JANUARY 30, ANNIVERSARY OF THE DEATH OF MAHATMA GANDHI
Mahatma Gandhi is a strong, unwavering figure whose light has lit many a road. Martin Luther King, Jr and the Civil Rights Movement walked the way that Gandhi led and brought segregation to an end. Cesar Chavez and the migrant farmworkers walked the way that Gandhi led and made Hispanic farmworkers a power to be reckoned with rather than an invisible minority to be exploited. The peace movement around the world has walked the way that Gandhi led and forced the end of the Vietnam War, the dismantling of the Berlin Wall, the fall of the Marcos regime in the Philippines, and the end of nuclear innocence.
Gandhi asked us to critique government and law according to a higher law. Gandhi reminded us to be patient with others, to do no one harm, to pursue truth with passion.
Gandhi demands that our political involvement and our personal responses be based on a spirituality so deep, a spiritual attunement so constant, a spiritual vision so broad that no personal ambition, no selfish gains, no parochial interests corrupt the depth of our commitment nor the openness of our hearts. No seed ever sees the flower, Zen teaches. Those who follow Gandhi, may, like him, never know their successes. But like Gandhi, too, they will never really know defeat.—by Joan Chittister (adapted from A Passion for Life: Fragments of the Face of God; Orbis, Devotional Edition)
President-elect Trump has promised a White Nationalist agenda that is already impacting our communities. In response, we must form a circle of protection around those who are most vulnerable. As the new Vatican ambassador to the U.S. said this week, the church needs to “assume a prophetic role.”
In setting priorities we should ask ourselves three things: What things can President-elect Trump do easily and quickly (eg overturning executive actions like DACA/DAPA immigrant protections)? What actions by him will have high-consequence impact (eg Supreme Court justice appointment, permitting Keystone XL pipeline, enacting E-Verify)? What actions by him will be irreversible (e.g. rapid increase in deportations, changes to the Constitution, reversals on climate-change protocols)?
There are also things that Mr. Tump cannot do (such as “ban all Muslims”), but the inflammatory White Nationalist rhetoric encourages the rise of religious, race, and gender-based hate at the local level. All of which are generally accompanied by a rise of anti-Semitism and attacks on other vulnerable communities (LGBT, prostitutes, ethnic minorities, people with disabilities, and political dissidents). This is already occurring (see WJLA report that the vandals struck Episcopal Church of Our Savior in Silver Spring, MD. A sign reaching out to the Hispanic community was defaced to read: “Trump Nation whites only”).
We have less than 70 days to prepare.
5 actions you can take right now
1. Initiate emergency response protocols for immigrant communities – especially mixed status communities. Establish a team trained in “What to do if Immigration comes to your School (or Church).” I suggest making this widely available at churches and schools. Perhaps even printing them out for distribution.
4. Initiate inter-denominational and inter-faith outreach teams in all houses of worship to establish open lines of communication between local houses of worship. Multicultural and immigrant churches are most vulnerable right now. Christian churches should reach out to local imams, rabbis, and leaders of Sikh gurdwaras. See Ten Ways To Fight Hate: A Community Response Guide.
5. Initiate a “pledge of resistance” letter-writing campaign in your churches and communities addressed to President-elect Trump (c/o Trump Tower / 725 – 5th Avenue / New York, NY 10022), Senate majority leader Mr. Mitch McConnell, and Speaker of the House Mr. Paul Ryan. The body text would include:
If you pursue the policies you embodied during your campaign, the supremacy of white people over people of color, the literal and figurative creation of walls of division and hostility between people and nations, your misogynistic attitude and practice toward women, your disdain for the poor, disabled and marginalized, your disregard for and ignorance about the environment and your encouragement of the use of violence toward those who disagree with you, if your policies as President continue down that path, I make this pledge of resistance to you today.”
Spiritually, we must be clear-eyed about the level of threat and the ability for it to be carried out. We must not succumb to lethargy. We must also pray for a spirit of tenderness in our own hearts so that we refuse to allow hate or fear to take root. Pray continually for the conversion of Mr. Trump and our own conversion as well.
Rose Marie Berger is a Catholic peace activist and a senior associate editor at Sojourners magazine in Washington, D.C.
Very nice piece by Chris Hedges (The People’s Bishop) about retired Episcopal Bishop George Packard’s ministry to and with the Occupy movement. I have only one question. Where are the Catholic bishops? Here’s an excerpt:
“Retired Episcopal Bishop George Packard was arrested in Vietnam Veterans Memorial Plaza in New York City on Tuesday night as he participated in the May 1 Occupy demonstrations. He and 15 other military veterans were taken into custody after they linked arms to hold the plaza against a police attempt to clear it. There were protesters behind them who, perhaps because of confusion, perhaps because of miscommunication or perhaps they were unwilling to risk arrest, melted into the urban landscape. But those in the thin line from Veterans for Peace, of which the bishop is a member, stood their ground. They were handcuffed, herded into a paddy wagon and taken to jail. …
‘‘Arrests are not arrests anymore,” Packard said as we talked Friday in a restaurant overlooking Zuccotti Park in New York. ‘‘They are badges of honor. They are, as you are taken away with your comrades, exhilarating. The spirit is calling us now into the streets, calling us to reject the old institutional orders. There is no going back. You can’t sit anymore in churches listening to stogy liturgies. They put you to sleep. Most of these churches are museums with floorshows. They are a caricature of what Jesus intended. Jesus would be turning over the money-changing tables in their vestibules. Those in the church may be good-hearted and even well-meaning, but they are ignoring the urgent, beckoning call to engage with the world. It is only outside the church that you will find the spirit of God and Christ. And with the rise of the Occupy movement it has become clear that the institutional church has failed. It mouths hollow statements. It publishes pale Lenten study tracts. It observes from a distance without getting its hands dirty. It makes itself feel good by doing marginal charitable works, like making cocoa for Occupy protesters or providing bathrooms from 9 to 5 at Trinity Church’s Charlotte’s Place. We don’t need these little acts of charity. We need the church to have a real presence on the Jericho Road. We need people in the church to leave their comfort zones, to turn away from the hierarchy, and this is still terrifying to a lot of people in the church and especially the church leadership.”–Chris Hedges
I’m taking time to savor the work of Adrienne Rich, one of the greatest American poets of the 20th century who died this week at the age of 82. She articulated what it means to be a woman in a man-made world, giving thousands a dictionary of images and phrases to describe our own experience. And more than any other poet I know, Rich was relentless in pursuing a balance between politics and art without ever sacrificing the essence of either.
On the Role of the Poet:
“We may feel bitterly how little our poems can do in the face of seemingly out-of-control technological power and seemingly limitless corporate greed, yet it has always been true that poetry can break isolation, show us to ourselves when we are outlawed or made invisible, remind us of beauty where no beauty seems possible, remind us of kinship where all is represented as separation.”–Adrienne Rich
On Poetry and the Capitalist Model:
“Poetry has the capacity to remind us of something we are forbidden to see. A forgotten future: a still uncreated site whose moral architecture is founded not on ownership and dispossession, the subjection of women, outcast and tribe, but on the continuous redefining of freedom – that word now held under house arrest by the rhetoric of the ‘free’ market.”–Adrienne Rich
Adrienne Rich’s 1997 letter to Jane Alexander, head of the National Endowment for the Arts:
Dear Jane Alexander, I just spoke with a young man from your office, who informed me that I had been chosen to be one of twelve recipients of the National Medal for the Arts at a ceremony at the White House in the fall. I told him at once that I could not accept such an award from President Clinton or this White House because the very meaning of art, as I understand it, is incompatible with the cynical politics of this administration. I want to clarify to you what I meant by my refusal.
Anyone familiar with my work from the early Sixties on knows that I believe in art’s social presence—as breaker of official silences, as voice for those whose voices are disregarded, and as a human birthright. In my lifetime I have seen the space for the arts opened by movements for social justice, the power of art to break despair. Over the past two decades I have witnessed the increasingly brutal impact of racial and economic injustice in our country.
There is no simple formula for the relationship of art to justice. But I do know that art—in my own case the art of poetry—means nothing if it simply decorates the dinner table of power which holds it hostage. The radical disparities of wealth and power in America are widening at a devastating rate. A President cannot meaningfully honor certain token artists while the people at large are so dishonored. I know you have been engaged in a serious and disheartening struggle to save government funding for the arts, against those whose fear and suspicion of art is nakedly repressive. In the end, I don’t think we can separate art from overall human dignity and hope. My concern for my country is inextricable from my concerns as an artist. I could not participate in a ritual which would feel so hypocritical to me. Sincerely, Adrienne Rich (See July 16, 1997 Democracy Now interview with Rich)
Jason is a Presbyterian Minister of Word and Sacrament who teaches theology, church history, and pastoral care, and serves as Dean of Studies, at the Knox Centre for Ministry and Leadership, the ministry training centre for the Presbyterian Church of Aotearoa New Zealand. He writes:
There are times and places about which nothing seems more significant than the sheer energy and violence that states direct against basic freedoms. The snippets of information that filter from these dictatorial seasons – tales of furtive hiding and tragic discovery: hard times and uneasy sleep – describe lives utterly structured by state repression. Authoritarians bent on taking power, consolidating their rule or seizing resources frequently silence opponents with bludgeons, bullets and shallow graves, and those who find themselves in the path of the state juggernaut probably have trouble even imagining protest or resistance without also calculating the severity or likelihood of state repression. Such considerations surely influence whether individuals take action or maintain a frustrated silence, and will over time broadly shape protest and resistance. (p. 1)
My long interest in the people and politics of Burma, in particular, means that I think a lot about this kind of stuff, and particularly about how the community of God might witness to and in the midst of such situations where the abuses of authority birth such blatantly evil fruit and where the climate of hope has been beclouded in fear. [Rose Marie Berger’s recent post on Guantanamo: When Will it Get Foreclosed?, for example, recalled such fruit in another part of the world]. Certainly, all human relationships and institutions live under the constant threat of the abuse of power. And even a cursory reading of history will reveal that the Church too has been both victim and perpetrator of such abuse. (I am aware that already I have used the words authority and power interchangeably here. Certainly they are at least related, and the proper understanding and use of each will decide whether the ways being pursued bring the fragrance of life or the stench of death to a situation.)
The question Jason raises is this: How does the Church or Christians resist the Powers’ abuse as described by Boudreau? Do we take action or “maintain a frustrated silence”? And what are the “weapons of the spirit” with which God arms the friends of Jesus?
Jason explores the role of worship and deep relationship with those who are dispossessed in confronting the death-dealing forces in our world.
According to a recent news report in The Guardian, the extremist government and religious mullahs in Iran disapprove of dogs as pets. They are “unclean.” So now the pampered pooch become the latest sign of middle-class dissent. All I can say is that there are a million ways to undermine a dictatorship and the Iranians have found another one.
Recently a visitor from Iran assured me that her dog was staying at a five-star spa in Tehran for the duration of her trip. I had no idea she had a dog in the first place, but was struck that she had insisted in telling me such a thing. Over the past few years, dog ownership has become yet another unlikely arena for the social and political dispute within the tumultuous politics of Iran.
… The past 1,400 years or so haven’t been that much fun for dogs in Iran. All that has come to change paradoxically through the very same religion responsible for their plight. Their recent popularity and adulation must have taken Iranian dogs by surprise. Dogs are now as much symbols of safe, middle-class resistance as false eyelashes and green wristbands. Pooches have never had it so good, and rare breeds, especially small lap dogs, change hand for tens, sometimes hundreds of thousands of dollars.
An underground industry of dog beauty parlors thrives, mostly run out of private homes, as do a plethora of canine protection and welfare charities. A legal and substantial kennel industry has developed into what is fancily called “dog spas” where the middle class deposit their dogs when on holiday or, in the case of some of my conflicted relatives, when a devout auntie comes to stay.
The industry booms further every time a firebrand preacher calls for their banning or admonishes dog owners from such platforms like the much loathed national radio and TV. Its been a long time coming, but Iranian dogs are having their day.
As we’ve noted on this site, this is not the only story of Muslims saving Jews during World War II, despite the fact that there are no Arab names among the 20,000 non-Jews recognized at Yad Vashem, the Holocaust Martyrs’ and Heroes’ Remembrance Authority, in Jerusalem. PBS ran a documentary earlier this year called Among the Righteous, that told the previously unknown story of how many Arabs did help Jews in parts of Nazi-occupied Tunisia.
This story from Albania also reminds me of the nonviolent resistance in Denmark and really every other country that I know of where people risked their lives to save Jews during World War II, in that where anti-Semitism was not rampant and people saw Jews as their brothers and sisters, they were often able to avert the Holocaust. The problem is that because anti-Semitism was so widespread throughout Europe, in many places the local populations were either passive or actively cooperated with the Nazis in their effort to exterminate the Jews.
When I teach, discuss, or train people in Christian nonviolence, there is always one common critique: What about the Nazis? Nonviolence wouldn’t work with them.
The truth is that there are thousands of stories that exemplify how creative nonviolent resistance was employed by civilians during WWII. Photographer Norman Gershman has uncovered another one.
When post-World War II Europe found itself devastated by the loss of its Jewish population, Albania was the only country to boast a larger number of Jewish people than it had housed prior to the Holocaust. More than 2,000 Jews from Albania, Greece, Austria and Italy were hidden in the homes of Albanian Muslim families throughout the war. Between 1943-1945, it is estimated that the people of Greater Albania saved between two and three thousand lives.
In 2003, photographer Norman Gershman embarked on a project to find and photograph Albanian Muslim families who had sheltered and saved Jews – both Albanian nationals and refugees from neighboring countries – during World War II.
Gershman said it wasn’t just Muslim families who shielded Jews from the Nazis, but also Orthodox and Catholic families. All of them were motivated by an Albanian code of honor called “besa,” a concept that can be translated into “keeping the promise,” Gershman says. The Albanian villagers were motivated to risk their lives by the simple concept of helping one’s neighbor. “We chose to focus on the Muslims because, who ever heard of Muslims saving Jews?” Gershman said in a telephone interview from Israel, where he is at work on his next project. (Project explores Muslims who saved Jews)
By 2004, after two photographic journeys to Albania and Kosovo, Gershman had discovered roughly 150 Muslim families who had taken part in the rescue of the Jews due to their belief in Besa, or honor, an ancient code which requires Albanians to endanger their own lives if necessary to save the life of anyone seeking asylum. An Albanian proverb says, “Our home is our guest’s house, then our house, but above all it is God’s House.”
Before the war, Gershman estimates from his research, only about 200 Jews lived in Albania, a country that is about 70 percent Muslim. During the years of occupation, 10 times as many Jews streamed into Albania to escape persecution from Poland, Yugoslavia, Czechoslovakia, Greece and Italy. Gershman says it was the only country in Europe where the Jewish population grew by the end of the war. (Project explores Muslims who saved Jews)
Besa is, to this day, the highest moral law of the region, superseding religious differences, blood feuds and tribal traditions. Gershman’s portraits serve as historical documentation of the Albanian Resistance.
The exhibit of 30 photographs includes one of Lime Balla, born in 1910, who told Gershman that a group of 17 Jews came from the capital city of Tirana to her village of Gjergi in 1943 during the holy month of Ramadan. “We divided them amongst the villagers,” Balla said, according to Gershman. “We were poor. We had no dining table, but we didn’t allow them to pay for food or shelter. We grew vegetables for all to eat. For 15 months, we dressed them as farmers like us. Even the local police knew.” (Project explores Muslims who saved Jews)
Gershman’s research eventually led to an exhibit of his photographs, Besa: A Code to Live By and a book, Besa: Muslims Who Saved Jews in World War II. The Besa exhibit has also traveled extensively worldwide, and recently was on display at the Knesset in Jerusalem.
In any in-depth conversation about the effectiveness of nonviolence as a strategy, this question always comes up: Would these nonviolent strategies have worked against the Nazis? What about Hitler?
Even the great Mohandas Gandhi – progenitor of modern nonviolence – knew that nonviolence against Hitler would cost many lives.
“The doctrine of Satyagraha works on the principle that you make the so called enemy see and realize the injustice he is engaged in. It can work only when you believe in God and the goodness of the people to see that they are wrong. As a satyagrahi, I do believe that non-violence is a potent weapon against all evils. I warn you however, that the victory will not come easy- just like it will not come easy with violent methods such as fighting with weaponry.”
Jørgen Johansen, a lecturer in conflict studies, has led nonviolence trainings in Israel, Mozambique, India, and Chechnya. He recently posted an essay called Hitler and the Challenge of Non-Violence that briefly takes on this issue.
“What effect could nonviolence have had against Hitler?” says Johansen. “This is one of the most frequent questions I get when I lecture on nonviolence. And it is a good one. To answer we need to look at different phases of the conflict and recognise the complexity of a world war.”
The German army was well prepared to meet armed resistance, but less able to cope with strikes, civil disobedience, boycotts and other forms of nonviolent action. A famous example is when the Norwegian teachers were told to join the Nazi party and teach Nazism in schools or face the consequences. When 12,000 teachers signed a declaration against the new law, 1000 were arrested and sent to prison camps. But the strike continued and after some months the order was cancelled and they were allowed to continue their work. In a speech, Quisling summarised: “You teachers have destroyed everything for me!” We can just imagine what would have been the consequences if many professions had followed in the footsteps of these teachers. Or if they had prepared such actions well in advance and even had exercises prior to the invasion.
Independent news is crucial for any opposition movement. That is why censorship is enforced when a regime wants to control the masses. Despite threats of brutal punishment, illegal newspapers were published by many clandestine groups in occupied territories during WWII. In France the first leaflet was published as early as September 1940. In Munich, the “White Rose” students initiated a leaflet campaign from June 1942 to February the following year calling for active opposition to Hitler’s regime. The original group was arrested and executed but later their manifesto was distributed in Scandinavia and the UK and even dropped over Germany from Allied planes. What would have been the result of such actions if they had been well planned and executed in most cities suffering under German atrocities?
Despite massive propaganda and brutal punishment for those who refused to take part, many opposed this genocide. In Denmark almost all Jews survived because they were helped by the resistance movement to escape to Sweden and avoid the gas chambers.
In Bulgaria most of the country’s 48,000 Jews were saved when leaders of the Orthodox Church and farmers in the northern stretches of the country threatened to lie across railroad tracks to prevent Jews from being deported. This pressure encouraged the Bulgarian parliament to resist the Nazis, who eventually rescinded the deportation order, saving almost all of the country’s 48,000 Jews.
Even in Germany itself people opposed the arrests. In one famous example 6000 “Aryan” German women took part in a nonviolent protest in February and March 1943, outside the prison in Rosenstrasse in Berlin, to get their Jewish husbands and friends released. Thanks to these brave women 1700 prisoners were indeed released. These examples illustrate that some groups have more impact than others. It was difficult for the Nazis to attack German women.