Tag Archives: Syria

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.

IRAQ-SYRIA: Even if we defeat the Islamic State, we’ll still lose the bigger war

By Andrew J. Bacevich

Andrew J. Bacevich, the George McGovern fellow at Columbia University’s School of International and Public Affairs, is writing a history of U. S. military involvement in the Greater Middle East.

n-US-AIRSTRIKE-large570As America’s efforts to “degrade and ultimately destroy” Islamic State militants extend into Syria, Iraq War III has seamlessly morphed into Greater Middle East Battlefield XIV. That is, Syria has become at least the 14th country in the Islamic world that U.S. forces have invaded or occupied or bombed, and in which American soldiers have killed or been killed. And that’s just since 1980.

Let’s tick them off: Iran (1980, 1987-1988), Libya (1981, 1986, 1989, 2011), Lebanon (1983), Kuwait (1991), Iraq (1991-2011, 2014-), Somalia (1992-1993, 2007-), Bosnia (1995), Saudi Arabia (1991, 1996), Afghanistan (1998, 2001-), Sudan (1998), Kosovo (1999), Yemen (2000, 2002-), Pakistan (2004-) and now Syria. Whew.

With our 14th front barely opened, the Pentagon foresees a campaign likely to last for years. Yet even at this early date, this much already seems clear: Even if we win, we lose. Defeating the Islamic State would only commit the United States more deeply to a decades-old enterprise that has proved costly and counterproductive.

Back in 1980, President Jimmy Carter touched things off when he announced that the United States would use force to prevent the Persian Gulf from falling into the wrong hands. In effect, with the post-Ottoman order created by European imperialists — chiefly the British — after World War I apparently at risk, the United States made a fateful decision: It shouldered responsibility for preventing that order from disintegrating further. Britain’s withdrawal from “east of Suez,” along with the revolution in Iran and the Soviet intervention in Afghanistan, prompted Washington to insert itself into a region in which it previously avoided serious military involvement…

Click here to read the entire article.

IRAQ-SYRIA: Moral responsibility to protect Syrian citizens from drone strikes

Pax Christi USA has signed onto the following letter. We encourage others to add their names.

Dear Mr. President:

We write with growing concerning over the air strikes in Syria and Iraq. News that your administration has abandoned the stated policy of making every effort to protect civilian lives in the course of drone strikes undermines America’s moral authority. As people of faith, we see this as a grave moral issue. We urge you to put back in place your policy that no strikes will take place unless there is a “near certainty” that civilians will not be harmed.

Your stated reason for engaging in military action against ISIL was to protect innocent civilians and to bolster the security of the United States against terrorist attack. The recent deaths of civilians, which may have been preventable under your previous stated policy, will only serve to increase the fear and distrust U.S. military action in the region has produced since 2002. It is very likely that these deaths will further radicalize the population, which only serves to weaken the national security of the United States.

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We join Human Rights Watch in calling for an investigation into whether the recent strikes in Idlib were unlawful and urge your administration to cooperate in any such investigation…

Click here to read the entire letter and/or sign.

IRAQ-SYRIA: The folly of bombing

by David Cortwright

iraq-syria-buttonIf bombing were an effective way of ending terrorism and violent extremism, Afghanistan and Iraq now would be oases of tranquility. Pakistan would be a peaceful paradise. Israel would be safe and free from the fear of terrorist attack.

Despite more than a decade of U.S. bombing and large scale military intervention, the Taliban controls large swaths of territory in Afghanistan, and ethnic militias and violent extremist groups dominate Iraq. Hundreds of U.S. drone strikes and bombardments by the Pakistani army have not pacified Waziristan. Thousands of Israeli strikes have not diminished Hamas’ grip on Gaza. Air strikes and military interventions in these cases have hardened local resistance and increased the flow of militant recruits…

Click here to read the entire article.

IRAQ-SYRIA: The hypocrisy of further military intervention in Iraq

by Julio R. Sharp-Wasserman

iraq-syria-buttonAs the United States government initiates another war in the Middle East, we are yet again asked to ignore glaring absurdities in the government’s justification of large-scale violence. A distaste for hypocrisy, so central to Jesus’ moral vision, plays an essential role in the outlook of any morally devoted person. Yet a central fact of modern politics, and one accepted as a truism in modern political science since the writings of Max Weber a century ago, is that the state claims a monopoly on the use of violence through a police and military, a privilege whose public legitimacy is based upon its use to condemn, punish and prevent violence committed by others.

This hypocrisy at the essence of the political sphere is one that we do not reflect upon often enough. We seek security of our life and property by recourse to an institution—government—which was responsible for almost all and certainly the most appalling instances of violence in the 20th century. Genocide, mass imprisonment and torture, and large-scale conflagrations can only be brought about by institutions with the taxed resources and the social privilege necessary to organize such large-scale violence. Yet these same institutions, and always the largest and most powerful of them, are, inexplicably, routinely tasked with mitigating violence whenever and wherever it materializes in the world.

The best thing anyone can do to decrease violence in the world is to abstain from violence and embody peace; and as the country with by far the largest and most active military, the best thing we can do to make the world a more peaceful place is to stop going to war. Yet the U.S. government is now telling us that the latest round of violence in the Middle East is an evil that must be stopped by still more imprecisely destructive airstrikes on civilian areas. This is, of course, exactly what we were told about the crimes of Saddam Hussein, in the official attempt to justify a war which turned out to be far more destructive than his regime. Even the most conservative estimates have placed the death toll of this war in the hundreds of thousands, and the displaced—many of whom are religious minorities or other refugees of newly unleashed sectarian violence—in the millions.

The Obama administration, in a display of astounding moral insincerity whose purpose was clearly to drum up support for more extensive intervention, bombed ISIS targets at Sinjar Mountain this summer, claiming concern for the welfare of the Yazidi religious minority. The administration did this without mentioning the fact that religious minorities in Iraq, from Yazidis to Shabaks to Christians, have been far more unsafe since the invasion and before ISIS came to prominence. It also should not be forgotten that ISIS’s formation was a direct result of the original 2003 invasion, in the wake of which Abu Musab al-Zarqawi exploited instability and newly ripened sectarian tension to build an anti-Shiite unofficial al-Qaida off-shoot in Iraq that later became ISIS. And instability in neighboring Syria, which has been ISIS’s other training ground, is certainly attributable to a significant extent to the free movement of radicals between Iraq and Syria since the destruction of the Iraqi government.

As Martin Luther King taught us, paraphrasing Jesus, violence only begets more violence; and Iraq right now is a concrete illustration of this proverb. Let us also not forget the classical liberal dictum that every government intervention has unintended consequences, because of the essential unmanageability of human behavior. Human behavior is unpredictable and that of those enraged by violence and instability is yet more unpredictable. The future conduct of millions of people affected by a large-scale act of government violence such as the one being initiated, is so far beyond the capacities of human foresight that no consequentialist argument in defense of an act of war like this one, least of all in the complex region is question, is plausible. After all, none of those within the American war machine who are currently advocating war against ISIS predicted its rise in the first place. But what is predictable is that more violence will make Iraq a more violent place.