Tuesday, November 23, 2010

The heresy of bumper stickers (or why Abd el-Kader is not like George Washington)

It's been a while.  And while there are many thoughts on peace and Otherness floating in my soul (thanks to the writings of Helene Cixous, Virginia Woolf, and so many other feminist writers), I am between lectures, so the thoughts will have to ruminate a while longer.

If you have a minute, however, here's a link to some food for thought: "No Christ.  No Peace.  Know Christ.  Know Peace?" a short reflection by Peace Catalyst International.  While I generally agree with the thoughts expressed, I have to say that my ambivalence with the original statement goes beyond that of the blog's writer.  It isn't that I disagree that Jesus is "God's Comprehensive Peace Plan," it's just that while the Church (or those who label themselves in the name of the Church) continue to be perpetrators of conflict and supporters of war -- some of the loudest voices in the battle to eradicate "Otherness" from our midsts -- toting such bumper stickers is not just reductionist, it's heretical.  And as someone who doesn't actually believe in heresy, let me define my usage as meaning a mis-representation of the call of God in our lives, and our witness to that call.  If we can't live the call to peace, writing it on our cars (while simultaneously positing a position that labels "us" as the only possessors of that peace) seems somewhat blasphemous.  If we believe that peace is sacred enough to have required the death of God to achieve, doesn't it deserve a bit more respect, as a concept, than being used as a tool for further dividing "us" from "them"?

And on a different note, why, pray tell, would a 19th century Algerian Muslim, responsible for saving thousands of Syrian Christians from massacre, be compared to George Washington?!  Who exactly did our first president prevent from being slaughtered?  Seems like an example of our overt privileging of Western stories, despite evidence that non-Western histories might supersede them . . . but who wants to admit that an Arab Muslim might have achieved more than one of our illustrious founding fathers?

Thursday, September 23, 2010

peace quote of the day [Virginia Woolf and War]

I found this amid my Oxford notes, taken from the semester I spent studying Virginia Woolf as a visiting member of Wycliffe Hall.  An excerpt from Woolf's diary, it's fragmented and rough, but I find it powerful for its disconcerting juxtaposition of the mundane and the violent.  When did we become so complacent to torture and death?  And is that complacency not the final ugliness?  

Yesterday we went to the Tower, which is an impressive murderous bloody grey raven haunted military barrack prison dungeon palace; like the prison of English splendour; the reformatory at the back of history; where we shot and tortured and imprisoned. Prisoners scratched their names, very beautifully, on the walls. And the crown jewels blazed, very tawdry, and there were the orders, like Spinks or a Regent Street jewellers. And we watched the Scots Guards drill: and an officer doing a kind of tiger pace up and down--a wax faced barbers block officer trained to a certain impassive balancing. The sergeant major barked and swore. All in a hoarse bark: the men stamped and wheeled like--machines: then the officer also barked: all precise, inhuman, showing off. A degrading, stupefying sight. But in keeping with the grey walls, the cobbles, the executioner's block. People sitting on the river bank among old cannons. Steps etc. very romantic: a dungeon like feeling. (A Writer's Diary, Wednesday, March 27th, 1935)

Friday, August 20, 2010

Faith Beyond Despair? a word from Father Elias Chacour

I have recently been reading Elias Chacour's recent book "Faith Beyond Despair: Building Hope in the Holy Land." For those not familiar with Father Chacour's writings, I would highly recommend his previous books, "Blood Brothers" and "We Belong to the Land." In all of his books, he tells his own story, of his experience as part of a Palestinian family that was run out of their village in '48, but stayed within what became the state of Israel, and are thus Israeli Arab citizens. He is a priest, now a bishop, and has spent his life working for reconciliation between Palestinians and Israelis, Christians, Jews and Muslims. (For more information on the educational complex he has built over the years, see http://www.pilgrimsofibillin.org/.)

I find his perspectives refreshing, given his long years of experiencing first hand all of the problems and setbacks of the Palestinian people, and knowing well the obstacles to peace and reconciliation. It amazes me that someone who has lived what he has lived, still has hope.

Here are a couple of statements from "Faith Beyond Despair," with relational convictions that are foundational - in his view - to finding a resolution to the Palestinian-Israeli conflict:

"It is not a matter now of tolerating each other, we have to accept each other.

"We have to move beyond tolerance to the point of accepting one another, which means accepting that the other is different and that this difference is an enrichment, not a threat. That is the way our attitudes have to evolve, and unfortunately that is not yet happening.

"Before we were ever Jews, Muslims or Palestinians we were simply men and women. We must always remember our common identity. The trouble is that we educate our children, not to be human beings, but to be Zionists, or left wing, or right wing, or Palestinians fanatics standing on their rights with hatred in their hearts.

"My proposal to you is that we should work together in harmony to create a human society in which it will be good to be alive. … Neither you nor I nor our friend the sheik was born a Christian, a Muslim or a Jew. According to the Bible, we were born first and foremost as children, created in the image of God."

Is this possible? Can Muslims, Christians and Jews, Palestinians and Israelis, or any of us, set aside their ideologies and secondary identities, focus on their shared primary identity as human beings, and learn to accept one another, as a basis for living together in society? Given all that Father Chacour has experienced to the contrary, the fact that he continues to believe that this is possible, and that he seeks to live this out in his interactions with others, gives me hope.

To me, Father Chacour is a Gandhi or a Martin Luther King, Jr., of the Palestinian struggle. May his hope stay strong, and prove well founded.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

What are we missing as we read the Bible?

This past Sunday, the pastor of the church we were visiting spoke on Proverbs 23. I like this church, and I like the pastor, but I was struck on this occasion by something he missed. Proverbs 23 verses 10 and 11 state:

"Do not move an ancient boundary stone or encroach on the fields of the fatherless, for their Defender is strong; he will take up their case against you."

What was noticeably missing in the pastor's comments on these verses, to one who has spent time in the West Bank and knows the situation of the Palestinians, was any reference to the many ways that the Israeli government is continually "moving ancient boundary stones" and "encroaching on the fields of the fatherless," i.e., moving boundaries and taking land that belongs to Palestinians.

On a recent trip to the West Bank, I was struck again, in Bethlehem and surroundings, East Jerusalem, and elsewhere, the extent to which the Wall, rather than being about "security" (which the Israeli government maintains), is about land grabbing. Over and over again, the Wall runs a circuitous route, weaving back and forth in a path designed, not to separate Palestinians from Israelis (and settlers, at that, who are living on stole land), but to separate Palestinians from large segments of their land. Then, once Palestinians have not been able to access or work the land for a certain period of time, Israel uses the "law" (if you can call it that, when it is being used as an instrument of evil) to claim the "unused" land. This is well documented, and if you don't believe it, you should visit the West Bank and see for yourself.

Meanwhile, we sit comfortably in our churches in America, and listen to nice sermons that fail to make the most basic of connections, i.e., between the Biblical text and the reality on the ground in the very area, to the very people, that it was originally spoken to.

May the Defender that the verse refers to, the Just and Righteous Creator of both the Palestinians and the Israelis, indeed come to the defense of those who are having their land (and their freedom and many basic human rights) stolen. And may those of us who claim faith in God, and who claim to believe and revere the Bible, read it deeply and act upon it.

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

peace quote of the day [Rabbis for Human Rights: Human Dignity]

The Mishnah teaches: “Therefore was Adam created single, to teach you that the destruction of any person’s life is tantamount to destroying a whole world and the preservation of a single life is tantamount to preserving a whole world” (Sanhedrin 4:5). And again in the words of Rabbi Akiva: “Beloved are human beings, for they are created in God’s Image” (Pirkei Avot 3:18).  We are deeply concerned for human dignity and the preservation of life for Jews and non-Jews alike, and we are deeply disturbed by, and seek to remove, excesses and abuses whenever and wherever they occur.
-from Rabbis for Human Rights: Judaism & Human Rights, Principles of Faith

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

peace quote of the day [Israel's Declaration of Independence]

THE STATE OF ISRAEL will be open to the immigration of Jews and for the Ingathering of the Exiles from all countries of their dispersion; will promote the development of the country for the benefit of all its inhabitants; will be based on the precepts of liberty, justice and peace as invisaged by the prophets of Israel; will uphold the full social and political equality of all its citizens, without distinction of race, creed or sex; will guarantee full freedom of conscience, worship, education and culture; will safeguard the sanctity and inviolability of the shrines and Holy Places of all religions; and will dedicate itself to the principles of the Charter of the United Nations.
- from Israel's Declaration of Independence 

Monday, August 2, 2010

Game Trekking: traveling (and gaming) towards peace, creativity, and understanding

"As cliché as it sounds, I believe that travel is a metaphor for, and microcosm of, life itself, and that therein lies its value. It's about the exotic, but also about the commonplace; about the new, but also about the old; about seeing and discovering, but also about listening and waiting; about coming into contact with the other and being changed, but also about finding constancy. Always it is about coming to know the world better, and myself." -Jordan Magnuson, "The Journey"

If, as Marvin Olasky suggests, social justice is created from millions of individual acts of relational justice, then maybe global understanding is created from combining millions of moments of individual understanding.  Of one person stepping out of his or her comfort zone to encounter the Other.

And encountering the Other is exactly what game designer, Jordan Magnuson, hopes to do.  Travel the world, and create computer games (or notgames) about what he sees and experiences.  About how he is impacted.

This is something he has already done -- very effectively, I believe -- with such games as Freedom Bridge, inspired by his two years spent living in South Korea.  But now he wants to do it on a wider scale, and is asking for your support.

Now, there are many, many reasons that this excites me, but I'm going to share two of them.  One, as I have stated elsewhere, I believe in creativity.  I believe that creation is, perhaps, the single greatest weapon we have against destruction -- against war, and hatred, and violence.  Pacifism is powerful because it requires creative resistance.  It requires humanity in the place of barbarism.

I believe that the creative process, even when it isn't used to convey explicitly peace-related themes, helps us retain our humanity and draws us together in community -- the broad community that binds us together as beings who long to communicate, create beauty, and make meaning, and the more specific community of those who have shared a specific experience, whether that experience involves looking at a van Gogh, attending an opera, or playing a computer game.  Art binds us together.

Which is why kickstarter (an online site that allows you to contribute directly to creative projects) is so exciting to me.  Not only can you be involved in the process of experiencing art, you can actually help create it.  You can enable individuals to share their creative visions with you, and with the world.

So I am excited about Game Trekking because it's creative.  But I'm also excited about the specific way in which it is creative.  I'm excited that it's a project dedicated to encountering and understanding the unknown.  I'm excited that Magnuson will have the opportunity to see and listen, to explore and ponder, to change and be changed.  I believe that, in itself, is priceless.  But it doesn't stop there.  What I'm really excited about is that Magnuson, being the artist that he is, will then be able to share those experiences with us.  Share them in a way that is deeply impactful, using a medium, travel gaming, that has never been used before.

Now, I will admit that I'm a bit biased when it comes to this particular project, gamemaker, and person.  After all, he's one of my favorite people, one of my favorite artists, and one of my favorite thinkers.  I find his ideas compelling and his conviction inspiring.  He's one of the very few people who has the power, in a 60 minute conversation, to actually change my perspective on a topic, and broaden my worldview.

Magnuson is a person of integrity, living and creating out of a strong sense of necessity, compassion, and humility.  So when I tell you that his creative contribution can actually impact the world, I truly, wholeheartedly believe it.

"I want to travel around the world and communicate the things I experience.  To help me understand the world better, and maybe, just maybe, to help increase understanding in a broader context.  Perhaps that's arrogance, but for me it's hope."

So what are you waiting for?  Become a backer.  Because choosing peace, creativity, and understanding, even on the small scale, is always a good thing.

peace quote of the day [Rabbis for Human Rights: Torah]

The essence of Torah, as summarized by Hillel’s statement “What is hateful to you, do not do to your fellow” (Shabbat 31a), reflects the experience and ethical consciousness of the Jewish people. The Torah states explicitly: “Do not wrong a stranger who resides with you in your land. The stranger who resides with you shall be to you as one of your citizens: you shall love the stranger as yourself, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt: I am the Lord your God” (Lev. 19:33-34). Our historical experience of exile and redemption, as well as our ethical consciousness, must sensitize us to the suffering of others and compel us to defend the rights of all who dwell among us.
-from Rabbis for Human Rights: Judaism & Human Rights, Principles of Faith

Ethnic Cleaning: the fate of Arab Israelis in Israel

The Israeli Declaration of Independence declares that "[The State of Israel] will uphold the full social and political equality of all its citizens, without distinction of race, creed or sex; will guarantee full freedom of conscience, worship, education and culture; will safeguard the sanctity and inviolability of the shrines and Holy Places of all religions; and will dedicate itself to the principles of the Charter of the United Nations."

Unfortunately, it lied.

Nearly 20% of Israel's citizens are not Jews.  They are Arab.  And yet, despite claims that "Arab Israelis are citizens of Israel with equal rights,"every human rights group we spoke to in Israel (most of which were Jewish) declared that the Arab citizens of Israel are consistently discriminated against, and many live in a constant state of fear.  

Just to be clear, I am not talking about the Palestinian residents of the Occupied Territories.  I am talking about the Arabs living within the borders of Israel itself, who are supposedly recognized as full citizens by the Israeli government. 

One example of this disparity is the difference between the law of return (which makes it illegal for an Arab Israeli to return to their pre-1948 land) and the right of return (which gives every Jew, regardless of citizenship, the right to settle in Israel).

They also receive significantly less public services (i.e. money for schools, health care, road cleanup, etc.) than their Jewish counterparts, despite paying the same amount of taxes.  

One of the Jews we talked to at B'Tselem (the Israeli Information Center for Human Rights in the Occupied Territories) cited this as one of the main reasons he got involved with the organization: I have eyes, he said.  I grew up seeing the way we lived, and seeing the way our Arab neighbors lived, just across the street.  I knew they paid the same taxes, and I couldn't understand why they were treated so differently.  

But this is all just an introduction, for what I actually wanted to share, which is Max Blumenthal's article, "The 'Summer Camp Of Destruction:' Israeli High Schoolers Assist The Razing Of A Bedouin Town."

The thing that really struck me in this account of the demolition of a Bedouin village in the Negev (which took place on July 26th) is the fact that the Arabs involved were Israeli citizens.

But instead of being protected by their government and neighbors, they were surrounded by gloating volunteers, celebrating the destruction of an Arab community in their midst.

A number of villagers including Abu Madyam told me the volunteers smashed windows and mirrors in their homes and defaced family photographs with crude drawings. Then they lounged around on the furniture of al-Arakib residents in plain site of the owners. Finally, according to Abu Matyam, the volunteers celebrated while bulldozers destroyed the homes.
“What we learned from the summer camp of destruction,” Abu Madyam remarked, “is that Israeli youth are not being educated on democracy, they are being raised on racism.”
Blumenthal highlights the disturbing reality that many of these volunteers are teenagers, officially working for the Israeli police.   
Not only are they being indoctrinated to swear blind allegiance to the military, they are learning to treat the Arab outclass as less than human. The volunteers’ behavior toward Bedouins, who are citizens of Israel and serve loyally in Israeli army combat units despite widespread racism, was strikingly reminiscent of the behavior of settler youth in Hebron who pelt Palestinian shopkeepers in the old city with eggs, rocks and human waste. If there is a distinction between the two cases, it is that the Hebron settlers act as vigilantes while the teenagers of Israeli civilian guard vandalize Arab property as agents of the state.
Blumenthal's concern echoes that of the Arab Association for Human Rights, who we met with in Nazareth.  Unlike other organizations (B'Tselem, Al Haq, etc.) working for Arab rights in the Occupied Territories, these were Israeli citizens working for human rights for Arabs in Israel.  The director informed us that his great fear is that, while the situation in the Occupied Territories will eventually be resolved, one way or another, the situation for Arabs in Israel will just continue to deteriorate, because they are invisible.  
Most do not even know they exist.  The terms Israeli and Arab are thought to be mutually exclusive.   
While the individual suffering is heartbreaking, it is the trend (and legal precedence) that is truly terrifying.  As Blumenthal states, "The spectacle of Israeli youth helping destroy al-Arakib helps explain why 56% of Jewish Israeli high school students do not believe Arabs should be allowed to serve in the Knesset."   
Take a moment.  Read that again.  More than half of Jewish youth (the next generation of leaders and law makers) do not believe that Arab citizens should have a voice in the law-making of their country.  
They want the minority silenced. 
As for the present condition of Israeli democracy, it is essential to consider the way in which the state pits its own citizens against one another, enlisting the Jewish majority as conquerers while targeting the Arab others as, in the words of Zionist founding father Chaim Weizmann,“obstacles that had to be cleared on a difficult path.” Historically, only failing states have encouraged such corrosive dynamics to take hold. That is why the scenes from al-Arakib, from the demolished homes to the uprooted gardens to the grinning teens who joined the mayhem, can be viewed as much more than the destruction of a village. They are snapshots of the phenomenon that is laying Israeli society as a whole to waste.
This is America's democratic ally in the Middle East.

Sunday, August 1, 2010

peace quote of the day [heroism]

"Who is the greatest hero?  One who makes an enemy into a friend." - Avot d'Rabbi Natan (23:1)

Saturday, July 31, 2010

why don't they listen?

On a side note, I so wish that Christian groups visiting the Holy Land would meet with organizations like Rabbis for Human Rights.  Organizations that share their heart for loving God and loving Israel, and could maybe open their eyes to the fact that continuing to allow consistent human rights violations is not the way to love either.

Rabbis for Human Rights: the voice of a God who loves

Rabbis for Human Rights is a humanitarian organization that seeks to restore true righteousness to the State of Israel.

Meeting with Rabbi Michael Schwartz, around a wide oval table in their headquarters in Jerusalem, we were told that their organization is driven by the Old Testament command to take care of the fatherless, the widow, and the stranger in the land.  That, said Rabbi Schwartz, is what true religion looks like.  

The work of the rabbis is multi-faceted, centering on Social and Economic Justice (the protection of the poor), Human Rights in the Occupied Territories, and Human Rights Education. 

Much of their work in the Occupied Territories revolves around helping Palestinians maintain physical access to the land they own.  According to the law, if Palestinians can be kept off their land (even by such unjust means as barbed wire fences, armed soldiers, or violent settlers) then the land attains the status of "no-man's land" and is legally seizable by the Israeli government.  This is one of the main techniques that has gained settlers the control of 42% of the West Bank.  

(Look at that percentage again.  Did you really see it?  42% of the WEST BANK is controlled by settlements considered illegal under international law.)

Some of their most unique work, however, is under the heading of Human Rights Education.  RHR rabbis work with religious youth preparing to serve their country in the IDF (Israeli Defense Force).  Together they look at Israel's Declaration of Independence (in the absence of a constitution, which Israel does not yet have), in combination with relevant scripture, and wrestle with questions of ethics and morality.  How does a soldier, loyal to his country and obedient to God, make decisions within the impossible situations that young Israelis are likely to find themselves in?  How do they maintain the innocence, humanity, and dignity of both themselves and their Palestinian brothers and sisters (or enemies, depending on how you want to categorize)?  

One of the reasons that this work is so vitally significant is that the IDF has their own rabbis (and here there was a trace of anger -- or was it pain? -- in Rabbi Schwartz's voice).  Rabbis who hand out pamphlets to young soldiers declaring that Palestinians are less than human; declaring that annihilating such sub-humans is the act of a holy war; declaring that killing them is not murder, but righteous victory.  

For all our sakes, Rabbi Schwartz seemed to plead, we must teach them another way.

But perhaps most important of all their work, they seek to generate hope.  There are Israeli and American Jews who have come to them, Schwartz told us, and said that the only reason they can continue to wear the kippah, or call themselves religious Jews, is because of the work of RHR and those like them.  

My favorite story illustrating this work of hope-building was the one Rabbi Schwartz left us with (a story that is briefly referenced in the New York Times op-ed article about RHR, In Israel, the Noble vs. the Ugly):
His coworker (Rabbi Asherman) once got a call about settler violence against Palestinians.  When he got there, the Palestinians, extremely agitated, began throwing stones at the settlers and the soldiers protecting them.  Unable to condone violence, he left.  Only to get called minutes later to be told that Israeli soldiers were using a Palestinian child as a human shield.  He returned to the site to find a 13-year-old boy tied to the front of a tank.  Going up to the soldiers, he asked them if they knew that such acts were in violation of the Geneva convention, and could constitute war crimes.  In response, he was head-butted, and tied to the front of the tank with the child.  When the traumatized child was later interviewed by Al Gazira, he told them that, yes, he was having nightmares, and, yes, he was terrified of the soldiers.  But he also said that a tall Jew, with a red beard and a kippah on his head, came to his rescue. 
And that, right there, is the testimony of hope.   

But although it was Rabbi Schwartz who told us that bitterness is the result of inaction, still there are elements of the situation that even he will admit are very bleak indeed.  

For instance (and this was a sentiment repeated by almost every human rights group we met with), one of the strongest movements in Israel today is the movement to de-legitimize human rights groups, and exhaust the strength of those opposing injustice.

May the day never come when they succeed.    

Travel Writing: a child born in Bethlehem

I scribbled this in my notebook while staying with a host family in Beit Sahour (next door to Bethlehem).  The family has bullet holes in their home -- a remnant from the 2nd Intifada, when standing on your balcony could be considered a crime.

Babies, I think, may be the international language of love.

All that is needed is one glance at the large, bright eyes, the guarded smiles, the small, pudgy fingers, the wild squeals, and it would take a hard heart to not surrender entirely.

Our host grandmother kisses the fat rolls of the baby's thighs, laughing at the child's delight, cooing at his noises.  Her voice, pitched high, speaks nonsense in his ear.

We watched as the grandfather, a man of few words and severe dignity (who would barely speak in our direction), became a child himself, playing games with his grandson in his arms.  Chuckling in his satisfaction and pride.

And I wish that all the mothers of Palestine could hold all of the babies of Israel, and vice versa.  Maybe then we would not be so quick to kill.

Friday, July 30, 2010

peace quote of the day

"Social justice is the sum of millions of acts of relational justice." - Marvin Olasky

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

peace quote of the day

I'm not sure this qualifies as a peace quote.  Maybe a justice quote?  Or maybe it's just a self-interested attempt to separate myself from Christian Zionism.  It just continues to baffle me how anyone reading the bible could believe that God is somehow disinterested in Palestinian pain.  Could believe that prophetic fulfillment is somehow more important than mercy, justice, or compassion.  Could believe that speaking out against murder, theft, and lawlessness is somehow to be anti-Israeli.  

Was it not the prophets -- those who condemned Israel the most strongly -- who wept for her the most passionately? "Since my people are crushed, I am crushed; I mourn, and horror grips me. . . . Oh, that my head were a spring of water and my eyes a fountain of tears!  I would weep day and night for the slain of my people." (Jer. 8:21-9:1)

But perhaps it is only those who can do both who have the right to speak  We talk of the "prophetic voice," but until I can weep over Israel's pain, do I really have the right to say anything at all?

Jeremiah 7:3-11:
This is what the LORD Almighty, the God of Israel, says: Reform your ways and your actions, and I will let you live in this place.  Do not trust in deceptive words and say, "This is the temple of the LORD, the temple of the LORD, the temple of the LORD!"  If you really change your ways and your actions and deal with each other justly, if you do not oppress the alien, the fatherless or the widow and do not shed innocent blood in this place, and if you do not follow other gods to your own harm, then I will let you live in this place, in the land I gave your forefathers for ever and ever.  But look, you are trusting in deceptive words that are worthless.

Will you steal and murder . . . and then come and stand before me in this house, which bears my Name, and say, "We are safe" -- safe to do all these detestable things?  Has this house, which bears my Name, become a den of robbers to you?  But I have been watching! declares the LORD.

Saturday, July 3, 2010

Freedom Bridge: a "notgame" for Korea by Jordan Magnuson

I've mentioned my brother before, a game designer and critic who believes that computer games have the potential to be profoundly powerful.  He's an artist who's fascinated by the ways in which the interactivity of the gaming medium can help us reconsider, and recapture, our humanity.

I don't know if you're someone who likes computer games, or someone who finds them completely superfluous. Regardless, I challenge you, as a human being interested in conflict and resolution, and the human condition of struggle, hope, and despair, to go ahead and spend two minutes "playing" Freedom Bridge.  The game gets its name from the bridge connecting North and South Korea over the Imjin River.  It loads in your browser, and all you have to do is click on the screen and use your keyboard to move.

Believe me, it's worth it.

If you want to read more about it, there's an article in Resolution Magazine.

And here is some of the response it is getting:
One of the most intense interactive experiences I’ve ever had. I went on and watched some short documentaries about Korea afterwards in order to process the tension it had left me with (mitsche, FlashPunk Forums).
One of the best video games I’ve played all year (Fraser McMillan, Resolution Magazine).
An excellent demonstration of how you can use the medium to really have an impact (Brooks Harrel, college student with a ‘starving artist’ passion for game design).
Short, to the point, and beautiful (benedict, FlashPunk Blog).
Very much worth the quick playthrough! (GameSetWatch).
I often take issue with games this short and message-centric, but it was very effective (Bryan Suchenski).
Here, despite being the barest representation possible, is something far more deeply affecting than the biggest budget “emotional experience” being crafted today (Eolirin, Raph Koster’s Blog). 
Best flash game ever? (multiple posts on Twitter).
I'd say that's a pretty effective piece of art.

Friday, July 2, 2010

Trip Reflections by the President's Wife

I've mentioned (I think) that my most recent trip into Israel and the Occupied Territories was taken with a group from the university where my father teaches (Bethel University in Minnesota).  Here is a concise, but beautiful, reflection on that trip by Barb Barnes, the wife of Bethel's current president (Jay Barnes).  Barb has a heart that is filled with both joy and compassion, and I was incredibly blessed by her presence on the trip

Reflections On Our Trip to Israel
Publication date: Jun 28, 2010 9:34 p.m.
Guest contributor Barb Barnes 
Wall between Israel and Palestine

Five others from Bethel joined Jay and me for seven days in Israel and Palestine. While we were able to see some of the biblical sites, the purpose of the trip was to learn about the current situation there and to explore the possibility of a study abroad program for our students. I am grateful for the safety and good health for everyone while we were there and for an experience of profound learning.

While in Bethlehem (in the West Bank) we stayed with Christian families. It was good to see a faithful Christian presence remaining in spite of the hardships and the exodus of Palestinian Christians to other parts of the world because of the difficult conditions that limit employment and personal freedoms.

Here are a few initial reflections on the week, with more to follow later in a post from Jay.

Incredible conflict exists in the land of Jesus’ birth.

I believe God mourns.

The wall (pictured above) is a constant reminder of many lost freedoms.

I believe God mourns.

For more than 60 years people have lived in poverty in refugee camps.

I believe God mourns.

Apartheid has become a way of life.

I believe God mourns.

Extreme disproportional distribution of resources, such as water, exists.

I believe God mourns.

Hundreds of villages have been demolished to make room for settlements.

I believe God mourns.

Human rights violations occur daily.

I believe God mourns.

The Christian population is declining as many are leaving to avoid persecution.

I believe God mourns.

People on all sides of this conflict have inflicted great harm.

I believe God mourns.

Beth, a recent Bethel grad is working in a Palestinian village, bringing hope and God’s love to the people there.

I believe God rejoices!

I realize there are other perspectives and political realities that go beyond my statements, but our hearts were broken and our minds were stretched by what we saw. We have a different sense of what it means to "pray for the peace of Jerusalem.” We are thankful that Bethel’s reconciliation studies major prepares students like Beth to change the world.

Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Collateral Murder

This video, recently leaked, epitomizes everything I hate about war. Everything that makes me sick. Yes, the soldiers believe (somewhat inexplicably) that they're firing on the enemy, but they aren't. They're children and reporters and the unknown faces of human beings with lives and joys and the courage to rescue the wounded.  And maybe that's the whole point.  That there isn't an enemy.  Only children and reporters and . . . you get the point.  But when we label them, it makes them so much easier to kill (and laugh while doing it).

May God have mercy on us all.  

From the website [shooting took place in 2007]:

5th April 2010 10:44 EST WikiLeaks has released a classified US military video depicting the indiscriminate slaying of over a dozen people in the Iraqi suburb of New Baghdad -- including two Reuters news staff.

Reuters has been trying to obtain the video through the Freedom of Information Act, without success since the time of the attack. The video, shot from an Apache helicopter gun-sight, clearly shows the unprovoked slaying of a wounded Reuters employee and his rescuers. Two young children involved in the rescue were also seriously wounded.

The military did not reveal how the Reuters staff were killed, and stated that they did not know how the children were injured.

After demands by Reuters, the incident was investigated and the U.S. military concluded that the actions of the soldiers were in accordance with the law of armed conflict and its own "Rules of Engagement".

Salim Munayer: a man who speaks like Moses

It's about a week since I returned from my recent trip to Israel and the West Bank, and there are so many thoughts I want to share, but it's hard to know where to start.

We met with some amazing people -- powerful peacemakers -- from both sides of the checkpoints.  People dedicating their lives to the pursuit of justice, mercy, and transformation.

And I am in awe. 

I hope to introduce you to some of my newfound heroes over the course of the next few days and weeks, as well as, perhaps, some of my thoughts and reflections from the time there.

After spending the night with host families in Bethlehem, the first meeting of our trip was in Jerusalem with Salim Munayer, founder of Musalaha, who've I've had the great honor of meeting once before.

The man is a powerful speaker, with a powerful story, and a powerful vision for reconciliation -- a vision he is taking concrete steps to fulfill.

I hope his thoughts challenge you and give you hope. 

[Hopefully this won't be too confusing, because the following is taken almost directly out of my notes.  However, please remember that this is my interpretation/memory of what Salim said, and not a transcription (I may be a writer, but I am not a journalist), so don't hold him responsible for what I say he said (if that makes sense).] 

"From the land of strife to the land of reconciliation."

That is Salim Munayer's vision for his country.  Reconciliation, he says, is not compromise, and it is not win/lose.  It is identity transformation.  For identity is the first casualty of conflict -- the destruction of how we see ourselves, how we see God, and how we see others.

The heart of peace is not behavioral change but identity change.

Salim Munayer is a refugee within his own country.  Driven from their homes in '48, his family remained in their hometown of Lydda, but was forbidden from returning to their land.  Given citizenship by the Israeli government (though initially denied freedom of movement and still denied the right of return), Salim attended a Hebrew high school along with his Jewish neighbors -- a school which informed him that his history was a lie.

Palestine, he was informed, was desert, the Jews turned it green, and then the Arabs moved in.  Never mind that he could see his ancestral land from the windows of his classroom.

An Arab-Israeli and a Palestinian-Christian, his identity was in conflict, and he grew up asking the hard questions that his community of faith must still face:  What would Jesus do if forced to cross through checkpoints multiple times every day? What application does the Sermon on the Mount have to the Palestinian reality?  How does one (especially a Palestinian-Christian) resist aggressively, for justice, in the name of love?.  And, hardest thought of all, are Palestinian-Christians (members of the universal body of Christ) an obstacle for the return of their Messiah (as so much Western theology seems to teach)?! 

Teaching at Bethlehem Bible College he faced the similar conflict of his students: "We don't want to learn about the people who inflict pain upon us."  Spiritual heritage in conflict with cultural heritage.  The Bible they loved being used to justify their pain.

Years later, does he have the answers?  Perhaps not all, but he believes he has been chosen for this task.  Uniquely placed, within the conflict of his identities, to bridge the gap between Arab and Jew, Israeli and Palestinian.    

As Christians, he challenges, how do we see God?  Burning holiness that demands isolation and perfection?  Absolute sovereignty that justifies fatalism and prophetic blindness, without thought to individual responsibility or communal justice?  Or do we see the crucified God, the lion and slain lamb, the Christ who wept?

Such a God forbids our involvement as jihadists or modern crusaders.  Forbids, also, our allegiance to political agendas which destroy our sacred calling to be salt and light in society, drafted only to the love of God and neighbor.

This is the foundation of peacemaking.  And because God is a God of relationship, Salim believes we must build relationships to build peace.  Must build relationships to destroy the destructive patterns of conflict:
  • Division between "us" and "them" (self and Other)
  • Dehumanization (the necessary step in justifying self-protection against the "enemy")
  • Failure to see plurality (all of the Other is exactly alike -- a strong basis for collective punishment, which is considered a war crime)
  • Suspicion
  • Self-fulfilling prophecy (treating the Other as the enemy leads the Other to behave as the enemy)
  • Moral superiority
  • Perceived victimization (the dangerous tendency to claim pain as uniquely ours, whether 9/11 or the Holocaust -- the refusal to see suffering as a universal human experience)
  • Demonization (attributing absolute evil to the other side -- often uses religious language and labels [i.e. "terrorist"])
So this is what he does.  Taking Jewish and Arab youth into the desert -- the literal desert -- where power can be stripped away and the Other encountered as a person necessary to the very survival of self.

Salim believes that this desert encounter is integral to the process of reconciliation, because no dominant culture will choose to relinquish power.  The desert, however, strips power without the realization of the powerful, forcing people to become dependent on each other as people -- humans in need, not oppressor and oppressed.

In the Bible, he reminds us, the desert is a place of transformation and renewal.  A place where the world fades away and God is met.  But it cannot happen without pilgrimage. 

He leaves us with some challenging thoughts:
  1. While peace and reconciliation are happening in Israel on the relational level, where all real change must start, full reconciliation, which must also involve structural change, is stunted by a lack of vision.  What is the end goal for Palestine/Israel?  What are we struggling for?  For S. Africa it was the abolition of apartheid.  For the U.S. it was the end of discrimination.  What is it for Israel?  No one seems quite sure.
  2. It is not the American Jews (many of whom are actively seeking justice) keeping the U.S. from interceding in Israel, but the American Christians.  As an American, and a Christian, this is a sobering, convicting, and painful thought.  
  3. Finally, and most importantly, as third parties who desire to be involved in advocacy -- holding up mirrors to those in power -- we must not allow ourselves to be drafted into the conflict.  We must not take sides.  Advocacy without reconciliation, states Salim, simply feeds the fire of strife, and that they do not need. 

Musalaha: Theology of Reconciliation

Salim Munayer (founder of Musalaha) speaks about reconciliation, the importance of an approach/theology that is both pro-Israeli and pro-Palestinian, and the theological problems when we embrace one at the expense of the other.

Theology of Reconciliation from Porter Speakman Jr on Vimeo.

Musalaha: Ministry of Reconciliation

This is a powerful introduction to the work of Musalaha (Arabic for "reconciliation"), a non-profit organization headquartered in Jerusalem that seeks to build relationships between Arab and Jewish youth (among many other leadership and peace building projects). I've had the honor of meeting twice with Musalaha's founder, Salim Munayer, an Israeli Arab with a passionate heart for justice, compassion, and transformation in Israel/Palestine.

The first 2:20 minutes contain true pictures of the conflict (the most startling of which, for me, is at the 2:08 marker); the rest of the film is dedicated to hope.

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Travel Writing: the border crossing

We began our trip in a Moumayez taxi with a Bedouin driver who spoke of Jordan as a land of peace, and King Abdullah as a man of peace.

My father agreed. "If all Middle Eastern countries had rulers like King Hussein and King Abdullah, this region would be known for its reconciliation rather than its strife."

"Indeed," said our taxi driver.

At the Jordanian border our passports were stamped by a man who commanded us to smile.

"Why so angry?" he reprimanded our solemn faces, delighted by the picture of my grinning 17-year-old self and our occasional Arabic phrases.

On the Israeli side we were met with small-scale changes since our last time through -- a working restroom and a new system to sort the desirous from the unwanted. The key? Smile brightly, look innocent (there are some advantages, it would seem, to still looking like a high school teenager), and wave the blue passport that marks me as one of the unthinking loyal.

The girl at the high desk asked where we were going.

"Jerusalem," we say.

"To the West Bank?" she asks.

"Jerusalem," we chorus.

"Only Jerusalem?" she presses.

"Maybe Galilee," we answer.

She nods.

And I wonder, by staying silent are we consenting? To the truth of her assumptions, to the justice of her questions?

"Do not go gentle into that good night.
Rage, rage against the dying of the light." -Dylan Thomas

The first sight of David's city -- the church steeple peeking over the hill -- always feels a little like traveling back in time. Back to an age when the world was built in stone, and cities grew out of the earth with flowers and arches, and the land was bathed in dusty sunlight. This is the holy land -- the land of crusader knights and holy fathers -- of tragedy and ecstasy.

There is a secret code of sorts among those who visit Bethlehem -- a language learned of hms and hahs, evasion and misdirection.

"Where are you going?" asked the German girl in front of us at the border.

"Um, Jerusalem," was the reply.

She laughed.

"Ah, yes, Jerusalem. Smile and wink."

When asked the same question, she replied, "Oh, me too -- Jerusalem."

Asked where she was staying, she said she didn't know yet -- was planning to look around, see the sights.

Stepping off the bus, away from the scrutiny of Israeli soldiers with automatic rifles, her story changed.

"Do you know where to get the bus to Bethlehem?"

You'd think the soldiers would catch on.

peace quote of the day

One of my friends has a writing blog in which she often posts a "true quote of the day." I've decided to modify her idea here.

Here are some words from Yigal Allon, former commander of the Palmach (the elite fighting force of the Jewish underground during the British Mandate), general in the IDF, acting prime minister of Israel, and member of the kibbutz Ginosar, which I've had the honor of visiting twice (once on my family's spring break trip to the Galilee, and once on my more recent trip to the West Bank).

He was a Jewish hero and a Zionist, but also a man who longed for peace, respected his Arab comrades, and seems to have been uniquely gifted with long-term vision.

Where, oh where, are the Yigal Allons of today?

Saturday, June 19, 2010

The Righteous Among the Nations (or Hope in the Holy Land)

At the moment I'm sitting in a coffee shop in Bethlehem, drinking a cup of coffee and watching the World Cup.

I'm here with a group from my dad's university, doing an "alternative tour," which basically means that instead of the tourist sites, we're here to see the peace and justice sites -- to meet with those working in the areas of reconciliation, non-violent resistance, and human rights.

The trip has been mindblowing.

Yes, I've been in Israel before. Yes, I've been in Bethlehem before. Yes, I've worked in refugee camps. Yes, I've seen the separation barrier. But this is so much more. I've seen the bones and barbed wire of the conflict, but this has been a trip about the living flesh -- the people and organizations dedicating their lives to resolving the deep, complex, and tragic issues facing this region.

I have been challenged, I have been stretched, and I have been encouraged.

Someone asked our group today how we've been responding to what we've seen -- how we're holding up to the weight. For me, the answer is that for the first time in a long time, I have hope.

I don't want to minimize the suffering, injustice, and pain, of which there is much. But at the same time, there seems to be an alternative. Not yet on a national or international level -- and there are still moments where it seems that such a step would be impossible -- but on the personal level, where there are relationships forming, peacemakers coming forth, and whole networks of Palestinian leadership rejecting violence . . . maybe this is a step towards the future.

One of the rabbis we met with (a member of Rabbis for Human Rights) made the statement that if you just know the facts -- what's happening on the ground -- you're going to get bitter and give up hope. We, he said, are not bitter, because we see what's happening, and we've chosen to act. We have hope.

May his hope be ours.

Sunday, March 14, 2010

war is a drug

"The rush of battle is often a potent and lethal addiction, for war is a drug." -Chris Hedges, American journalist, author, and war correspondent, specializing in American and Middle Eastern politics and societies.

Saturday, February 6, 2010

"The Opposite of War isn't Peace, it's Creation": Computer Games and the Interactive Process

My brother is a game designer and critic who believes that computer games are the next great artistic frontier.

There are many reasons why this concept fascinates me. As someone who's interested in the power of creation as opposed to destruction, there is something deeply intriguing about a medium that is by default interactive, requiring both the maker and the player to engage in the creative process.

In literary criticism, we often discuss the idea of the reader as a co-creator with the author, for the reader's interpretation shapes the imaginative reality of a text, some would argue, as significantly as the author's words. Interactive art, however, takes this idea to the next level, creating a reality that is blatantly dependent on the involvement of both the designer and the player.

In some senses, there can be no passive game players. Such a paradox defies the rules of the game's own medium.

What is the point of all of this in the context of peacemaking? I'm still trying to figure that out.

But I think there are hints in Esquire's 2008 article on game designer Jason Rohrer, titled "
The Video-Game Programmer Saving Our 21st-Century Souls," the subscript of which reads, "Jason Rohrer's solitary and stubborn quest for a future in which pixels and code and computers will make you cry and feel and love."

And there are hints in Adam Cadre's 1998 interactive fiction, Photopia.

And perhaps there are hints (though I'm sure he would deny it) in my brother's recently developed game about terrorist hunting. A game which ends with Noam Chomsky's words, "Everybody's worried about stopping terrorism. Well, there's a really easy way: stop participating in it."

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Arab Women Speak for Themselves


It so happens I am happy to be a daughter
and it happens that I dance into dinner parties and Arab concerts
dressed up, polished, like a pearl in
the tender hands of a diver
sliding on my path in a garden of olive trees and jasmine.

The scent of my mother sends me to a green orchard.
My only wish is to grow like seeds or trees,
my only wish is to see no more death, no poverty,
no more maimed, no drunks, no drugs.

It so happens that I am delighted
by my father's victories and his pride
and his brown eyes and his bald head.
It so happens he is happy to be my father.

And I'd feel lucky
if I attended my parents' 50th wedding anniversary
or conceived a child with dark curly hair.
It would be wonderful to free my country with honest talk
planting orange trees until I died of happiness.

I want to go on following the moon--
bright, silvery, secure with the light
casting jasmine into the bloody streets of Jerusalem,
blossoming every day.

I don't want to fall in a grave,
restless underneath the weight, a martyr for nothing,
dried-up, battling against the lies.

That's why my mother, when she greets me
with her outstretched arms gives me the moon,
and she runs through the arching streets of Gaza,
and stops to stare at the white minarets of the mosques,
planting seeds of green fruit.

And my father leads me to the Golden Dome of the Rock
into debates about survival
into gatherings where friends speak of a good past,
into houses that remind me of home
into a sunny shelter cradled like a baby nursing
from a beloved breast.

There are starving children, and homeless people
hovering in the polluted air that I hate.
There are malignant cysts
that should disappear from bodies and skin.
There are soldiers all over, and machine-guns, and tear gas.

I climb slowly with my moon, my roots, my dome,
remembering my parents,
I hike up, through the sloping hills and green orchards,
and gardens of olive trees smelling of jasmine
in which little white petals are growing.

-Deema Shehabi Khorsheed
from The Space Between Our Footsteps

Haikus for peace?

As strange as it may seem -- seeing as many, if not most, of these posts have something to do with poetry -- poetry has never really been my passion. It's not that I don't like it, per se, it's just that I tend to find more meaning, and more power, in novels, essays, and short stories. The exceptions to this are epic poems (which I love) and the work of my three favorite poets: Naomi Shihab Nye, Eavan Boland, and Kohleun Seo Adamson.

That said, I've been teaching poetry in my classes this week: Paradise Lost to my seniors, Sappho's work to my 9th graders, and haiku writing to my 7th graders. And I've been struck -- no, awed -- by the power of concrete images, line breaks, and 5-syllable lines. Sweet apples turning red, silver moons setting, ambiguous clouds threatening rain.

I'm not sure what relevance this has for peace writing exactly, other than renewed faith in the power of understatement, simplicity, and the God of small things.

So I thought I'd share some haikus with you. These are Gimble's, not mine.

White has many shades.
Shadow blue, sunlit gold, grey
of approaching storm.

I burn candles and
incense. Maintain silence. Find
myself in nothing.

Sleep gently takes you,
like the lethal injection
you cannot resist.

Her breath sounds like the
whistle of distant trains bound
for lands beyond dreams.

Days grow longer like
smiles that stretch wider as one
greets a long lost friend.

Hills like cut paper
black against tissue blue skies.
Through poked holes, stars shine.

She curls around the
baby like a spiral shell
protecting its snail.

Monday, January 25, 2010

The Boy in the Striped Pajamas

This is an old post, from November, that I somehow failed to publish:

I watched The Boy in the Striped Pajamas tonight. Overall, not sure what I think of it. Some of the greatest horrors in history, seen from a child's uncomprehending perspective.

The brightness of the leaves, the beauty of the piano, all leading to what? An accidental death? A German child burned to death with his Jewish friend? So that his parents can learn a lesson? Can experience the reality of the horror?

The one part that really got to me was the beginning. The haunting paradox of the idyllic German household and the liquidating Jewish ghetto. Of living a normal life, a simple life, oblivious to the horrors taking place within your country's borders.

Looking back, how would you make sense of it? The decaying monstrosity that had taken place while you had been happy, while life had been normal. How do you recover from such an awakening?

Obama's Nobel Remarks

For any of you who haven't read a copy of the president's acceptance speech for the Nobel Peace Prize (and would actually like to), here it is.

Transcript from President Obama's speech at the Nobel Peace Prize ceremony in Oslo. Also available on The New York Times website.

Your Majesties, Your Royal Highnesses, distinguished members of the Norwegian Nobel Committee, citizens of America, and citizens of the world:

I receive this honor with deep gratitude and great humility. It is an award that speaks to our highest aspirations -- that for all the cruelty and hardship of our world, we are not mere prisoners of fate. Our actions matter, and can bend history in the direction of justice.

And yet I would be remiss if I did not acknowledge the considerable controversy that your generous decision has generated. (Laughter.) In part, this is because I am at the beginning, and not the end, of my labors on the world stage. Compared to some of the giants of history who've received this prize -- Schweitzer and King; Marshall and Mandela -- my accomplishments are slight. And then there are the men and women around the world who have been jailed and beaten in the pursuit of justice; those who toil in humanitarian organizations to relieve suffering; the unrecognized millions whose quiet acts of courage and compassion inspire even the most hardened cynics. I cannot argue with those who find these men and women -- some known, some obscure to all but those they help -- to be far more deserving of this honor than I.

But perhaps the most profound issue surrounding my receipt of this prize is the fact that I am the Commander-in-Chief of the military of a nation in the midst of two wars. One of these wars is winding down. The other is a conflict that America did not seek; one in which we are joined by 42 other countries -- including Norway -- in an effort to defend ourselves and all nations from further attacks.

Still, we are at war, and I'm responsible for the deployment of thousands of young Americans to battle in a distant land. Some will kill, and some will be killed. And so I come here with an acute sense of the costs of armed conflict -- filled with difficult questions about the relationship between war and peace, and our effort to replace one with the other.

Now these questions are not new. War, in one form or another, appeared with the first man. At the dawn of history, its morality was not questioned; it was simply a fact, like drought or disease -- the manner in which tribes and then civilizations sought power and settled their differences.

And over time, as codes of law sought to control violence within groups, so did philosophers and clerics and statesmen seek to regulate the destructive power of war. The concept of a "just war" emerged, suggesting that war is justified only when certain conditions were met: if it is waged as a last resort or in self-defense; if the force used is proportional; and if, whenever possible, civilians are spared from violence.

Of course, we know that for most of history, this concept of "just war" was rarely observed. The capacity of human beings to think up new ways to kill one another proved inexhaustible, as did our capacity to exempt from mercy those who look different or pray to a different God. Wars between armies gave way to wars between nations -- total wars in which the distinction between combatant and civilian became blurred. In the span of 30 years, such carnage would twice engulf this continent. And while it's hard to conceive of a cause more just than the defeat of the Third Reich and the Axis powers, World War II was a conflict in which the total number of civilians who died exceeded the number of soldiers who perished.

In the wake of such destruction, and with the advent of the nuclear age, it became clear to victor and vanquished alike that the world needed institutions to prevent another world war. And so, a quarter century after the United States Senate rejected the League of Nations -- an idea for which Woodrow Wilson received this prize -- America led the world in constructing an architecture to keep the peace: a Marshall Plan and a United Nations, mechanisms to govern the waging of war, treaties to protect human rights, prevent genocide, restrict the most dangerous weapons.

In many ways, these efforts succeeded. Yes, terrible wars have been fought, and atrocities committed. But there has been no Third World War. The Cold War ended with jubilant crowds dismantling a wall. Commerce has stitched much of the world together. Billions have been lifted from poverty. The ideals of liberty and self-determination, equality and the rule of law have haltingly advanced. We are the heirs of the fortitude and foresight of generations past, and it is a legacy for which my own country is rightfully proud.

And yet, a decade into a new century, this old architecture is buckling under the weight of new threats. The world may no longer shudder at the prospect of war between two nuclear superpowers, but proliferation may increase the risk of catastrophe. Terrorism has long been a tactic, but modern technology allows a few small men with outsized rage to murder innocents on a horrific scale.

Moreover, wars between nations have increasingly given way to wars within nations. The resurgence of ethnic or sectarian conflicts; the growth of secessionist movements, insurgencies, and failed states -- all these things have increasingly trapped civilians in unending chaos. In today's wars, many more civilians are killed than soldiers; the seeds of future conflict are sown, economies are wrecked, civil societies torn asunder, refugees amassed, children scarred.

I do not bring with me today a definitive solution to the problems of war. What I do know is that meeting these challenges will require the same vision, hard work, and persistence of those men and women who acted so boldly decades ago. And it will require us to think in new ways about the notions of just war and the imperatives of a just peace.

We must begin by acknowledging the hard truth: We will not eradicate violent conflict in our lifetimes. There will be times when nations -- acting individually or in concert -- will find the use of force not only necessary but morally justified.

I make this statement mindful of what Martin Luther King Jr. said in this same ceremony years ago: "Violence never brings permanent peace. It solves no social problem: it merely creates new and more complicated ones." As someone who stands here as a direct consequence of Dr. King's life work, I am living testimony to the moral force of non-violence. I know there's nothing weak -- nothing passive -- nothing naïve -- in the creed and lives of Gandhi and King.

But as a head of state sworn to protect and defend my nation, I cannot be guided by their examples alone. I face the world as it is, and cannot stand idle in the face of threats to the American people. For make no mistake: Evil does exist in the world. A non-violent movement could not have halted Hitler's armies. Negotiations cannot convince al Qaeda's leaders to lay down their arms. To say that force may sometimes be necessary is not a call to cynicism -- it is a recognition of history; the imperfections of man and the limits of reason.

I raise this point, I begin with this point because in many countries there is a deep ambivalence about military action today, no matter what the cause. And at times, this is joined by a reflexive suspicion of America, the world's sole military superpower.

But the world must remember that it was not simply international institutions -- not just treaties and declarations -- that brought stability to a post-World War II world. Whatever mistakes we have made, the plain fact is this: The United States of America has helped underwrite global security for more than six decades with the blood of our citizens and the strength of our arms. The service and sacrifice of our men and women in uniform has promoted peace and prosperity from Germany to Korea, and enabled democracy to take hold in places like the Balkans. We have borne this burden not because we seek to impose our will. We have done so out of enlightened self-interest -- because we seek a better future for our children and grandchildren, and we believe that their lives will be better if others' children and grandchildren can live in freedom and prosperity.

So yes, the instruments of war do have a role to play in preserving the peace. And yet this truth must coexist with another -- that no matter how justified, war promises human tragedy. The soldier's courage and sacrifice is full of glory, expressing devotion to country, to cause, to comrades in arms. But war itself is never glorious, and we must never trumpet it as such.

So part of our challenge is reconciling these two seemingly inreconcilable truths -- that war is sometimes necessary, and war at some level is an expression of human folly. Concretely, we must direct our effort to the task that President Kennedy called for long ago. "Let us focus," he said, "on a more practical, more attainable peace, based not on a sudden revolution in human nature but on a gradual evolution in human institutions." A gradual evolution of human institutions.

What might this evolution look like? What might these practical steps be?

To begin with, I believe that all nations -- strong and weak alike -- must adhere to standards that govern the use of force. I -- like any head of state -- reserve the right to act unilaterally if necessary to defend my nation. Nevertheless, I am convinced that adhering to standards, international standards, strengthens those who do, and isolates and weakens those who don't.

The world rallied around America after the 9/11 attacks, and continues to support our efforts in Afghanistan, because of the horror of those senseless attacks and the recognized principle of self-defense. Likewise, the world recognized the need to confront Saddam Hussein when he invaded Kuwait -- a consensus that sent a clear message to all about the cost of aggression.

Furthermore, America -- in fact, no nation -- can insist that others follow the rules of the road if we refuse to follow them ourselves. For when we don't, our actions appear arbitrary and undercut the legitimacy of future interventions, no matter how justified.

And this becomes particularly important when the purpose of military action extends beyond self-defense or the defense of one nation against an aggressor. More and more, we all confront difficult questions about how to prevent the slaughter of civilians by their own government, or to stop a civil war whose violence and suffering can engulf an entire region.

I believe that force can be justified on humanitarian grounds, as it was in the Balkans, or in other places that have been scarred by war. Inaction tears at our conscience and can lead to more costly intervention later. That's why all responsible nations must embrace the role that militaries with a clear mandate can play to keep the peace.

America's commitment to global security will never waver. But in a world in which threats are more diffuse, and missions more complex, America cannot act alone. America alone cannot secure the peace. This is true in Afghanistan. This is true in failed states like Somalia, where terrorism and piracy is joined by famine and human suffering. And sadly, it will continue to be true in unstable regions for years to come.

The leaders and soldiers of NATO countries, and other friends and allies, demonstrate this truth through the capacity and courage they've shown in Afghanistan. But in many countries, there is a disconnect between the efforts of those who serve and the ambivalence of the broader public. I understand why war is not popular, but I also know this: The belief that peace is desirable is rarely enough to achieve it. Peace requires responsibility. Peace entails sacrifice. That's why NATO continues to be indispensable. That's why we must strengthen U.N. and regional peacekeeping, and not leave the task to a few countries. That's why we honor those who return home from peacekeeping and training abroad to Oslo and Rome; to Ottawa and Sydney; to Dhaka and Kigali -- we honor them not as makers of war, but of wagers -- but as wagers of peace.

Let me make one final point about the use of force. Even as we make difficult decisions about going to war, we must also think clearly about how we fight it. The Nobel Committee recognized this truth in awarding its first prize for peace to Henry Dunant -- the founder of the Red Cross, and a driving force behind the Geneva Conventions.

Where force is necessary, we have a moral and strategic interest in binding ourselves to certain rules of conduct. And even as we confront a vicious adversary that abides by no rules, I believe the United States of America must remain a standard bearer in the conduct of war. That is what makes us different from those whom we fight. That is a source of our strength. That is why I prohibited torture. That is why I ordered the prison at Guantanamo Bay closed. And that is why I have reaffirmed America's commitment to abide by the Geneva Conventions. We lose ourselves when we compromise the very ideals that we fight to defend. (Applause.) And we honor -- we honor those ideals by upholding them not when it's easy, but when it is hard.

I have spoken at some length to the question that must weigh on our minds and our hearts as we choose to wage war. But let me now turn to our effort to avoid such tragic choices, and speak of three ways that we can build a just and lasting peace.

First, in dealing with those nations that break rules and laws, I believe that we must develop alternatives to violence that are tough enough to actually change behavior -- for if we want a lasting peace, then the words of the international community must mean something. Those regimes that break the rules must be held accountable. Sanctions must exact a real price. Intransigence must be met with increased pressure -- and such pressure exists only when the world stands together as one.

One urgent example is the effort to prevent the spread of nuclear weapons, and to seek a world without them. In the middle of the last century, nations agreed to be bound by a treaty whose bargain is clear: All will have access to peaceful nuclear power; those without nuclear weapons will forsake them; and those with nuclear weapons will work towards disarmament. I am committed to upholding this treaty. It is a centerpiece of my foreign policy. And I'm working with President Medvedev to reduce America and Russia's nuclear stockpiles.

But it is also incumbent upon all of us to insist that nations like Iran and North Korea do not game the system. Those who claim to respect international law cannot avert their eyes when those laws are flouted. Those who care for their own security cannot ignore the danger of an arms race in the Middle East or East Asia. Those who seek peace cannot stand idly by as nations arm themselves for nuclear war.

The same principle applies to those who violate international laws by brutalizing their own people. When there is genocide in Darfur, systematic rape in Congo, repression in Burma -- there must be consequences. Yes, there will be engagement; yes, there will be diplomacy -- but there must be consequences when those things fail. And the closer we stand together, the less likely we will be faced with the choice between armed intervention and complicity in oppression.

This brings me to a second point -- the nature of the peace that we seek. For peace is not merely the absence of visible conflict. Only a just peace based on the inherent rights and dignity of every individual can truly be lasting.

It was this insight that drove drafters of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights after the Second World War. In the wake of devastation, they recognized that if human rights are not protected, peace is a hollow promise.

And yet too often, these words are ignored. For some countries, the failure to uphold human rights is excused by the false suggestion that these are somehow Western principles, foreign to local cultures or stages of a nation's development. And within America, there has long been a tension between those who describe themselves as realists or idealists -- a tension that suggests a stark choice between the narrow pursuit of interests or an endless campaign to impose our values around the world.

I reject these choices. I believe that peace is unstable where citizens are denied the right to speak freely or worship as they please; choose their own leaders or assemble without fear. Pent-up grievances fester, and the suppression of tribal and religious identity can lead to violence. We also know that the opposite is true. Only when Europe became free did it finally find peace. America has never fought a war against a democracy, and our closest friends are governments that protect the rights of their citizens. No matter how callously defined, neither America's interests -- nor the world's -- are served by the denial of human aspirations.

So even as we respect the unique culture and traditions of different countries, America will always be a voice for those aspirations that are universal. We will bear witness to the quiet dignity of reformers like Aung Sang Suu Kyi; to the bravery of Zimbabweans who cast their ballots in the face of beatings; to the hundreds of thousands who have marched silently through the streets of Iran. It is telling that the leaders of these governments fear the aspirations of their own people more than the power of any other nation. And it is the responsibility of all free people and free nations to make clear that these movements -- these movements of hope and history -- they have us on their side.

Let me also say this: The promotion of human rights cannot be about exhortation alone. At times, it must be coupled with painstaking diplomacy. I know that engagement with repressive regimes lacks the satisfying purity of indignation. But I also know that sanctions without outreach -- condemnation without discussion -- can carry forward only a crippling status quo. No repressive regime can move down a new path unless it has the choice of an open door.

In light of the Cultural Revolution's horrors, Nixon's meeting with Mao appeared inexcusable -- and yet it surely helped set China on a path where millions of its citizens have been lifted from poverty and connected to open societies. Pope John Paul's engagement with Poland created space not just for the Catholic Church, but for labor leaders like Lech Walesa. Ronald Reagan's efforts on arms control and embrace of perestroika not only improved relations with the Soviet Union, but empowered dissidents throughout Eastern Europe. There's no simple formula here. But we must try as best we can to balance isolation and engagement, pressure and incentives, so that human rights and dignity are advanced over time.

Third, a just peace includes not only civil and political rights -- it must encompass economic security and opportunity. For true peace is not just freedom from fear, but freedom from want.

It is undoubtedly true that development rarely takes root without security; it is also true that security does not exist where human beings do not have access to enough food, or clean water, or the medicine and shelter they need to survive. It does not exist where children can't aspire to a decent education or a job that supports a family. The absence of hope can rot a society from within.

And that's why helping farmers feed their own people -- or nations educate their children and care for the sick -- is not mere charity. It's also why the world must come together to confront climate change. There is little scientific dispute that if we do nothing, we will face more drought, more famine, more mass displacement -- all of which will fuel more conflict for decades. For this reason, it is not merely scientists and environmental activists who call for swift and forceful action -- it's military leaders in my own country and others who understand our common security hangs in the balance.

Agreements among nations. Strong institutions. Support for human rights. Investments in development. All these are vital ingredients in bringing about the evolution that President Kennedy spoke about. And yet, I do not believe that we will have the will, the determination, the staying power, to complete this work without something more -- and that's the continued expansion of our moral imagination; an insistence that there's something irreducible that we all share.

As the world grows smaller, you might think it would be easier for human beings to recognize how similar we are; to understand that we're all basically seeking the same things; that we all hope for the chance to live out our lives with some measure of happiness and fulfillment for ourselves and our families.

And yet somehow, given the dizzying pace of globalization, the cultural leveling of modernity, it perhaps comes as no surprise that people fear the loss of what they cherish in their particular identities -- their race, their tribe, and perhaps most powerfully their religion. In some places, this fear has led to conflict. At times, it even feels like we're moving backwards. We see it in the Middle East, as the conflict between Arabs and Jews seems to harden. We see it in nations that are torn asunder by tribal lines.

And most dangerously, we see it in the way that religion is used to justify the murder of innocents by those who have distorted and defiled the great religion of Islam, and who attacked my country from Afghanistan. These extremists are not the first to kill in the name of God; the cruelties of the Crusades are amply recorded. But they remind us that no Holy War can ever be a just war. For if you truly believe that you are carrying out divine will, then there is no need for restraint -- no need to spare the pregnant mother, or the medic, or the Red Cross worker, or even a person of one's own faith. Such a warped view of religion is not just incompatible with the concept of peace, but I believe it's incompatible with the very purpose of faith -- for the one rule that lies at the heart of every major religion is that we do unto others as we would have them do unto us.

Adhering to this law of love has always been the core struggle of human nature. For we are fallible. We make mistakes, and fall victim to the temptations of pride, and power, and sometimes evil. Even those of us with the best of intentions will at times fail to right the wrongs before us.

But we do not have to think that human nature is perfect for us to still believe that the human condition can be perfected. We do not have to live in an idealized world to still reach for those ideals that will make it a better place. The non-violence practiced by men like Gandhi and King may not have been practical or possible in every circumstance, but the love that they preached -- their fundamental faith in human progress -- that must always be the North Star that guides us on our journey.

For if we lose that faith -- if we dismiss it as silly or naïve; if we divorce it from the decisions that we make on issues of war and peace -- then we lose what's best about humanity. We lose our sense of possibility. We lose our moral compass.

Like generations have before us, we must reject that future. As Dr. King said at this occasion so many years ago, "I refuse to accept despair as the final response to the ambiguities of history. I refuse to accept the idea that the 'isness' of man's present condition makes him morally incapable of reaching up for the eternal 'oughtness' that forever confronts him."

Let us reach for the world that ought to be -- that spark of the divine that still stirs within each of our souls. (Applause.)

Somewhere today, in the here and now, in the world as it is, a soldier sees he's outgunned, but stands firm to keep the peace. Somewhere today, in this world, a young protestor awaits the brutality of her government, but has the courage to march on. Somewhere today, a mother facing punishing poverty still takes the time to teach her child, scrapes together what few coins she has to send that child to school -- because she believes that a cruel world still has a place for that child's dreams.

Let us live by their example. We can acknowledge that oppression will always be with us, and still strive for justice. We can admit the intractability of deprivation, and still strive for dignity. Clear-eyed, we can understand that there will be war, and still strive for peace. We can do that -- for that is the story of human progress; that's the hope of all the world; and at this moment of challenge, that must be our work here on Earth.

Thank you very much. (Applause.)