Category Archives: Mele

REFLECTION: We are beloved

Nick Meleby Nick Mele

As I write, the United States is angry, anxious, saddened and split over the shooting of a young, unarmed black man by a white policeman several months ago. At the same time, another, younger black child has just been shot because he was at a playground with a toy gun which closely resembled a real weapon. We live in the midst of a stew of fear and violence. News outlets headline stories about scary epidemics, war, mass executions. Social media memes—cleverly chosen images and sayings propagated over the internet—cater to stereotypes, polarization and fear. Popular culture promotes the myth that violence can solve almost any problem and protect individuals as well as nations from any threat. As theologian Walter Wink wrote in Engaging the Powers, “Violence is the ethos of our time. It is the spirituality of the modern world. It has been accorded the status of religion, demanding from its devotees an absolute obedience unto death.” Violence and threat breeds fear, fear of others, fear for our safety, fear that we will not be able to stand against the threats screaming from headlines and television news and talk shows.

stop violenceTo climb out of the morass of violence in which we live requires courage, creativity, effort, persistence, personal integrity and a sense of humor. We must start by honestly examining and healing the violence within ourselves. The first step is cultivating awareness of how we have internalized the violence we experience daily and inflict it on ourselves and others.

The violence we experience is not confined to news headlines or fiery talk show panelists. We also hear threats and violence daily from our families, our friends, our teachers, our supervisors and from our co-workers. The myth that violence solves problems, that a kind of purification or even redemption comes through violent behavior dominates our attitudes and behavior. Over time, we internalize the messages of threat and violence and speak harshly to ourselves. To be sure, often the violent words we hear are not intended to threaten or induce fear, they are simply the consequence of the “ethos of our time” described by Wink. For example, an exasperated parent seeking some support for housecleaning might say to his child, “Pick up your toys!” in a tone of voice that the child hears as an implicit threat to withdraw love or impose punishment. Over time, we impose limits on ourselves in anticipation of others’ disappointment, disapproval or withdrawal. As we do so, we also strive to earn approval and love and to exceed what we think others expect of us….

Read the entire article here, beginning on page 6.

REFLECTION: Ambassador Kennedy and the dolphins

Nick Meleby Nick Mele
Pax Christi USA National Council member

When the new U.S. Ambassador to Japan, Caroline Kennedy, tweeted her concern about Japan’s drive hunting of dolphins, that was a good thing. Sure, she upset the Japanese government and the fisher folk who earn money from the trade in dolphin meat but most Americans, particularly those who have seen the documentary film about this annual hunt, sympathize more with the dolphins. Her concern for the humane treatment of animals is praiseworthy, but it is only a first step.

It would be better for Ambassador Kennedy to expand her concern for marine life to the waters of Henoko, Okinawa, where the U.S. military plans to destroy several square kilometers of precious marine habitat important to soft corals and dugong, an endangered mammal similar to our manatees, in order to construct a Marine Air Base to replace the controversial Futenma Base, which the Clinton Administration committed to moving or closing in 1996. Eighteen years later, the best the U.S. can do to honor that pledge is to destroy sea life in another part of Okinawa and disrupt an existing community that has already lived next to a U.S. Munitions Depot since 1959. The new base will be larger than the Futenma air field it will replace, and much larger than the munitions depot, so it is hard to see the change as anything other than part of the U.S. military “pivot” to Asia, a move that the present government of Japan wholeheartedly supports…

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IRAN: Talking about the agreement with Iran

Nick Meleby Nicke Mele
Pax Christi Pacific Northwest

For the last few days, the news and commentary has featured a good deal of back and forth about the utility and viability of the recently-announced short-term agreement with Iran on its nuclear development program. Several key factors do not get discussed by either critics or defenders.

First of all, there is very little historical or geopolitical context mentioned. One reason Saudi Arabia and other Arab countries are critical of the agreement is that most of these Islamic nations are ruled by a Sunni majority or plurality; the population of Iran is Farsi and overwhelmingly Shi’a. It is not necessary to know the historic and theological roots of the split in Islam but it is germane to Arab reactions to the prospect of a nuclear-capable Iran to know that in many of the most powerful Arab nations, Sunni majorities have treated their Shi’ite as second-class Muslims. Fear of an ascendant , non-Arab Shi’a nation influences attitudes toward Iran.

In the West, the history is not as long but Iran was a place where Britain and Russia (and later Germany) sought access and influence at first because of its geographic location and later its petroleum reserves. Iran fell well within the Czarist Russian sphere of influence throughout most of the nineteenth century, a fact which does much to explain Russia’s contemporary role there and in Syria. The history of Iran relayed via our media is superficial but not trivial, focused more on the last 30 or so years but not on the U.S.-engineered 1953 coup that installed the Pahlavi family as monarchs or the dark side of the Shah’s rule, which led directly to the Islamic Revolution in Iran…

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SYRIA: Thoughts on Syria

Nick Meleby Nicke Mele
Pax Christi Pacific Northwest

Two essays on Syria drew my attention on the same day. The first, by Nicholas Kristof, is a heartfelt argument in favor of military intervention, and specifically airstrikes. The second, equally heartfelt, from Jim Wallis, argues for immediate massive humanitarian aid to the millions of refugees from this conflict and against the use of military force in response to Syria’s passion.

A few days earlier, a friend who is a leader in the peace and justice community where I live asked why there are no mass demonstrations against military intervention. Reading the Kristof and Wallis essays, I saw why: most of us cannot imagine an effective non-military solution. Kristof writes, for example:

I received a mass e-mail from a women’s group I admire, V-Day, calling on people to oppose military intervention because ‘such an action would simply bring about more violence and suffering. … Experience shows us that military interventions harm innocent women, men and children.’

Really? Sure, sometimes they do, as in Iraq. But in both Bosnia and Kosovo, military intervention saved lives. The same was true in Mali and Sierra Leone. The truth is that there’s no glib or simple lesson from the past. We need to struggle, case by case, for an approach that fits each situation…

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REFLECTION: Militarizing our police

Nick Meleby Nick Mele
Pax Christi Pacific Northwest

A few nights ago, my wife and I went for a walk. We noticed a helicopter that flew over once, twice, many times, circling lower and lower each time. It seemed to be a police helicopter and we theorized that the police were looking for someone but this was an extraordinary intrusion. Police helicopters may routinely patrol the skies over major cities like Chicago, Los Angeles or New York, but we were not even aware there were police helicopters in our city of about 80,000 people.

We met a friend, and as we talked about the situation, my wife noticed that a police car had stopped at the intersection nearest our home. A few minutes later, a jeep with Border Patrol markings pulled up to ask us whether we had seen a man running past. We had not, but the Border Patrol presence changed our perception of the situation. Suddenly, the police were not out in force looking for a suspect in a possibly violent crime, they were pursuing someone whose offense was that he lacked proof of legal residence in the United States.

Apart from the question of justice for immigrants, what is going on here? At least two police agencies, one local and one national, cooperated in pursuit of someone on foot, using police cruisers, an armored SUV and a helicopter. At least four police officers were involved from what we saw, not counting dispatchers and, perhaps, the staff of our local police’s Incident Command Center. Since our local paper carried no mention of the incident, it seems reasonable to assume this inter-agency force sought someone whose lack of citizenship or legal residence documentation carries a sentence of up to six months for a first offense. Why the disproportionate deployment of resources? 

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REFLECTION: The Forgotten War

Nick Meleby Nick Mele
Pax Christi Pacific Northwest

This week, people are commemorating the anniversaries of the only war time use of nuclear weapons, the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Last week, a different anniversary passed almost unnoticed; July 27 was the 60th anniversary of the signing of the ceasefire agreement that marks the end of the Korean War.

Veterans groups and some commentators, including President Obama, took the opportunity to memorialize the military personnel who were wounded, taken prisoner or killed in the conflict, and to extol, rightfully, the sacrifice of those who fought so hard and long. Few remembered to mention that there is no peace on the Korean Peninsula, or to ask why tens of thousands of American and Korean troops still face each other along the Demilitarized Zone created by the armistice. In South Korea, however, a collection of non-governmental organizations are seeking a peace treaty that will truly end the conflict before it stretches into its seventh decade.

Why bother after sixty years? Here are several good reasons…

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REFLECTION: The heart of the immigration reform debate

Nick Meleby Nick Mele
Pax Christi Pacific Northwest

Yesterday morning I sat down to write a reflection on the Immigration Reform Bill passed by the Senate but I received a series of e-mails from a local non-profit group and then personal appeals from several friends, all calling for support for a group of striking farm workers nearby. So my wife and I dropped our plans and headed for the workers’ camp. Because we were part of a small group who planned and walked a 140 mile pilgrimage for immigration justice a few years ago, there were several people who know us in the group. It was both a reunion and a refresher course since our first intensive exposure to the lives and stories of migrant workers before and during the pilgrimage.

The workers are striking for better pay, as many other workers have before them. Many, maybe a majority, are undocumented migrant workers and their families. That is relevant, because behind this strike lies the workers’ fear that their employer will replace them with guest workers who are documented and who will be paid the state-mandated price for their work, calculated not as an hourly wage but as the amount of berries the workers pick; that’s about twice what the striking workers were being paid. The economics are clear and the workers’ fears are real since the grower in this case has refused to raise the rate the undocumented workers get for their labor.

All of the signs I saw at the strike bore one or more of these words: respect, justice, dignity. This is at the heart of the workers’ grievance, and at the heart of the immigration reform debate. Why is it legal to label some human beings as “illegal”? No human being is illegal, only some human actions are. Why are there so many different voices in the immigration reform debate? Because so many of the people whose lives will be changed by a new law fear their dignity and right to just treatment will be disregarded.

That includes the legal immigrants patiently waiting for an inefficient and overburdened system to grant them their green cards. It includes the children brought here as minors who have watched the promise of the DREAM Act fade repeatedly. It includes Border Patrol agents and other federal officials charged with safeguarding our borders: they know that the undocumented workers are not criminals but they also know it is worth their jobs to point out the solution is just immigration reform. It includes the farm owners, who depend for their livelihood on their ability to hire and retain reliable workers.

The immigration bill passed by the Senate last month is not perfect and certainly does not address some central problems such as the long delays in granting legal-resident status to those who have obeyed existing immigration laws, but it is a step forward. The House’s unwillingness to pass a version of the Senate bill that might begin to address the longing for dignity expressed by the strikers’ signs is not simply discouraging, it is sinful. It behooves each of us to demand of our representatives that they stop playing games and start acting in the common interest by passing a more just version of the immigration reform bill as a way to respect the citizens, legal residents, and undocumented workers who are tired of waiting, tired of being exploited and tired of epithets thrown at them by the children and grandchildren of earlier waves of immigrants.

Read more from Nick’s blog, The Disconnect, by clicking here.