Tag Archives: Syria

REFLECTION: Syria may go from awful to even worse

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by Thomas Reese, S.J., NCR

Syria has suffered like few countries in the world. Although it lived with minimal conflict for many years, its leader, Bashar al-Assad, maintained order through intimidation and terror. When peaceful demonstrators challenged his dictatorial rule, they were attacked, killed, or put in prison. What started as a civil war has become internationalized with the presence of the so-called Islamic State group and its opponents joining the fray.

iraq-syria-buttonAssad has spared no weapon in putting down resistance, whether it be chemical weapons, barrel bombs, artillery bombardments or snipers. The United Nations estimates that 220,000 have died in the war. There are disputes over what percentage of the dead are civilian, but they are certainly significant.

Assad wants to paint all of his opponents as terrorists or Islamic State supporters, but his opponents also include thousands of people fed up with his regime. His military strategy is to go after the weaker, non-Islamic State opponents while avoiding the Islamic State fighters. His purpose is to eliminate the non-Islamic State forces while leaving the anti-Islamic State coalition to degrade and push back the Islamic State. His endgame is to present himself as the only alternative to the Islamic State after he has destroyed his other opponents…

Read the entire article by clicking here.

IRAQ-SYRIA: PCUSA supports letter calling for an end to violence in Iraq, Syria

iraq-syria-buttonPax Christi USA has signed onto a letter to President Obama that was delivered to the White House and Congress this past week.

On the occasion of the 12th anniversary of the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq (March 2003) and the 4th anniversary of the violence in Syria (March 2011), both of which were marked this week, faith leaders tied the two events together and stated that “the violence and death must end, on all sides; it must not be stoked with the recourse to lethal action.”  They highlighted the effects of instability and ongoing violence in both countries and condemned the violence perpetrated against various groups of people.

Click here to read the full letter.

STATEMENT: Pax Christi International on the violent conflict in Syria – ending the war and saving lives must be top priority

pcilogonewfrom Pax Christi International

Syria’s popular uprising started in the city of Dara in March 2011. The merciless actions of the Syrian Government – whose campaign of violent repression against what were originally peaceful protesters began four long years ago – have now morphed into wave upon wave of pitiless assaults by all sides. The Syrian conflict has killed well in excess of 200.000 people, and continues to kill more every day. It has involved the torture and ill-treatment of countless others; forced millions to flee; and deprived even more of the basic conditions for a decent life, including the rights to education, food, healthcare and housing.

iraq-syria-buttonThe conduct of an ever-increasing number of actors is characterised by a complete lack of adherence to the norms of international law. Human rights are being violated to a shocking degree. The State, which is responsible for the security of its citizens, has committed war crimes and crimes against humanity against its citizens; radical non-State armed groups are doing the same.

Humanitarian aid has been instrumentalised for military gain. In many cases, aid to civilians living in areas under the control of non-State armed groups is not delivered. The conditions imposed by the State and by some armed groups on the delivery of humanitarian assistance use civilian suffering as a retaliatory measure, which is immoral…

Read the entire statement by clicking here.

IRAQ-SYRIA: ISIS – Nonviolent resistance?

by Eli McCarthy, Pax Christi Metro D.C.-Baltimore

iraq-syria-buttonAnything sound familiar to the recent grumblings about war? The lyrics of “dismantle, defeat, and destroy” continue to resound in our collective discourse and consciousness. Another Authorization of Military Force has been proposed and most of Congress appears to simply be debating the parameters of an AUMF rather than alternatives.

Meanwhile after over seven months of bombing and using our “diplomatic” power to organize more bombing along with cursory efforts at disrupting the financial and human flow to ISIS, the following has occurred. 1) Recruitment has actually increased significantly from a mere 10,000 to upwards of 30-50,000 if not more. Further, groups in Egypt, Libya, Yemen, and Algeria have identified allegiance to ISIS. 2) Blowback is spreading not only with beheadings but also attacks in France, Denmark and Libya. ISIS itself is part of the predictable line of blowback from the Iraq wars, the war on terror, and the Afghanistan war against the Soviets in the 1980’s that spawned the Taliban, Bin Laden, and Al Qaeda. We can draw the exacerbation line back further as well. Even if we “dismantle, defeat, and destroy” ISIS with arms, we will almost certainly exacerbate the bitterness and hostility that will create another similar group or movement. 3) Perhaps, most importantly we are becoming less and less attentive to human dignity and the value of human life, as we waive our human rights laws restricting who we give military aid to, and as we drop our “near certainty” standard for ensuring civilians are not harmed by our bombing.

I along with many other religious leaders have identified specific ways to engage this conflict, with a recent webinar and action alert. One of the key ways is a political track that involves a regional approach including Iran, but also identifying people of influence with members of ISIS. These people can create lines of communication with low, mid and perhaps in time with upper level leaders to identify grievances or needs and seek to peel away support. The reality is that lines of communication have already been happening but in a minimal and peripheral way. Multiple negotiations (ex. with the Peshmerga, Turkey, Jordan, U.S. citizens, etc.) have occurred with ISIS over hostages from different state and non-state actors. Members of ISIS are still human beings. I want to focus on a three key methods which are also not getting adequate public or congressional debate, and should become central parts of the overall strategy…

Read the entire article here.

LENT 2015: Return to me with your whole heart

Prayer vigil for the three Muslim students killed in North Carolina, Washington DC, February 13, 2015. (Photo by Scott Wright)

Prayer vigil in Washington, D.C. for the three Muslim students killed in North Carolina, February 13, 2015. (Photo by Scott Wright)

Scott Wrightby Scott Wright, Pax Christi Metro D.C.-Baltimore

These past weeks, the news has been filled with horrific violence and the tragic loss of life in the Middle East and closer to home in North Carolina.

A Jordanian pilot captured in Syria and burned alive by his captors from the Islamic State (ISIS). Kayla Mueller, a young compassionate aid-worker who had gone to Syria to aid refugees, also kidnapped by ISIS and killed in a Jordanian bombing raid against ISIS in retaliation for the Jordanian pilot’s cruel death.

Three Muslim students from North Carolina – Deah Barakat, 23, a dental student hoping to help refugees in Syria, along with his wife Yusor Abu-Salha, 21, and her sister Razan Abu-Salha, 19, were executed by their atheist neighbor in a brutal crime of hate. “Growing up in America has been such a blessing,” Yusor said in a conversation with a former teacher that was recorded by the StoryCorps project last summer. She later added, “We are all one, one culture.” At their funeral, the mother of one of the victims responded: “You don’t respond back by hating the other. You respond back by love. By peace, by mercy.”

As a nation, the United States has been at war since 9/11. Currently, a resolution is being debated in Congress to grant specific war powers authority to the President to pursue a war against ISIS for the next three years. But the original resolution from 2001 granting broad and unlimited powers to wage war against terrorism continues to stand. We are a nation permanently at war.

The cycle of violence, hatred and revenge grows wider, and reverberates around the world, enveloping the merciful and just, the compassionate and the generous in its wake.

Yesterday, on Ash Wednesday, Christians around the world marked the beginning of Lent by marking one another with ashes in the sign of the cross on our foreheads as we reminded one another: “Remember that from dust you came and to dust you shall return.”

We hear the words of the psalmist:  “Have mercy on me, O God, in your goodness; in the greatness of your compassion wipe out my offense.” And we respond: “Be merciful O Lord, for we have sinned.”

And in the verse before the Gospel reading we hear: “If today you hear God’s voice, harden not your hearts.”

Mercy and compassion are words that Pope Francis shares often, and they are words and practices that are at the heart of the great Abrahamic faith traditions: Judaism, Christianity, and Islam. We close with that reminder to one another, and with this passionate plea for peace:

“Peace in Iraq, that every act of violence may end, and above all for dear Syria, for its people torn by conflict and for the many refugees who await help and comfort. How much blood has been shed! And how much suffering must there still be before a political solution to the crisis will be found? And so we ask the risen Jesus, who turns death into life, to change hatred into love, vengeance into forgiveness, war into peace. Yes, Christ is our peace, and through him we implore peace for all the world.”Pope Francis

REFLECTION: No one should be hungry during the Christmas season

Tony Maglianoby Tony Magliano

In early December, the United Nations World Food Program (WFP) stopped feeding 1.7 million Syrian refugees.

For two weeks these poor, battered fellow human beings who had fled the misery of civil war, and the barbarism of the “Islamic State,” were told there is no money available for food – children, women and men went hungry

The WFP has been providing food assistance for 1.85 million Syrian refugees living in the host countries of Jordan, Lebanon, Turkey, Iraq and Egypt.

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However, on Dec. 1 the WFP reported that it had run out of money to fund its electronic voucher program for 1.7 million Syrian refugees because many donor nation commitments were not being fulfilled.

But 10 days later the WFP announced that following an unprecedented social media campaign, government donors had given over $80 million, thus allowing reinstatement of food assistance to the 1.7 million Syrian refugees for the rest of December. And this funding will also allow the WFP to meet some of the refugee needs in January.

But then what?

According to the WFP, Syrian refugees in camps throughout the region are ill prepared for the harsh winter, especially in Lebanon and Jordan, where many children are bare foot and without proper clothing. Many tents are drenched in mud, and hygiene conditions are worsening.

The CBS news program 60 Minutes produced a highly informative and compelling segment on this crisis titled War and Hunger (60 Minutes segment).

In addition to the Syrian region, the WFP and other international aid agencies like Catholic Relief Services, are desperately trying to respond to four other simultaneous level-3 emergencies – the U.N.’s most serious crisis designation – in Iraq, South Sudan, Central African Republic and the African nations plagued by the Ebola outbreak.

According Eric Mitchell, director of government of relations for Bread for the World – an anti-poverty Christian lobbying organization (www.bread.org) – the U.S. government needs to fully fund the Food for Peace program. He said Congress has authorized $2.5 billion, but that the budget for fiscal year 2015 actually only funds the program at $1.4 billion.

Mitchell added that Congress should allot significantly more money for food vouchers that can be immediately used in local markets, as compared to the more expensive and time consuming transfer of food on cargo ships.

He said excellent long-term programs like Feed the Future, which help to sustain long-term agriculture development and security, need to also receive increased funding from Congress.

As a Christmas gift to desperately hungry people, please email and phone your congressional delegation (Capitol switchboard: 202-224-3121) urging them to work for the improvements listed above.

And kindly consider making a Christmas donation to the World Food Program (www.wfp.org) or Catholic Relief Services (www.crs.org).

As part of the Christmas season celebration, many of us will partake in the blessings of bountiful meals. And as we enjoy the good food set before us, may we have the special gift of knowing that we helped make it possible for some of our hungry brothers and sisters to eat during the Christmas season.

But what about after the Christmas season? What will happen to the 805 million hungry brothers and sisters of ours then?

Will they be forgotten until World Food Day or next Christmas? Will they even be alive?

What we do, or fail to do, to help answer these life and death questions, will significantly determine how seriously, how faithfully, we take the birth of Jesus – Emmanuel, “God with us.”

Tony Magliano is an internationally syndicated social justice and peace columnist. Please contact your diocesan newspaper and request that they carry Tony’s column. Tony is available to speak at diocesan or parish gatherings about Catholic social teaching. His keynote address, “Advancing the Kingdom of God in the 21st Century,” has been well received by diocesan gatherings from Salt Lake City to Baltimore. Tony can be reached at tmag@zoominternet.net.

IRAQ-SYRIA: “Khorasan”, the lie that thinly concealed another military atrocity

by Julio R. Sharp-Wasserman

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Unambiguous evidence came to light after the initiation of the recent offensive against ISIS in Iraq and Syria, demonstrating that the Obama administration knowingly lied about the existence and threat level of an imaginary terrorist group they called “Khorasan,” in the lead up to the attack. This is a good time to reflect upon what religion has to offer in explaining and evaluating this type of state behavior. The Bible tells us that we are all flawed morally. This means, on the one hand, that, as with all moral criticism, denunciations of violence are most honestly and effectively directed at ourselves before they are directed at others, since each of us has the most control over her own morally imperfect behavior. On the other hand, we must also remember, as we often do not, that when state violence becomes so heinous that righteous indignation is appropriate, the same moral standards apply to agents of the state that apply to all of us, as we are all mere humans.

The public justification of this act of war crucially invoked the existence of and immediate danger posed by the imaginary “Khorasan,” both to prevent popular opposition in the U.S. and to elude the international legal requirement that military actions taken without U.N. authorization be in response to an imminent threat. The executive branch, in a strategically adroit and appallingly unethical maneuver, released this story to the press soon enough before the attack to preclude public scrutiny of the lies presented and then had other agents of the executive publically correct the fabricated account after the attack was irreversibly underway, apparently in order to evade accusations that they misinformed the public. This was well covered by Glenn Greenwald and Murtaza Hussain at the left-wing publication The Intercept as well as by Andrew McCarthy at the conservative National Review. Needless to say, these state actions violate widely accepted moral principles condemning dishonesty and violence for reasons other than self-defense.

It is of the utmost importance that we realize non-violence in our own personal relationships and teach the next generation to do the same. In doing so we construct a less violent world by embodying peace. However, because of the urgency of opposing egregious ongoing U.S. government crimes in the Middle East, we should also be emphatic in holding the agents of the state personally morally responsible for these transgressions in a publically recognizable way.

There are two obstacles in popular political thinking to this advancement in popular consciousness. One is the common belief, originating in modern social contract theory, that government in a democratic society is the embodiment of a collective will, and thus immune from judgment by those citizens who are automatic participants in whatever actions the government commits. We betray this superstition when we say that “we” bombed Iraq, or that “the United States” has taken unilateral military action. But popular opinion is, even in the best functioning democracies, just one more check in a larger system of checks and balances, and functions only in certain circumstances and to a limited extent.  The agents of the state are, at the end of the day, independent individuals who make their own choices. Moreover, although we express our opinions by voting between major candidates, the more powerful forms of expression are those that involve withdrawing support from mainstream politics and pressuring political institutions from without. Vote for independent candidates or publically denounce the choice to vote when we are presented with identically warlike candidates. Attend protests and put your opposition into political writing or into art.

The second erroneous common philosophical assumption, which is less explicit, is that agents of the state ought to be held to different and more lenient moral standards simply by virtue of the fact that they are agents of the state. To think this way is to treat the state as a false idol—an object of worship too mysterious and great to be susceptible to judgment. However, murder or dishonesty committed by an agent of the state are morally identical to murder or dishonesty by anyone else. When the small group of individuals in charge of military policy kills hundreds of thousands in Iraq, this action is actually a violation of the most fundamental and obvious of moral principles, hundreds of thousands of times over. The way we think and talk about and otherwise react to this should reflect the obvious seriousness of this moral offense.