Articles & News

When Dialogue Stands in the Way of Peace

Friends Journal - Thu, 03/01/2018 - 7:55am

“Justice”—grafitti on the Israeli West Bank barrier wall. All pictures © Mike Merryman-Lotze unless indicated

 

My engagement with Israelis and Palestinians began when I took part in the Earlham College Great Lakes Jerusalem Program in 1996. That program emphasized listening and interaction with both Palestinians and Israelis. We took classes with Israeli and Palestinian professors, lived with Palestinian and Israeli families, and traveled back and forth between the two communities. I met young Palestinians and Israelis who had participated in programs that brought them together, like Seeds of Peace, and I was inspired by their stories of overcoming their own prejudices. I came away from these encounters convinced of the importance of listening to competing narratives and bringing people together to build understanding, despite their differences.

The focus of the Earlham program on building understanding across borders and between communities is consistent with the approach taken by Quakers to peacebuilding in Palestine and Israel over the decades. Quaker involvement with Palestinians and Israelis has always been grounded in a commitment to remaining connected to both peoples and to listening to all concerns.

When American Friends Service Committee (AFSC) agreed to provide assistance for refugees in Gaza in 1948, it conditioned its acceptance with the requirement that it also should be allowed to provide assistance to those displaced in what became Israel. Its humanitarian relief work in Gaza was complemented by humanitarian work in the Haifa region. During the 1970s and 1980s, Quakers played a key role in facilitating backchannel communication between Palestinian and Israeli leaders when such communication was illegal. For decades Quakers have worked to open conversations where they are not happening.

When I first heard arguments against dialogue, my natural reaction was to push back by saying that dialogue is a vital part of peacebuilding and should never be rejected.

But in recent years, Palestinian peace activists have increasingly rejected dialogue and people-to-people programs, arguing that such programs normalize ongoing injustice. When I first heard arguments against dialogue, my natural reaction was to push back by saying that dialogue is a vital part of peacebuilding and should never be rejected. From my interactions with Quakers over the years, I know that many Quakers have also struggled to understand how they should respond to these concerns, given Quaker commitments to listening and building understanding across divides. But understanding why Palestinians have rejected people-to-people and dialogue programs is incredibly important, particularly as Quakers consider how they support and engage in peacebuilding work.

The general push against people-to-people and dialogue programs is most often framed as being a push against what have become known as “normalization” initiatives. Within Palestine, normalization is generally defined as any project; initiative; or activity in Palestine, Israel, or internationally that aims to bring together Palestinians and Israelis without addressing structural and power inequalities and/or without having its goal be opposition and resistance to the Israeli occupation.

To understand the concerns that exist regarding normalization initiatives, it is important to understand the post-Oslo history of these initiatives.

I spent the months leading up to the start of the Second Palestinian Intifada interviewing Palestinians and Israelis engaged in human rights education and peacebuilding work, including people-to-people and dialogue projects. I conducted my interviews as part of a listening process designed to ensure that learning from past peacebuilding work was integrated into curricular materials on human rights education, then being developed by the United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA).

Listening to Palestinians and Israelis talk about people-to-people and dialogue projects brought into clear focus the stark divide that existed between those communities. While many Israelis engaged in these projects remained positive about this area of work, there was near universal antipathy toward dialogue and people-to-people programs within Palestinian circles. What I heard from Palestinians at that time wasn’t simply a rejection of these programs because they didn’t think the programs were useful. Rather, people spoke about these programs as harmful, with some going so far as to say they felt abused when they participated in people-to-people initiatives.

That sense of harm is what led to the Conditions for Cooperation with Israeli Organizations issued by the Palestinian NGO Network (PNGO) in October 2000. Those conditions called for both a halt to all joint programs between Palestinian and Israeli organizations and a halt to people-to-people programs. Exceptions were made for solidarity actions carried out within a framework that recognized Palestinian human rights, and for cooperation between human rights organizations. The PNGO decision was a key turning point in the ongoing Palestinian push against normalization.

Palestinian rejection of these initiatives came after years of engagement in them. Following the signing of the Oslo Accords, there was a flood of funding given by international donors to promote dialogue and other forms of people-to-people exchange. It is estimated that between September 1993 and October 2000 between $20 and $30 million was given to fund more than 500 people-to-people projects run by over 100 organizations.

Within a context of expected political change and an agreement designed to move toward an end to the occupation, these people-to-people programs initially made sense. However, as these encounters were taking place, rather than moves toward an end of the occupation and equality, the Israeli occupation of the Palestinian territory deepened.

Home demolitions, arbitrary arrest and detention, torture, and other grave human rights abuses all continued despite political agreements.

After the signing of the Oslo Agreement, the confiscation of Palestinian land and the expansion of settlements moved forward at an accelerated pace. Shortly after my first trip to Israel and Palestine in 1996, Israel broke ground on the Har Homa Settlement. That settlement, built on land owned by communities in the Bethlehem district, is now home to over 25,000 settlers and effectively cuts off Jerusalem from the south of the West Bank.

As a result of the Oslo process, the West Bank and Gaza Strip were also divided into cantons separated from each other by Israeli-controlled territory. More than 100 checkpoints and roadblocks were set up throughout the West Bank and Gaza, limiting and controlling the movement of Palestinians. When I was conducting my interviews for UNRWA in 2000, I was living in the village of Birzeit north of Ramallah. Israeli checkpoints were regularly set up between Ramallah and Birzeit, and traveling between the two towns, I often saw Palestinians detained, harassed, and abused.

Jerusalem also remained isolated from other areas of the occupied Palestinian territory. Home demolitions, arbitrary arrest and detention, torture, and other grave human rights abuses all continued despite political agreements. For Palestinians, the Oslo Peace Process never brought significant positive change.

It should be understood that the push against normalization is not about closing off communication because of issues of identity.

The entrenchment of the occupation during this period undermined the logic of people-to-people and dialogue programs that focused on building interpersonal understanding but that purposefully didn’t address political issues. Rather than building understanding that is needed to accompany positive political changes, these initiatives more often promoted normal relations in a context of deepening inequality and occupation. They created an illusion of normalcy in relationship between occupied people and their occupiers in a situation where Palestinians’ rights continued to be systematically denied.

Often, political issues and discussion of the occupation were explicitly banned as topics of conversation in people-to-people programs because they were viewed as divisive. The result of this was programs that focused on interpersonal interaction and surface level relationship building but that masked the deepening occupation and growing inequality. “Normalization” developed as a term to describe these types of initiatives that focused on building interpersonal understanding without ever challenging, and often purposefully dismissing, the legal, political, economic, and structural underpinnings of occupation.

It should be understood that the push against normalization is not about closing off communication because of issues of identity. Rather it is about identifying the principles and processes through which discussion and communication occur so as to not reify power imbalances or do harm to those who are already vulnerable or abused. It is about ensuring that when people come together, the focus is co-resistance to the structures that oppress people, and not coexistence within oppressive systems.

And people-to-people programs that don’t address deeper structural issues, or don’t push people to the point of addressing political issues, do cause harm. Youth-focused programs run by international organizations are particularly problematic. Such programs bring young adults together and hint at similarities. Relationships open as youth find that they like similar music, enjoy the same movies, play the same sports, or otherwise share interests. Youth under 18 (particularly in joint settings) can’t be pushed to examine and own the political, legal, and structural inequalities that exist between them, and years of societally imposed understandings are not undone by days or weeks of individual interaction.

Palestinian friends who participated in these programs have spoken to me about their deep sense of betrayal, anger, and hurt as Israeli friends that they’d met at camps joined the military and took up positions enforcing Israel’s occupation.

While there are examples of individual youth radicalized and transformed by their experience in people-to-people programs, most youth in these programs slip back into their regular lives after joint sessions end. Young Palestinians return to a reality of unchanged occupation. Young Israelis return to their schools, and later complete military service. Palestinian friends who participated in these programs have spoken to me about their deep sense of betrayal, anger, and hurt as Israeli friends that they’d met at camps joined the military and took up positions enforcing Israel’s occupation. Rather than building relationship, trust was broken and people were pushed apart.

This is some of the harm that the push against normalization initiatives seeks to end.

But in noting the problems inherent in many of these initiatives, it is also important to understand that the push against normalization has never been a push against all initiatives that bring together Palestinians and Israelis. Those working within an anti-normalization framework are clear that efforts to counter normalization are aimed at resisting oppression and are not aimed at severing all contact between people. Working relationships and coordination across borders is welcomed so long as there is a shared understanding of basic human rights principles and a shared commitment to resisting the ongoing occupation and inequality. This means that it is not considered normalization when efforts/groups like the Sumud Freedom Camp, Ta’ayush, Yesh Din, the Bilin and Nabi Saleh Protest Movements, and Ibala purposefully bring together Palestinians and Israelis as part of an effort to challenge and change the status quo in Israel and Palestine.

The normalization discussion is about addressing power imbalances and injustice…

So as Quakers committed to peace and engagement with all people, what should we take from this conversation?

First, we should recognize that Palestinians and Israelis are getting together and cooperating but on their own terms. One of the key problems with many past people-to-people programs is that they were initiated and led by outside actors who imposed their own goals and terms on interactions. The normalization framework pushed forward by Palestinians is a reassertion of ownership of the terms of interaction by those most impacted by the systematic injustice of Israel’s occupation and inequality. Normalization principles transform interactions, moving them from coexistence-focused dialogue sessions to action-based interaction with the goal of transformation through co-resistance against injustice. If you are thinking about supporting dialogue or people-to-people programs, it is important to consider who “owns” the process and how it resists structures of injustice.

Second, we should understand that dialogue is not an end in and of itself and that dialogue can be harmful. Particularly in situations of ongoing injustice, attempts to bring people together can’t simply focus on building understanding if there is no corresponding effort by all involved to end the injustice and inequality that stands between people. While dialogue and exchange can be important parts of transformation, they can also be tools used to block change; reinforce existing imbalances of power; and erase legal, institutional, and structural injustices. Whether we are setting up panel discussions or working to pull people together, we always need to understand issues of power. Dialogue is not a neutral process, and we must carefully consider how dialogue pushes toward action for change.

Third, it is important to understand that the normalization discussion is largely not about us. Normalization concerns do not place blocks on Quakers listening to, interacting with, or dialoguing with any party. Challenging normalization initiatives is not aimed at silencing select viewpoints or limiting who is able to speak. Indeed, listening to and engaging with those with whom we disagree is an important part of building understanding as we push for change. The normalization discussion is about addressing power imbalances and injustice in relationships between Israelis and Palestinians, not shutting off all dialogue or ending conversations that build understanding.

Finally, the normalization conversation points to the fact that dialogue and listening are not enough. To achieve peace and justice there must be political change that ends the system of inequality and oppression that exists between Palestinians and Israelis, as well as U.S. complicity in that injustice. To address this, Quakers must then move beyond positions that express concern for both parties and that encourage dialogue and listening but that don’t lead to direct action. Quakers should support direct action to end injustice, such as Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions Movement (BDS) and AFSC-led No Way to Treat a Child Campaign. We can support discussions, but we must back up our support for talk with support for action.

It is political change and an end to injustice that will lead to dialogue and understanding, and it is political action that is needed to this bring change.

The post When Dialogue Stands in the Way of Peace appeared first on Friends Journal.

Categories: Articles & News

A Loving Quaker Journey to BDS

Friends Journal - Thu, 03/01/2018 - 7:50am

QPIN Steering Committee. All photos courtesy of the author.

I first learned about Palestine from my students. In my first year of teaching world history at a Quaker school, I had students who connected everything we were studying back to Palestine. In addition to learning from them about the history of Israel and Palestine (which was not in the curriculum!), I experienced firsthand from them the emotion of the current tensions between Israel and Palestine. One of the students was of Palestinian heritage and was feeling the pain of his people. He would often express his pain through anger, specifically by talking to me about how the only answer he could see was violence.

I had witnessed similar pain earlier that year when I had visited South Africa with the school’s Black Student Union. My greatest takeaway from that trip was that everywhere we went, people told us that Nelson Mandela had told them to throw their guns into the ocean, and they had done so both literally and emotionally. I knew from their stories that even when a situation seems intractable, nonviolence and love can work miracles. As Nelson Mandela said, “It always seems impossible until it’s done.”

I spoke to the students about the power of nonviolence, and they responded that they saw no nonviolent solutions to the conflict on the horizon. I have since discovered that the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions Movement is the kind of activism for which they were searching.

Because of my debates with those students, I went to graduate school to focus on nonviolent activism in and around Israel–Palestine. Upon finishing my studies, I had developed my own passion for the region, but I could not find an outlet for it. Although I studied many groups that harnessed the power of nonviolence in Israel and Palestine, I could not find any with which I could directly engage. Ultimately, I discovered that Quakerism was not only my spiritual home, but also the home base for my activism. I was thrilled when the Quaker Palestine Israel Network (QPIN) was created in 2013. I knew that Quakers would be working for a just peace using tactics that I would respect. The QPIN mission statement speaks broadly to that goal, while also more specifically seeking “to educate about Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) as a nonviolent approach.” Although I had earlier learned about BDS, I had not felt drawn to the movement before I connected with QPIN.

He shared with me the reasons he saw BDS as polarizing, and I came away from our conversation ready to share his concerns at the gathering.

The Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions Movement began as a call from Palestinian civil society in 2005. The original call stated:

Inspired by the struggle of South Africans against apartheid and in the spirit of international solidarity, moral consistency, and resistance to injustice and oppression, we, representatives of Palestinian civil society, call upon international civil society organizations and people of conscience all over the world to impose broad boycotts and implement divestment initiatives against Israel similar to those applied to South Africa in the apartheid era. We appeal to you to pressure your respective states to impose embargoes and sanctions against Israel. We also invite conscientious Israelis to support this call, for the sake of justice and genuine peace.

Many Quaker meetings have spent years discussing BDS and considering minutes of endorsement, and I took part in crafting minutes for both my monthly and yearly meetings. Neither of the minutes I worked on gained much traction because Friends worried that taking sides in a conflict went against the Quaker peace testimony. I couldn’t help but reflect on the Quaker’s history of taking difficult stands and on Desmond Tutu’s quote, “If you are neutral in situations of injustice, you have chosen the side of the oppressor.” I was dispirited by the lack of momentum in my Quaker communities, but I persisted because I trusted the expertise of QPIN.

On the train on my way to the first-ever QPIN gathering at Pendle Hill in the spring of 2016, I happened to be sitting next to someone who worked for the Anti-Defamation League. We started talking about BDS, and we had an authentic dialogue across difference, in which we discussed the lack of broadly respected, viable nonviolent solutions to the Israel–Palestine conflict and the potential efficacy of BDS. He shared with me the reasons he saw BDS as polarizing, and I came away from our conversation ready to share his concerns at the gathering.

As an activist for justice, anti-Semitism is an evil that I aim to actively stand up to, and being viewed through its ugly lens is an anxiety-producing risk for me.

I was eager to do so because my greatest fear is hurting people, and my new friend had made it clear that the worst consequence of BDS is not inefficacy; it is causing more pain to a people who have already greatly suffered. I did have the opportunity early in the gathering to voice these obstacles to fully embracing the BDS Movement, and in fact, we all shared concerns that we had heard about advocating for the movement. In addition to anti-Semitism, the concerns included the following: “Those seeking peace and reconciliation shouldn’t take sides”; “BDS cuts off dialogue”; “BDS is violent and punitive”; and “BDS seeks to delegitimize and destroy Israel,” among others. The next day we worked collectively to discern whether we had true answers to those concerns, and the veteran activists among us certainly did. Those answers, now published as the pamphlet “Engaging Critics of BDS” on the QPIN website (qpinblog.wordpress.com), convinced me that although BDS is controversial, it represents a pain that can ultimately lead to healing and the greater good for all.

I recently went to a Georgetown University program entitled “Confronting Racism in Our Hearts and in Our Nation,” at which professor Marcia Chatelain called for a “love willing to risk” and asked the audience to discern what each of us is willing to risk. Supporting BDS feels like a risk to me. While I was clerk of the Quaker Life Committee of the upper school at a Quaker institution, my school was visited by the upper school principal of Ramallah Friends School (RFS). In preparation for his visit, I shared an article from Friends Journal about a day in the life at RFS, and I was told by a colleague that because the article contained background including an account of Palestinians losing their homes in 1948, she felt that I was “breeding anti-Semitism.” As an activist for justice, anti-Semitism is an evil that I aim to actively stand up to, and being viewed through its ugly lens is an anxiety-producing risk for me. That risk was amplified last school year when Sa’ed Atshan was disinvited from Friends Central School because of his association with BDS.

I believe that true solidarity means listening to those who are impacted by injustice.

What I learned from QPIN is that the BDS Movement categorically rejects and condemns all forms of racism and bigotry, including anti-Semitism. A statement on the front page of the BDS National Committee website reads: “BDS is an inclusive, anti-racist human rights movement that is opposed on principle to all forms of discrimination, including anti-Semitism and Islamophobia.” So I am able to trust in the fact that it is my love of Palestinians and Israelis that spurs on my support of BDS. I believe that BDS is a form of nonviolent activism that puts both my faith and my love into action as I work for a just peace.

I believe that true solidarity means listening to those who are impacted by injustice. In the case of Israel–Palestine, Palestinians are affected by an illegal occupation of their land, and many Israelis are affected by a government taking actions that do not reflect their values. I am willing to risk in solidarity with them. I teach a class on genocide studies, and it has taught me that so many of the activist heroes we admire today were controversial in their time; they risked for love. I reflect upon all those who risked so that I can live my dreams as a Black woman in the United States; I owe it to them to stand in love for justice even when I am in a minority. I think of John Woolman and his slow and steady witness against slavery, and also of the bolder side of Martin Luther King Jr., which is not so widely publicized. In his “Letter from Birmingham Jail,” King wrote to his critics who wanted him to engage in less controversial tactics:

You may well ask: “Why direct action? Why sit ins, marches and so forth? Isn’t negotiation a better path?” You are quite right in calling for negotiation. Indeed, this is the very purpose of direct action. Nonviolent direct action seeks to create such a crisis and foster such a tension that a community which has constantly refused to negotiate is forced to confront the issue. It seeks so to dramatize the issue that it can no longer be ignored. My citing the creation of tension as part of the work of the nonviolent resister may sound rather shocking. But I must confess that I am not afraid of the word “tension.” I have earnestly opposed violent tension, but there is a type of constructive, nonviolent tension which is necessary for growth.

I stand with King and with the messiness of nonviolent activism for justice. I believe it is the only path to peace.

 

The post A Loving Quaker Journey to BDS appeared first on Friends Journal.

Categories: Articles & News

how to be home

Friends Journal - Thu, 03/01/2018 - 1:25am

sit on a wooden stool
naked as an orphan
use a spigot and a bucket
buff with washcloth between each toe
behind my knees around every edge and curve
three elder women sit on stools beside me
chatting like they can’t remember a time
they didn’t know each other
giggling and teasing poking and play fighting
children clothed in wrinkled skin

conversation turns to me
what color is the gaijin’s hair
one with a gruff voice asks
same as the hair on her head says a squeaky one
appraising flesh like skewered chicken
I pretend I do not understand
high nosed freckled redheads
never bother to learn the language
but after three years
I think and dream and hope in it

another with a smooth voice leans over to me
discounting their verbal scrutiny
of my lesser-known regions just moments ago
forgetting to think that I don’t understand
who do you live with
I say I live alone eh areeee they chant in alarm
no one lives alone here
why on earth have I
then the squeaky one asks
who washes your back for you

can they see loneliness seeping from my pores
why work so hard to build a life here
only to leave it now why is hello always only
one small step from goodbye nothing
ever goes missing here but I have
the smooth-voiced one soaps a cloth
she begins to scrub my back
no request for permission
she pours water over me
makes room for tears scrubs some more

when she’s done she pats me gently
rubbing down my shoulders which
had crept up towards my ears
there you go little one
clean now all four of us wade in the water
we talk about everything and nothing
about chopsticks and tea and favorite sushi
the speed of planes and why the handshake
renewed together in the warmth of the bath
I can’t stop bowing deeply

it will never be a place
it is a sacrament
permission to enter adoption
into folds of mismatched fabric
the one who washes
my back when I am naked and alone
the ones who will wish me
well at the airport tomorrow
the ones who will greet me
wherever I land

The post how to be home appeared first on Friends Journal.

Categories: Articles & News

To Fathom

Friends Journal - Thu, 03/01/2018 - 1:20am
I take each stone into my curious palm. grub-gray, salmon, rounded well and calm. They speak in syllables of sight marbled, specked, saturned with white. Recast with each tide they practice silence search to find an uneasy balance and work a graceful way down over years to a grain of🔒 Friends Journal Member? Sign in here!
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The post To Fathom appeared first on Friends Journal.

Categories: Articles & News

Forum, March 2018

Friends Journal - Thu, 03/01/2018 - 1:05am
Battering Friends Journal

It was a delight to receive the February issue of Friends Journal without a plastic sheath.

Ever since you started protecting the Journal from damage or access, its arrival has brought struggle and frustration. There the magazine was, tantalizingly visible and utterly available. Though I tried scissors, knives, and teeth, I never did discover a convenient way to get at the contents. By the time I had battered my way in, I had to set the issue aside in order to calm down and approach it in the right spirit. Am I the only one to have had this problem?

At any rate, let me send this expression of relief that we are apparently entering a new era.

William H. Matchett
Seattle, Wash. Good farming is long-term activism

Last night, on the eve of my 64th birthday, I had a deep, sweet, and quiet cry reading the January Friends Journal. In his essay “Farm and Community,” Craig Jensen did it for me when he compared farming to teaching:

I believe that good farming, like good teaching, is long-term activism. Farming and teaching are both optimistic vocations: they assume not only that there can be a future for humans on this planet, but that there should be and that our work can make that future world better.

Yes—that is why I taught for 25 years! It was a peaceable pedagogy. Throughout those times, I encountered colleagues and students who did not understand my optimism nor accept my activism. Just as often, others welcomed this fresh way of teaching and learning. Together we cultivated ground and planted seeds for the work they could and should do to improve our world. Mine were tears of gratitude that Farmer Craig understands good teaching and would put it so clearly for his readers. I am glad, too, that I now better understand good farming.

In every issue, Friends Journal publishes something that I re-read, note, and often save. For years, I kept bookshelves of issues that I would not give up regardless of digital archives. Now, I donate them to my local used bookstore or pass on issues to folks I hope to encourage in their own peaceable endeavors.

Marsha Lee Baker
Cullowhee, N.C. Rationales and warnings on vegetarianism

I admire all who live their lives according to their spiritual principles or social concerns, and therefore, my comments are not meant to attack anyone’s lifestyle but to defend my own (“Being Vegetarian Is a Climate Issue” by Lynn Fitz-Hugh, FJ Jan.).

I live on a 150-acre farm in northern Pennsylvania. About 50 acres are wooded or scrub land. An additional 50-acre plot is too steep to till but can be grazed. The remaining 50 are flat enough to cut hay, but the soil is too poor (shallow or poorly drained) to efficiently raise cash crops or vegetables. The core of my farming operation is a flock of 100 ewes. From these ewes, we market 150 to 175 lambs per year and about 1,000 pounds of wool. Ninety percent of the feed for my sheep is grown on the farm, half of that is grazed. I use tractors to harvest my hay and to clip the pastures for control of thistles and noxious weeds, but I use less than 150 gallons of diesel fuel per year in the tractors. The manure from my flock is either deposited directly on the pastures or spread on the hayfields for fertilizer. A small portion is also used to fertilize our vegetable garden.

Although I farm for profit, my management decisions are always weighed against my spiritual convictions and my social consciousness, and these have the veto power. Raised in a farm family that always had a hearty meat and potatoes meal on the table, I have reconsidered the role of meat in my diet and now prefer a good stir-fry or salad with just enough meat to add flavor and supply iron and vitamins. You may note that meat is only part of our product; we also market a half ton of wool. Our fleeces are carefully skirted and sent to a mill downstate to be spun into yarn. Some of the yarn is sold retail, and some we use for knitting and weaving. Wool is a wonderful natural fiber, and we are proud to produce it.

Robby England
Millerton, Pa.

In her January article on why Quakers should adopt a vegetarian diet, Lynn Fitz-Hugh takes her choices very seriously.  When deciding to become a vegetarian, she rejected health, spirituality, and animal welfare as her first reasons.  Instead, she chose “world hunger.”  More recently, she has chosen “climate change.” Making these choices is her prerogative.

Over time and for a variety of reasons, Fitz-Hugh has also made the choice to vacillate between a meat-eating diet and one that was not, but that may have included fish, eggs, dairy, and “meat only outside of [her] house.”  She continues to identify as “vegetarian,” which means that plants are center stage, but one is willing to deprive the cow’s newborn of mother’s milk and the comfort that comes with it.  Being human, Fitz-Hugh has these decisions to make.

What the writer overlooks in this piece, in addition to the health benefits of a plant-based diet, is the privileged human status that gives her and us so much agency.  By contrast, the people suffering from world hunger and climate change are left reeling from the inequity of choice.  And what about the chicken, the fish, the beef, the pork, the lamb, and the veal?  Behind the human-imposed language defining them as food, they are our fellow creatures, all sentient beings: all of them voiceless, choice-less, and worthy of our love and compassion.

Dayna Baily
Oxford, Pa.

Lynn Fitz-Hugh cited a health issue and her doctor’s telling her to have more animal protein.  I recommend the documentary What the Health. It dispels the myths and misinformation about the need for animal protein.  It also exposes the connection between pharmaceutical companies and the food industry.  It convinced me to become fully vegan for health reasons in addition to the social issues cited by Fitz-Hugh.

Interestingly, the vegan diet has gained popularity among many Evangelical Christians as part of the Daniel Fast.  Referencing the book of Daniel (specifically Daniel 1:12 and 10:2–3)  is a commitment to prayer and vegan meals for a specific period of time that often extends to a lifetime commitment to change.

Thomas J. Nardi
Nanuet, N.Y.

Sadly, Lynn Fitz-Hugh’s “Being Vegetarian Is a Climate Issue” (FJ Jan.) touched only tangentially on what for me is the primary reason for my vegan regimen: killing animals for meat or clothing or enslaving them for dairy products is violence. Not doing so is a part of living out the Quaker testimony of nonviolence. The benefits to the planet are the result of such a regimen, not the reason to adopt it.

When we eat animals, we take into our bodies, hearts, minds, and spirits the violent energy of dead meat. How many vegetarian generals have led vegetarian armies into battle?

Christopher Ross
Durham, N.C. Beginning where we are

I would like to thank Philip Harnden for his article “Simple Living Beyond the Thrift Store.” To me, the most valuable part of the article is Harnden’s conviction that individual actions cannot possibly create systemic change. Changing systems requires a different approach. Both are good, but it is really important to know that we do different things in service to these different goals. Today in the United States, systemic change can come about because of legislation or because of changes in corporate behavior (as in for-profit businesses). In my region, there are excellent examples of each, and I encourage Friends Journal readers to get involved. If you want to lobby for clean energy and fair distribution of government contracts for infrastructure, check out the Clean Energy Jobs Initiative, headed up by two young adult Friends. If you are attracted to nonviolent direct action campaigns as a way to pressure corporations for change, check out Earth Quaker Action Team. Both work faithfully for systemic change.

Karie Firoozmand
Timonium, Md. Understanding displacement

What the “strangers in their own land” need is an analysis of why they are deprived/displaced or feel that way (“The Trouble with ‘Strangers’” by Gerri Williams, FJ Feb.). It is not because desegregation has (at least in part) occurred; not that immigrants have come in to work hard and build up businesses; and not because environmentalists/unions/feminists have championed the earth, the workers, and women. It is likely because there have not been enough government programs (like FDR’s WPA and the Tennessee Valley Authority), not enough free education, and not enough social programs to support “poor areas” that need extra help.

Hitler roused his population to blame “the Jews,” foreigners, and surrounding countries for limitations in his own country, while using huge amounts of German money to build up a modern army to defeat neighbouring countries.

We need a sociologist/economist to write the true causes of people’s discontent and then a popular writer to explain it to those whose own communities did not provide them with much education.

Maida Follini
Halifax, Nova Scotia

I agree with Gerri Williams that Arlie Hochschild went soft on racism in her attempt to “climb the empathy wall.” Throughout the book, as she kept wondering what accounted for white Louisianians’ willingness to vote against their own interests, I kept waiting for her to just say “racism,” which is so clearly the subtext in the story white people tell themselves about the “line-cutters.” Although she does mention racism by the end, Hochschild fails to acknowledge its centrality, which I also found frustrating. I’m not surprised that Williams, as an African American woman, “read the book with a mixture of rage and revulsion.”

As a white woman from a working class family (in fact, as a Friend who came to anti-racism work and activism in part as a result of the revulsion I felt to racism within my own family), I did find the book useful, despite its limitations. For starters, Hochschild’s explanation of white conservatives’ “deep story” helps me see why most of the arguments I’ve offered at Christmas dinner have hit a brick wall, while last year’s strategy (which started with listening) seemed to work better and led to my best conversation about racism to date with my conservative brother-in-law. If white progressives are going to take on these conversations (and I hear many African Americans urging us to do so), trying to understand the “other side” can help us be more effective, which is not the same as giving racism a pass or being complacent.

Despite my feeble holiday attempts, my primary calling is not to take on racists one by one but to challenge the systems that both oppress people of color and keep people of different races divided. To me, the strength of Strangers in their Own Land is that it shows in vivid detail the way poor whites are actually harmed by the system they uphold. As I see it, white folks in southern Louisiana suffer polluted water and extremely high cancer rates for the privilege of having cancer rates a little lower than their African American neighbors, who die at even more shocking rates. The ultimate question the book raised for me was how to organize across these divisions, when corporations and other elites have done such a successful job of dividing people and when politicians like Trump are so adept at stoking the fears of the white working class.

Eileen Flanagan
Philadelphia, Pa.

The pain that Gerri Williams feels is very real. But the book mentioned apparently falls short of answering why white working class people vote the way they do. Racism is a factor among many, but that’s only one of the reasons. The late Joe Bageant wrote a book, Deer Hunting with Jesus, that shows how the religious right, corporations, and politicians sold the white working class on voting for the right. Please don’t just think it’s all racism; that’s only a part.

Chris Wynn
Danville, Ind.

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Categories: Articles & News

News, March 2018

Friends Journal - Thu, 03/01/2018 - 1:00am
Yearly Meetings’ Newsletter Project New York Yearly Meeting and New England Yearly Meeting have teamed up to produce a new collaborative newsletter, Quaker Outreach. The newsletter is designed to help yearly meetings around the country provide better and more consistent contact with members. Its content will  provide strategies and resources for strengthening Quaker communities and movements. Curated through New England Yearly Meeting, with help from New York Yearly Meeting, the publication will be quarterly. Although the newsletter will have a centralized creative team, it will be🔒 Friends Journal Member? Sign in here!
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Categories: Articles & News

Never Can I Write of Damascus: When Syria Became Our Home

Friends Journal - Thu, 03/01/2018 - 12:25am
By Theresa Kubasak and Gabe Huck. Just World Books, 2016. 272 pages. $24.99/paperback.

The title of this excellent memoir comes from a poet much loved in Syria, Nizar Qabbani, who lived from 1923 to 1998:

Never can I write of Damascus
without my fingers becoming
a trellis for her jasmine.
Nor can my mouth speak that name
without savoring the juices of her apricot,
pomegranate, mulberry and quince.

translated by students in the Iraqi Student Project

In this well-rendered narrative, we are taken on a journey into the Middle East in the years before the Iraq War, and before Iraqi refugees fled to Syria. Gabe Huck and Theresa Kubasak followed the refugees to Syria and created a workshop for them. There the students could learn English, get into an American college, and escape from the land that the United States had helped to disable.

Our attentive narrators draw from many sources to create a collage of vivid images, complicated history, and contemporary voices. They quote from daily observations, journals, letters home, research, poets of Iraq and Syria, and their own students’ writing. They create an intimate testimony of daily life in Syria just before and after the 2011 eruption of unrest that then became destruction. Photos and hand-drawn maps help to vivify the story.

Along the way, we become familiar with the sights and smells of everyday life in Syria: open markets, ancient architecture, jasmine, banana-on-flat-bread garnished with tahini and chocolate sauce. We are invited into the various religious and cultural traditions of a country that is now disappearing: public mourning tents, tea service, backgammon in the park, donkeys, and wandering cats.

As a couple, Gabe and Theresa have spent a life together as activists and teachers. Gabe was a Benedictine monk, and then starting in 1965, he became a publisher devoted to peace and justice issues. A conscientious objector and Civil Rights advocate, he counseled other COs and in 1968 walked as a mourner behind Dr. King’s coffin. Theresa taught for 40 years in public schools and workshops focusing on social justice, including talk-songs she learned through her work with the Woody Guthrie Archive.

The couple traveled as witnesses to Iraq in 1999, defying the U.S./UN sanctions. In 2005, two years after the U.S. invasion of Iraq, they moved to Damascus, finding the Syrians to be “well practiced in kindness to refugees.” There they founded the Iraqi Student Project, teaching writing and world literature to Iraqi refugee students, and tutoring Syrian refugees in Istanbul. Over five years, they successfully prepared 60 young Iraqi refugees for admission into U.S. colleges.

Theresa and Gabe describe in 3-D cinematic scenes the neighborhoods in Damascus where they lived, and the people they came to love: Syrians as well as Iraqi and Palestinian refugees. Through their witness, they observe the fraught politics of the Arab and Muslim world and the human suffering of refugees.

Because they are writers and teachers, their book is clear, engaging, and instructive—an excellent text for courses on the contemporary Middle East but also for any reader who wants to learn about Syria in a personal way. They bring alive the individual stories behind the news. In doing so, they offer an archive to honor a country and culture that continues to be torn apart by war.

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Categories: Articles & News

Holistic Islam: Sufism, Transformation, and the Challenge of Our Time

Friends Journal - Thu, 03/01/2018 - 12:20am
By Kabir Helminski. White Cloud Press, 2017. 140 pages. $14.95/Paperback; $13.99/eBook.

Kabir Edmund Helminski is a well-known American writer on spirituality, and he brings to us the valuable point of view of someone who had reached adulthood before embracing Islam. He is co-director of the Sufi Threshold Society and a Shaikh of the Mevlevi Order (Kabir or “great” is a Sufi title). Having this perspective, he is able to see and articulate with excellent clarity not only what Islam has to offer the world but the complex relationship between Muslim and Western spiritual values. Resolving the seemingly endless current misunderstandings is the challenge of our time.

Before we can plumb the spiritual depths of Islam, especially in the form found in Sufism, it seems necessary to confront the shadow that is cast over any attempt to assess Islam’s potential to revitalize spirituality in the world: what is commonly called “Islamophobia.” This is a point that Helminski’s discussion does not reach until halfway through the book, but let us start with it. He begins the section “The Remedy for Islamophobia” by admitting to several familiar concerns, such as the treatment of women, the relationship with the secular world and with other faiths (a separate chapter offers an explanation of Sharia law), the use of force (how are “unbelievers” treated?), and others. “Westerners fear Islam because they confuse it with the political reaction known as Islamic Fundamentalism.” Muslims, he says, have failed to present Islam in its humane and universal dimension, and the task of recovering the spirituality Islam can offer to the world is the solution. It is, after all, “a complete way of life, a state of being.”

When we confront the reality of what makes this task so overwhelming, we must begin with the current active fault lines within Islam itself: “We are facing a struggle for the soul of contemporary Islam,” he says, and points out the ways the vital energy and creativity of Islam have been seriously compromised. He lists four main “pathologies”: a sense of victimization and self-preoccupation, formalism and sectarian identity, the closely related way the human-divine relationship has tended to be treated as a legal contract, and the puritanism that fuels extremism.

Islam can be the reconciler of all religions, and there are steps to recovering the spiritual energy that the true spirit of Islam has to offer to the world. “What Islam can offer” is resolved into 14 points, opening a world of thought that is too wide-ranging to summarize here. They include the fact that the divine has not disappeared from everyday Muslim life, nor has the tradition of tolerance (Helminski calls the current wave of fundamentalism primarily a political reaction).

Helminski proposes a “spirituality for our time.” There are six points, each point consisting of a Proposition (guiding principle of Islam), (current) Distortion, and Clarification. As a practical step, he proposes the creation of an Institute of Applied Spirituality to “apply the deepest wisdom of Islam to contemporary problems.” Muslims manifest this spirituality daily: the vast majority of them follow the principles in the Qur’an to be hospitable, generous, modest, tolerant, and understanding of the spiritual dimension of life. My own contacts with Muslims have always confirmed this.

For Helminski, the purest form of Islam is Sufism. He concedes that this current has regularly been misunderstood and marginalized not only in the West but within Islam itself. In his vision, this path taps into the creative energy of Islam and can create a new moral order. It can free a world that has lost its sense of the purpose of life and become enslaved to the godless idolatries of profit-driven global corporatism and greed; humanity’s primordial sense of the transcendent can be recovered.

The voice of Sufism, which has long flowed through the core of Islam, is heard in the thought of the popular poet Jalaluddin Rumi and others. It is a path of spiritual realization, placing the Divine at the center of our consciousness. It may sound familiar—and distinctly modern—in its focus on the education of our ego: transforming the “false self” of attachment to the idolatries of the world, and orienting us to a direct relationship with Divine Being—a mystical stance that will feel familiar to Friends. Holistic Islam is “a spirituality that…can heal a wounded humanity and contribute to the elevation of civilization and culture.”

It is Helminski’s habits of clear thinking and presenting in crisp outline form that enable him to present a daunting subject in so restricted a space. In a future edition of this valuable book, the reader would be considerably helped by the inclusion of an index.

 

 

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Categories: Articles & News

Trouble in the Tribe; We Will Not Be Silenced; On AntiSemitism

Friends Journal - Thu, 03/01/2018 - 12:15am
Trouble in the Tribe: The American Jewish Conflict Over Israel

By Dov Waxman. Princeton University Press, 2016. 316 pages. $29.95/Hardcover; $19.95/Paperback; $29.95/eBook.

We Will Not Be Silenced: The Academic Repression of Israel’s Critics

Edited by William I. Robinson and Maryam S. Griffin. AK Press, 2017. 222 pages. $19.95/Paperback; $19.95/eBook.

On AntiSemitism: Solidarity and the Struggle for Justice

By Jewish Voice for Peace. Haymarket Books, 2017. 271 pages. $19.95/Paperback; $19.95/eBook.

 

In July of 2017, three U.S. Jews were blocked from traveling to Israel under the newly instituted Israeli anti-BDS activist travel ban. This new legislation blocks entry into Israel–Palestine of anyone who supports nonviolent economic activism that encourages the State of Israel to follow international law and honor the human rights of Palestinians. The response by the U.S. Jewish community to the banning of U.S. Jews from Israel was both quick and varied.

The organization Jewish Voice for Peace (JVP) protested the Israeli government’s treatment of their members and the Muslims and Christians who were part of their interfaith peace delegation. Jewish Voice for Peace immediately denounced the government effort to block JVP’s challenge to the brutal Israeli occupation, dispossession, and discrimination against the Palestinians. Less progressive, but still liberal groups such as J Street, which opposes both the Israeli occupation and the international Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) Movement supported by Jewish Voice for Peace, spoke out against the travel ban and deplored the breakdown of democracy in Israel and the increasingly repressive and authoritarian Netanyahu government. Other more mainstream or moderate U.S. Jewish groups said they were aggrieved that any U.S. Jews would support the BDS Movement and said Israel was justified in its legislative action to defend itself against the growing international BDS campaign. More right wing U.S. Jewish groups and leaders described their banned Jewish brothers and sisters as “traitors,” “self-hating Jews,” and “anti-Semites.”

This wide diversity of opinion within the U.S. Jewish community is the central focus of Dov Waxman’s insightful book Trouble in the Tribe: The American Jewish Conflict Over Israel. In this book, Waxman, a professor at Northeastern University, explains that while support for the State of Israel once brought American Jews together, Israel’s ongoing policies towards the Palestinians are now driving American Jews apart in a debate that is increasingly marked by incivility, name calling, censorship, shunning, and blacklisting.

This diversity of opinion is not completely new, says Waxman, who also explains how the once historic unity among American Jews on Israel and Zionism “was never as pronounced or prolonged as many believe.” To make his case, he documents how there have always been at least four camps or perspectives within the American Jewish community in relationship to Zionism and the State of Israel: the disinterested, the devoted, the disillusioned, and the dissident. While these outlooks have risen or declined during different periods, all of these perspectives have existed within the U.S. Jewish community since the beginning of the Zionist movement in the late 1800s.

For many decades, the largest group was the disinterested. The two decades after the Six Day War, however, were likely the golden age of unified, and fairly uncritical, devotion to the State of Israel within the U.S. Jewish community. Yet, as Waxman notes, starting in the early 1980s, this outlook started to decline as more and more U.S. Jews, especially younger and more progressive Jews, defected from the devoted camp and increasingly joined the ranks of the disillusioned as they learned about the human rights situation in Israel–Palestine. Many of these people ultimately joined the ranks of the dissidents, decisively breaking with the once dominant taboo against publicly criticizing the State of Israel’s policies against the Palestinians.

Yet, as Waxman also makes clear, the devoted camp still represents a well-organized and large percentage of the U.S. Jewish community to this day. It represents at least a large plurality of the community. Even so, the percentage of U.S. Jews who embrace this perspective without any strong critical views of Israeli policy has been declining for years, and Waxman describes an emerging new majority of U.S. Jews roughly spanning the devoted but dissatisfied, the disillusioned, and the dissident camps. After looking closely at the public opinion polling of the U.S. Jewish community, he writes:

Israeli leaders should expect growing American Jewish pressure to change Israel’s policies, especially toward Palestinians in the Occupied Territories. Growing numbers of American Jews, even a majority now, are dissatisfied with Israel’s treatment of the Palestinians and deeply worried about Israel’s ability to remain a Jewish and democratic state if it continues to effectively rule over Palestinians in the West Bank and East Jerusalem. They want Israel to stop its continued expansion of Jewish settlements, and resume serious peace talks with the Palestinians aimed at achieving a two-state solution to the conflict.

As an activist Quaker who supports human rights for all residents of Israel–Palestine, my own outlook has become essentially identical to the members of Jewish Voice for Peace, which is a remarkable organization. As noted on its website, JVP “is a national, grassroots organization inspired by Jewish tradition to work for a just and lasting peace according to principles of human rights, equality, and international law for all the people of Israel and Palestine.” Founded in 1996 by three college students, JVP now has “over ten thousand members and over sixty chapters across the United States, a Rabbinic Council, an Artists’ Council, an Academic Advisory Council, a Student Network, and an Advisory Board consisting of some of the best-known Jewish thinkers of our time.” Back in the 1960s, ‘70s, or ‘80s, such a fast-growing Jewish activist organization supporting the Palestinian right of return, full equality for Palestinian citizens of Israel, and the end of the Israeli Occupation and the Apartheid Wall was simply unimaginable. Yet, here they are, giving flesh and blood reality to Waxman’s academic observations.

Such shifts in the outlook of the U.S. Jewish community, and among non-Jewish U.S. citizens like me, go a long way to explain the rising panic of key parts of the organized U.S. Jewish establishment who are still among the uncritically devoted. As Waxman notes, these “center-right” and “right-wing” representatives of the U.S. Jewish establishment have increasingly engaged in very strident invective against disillusioned U.S. Jews who no longer fully support Israel’s policies. These leaders have become particularly aggressive towards those who vocally oppose Israel’s policies of dispossession, occupation, and discrimination against the Palestinian people.

 

Waxman identifies this pattern of attack, but it is not the main focus of his book. It is, however, the core focus of the new anthology edited by William Robinson and Maryam Griffin entitled We Will Not Be Silenced: The Academic Repression of Israel’s Critics. The big idea here is that the staff, volunteers, and supporters of the hardline U.S. Jewish groups that still support the status quo in Israel–Palestine have taken aim at active dissidents within the Jewish community, other religious groups, the progressive movement, academia, and public opinion around the world. According to Robinson and Griffin, these hardliners have decided to unleash a campaign of slanderous attacks and criminalization to silence all U.S. critics of Israel’s policies towards the Palestinians.

In the foreword to Robinson and Griffin’s book, a claim by a former U.S. congressperson and critic of Israel’s anti-Palestinian policies is quoted that those who support Palestinian rights and the BDS campaign are now facing “a virulent, organized public relations smear campaign unleashed by devotees of Israel in some cases, even paid for by the State of Israel.” When I started reading the book, this particular statement seemed exaggerated to me. As I read each new chapter laying out different people’s firsthand accounts of being on the receiving end of this smear campaign, my view shifted.

I was particularly drawn to the chapter written by Lisa Rofel, a Jewish professor at the University of California in Santa Cruz. In 2008, she organized a symposium on her campus to provide a forum for Jewish and Israeli dissidents to share their substantive criticisms of key aspects of mainstream Zionism and the State of Israel’s policies towards Palestinians. She also invited two Israeli soldiers to speak about why they refuse to serve in the Occupied Territories. Immediately after the event, Rofel reports, “I was put on a list posted on the Internet, called Self-Hating Jews.” After this, she notes, “I received about 1,000 hate emails from people who did not attend the event, comparing me to the Nazis and accusing me of helping another Holocaust to take place.” As she further explains, many of her colleagues “also received these hate emails as did the event participants, the chair of my department, and the chancellor.”

Rofel was also brought up on charges of hate speech by two colleagues through the campus Committee on Academic Freedom. When the Committee dismissed the charges, they were made again to the Chancellor. Other charges and disciplinary procedures were made to the State of California’s Department of Education, but all charges of “anti-Semitism” and “hate speech” were eventually dropped as baseless. Yet, as Rofel explains, “The goal is harassment and silencing, not legal victory.”

According to Rofel, the main tactic of the organized campaign against her or anyone who questions the anti-Palestinian elements of Zionism or Israeli-U.S. policy is “the use of the charge of anti-Semitism to try to silence that criticism.” Almost everyone involved with the BDS Movement has been called anti-Semitic several times. But what is anti-Semitism?

 

Last year, as a follow up to its earlier report “Stifling Dissent: How Israel’s Defenders Use False Charges of Anti-Semitism to Limit the Debate Over Israel on Campus,” a committee of key JVP members edited an anthology called On AntiSemitism: Solidarity and the Struggle for Justice. It is a worthwhile read for anyone trying to understand this question and move into more confident activism for international law, equality, human rights, and anti-militarism in Israel–Palestine.

The big idea here is that how we define and spell anti-Semitism matters a great deal. The editors and contributors of this book urge us to stick with the historic meaning of the word. As the book’s editors put it: “As a community rooted in Jewish traditions, we understand anti-Semitism as discrimination against, violence towards, or stereotypes of Jews for being Jewish.” They note that the worst manifestations of anti-Semitism historically have included “structural inequality, oppression, expulsion, and genocide,” but they also note that “expressions of antisemitism include treating Jewish people as a monolithic group, stereotyping Jewish people as rich or greedy, and demonizing Jews as all-powerful or as secretly in control of political events.”

These JVP editors go on to say that “those seeking to maintain the status quo in Israel–Palestine routinely use false charges of anti-Semitism, and harmful and inaccurate definitions of antisemitism, in an attempt to silence voices critical of Israeli policies.” These “new” definitions of antisemitism, one of which has even been embraced by the U.S. State Department, are handy in the war against the BDS campaign and other efforts for Palestinian rights because they, by definition, equate any questioning, criticism, or opposition to the anti-Palestinian elements of mainstream Zionism and Israeli policy as “antisemitism.” This, according to JVP, is harmful because it obliterates “the difference between expressions of antisemitism and support for Palestinian human rights.” This is why the contributors to this anthology see all such “new” definitions as “inaccurate and misleading.”

Some of the contributors to this book argue, however, that it is also not impossible that some members of the Palestinian rights movement may sometimes express some latent, unconscious forms of real anti-Semitism. As Rabbi Alisa Wise explains in her chapter, people should never be ashamed or apologetic about joining “the decades-long organizing to end the Israeli occupation, ensure equal rights for all citizens of Israel, and realize the right of return for Palestinian refugees.” We should also never be taken in by “the deliberate strategy of pro-Israel advocates to blur the lines between justified critique of Israel’s oppressive policies and hatred of Jews.” At the same time, Wise notes we should also have humility and recognize that “while there is nothing inherently anti-Semitic in critiquing Israel, this does not mean one isn’t also harboring anti-Semitic sentiments toward Jews or isn’t behaving in anti-Semitic ways.” We will all be on firmer ground if we are working within our movements to see, address, and oppose real anti-Semitism, as well as stop the State of Israel’s oppression of Palestinians. This important book helps us do just that.

The key point of all three books is that refusing to be silenced is vitally important in the struggle for a just peace in Israel/Palestine. As Lisa Rofel notes, over the two years of her public exchanges with two hostile faculty members who were part of the organized smear campaign against her, something surprising happened. As she recounts, “While the two faculty who harassed me have managed to garner some small support from a few students, the vast majority of students and faculty on campus did not buy the organized smear that she was a ‘self-hating, anti-Semitic Jew.’” In the course of these many public interactions, most of the people on her campus also learned more about the history of Israel’s anti-Palestinian policies, and the U.S. government’s support for them, as well as learned about the nonviolent international BDS campaign seeking to end these unjust policies. Public dialogue, even when attacked by hardliners out to smear us, can have a very positive benefit for the movement for justice and human rights.

As Dov Waxman notes, “It is hard to believe that any Israeli government, including the present one, is completely immune to criticism, and that an increase in this criticism, by American Jews and others, will not eventually encourage, if not compel, Israeli policymakers to alter Israel’s present course.” He adds, “If that happens, then the American Jewish conflict over Israel, though divisive and often acrimonious, may turn out to have been productive.”

 

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Categories: Articles & News

The Three Abrahamic Testaments: How the Torah, Gospels, and Qur’an Hold the Keys for Healing Our Fears

Friends Journal - Thu, 03/01/2018 - 12:05am
By Ejaz Naqvi. White Cloud Press, 2017. 308 pages. $21.99/Paperback.

Ejaz Naqvi, a practicing physician specializing in chronic pain management, is also a practicing Muslim. Recognizing the bio-psychosocial aspects of a holistic approach to pain, he applies a similar analysis to the fear many have of Islam and Muslims, leading to mistrust and hate. The result is this book: an attempt to dispel myths about Islam; show the parallels between Judaism, Christianity, and Islam; and encourage the coming together of people of Abrahamic faiths. Controversial topics such as jihad, shari’ah, attitudes about other religions, the role of Muhammad, and the status of women are addressed directly.

Naqvi’s book is divided into three parts: God/Allah; The Qur’an on Prophets, Scriptures, and People of the Book; and The Qur’an and Daily Life. Part one outlines the basic understanding that in Arabic “Allah” simply means God, and details the nature and attributes of God as described in the Abrahamic traditions. Part two compares and contrasts descriptions of the prophets, Jesus, and Mary in the various Scriptures. Part three takes on the social aspects of Islam, including the five pillars, and shows parallels and differences among Judaism, Christianity, and Islam.

Not surprisingly, Islam does not come across as the evil religion depicted by so many religious and political leaders. God/Allah is shown to have the primary attributes of love, mercy, compassion, and beneficence. Not for nothing do observant Muslims precede actions with the expression Bismillah al-Rahman al-Rahim. While many will associate this phrase with the rock band Queen’s “Bohemian Rhapsody,” the “Bismillah” expresses confidence in God’s mercy and compassion, drawing on the Arabic root word rahm (the mother’s womb).

Shari’ah (Islamic law) is so feared that some U.S. states have passed legislation forbidding it. But since Shari’ah is binding only on Muslims, neither Shari’ah itself nor the U.S. laws affect non-Muslims at all. The Arabic root word for Shari’ah means “path.” Observant Muslims follow Shari’ah the way Orthodox Jews follow the path of Torah and devout Christians seek to follow the way of Jesus and the Gospels.

“Jihad” (typically used in reference to a belief that Islam is a violent religion) is compared and contrasted with “Yahweh War” (holy war) in the Bible. The “Greater Jihad” as described in the Qur’an compares with scriptural dictates about doing inward, spiritual battle against our own darkness. The “Lesser Jihad” compares with the passages in the Bible that encourage defensive, physical struggle. Importantly, Naqvi emphasizes the Qur’an’s own teaching: “war cannot be used to propagate Islam.”

Women’s roles are described with citations from the Qur’an that show a progressive attitude compared with cultures contemporary with the seventh-century revelation of Muslim Scripture and compared with how women are viewed in the Bible.

Naqvi does not shy away from differences among the Abrahamic faiths, especially between Islam and Christianity about the Trinity and the nature of Jesus. There is no room for partners with God in Islam, and in Muslim faith Jesus was not divine and did not die on the Cross, but was the Messiah and is to return in the Last Day. Nor was Muhammad divine in Muslim understanding, nor worshiped, contrary to some understandings.

All this is laid out in 17 chapters that work through Scriptural passages in all three Abrahamic traditions. It can be slow, tedious going, but it is thorough. Each chapter ends with points for discussion. The author hopes that his presentation may lead to informed interfaith dialogue. This book would, indeed, be helpful in promoting such open, honest, and forthright conversation, if people could be encouraged to work through a book that doesn’t read quite like a page turner.

There are, to be sure, significant differences among the Scriptures of Judaism, Christianity, and Islam but far more similarities, not the least of which is the Islamic Golden Rule: Not one of you truly believes until you wish for others what you wish for yourself.

The post The Three Abrahamic Testaments: How the Torah, Gospels, and Qur’an Hold the Keys for Healing Our Fears appeared first on Friends Journal.

Categories: Articles & News

Where Do Dreams and Dreaming Go? White and Black

Friends Journal - Thu, 03/01/2018 - 12:00am
Where Do Dreams and Dreaming Go? A Palestinian Quaker in America By May Mansoor Munn, edited by Ann Walton Sieber. Anemone Press, 2017. 165 pages. $15/Paperback White and Black: Political Cartoons from Palestine. By Mohammad Saba’aneh. Just World Books, 2017. 193 pages. $19.95/Paperback.

May Mansoor Munn and Mohammad Saba’aneh could hardly be more different in their ways of illustrating life in Palestine for a Western, or at least non-Palestinian, audience. May was born Quaker and raised in Jerusalem and Ramallah and moved to the United States to go to college in the 1950s. Mohammad, part of the Palestinian diaspora, was born in Kuwait and only visited Palestine until moving back in 2000, just in time for the second Intifada. They were born so far apart and lived in such different times in Palestine, that their stories are quite divergent.

May Mansoor Munn was born in the 1930s, and so remembers living in Jerusalem before apartheid, the beginnings of the Zionist state, and the massive forced migration of Palestinians. Mohammad Saba’aneh was born later and was part of that forced migration; all his memories of Palestine are of life in an occupied state.

The essays and fiction that appear in May’s collection have been previously published in periodicals; as a result, some information is repeated, but that actually helps it stick. The collection does not attempt to construct a timeline of Palestine in the twentieth century but rather shares through stories the heartbreaking changes. For instance, May recollects her family moving to Ramallah from their home in Jerusalem, newly built just before a nearby hotel was bombed by Zionists, and violence in Jerusalem became commonplace. She remembers walking into the meetinghouse in Ramallah and seeing no fewer than nine refugee families camped out among the pews. As an adult, all of her experiences are as a visiting expatriate. The volume’s two pieces of short fiction are a most wonderful surprise. (May also published a novel, Ladies of the Dance, based loosely on her aunt’s life as a hotelier.)

May shares her stories with a light touch as she runs memory’s hands over the shape her life has taken. She shares heartbreak, to be sure, but absent the heavy hand of blame and guilt. Her essays are simply a lovely way to hear about how it was to live in Palestine before the Intifadas, before the wall, before the failed Oslo Accord, before the extremely power-imbalanced violence of contemporary Palestine. Images of traditional embroidery appear throughout, with names like “bunches of grapes” and “the road to Egypt.” Memories of her mother’s cooking, of tea with cardamom, of flowers amid the rocky landscape, and of olive trees evoke a sweet childhood. And there are 15 pages of curiosity satisfying family photos at the end.

 

Mohammad’s cartoons are his way of telling his story, which is one of violence, anguish, loss, and trauma but also of precious connections, shared resilience, and intractable resistance. Extremely helpful is the Key to Symbols at the back of the book; readers unfamiliar with Palestinian culture should read it first. Among the important symbols that recur are (1) the key: right of return to their homes; (2) the cactus: tough, patient resilience; and (3) the olive tree: important source of income and relates to the established, dignified lifestyle before occupation. The Palestinian flag also appears often, as do striped checkpoint arms, chains, manacles, prison towers, and the wall.

I noted that women appear both with and without hijab in Mohammad’s images. They usually appear with children, sometimes on a scale much bigger than the other figures, and often making gestures of resistance.

His drawing style varies from caricatures with empty faces and blank eyes to a that of a woodcut to Cubist figures in the style of Picasso. Many of the cartoons are densely filled, while others feature single figures. Each cartoon has a caption, which helps a Western reader who might miss certain elements or clues in the drawings.

Despite the frightening reality in occupied Palestine, the cartoons are not overwhelming in their depiction of violence. We usually see the result of violence rather than its perpetration. Mohammad also uses the method of scale distortion to reveal the enormity of the Palestinian resistance against a bigger adversary, and in the face of a geopolitical reality that is extremely power imbalanced.

One thing that does not appear in these images is the Islamic fundamentalist terrorist. Although mosques and minarets appear, so do Crosses. Although men appear with covered heads, it is traditional garb. It is clear that the resistance that Mohammad depicts is for the survival of Palestine as a country, and for its citizens’ right to return to their homes and occupations. The cartoons are clearly about the occupation of Palestine and the apartheid that traumatizes its people, not about religious wars.

In addition to these titles, Friends may also be interested in A Passion for Learning, the self-published biography of Khalil Totah by his daughter, Joy Totah Hilden. Totah was the principal of the Friends Boys School in Ramallah for 27 years in the mid-twentieth century. (This book can be ordered on Amazon.)

The post Where Do Dreams and Dreaming Go? White and Black appeared first on Friends Journal.

Categories: Articles & News

Meredith Lynne Brookes

Friends Journal - Wed, 02/28/2018 - 11:15pm
Brookes – Meredith Lynne Brookes, 36, on September 22, 2017, in Bradford, N.H., peacefully, after a brief illness. Meredith was born on December 19, 1980, in Marlton, N.J., to Constance and Robert Brookes. At age three, she was diagnosed with Mayer–Rokitansky–Küster–Hauser (MRKH) Syndrome, which at the time was little understood by the medical profession, but is now known to affect approximately one in 4,500 women. Growing up in Haddonfield, N.J., where she attended high school, she bravely met the many challenges that MRKH put in her way🔒 Friends Journal Member? Sign in here!
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David Reuben Miller

Friends Journal - Wed, 02/28/2018 - 11:10pm
Miller—David Reuben Miller, 79, on November 5, 2017, at home in Philadelphia, Pa., surrounded by loved ones, from complications of Parkinson’s Disease. Dave was born on December 22, 1937, in Middletown, N.Y., to Lillian Cohen and Benjamin Miller. He had one older brother. When he was a small boy, his family moved to a chicken farm in Norwich, Conn. Always one of the smartest guys in the room, he graduated from high school at 15 and attended Antioch College for several years before leaving to start a family. His job as a motorman🔒 Friends Journal Member? Sign in here!
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Categories: Articles & News

Michael Allen Moore

Friends Journal - Wed, 02/28/2018 - 11:05pm
Moore—Michael Allen Moore, 70, on December 24, 2017, in Oak Ridge, Tenn. Michael was born on December 3, 1946, in Seattle, Wash., and grew up on an apple orchard in Wenatchee, Wash., with his parents, Mildred and Roy Moore, two brothers, and a sister. He graduated from the University of Washington with a bachelor’s in electrical engineering and earned a master’s of divinity from Chicago Theological Seminary. A United Methodist minister for many years in Washington and Idaho, he later worked as an engineer for the U.S. Navy in Poulsbo, Wash. and as🔒 Friends Journal Member? Sign in here!
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Categories: Articles & News
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