Nonviolent Refugee

This past week, the philosophy of nonviolence was compounded with a high-profile case of immigration. On Sept. 6, the Toronto Star ran an article about Peter Jemley, a 42-year-old Arabic linguist who is seeking refugee status from Canada. He is currently an American soldier who, after enlisting in 2005, recently discovered this last February that the United States sanctioned new rules on questioning terrorists. Jemley’s petition for refugee status forces Canada to comment on the actions of its southerly neighbor – is the U.S. engaging in torture tactics which constitute international war crimes?

While Canada has been quiet on this issue for the past year, Jemley’s refugee case will make the government issue an official statement as to whether waterboarding, sleep deprivation, intimidation, and humiliation are indeed devices of torture. Previous Iraq War refugee cases in Canada have centered on the legality of the ongoing military conflict; a dozen refugees are still awaiting word on their status as military deserters.

Jemley’s lawyer clearly described the international question his client’s case poses: “Nobody should associate themselves with torture or violations of the Geneva Conventions because if we start to wink at violations of the Geneva Conventions they’re no longer law, they’re just guidelines.”

The entire world will await the outcome of this refugee case. For adherents of nonviolence, this case provides the perfect context in which immigration could one day be used to facilitate change in a nation. If Jemley succeeds in his refugee petition, borders could potentially be opened enough that countries with aggressive war policies would suddenly find themselves without soldiers and nations which discriminate between races or classes or sexes might find an entire segment of their population emigrating. In a small way, the fate of this 42-year-old-father of two could be a beginning to a nonviolent alternative to war – refugee emigration.

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4 Responses to “Nonviolent Refugee”

  1. John Moore Says:

    As the United States loses its moral standing in the world–which is an inevitable consequence when we support torture, spying, wars of agression, secret prisons, ICE raids, etc.–we find ourselves on the other end of the refugee equation. Looked at a different way, isn’t it appropriate that in response to our unease about being a nation of immigrants, we have become a nation of emigrants?

    To the question of the intersection of nonviolence and migration, this case seems to hold some promise if it creates precedent.

    There is a prophesy in LDS scripture that states “every man that will not take his sword against his neighbor must needs flee unto Zion for safety.” LDS scripture has two meanings for Zion. Yes, it is a place, but more importantly, it is a way of life: “And the Lord called his people Zion for they were of one heart and one mind, and dwelt in righteousness; and there was no poor among them.” This seems to me to be what Dr. King called the beloved community, where all people would recognize the dignity and worth of human personality, free from bigotry, and where people were filled with agape love (understanding, redemptive love for all humankind).

    U.S. history is one, as Dr. King put it, a high blood pressure of creeds and an anemia of deeds. Put in less metaphorical terms, our history is one with lofty ideals that far outpace reality. Whenever there is a gap between what we believe and what we do, there is a tension. But the correct response isn’t to lower our ideals, it is to raise our behavior. That seems something we are unwilling to do.

  2. Matthew Webster Says:

    Thank you for your insightful commentary Brother Moore. It is certainly painful to realize that the United States is beginning to shift towards becoming a creator of refugees, with Iraqis and Somalis and now war deserters.

    Your verses from the Mormon text are pertinent and reminds me of the Psalms. Indeed, refusing to take up a sword against our neighbor is truly the basis of what King deemed the Beloved Community. I hope, as you write, that the United States will return to lofty ideals of nonviolent resolutions and brotherhood within and without our borders.

  3. Soldier Says:

    It is funny that you guys are actually writing in a blog about a person that is a fake. Check his credentials from what he is telling to the press. He doesn’t even have a Bachelors degree and he was not uniquely chosen, when you enlist in the military, the choice is yours as to which profession you would prefer to enter. This individual that you praise has social issues and cannot function in a normal work environment. I am unsure if he actually believes what he is saying, which would indicate that he is incredibly ill, or if it is a pathetic excuse to be relevant where he was not in the military as a 42 year old E-4, (Rank Specialist), with peers in their teens or early twenties. He is not a refugee, in fact, he could come back and the National Guard would just discharge him from service, since you cannot make someone who no longer wants to be productive in our military. It is pathetic to see how easy anti-war activists like to cling onto any shred of evidence that makes the U.S. military look bad. This is a simple situation where if you could look into his story about 1 inch deep and see the deception of this individual.

  4. USArmy Says:

    I actually had the unfortunate experience of being one of SPC Jemley’s leaders during his language training. I would like to share some truths about SPC Jemley, since none of what he has said qualifies. First, SPC Jemley was and I’m sure currently is a 42 year old man with extreme social issues. He couldn’t stand his fellow soldiers, couldn’t accept that he had superiors that were 15 or in some cases 20 years younger than himself, and always felt that he deserved special treatment and recognition for enlisting in the military at his age. He willingly left his family in Washington while he underwent his initial training (the Army would have paid to move his family and support them had he brought them along), yet he constantly tried to make it seem like the Army tore him from his family. He claims to be infallably honest, yet I know of an instance when he knowlingly lied in an attempt to defraud the Army of money he knew he was not entitled to (I only found out about the lie after the fact). During langauge training, SPC Jemley constantly displayed a manic need for praise and reassurance, revealing his astonishing and tragic insecurity. An example of this is the fact that after studying Arabic for two years at the college level, he claimed at the start of our course that he had no prior Arabic experience (so as to lead the professors to praise him and believe that he was working extra hard for his advanced understanding of the language). Be advised: this is not the story of an emotionally stable and well-grounded 42 year-old man raising a legitimate conscientious objection. If that were the case, he could have done that officially and in writing at his National Guard unit. In fact, this is the story of an incredibly insecure man who would say or do anything to avoid the military obligation for which he regrets volunteering. I know this because his entire time on active duty status was filled with unsuccessful attempts to gain special treatment (because of his age) and avoid many of his duty obligations. Before I finish, I would like to confirm some of what has been reported after the original article was written about SPC Jemley. In fact, his military occupational specialty (MOS) is completely unrelated to the interrogation of detainees. SPC Jemley knew this when he finished his training, and surely he knows it still. And while he may not be the college graduate he has falsely claimed to be in the past, he has evidently learned some new techniques on how to avoid fulfilling his obligations.

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