Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Gandhi and the Dialectic Process of Nonviolence

"I am prepared to die, but there is no cause for which I am prepared to kill. I object to violence because when it appears to do good, the good is only temporary; the evil it does is permanent."
-Mohandas Gandhi

I was reading something recently that discussed different ways of knowing truth, or coming to an understanding/decision about what one will believe to be true. The article looked at several different "truth finding" techniques or mediums. One such technique was rhetoric—not the art of rhetoric, but the setting/environment. The idea being that when rhetoric clashes with different rhetoric (in a courtroom, for instance) the truth comes into focus (at least to a greater degree): "skilled adversaries trying to be persuasive will generate powerful light on the truth." This process is, of course, an example of dialectic discourse: a thesis opposed by an antithesis, merging into synthesis (which, hopefully, is closer to truth than either the thesis or antithesis on its own).

The reason I bring this up here (as random as it seems) is that the author used Gandhi as an example of this technique. He argued that Gandhi was a proponent of active nonviolence because he viewed reconciliation as a way to achieve synthesis between the two sides of a conflict. In other words, it was the most "truthful" way to resolve difference — a path that would actually lead humanity forward into greater reality: "Gandhi advocated nonviolence in large part to avoid succumbing to the temptation to destroy one's opponents and thus remove the creative tension so crucial to the dialectic process."

I find this interesting, for though I'm incredibly committed to nonviolent resistance for multiple ethical reasons (and believe that Gandhi was too), I like the idea that it's also the path for those of us seeking intellectual integrity. Those of us searching for the truth amidst the madness.

(The article, which was part of a larger work, was "Knowing the Truth: Rhetoric" by Ron Mock)

Monday, February 23, 2009

"The Novelist in Wartime"

Japanese author, Haruki Murakami, recently received the Jerusalem prize, Israel's highest literary prize for a foreign author.

In "The Novelist in Wartime," Murakami's reflection on the experience, the author wrestles with his decision to accept an award from a country so mired in controversial military tactics. He states that he does not support any war, and yet, he does not believe that disengaging from communication is the answer: "I chose to come here rather than stay away. I chose to see for myself rather than not to see. I chose to speak to you rather than to say nothing."

However, Murakami goes on to give a passionate plea for the downtrodden and oppressed. For the egg thrown against a wall:
Please do allow me to deliver one very personal message. It is something that I always keep in mind while I am writing fiction. I have never gone so far as to write it on a piece of paper and paste it to the wall: rather, it is carved into the wall of my mind, and it goes something like this:

"Between a high, solid wall and an egg that breaks against it, I will always stand on the side of the egg."

Yes, no matter how right the wall may be and how wrong the egg, I will stand with the egg. Someone else will have to decide what is right and what is wrong; perhaps time or history will decide. If there were a novelist who, for whatever reason, wrote works standing with the wall, of what value would such works be?

What is the meaning of this metaphor? In some cases, it is all too simple and clear. Bombers and tanks and rockets and white phosphorus shells are that high, solid wall. The eggs are the unarmed civilians who are crushed and burned and shot by them.

This is not all, though. It carries a deeper meaning. Think of it this way. Each of us is, more or less, an egg. Each of us is a unique, irreplaceable soul enclosed in a fragile shell. This is true of me, and it is true of each of you. And each of us, to a greater or lesser degree, is confronting a high, solid wall. The wall has a name: it is "the System." The System is supposed to protect us, but sometimes it takes on a life of its own, and then it begins to kill us and cause us to kill others -- coldly, efficiently, systematically.

I have only one reason to write novels, and that is to bring the dignity of the individual soul to the surface and shine a light upon it. The purpose of a story is to sound an alarm, to keep a light trained on the System in order to prevent it from tangling our souls in its web and demeaning them. I fully believe it is the novelist's job to keep trying to clarify the uniqueness of each individual soul by writing stories -- stories of life and death, stories of love, stories that make people cry and quake with fear and shake with laughter. This is why we go on, day after day, concocting fictions with utter seriousness.

I have only one thing I hope to convey to you today. We are all human beings, individuals transcending nationality and race and religion, fragile eggs faced with a solid wall called the System. To all appearances, we have no hope of winning. The wall is too high, too strong -- and too cold. If we have any hope of victory at all, it will have to come from our believing in the utter uniqueness and irreplaceability of our own and others' souls and from the warmth we gain by joining souls together.

I find it hard to believe that the metaphor of a wall, in a country that has surrounded itself with concrete and barbed wire, is just coincidence.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

American Muslims Speak Out

To quote my dad: "Check out this cool music video. It communicates something I'm always trying to share with my American friends - Muslims are real people just like any of us."

Thursday, February 12, 2009

TERRORIST: The Dehumanizing Power of a Word

Being a student of literature (and therefore language), I'm fascinated (and horrified) by the way that war/conflict is perpetrated and encapsulated in the way that we speak and write. In the way that we use words. Perhaps the most powerful contemporary example of this practice is our use of the term "terrorist." I've commented on this fact (or at least hinted at the idea) in a few of my different postings (Belfast Murals, Domestic Violence, Iraqi Deaths).

What's so deeply disturbing about the label "terrorist" is that it robs a human being of all legitimacy (whether of action, cause, or ideal). Sometimes this is done innocently enough (someone commits a "terrorist" act and is labeled accordingly), but I think it is always a harmful practice. After all, what truly separates a terrorist group from a militia? You may say, "killing innocent civilians," but that's rhetoric, not truth. In this war on Gaza, where one side was so clearly labeled a legitimate force, and the other was a "terrorist" army, it was the Israelis who killed hundreds of civilians. Likewise, when Israel attacks Lebanon (which it seems to do periodically), they are waging a legitimate war, sanctioned by our government, even though the casualties are civilians and the Lebanese government is not even involved. However, when Hezbollah attacks Israel, regardless of the status of the casualties (whether soldier or civilian), Hezbollah is not waging a war, but engaging in terrorist action.

Anyway, what sparked this rant was the Christianity Today article about Philip Rizk's detainment. In that article, Rizk mentions that he was accused of working for Hamas, and that another university activist, currently being held without trial, has similarly been labeled a terrorist. Because, obviously, if they're terrorists they have no rights, no need for a trial, and no legitimacy on the world stage (America has effectively proved that point). They have been silenced, irrevocably, by a label.

Interview with Philip Rizk

Today is Philip Rizk's 27th birthday. Before celebrating with family and friends, he met with journalists to describe his four days in Egyptian detainment.

The full transcription of the interview can be found here.

He was threatened with torture, and informed that if he “continue[d] on this track” (his activism in regards to Gaza, assumedly) he would be “visiting [his interrogators] quite often.”

However, Rizk maintains that this is an insufficient reason to cease acting on behalf of Gaza: “I always knew there was the risk living in Egypt . . . to be involved in these kind of activities,” he said. “So you know there's a risk if you speak out too much; you know there's a risk.”

C.S. Lewis once claimed that those who would make peace in non-violent ways (the so-called "pacifists" of the world) were ultimately cowards at heart. I must humbly (but passionately) disagree. If it's courage that we need, I want the courage, not to point a gun at my enemy (or my friend's enemy), but to suffer at thier hands, and still speak on behalf of justice. To risk recrimination, to risk violence and suffering, and to never be silenced. I want the courage of Jesus, and Gandhi, and Martin Luther King, Jr.

And yes, I want the courage of Philip Rizk.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

The Release of Philip Rizk

Philip Rizk has been released.

While this is wonderful news, he asks that focus remain on ending the struggle in Gaza, and that all protests continue as planned.

Two other pro-Gaza detainees were sentenced yesterday to a year in prison.

The struggle isn't over.

Monday, February 9, 2009

Petition for the Release of Philip Rizk

Add your name to the petition to release Philip Rizk. It's a VERY easy process. Click on the link, click "sign the petition," add your name, and you're done.

Here's what you're signing:

To His Excellency President Hosni Mubarak,

On February 6, 2009, Philip Rizk, a German-Egyptian activist and a graduate student at the American University in Cairo, was arrested north of Cairo while participating in a protest against the Rafah border closure into Gaza. Rizk, who blogs about relief work in Gaza at tabulagaza.blogspot.com, has been working to get medical and relief supplies into the Gaza Strip.

Philip Rizk was separated from his fellow protesters, placed in a van, and whisked away by Egypt’s security police. Rizk has been detained and no information of his whereabouts has been released to his lawyers or family.

In the early morning of February 9, 2009, the security police came to the home of Philip’s parents and proceeded to search the house, without a warrant, for evidence against Philip. They attempted to take Philip’s father and threatened to search his office as well.

The Egyptian government is well-known for its torture of political detainees.
Please join us in protesting Egypt’s repressive practices and preventing further detention of Philip Rizk.

We, the undersigned,

- Call for the immediate and unconditional release of Philip Rizk;

- Call for the release of any information regarding Philip Rizk’s whereabouts to his lawyers and family;

- Call for the end to harsh treatment and lack of due process to political detainees in Egypt.

Sunday, February 8, 2009

Philip Rizk, Journalist and Activist, Abducted

At 8:00pm on Friday, February 6th, Philip Rizk, a German-Egyptian graduate student, activist, and blogger (Tabula Gaza), was abducted by Egyptian national security. Fourteen others were detained; all but Philip have been released.

Philip was taken while participating in a solidarity march for Gaza. His blog reads:

In commemoration of the breaching of the Rafah border between Gaza and Egypt one year ago on January 23rd, 2008 the Egyptian Popular Committee in Solidarity with The Palestinian People is calling for a MARCH TO GAZA.

On December 27th, 2008 Israel started a horrific bloodbath in Gaza eventually killing almost 1500 Palestinians, including 410 children and injuring thousands. Israel’s ensuing military onslaught destroyed homes, schools, places of worship, and essential infrastructure leading to a humanitarian catastrophe. These attacks are exacerbated by Israel’s ongoing siege, which leaves the Palestinian people in Gaza prisoners within Israeli created borders and dependent on the trickle of supplies that its occupier allows in.

The Call:
End the Siege on Gaza.

The Vision:
We hope for the call to spread organically, to look different in different places around the world. Whether a defined distance is walked, a specific number of people participate or the march is carried out individually, whether calling for boycott or trying Israel for war crimes we are hoping that such efforts will pick up momentum and increase.

Though the immediate Israeli military onslaught on Gaza- for the time being- has come to a standstill this is not a solution. Let us seize this time of urgency to act and call for an end to siege on Gaza. Though our respective governments reject expressing our resistance to the status quo we- the multitude- must move to the streets, as a collective global expression in condemnation of Israel’s actions.

The Egypt group will march on Gaza from multiple locations starting February 6th.

Follow all events at: www.togaza.net.
Security originally denied having arrested Philip. They have now confirmed that he is being held, but refuse to comment on his whereabouts or status.

His family has started a facebook group to raise awareness and gather support: Support and Prayer for the Safe Release of Philip Rizk. Join your voice to theirs.

Saturday, February 7, 2009

the stonecutter's wife: a life in poetry

This is maybe my favorite of Kohleun's poems. The reasons are many. For one, I was with her when she met this family in Bethlehem, and her words call the experience to mind with a clarity that is sacred in its power. There was so much beauty in that home. So much hope. And yet, at the same time, so much pain. The courage of this woman and her family -- to create beauty in the face of violence -- will always awe me. She is the person, the peacemaker, that I want to be.

I posted my reflection on the experience (in prose poetry) a couple of months ago: Bethlehem: the things that made me cry [the stonecutter's family]


one we carve
to build upon
the other
each boulder
by hand
and lay it
piece by piece
my husband
and I

there was a time when this all laid flat against the earth
when bulldozers ripped the house apart, twice
nothing as gentle as piece by piece
no patient sculpture’s mallet and chisel
One by one, they take my boys from me
a soldier their same age will go home
and tell his mother about capturing another
Palestinian threat, and she will thank God he is safe

and I will sit here
in my house of stone
preparing for
lives of my life
who have not returned
five hundred years?
I will wait that long
unto death?
I will rebuild
something beautiful
out of rubble
serve them tea
in clear glass
with sugar
and mint
I will stir it slowly

-Kohleun A. Seo