Jones of the Nile

Sunday, April 29, 2007

You say tomato, I say bloody, ill-conceived, immoral crusade

I'm posting a few excerpts from Frida Berrigan's recent article on the language of war, which was posted on Tom Paine and Common Dreams. Frida does an excellent job here of showing the restlessness of the U.S. administration in describing exactly what the Iraq war is. Props to Frida. And I'm not just holding her up because she shares a name with my dog, or because I've met her (outside of the United Nations. It was a sunny August morning...I think we marched to the Israeli Embassy). It's a good piece!

Here's the original: A War By Any Other Name.

Congress and the President are at odds over war policies in Iraq, Afghanistan and elsewhere. The House and Senate attached timelines to the military supplemental bills, which President George W. Bush will veto. At the same time, more than half the American people believe that victory is not possible in Iraq. These battles are nothing compared to the thrown-down brewing over what to call the war that everyone is talking about and no one really likes.

The cringe-inducing word “crusade”-conjuring up images of the noble Christian riding out to smite the Muslim hordes-was dispensed with long ago. In Europe, just a week after September 11, 2001, President Bush warned that “this crusade, this war on terrorism, is going to take awhile.” After many jumbled words of reassurance to Muslims throughout the world, he has largely succeeded in keeping that word from creeping into his speeches.

Then we had the Global War on Terrorism, shortened in typical military style to G-WOT, which also brings to mind the rap outfit G-Unit (where 50 Cent got his start) whose first album was titled “Beg for Mercy.”

And then, perhaps in recognition of the difficulties in actually waging war against something as decentralized, amorphous and ill-defined as the collection of tactics often called terrorism, the formulation of “the long war” made its debut. As in: “Our own generation is in a long war against a determined enemy.” President George W. Bush, State of the Union, January 31, 2006.

But, on Tuesday the New York Times reported that U.S. Central Command has retired the phrase “the long war” as a way of describing the war on terrorism. As a spokesman for Central Command explained, “the idea that we are going to be involved in ‘Long War’ at the current level of operations is not likely and unhelpful.”

The change, he continued, is “a product of our ongoing effort to use language that describes the conflict for our Western audience while understanding the cultural implications of how the language is construed in the Middle East.” ....

President Bush forges blithely past these semantic subtleties. Standing before teachers, students, members of the Tipp City, Ohio Chamber of Commerce on April 19, he described ongoing military operations in Iraq and elsewhere as “a unique war” and later an “interesting war.”

He also seemed to pooh-pooh CENTCOM’s sensitivities about language with his own adaptation of Louis Armstrong’s “Let’s Call the Whole Thing Off," saying: “I call it a global war against terror. You can call it a global war against extremists, a global war against radicals, a global war against people who want to hurt America; you can call it whatever you want, but it is a global effort.”

I’m with Armstrong: Let’s call the whole thing off.

--Frida Berrigan

Saturday, April 21, 2007

The root of all war

It's fear.

Or so says Thomas Merton. In particular, the projection of our fears onto others to brew hatred.

Much of the past three weeks for me have been spent thinking about violence, partly because of a personal situation, but also because of the enormity of violence that our world is steeped in. Over the past three weeks, one only has to hear the words "Baghdad," "Virginia Tech," "Imus," "Darfur," "Climate Change," or "Iran" to conjure up images of death, hatred, anger or fear.

Merton says the root of all this fear (and anger, hatred, etc.) is trust, or our lack of trust. It's not merely that people don't trust others, Merton says, but people don't even trust themselves. Merton says, "It is not only our hatred of others that is dangerous but also and above all our hatred of ourselves: particularly that hatred of ourselves which is too deep and too powerful to be consciously faced. For it is this which makes us see our own evil in others and unable to see it in ourselves."

Is it our fear of not being accepted or popular, and the hatred of ourselves that this might unearth, that causes us to say the most outrageous things (Imus)? Is it our fear of isolation and hopelessness, and our own hatred of how this makes us behave toward others, that causes us to want to tear people down (Virginia Tech)? Is it our fear of unearthing our own self-interest, and the hatred of the guilt that this might bring, that makes us deflect our selfishness onto others (Baghdad, Darfur, Iran)?

Those are interesting questions to ponder, at least for me. As Merton concludes:

"When we see crime in others, we try to correct it by destroying them or at least putting them out of sight. It is easy to identify the sin with the sinner when s/he is someone other than our own self. In ourselves, it is the other way around; we see the sin, but we have great difficulty in shouldering responsibility for it. We find it very hard to identify our sin with our own will and our own malice. On the contrary, we naturally tend to interpret our immoral act as an involuntary mistake, or as the malice of a spirit in us that is other than ourself. Yet at the same time we are fully aware that others do not make this convenient distinction for us. The acts that have been done by us are, in their eyes, 'our' acts, and they hold us fully responsible."

Monday, April 16, 2007

River water

Thanks to those who have been sending emails or leaving comments offering condolences. It's been truly appreciative. Not many of my friends ever got to meet Jeff, but he was a great man and a very good husband to my sister. For a few more weeks, you can view his obituary and guestbook online here (then click on "View & Sign guestbooks," and look for Jeffrey Ronald Finch). I always thought online funeral guestbooks were tacky. I was wrong. Over nine pages of people have signed this book, and it's meant a great deal to Jeff's friends and family. And my sister.

It's raining so hard in Boston, I thought I saw an old man with an ark on the Charles River this morning. I cannot wait to see the video highlights of the Boston Marathon today. It's going to be like running in soup.

Speaking of the Charles, I heard another disparaging slang term for Harvard. "The Kremlin on the Charles." I kind of like that one.

And for my last non-sequitor, I've been reading Joan Chittister's "New Designs: An Anthology of Spiritual Vision," which I stole from the Pax Christi USA office while I was staying there last week (former coworkers: I will return this once I am done!). Chapter 3, which is on prophecy, is largely about one of my favorite individuals, Thomas Merton. Joan uses a Sufi story to emphasize Thomas Merton's call for us to repair the world. (I will excerpt, and make it gender inclusive.)

The Sufi tell a story of a holy woman who was walking along the flooding banks of a raging river when suddenly she saw a scorpion clinging to a tree branch only inches above the swollen stream. "Poor thing," she said. "Scorpions can't swim. If the water reaches that hanging branch, the scorpion will surely drown."

And then the woman dropped to the ground and began to crawl along the branch toward the scorpion. But everytime the woman touched the scorpion, it stung the hand that reached to rescue it. A passerby said firmly, "Don't you realize that if you try to handle that scorpion, it will sting you?"

"Of course," the woman said, "but simply because it is the scorpion's nature to sting, does not mean that I should abandon my human nature to save."

I think it might be automatic to think about healing or saving the broken (at least for me), in the wake of tragedy. I prefer not to think of this story as supporting the saving or healing that comes with a Billy Graham (or Billy Graham Jr.) telecast. Rather, I like to think of this as the type of healing that comes from accompaniment in times of fear or struggle.

And perhaps also the type of healing that occurs when we expose a bit of our brokenness, in hopes that others expose a bit of theirs, too.

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Sunday, April 08, 2007


These have been very sad days of late. A suicide has rocked the family. There's something very powerful (not necessarily in a good way, but in a way that you simply can't ignore) about grieving during the week of Passover and Easter. Suffering first, then a time to grieve, and then finally (or at least hopefully) redemption and rebirth. And forgiveness.

Our family has all traveled back to Pennsylvania, where Mother Nature has blasted us with 8 inches of snow. I've never seen this much snow in April, or maybe I have, and I just don't remember it. There's something peaceful about it, perhaps giving comfort to a lot of broken people right now.

I read a quote from Henri Nouwen, long one of my favorites, that seems to resonate with me this week. I'll share:
When we honestly ask ourselves which person in our lives means the most to us, we often find that it is those who, instead of giving advice, solutions, or cures, have chosen rather to share our pain and touch our wounds with a warm and tender hand.

I'm almost more convinced than ever about this.

Sunday, April 01, 2007

Of Judges and Pop Stars

Australian High Court Judge Praises Anthony Callea.

There's two reasons to click on this link. The first is to read this quote in context: "I'd trade 10 judges for one pop star."

The second is because I met the High Court Justice in reference, Justice Michael Kirby, and he's quite a nice man. I saw him address an audience full of lawyers and judges at the Bombay High Court, in a speech that urged India's High Court to strike down the country's anti-sodomy law.

Cool to see an openly gay judge, too, sitting on Australia's High Court. I hear he deals with all sorts of political bullshit on the Court, but kudos to him for still speaking out. Imagine a SCOTUS justice being fully out! My God, if Sam Brownback will withhold someone's nomination just for attending a same-sex commitment ceremony, imagine how apeshit he'd go if a gay person was nominated to the bench.

Add that to the list of things I want to see in my lifetime.