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The Navy’s Great Alaskan ‘War’

May22

by: Dahr Jamail on May 22nd, 2015 | No Comments »

This essay is a joint TomDispatch/Truthout report.

I lived in Anchorage for 10 years and spent much of that time climbing in and on the spine of the state, the Alaska Range. Three times I stood atop the mountain the Athabaskans call Denali, “the great one.” During that decade, I mountaineered for more than half a year on that magnificent state’s highest peaks. It was there that I took in my own insignificance while living amid rock and ice, sleeping atop glaciers that creaked and moaned as they slowly ground their way toward lower elevations.

A picture of the harbor at Cordova, Alaska.

The Navy's "Northern Edge" war games planned for the Gulf of Alaska present an unignorable problem for indigenous and fishing communities like Cordova. Credit: Kevan Dee.

Alaska contains the largest coastal mountain range in the world and the highest peak in North America. It has more coastline than the entire contiguous forty-eight states combined and is big enough to hold the state of Texas two and a half times over. It has the largest population of bald eagles in the country. It has 430 kinds of birds along with the brown bear, the largest carnivorous land mammal in the world, and other species ranging from the pygmy shrew that weighs less than a penny to gray whales that come in at 45 tons. Species that are classified as “endangered” in other places are often found in abundance in Alaska.

Now, a dozen years after I left my home state and landed in Baghdad to begin life as a journalist and nine years after definitively abandoning Alaska, I find myself back. I wish it was to climb another mountain, but this time, unfortunately, it’s because I seem increasingly incapable of escaping the long and destructive reach of the U.S. military.

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Urban Grassroots Mobilization in central-Eastern European Cities

May21

by: Kerstin Jacobsson on May 21st, 2015 | No Comments »

This article is part of the openMovements series on Open Democracy inviting leading social scientists to share their research results and perspectives on contemporary social struggles.

In recent years, we have seen the rise of mass protests in central and eastern Europe and most notably in south eastern Europe. In Bulgaria, Romania, Slovenia, Bosnia-Herzegovina, for instance, people have taken to the streets to manifest their disappointments with corrupt and unresponsive political elites and a societal development benefiting the few rather than the many. The protests have contained a mix of transnationally inspired anti-neoliberal and anti-austerity critiques and disillusion with domestic political leaders and parties.

A building facade in Metelkova, Slovenia.

Collective action mobilized without the involvement of an organization, is the most frequent kind of civic activism in former Soviet countries. One product of these is Metelkova, an autonomous social center in Slovenia. Credit: Demotix/ Ferdinando Piezzi.

Other forms of grassroots mobilization, however, tend to go unnoticed. An equally important sign of the transformation of post-socialist civil societies as the street protests is the rise and development of urban grassroots activism in the cities across the eastern European region. This type of local, often small-scale and low-key form of activism, related mostly to everyday life problem-solving, easily escapes the attention of the media as well as the lens of social movement researchers who tend to focus either on NGOs and advocacy-organizations capable of the effective lobbying of policy-makers or on more traditional protest events, such as mass demonstrations.

Even so, the protest-event analysis carried out in the Czech Republic and Slovakia suggest that local ‘self-organized’ civic activism, i.e. collective action mobilized without the involvement of an organization, is the most frequent kind of civic activism in these countries. This form of activism is based on ‘many events, no organizations, and few participants’.

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American Exceptionalism

May20

by: Jeffrey Vogel on May 20th, 2015 | 2 Comments »

Exceptionalism is a neutral word as it can reference something exceptionally good or exceptionally bad — human beings, and their respective nations, have clearly shown themselves to be capable of both.

The notion of American Exceptionalism has been regularly referenced by President Obama — most significantly in his West Point commencement address last year where he said that “I believe in American Exceptionalism with every fiber of my being.” He also said that “The United States is the one indispensable nation.” This blind and exclusive nationalism is the rationale that all imperial powers use to justify their military adventures and is especially dangerous when employed by our nation, the only military superpower on the planet.

The psychologist Erich Fromm’s thoughts on this exclusive nationalism remain very timely:

Nationalism is our form of incest, is our idolatry, is our insanity. “Patriotism” is its cult. It should hardly be necessary to say, that by “patriotism” I mean that attitude which puts the own nation above the principles of truth and justice; not the loving interest in one’s own nation, which is the concern with nation’s spiritual as much as with its material welfare – never with its power over other nations. Just as love for one individual which excludes the love for others is not love, love for one’s country which is not part of one’s love for humanity is not love, but idolatrous worship.”

– Erich Fromm in “The Sane Society” (1955)


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The Mark of Cain. It’s Not What You Think It Is.

May19

by: Norman Allen on May 19th, 2015 | No Comments »

Stained glass Cain and Abel.

In condemning Dzhokar Tsarnaev to death, we would do well to remember Cain and Abel. Even after murdering his brother, Cain is shown unthinkable mercy and protection from God. Above, stained glass from the Genesis story in Fairford Parish Church, England. Credit: CreativeCommons / Fr. Lawrence Lew, O.P.

Dzhokar Tsarnaev’s death sentence, handed down on May 15, serves as the grand finale to a year of public discussion about capital punishment. The Supreme Court is considering the potential cruelty of lethal injections, and Kelly Renee Gissendaner lives under a stay of execution in Georgia, prompted by fears of another “botched execution,” like the one experienced by Clayton Lockett in Oklahoma last spring. It seems a good time to step back and revisit what the Bible’s authors have to say about that book’s first murderer, and the consequences of his actions.

I found the story of Cain and Abel in Genesis 4, remembering from my Sunday School days that God punishes the murderer with the “Mark of Cain,” a sort of brand that ensures Cain will spend the rest of his days as an outcast. I quickly learned, though, that my memory — or my Sunday School teacher — had it totally wrong.

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“Israel” Is the Name of a People Also

May19

by: Rabbi Arthur Waskow on May 19th, 2015 | 2 Comments »

We are living between two festivals that make two very different assertions of Jewish identity. One is “Yom Ha’Atzma’ut” (April 22-23); the other is Shavuot (May 23-25).

Yom Ha’Atzma’ut is usually translated as “Israeli Independence Day,” but it would be more accurate to call it “Day for Standing on One’s Own Feet, Day of Affirming One’s Own Essence” because etzem means “bone, skeleton, internal essential structure.”

angel and jacob

What does it mean for the people of Israel to be named "Yisrael" or "godwrestlers"? "Jacob Wrestling with the Angel" by Alexander Louis Leloir. Credit: Creative Commons.

Shavuot has been observed for about 2,000 years as the anniversary of the Revelation of Torah on Mount Sinai.

During these weeks, the most recent Israeli elections culminated in final agreement on a hair-thin governing coalition of 61 out of 120 seats in the Knesset. The resulting government is by far the most right-wing – politically, economically, and religiously – in Israel’s history.

Since the State of Israel claims to be “the Jewish State,” and since its actions certainly affect the world’s understanding of the Jewish people (and for many Jews, our understanding of our selves), it is hard for Jews anywhere to ignore the meaning of these recent changes. Since I have invested my life in drawing upon the past wisdom of the Jewish people, shaping its present, and transforming its future, I certainly cannot ignore these events.

In this I am hardly alone. There have been myriad analyses and essays about the elections and the new government. Almost all have focused on the political implications – for Israelis, for Palestine, for the Middle East, for the United States.

I feel drawn to think and feel in a different dimension. So what I have written below looks into the moral and spiritual meaning of the election in the light of Torah. From the standpoint of the Shavuot we are approaching, what is the meaning of the Yom ha’Atzma’ut we have recently passed? What is our own essence, what are the feet of our own on which we hope to stand?

So I raise these questions:

  • “What does it mean, deeply and fully, for the People, as well as the State, to be named “Yisrael,” “Godwrestlers”?
  • What have been the different effects of post-Holocaust-traumatic-stress on Israeli and American Jewry?
  • Why does the Torah repeat so many times the command, “Treat strangers with justice and love, for you were strangers in the Narrow Land”?
  • What are the relationships among love, admiration, and idolatry directed toward the State?

What actually happened in the recent elections and negotiations toward choosing a new government? The Israeli electorate – especially the majority of its Jewish majority – voted for a racist government. This government is racist toward the Palestinians whom Prime Minister Netanyahu (truthfully, at last) said he will never permit to govern themselves. And it is racist toward the Israeli citizens of Palestinian culture — whose desire to vote to change their lives — VOTE, not riot — he used as a justification for rousing a right-wing racist outpouring of voters for himself.

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Ethiopian Israelis Rise Up Against Discrimination and Injustice

May18

by: Rachel Kutcher on May 18th, 2015 | 1 Comment »

Ethiopian Israelis gathering protesting outdoors.

Programs like Yahel Social Change are eradicating individual and systemic forms of discrimination experienced by the Ethiopian Israeli community. Above, protestors react to police brutality in Israel earlier this month. Credit: CreativeCommons / Lilach Daniel.

There seems to be a broad consensus that the protests over the last few weeks are not only about police violence, but rather that police violence against an Ethiopian Israeli soldier was simply the catalyst for protests against broader discrimination against and disparities experienced by the Ethiopian community. Indeed, during my time in Israel and the Yahel Social Change program, I have often become angry when learning about these disparities. While volunteering at Tebeka, a legal aid organization serving the Ethiopian community, I’ve been appalled by both individual and systemic forms of discrimination experienced by the community. I’ve been frustrated by the ways in which Israel’s absorption of the Ethiopian community failed to respect a strong Ethiopian Jewish culture, with strong leaders and community social systems. I’ve wanted to shake some sense in to the people who have claimed the primarily Ethiopian neighborhood in which I live and have been warmly embraced is “dangerous.” I believe the anger and frustration that is fueling the protests is well justified. Both the news media and a few of my Yahel peers have written about these social disparities and discrimination, and about the challenges in the Ethiopian aliyah to Israel, so I’d like to offer a complementary perspective.

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Astronomy and Theism Are Not Incompatible

May16

by: Huma Munir on May 16th, 2015 | 1 Comment »

A telescope at sunset.

"Astronomy teaches us humility and compassion," writes Huma Munir. "Of all human virtues, humility is probably the most beautiful and important."

In 1990, spacecraft Voyager 1 took one last photo of the Earth from 6 billion kilometers away before drifting further into outer space. The Earth stood out no more than a tiny dot against the vast expanse of darkness in the space.

Inspired by the photo, famous astrophysicist and atheist, Carl Sagan, wrote a book titled Pale Blue Dot: A Vision of the Human Future in Space. In it, he said studying astronomy can be a humbling and a character-building experience. Though Sagan did not believe in a higher power, his work has greatly inspired me to connect with God, and has led me on a journey of self-reformation.

In many senses, and contrary to popular belief, astronomy is helpful to religious believers.

Firstly, it teaches us that the world is limitless.

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Yom HaBilbul: A Meditation on Conviction and Confusion in the Holy Land

May15

by: Rabbi Michael Rothbaum on May 15th, 2015 | No Comments »

If you’re not in a rush
take a train
Israel’s trains
take their time through
the countryside

but

the country has a
rapid transit
of holidays
in the Spring
rushing by like a bullet


train

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Energy Efficiency for the Climate and the Poor

May15

by: Robyn Purchia on May 15th, 2015 | No Comments »

A group cheerfully posing around a woodworking table outside.

Credit: EdenKeeper.org.

Helping the poor, vulnerable, and marginalized is a central tenet in the Christian gospel. The command to care for “the least of these” (Matthew 25:40) has inspired organizations like Christian Aid to help the poor, Habitat for Humanity to provide shelter for the vulnerable, and World Vision to support children in need. And, in North Carolina’s Smoky Mountains, the gospel has fueled a novel, new energy program that cares for the least of these while caring for Creation.

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Latest Web-Only Articles from Tikkun

May14

by: Tikkun on May 14th, 2015 | No Comments »

Have you been keeping up with the brilliant web-only articles on tikkun.org? Don’t miss Jonathan Rosenblum’s powerful piece on the immorality of an economic system in which Big Oil is willing to risk workers’ lives for profit, Nancy Abrams’s world-transforming treatise on spirituality and science, Paul Krassner’s discussion of Patty Hearst and the Twinkie Murders, and much more.

A God That Could Be Real by Nancy Abrams

Unconscious evolution of God-ideas is inevitable, but conscious evolution of God-ideas has been harshly discouraged. This must change, or else we’ll never be able to bring our best knowledge into the process of rethinking God for our time.Read More »


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