Posts Tagged ‘Violence’

Something there is that doesn’t love a Wall, Part 6

July 22, 2008

           Belfast once vied with Dublin for the heart of Ireland.  It was there the Titanic was constructed; it was here C.S. Lewis, the famous Christian apologist and novelist of the Chronicles of Narnia came into the world. 

            After the Troubles started in the 1960s, however, this important port in Northern Ireland took a drastic turn.  The already tense situation of British control of a predominantly Irish city burst into violence by terrorist groups of both sides, the IRA and the UVF.  Beginning in the early 1970s, the first “peace lines” or intra-city barriers were erected in Belfast.

            These walls have increased to more than 40 today, covering over 13 miles and segregating much of this once-thriving city.  Alternately built of steel, iron, and brick, these walls stretch up to 25-feet high and prohibit the movement of people from the Irish-Catholic parts of town to the British-Protestant sections.  Some are open during the day and closed at night; some are manned by police; all were intended to bring “peace” by segregating sectarian groups.  The most famous of these walls runs parallel to Shankill Road, a site of several terrorist attacks.  ( http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Belfast_Peace_Lines)

            Today, some of the tension has lessened since the Belfast or Good Friday Agreement.  The walls still stand, though, and they draw thousands of tourists a year.  The “peace lines” are still eerie and haunting, stark in the way they divvy up houses and roads, slicing their way through what must have once been a beautiful city.  Unlike the walls of houses, and even unlike the colorful propagandist murals peppering the city, these walls stand ominous and dark against the city skyline.

 

            While some may argue the walls saved a few lives over the years by separating the citizenry of Belfast and Northern Ireland, in reality it was always the cooperation of the people that staved off violence and determined such compromises and peace accords such as the Good Friday Agreement.  The walls had nothing to do with peace, serving instead to segregate people further, reinforce rifts between families, and replace real negotiations and co-habitation talks with solid, uncompromising walls.  It was only when the Irish and the British met without walls and were able to dialogue that any real progress was made in the line of peace.

 

            We in the United States have much to learn from the island of Eire across the Atlantic.  For as much as we hope to bring about “peace” and homeland security by erecting a 700-mile border wall on our southern border as per the Secure Fence Act of 2006, it will never be more than a negative peace. This negative peace, defined by Dr. King as an “absence of tension,” is also an absence of progress, a stultifying of cooperative relationships.  If we further open up the lines of communication with Canada and Mexico rather than erecting walls and militarizing our borders, perhaps the symptoms of extralegal immigration and terrorism will be able to be mutually solved in the Americas rather than in a bubble between Ottawa and Oaxaca.  God forbid that tourists should one day board Black Taxis in Texas, listening as the tour guide speaks about the failed “peace line” of yet another border wall of segregation.  

           

United States and Spain Square off on Amnesty

June 12, 2008

Visiting Spain with Rotary International, I was struck by the diametrically different way this country was constructed. In the United States, the basic premise is that if corporations and businesses succeed, then people will likewise be successful. As a result, corporations and big businesses get tax breaks with the idea that it will then trickle down to the general populace. Spain’s laws, however, are organized with a dipolar paradigm, that if people are satisfied then businesses will do well.

I traveled Spain with minimum insurance, knowing full well that if I were sick I would be treated for free because of their socialized health-care system. When asked about their country’s healthcare system and the resulting 50% taxes, every single Spaniard I met voiced the fact that this was the only fair way to do healthcare. Rich businessmen and down-and-out vagrants all said that it was only right to make sure everybody got their basic needs met, irregardless of their income.

Spanish legislation has taken this one step further by providing basic human rights and opportunities to all immigrants, whatever their legal status. Deportation doesn’t exist in Spain; instead, the emphasis is on integration. No country in the world has run more legalization programs than this European Union nation. Just a decade ago, a mere 2% of Spaniards were immigrants. That number has risen to nearly 10%. (New York Times, June 10, 2008)

The marvel is that Spain not only attracts immigrants but also provides for them and their family’s assimilation. Immigrants are provided free health insurance, and in the six legalization programs since 1985, all working immigrants were eligible to become legalized citizens. And the education system has been revamped to integrate these new immigrant families into Spanish society, even though two of the top five sending countries – Romania and Morocco – do not speak Castellano Spanish. ((New York Times, June 10, 2008)

Perhaps even more telling is the government’s rationale for these legalization programs. In the United States, Reagan was decried for his Immigration Reform and Control Act of 1986 because it provided amnesty to millions of extralegal working citizens. Syndicates and the general populace criticized Reagan by stating that amnesty only encourages more illegal immigration, although this has less to do with amnesty programs and more to do with overly restrictive quotas and demoralizing lottery systems. Spain’s reasons for their six legalization programs were, in part, to ensure that lawbreaking employers were not given a competitive edge. However, the major reason espoused by all government officials is social rather than economic. Jesús Caldera, who was labor minister during one of these legalization programs, stated in the New York Times yesterday that, “If you practice exclusion, you risk the future of your country. You risk terrorism, violence.”

From here in rural Minnesota, there is little I can do to actively oppose the border wall in la frontera, a border wall initially proposed to stop illegal immigration. But I can work to change public opinion, the prevailing nativist rhetoric, and ultimately the antiquated and criminalizing laws which produce illegal immigrants rather than facilitate legal migration. We all can.

The History of the World in America

May 25, 2008

Traveling Europe, one is enmeshed in a profound history reminiscent of Tolkien´s Middle Earth.  The oaks of Gernika which give the Basques shade also survived both world wars and a bloody civil war as well.  The cathedrals like St. Maria´s in Vitoria or the Cathedral in Burgos have endured the changing of styles, religions, plagues, and multiple conquests, and are still being updated and remodeled today.  Murallas, or city walls, have lasted far beyond their initial purpose of staving of the Moors, or the Romans, or the Crusaders, or the Vikings.  Storefronts and house facades have seen a seemingly infinite cycle of businesses, hopes, and dreams flow through their doors.  Traditional music harks back centuries, foods to times immemorable.  One is overwhelmed with the constant reminders of mankind´s propensity for benificence, penchant for creativity, susceptibility to power´s corrupting influence, and ability to endure, endure, endure.

 America makes up for its lack of profound history with its wide open spaces, its distances which both offer hope and anonymity.  This fledgling country has struggled and largely succeeded in creating a rich history in a matter of centuries.  Being young, it still views itself outside of the history of the rest of the world.  Being new, the United States has been able to escape some of the deep-rooted tribal wars, linguistic and cultural disparities, and woeful dictatorships which have shaped so much of the rest of the world.  Being still green, the United States has been able to be progressive and forward thinking at a rate much faster than more established nations in the rest of the world. 

However, in the past few decades, America has seemingly tried to catch up with the rest of the world´s bloody history by becoming the aggressor and instigator in several violent conflicts which have destroyed nations and families while bolstering our military power in a time when nations should be disarming.  Caught up in a global power struggle for economic dominance, we have been unable to ensure all citizens are ensured basic medical care which is standard throughout the E.U. and our neighbor Canada.  The American motto seems to be that if businesses succeed, then people will also succeed.  In Europe, I have lived with the opposite, this philosophy that if people benefit then surely businesses will also prosper by proxy.  And now our xenophobic and nativist sentiments have become so loud that we are already constructing portions of a 700-mile border wall on our nation´s southern border. 

Traveling Europe, it is impossible to ignore how every decision is steeped in history and every choice has far-reaching repercussions.  Haphazard borders have plagued Europe every bit as much as Asia and Africa.  Rigid borders ignore real problems and so also avoid real solutions.  Rather than focusing on renewed diplomacy and meaningful compromise, borders insist that neighboring countries can continue existing despite a gross disparity of wealth, rights, and standard of living just across an imaginary line. 

The permeability of the E.U.’s open borders should be a model of the rest of the world. Though not perfected as yet, the idea of flexible borders legitimizes the basic human propensity and right to migrate.  It has occurred for thousands and thousands of years, from Phoenicians to the Gaels, from Vikings to African tribes, from the Moors to the Hebrews, from the Greeks to the Romans, from the Gauls and the Polynesians to the Huns and the Mongolians, from the Persians and Babylonians to the Egyptians and Europeans.  Humans migrate.  To deny this basic fact by erecting impassable borders or sinister Secure Fences is to design a system which, by definition, must fall because it is contrary to natural law. 

As a teacher, it pains me to think of the billions which have been spent and the billions proposed to be spent on the completion of a border wall touted as a stalling tactic for immigration.  Working with eager ESL students and their families desiring assimiliation, I weep to think of how much those billions of dollars could mean for their integration into modern American society.  For in the end, the history of the world teaches us that it is not conquest but community that matters, integration not destruction, assimilation not annihilation, love and not fear, nonviolence and not violence.  Dr. King warned us that, “A nation that continues year after year to spend more money on military defense than on programs of social uplift is approaching spiritual death.”  I believe MLK would also have extended this apt warning to programs such as anti-immigration tactics like border walls.  Nations which spend more money on separation than integration are bound for disaster.  Countries which hold national security above international community are in a sad state indeed; as Benjamin Franklin wrote, “Anyone who trades liberty for security deserves neither liberty or security.” 

From the banks of the Rio Bravo in Texas to the shores of the Mediterranean Sea in Spain, the whole world is hoping America will learn from history as it continues to write history in this 21st century.  Our legacy is yet unfinished; we still have time to stop such medieval gestures as a border wall and to regain our place as a progressive nation embracing the global community.   

No Border Wall Walk- Day 8

March 15, 2008

Got Hope- Matthew Webster and Kiel Harell

Today began with chorizo and eggs, huevos con papas, and pan dulce sweetbreads. The eight church women who initially welcomed us to Sacred Heart Catholic Church in Las Rusias with tambourines and noisemakers were all there to see us off this morning in style. Everything was delicious, and it felt just like having 8 grandmothers as they watched us eat with sheer delight.

After our hearty breakfast, we went into the church and discussed nonviolence and immigration under the watch of the crucifix and the palm branches for Palm Sunday. These Catholic women, like almost every other denomination, firmly believed in loving humanity regardless of definitions or distinctions. They nodded and added their affirmation to our discussion. We left singing “Juntos Como Hermanos,” and we did leave with a sense of brotherhood and togetherness. Looking back at the church, all those women were still out front, still singing, still waving to us.

It was a great way to begin Day 8, and this send-off made today’s 10-mile walk go even faster than expected. Our four new recruits all sped up our beleaguered pace, and so we made it to the next church, San Ignacio Iglesia in Ranchito, at the early hour of 1:00. I came in holding the sign of the Virgin saying, “I was a stranger and you welcomed me;” how fitting as we received yet another warm welcome from this parish, despite the fact that we were five hours early.

I was a Stranger and you Welcomed Me- No Al Muro with Crystal Canales

After a lunch of watermelons and cantaloupe, a few of us ventured into the local communities. The levee runs close to the road here, and hundreds of houses have yards adjutting the levee where the wall is proposed. It was encouraging to engage in this, the pragmatic aspect of this No Border Wall Walk. We got to discuss legal options with local residents, many of whom didn’t know their rights or even that an eighteen-foot wall was intended to be built directly behind their lot. If our visit inspires even one of them to oppose the federal government or encourages even a singly family to refuse to sign away their property rights, this walk will have been more than worthwhile.

We returned to San Ignacio for a delicious dinner of chicken mole. Local resident and UTB Professor Eloisa Tamez said the prayer for us in this, her home church. Eloisa, looking all of 55 despite her 72 years, has partnered with Peter Schey and is continuing to fight the federal government’s attempts to survey and use her land for the building of a border wall. Her story has inspired the community and the entire border region to stand up for what is right, regardless of how indomitable the opposition may seem.

Thinking about this sleepy town and its national importance at this precise moment, it is clear that there are several different reactions to conflict. Each border community has had people respond in various ways and with varying degrees of success. As Dr. King laid out in his speech, “Loving Your Enemies,” there are three ways to respond to oppression and resistance. One is violence, though “[v]iolence creates many more problems than it solves…and unborn generations will be the recipients of a long and desolate night of bitterness, and our chief legacy to the future will be an endless reign of meaningless chaos.” No, violence in words or deeds cannot be the way, because we seek not a negative peace, or merely the absence of a wall – no, we desire a positive peace, the presence of something greater than a wall such as immigration reform and real security measures in our ports and airports.

In the towns of Ranchito and El Calaboz, many residents have chosen the second response to opposition of which Dr. King speaks. King states that acquiescence is evil as well, “because non-cooperation with evil is as much a moral obligation as is cooperation with good.” The Catholic churches which have housed us this past week classify sins in two categories – sins of commission and sins of omission. Acquiescence is ultimately the sin of omission, because, “for him who knows the good that he ought to do, and does not do it, to him it is sin.” Simply being silent or choosing not to act on personal principles because of fear is to aid and abet the side of wrong.

But there is one last way, the way of Eloisa Tamez and this 126-mile sacrifice from Roma to Brownsville. Martin Luther King said that nonviolence was the only way to create lasting, positive change that would ultimately benefit both the oppressed and the oppressor. Nonviolence is the only strategy which can bring about true love and peace, because the ends are preexistent in the means. King states that, “love is the only creative, redemptive, transforming power in the universe.”

It is this force we have sought to channel this week through a sustained, nonviolent demonstration through communities bracing for the effects of the Secure Fence Act of 2006. As it stands now, the border wall is federal law, and so to counter this legislation, we must begin to change the hearts of the constituents who voted in politicians who would espouse such an atrocity on our southern border. We must positively and nonviolently educate our brothers and sisters here and throughout the United States. We must appeal to that conscience with which our Creator endowed all of us. May God continue the work he has begun this week in the Valley and the ripples of morality that have pulsated out across the waves of media. His truth is marching on, and may it bring justice and education and action to this pressing issue.

People of Faith United For Immigrants- American Friends Service Committee

February 22, 2008

   

    In a week that witnessed Hillary Clinton stating, “We need smart borders…I will listen to the people of the Valley and make sure that we secure the border but don’t divide people from their families …” while simultaneously making the international hand gesture for wall, immigration and border security is most definitely back in the nation’s political eye. For some, including myself, it has become the issue of this Presidential race. When Obama and Clinton’s policies look all too similar, if one of them moved to retract the vote they made in support of the wall, a huge shift in support could result, especially in the nation’s minority votes.

    With all this at the forefront of the nation’s thinking, the American Friends Service Committee (AFSC) begins its annual meeting. This time, however, it is not meeting in the wintry climes of Philadelphia, but rather in the beautiful San Juan Cathedral here in the Rio Grande Valley where Clinton and Obama are making stops themselves. The AFSC is meeting here en la frontera to be able to actively engage immigration reform at its vanguard. Immigration is a focus of this service-oriented organization.

    The AFSC has long been integrally involved in issues of civil rights. Their involvement, encouragement, and enabling of Martin Luther King helped him and his significant movement. The AFSC paid for his pilgrimage to India. They first published his “Letter from a Birmingham Jail.” And when the time came, the AFSC nominated Dr. King for the Nobel Peace Prize in 1964, which he won.

    And so it is with great welcome that all social activists, and in particular those citizens concerned with issues of citizenship and immigration, welcome the AFSC to our Rio Grande Valley. We urge you to remain mindful of the, “Principles for Comprehensive Immigration Reform in the United States,” an excellent document published in May 2006 which affirms the humanity of immigration laws.

 

Undocumented immigrants pay taxes, and contribute to the economic, social, and cultural development of their communities in countless ways. A legalization program would recognize the equity undocumented people have built through their participation in U.S. society and acknowledge the inherent injustice of the secrecy, vulnerability, and exploitation imposed on undocumented women, men and children.

— AFSC Board of Directors, June 23, 2001

The work of the American Friends Service Committee (AFSC) in immigrant communities is based on our belief in the worth and inherent dignity of every person. As an expression of this commitment, we have consistently expressed support for undocumented immigrants. AFSC has repeatedly called on the U.S. government to grant permanent residency to all undocumented men, women and children. We thus believe that actions leading to comprehensive immigration reform should reflect the following components:

  1. Respect for the civil rights and all human rights of immigrants;

  2. Inclusive and coordinated measures that support immigration status adjustment for undocumented workers;

  3. Support for the distinctly important and valuable role of family ties by supporting the reunification of immigrant families in a way that equally respects heterosexual and same-sex relationships;

  4. Humane policies that protect workers and their labor and employment rights;

  5. Measures that reduce backlogs that delay the ability of immigrants to become U.S. permanent residents and full participants in the life of the nation and of their communities;

  6. The removal of quotas and other barriers that impede or prolong the process for the adjustment of immigration status;

  7. Guarantees that no federal programs, means-tested or otherwise, will be permitted to single out immigrants for exclusion;

  8. Demilitarization of the U.S. border and respect and protection of the region’s quality of life.

  9. “Free trade” agreements like NAFTA and CAFTA have had a detrimental impact on sending countries from the global South, provoking significant increases in migration. Such international economic policies should be consistent with human rights, fair trade, and sustainable approaches to the environment and economic development.

Immigration Realities: An AFSC Perspective

The growth of undocumented migration is a worldwide phenomenon. Although many people are propelled into migration for political and other reasons, labor migration clearly accounts for the greatest part of the migrant stream. In this sense, the growth of a transnational labor force is a structural feature of increasing global economic integration. U.S. policies that are intended to deter undocumented migration have failed entirely to achieve this objective, while increasing the violation of human rights, as well as aggravating anti-immigrant prejudice and hate violence.

In addition, punitive measures such as increased surveillance and patrols at the border, raids on homes and workplaces, and detaining and deporting undocumented people do not address the underlying reasons that people migrate. Those measures create fear and polarization during a time when we should be creating hope and peace in our communities.

One stark indication of this failure is that hundreds of migrants die each year trying to cross the Mexican-U.S. border in increasingly dangerous circumstances. U.S. communities that lie along the border with Mexico live a reality that is essentially different from the rest of the country. U.S. immigration policy has transformed the region into a militarized zone where the U.S.

Constitution and international law are applied only selectively. Efforts to secure the southern border have had dire human consequences, from the ever-increasing tally of migrant deaths to the systemic violation of the civil and human rights of border crosser’s and border communities.

Because border enforcement is a reality that these communities will continue to face, it is essential that any debate that focuses on increasing the security of the U.S.-Mexico border be based on a strong commitment to accountability and human rights, including civil rights. It is essential that the perspectives of those who live in border communities be included in such a debate.

AFSC calls upon the U.S. Congress to consider that its policies, laws, and regulations on immigration will affect the rest of the world negatively or positively, especially our neighbors to the South. Remittances from migrant workers in the United States and other rich countries contribute more to the economies of their countries of origin than all forms of development assistance, by approximately 50 percent yearly. For many of the world’s poor, economic integration through remittances is the only form of economic globalization with a positive impact on their living standards. Sooner or later, comprehensive immigration reform will need to be carried out not just unilaterally, but multilaterally, in concert with the needs and interests of other countries that send migrants or refugees to the United States and whose cultures, peoples, and economic prospects are thereby bound up with the citizens and residents of this country. <http://www.afsc.org/immigrants-rights/PrinciplesforImmigrationReform_en.htm>

Once again, the AFSC highlights the human aspect of a topic which all too many people debate coldly, stiffly, politically. Their advocation of smart borders makes sense both for the world and for the person. In reading this excellent document, I am reminded of a late-night coffee-table talk with longtime activist and Friend Domingo Gonzalez. He pointed out that, “In taking the train from New Jersey to Philadelphia, you cross more ethnic and racial boundaries than at any border crossing. If only we could make our borders like those of our cities’.” Hopefully this weekend, the AFSC can discuss more ways in which our nation can be made to take real steps towards making this world a collection of city-states where migrants need not fear imaginary lines. And hopefully, they will add both their prayers and their endorsement to the No Border Wall Walk as it attempts to re-open the issue of immigration via the border wall. If everyone in the Valley says the same thing at the same time, how powerful a message we could send! Maybe all the way to Washington, maybe all the way to India…

The Effects of Not Choosing Nonviolence

January 13, 2008

“’You are unleashing certain things in a human being we don’t allow in civic society, and getting it all back in the box can be difficult for some people’, said William C. Gentry, an Army reservist and Iraq veteran who works as a prosecutor in San Diego County.” (Sontag, Deborah)

As the United States erects borders and infiltrates more and more countries with its military, it is chilling to see the effects of choosing violence over nonviolence. Today’s New York Times article entitled “Across America, Deadly Echoes of Foreign Battles,” states that 121 veterans of Iraq and Afghanistan have been involved in a killing after returning home. The stories are heart-wrenching because everyone is a victim. Sadly, peace is not a choice we make after war happens. Nonviolence must be the means if it is to be the end.

Martin Luther King voiced it this way in Loving your Enemies..

Another reason why we must love our enemies is that hate scars the soul and distorts the personality. Mindful that hate is an evil and dangerous force, we too often think of what it does to the person hated. This is understandable, for hate brings irreparable damage to its victims. We have seen its ugly consequences in the ignominious deaths brought to six million Jews by a hate-obsessed madman named Hitler, in the unspeakable violence inflicted upon Negroes by bloodthirsty mobs, in the dark horrors of war, and in the terrible indignities and injustices perpetrated against millions of God’s children by unconscionable oppressors.

But there is another side which we must never overlook. Hate is just as injurious to the person who hates. Like an unchecked cancer, hate corrodes the personality and eats away its vital unity. Hate destroys a man’s sense of values and his objectivity. It causes him to describe the beautiful as ugly and the ugly as beautiful, and to confuse the true with the false and the false with the true.

It is startling to look back on the last 50 years of American history and cringe at the spiraling cycle of hate from WWI, WWII, Korea, Vietnam, Iraq, Afghanistan, etc. Our nation, as well as our soldiers, suffers from PTSD. How can we pay men and women to travel to other countries to engage in actions which will endanger their lives, their minds, and their souls, yet has never been proven to work and in fact has done exactly the opposite? We shiver to imagine the future of a world which continues to up its use of violence.

“’Seth has been asked and required to do very violent things in defense of his country,’ Captain Tiffner wrote. ‘He spent the majority of 2003 to 2005 in Iraq solving very dangerous problems by using violence and the threat of violence as his main tools. He was congratulated and given awards for these actions. This builds in a person the propensity to deal with life’s problems through violence and the threat of violence’.” (Sontag, Deborah)

In this century, we must dust off the proven theory of nonviolence and assert that it is not only the effective tool of the African-American girl marching in a civil rights demonstration, but also the path to diplomacy and lasting peace in the Middle East and the Midwest. Nonviolence is much more than the civil disobedience of Gandhi’s satyagrahis; it can also be a national policy which works with the opposition to create two winners and true progress. Nonviolence cannot be solely left to those of impeccable character like Martin Luther King, Jr., or the ascetics like Gandhi, or even the ornery curmudgeons like Henry David Thoreau. We have seen enough; it is high time the United States and the United Nations take the lead in truly employing nonviolent strategies not just in conjunction with military power but in stead of violence. Nonviolence is more than civil disobedience, noncompliance, more than sit-ins and hunger strikes, more than boycotts and speeches and marches and voting. It is love in action.

“There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear…” (1 John 4:18a, NASB)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Sontag, Deborah and Lizette Alvarez. “Across America, Deadly Echoes of Foreign Battles.” New York Times. January 13, 2008. Web:

http://www.nytimes.com/2008/01/13/us/13vets.html?_r=1&hp&oref=slogin

 

This is part of an ongoing series entitled “War Torn.” Look for it in upcoming issues of the New York Times.

Guns Anyone


Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.