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Life in Kabul Goes on Under the Helicopters

Nov12

by: Brian Terrell on November 12th, 2015 | 7 Comments »

When I arrived at the Kabul International Airport on November 4, I was unaware that the same day the New York Times published an article, “Life Pulls Back in Afghan Capital, as Danger Rises and Troops Recede.” My friends Abdulhai and Ali, 17 years old, young men I have known since my first visit five years ago, greeted me with smiles and hugs and took my bags. Disregarded by soldiers and police armed with automatic weapons, we caught up on old times as we walked past concrete blast walls, sand bag fortifications, check points and razor wire to the public road and hailed a cab.

The sun was just burning through the clouds after an early morning rain and I had never seen Kabul look so bright and clean. Once past the airport, the high way into the city was bustling with rush hour traffic and commerce. I was unaware until I read the New York Times on line a few days later, that this time I was one of only a few US citizens likely to be on that road. “The American Embassy’s not allowed to move by road anymore,” a senior Western official told the Times, which reported further that “after 14 years of war, of training the Afghan Army and the police, it has become too dangerous to drive the mile and a half from the airport to the embassy.”

Credit: Brian Terrell

Helicopters now ferry employees working with the United States and the international military coalition to and from offices in Kabul we are told. The United States Embassy in Kabul is one of the largest in the world and already a largely self-contained community, its personnel are now even more isolated from Afghan people and institutions than before. “No one else,” other than US and coalition facilities, the Times reports, “has a compound with a landing pad.” While proclaiming its mission there “Operation Resolute Support” for Afghanistan, US officials no longer travel on Afghan streets.

We have no helicopters or landing pads, but the security situation in Kabul is also a concern for Voices for Creative Nonviolence, a grass roots peace and human rights organization that I work with and for our friends in the Kabul-based Afghan Peace Volunteers that I came to visit. I am fortunate with my grey beard and darker complexion to more easily pass for a local and so I can move about a bit more freely on the streets than some other internationals who visit here. Even then, my young friends have me wear a turban when we leave the house.


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Jay Janson on Veterans Day

Nov11

by: Jay Janson on November 11th, 2015 | 3 Comments »

Editor’s Note: In sharing articles in Tikkun, we often print articles with which we don’t agree to make Tikkun a lively forum for ideas​. This article ​is a classic case. Though Jay Janson has a very strong point in critiquing the way that veterans lives have been sacrificed to serve the imperial goals of America’s elites (as has been true for veterans in almost every war in history as people died to serve their own country’s elites), it is not true when thinking about the veterans who served the North in the Civil War nor those who fought the Second World War. War is almost always wrong, but many​ those who fought them have often been motivated by goals quite different from the goals of those who instigated the wars.

We at Tikkun want to see an end to all wars, but we don’t want to negate the decency and even idealism of many who have fought in these wars, an idealism that has often been manipulated by unscrupulous leaders like, in the case of the U.S., Presidents Truman, Johnson, Nixon, Bush, and perhaps Obama also (in his escalation of the war in Afghanistan and Iraq), and by advisors like Henry Kissinger and Vice President Cheney, and the list could go on and on on. Of course, it makes sense to emphasize that soldiers engaged in human rights abuses during those wars also do not deserve to be honored, as for example the Nazis, Stalin’s Soviet armies in the 2nd world war, and some U.S. soldiers in Vietnam and Iraq, not to mention that role of the School of the Americas in training South and Central American soldiers and police in torture techniques (and that School still persists at Fort Benning, Georgia, USA).

Indeed, we do not deny that there is something fundamentally evil about every war-and the untold abuses of others that almost always accompany every battle and every army. We want to see them all ended, right now.

​ And individual soldiers have some responsibility to make determinations for themselves about whether the war they are being asked to serve in has any moral legitimacy. I sent my draft card back to my draft board in 1968 and told them that if they drafted me I’d use the opportunity to organize my fellow soldiers against the Vietnam war. Certainly in the present period in the US, Veterans Day would be a good time to HONOR THE REFUSENIKS WHO Would NOT SERVE IN AMERICA’s IMPERIAL WARS. The Quebec Chapter of the NSP–Nework of Spiritual Progressives under the leadership of former American war resister Isaac Romano has made support for resistors an important part of their activities.

So Jay Janson’s point deserves a lot of public attention, but won’t get it because it doesn’t include these kinds of more nuanced reflections. Yet in its outrage at war, and its constant reminder that we should not celebrate all veterans but only those who did not consciously aid in manipulating us into wars and did not engage in activities like those in Guantanamo and the dozens of other torture centers run by the U.S. military and intelligence forces around the world, Janson has an important point that should be discussed by everyone on Veterans Day. And we should insist that the best way to honor Veterans and all they went through is to end all wars starting NOW.

-Rabbi Michael Lerner, editor, Tikkun


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The End of Harper’s Canadian Civil Religion

Nov10

by: Ed Simon on November 10th, 2015 | 3 Comments »

Justin Trudeau and his Liberal Party’s overwhelming sweep in the Canadian national elections on October 19 was more than just voters’ repudiation of Stephen Harper and the Conservative Party, but it was also a rejection of the strange version of Canadian civil religion the former Prime Minister was attempting to construct. Harper is from oil-rich Alberta and in his nine years as leader of Canada promoted policies that seemed more at home in the Republican Party of the United States than in socially and economically liberal Canada. An evangelical Christian, Harper symbolically placed the origins and future of the country with a mythic North while arguing for an increasingly jingoistic military. With the increasingly melting ice in the Arctic revealing previously inaccessible mineral wealth as well as a navigable Northwest Passage, Harper had tried to position Canada competitively against other national claimants in the region. Part of that center piece was (some might say cynically) rediscovering Canada’s origins as a “Northern Country.” In a way, Harper’s orientation of Canada towards the “North” wasn’t dissimilar in intent and tone to the United States’ mythologizing of the “West,” and similar economic, military, and political motivations underlay both. As the former prime minister had said, “Canada’s Arctic is central to our identity as a northern nation: It is part of our history and it represents the tremendous potential of our future.”


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Islamic Environmentalism

Nov8

by: Stephen Wollaston on November 8th, 2015 | 6 Comments »

Editor’s Note: This piece was adapted from the author’s book, entitled “Pathways of Green Wisdom: Discovering Earth Centred Teachings in Spiritual and Religious Traditions,” published by Greenspirit: http://www.greenspirit.org.uk/

For all Muslims, the whole of Earth, which has been entrusted to humans by God to protect and preserve, is seen as a divine gift and blessing from God. Earth itself is looked upon as an expression of beauty. Beauty being an attribute of God, and ‘the beautiful’ being one of God’s ninety-nine divine names in Islam. In the book Sufi Light, Ahmad Javid points out that, “The universe reflects the stunning beauty of its supreme Creator and displays His qualities constantly in every moment … Not only [do] all things come from God but in a way they also manifest God”.

In an essay on Islam, humankind and Nature, Mohammad Aslam Parvaiz informs us that, “As we learn about nature, it becomes abundantly clear that the entirety of nature is an integrated whole”. The Qur’an itself mentions both environmental and cosmic harmony created by God, how the sun and moon, plants and trees all submit to God’s design and balance. (55:5-9). Because of such mystical insights it can be seen that the whole Earth offers profound and constant opportunities for Muslims to be aware of God’s presence. A famous passage in the Qur’an in fact tells us that God is closer than our jugular vein (50:16).

 

Environmentalism

 

The Qur’an calls for all Muslims to “walk humbly on the earth” and promote “peace” to “the foolish” (25:63). From an Islamic perspective, because God has created all things and species, all forms of life ultimately need to be cherished and preserved. The Qur’anic saying advocating “no compulsion in religion” (2:256) reminds Islam’s followers and others that the Muslim tradition, in its purest form, is about unity, harmony, peace-making actions and nonviolence, which applies not only to humans but to the world at large. The idea of unity (tawhid) in particular, which is traditionally seen to be about God’s oneness, Muslim environmentalists also consider to be about all-inclusiveness, Richard C Foltz informs us.

Verses from the Qur’an also invite Muslims to “remember God’s blessings” (7:74), to “not corrupt the earth after it has been set right” (7:55), and to “not seek to spread corruption in the land” (28:77). Although some may interpret these passages to be only concerned with blessings God has bestowed on humans and human justice and nonviolence, it is accepted amongst green conscious Muslims that they can be expanded to include wider issues of environmental awareness, care, corruption and damage. In his masterful collection of teachings Spiritual Gems of Islam, Imam Jamal Rahman beautifully expresses the fact that, “Once we have begun to see ourselves as manifestations of the Creator, the next step along the spiritual path is to view our fellow beings with the same compassionate eyes”.

Foltz also informs us how, “It is often argued by Muslim environmentalists today that the Islamic legal tradition (sharia), in both its Sunni and Shi’i variants, if applied to the letter, contain adequate restrictions to ensure a use of natural resources that is both sustainable and just”. In the excellent book Green Dean, Ibrahim Abdul-Matin mentions how mosques themselves, as centres of religious community, are perfect places for promoting and being examples of green awareness, such as considering how much energy is used to light and heat mosques, and using better alternatives to plastic and paper cups and plates for any mosque based activities. At the holy mosques of Medina and Makkah in Saudi Arabia, the water used for ritual bathing (wudu) is recycled. In India, some mosques have huge tanks/pools for large crowds to use for ritual ablutions for the purpose of saving and reusing water.

Living at a time when people would have naturally recycled, the Prophet Mohammed himself would have wasted little. According to his wife Aisha, he recycled things when they could be fixed and repaired his own shoes and mended his own clothes, even though he would have had people around him who could have done these things for him.

 

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Despite Promises from de Blasio, Surveillance of Muslim Communities Continues

Nov6

by: Jews Against Islamophobia on November 6th, 2015 | Comments Off

Jews Against Islamophobia (JAI) and Jews for Racial and Economic Justice (JFREJ) are outraged to learn that the NYPD has continued to spy on the Muslim community and calls on the Mayor and City to put a halt to this discriminatory practice immediately. Despite Mayor de Blasio’s statement when he took office that it is unfair for law enforcement to single out people on the basis of their religion, the Gothamist reported that an undercover NYPD officer had been spying on a group of Muslim students at Brooklyn College as late as December 2014, eight months after he took office.

Pretending to have converted to Islam, the undercover NYPD officer spied for four years on women from the Brooklyn College Islamic Society solely because they are Muslim. Such surveillance undermines civil liberties and injures the people and community being targeted.

In 2011/2012, a Pulitzer Prize-winning Associated Press series documented that the NYPD had engaged in a far-reaching surveillance program that burrowed deep into the lives and institutions of New York-area Muslim communities. Informants were placed in mosques, Muslim student organizations, and Muslim-owned bookstores, businesses, and cafes. Some infiltrated Muslim student groups on college campuses at six branches of the City University of New York, as well as at colleges outside the City.


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Henoko Takes on U.S. Imperialism

Nov5

by: Maya Evans on November 5th, 2015 | 1 Comment »

Okinawa– Around one hundred and fifty Japanese protesters gathered to stop construction trucks from entering the U.S. base ‘Camp Schwab’, after the Ministry of Land over-ruled the local Governors’ decision to revoke permission for construction plans, criticizing the “mainland-centric” Japanese Government of compromising the environmental, health and safety interests of the Islanders.

Riot police poured out of buses at six a.m., out-numbering protesters four to one, with road sitters systematically picked off in less than an hour to make way for construction vehicles.

All the mayors and government representatives of Okinawa have objected to the construction of the new coastal base, which will landfill one hundred and sixty acres of Oura Bay, for a two hundred and five hectare construction plan which will be part of a military runway.

Credit: Maya Evans

Marine biologists describe Oura Bay as a critical habitat for the endangered ‘dugong’ (a species of manatee), which feeds in the area, as well as sea turtles and unique large coral communities.

The bay is particularly special for its extreme rich ecosystem which has developed due to six inland rivers converging into the bay, making the sea levels deep, and ideal from various types of porites coral and dependent creatures.

‘Camp Schwab’ is just one of 32 U.S. bases which occupy 17% of the Island, using various areas for military exercises from jungle training to Osprey helicopter training exercises. There are on average 50 Osprey take off and landings every day, many next to housing and built up residential areas, causing disruption to everyday life with extreme noise levels, heat and diesel smell from the engines.


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The U.S. Ought to Un-Swivel Its China Pivot

Oct28

by: Buddy Bell on October 28th, 2015 | 3 Comments »

For the last week, I’ve been walking on a peace march organized by the Nipponzan Myohoji order of Buddhist monks. This march is similar in some ways to another: the Okinawa “Beggars’ March” of 1955-1956. At that time, farmers who had been forcefully removed from their fields by U.S. soldiers in the years following World War II acted peacefully to demand the return of their land, which was the source of their entire livelihood.

Some of the farmers had their land stolen at gunpoint. In other cases, U.S. soldiers posing as surveyors duped them into signing English land-transfer documents that were passed off as invoices for the false land surveys.

Although the marchers bravely challenged local stigma against announcing oneself as a beggar, and although it was true that except for the fact that their land was stolen, these people would not need to beg, the U.S. military commander deemed them Communists and dismissed their concerns outright. The military refused to consider the issue of its hostile occupation of otherwise productive land.

The 32 U.S. bases now operating in Okinawa share a foundation in that initial land grab. Together, they comprise 17% of Okinawa prefecture. Nowadays, the Japanese government’s habit has been to forcefully borrow people’s land at a set rental price; then they let the U.S. military use that land for free.

All of this land area could otherwise be used for the prosperity of local communities in Okinawa. To quote one example, after the return of some land to the Shintoshin district of Naha, Okinawa’s capital city, the district’s productivity went up by a factor of 32. This is according to the September 19 issue of a local newspaper, Ryukyu Shimpo.


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“Broken Window Policies” are Discriminatory and Should be Opposed in U.S., Israel

Oct24

by: M. Dove Kent, Donna Nevel, Rebecca Vilkomerson on October 24th, 2015 | 8 Comments »

Dear Mayor de Blasio:

 
We understand that, during your recent trip to Israel, you offered the New York Police Department’s “broken windows” approach to policing as a model for world leaders on how to stay alert to anti-Semitism. This advice took place against a backdrop of new legislation approved by the Israeli government enabling police to conduct “stop and frisk” searches without requiring proof of reasonable suspicion — a law that is being selectively enforced against Palestinians. We are deeply disturbed by this recent development, particularly since, as Mayor of New York City, you agreed to court-ordered reforms of the NYPD’s discriminatory “stop and frisk” practices.

“Broken windows” policing is no model for increased safety for Jews or any other community. In New York City, this discriminatory strategy aggressively targets low-income people of color, violates the fundamental rights of New Yorkers, leads to physical and sexual assault, and creates an atmosphere of intimidation, confrontation, and fear, rather than trust. The low-level arrests yielded from this aggressive policing trigger severe consequences for New Yorkers, including job loss, eviction, and even deportation of permanent residents who are not citizens. “Broken windows” policing is fundamentally built on a culture of fear; it must end in New York City and must not be exported elsewhere. It does not, and cannot, aid in the safety in any community, or in the struggle against racism and anti-Semitism.


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The American Disease of Mass Killing

Oct23

by: Zhiwa Woodbury on October 23rd, 2015 | 1 Comment »

You might not think that mass shootings and the climate crisis are related problems. In truth, they appear to be symptomatic of the same underlying disease that has rotted American culture from the inside out, and now threatens the future of all life on the planet.

By now, everyone is quite familiar with the nauseating cycle we repeat every time there is a new mass shooting. Shock and horror, sensationalized news coverage focused on “how could this happen here?” and “what could motivate such a despicable action?” Next, the focus turns to the victims and their families, with an expression of moral outrage. If it is horrific enough, the President himself voices his sympathy, and maybe visits the aggrieved. Then the media turns to the problem with easy access to guns and mental illness, prompting a predictably polarized debate about gun control. After a few days, the media moves on to the latest celebrity gossip, natural disaster, or intractable war news, and everyone goes quiet… until the next shooting.

If we are so familiar with this cycle that it has actually become as routine as it is ineffective in processing our felt grief, why do we repeat it every time? Is this not the very definition of mental illness – repeating ineffectual behavior over and over while expecting a different outcome? The better question is this: why does the introspective analysis stop at the expression of polarized views about firearms? Is there really no underlying issue here beside firearms and their easy availability to mentally disturbed individuals?


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Henry Giroux on the Assault on Youth in the US

Oct22

by: Tikkun on October 22nd, 2015 | Comments Off

Editor’s Note: This article appeared first in the wonderful daily website Truth Out and can be read there also.

Perhaps the most drastic element of the war on youth in the U.S. is the willingness of the powerful to continue to squander the resources of the planet earth and destroy the life-support system of the planet. Having abandoned hope in any real transformation of the world, the powerful are willing to continue to amass wealth and power and to ignore all the scientific data that shows that if we continue in the path that we’ve been on for the past several hundred years, the youth of today will be suffering an environmental catastrophe brought on by the selfishness, materialism, chauvinistic nationalism that together are the consequences of global capitalism. Yet the war on youth today has the consequence of making many of them less willing to embrace the kind of seemingly utopian transformations of our society without which the logic of the capitalist order will continue and may yet yield a fascistic outcome to protect the powerful from the righteous indignation of those who will be suffering through the decline of the earth in the next fifty years. That’s why the ESRA–Environmental and Social Responsibility Amendment is at once so important (read it please at www.tikkun.org/esra) and so frequently dismissed as “too visionary to be realistic.” Yet it is actually the most modest first step in the transition from a capitalist society to The Caring Society–Caring for Each Other and Caring for the Earth.

–Rabbi Michael Lerner

rabbilerner.tikkun@gmail.com

Henry Giroux on:

Youth in an Authoritarian Age: Challenging the politics of disposability:

Following the insight of Hannah Arendt, a leading political theorist of mid-20th century totalitarianism, a dark cloud of political and ethical ignorance has descended upon the United States.(1) Thoughtlessness, a primary condition of authoritarian rule, now occupies a privileged, if not celebrated, place in the political landscape and the mainstream cultural apparatuses. A new kind of infantilism now shapes daily life as adults gleefully take on the role of unthinking children, while children are pushed to be adults, stripped of their innocence and subject to a range of disciplinary pressures that saddle them with debt and cripple their ability to be imaginative.(2)

Under such circumstances, agency devolves into a mind-numbing anti-intellectualism evident in the banalities produced by Fox News infotainment and celebrity culture, and in the blinding rage produced by populist politicians who support creationism, argue against climate change and rail against immigration, the rights of women, public service workers, gay people and countless others. There is more at work here than a lethal form of intellectual, political and emotional infantilism. There is also a catastrophe of indifference and inattentiveness that breeds flirtations with irrationality, fuels the spectacle of violence, creates an embodied incapacity and promotes the withering of public life.


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