The Syria Series//Intervening to Lay Groundwork//Dr. Jay Carney//

I should start off by advising you to read Tony Homsy’s prayer/blog below rather than mine…it’s perhaps the most eloquent and theologically honest response to the Syrian crisis that I’ve come across. And he speaks from out of Syria’s experience, which counts for far more than my outsider view…

Given my extensive studies on Rwanda, I can’t help but see Syria through the prism of Rwanda, Burundi and the Great Lakes region of Africa (the ethnic/political/colonial similarities themselves are striking). Perhaps this is why I find myself hesitating in a full-throated call for U.S. non-intervention (which seems to be the dominant voice in this conversation). This puts me in an odd position, as I opposed the Iraq War, had serious reservations about the Afghanistan War, and am generally skeptical about U.S. foreign intervention. And deep in my heart I think faithful followers of Jesus Christ should take the Sermon on the Mount more and not less seriously, which means engaging the pacifist vision that emerges from that narrative (and all of Jesus’s life and death for that matter). But I also think about April 1994, and the fact that a rapid international military intervention could have made a tangible difference in halting the genocide…and no one did anything. And I wonder…if our country would have had a “full debate” in April 1994 on intervention in Rwanda, would people be saying the same things as they do now…about the failure of U.S. Intervention in Somalia in 1993, about Vietnam, about how war never stops war, about the atrocities on both sides (the genocide closely followed a civil war), about equating peace with a decision that Congress makes? I find myself frustrated with this rhetoric, perhaps because so few of us have experienced the brutality of war on the ground in places like Rwanda, Burundi, Liberia, Eastern DRC, Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan, etc. So it all seems like pious wordsmithing to me. That’s why Tony’s blog had such an impact on me…it seems real. He speaks from the complicated and real violence that has left over 100,000 people dead in a country that registered little in American popular consciousness until Obama threatened to launch missiles 2 weeks ago…

On one hand, war ultimately doesn’t resolve war, and violence doesn’t ultimately resolve violence…but do military interventions never help lay the groundwork for longer term peacebuilding? Without delving into the overused WWII examples, I will note that late 1990s British intervention in Sierra Leone made a tangible (not exclusive) contribution to ending a brutal war in that country, as did French intervention in Mali last year (the jury is admittedly still out, but Mali is in a much better place than a year ago). I’m not sure the Kosovo intervention was wholly without merit. The ongoing U.N. Intervention in Eastern Congo is not without deep problems, but most of the local Congolese leaders I met in January lamented first and foremost the Congolese army’s failure to protect their people…through force of arms as necessary. The worst phase of the Rwanda genocide itself ended in July 1994 when the rebel RPF militia took over the capital and sacked the genocidal government. As much as I would like to think that nonviolence can stop violence, I’m not sure that’s true, esp. in the face of brutal and massive human rights violations perpetrated by the state. Perhaps we’re still called to faithfully follow nonviolently, but in the words of one of my mentors Stanley Hauerwas (himself a pacifist), “people will die for the sake of your convictions.” This is hard.

I agree that war is not ultimately the answer, but would a Congressional vote to oppose Obama’s military strikes be the answer? Will peace come any sooner to Syria’s long-suffering people? Does the outside world have a role to play in this, or do we just sit back and allow nation-state identity to be the sole determinant of our ethical obligations? I fear that if Congress votes “no” this week and Obama holds off, there will be celebrations in churches (and libertarian political gatherings) across the country…and Syrians will continue to die by the thousands as Americans go back to their NFL games. Regardless of what the U.S. decides this week, peace will not immediately break out in Syria. And so the question that I am grappling with…and to which I don’t have a good answer…is how do we hasten peace? How does the bloodshed slow down? How are leaders held accountable for using chemical weapons on their own people? The Syrian war didn’t need to happen if Assad had heeded the largely non-violent calls for change in 2011…instead he brutally cracked down on protesters and inflamed the previously non-violent opposition. The rebels have been guilty of atrocities, but this is Assad’s war. And it is awful.

 

The Syria Series//The Big Bully//Shannon Fuller//

Shannon Fuller is a Freshman Cortina Student, studying Creative Writing and French. She is from Wisconsin. This is where she stands with regard to the possibility of the United States’ intervention in Syria.

As a young novelist and poet I seek to bring peoples minds and hearts back to whatever core beliefs they have. I do not wish to glorify poverty, nor do I wish to glorify wealth. I do, however, wish to follow in the footsteps of my betters and glorify peace. At this point, what I most wish for Syria is peace. I hope that somehow it can be achieved without sending more young men into battle with our flag pressed upon their shoulders. I do not wish for another Vietnam, and this “war on terror” or “war on dictatorship” is exactly what I feared it would be as a child. I feared this war would never end and that we would continue to find reasons to go to other places and fight. My fears are confirmed in Iraq, Afghanistan, and now Syria.  We cannot fight dictatorship when we as a country have so many problems here.

People here think of our country as the big brother. The government must realize that we have problems of our own that we need to deal with. We cannot aid those “weaker” when we ourselves are weak. The Syrian government is wrong, but going in and killing more people solves nothing. Agent Orange was a chemical used in Vietnam that still produces birth defects in the country today. The United States also dropped the first atomic bomb and we all know how that ended. What so many people see as the “big brother” is actually the “big bully.”

There are so many issues in our own country that we must try to remove these first as a country before we can be an “example” for other countries. The number of shootings domestically and criminally in our country far out number those of any other Western country. We must open our eyes and see that the power we were in the World Wars is gone, and our intentions have not gotten any more moral since. We are a country that others look at and see as imperialist, and we are. We don’t help other countries unless it benefits us. We are not who we once were. We are not creating independence for others or ourselves. We are not freeing the slaves, in fact, again we are creating them in China and in Mexico. We are following in the same downward spiral as we did in the Cold War only this time we’re dragging more people under with us.

We have never benefited any country we invaded, or “helped.” In the Cold War, we invaded and paid off dictators who kidnapped small children and who destroyed young peoples lives. They kidnapped and killed people our own age and their blood ran through the streets. In Syria, we will try to create an election, the election will happen (eventually) and if that election produces an unfavorable outcome we will replace that person with someone that WE want. It happened in South America and it will happen in the Middle East.

I learned what I know in an International Baccalaureate class in Milwaukee and I left the class angered and frustrated with my country. I ask myself: “Why do we stand back and do nothing? Why do we say nothing?” I don’t need guitars and communes or bare feet to get my point across. I want to write my words down and strike fear with my “pen.” For, it worked for my betters, why should it not too work for me? We must remember where we came from and study it so we do not repeat the same mistakes that we have made. We as a generation must be proud of the people we are and the choices our generation made. Arrest me if you must, Paine and Hugo too spent their time behind bars. I will only speak truth. I do not wish for anarchy, because that only brings chaos. I am not for chaos. I am gentle chaos. The power is in the people, that is what we must remember.

As I wrote this to you I was listening to Imagine by John Lennon and I have to say the one line that always sticks out to me is this: “You may say I’m a dreamer, but I’m not the only one.” I sincerely hope that I am not alone.

The Syria Series//A Prayer for Syria//Tony Homsy, SJ//

Tony Homsy is a Syrian Jesuit. He is currently a student at Creighton University in Omaha where he studies Digital Journalism and Computer Sciences. He wrote this prayer which was read today during a Prayer Vigil for Peace in Syria at St. John’s Church. The text has been copied from The Jesuit Post

Jesus, my friend, I don’t ask you these things often, but,
what if you were a Syrian in your thirties?

I ask you this naïve question – but it’s really not a question. I ask so I can tell you how the past two and a half years have brought Syria – my country! – to a new turning point, from which we can’t go back. I know Syria is not strange for you, because you spent most of your life so close by. I know you know the color of our land, that you met Paul near our capital, Damascus.

I do not bring this up because I am afraid of the future, or the consequences of war – anything external. I say these things to you because I want to be a Christian inside, not a part of a group that must survive. I want to live a Christian life, as one baptized to be priest, prophet and king – like you. I ask you these questions because I am lost and I cannot find answers that give me peace. Usually I want to be like you, but today – just today – I want to reverse this.

How would you react if you were in my place? Today I want you to be like me, my Lord, while still being my Lord. I want it so you can guide me. So I will know how to live as a good Christian.

It’s not that we are so dissimilar. What you experienced two thousands years ago, it was very similar to what I am living right now. I too was born under a dictatorship. Like so many Syrians, I too have dreamed about the day of freedom.

Do you still remember when you were born under Herod? And the terror? Let me see this current situation as you saw yours. Grant me the gift to see in it not only tyranny, but also a call – like yours, like the one you felt – that encourages me to change this world.

And your family, I am sure it faced problems when the blind bureaucracy demanded of Joseph and Mary a trip to Bethlehem to be registered. I know, too, what it is to face such a bureaucracy each day. All I want for my country is progress. Which is why today, as people around the world pray for peace in my land, I ask you to grant me – give us all – your gifts. So I will be patient and understand that everything takes time. But still, my Lord, can peace come sooner? And progress?

I know you do not need an Internet connection to see the atrocities the world sees, the massacre of children and women. Surely it must be similar to what you heard – the stories of massacres in Jerusalem, like the one committed just after you, an incapable infant, had been born. I wonder if you felt trapped as you lay swaddled in the manger while the killing of innocents happened. I too feel trapped, like a constrained child who cannot yet talk. Today, I ask you to grant me your gift of freedom, the freedom to not respond to such violence with more violence. So I will be meek and not act in violence.

Do you still remember the day, driven by the Holy Spirit, you left home for the wilderness? Didn’t Mary wish that you would stay? It seems impossible a good mother could want her son to leave – but Syrian mothers do these days, they prefer missing their sons and husbands. Better to see them safe, away from home, than in coffins. Today, I ask you to grant consolation to every bereaved mother, and to every mother far from her children. Give solace to each widow and all lovers.

I am one of these far away sons, my Lord. I am far from home and so I feel the waiting in fear and the edgy panic of these days through my family and friends. Do the hiss and whine and the explosion of the missiles launched from one neighborhood to another sound like the thunder you knew? Do you know that the fear your disciples felt while you slept in the boat is only a shadow of the fear my friends and family feel at the sound of the bombs? Today, I ask you to grant us the gift of courage. So we will never feel insecure again – because we feel you beside us.

Do you know, Jesus, that I have never carried any kind of weapon? I don’t even know how to use one. Which is why it is so strange that part of me wishes for someone, someone with powerful weapons, to intervene and deliver us from our misery. It was your Pope’s call for peace that brought a sliver of the desire for peace into my heart. And then I remembered that you refused to carry a weapon as well, even a stone to throw at a supposed sinner. Today, I ask you to grant me your gift of a peaceful heart. So I will call for peace, compromise, instead of the use of power.

How quickly the chemical weapons killed so many children, innocents. The blink of an eye. My degree in chemistry won’t help me to describe for you what the poison gas smells like, or what a human feels when they are dying of it. But you know what it is to suffer and choke as you die. Today, I ask you to grant us the gift of compassion. So we can share the suffering and passion of those innocents.

So many of my friends have left Syria, some before, some after this crisis. Why did you come back to Jerusalem? Hadn’t you noticed the success you’d had in Galilee and the Decapolis? Hadn’t you felt the happiness of sitting and eating with friends and strangers? Why did you leave that to go to Jerusalem when you knew what lay before you? Was it because you too learned to love Jerusalem only after you left? Today, I ask you to grant us your gift of fidelity. So that we too may wish to return home, to love Syria, again.

I will tell you a secret today, Jesus, that I have never told to anybody before. Usually, you know, it isn’t proper for me to speak too much about the trespasses of your Church – but you never stayed mute about undesirable attitudes. And today the same cancer is still spreading. So with apologies I tell you that sometimes I am embarrassed by all the speeches about the suffering of Christians while the misery of our Muslim sisters and brothers is ignored. I am almost crazy with it sometimes. Today, I ask you to grant me your gift of merciful compassion. So I will love your Church in its trespasses – and remember that I too am a part of this Church and need forgiveness.

I have one more question, Jesus: how did you forgive them as they crucified you? It’s what haunts me the most, the difficulty of forgiving those who have hurt me. I can’t find it; I have no logical explanation for how you could forgive them as they did it. When I look for one all I can remember is your call to follow you, and buried within that call is the instruction: forgive those who hurt you. So today, my Lord, I ask you for forgiveness. Forgive me and let me forgive my enemies.

I am walking a thin line between hope and desperation, Jesus. I think it is the same feeling that was inside your disciples after your death. Like them I want my dream to come true, I want freedom, and for the blood of the 100,000 to not have been shed for nothing.

I believe in your resurrection. So when I – when we – feel tempted to give up, when we want to stay buried in the tomb of slavery, come and rise in us then. Come rise in us so that we can cross Golgotha to the glory of resurrection. And trusting in your Father we Syrians, and those who pray with us today, can say: God, into your hands we commend our country. Oh my Jesus, bring your resurrection to Syria today.

The Syria Series//Implement the Geneva Communiqué//Ban Ki-Moon

Ban Ki-Moon is the Secretary-General of the United Nations. He grew up in the middle of a war. He has never been to Omaha, Creighton, or the Cortina Community. This is where he stands with regard to the possibility of the United States’ intervention in Syria. This is copied from the United Nations website (http://www.un.org/sg/statements/index.asp?nid=7060)

I am very grateful to President Putin for allowing me to briefly address you about the tragic conflict in Syria, and some of the more recent developments.

You are well aware of events following the horrendous attack in the Ghouta area of Damascus on 21 August. Subsequently I received a request from more than 45 countries to investigate the incidents.  I therefore asked a team of UN inspectors, who were already on the ground, to focus on that incident as its highest priority. In the course of its fact-finding activities, from 26 to 30 August, the team visited various affected areas, as well as hospitals where victims are being treated.

They interviewed witnesses, and collected environmental and bio-medical samples. On 31 August, the UN team returned to The Hague to immediately begin its analysis.  The whole process prior to getting the evidence to the laboratories was overseen by two Syrian officials, in order to ensure full transparency, based on the guidelines of the General Assembly.

All samples have now arrived at four designated laboratories in Europe for analysis.  Scientists are working around the clock to ensure a rapid result but one that also respects the highest professional standards and without compromising its integrity.  After the team informs me of the outcome, I will report promptly the results of that investigation to the Security Council and all Member States.

I am particularly grateful to the team of inspectors for its professionalism and indeed bravery. I also wish to thank the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons and the World Health Organization for their support to the work of the team, as well as those Governments that provided evidence and complementary information.  I also appreciate the cooperation of the Government of Syria in this regard. I take very seriously my responsibility as Secretary-General to make sure that the United Nations is doing everything it can to uphold the universal prohibition on the use of chemical weapons.  This is a larger issue than the conflict in Syria.  It is about a collective responsibility to mankind.  Thus, I have repeatedly stressed that any use of chemical weapons by anyone under any circumstance would be a serious violation of international law and an outrageous crime. We cannot allow impunity in any crime against humanity.

I believe that the topic of chemical weapons is critically important for international peace and security, and I take note of the ongoing debate over what course of action should be taken by the international community.  All those actions should be taken within the framework of the UN Charter, as a matter of principle.

Syria’s humanitarian needs are unfortunately outpacing all our efforts.  The statistics are terrible and tragic.  More than 100,000 people have died,  4.25 million people have been displaced within the country, and at least another two million are now refugees.

I am extremely grateful for all the humanitarian assistance provided so generously to the Syrian people.  Yet I continue to urgently ask for additional funding for our humanitarian operations because of the constant needs.  We have launched new funding appeals to respond to the humanitarian and refugee situations and are asking for nearly $4.4 billion.

Let me also mention the toll this humanitarian crisis is taking on neighbouring countries such as Lebanon, Jordan, Iraq and Turkey as well as in North Africa.  All have been generous in hosting Syrian refugees.  These countries must be helped.

The terrible, desperate plight of the people of Syria leads me to reiterate yet again that it is imperative to end this war.  Thus, I am determined to renew our efforts to rapidly convene the Geneva conference for Syria as soon as possible.

I have invited Joint Special Representative Lakhdar Brahimi to join me here in Saint Petersburg so we can intensify our efforts towards a return to the negotiating table.

Let us remember: every day that we lose is a day when scores of innocent civilians die.  Providing more arms to either side is not the answer.  There is no military solution.

A viable political outcome in Syria must see the full implementation of the Geneva Communiqué.  It must also address the aspiration of the Syrian people for a new, democratic Syria.

I sincerely hope that all the distinguished leaders of the Permanent Five as well as some non-permanent members of the Security Council present here today will discharge their responsibilities fully and for the sake of the people of Syria.

The Syria Series//A Twisted Calculus//Tim Nendick//

Tim Nendick is a wanderer and ponderer of the world. When he was a student at Creighton, he was a Cortina Student and then a 2-year Cortina RA. This is where he stands with regard to the possibility of the United States’ intervention in Syria.

Violent intervention gives rise to a twisted calculus: these lives, those dollars, this many bombs.  As our country prepares to attack another, it’s a calculus we must learn to speak.  As critically conscious people, we must learn to rewrite its axioms.

The rationale for strikes in Syria is alleged use of sarin gas, a human rights violation.  I fully support my government peacefully acting in my name when such violations exist, in order to make the world a more just place.  The use of chemical weapons is a grave offense, as are the concentration camps of North Korea, the domestic spying programs of the United States, the massacre of demonstrators in Egypt.  Around the world, we needn’t look far to see our brothers and sisters dehumanized by the societies we create, attacked by a culture of violence.

Ending injustice with tools ultimately designed to destroy and kill precludes justice. Responding in kind to violence in hopes of peace is a fruitless enterprise.  As students, we must learn to organize as effectively as those who love war.  As people of faith, we must collectively labor for the Kingdom of God.  As citizens of history’s most powerful empire, we must creatively challenge our leaders.

The financial cost of this intervention is not yet known — quoting a White House Staffer, “Who the f— knows how much it will cost? It depends entirely upon what happens.” We have finite scientific thinkers, natural resources, laborers.  How we chose to invest those things in the betterment of humankind is the ultimate question of justice. Investing them in war-making, destruction is to fundamentally deny our call to be co-creators alongside God.

With each B2 bomber, let us see 16000 full scholarships to Creighton. With each tomahawk missile fired from proud boats, let us see a teacher’s lifetime salary flashing through the air on its way to maim another person. With each speech to the American people, let us hear our leaders justifying killing our fellow humans in the name of peace.

Let us hear, see these things and be confused.  Let us cry out, together, no más, no more! Nonviolently, creatively, let’s speak with the violence of Love, the certainty of hope, the promise of peace.

For reflection, I offer a video I made during my own Cortina year of Kurt Vonnegut reading a favorite passage from his Slaughterhouse Five: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TTsj3oISJlI

The Syria Series//Critical Perspectives

Today begins a series on the Cortina blog. Throughout the next few weeks, students, activists, & thinkers will be contributing their critical positions on the looming Syrian intervention. While some of these viewpoints may diverge or offer opposing insights, we hope that the variety of perspectives will help us be better informed and formed in our opinions and actions moving forward as citizens and inhabitants of a powerful nation.

If you are interested in contributing, please email annedimond@creighton.edu.

Monday Meditation: On Peace in Belonging

BE GENTLE WITH YOURSELF. You are a child of the Universe no less than the trees and the stars. You have a right to be here. And whether or not it is clear to you, no doubt the universe is unfolding as it should. Therefore be at peace with God, whatever you conceive Him to be. And whatever your labors and aspirations, in the noisy confusion of life, keep peace in your soul. With all its sham, drudgery and broken dreams, it is still a beautiful world.  -Cassie Cromwell

Who has God been to me? When have I known that I belong? That I am loved? That I am meant to be here? That the world is full of meaning and beauty? What do those realizations mean for me? How can I respond?

Monday Meditation: On Beautiful Speech

In my last year in College
I set out
to write an essay on
the Art of Rhetoric. I had yet to find
the country already lost to me
in song and figure as I scribbled down
names for sweet euphony
and safe digression.
And when I came to the word insinuate
I saw that language could writhe and creep
and the lore of snakes
which I had learned as a child not to fear —
because the Saint had sent them out of Ireland —
came nearer.
Chiasmus. Litotes. Perphrasis. Old
indices and agents of persuasion. How
I remember them in that room where
a girl is writing at a desk with
dusk already in
the streets outside. I can see her. I could say to her —
we will live, we have lived
where language is concealed. Is perilous.
We will be—we have been—citizens
of its hiding place. But it is too late
to shut the book of satin phrases,
to refuse to enter
an evening bitter with peat smoke,
where newspaper sellers shout headlines
and friends call out their farewells in
a city of whispers
and interiors where
the dear vowels
Irish Ireland ours are
absorbed into Autumn air,
are out of earshot in the distances
we are stepping into where we never
imagine words such as hate
and territory and the like—unbanished still
as they always would be—wait
and are waiting under
beautiful speech. To strike.
—Eavan Boland

We have been talking about language. Good Language. Bad Language. Language that engineers in. Language that engineers out. But, though language creates a portion of our reality, it is not everything, Boland insinuates. Do you ever hide behind your language? Where do you feel fear, hatred, pain, intolerance, or violence where you communicate confidence, love, pleasure, tolerance, or peace? How will you begin to deal with your own issues that are hidden beneath your language? How can you become cognizant enough to not hide from yourself underneath your own beautiful speech?