Do Unto Others focuses on the Middle East, (nonviolent) social movements, and how I make sense of my place in the world. I'm currently based in Cairo, Egypt doing peacebuilding and community development.

Sunday, March 30, 2008

An Odd Sort of Nationalistic Community...

Anyone who knows me very well, probably wouldn’t call me a patriot. I don’t get warm fuzzy feelings when I see lots of stars and stripes. I don’t get chills when I hear the National Anthem. More accurately, I usually get a tinge of discomfort when I am in settings with an abundance of national pride. The reasons for this discomfort are the topic of a whole different blog, I just hope that no one would be offended before they speak to my nationalistic misgivings.

But nonetheless, I had a moment this morning that some may call ‘mildly patriotic.’ On my morning break, I walked through the San Diego Concourse, which is a big open area surrounded by San Diego City offices as well as community theatres. The concourse was full of people, most were seemingly of Hispanic descent, and more people were spilling into the concourse from the theatre. Amidst the masses were countless people with voter registration forms. Everyone I saw with voter registration forms was busy talking someone through the process of registering. There were also large booths with Hilary Clinton signs, stickers, and information. The same size booths were also there for Barack Obama. I became more and more curious as to the nature of the gathering and soon found out that a Naturalization Ceremony had just finished.

An unexpected smile came over me as I saw hundreds of people walking out of this naturalization ceremony with an American flag pinned to their chest and a huge smile plastered to their face. As they walked out of the ceremony they were greeted with the opportunity to register to vote, an act previously denied to them. In addition, there were representatives of presidential candidates (only Democratic, interestingly enough) on hand to inform new voters about the presidential candidates. There was something neat about a group of people being officially incorporated into a nation in which they had lived for quite sometime. This also meant that they could sign up for their voice to be heard in the upcoming election, and all elections to follow.

(Note: I feel weird about writing this because it’s so unlike anything I usually write, or even think. Mostly, it was a moment where I saw a lot of people happy. And regardless of how evil I think borders, nation-states, and immigration policies are, there were a lot of people happy to become Americans. And as atrocious, neglectful, and unjust as I think many of the domestic and foreign policies of the United States of America are, it’s cool that a group of people that were left of the margins in terms of their immigration status, are now included (at least officially). And democracy is good in the sense that those people can effect some change through voting. Ok I’m done, that’s as patriotic as it gets.)

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Peace: The Way it Has to Be.

As some of you may know, I will be going to Palestine/Israel in 2 months with an organization called Christian Peacemakers Team (CPT). This organization, as the name suggests, works as peacemakers in areas of the world that are engaged in large-scale conflicts.

As a result of my application to serve with this organization, I had to read their policies regarding a situation of kidnapping or hostage-taking. This may seem a bit over-the-top, but it’s not. In 2003, following the shock and awe campaign in Iraq (which must be up there for the most horrible name for a military campaign in history), CPT had peacemakers on the ground in Baghdad. 4 of their members were kidnapped and the leader was executed.

In the unfortunate circumstance that one of CPT’s people is kidnapped or taken hostage, there are very strict guidelines about what CPT will and will not do. In summation, CPT will not respond violently or support any form of violence in order to have the kidnapped released. This also means that CPT will vehemently reject any action involving force by the United States or United States military. That’s pretty intense. I can imagine that if a US citizen was kidnapped, especially with the threat of execution, that the US military would respond. It’s crazy to think that CPT would tell United States forces, “we do not support the recovery and release of this individual through the use of force. We would ask you to not be involved in efforts to have this person released because your strategies will ultimately include the use of coercive violence.” My initial reaction to that is, “thanks a lot, CPT.” It’s scary to think that probably the most sure-fire way to get released without suffering harm will be strongly rejected. But then I start to think about it, and that’s the way is HAS to be.

Why does it have to be that way? Because that’s the way that God would respond. Because that is the way that God DID respond. God refused to save the world through violence. As Christ was taken captive and threatened to be executed, he did not respond violently. Most called his actions foolish, especially those who believed he was the Messiah. He could save himself, he could save Israel, if he would bring himself down from the cross. Rather, through his actions, Christ undercut any previous notion of human power or human authority. Christ remained there on the cross to save Israel, to save the world.

As Hauerwas has helped me to understand, the words, “my God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” are so profound to us because Jesus seems to be abandoned. Hauerwas says that “we do not want Jesus to be abandoned because we do not want to acknowledge that the one who abandons and is abandoned is God.” It is seen as abandonment because we understand power and authority in the terms of the world. We are frightened when we find God to be a God who refuses to save us through violence.

By deferring to the desires of the United States government in a situation of kidnapping or hostage-taking, we are succumbing to the world’s notions of power and authority. Nation-states see power as an advantageous amount of arms, troops, and force. Authority is seen as a demonstration of strong hegemony that supercedes any ideology or authority previously in place. As a witness to God’s plan to redeem the world, CPT must take a policy of non-violence. For this world will not be saved through violence, but through a peaceful redemptive revolution, through the Kingdom of God brought in Christ.