Editor’s Note: This is the first video in a series on crucial habits for living green from Fuller student Bill Wilkin. More to follow throughout the fall quarter.
There is no way to explain a tragedy like the mass murder at Nairobi’s Westgate mall. Executing people in such a manner, for which the militant group al-Shabaab is claiming credit, is unspeakably evil.
That said, some historical context may help us understand a bit better how such evil takes root. And it will also help us engage the just peacemaking practice of acknowledging responsibility in what has happened to Somalia.
The dictator Siad Barre ruled Somalia with an iron hand from 1969 to 1991. The abuse of power in the Barre regime was so great that it cultivated a deep distrust of centralized authority. When his government fell, Somalis turned to Islamic revival in lieu of a centralized government. In the mid 2000s an alternative movement called the Islamic Courts Union (ICU) managed to bring relative peace to war-torn Somalia, reducing weapons and even clamping down on piracy off the coast. The ICU had legitimacy in the eyes of the Somali people, because it was perceived as a grassroots movement that was successful in bringing about some stability.
But the US did not trust the ICU, which included both moderate and radical elements. The US hired warlords in Mogadishu to kill and capture suspected al-Qaeda operatives. The ICU opposed these US-supported warlords. Furthermore, neighboring Ethiopia feared that Somalia might be reuniting under a powerful Islamic movement. On Christmas Eve 2006, a coalition of US and Ethiopian forces rolled into Somalia in tanks, killing rather than capturing both ICU leaders and civilians.
The invasion by Ethiopia and the US achieved the opposite of its intended outcome. The annihilation of the Islamic Courts Union all but destroyed the moderate presence in Somalia, radicalizing both the religious and political leadership and the general population. It was the in wake of the ICU’s demise that al-Shabaab was formed, and aligned itself with al-Qaeda.
Simply put, the US played a major part in the creation of al-Shabaab.
Journalist Eliza Griswold describes both the invasion and the Bush administration’s policies in Somalia, including supporting notorious warlords and launching Tomahawk missile strikes against civilians, as a complete backfire. The fighting stemming from the invasion killed at least 8,500 people by the end of 2009, leaving 1.5 million homeless and 3.8 million at risk of famine. The battle for the hearts and minds of Somalis was lost, allowing al-Qaeda to plant a “friendly flag” among a population increasingly willing to side with anyone against the barbarity of the West. The long hatred for the Ethiopians (and subsequently Christians) was rekindled; Griswold reports widespread sentiment regarding the thousands of dead Somalis, including many civilians, that “Muslims wouldn’t do anything like this” (Griswold, Tenth Parallel, 130). The US and its allies had ushered in the enemy they had claimed to be destroying. Somalia was back to square one on insecurity and anarchy.
Just as tragically, the invasion and overthrow of the ICU was a lost opportunity for peacemaking. If the international community had recognized that the ICU was a genuine grassroots government with broad support from the Somali people, the focus could have turned to peacebuilding strategies rather than the endless tasks of state-building. It was an ideal moment to construct a genuinely Somali, bottom-up government, a moment that was utterly squandered by the Bush administration’s war on terror, which painted all kinds of Islamic organizations with broad and often deeply mistaken brushstrokes. The lesson of the previous military actions in Somalia – including the famous Black Hawk Down events – was still not learned: Somalis unite against foreign military intervention, to the benefit of groups like al-Shabaab.
Glen Stassen has demonstrated convincingly that combating terrorism with war, torture, and threats only increases terrorist activity. The utterly unimaginative, alienating, and futile attempts to destroy al-Shabaab with force will only yield more bitter fruit like last week’s attacks.
In the same vein, John Paul Lederach argues that it is a mistake to employ a strategy of isolation rather than engagement with groups like al-Shabaab. He criticizes the tactic of creating wide ranging terrorist lists that seek to control acts of terrorism but have no long-term strategy for transforming the factors that cultivate terrorism. What is needed instead is a multifaceted approach grounded in a compelling theory of social change. Neither isolating al-Shabaab nor pursuing the organization militarily will have any lasting impact for peace.
Last month I was in Somaliland, visiting a university that has an institute for peace and conflict studies. At this institute, students from various parts of the Somali region study the power of nonviolent strategies, conflict transformation, and trauma healing. It is in places like this that the futility of both military intervention and militant Islamism are laid bare. This – not the barrel of a rifle or a tank – is the real battlefront against the violence of al-Shabaab.
With all of the back-and-forth this week on the possibility of punitive strikes against Syria, I saw the just peacemaking paradigm put to use many times around the web – and invoked, even if not by name, many more times. We have posted two articles to this end this week, one analyzing the course of the civil conflict in Syria and another suggesting a constructive alternative to punitive strikes for the U.S.
Below you will find a couple of links that detail various positions on the Syrian conflict, but also several articles addressing others of our “areas of focus.” For instance, I read Enuma Okoro’s article thinking about the role of “songs of justice” in one’s formation for a life of peacemaking.
I would like to encourage the reader to engage with my take on whatever articles/issues are on tap here and also to let us know what sources we should be following when we’re missing something important. All of this can be done through the comments field below, via our social media channels (e.g., our Facebook fan page and Twitter feed), or in an email to the editor at email@example.com.
August 28, 2013
Enuma Okoro – “The Women Who Sang Out for Civil Rights“
Over on the her.meneutics blog, Okoro describes a key contribution of female voices to the civil rights struggle: singing songs out against injustice – a powerful form of truthtelling. Having read Stacey Floyd-Thomas’ book Mining the Motherlode this week, I appreciated Okoro’s description of “moments” in time but also involvement over time as life’s work. “In our day and age, when young women make the news for singing and performing in vulgar, suggestive, and less than life-giving ways, the anniversary of the march is—among many things—a much needed reminder of the transforming power and legacy that women can have with their voices and with song.”
September 3, 2013
Kristopher Aaron – “Back to school means back to worrying“
One of my classmates from McAfee School of Theology calls us to return from our summer break to the struggle for sensible laws that address both gun control and mental illness. Encouraging Christians to get involved, Aaron says, “God covets our prayers, but we must do more than pray. It is time for action. The school year has just started. May there not be more dead children and teachers before we do something.”
Jonathan Merritt – “On Syrian conflict, three Christian perspectives“
In this post about Christian attitudes toward a punitive strike against Syria, Merritt curates responses from three Christians of different positions on the merits of war. Just Peacemaking is featured prominently, and David P. Gushee offers some thoughts from that angle: “Just peacemaking theory would suggest that the United States should first test the UN’s own principles by taking a case for rigorous international intervention in Syria before the UN Security Council. Show all the evidence. Call for the UN to live up to its own principles. Draft a strong resolution. Only if such a resolution should fail would the US have a case for going it alone.” (Sojourners also posted a multi-response article entitled “The Ethics of a Syrian Military Intervention: The Experts Respond.”)
September 4, 2013
Patrick Lynch – “This September, Ask a NASA Climate Scientist“
Throughout the month of September, experts from NASA will be answering questions about climate change and their observations (e.g. via satellites). So go ask them a question! And look for more information soon regarding an event this fall on the subject of extreme weather featuring a scientist from NASA’s Jet Propulsion Lab in Pasadena, CA.
“US Is Willing to Go Solo on Syria,” (LATimes Aug 30) says the U.S. government’s case for a punitive strike against Syria is having difficulty persuading allies due to the memory of false claims during the Bush administration about Iraq having weapons of mass destruction. The UN inspectors had already said they could find no such weapons in Iraq. Those UN inspectors had the information on the ground, and they had convinced me weapons of mass destruction would not be found. But that administration disdained information from the UN inspectors, thinking they knew better.
This time I have just read the US government’s unclassified “Assessment of the Syrian Government’s Use of Chemical Weapons on August 21, 2013.” The evidence is overwhelming. I am convinced that the Syrian government did launch an extensive poison gas attack on a Damascus suburb that they had been unable to conquer by conventional weapons, and that it killed 1,429 people, including at least 426 children, and maybe more. Soon we are likely to hear confirmation from United Nations inspectors who are present on the ground now.
But president Obama endorsed the practices of just peacemaking in his Nobel Peace Award Address. These practices stimulate us to think not only of retaliation, but also of constructive alternatives that can achieve more. The real problem is Syria’s large store of poison gas weapons. Can we think of an alternative that could deal with them? Continue reading
The most significant turning point in the conflict in Syria was not the use of chemical weapons against civilians last month, but something that happened over two years ago.
I refer to the point in July 2011 when the protestors against the Assad regime decided to forsake the popular nonviolent protests characterizing much of the Arab Spring in favor of an armed insurgency.
Since then, an estimated 100,000 people have lost their lives in the fighting, and nearly two million refugees have fled to neighboring countries.
I call the 2011 tactical shift the most significant point in the conflict for three reasons.
First, it was the point at which there were no longer any “good guys.” Continue reading
The month of August 2013 has seen more than its share of violence worldwide, and this edition of The Initiator Roundup is all-the-more focused on an ethics of hope and the realistic possibilities of the practices that make for peace.
August 18, 2013
Shea Parton – “Film: Cross Border Collaboration Preview“
On Thursday, I attended a public event at Apolis Common Gallery on the subject of (social) media and community, with a special focus on non-profits and story-telling. The event’s host, Apolis Global, is a men’s clothing designer committed to just and sustainable economic development. At the event, Apolis previewed an inspiring original film telling the story of their sandals, which are made through a collaboration between Shlomy Azolay, a third generation leather craftsman in Tel Aviv, and Mohammad Altzatari, the general manager and owner of a second generation sandal factory based in the West Bank’s largest city, Hebron. Look for this short to hit the web soon (but read about it at the link above today).
August 20, 2013
Jon Huckins – “Our Obsession with Violence & the Stories You’re Not Supposed to Hear”
Fuller- and JPi-alum and co-founder of The Global Immersion Project, Huckins urges us to search through the rubble of violence-obsessed media for creative peacemaking initiatives where they are found. He sketches a few stories from his time in Israel and Palestine that demonstrate the sustaining value of an ethics of hope: “We do grave harm to these regions and the people within them when we fail to highlight these gritty, subversive and everyday movements of hope in the midst of conflict. As followers of the great Reconciler, we are to be ambassadors of hope.”
August 22, 2013
Wissam al-Saliby – “A Christian, Rights-Based Approach to Egyptian Developments”
Over at the Institute of Middle East Studies blog (based at Arab Baptist Theological Seminary in Beirut, Lebanon), Wissam al-Saliby wrestles with Christian attitudes toward the brutal crackdown on Muslim Brotherhood demonstrators in Egypt. He argues well for the fifth practice of just peacemaking: “I believe that what would protect Christians is the respect of human rights standards by government forces and the advancement of the rule of law.”
August 24, 2013
Chip Jahn – “Just Peace Pre-Trailer”
Although this sneak-peek was released on August 4, I did not learn of it until Saturday – and this link needs to be at your fingertips this week. It’s the first footage of what will be a “documentary depicting the impact a small-town pastor had on the Sri Lankan civil war. His dedication to the practices of Just Peacemaking led to international involvement in a conflict that most had given up as a lost cause.” Look for a crowd-funding campaign soon.
Reviewing this week’s offerings, I found myself quite thankful for the difference in time zones around the world that allowed my morning to start with some great, fresh stories. (In terms of “just peacemaking,” some of the most salient articles were released this very morning.)
August 5, 2013
Philip Rucker – “Study finds vast online marketplace for guns without background checks”
Rucker reports on Third Way’s recent study of online gun sales, particularly on the website Armslist.com (something like a Craigslist of weaponry). Their findings are alarming: “At any given time, more than 15,000 guns were for sale in those states, according to the study, and more than 5,000 of them were semi-automatic weapons. Nearly 2,000 ads were from prospective buyers asking to purchase specifically from private sellers, where no background checks are required.”
August 6, 2013
Leroy Seat – “The Horror of Hiroshima Told Through Graphic Novel”
Seat tells something of the story of Keiji Nakazawa, who at six years old was the sole survivor of the Hiroshima bombing from his family. Nakazawa told the story of (his) life there leading up to and following the bomb in the form of “comic strips,” which have been gathered into graphic novels. This part of Nakazawa’s story was especially striking to me: “The first volume mostly tells the story of Gen’s family in the four months before the bombing. Gen’s (Nakazawa’s) father was an outspoken critic of the war frenzy in Japan. Since everyone was expected to be 100 percent behind the war efforts, he was jailed for a time because of his anti-war talk.”
August 8, 2013
Ray Blunt – “How leaders are formed (Part 1): Mentors”
This first part of a creative telling of the stories of William Wilberforce and of Thomas Jefferson and their respective work against slavery, highlighting the importance of a key long-term mentor in each life: “For both men, significant mentoring relationships made all the difference.” Eager for Part II.
Rupen Das – “Is there a limit to hospitality?”
Over at the Institute of Middle East Studies blog (based at Arab Baptist Theological Seminary in Beirut, Lebanon), Das reports on the increasingly difficult refugee situation created by the civil war in Syria – Lebanon has a population of about 4.1 million Lebanese and 270,000 Palestinian refugees, and now “one in every five persons is a Syrian.” With this, Das has an eye on the Christian practice of hospitality: “When hospitality and compassion are restricted for social and political reasons, the church needs to be a sign – a living manifestation of a community with a different set of values, where no one is excluded, the stranger is welcomed, and the individual is valued.”
Lauren Markoe – “Ethicist Shaun Casey to Oversee Religious Engagement for State Department”
Markoe reports on yesterday’s creation of the Office of Faith-Based Community Initiatives in the State Department under Shaun Casey, professor of Christian ethics at Wesley Theological Seminary in Washington: “In a world where people of all faiths are migrating and mingling like never before,” Kerry said, “we ignore the global impact of religion at our peril.” This appointment could mean good things for promoting human rights and protecting religious minorities around the world.
Today, I am making a modest attempt at what I hope will grow into a new weekly feature on the Just Peacemaking blog: a roundup of articles from around the web that have an angle on something in our wheelhouse – one of our areas of focus, the practices of Just Peacemaking, etc.
Over the last few years, we’ve gone back and forth on what to do with such articles when we discover them. From time to time, we request permission and “re-post” features, especially where our new paradigm is mentioned by name, and other times we’ll share a link through social media channels (e.g., our Facebook fan page and Twitter feed). This will continue to be a part of our mode of operation, and we are continually working to build the writing base for original content here.
Next to that, now each week one JPi blogger will serve as curator (likely me at least in the short run) and present to the reader whatever details are especially salient in her/his selection. I would like to encourage the reader to engage with the blogger’s take on whatever articles/issues are on tap and also to let us know what sources we should be following when we’re missing something important. All of this can be done through the comments field below or in an email to the editor at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Without further adieu, a small collection from the last week or so to get us started:
July 27, 2013
Uri Avney, “The Turkey under the Table”
Avney dives into some of the difficulties posed to representatives from Israel and Palestine as well as any hopeful mediator during round table peace talks – namely that it’s easy for one party or another to get gobbled up (in Avney’s metaphor, like a wolf and a lamb locked in a negotiation room). He keys on whom Sec. John Kerry chooses to be present as a mediator, highlighting the importance of genuine support for each “side.”
July 30, 2013
“Will Samson – Christian hope for the environment”
In an interview with Duke’s Faith and Leadership magazine, Samson (Executive Director of the Seminary Stewardship Alliance) points up the importance of theological contributions to the climate conversation. With this, the potential of church communities is especially in view: “If we can really recapture a sense of the church as a community of moral formation, then I think we can begin to address some of the broader issues behind the environmental problems.”
July 31, 2013
Warren Clark, “The Impossible Dream – It’s Soon or Never”
Clark (Executive Director of Churches for Middle East Peace) recaps several notable recent factors in the lead up to peace talks between Israel and Palestine. He makes a strong case for this moment in history being an opportune time for honest and lasting negotiations: “As Christians we need to pray for success and do everything possible to help negotiations succeed, remembering that with God, all things are possible.”
Suzanne Ross, “Reza Aslan on Fox News: Punch, Counter-Punch”
After a week of uneasiness (or uproar?) about the recent Fox News interview with Reza Aslan regarding his new book about Jesus, Zealot, Ross calls attention to a less mentioned aspect of the interview – one that struck this editor throughout the interview: “His claim to being a scholar writing without any bias is indisputable. Historians are trained to be seekers after the truth, aren’t they, dealing only with facts they can verify? Let’s take a quick look at Dr. Aslan’s argument to see if he is indeed without bias.” Ross’ point is important, notwithstanding valid criticism of Lauren Green’s own assumptions leading into the interview.
Editor’s Note: This column first appeared on the Institute of Middle East Studies blog (Redeeming the Enemy: A Call to Civil Disobedience) and is used here with permission.
“To our most bitter opponents we say: ‘We shall match your capacity to inflict suffering by our capacity to endure suffering. We shall meet your physical force with soul force. Do to us what you will, and we shall continue to love you. We cannot in all good conscience obey your unjust laws because noncooperation with evil is as much a moral obligation as is cooperation with good. Throw us in jail and we shall still love you. Bomb our homes and threaten our children, and we shall still love you. Send your hooded perpetrators of violence into our community at the midnight hour and beat us and leave us half dead, and we shall still love you. But be ye assured that we will wear you down by our capacity to suffer. One day we shall win freedom but not only for ourselves. We shall so appeal to your heart and conscience that we shall win you in the process and our victory will be a double victory.’” (Emphasis mine)
With these words Martin Luther King, Jr. closed his sermon on “Loving Your Enemies” in 1957, which he originally wrote from jail, after being arrested for committing nonviolent civil disobedience during the Montgomery bus boycott.
Lebanon is a land full of violence. It is true that over 20 years have passed since the official end of our 1975-1990 Civil War. But violence has still erupted on a regular basis since then; sometimes in Beirut, at other times in the North, the South or the Bekaa Valley in the East. When I think about where this violence affects me or harms me, it appears as though it doesn’t. It’s been some years now since I’ve lost any family member or friend through violence resulting from armed conflict. Yet I often still have a nagging sense of despair inside of me, a sense that injustice is being done at every moment of every day. A very close friend of mine Continue reading
Now after the first four years of Obama foreign policies, is it time for a report card from the perspective of just peacemaking practices? He has opened himself to such a report card by endorsing all ten practices of just peacemaking in his Nobel Peace Award Address.
Just Peacemaking: the New Paradigm for the Ethics of Peace and War was not directed for or against any particular U.S. administration. It was developed in response to the call in the 1980s for a positive theology of peacemaking in book-length official statements by Catholic, Presbyterian, Methodist, and United Church of Christ leaders.
It responds to the need for a positive theology of peacemaking practices that actually work to make peace, and that respond to Jesus’ call for peacemaking practices. Jesus wept over Jerusalem because they did not know the practices that make for peace (Luke 19:41-44). He prophesied that the result of not knowing the practices that make for peace would be the destruction of the Temple and Jerusalem, and we know that history.
Most people favor peace, but lack clarity about what practices actually do make for peace, what practices we should be urging our governments to be taking and supporting. We need an ethic that helps us assess a government’s policies on peacemaking, and helps us advocate more effective policies.
Now that president Obama cannot seek reelection, it should be a less partisan time to use the ten practices to assess the policies of his administration thus far, and to encourage just peacemaking practices for the next four years. Continue reading