1990 began talk of an ancient tradition of bringing the eagle and the condor together to celebrate resources and community. Two short years later, the Peace and Dignity Journey began for these people. Natives from the northernmost tip of Alaska to the southern islands of Chile began their spiritual journeys towards Central America, bearing prayer staffs of every community. Vanessa Inaru Pastrano, a native Taino woman and the director for the Taino community’s Journey, explained that it was a culmination of prophecy: that “native nations will come together again.”

Thursday, September 18, 2014

World Day of Prayer for Peace


September 21, 2014

SEVERAL YEARS AGO, the World Council of Churches and then the United Nations eventually designated September 21st every year as the DAY OF PRAYER FOR PEACE around the world.Since then many religious groups have also given support. It’s now a world-wide observance in a variety of ways. May the following thoughts enrich your involvement in “praying for peace” regularly.

For Peace
Eternal God, in whose perfect kingdom no sword is drawn but the sword of righteousness, no strength known but the strength of love: So mightily spread abroad your Spirit, that all peoples may be gathered under the banner of the Prince of Peace, as children of one Father; to whom be dominion and glory, now and for ever. Amen.

For our Enemies
O God, the Father of all, whose Son commanded us to love our enemies: Lead them and us from prejudice to truth: deliver them and us from hatred, cruelty, and revenge; and in your good time enable us all to stand reconciled before you, through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

[From the Book of Common Prayer]

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Policing as Counterinsurgency

By John Moser
A few weeks back my wife and I visited the charming little college town of Delaware, Ohio. Delaware is about 35 miles from Columbus, and is home to Ohio Wesleyan University, as well as a collection of fine restaurants and even a microbrewery. We had chosen a good night to go, because there was a local street fair, and the town was alive with booths from local businesses and civic organizations. The Delaware police were there, too.

And they brought with them their new toy, a big black armored vehicle called an MRAP. That stands for mine-resistant, ambush-protected.

One might wonder why Delaware, with fewer than 36,000 residents, has need of such a vehicle. Is the local constabulary really that worried about mines or ambushes?

But of course this development is hardly unique to Delaware. For the last ten years the Department of Defense has been providing local police forces across the country with military hardware at cut rate prices. Delaware paid only $2,600 for its MRAP, which ordinarily sells for some $700,000.

Friday, August 22, 2014

What Sort of People Will We Be? A Reflection on Ferguson and Christian Identity

By Brian Bantum

As a teacher and especially as a theologian I try to help students connect how a community's understanding of who God is connects to the way they see themselves and their world. But inevitably, when we encounter the historical atrocities of the American slave system, Jim Crow, or other global acts of tragic dehumanization and violence, students are overwhelmed. But they also express a curious distance from those historical perpetrators. They say something like this, "Well, surely something like that couldn't happen now, we are not those sort of people." 

But what "sort of people" either justify or ignore the persistent cries of those being dispossessed and persecuted? And herein lies the fundamental problem. The implicit language of what is natural underlines how we view ourselves and others. While a relatively small percentage of individuals owned slaves in the United States, the assumption of what black bodies were, by nature, and what white bodies were, by nature, served to perpetuate the system as part of God's natural order.

Thursday, August 21, 2014

The Colors of My School

By Sue Dickson

Daviny sat next to me in the school’s cafeteria, her head bent closely to the paper as she bit her bottom lip in concentration. We were in La Aguada, a rural school in the FARC controlled mountains of northwest Colombia. She was showing me that she could write the letters of her name. Her parents do not read or write—but she does. Daviny is nine. She wants to be a teacher. She walks a couple of kilometers on mountain trails to school every day. Violence is part of Daviny’s life. Her older brothers have been recruited by the FARC. When a group of FARC militants showed up at the door of the family’s hut, they knew: they could either join the guerillas or be killed. As Daviny and I worked, one of the brothers was watching us from the edge of the jungle. In another world, at another time, he would have been a student in the school, too. He is fourteen. Now, he was a militant watching from the margins.

The school is three concrete-block rooms, painted bright yellow with blue trim—the colors of Colombia. Large windows look across a grassy field and out over the valley and jungle-wrapped mountains. There are no other buildings in sight. These mountains are exquisitely beautiful and they are exquisitely dangerous for outsiders. They are remote, undeveloped, sparsely inhabited and therefore a perfect hideout for the FARC. In the valley to the north, the paramilitaries remain in control. In the middle of that valley, a military base stands watch. Violence is commonplace.

Monday, August 4, 2014

Peace and Preservation

By Emily Wirtz

Just to piggy-back off of some of the other environmentally-based posts on here, I figure it’s worth discussing why we seem to think “the Earth is just a dead thing you can claim” (of course it was necessary to use a Pocahontas reference). We infect our own environment with pesticides, noxious gases, and waste and then take the good stuff from it—deforestation, city expansion, war destruction—and still expect the world to be a-okay.

[This is no joke. Residents of Toledo are presently warned not to drink the water since it comes out of the water source looking like the image to the left. The cause is an algae bloom in Lake Erie from phosphorus used in farming fertilizers. —Ed.]  

Vanessa Inaru Pastrano, “Inaru,” is a dedicated member of the United Confederation of Taino People, an elder of the Bohio Atabei Council and coordinator of the Peace and Dignity Journey’s Caribbean region. As an indigenous Native American, this Taino woman feels a strong connection to our environment: “Those trees, that grass, those insects all have a language of their own, and just because it’s not English or Spanish doesn’t mean we should ignore it.”

Inaru returned to Ohio to partake in Youngstown’s Taino Summer Solstice ceremony on June 21st, during which I had the opportunity to listen to her talk about her community involvement and environmental passions. Companies like Monsanto that advertise as “sustainable agriculture” yet use harmful pesticides and GMOs in their crop production, she explains, are a big part, but only one part, of the disintegration of Earth’s health.  Sure, “the Earth is going through its natural processes,” she continued, “but we are escalating it.” Waste from ships, deforestation in the Amazon and bombing in the Middle East are a few other issues she feels are “destroying the lungs of the Earth.” We seem to think, she explains, that nothing’s wrong unless we can see it directly affecting us. We ignore the destruction of the Earth because media doesn’t cover it. “We have to think like an Indian. Everything has life and purpose and meaning. Everything on this planet is alive, and the Earth is dying, and we are destroying it.”

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

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.

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

Rethinking Zero Tolerance Policies in Schools

NPR ran a story this morning (May 14) on Restorative Justice, the justice that actively promotes healing as a way to defuse potential conflict.  At the heart of the process in this case is the circle process, specifically a healing circle, in which the people in the dispute come together to explore the dispute, their anger, and their relationship.  As the teacher involved says "Conflict starts with  people exchanging words, so why can't they heal with people exchanging words."  

Listen to the students describe the importance of listening.

Here is the link to the full story -- 3:54; it's worth the time.


Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Conversation about Otherness

Craig Hovey and Sharleen Mondal, professors at Ashland University, had a conversation about otherness that ranges into issues of race, the state, violence, pedagogy, and how history gets told.

Craig Hovey: There is a lot of talk about "otherness" in some circles, especially when there is some political or other threat, real or imagined. I'd be interested to start off by talking about whether there are special kinds of difference that lend themselves to being spoken about in this way. In other words, what are the qualities of the differences that are most entrenching when it comes to the us-them divide? 

Sharleen Mondal: There are certainly special—or at least, specific—kinds of difference that seem to emerge frequently in discussions of otherness.  Racial, religious, class, and gender differences are among these, though I find it less useful to isolate them as such, given that each intersects with the others (so upper-class women of color, for instance, are "othered" in very different ways from women of color living in poverty).  If we are restricting our discussion to the current U.S. context, it would appear that those who do not conform to, or who are read as not conforming to, a particular norm are othered in certain contexts.  The norm of which I am speaking is shaped by structures of racial, gender, and economic power and privilege.  The structures are also shaped by the U.S.'s long history involving racism, class struggle, and the fight for gender equality, as well as perceptions of certainly religious traditions as uniquely American (and of others as foreign to America).

CH: Right, the question about what constitutes a "real American" often involves a lot of these kinds of identities. In California, where I'm from, I've noted anxiety among some whites at the prospect that we will be outnumbered by Latinos several years from now. I've always interpreted that anxiety as rooted in dwindling cultural clout for the white population, and the loss of economic privilege that goes along with that. There may be other factors, such as anxieties about bilingual education. But it strikes me that it may not really matter how much these are real or perceived realities. It seems to be enough that there is fear. Another example from the news I've been thinking about is how language is increasingly becoming a factor of division in Ukraine, with Russian speakers facing discrimination in the western part of the country. What do you think we can say about what makes a norm significant enough to generate this othering response for those who do not fit it?

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

Big-Tent Peace

Even though ACN is a relatively small organization (though with big ambitions!), I am struck by the many different reasons people have for valuing peace and nonviolence. I’m sure this is true more generally. What do you think of when you think about nonviolence and peace? Do you think about the “classic” 20th century theorists and practitioners such as Martin Luther King, Jr. and Gandhi? Maybe you think about the anti-war movement in the US in the 1960s. Perhaps you think about local or global matters of justice and rights. Do peace and nonviolence resonate with you as religious convictions?

The fact is that there are a lot of different associations that we draw. ACN, like many similar organizations, is a “big tent.” We recognize shared concerns and work together on common projects even though many of us probably would begin to part ways at some level if we doggedly pursue questions like: What is your vision of peace? How do we get there?

For example, I think about the question of the extent and possible limits of nonviolence. Based on her research, Erica Chenoweth found that nonviolent political movements are statistically much more successful than violent ones. Nonviolence can be strategic in achieving political goals. But what about when it fails? Are the political goals so overriding that this is the point at which we take up arms? Or is nonviolence “deeper” than this—like an article of faith that we stick to no matter what? The Civil Rights movement witnessed groups of both attitudes.

Or take another example. Do peace and nonviolence commit a person to a place on the left-right political spectrum? Many people assume that peace is “liberal,” and not without some good historical reasons. “Peace” here is saying more than “peace,” though; it is shorthand for a particular social and political vision on the left. At the same time, leftist political movements can produce just as much violence as rightist ones. One thinks about Che Guevara, for example.

Thursday, February 20, 2014

Laughing with Muslims

 Jamal Rahman

  By Dr. David C. Aune, AU Religion Department

        Why should I take the time to listen to a Muslim guest speaker on the topics of religious differences and sacred laughter?  Can I really learn anything new from someone who directly challenges some of my core beliefs?  And why should I care about religious issues anyway: what differences do they make?  These are the questions that many of us may be asking ourselves when we hear that Muslim interfaith speaker Jamal Rahman will be giving two presentations on Tuesday March 11 and Wednesday March 12 (both at 7PM) on the AU campus.   
       As associate professor and chair of the Religion department here at Ashland, I am in a good position to answer these questions.  Years of teaching and scholarly activities have convinced me of the value of learning about other religions and engaging in inter-religious dialogue.  Particularly when it comes Islam, there are many misconceptions and misunderstandings that continue to be promoted in our world.  But Jamal Rahman will provide some valuable insights in a creative, entertaining and thought-provoking way.  He is a nationally known personality who has written and spoken extensively about Islam and Sufism (a spiritual movement within Islam).  For over ten years now he has appeared along with a Rabbi and a Protestant minister as one of the three “Interfaith Amigos.”   See his website at jamalrahman.com.
On Tuesday, March 11th at 7:00 pm (in Myers Convocation Center at Ashland University), Jamal will share on the topic of “Encountering Irreconcilable Differences.”  This title intrigues me because so much of the interfaith discussion these days seems to overlook obvious disagreements in our respective faith traditions.  Jamal approaches the topic by not just celebrating similarities but also by honoring the dignity of differences.  For him, the goal is not to change other people but to get to know them on a human and personal level.   And, in perhaps the most important part of his presentation, he will ask the question, “How does it feel to be the other?”  By taking the time to listen to and interact with Jamal, I anticipate that we will gain skills for understanding and dealing with various kinds of differences (not merely religious ones). Empathy is something all of us could develop further in our lives.
Jamal’s Wednesday March 12th presentation (at 7PM in the Student Center Auditorium) will be on the topic of “Sacred Laughter: Awakening the Soul through the Sacred Laughter of the Sufis”.   Honestly, this topic intrigues me even more because, while I can relate to the value of laughter, I don’t know much about what the Sufi spiritual masters have to say about it (or how and why it might be considered “sacred.”)  Could it be that the ability to laugh at ourselves and focus on the playfulness and joy in life is actually a spiritual gift that connects us with others and enhances the life that God intends for us?  Again, this is an experience that all of us might find beneficial and surprisingly enjoyable.
So I’ll be encouraging everyone I know to attend Jamal Rahman’s presentations.   His presence at Ashland will certainly enhance and enrich our lives.

For more information on the events, visit www.ashland.edu/acn
For more information on Jamal Rhaman, visit www.jamalrahman.com

Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Matters of Faith:  Religion, Conflict, and Conflict Resolution
By Bridget Moix (taken from “The Handbook of Conflict Resolution”)
            “A brief survey of the most entrenched, deadly conflicts around the world suggests an urgent need for increased understanding of the role religion plays in human disputes.  From the Middle East to Northern Ireland, Sri Lanka to Sudan, the Balkans to Nigeria, from the poor Acholi region of Northern Uganda to the financial centers of New York City and London, the destructive power of religiously motivated violence has been a stark, horrific reality for people around the world.  Read more…

War Has Almost Ceased to Exist: An Assessment
By John Mueller
“In 1911, the eminent British historian, G.P. Gooch, concluded a book by elegiacally declaring that ‘we can now look forward with something like confidence to the time when war between civilized nations will be considered as antiquated as the duel, and when peacemakers shall be called the children of God.’  And in that year’s edition of the Encyclopedia Britannica, Sir Thomas Barclay predicted, in the article on “Peace,” that ‘in no distant future, life among nations’ would be characterized by ‘law, order and peace among men.’“  Read more

Drones, Accountability and Authorized Use of Military Force
Blogs by Michael Shank

“Armed drones, at first blush, are a boon to America's military toolkit, as President Obama reinforced in his counterterrorism speech [recently]. Drones, in the short run at least, could mean fewer U.S. troops deployed and fewer American lives lost.”  Read entire blog here
More blogs from Michael Shank:

Friday, January 17, 2014

Martin Luther King and Loving Your Enemies

by Peter Slade

Just before Christmas, I read in the Guardian the surprising story of Anita Smith. She is the widow of Ronnie Smith, the American teacher in Benghazi shot down in the street by Islamic militants. The photograph accompanying the article shows an attractive young couple and their child in Austin, Texas: a scene utterly removed from the people and streets of Benghazi. The reason Anita  made headline news around the world is that she claimed in a CNN interview that “I don’t want any revenge --I want them to know that I do love them and I forgive them.” In her interview she explained why Ronnie and his family went to Benghazi, “He wanted to shine the light and the love of Jesus to the Libyan people . . . it was just about the love and forgiveness that we know from God.”
Anita acknowledged that her response to Ronnie's violent murder seemed unlikely: “It may sound crazy,” she told Anderson Cooper, “but it is God’s Spirit putting this inside of me.” The Spirit had led her to write a letter. “I want all of you--all of the people of Libya--to know I am praying for the peace and prosperity of Libya. May Ronnie's blood, shed on Libyan soil, encourage peace and reconciliation between the Libyan people and God.” When Cooper asked Anita how she would explain Ronnie’s death to their son Hosea, she said she will tell him, “There is no greater thing to live your life for than for Jesus.”My initial reaction was one of dismissal: how can her announcement have any grounding in reality? It seemed like a weird and inappropriate response; she is just saying what she thinks she has to say; she is falling back on religious platitudes. Does she even appreciate that these people might try and kill her too? How irrational, how naïve, how foolish.
I confess that my prejudices and presuppositions lay somewhere behind my incredulity.  I am used to hearing such things from Mennonites and Quakers, but it is not what I expect from a white evangelical from a large multi-campus, non-denominational church in Austin, Texas.
Analyzing my reaction, I realized there was more at work than my own prejudices. I realized that for me, the irrationality/naïveté/foolishness of loving your enemies only hit home when someone with enemies actually said they love them. I suspect this is true for others. After all, most of us play with the notion of loving and forgiving enemies far from the context of actually having to deal with enemies. I usually file this commandment away under the category How To Deal With Annoying People not under How to Respond to Someone Who Wants to Kill Me.
This Martin Luther King Day I would like to suggest that we need to revisit the well worn stories of Martin Luther King Jr. and the civil rights movement and ask ourselves why we don’t react to them with the same surprise and incredulity.

Friday, January 3, 2014

Drone Strikes and Daggers

By Dr. Craig Hovey

Last month we learned that a US drone strike on suspected Al-Qaida terrorists killed at least 13 people in Yemen who were on their way to a wedding. Many, perhaps all, were innocent.

Let’s talk morality. Too many of our public debates over violence and war are only legal debates, not moral ones. Discussing the second amendment in the gun debate is useful when debating law, but it is beside the moral point. After all, the first amendment legally protects your right to gossip, but doesn’t make it moral. Even though we will disagree on the particulars, let’s acknowledge that many more things are legal than are moral.

And nevermind accusations that the US drone program is illegal. But for now: What makes it immoral?