50 Years Is Enough

I know that dignity for all, abundant life for all, is God’s charge to us . . . .

Today, June 5, 2017, marks the 50th anniversary of the beginning of the Six Day War which resulted in victory for Israel over the military forces of Egypt, Jordan, and Syria–and, importantly for subsequent events, the expansion of Israeli rule over all of Jerusalem, the West Bank (often called Judea and Samaria by many Israelis) and Gaza.

Yesterday, tens of thousands marched in New York City in the 53rd annual Celebrate Israel parade, officially deemed a celebration of the creation of the State of Israel, but given its date it seems a clear declaration of support for an Israel that includes territory from the Nile to the Euphrates.

Palestinians and their allies refer to Israeli rule in the West Bank and Gaza as The Occupation. There is little doubt that it is marked by oppressive military presence, that Palestinians are under military rule in the land of their birth. Such rule is never, by definition, kind and gentle nor does it evidence much respect for the elemental human rights of those under control. With the requirement of border passes for work inside Israel, checkpoints, random searches of individuals and homes, evictions, murder and mayhem by settlers not to mention the growing presence of Israeli settlers, Palestinians feel deep bitterness. Fifty years is enough, they say.

Robin with keffiyehI spent Sunday afternoon outside the White House, not to celebrate Greater Israel but to bear witness to the strength and endurance of the Palestinian people. No matter how many times their leaders have failed in negotiations with Israel (whose leaders failed just as much), no matter how much they have failed to build a vibrant society within the hated control of Israel (and how much Israel, from its position of economic and military dominance has made sure to cripple Palestinian institutions), I admire them for their fortitude and patience, for their attachment to the land of their fathers.

They deserve my respect and honor. They deserve that from all of us.

Sadly, it was a very small group at the White House, with little or not visible organization and leadership. According to the email invitation I received, it was to be a silent vigil, but mostly people just talked to each other. At one point, one of those present got some of us to sing a few protest songs, with lyrics he devised to focus on the Occupation and the need for liberation and peace. I left about 30 minutes before its scheduled conclusion, not sure it had ever begun.

I have wondered if this was an organizational fluke–the listed sponsors were four groups, Arab American Institute (AAI), Arab American Anti Discrimination Committee (ADC), United Palestinian Appeal (UPA) and American Palestinian Women’s Association (APWA)–or if it reflects deeper disorganization within the Palestinian and Palestinian-American community. I hope it was a fluke. We need a strong Palestinian voice in the Middle East and here.

There was one presence at the White House that was clearly organized and in charge: The Secret Service. When I arrived at Pennsylvania Avenue–it is blocked for through traffic between 15th and 17th Streets and has become essentially a pedestrian mall adjacent to Lafayette Park (except for official vehicles going in and out of the White House)–just before 3 pm, there were hundreds of tourists taking pictures of themselves and their companions with the White House in the background. It was a good-humored gaggle of humanity speaking several languages, doing tourist-y things. I noted uniformed Secret Service agents moving through the crowd.

I found the one lone man with a pro-Palestinian sign and we chatted. Several others joined us. Eventually, our small group moved across the street, closer to the park and in the shade (it was a hot sun), waiting for some others we were told were on their way.

Here’s what it gets informative. When we all–no more than 25, maybe 30 including quite a few teenagers/college students, regrouped on the street directly in front of the White House, many of us with signs protesting the Occupation and other Israeli policies and practices, we were approached by two Secret Service agents. One asked what our purpose was. One of the men in the group who seemed to know more than others said, “We have a permit.” The agent nodded and repeated his question. I did not hear the answer but assume it was to say we were doing what our signs said, protesting the Occupation.

Secret Service agents in front of White HouseThe agents moved away and I, naive and trusting soul that I am, thought that was done . I was disturbed, however, by the question. The right of Americans to gather, the right of public assembly guaranteed in the Bill of Rights, is not dependent on the content raised by those gathering.

Fifteen or so minutes later, the agents moved in more authoritatively and begin telling everyone–tourists, our group and the few individual purveyors of amusement (including the man putting on a Donald Trump mask and getting his picture taken while in some sort of Trumpian pose, and a Christian evangelist–to move across the street. It was done quietly, but it was done efficiently.  Pretty soon we were all across the street behind yellow police line tape. The street was empty but for some Secret Service agents, several of whom held automatic weapons in their hands. Earlier, I had noticed holstered hand guns but not these more lethal weapons.

A few minutes later, one white SUV emerged from the driveway from the White House and drove down the street. I’d like to think that was why agents cleared the street, but there probably were easier ways than closing three blocks containing hundreds, probably more than one thousand, people. For one thing, a few honks and orders from an agent would easily have cleared a path.

We small band of Palestine supporters were the only organized group, the only group with signs who had been in the street. I realized after about 30 minutes of being held behind the yellow tape, and the the agents’ eyes mostly aimed in our direction, that we were the focus, the cause of the herding. I felt for the tourists who just wanted their picture taken as close as possible to the White House.

Then, just as quietly as before, an agent released the tape. It seems logical to me that after the agents watched our rather ragged attempt at singing protest songs–if someone said 10 of us sang I would be surprised (even with a portable speaker we made very little noise)–and seeing that our number did not grow, they decided the President was safe from marauding Palestinian freedom fighters (or terrorists as many would say).

Occupation demo at WH June 4 2017After re-grouping, several of us took a few pictures (I took picture on left of three of our group), and then I began the journey home. I had donned a black and white keffiyeh at the vigil and I wore it home on the Metro to Greenbelt. No one asked me why, on a hot day, I had a large scarf over my shirt, but if they had, I would have told them I was showing solidarity with, and honor to, strong, patient Palestinians who still seek the respect of the world, and most especially of Israel and my own country, the United States of America.

I’ll be back, at the White House or not, and I am sure our numbers will grow. It does not take a multitude to remind me of what is important, even as I know that many will not join until there is a multitude. So we have work to do.

And as Christian theologian, I know that dignity for all, abundant life for all, is God’s charge to us. And it does not matter whose God that is. God says it in every tradition, in every religion.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

We the People

our silence will not protect us, only we claiming our power can do that . . .

Reflections from the Women’s March, Washington, D.C., January 21, 2017

 

Pussy grabs back,
I was raised by a nasty woman and now I’m one, too,
Black lives matter,
We the People,
we bodies of the people,
are greater than fear,
keep your filthy paws off my sticky drawers,
this is what democracy looks like,
I stand with Standing Rock,
no disrespect, no going back,
we will not go quietly back to the 1950s,
my body, my choice, her body, her choice,
no to racism, homophobia, misogyny,
climate change is real, save the planet,
this man grateful to be raised by a nasty woman,
immigrants welcome, hatred not,
if I wanted government in my vagina I would have slept with a senator,
no human is illegal,
hands (or dick) too small to build a wall,
and on and on,
homemade signs and improvised chants everywhere,
notes of this land is your land, we shall overcome, on many lips,
sassiness, joy on many hips,
and arms, hands, smiles, laughter.

We came from everywhere
hundreds of thousands,
bodies gathering one by one, two by two,
young and smooth, old and wrinkled,
women yes the most but men, too,
children, parents, grandparents, college students,
tots in strollers, gay, lesbian, bi, trans, cis, straight,
Black and Brown, Christians, Muslims, Jews, immigrants
Dreamers, sex workers, clergy, lawyers, singers, accountants,
clerks, dock workers, athletes, unemployed, underemployed,
doctors, social workers, retirees, and all the rest.
So much joy, so many smiles, laughter and song,
dancing even when packed like sardines between monumental
buildings made small by roars of voices joined together
to stand, to rise—Maya Angelou’s Still I Rise resounding in every heart—
Angela Davis with hair out to here
reminding us of all the connections from
Ferguson to Orlando to Planned Parenthood,
from Standing Rock to Palestine.
We marched and when we could not move,
still we marched,
our hearts beating with the pulse of liberty
and justice for all. We were, we are, the People
whose claim on this nation does not cease
because voices of yesteryear now hold official power,
seeking to recapture some imagined golden era
when men were white and ran things,
while women, Blacks, queers, natives, Latinx, Muslims,
Jews, trans and physically challenged folk, and elderly,
all the rest of God’s people,
kept to themselves, not getting in the way
of those who keep anointing themselves
the powers-that-always-are and shall be.

Power to the people the long ago cry
of those marching, blocking roadways, and sitting in
to protest elites sending our beautiful boys
into senseless, ill-fated war—
now expropriated by billionaires and millionaires
to convince people with much less, so much less,
that they are all on the same side,
while cutting taxes for the richest
and insurance for the rest,
claiming science is a hoax
and Islam work of the devil—
a topsy turvy world,
growing more Orwellian by the day,
in which, for which, we must march,
more we must organize and write and speak
and sit down where we are not welcome,
learning from Dr. King and Malcolm and suffragettes
and so many more that there is nowhere
the arc of justice will not bend
and create the change we need
when we link our arms and hands and hearts
and minds and souls, becoming the angelic troublemakers
of which Rustin spoke and Baldwin wrote,
remembering as sister outsider Audre Lorde wrote, too,
our silence will not protect us,
only we claiming our power can do that.

We the people: This is our time, again.  

 

If you cannot see the entire image at the top, and wish to see this moving public art, please click here

The Hard Truth of Beloved Community

Today is the day we celebrate the gifts of Rev. Dr. Martin Luther, King, Jr. to our nation and world. 

Martin Luther King, JRThis is a time when many in our nation participate in some action that they believe helps us achieve Dr. King’s vision of “beloved community.” My intention is to continue to do that continually throughout the year, throughout my life, and my hope and prayer is that is true for others as well. 

Yesterday, I heard a fine sermon by Rev. Dwayne Johnson at Metropolitan Community Church in Washington, D.C. in which he focused on the active love of God working in and through us. He drew much inspiration from early writing of Dr. King, such as “An Experiment in Love,” which appeared in in 1958 in a magazine and also as a part of his early book, Stride Toward Freedom: The Montgomery Circle.

In that article, Dr. King focuses on the Christian ethical concept of agape (a transliteration of the Greek word for love), often described as God’s love for humanity. This love is different from love songs and courtship. He wrote

Agape is not a weak, passive love. It is love in action. Agape is love seeking to preserve and create community. It is insistence on community even when one seeks to break it. Agape is a willingness to go to any length to restore community. 

Community. There are so many forces, so many people, seeking today to disrupt, even destroy community. From politicians to terrorists to intolerant individuals and xenophobic groups, our life in community is under siege. Dr. King would be preaching, writing, marching, praying to turn that around.

Jonathan and Robin JVP Islamophobia actionSome of the worst right now is virulent negativity toward Muslims and Islam (of course, African Americans, Native Americans, immigrants from Latin America and elsewhere, as well as transgender people, differently-abled people, and LGB people continue to face this, too). 

That’s why Jonathan and I, with other members of the DC Metro Chapter of Jewish Voice for Peace, went yesterday to the Columbia Heights neighborhood in our nation’s capital to focus on Islamophobia and to encourage others to join in opposing this harmful attitude that seems to be affecting, infecting, so much of our public discourse. 

About 20 of us handed out flyers, talked to people on the street, and visited store managers and owners asking for permission to put posters in their windows. About 25 retailers accepted the posters and quite a few hung them immediately in their windows. We are shown with one poster, and the other is below. 

Many of us also wore small stickers in the shape of the yellow star Jews were forced to wear in the Holocaust with the word “Muslim” (and the Islamic crescent) super-imposed where the word Jude (German for Jew) was usually displayed. This was not without controversy for some, but the intention was to express solidarity with a people being marked for ugly treatment on the basis of their religion and heritage.

yellow star with Muslim and crescentI also know that expressing that solidarity right in the face of so much hatred is what so many should have done in Germany and elsewhere, including in the United States, when Jews by the millions, and many others (my own tribe, gay men, wore the pink triangle), were being forced to leave their homes and be slaughtered. Just think what might have happened, how different things might have been, if people–non-Jews all over–had stood up in 1935, 36, 37, 38, 39, 40, etc.! Hitler and his minions did the deeds, just as others engage in genocide and racial profiling that leads to death and imprisonment for far too many today, but we all bear responsibility for whatever we did not, do not, do to stop it. 

Refugees are welcome here posterThis is what Dr. King meant when he often spoke of the silence of the “good people,” the ones who look the other way in the face of injustice. As Dr. King, and so many who marched with him, knew well, we are called on to speak truth to power when, as it so often is, it is on the side of oppression. And too often for some, perhaps many depending on the circumstances, the power that oppresses some actually sustains, even raises, the rest of us. It is not easy to stand up against our own group when it is wrong, but if we want beloved community, the community which is the whole of God’s people (all people are God’s people) to survive and thrive, we must do just that. 

The fate of community, beloved community, rests not only with others but also squarely with us. Thank you, Dr. King, for not letting us forget that truth. 

 

Reagan, or Roosevelt, for President?

So, here we are in 2016.

What kind of year it will be depends on us.

ballot-box-graphic
aft243.org

Presidential candidates and other would-be leaders think it depends on them, or at least on their being chosen. Indeed, our choice of a new president and vice-president (yes, don’t forget we need both), as well as Congress will determine much.

But not nearly as much as these leaders might think. Just ask President Obama, or either Bush or Clinton or Carter, etc. They each did a lot, but much they wanted to do never happened (and much they did not want to happen did so anyway).

Of course, our choice will say much about who we are at the moment of the election. It will say much about how we see the state of the nation, what we see as the good points and the not-so-good points.

What is the state of the nation today?

state of the union
blogs.rj.org

At home, some things seem to be going pretty well: an improving economy, falling unemployment, tumbling gas prices, low inflation, rising housing prices. Unfortunately, health care and college costs remain obscenely high. And the income gap grows as wages are too stagnant, and gun violence seems on the rise. At the same time, civil rights gains continue, even as the nation’s underlying white racist social structure continues to operate in many sectors. So, things are mixed at best.

Abroad, things look more dicey. ISIS continues to frighten the world, and now Iran and Saudi Arabia are at each other’s throats in another round of internecine Islamic religious warfare. Violence continues in parts of African and Latin America, too, and the ugliness in Israel/Palestine remains unchecked. There is a sense among many that the United States is no longer the leading nation of the world.

President Obama 2
absoluterights.com

And yet, President Obama remains popular outside the country, other leaders look to him for leadership, and he wins some treaty victories (although not in the U.S. Senate). He is not the bragging, pushy leader many in our nation seem to want, but much of the rest of the world appears grateful.

It was only a few months ago that national polls showed just more than half of the country thought things were going pretty well. Then, came more gun violence, and particularly the Paris and San Bernardino massacres. Now, the numbers have gone below 50%.

Perhaps the most important factor in the decline is the presidential campaign. Republicans paint a dire picture–America is about to expire, if you listen to Donald Trump, but others don’t see things too much better–while Democrats are reluctant to be too positive for fear they will appear uncaring about our problems.

I reject the extreme dire view. It is bombast at best, and carries a not-so faint whiff of fascism.

We have many problems, to be sure. But the United States is still able to deal with them–we are dealing with many, despite frequent (but not universal) deadlock between the President and Congress.

So, right now, I am thinking the Republicans could do worse than re-nominate Ronald Reagan. He pointed with alarm at times, but most of the time, he just claimed that while things were okay, he could do better.

Ronald Reagan
en.wikipedia.org

I did not vote for him–indeed, his nomination in 1980 was what finally drove me out of the Republican Party into which I was born. And his silence in the face of HIV/AIDS smelled just plain ugly.

You may think it then strange that I am waxing nostalgic about Reagan, especially because he is dead.

But despite his silence in the face of much that was evil, he was not a hater and he knew how to compromise with Congress. And he wanted peace, really wanted it, I think. Okay, he may not have been the brightest boy in the class, but who says the President needs to be brilliant (some say that is Obama’s greatest problem).

What the nation needs now, I believe, is someone who really believes in our possiblity as a nation–a nation where everyone is thriving and a nation that is the best leader for just and lasting global harmony.

state-of-the-nation-is-good
phil.harris.com

If not Reagan, then I think FDR (see left).

As far as I can see, our best years are ahead. But we have to make the choices that will make it so.

One set of choices is at the ballot box–and there I am less sanguine about our future. But other choices lay elsewhere. About these I will write more in the days ahead.

We can do better than our leaders. We have done it before, and we can do it again.

 

 

 

 

 

Of Bombs and Massacres

Political rhetoric often gets in the way of facts, not to mention reason and logical thought.

Ted Cruz
Texas Senator Ted Cruz bbc.com

Texas Senator Ted Cruz–wanting to establish his bona fides  as the toughest of the tough against ISIL–proposed “carpetbombing” the terrorist group into oblivion, suggesting that with enough bombs the desert might glow.

However, Cruz misuses the term “carpetbombing,” when he suggests not that we level the ISIL capital but rather bomb where the troops are. This is not carpetbombing–it is targeted bombing, which the United States and its allies are already doing. Carpet bombing is what the United States and Britain did to Dresden, Germany in World War II, flattening the city and its people.

Dresden one year after the bombing
People boarding a tram in Dresden one year AFTER the bombing that left the city mostly destroyed. news.bbc.co.uk

Another word for carpetbombing could be “massacre.” As I read about Cruz’s proposal I thought back to two episodes of “Dr. Quinn: Medicine Woman” Jonathan and I watched recently. Entitled “Washita,” it involves a re-telling of the complete destruction of an encampment of Cheyenne by troops led by then Lieutenant Colonel George Custer in 1868.

Washita massacre
hubpages.com

At the time, this battle was seen as a great victory over the Cheyenne, many of whom were resisting being moved onto reservations–and it restored Custer’s reputation as a military hero, ten months after he had been stripped of his rank and command for desertion and mistreatment of his troops.

There is one problem, however. The encampment was entirely populated by peaceful Cheyenne, including Chief Black Kettle who promoted peaceful relations with the government and settlers. The entire camp was on reservation land where the people had settled after being promised safety by the local Army commander. There was a white flag flying from one of the dwellings, indicating a desire to avoid conflict.

Within a few hours of the early morning raid, begun while the village was still sleeping, 103 Cheyenne braves were killed, including Black Kettle and his wife, and many other women and children. Some braves escaped and fought back, but in the end nothing was left.

custer.over-blog.com
custer.over-blog.com

This is how carpetbombing looks up close and personal. Of course, it is demoralizing, one could say terrorizing, to many of those who remain–which is what Custer and his boss, General Philip Sheridan, wanted, in order for more native Americans to move onto reservations.

But it also creates deep resentment and anger in others, which is, I suspect, what such action would produce in the Middle East. The loss of innocent life would be a great recruitment gain for ISIL and other extemist groups.

However, I imagine it would make Senator Cruz, and presumably others, feel good about his leadership skills, believing that toughness is the main ingredient . . . if we are just tough enough, violent enough, mean enough, these ugly people will either cave in or be destroyed.

This is what fear induces, unless it is coupled with reason and intelligence. Public policy rooted in fear, flavored in shrillness and hyperbole, is invariably bad policy, producing reactions and counter-reactions that leave the world in a worse place than before.

Senator Cruz, like Mr. Trump, is well educated–Cruz after all his talk and actions about being a political outsider, is a Harvard Law School grad and served as a clerk for Supreme Court Chief Justice William Rehnquist–but in his drive to win the presidential nomination seems willing to sacrifice accuracy in speaking, not to mention thousands, tens of thousands, perhaps hundreds of thousands, of innocent lives.

Caveat emptor.

When Lovers Fight

Two-angry-men
lawofselfdefense.com

When lovers fight it can become very intense. Harsh things are said, even threats sometimes. Voices are raised, one or the other storms from the room (in the best of moments, someone may ask for a “time out” but often that nicety is lost).

Is that what is happening in our national life, too?

It seems as if we are two people–one very afraid and sure all is coming to an end, and the other also afraid that all they value is being lost. Perhaps it is better to say each feels afraid that all they value is being lost, taken from them by the actions and attitudes of the other one.

pessimism-or-optimism-small
fortheloveofthistruth.com

I know which one I am, and if you read this blog at all you will know that, too. To put it somewhat crudely, I am more frightened by those who want to bar all Muslims from entering the United States than I am by the terrorists who  slip through whatever security arrangements our government erects.

Rabbi Jonathan Cohen says he believes there are two kinds of people, optimists and pessimists. He says it all breaks down to this basic division.

In that schema, I am an optimist.

As I write that, I want to add some qualifiers–“reasonable” or “realistic” or “sensible”–but that is because I am sensitive to what others will think, and because I can hear the voices of others who matter to me asserting that things are in a pretty bad state and that a good outcome is not assured. I hear them, but believe it is important to stand where my soul calls me. So no qualifiers.

gandhi-prayer
indiafacts.org

At the same time, I yearn to be  rooted in my soul place without saying harsh things, without raging in ways that make dialogue impossible, without storming from the room when those whose souls root them in pessimism utter their truths. We are in this together–even though sometimes it feels to me that the “this” is at least two very different things.

In our national life, I see many of our leaders acting from what are sometimes called masculinist assumptions, what I call the “bomb first, talk later” syndrome. Yes, I know that can be viewed as incendiary language, but it is the response of many in the face of what feels to them to be real and present danger.

donald Trump 3
businessinsider.com

In my life generally, and more and more, I try to follow the Ghandian principle that peace begins with me, within me. That means, I believe, that it is my responsibility to find ways to communicate with others, perhaps especially with those with whom I disagree most clearly and fundamentally.

This is a spiritual quest for me, but it also is what I am coming to believe is my patriotic and human duty–to promote the peaceful resolution of conflicts large and small. So my question right now is this: how can I engage Donald Trump and others who are such a radical remove from me and my concerns and views?

I welcome your thoughts.

 

 

 

 

More of the Same Is Not Enough

How will we ever stop the insanity?

As Paris, and Beirut, and other places too, reel from the attacks, we are facing a world, once again, where no one feels safe.

Paris man mourning ibtimes
ibtimes.com

What that means in the West is that once again, as after 9/11, we experience the world as the other two-thirds do already. And what that means also is that the veneer of safety we purchase through arms and wealth and “civilized behavior” is really just that, a veneer, masking the brutal, and beautiful, fact that we are all connected.

Most of us, thank God, do not have access to armaments with which to destroy ISIL or any other of the terrorists who seem to delight in simply blowing up things and people, mostly people. And I pray we never do. More violence by individuals acting on righteousness is not the answer.

But what we do have are our voices and our feet and our hands. We need to find ways to march together, to hold hands together, to raise our voices together.

I don’t know how this is to be done, and I doubt very much that I am the one to even get it started, but I do want to post here my prayer that somehow more creative minds than mine will find ways to call us, the ones who value every human life as sacred, together for shared action.

We cannot leave this to politicians, statesmen and stateswomen, alone. We are leaders, too. We can speak up against anti-Islam comments, we can insist our government spend more money on humanitarian assistance globally than it does on arms, we can contribute to educating girls and young women in the Middle East and elsewhere, we can support micro-financing in Two Thirds World countries. And we can help bring together imams and rabbis and Christian clergy to talk about, and act on, mutual regard and respect and universal love and citizenship.

I admit it all sounds weak compared to the slaughter of hundreds of innocent people in not much more than a heartbeat, but I believe working peacefully together in these ways, and many things of similar type that I cannot conjure up, is the only answer that will finally work.

War does not bring peace, even if defeats the other side. We may need it to stop something evil but if that is all we do we will have won the battle but lost the war.

Time for More Grown Ups

The debate about the Iran deal reveals a fundamental divide in our politics.

Here is how I frame the two points of view–and you will have no doubt of where I stand.

gunslingerAre we forever consigned to be macho tough guys, enforcing what we think is right no matter what anyone else thinks?

Or can we take a chance on working with others–in this case Britain, France, Russia, China, and Germany–to do something that just might avoid war as well as avoid further nuclear proliferation?

The former is the Netanyahu way, and I must say often the John McCain way, and certainly the way of the current crop of Republican presidential contenders.

President Obama took office, and has held office, during a time of international shifting currents. We are no longer the sole super power, even though we have more military prowess than anyone else. Even so, he has wisely tried to minimize our military George W. Bushengagement around the world, while being unafraid to use our force when it could do something significant. I actually think President George Bush was moving in this direction as well, after the disaster of Iraq and even Afghanistan.

So far as I can tell, not a single Congressional Republican is supporting the Iran treaty deal. Two Senators, Jeff Flake of Arizona and Susan Collins of Maine, were considered undecided. Senator Flake gave in to pressure and announced his No vote. That still leaves Senator Collins. She gets in trouble fairly often for voting her own way, but she may be the only one.

Senator Susan Collins
Senator Susan Collins

There are not many Democrats opposing it, but there are some, including Senator Chuck Schumer of New York, the presumed next Majority Leader after the next election. He is a big deal in his caucus, and no one is calling him names, at least in public. But I think it safe to say that any Republican in Congress supporting the treaty will get called a lot of ugly names.

This is distressing. It really has become a partisan struggle.

Actually, I think it has become, once again for some, about President Obama. Too many just can’t stand the idea that he might do some really good, and big, things. They are automatic votes against anything significant that he proposes. That is not, of course, true for all of them, or even for most. But they do comprise a significant body of Republican legislators.

However, that is small potatoes. The bigger issue is how the United States chooses to live with others in the world.

Donald Trump wants to make America great again. He defines that as being Number One–having more marbles than anyone else, having the toughest military, and basically standing astride the world.

His fellow contenders basically agree, except for Senator Paul of Kentucky. But even he is soft-peddling his aversion to intervention in the world.

William McKinleyThis harking back to Reagan, or Eisenhower, or McKinley (and Theodore Roosevelt) to be honest, no longer works. The world is very different. China’s economy can unsettle all the rest of us. Asia as a whole is the new world (again, I suppose we should say). Britain and France need us, but not like they used to, and Germany has shown she will go it alone if necessary.

We cannot bully our way around the globe. We must learn to play well with others.

Ultimately, that will be the way to stop ISIL and the religio/politico fanatics in Teheran and actually save their hated neighbors in Tel Aviv (who too often act like fanatics themselves). As long as we keep insisting on bombing and sending in troops as the way to No Bullying symbolsolve everything, falsely self-identified Islamic extremists will continue to win the recruiting campaign, and the violence will continue recycling.

Grown ups are needed. I thank God every day that we have one in the White House (albeit he can be petulant and distant at times). It seems Merkel of Germany is one, too, and perhaps Hollande of France.

I pray for more, right here in the United States, as well as around the globe.

Who Is A Yank? 

Jonathan and I saw an excellent production of the play, Yank!, at Richmond Triangle Players. It’s one of those bittersweet love stories about two people–in this case two men, Stu and Mitch, in Uncle Sam’s World War II Army–who fall in love against many odds, and then almost make it to happy-ever-after bliss.

RTP Yank!But they don’t quite make it–and I don’t want to give away the entire story, so all I will say is that one is braver, and clearer, than the other.

Of course, we are talking about an era in which, despite the need for soldiers to fight Nazism and its ally in the East, Japan, the U.S. military regularly gave dishonorable discharges to service members who were identified as homosexual. So the struggle of Stu and Mitch to survive in love takes place against the backdrop of powerful institutional homophobia. [Note: this is a work of dramatic fiction, but it is based on painstaking research and reviewing diaries and published stories of many gay and lesbian service members from World War II).

This leads me to something else significant this week, namely comments by U.S. Congressman Dave Brat from the 7th District of Virginia. The freshman representative has been clear in his opposition to “path to citizenship” for any undocumented immigrants, including it seems any idea of treating the children of these immigrants with dignity and acceptance of the reality that for many this is the only country they have ever known.

Rep. Dave Brat
Rep. Dave Brat

He says he is angry at colleagues who suggest that undocumented immigrants who want to enlist in the military are showing their patriotism. Here is what he said just last week, on the radio:

I wanted to stand up and shout, I mean, ISIS is willing to serve in our military as well. . . . Part of the reason Rome fell is because they started hiring barbarians, otherwise known as Germans at the time, to be troops in their own army. What’s going on is the decline of western civilization at the highest level.

Once again, people are being told they are not worthy of serving our nation, and this time, as earlier in the case of homosexuals, immigrants–even those who want to defend our country–are seen as dangers to our national security.

In fairness to the Mr. Brat, he clarified his remarks, at least about the ISIS connection, by saying, “Take the “because they want to [serve]”  logic further: ISIS terrorists want to serve, too. Should we let them? Of course not.”

That might work in a high school debating class, but Brat ignores the bitter taste the comment leaves in the hearts and minds of the immigrants. Linking ISIS and “barbarians” to immigrants who came here seeking better lives–not to destroy the country but to share in its bounty, and to build it–and their children who have only really ever lived in one country, namely the United States–feels like an expression of contempt.

That is what Stu and Mitch had to battle in earlier days in our military, and what many others fought against in the witch hunts days of the McCarthy era. Contempt for being human beings with sexual and affectional feelings that others judged . . .  well  . . . contemptible.

Union colored troopsIt’s what slaves and freed Africans had to endure when they wanted to join Union Army units to fight the Confederacy. Few believed they could fight, but of course they were smart and brave, just like white counterparts (and eventually, they were allowed to fight, thanks to Union generals Benjamin Butler and Ulysses S. Grant, even though in segregated units). It’s what Native Americans faced in Virginia when they wanted to enlist to fight Nazis in World War II. Thanks to the Racial Purity Act of 1924, “Indians” (as they were known then) could enlist but not as “Indians”–because according to this heinous law, there were only two races in Virginia, white and black. Many of them, wanting to defend their country, went to other states to enlist, so they could be patriotic and also true to themselves.

Mr. Brat should know this history, but I doubt he does. Or if he does, he chooses to forget it. Perhaps he is more concerned with Rome.

Oh yes, if you want to know about one of these “dangers to national security,” check out this excellent column by Bart Hinkle in the Richmond Times Dispatch, “Brat Jumps the Shark on Immigration,”  http://www.richmond.com/opinion/our-opinion/article_379737a9-2a5b-5d81-b40d-5ce0df06ab19.html.  He will show you how scary one of these dangers, a man by the name of Cesar Vargas, really is.

Then, you’ll be really grateful to Mr. Brat for sounding the alarm.

Jerusalem Journal: No. 2 — What Does It Mean to Be a Citizen?

What does it mean to be a citizen?

That is a question that was raised for me during our visit to Jerusalem, when I made an acquaintance with a 50-year-old cab driver, a native of Jerusalem, a man whose father and grandfather, and even earlier generations, were born in that holy place.

Jerusalem cabThis man, Muhammed Siam, was as gentle a man as I would ever hope to meet. He took me and Jonathan to a mall so I could buy a connector for my camera, and then I arranged for him to take me a couple of days later to Kfar Shaul Mental Health Center on the outskirts of Jerusalem (more about that in a future Journal entry).

It was on that second trip that I learned he was not a citizen of Israel. Indeed, he carries a Jordanian passport, even though he has lived his entire 50+ years in Jerusalem.

I am a citizen of the United States, by virtue of being born here–in Ann Arbor, Michigan on October 10, 1946. I have never lived in any other country. I have resided in Milford and in Ann Arbor (during college) in Michigan, and in the states of Massachusetts, Maine, New York, and now Virginia. And if I moved to France or Mexico or Israel, or even neighboring Maryland, I could retain my U.S. citizenship.

The reality for my friend Muhammed, and another man also named Muhammed, a tour guide I got to know while he guided us to Masada and the Dead Sea and showed us other things on the way to and from these destinations, is that the place of their birth is less important than their religion and politics and perhaps most of all their identity as Palestinians. I started to write “their nationality as Palestinians,” but realized that this is not so clear.

East Jerusalem neighborhoods
East Jerusalem neighborhoods: pink=Arab, blue=Israeli

Can we say someone has a nationality when there is no nation? Recently, the leadership of the Palestinian Authority unsuccessfully sought recognition for their “country” from the United Nations. Does this mean there is no nation? No Palestine? Legally, it is so.

Morally, it is not so, at least to me. Clearly, the intent of the 1948 UN Declaration was that there would be two nations, side by side, Israel and Palestine. That has not happened. Initially, that seems to be because the Palestinians, and their Arab allies, were unwilling to share what had for millenia been their land, their home. They thought they could defeat the upstart Jews who had settled there and even expel them.

The reverse was true. The Jewish Agency forces defeated the Arabs/Palestinians and forced many Palestinians to leave (I will get in trouble with some Israelis and allies for saying this, but it is nonetheless true–maybe a few Palestinians left willingly, but most of the hundreds of thousands did not). This is an ordinary outcome of war. People are  displaced.

But for my two Muhammed friends it is not so simple. They are residents of East Jerusalem, an area that Jordan ruled following the 1948 war, until 1967. So they became Jordanian citizens. But in 1967, Israel defeated Jordan and Syria (and Egypt in a war that was initially focused on Israel attacking and defeating Egypt in the Sinai and Gaza). When the six days ended, Israel had control of East Jerusalem and the West Bank. 300,000 Palestinians fled those two areas, but many also stayed.

Hence, the situation of my two friends.

Jodranian passport coverThey carry identity cards as residents of Jerusalem, but they are not citizens of Israel. This would be somewhat analogous to foreign nationals who obtain Permanent Residency status in the United States.

But it is not the same, because Muhammed the cab driver cannot leave Israel to visit his grandchildren in Jordan (his daughter married a Jordanian) unless he is willing not to return to his home in Jerusalem. A permanent resident of the United States is allowed to leave and return, within certain time restraints.

Muhammed told me that Israel does allow people like him to apply for citizenship, but that most, including him, refuse because to do so is to recognize Israel’s authority to determine whether or not they are actually citizens of the land into which they were born. He also says that Israel makes it very difficult and time-consuming for those who do apply.

So, he remains a legal visitor in his native land–without the freedom to come and go.

I have been sitting with this ever since he told me on October 25. I understand Israeli concerns–if they allowed all the Palestinians to be citizens, and thus to vote, they would most likely no longer have a Jewish homeland–but I also understand the feelings of Muhammed–an alien in his home.

I am not sure I could remain as patient as him, in a similar situation in the United States.