Generous Orthodoxy  




Monday, August 29, 2005

Principalities and Powers

From a review by Ken Tucker of the new film Constant Gardener, New York magazine Aug. 29:

The message goes one step deeper [than The Spy Who Came In From the Cold]: It is clear that the remorseless amorality of governments bad and good will prove a more implacable impediment to humanity that the "wickedness" of any one man or woman.


Sunday, August 28, 2005

Voices from the "underground" in Iraq

Earlier this year I noted that there were increasing numbers of reports about military commanders serving in Iraq who, when speaking off the record, expressed serious doubts about the conduct of the war. In addition to written data in news media, I have received three dependable oral reports from parents of officers who say that their sons are privately dismayed by the Administration's policies in carrying out the war.

Today comes yet another example (among countless others in recent weeks):

In explaining why the US has not allowed the Iraqi forces to upgrade their weapons from the superannuated AK-47 (Kalashnikov) to the more powerful M4 used by the American troops, a senior American officer in Baghdad said, "We're worried about civil war or a coup." He would not agree to be identified because of the sensitivity of the issues.

--Craig S. Smith, "Big Guns for Iraq? Not So Fast" NYTimes, News of the Week in Review

See also this link:
http://www.generousorthodoxy.org/blog/2005/07/on-preaching-in-time-of-war-in-past.aspx


Thursday, August 04, 2005

An honorable journalist in Iraq loses his life for his convictions

New York City resident Stephen Vincent, a respected art expert turned journalist after 9/11, was kidnapped and killed by insurgents yesterday in Iraq. The killing was particularly poignant because Mr. Vincent had gone to Iraq on a financial shoestring, living in very difficult conditions, because he wanted to do everything he could to bring about a better life and government for the Iraqi people in the wake of the American invasion, which he supported.

Despite his support for the American project in Iraq, Mr. Vincent found much to deplore. He said in recent conversations that "he was particularly incensed about the sharp divide between men and women in the Islamic world. He was close to [his interpreter, who was badly wounded in the attack on their vehicle]...he said [she] had declined to accept payment for her work as an interpreter. He said he believed that the American-led invasion of Iraq was justified and part of a much larger campaign against what he called 'Islamo-fascism'.

"But he also said he was deeply disappointed by the failure of the United States and Britain to enforce their visions of democracy here. It was the duty of journalists, he said, to expose the pitfalls of the rising tide of Shiite Islam in Iraq in order to awaken the Bush administration to the kind of nation it was helping to create.

"American and Iraqi reporters who saw Mr. Vincent last weekend in Basra said he did not appear to be alarmed by anything and was looking forward to the publication of his Times article [this article appeared on the Op-ed page of the Times just this past Sunday, three days before his murder]." His piece sharply criticizes the British forces, who up to now have been upheld by many as superior to the American. Mr. Vincent reports with alarm that the British forces have allowed Shiite militants to operate with impunity in Basra, laying open the way for further instability and lawlessness.

--New York Times, 8/4/05


A tycoon stoops: The power of acknowledgement

New York City authorities have noticed a rise in attacks on teenagers by other teenagers who want to steal their iPods and cellphones. An assault last week in Brooklyn resulted in the murder of a 15-year-old, Christopher Rose, who was stabbed twice in the chest. The fight started with a demand for an iPod.

Steve Jobs, CEO of Apple Computer (the maker of iPod) asked one of his assistants to find Christopher’s father’s phone number. Mr. Jobs called Mr. Rose on his cellphone. He asked how he was doing and conveyed his sympathies. “He told me that he understood my pain,” Mr. Rose said. “Some people talk to you like they’re something remote. He was so familiar. After every word, he paused, as if each word he said came from his heart. He told me that if there is anything—anything—he could do, to not be afraid to call him. It really lightened me a bit.” (Synopsis based on, and exact quotes taken from, article by Kareem Fahim, “Apple Executive Calls Family of Teenager Killed for IPod,” New York Times 7/6/05)

When contacted by the Times, Mr. Job’s office refused to comment. The implication was that Mr. Jobs did not want to exploit his spontaneous deed of human empathy in order to gain publicity for himself.

The generous heart of a grieving father

“In the days following his son’s death, Mr. Rose has spoken of finding meaning in his son’s misfortune, and of working to help teenagers like the ones who attacked his son...‘We live in a world which is changing rapidly. We have the technology that can give us the iPod...but we have to work on the minds and the hearts. We’re failing these kids. We’re not loving them like we’re supposed to.’” (same article)

Maybe Mr. Jobs and Mr. Rose together can start a program. Maybe the churches—God enabling us—can find more ways to reach out to young people whose lives are so deprived that they think an iPod is more valuable than another person’s life. Maybe more people (men especially) can become mentors for rootless young people.


Military lawyers speak out against America sponsoring torture

Senator Lindsey Graham, a Republican from the very conservative state of South Carolina, has played against type and shown himself to be one of the most persistently active critics of American-sponsored torture. Indeed, he has displayed remarkable political courage.

Sen. Graham has credentials. He used to be a uniformed lawyer for the Air Force. The New York Times reports (7/28) that, as a result of his insistence, previously classified documents have been released showing that top lawyers from all four branches of the Armed Forces wrote sharp denunciations of the “Bybee memorandum,” a document issued in August 2002 by the Justice Department which defined torture extremely narrowly (restricting the definition exclusively to procedures causing permanent organ damage or death). The Bybee memo stated that President Bush could ignore domestic and international bans on torture because of the “special character of the war on terrorism.”

The JAGs (Judge Advocates General) from all four services protested in terms like this:

• Several of the more extreme interrogation practices allowed by the Bybee memo “amount to violations of domestic criminal law” as well as military law.

• Aggressive interrogation techniques would endanger American soldiers taken prisoner and also diminish the country’s standing as a leader on the “moral high road” with regard to the laws of war.

• The approach recommended by the Justice Department in the Bybee memo “will open us up to criticism that the US is a law unto itself.”

Secretary of Defense Donald H. Rumsfeld approved the Bybee memo in December 2002. In April 2003, after learning of the uniformed lawyers’ “vigorous and detailed dissents,” he made a decision to limit the permitted interrogation techniques.

(Neil A. Lewis, “Military’s Opposition to Harsh Interrogation Is Outlined,” New York Times 7/28/05)

A sidebar to this matter is the character of Jay S. Bybee, the head of the office of legal counsel at the Justice Department. He has been described as mild-mannered and a lover of domestic pursuits, the most unlikely person in the world to sign an official memorandum authorizing torture by an American presidential administration. But this should not surprise us. Unredeemed human nature is by definition twisted, distorted, “bent.” That is why the Christian faith calls us to vigilance without ceasing against these tendencies in others and in ourselves.


The story of the 1996 martyrs of Algeria

Excerpt from Philip Yancey’s column, Christianity Today, November 2004. Emphasis added.

A lieutenant in the French army, Christian de Chergé, assigned to Algeria during a violent uprising in 1959, found he could talk about God more freely among Muslims there than he could back in France, where such talk made people uncomfortable. As a Muslim policeman named Mohammed told him, “We never see French soldiers praying. You say you believe in God. How can you not pray if you believe in God?”

Later, as the lieutenant was walking with Mohammed, rebels surrounded them. Mohammed placed himself in front of the rifles aimed at Christian’s chest, insisting that the soldier was a godly man and a friend of Muslims. The rebels withdrew without harming the Frenchman, but the next day Mohammed was found with his throat slit.

Lt. De Chergé ultimately resigned his commission and joined a Trappist community in remote Algeria. The monks ministered to the sick, gave refuge to the poor, and spent most of their time in prayer, thus creating an oasis of Christian faith in a land mostly hostile to it.

Ultimately, the terrorists had their way. In 1996, seven monks, including de Chergé, were taken away, held hostage for two months, then beheaded. This brutal incident, however, became a tipping point in the war of Islamic radicals against Algeria’s government—by turning the majority of Algerians against the radicals. Mainstream Muslims called for an end to the violence. Today the monks are honored as martyrs throughout Algeria.

....“There are no final proofs for the existence of God,” Rabbi [Abraham] Heschel said in [a] 1966 speech; “There are only witnesses.”


Wednesday, August 03, 2005

Human nature in an endless cycle of wrong, self-justification and retribution

Today's Chinese have been shaped by an anti-Japanese patriotic education, overseen by a government that is aware that its own domestic credentials depend, in part, on a hard line toward Japan. Having a hated neighbor shores up national solidarity and helps distract people from the failings of the Chinese Communist Party. Besides the party's monopoly on power, few orthodoxies are as untouchable today as hostility toward Japan.

Yu Jie, a Chinese author who spent time in Japan researching a book on the two countries' relations, Iron and Plough, and went on to write another book about his experiences in Japan, discovered that at his own expense.

The books are nuanced works, built around lengthy conversations with pacifists, right-wing activists, scholars of every stripe and ordinary Japanese. One chapter, "Looking for Japan's Conscience," warned against speaking of Japanese in blanket terms.

"In the 60 years since the war, numerous Chinese and Japanese people have worked for the difficult Sino-Japanese friendship, selflessly emitting a dim yet precious light," he wrote.

The books appeared briefly in stores and then disappeared. In a country where censorship is routine, that is a sure sign, the author said, that officials had put pressure on the publisher or the stores to withdraw them.

Mr. Yu said China's policy toward Japan was unlikely to become more balanced as long as an authoritarian government remained in place, because Japan offered an unrivaled distraction from China's own problems.

"We criticize Yasukuni Shrine, but we have Mao Zedong's shrine in the middle of Beijing, which is our own Yasukuni," he said. "This is a shame to me, because Mao Zedong killed more Chinese than the Japanese did. Until we are able to recognize our own problems, the Japanese won't take us seriously."

--Norimitsu Onishe and Howard W. French, "Ill Will Rising Between China and Japan," The New York Times 8/3/05.


An American journalist pays for his convictions with his life

The murder of Stephen Vincent, an American reporter, by insurgents in Iraq yesterday throws the political situation in Iraq into sharp relief. A supporter of the invasion of Iraq, he becaome disillusioned after spending substantive time there. The New York Times reported as follows:

Mr. Vincent said in conversations that he was particularly incensed about the sharp divide between men and women in the Islamic world. He was close to Ms. Tuaiz [his interpreter, who was seriously wounded in the attack], who he said had declined to accept payment for her work as an interpreter. He said he believed that the American-led invasion of Iraq was justified and part of a much larger campaign against what he called "Islamo-fascism."

But he also said he was deeply disappointed by the failure of the United States and Britain to enforce their visions of democracy here. It was the duty of journalists, he said, to expose the pitfalls of the rising tide of Shiite Islam in Iraq in order to awaken the Bush administration to the kind of nation it was helping to create.