Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Constantine Cavafy's "Waiting for the Barbarians"/The Other We Rely Upon, The Other We Blame

Thanks to C. Dale Young and Poetry Daily for bringing this poem back into my attention today. It's one of the great political poems.

"Waiting for the Barbarians"
by Constantine Cavafy (1864-1933)
translated by Edmund Keeley*

What are we waiting for, assembled in the forum?

The barbarians are due here today.

Why isn't anything happening in the senate?
Why do the senators sit there without legislating?

Because the barbarians are coming today.
What laws can the senators make now?
Once the barbarians are here, they'll do the legislating.

Why did our emperor get up so early,
and why is he sitting at the city's main gate
on his throne, in state, wearing the crown?

Because the barbarians are coming today
and the emperor is waiting to receive their leader.

He has even prepared a scroll to give him,
replete with titles, with imposing names.
Why have our two consuls and praetors come out today
wearing their embroidered, their scarlet togas?
Why have they put on bracelets with so many amethysts,
and rings sparkling with magnificent emeralds?
Why are they carrying elegant canes
beautifully worked in silver and gold?

Because the barbarians are coming today
and things like that dazzle the barbarians.

Why don't our distinguished orators come forward as usual
to make their speeches, say what they have to say?

Because the barbarians are coming today
and they're bored by rhetoric and public speaking.

Why this sudden restlessness, this confusion?
(How serious people's faces have become.)
Why are the streets and squares emptying so rapidly,
everyone going home so lost in thought?

Because night has fallen and the barbarians have not come.
And some who have just returned from the border say
there are no barbarians any longer.

And now, what's going to happen to us without barbarians?
They were, those people, a kind of solution.

*From Cavafy: Collected Poems, translated by Edmund Keeley and Philip Sherrard
© 1975, 1992 by Edmund Keeley and Philip Sherrard
Reproduced with the permission of Princeton University Press

Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Chuck Coleman's Documentary of Iraq War Protests

Thanks for sending it along, Chuck. Even though there may be many avenues of dissent (some of them virtual), there's no replacing the physical presence of people in the streets.

Monday, April 28, 2008

Abu Ghraib Torture, American Veteran Suicides

More ugly footage of Abu Ghraib. Warning: not for the faint of heart.

Note also that the war (and previous wars) is impacting American soldiers as well. Is there any connection between this sort of torture and what happens when the soldiers come home?

VA confirms 18 vets commit suicide every day
By Jason Leopold
Online Journal Contributing Writer
Apr 22, 2008

In a stunning admission, top officials at the Veterans Health Administration confirmed that the agency’s own statistics show that an average of 126 veterans per week -- 6,552 veterans per year -- commit suicide, according to an internal email distributed to several VA officials.

Brig. Gen. Michael J. Kussman, the undersecretary for health at the VA, sent the email, dated Dec. 15, 2007. Kussman had inquired about the accuracy of a news report published that month claiming the suicide rate among veterans was 18 per day.

“McClatchy [Newspapers] alleges that 18 veterans kill themselves everyday and this is confirmed by the VA’s own statistics,” Kussman wrote. “Is that true? Sounds awful but if one is considering 24 million veterans.”

In an email response to Kussman, Ira Katz, the head of mental health at the VA, confirmed the statistics and added “VA’s own data demonstrate 4-5 suicides per day among those who receive care from us.”

This week, in a federal courthouse in San Francisco, that email will be cited as evidence that the VA has failed to properly treat veterans who suffer from PTSD and veterans who are suicidal. Those allegations were made in a class action lawsuit filed against the VA by two veterans advocacy groups, Veterans for Common Sense and Veterans United for Truth, alleging a systematic breakdown at the VA has led to an epidemic of suicides.

The organizations claim the VA, which has a backlog of 600,000 benefits claims to sort through, is unprepared to deal with cases of posttraumatic stress disorder [PTSD] among veterans returning from Iraq and Afghanistan, and has turned away veterans who have sought help for depression at VA hospitals. Some of those veterans later committed suicide, according to the lawsuit.

The groups want a federal judge to issue a preliminary injunction to force the VA to immediately treat veterans who show signs of PTSD and are at risk of suicide.

PTSD is a psychiatric disorder that can develop in a person who witnesses, or is confronted with, a traumatic event. PTSD is said to be the most prevalent mental disorder arising from combat.

According to a copy of the lawsuit filed in July 2007, “more than any previous war, the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan are likely to produce a high percentage of troops suffering from PTSD,” due to the widespread use of improvised explosive devises, multiple rotations, the ambiguity of fighting combatants dressed as civilians, and the use of National Guard members and Reservists.

Those figures are now supported by a comprehensive study released by the RAND Corporation last week stating that about 300,000 U.S. troops sent to combat in Iraq and Afghanistan are suffering from major depression or PTSD, and 320,000 received traumatic brain injuries.

Early warnings ignored

Prior to the U.S. Invasion of Iraq in March 2003, the VA issued a report to Pentagon and White House officials saying that it expected that the number of U.S. troops who would suffer from PTSD would reach a maximum of about 8,000.

But Paul Sullivan, the executive director of Veterans for Common Sense, told lawmakers those estimates were extremely low. He continued to sound early warning alarms about the extent of PTSD cases and the likelihood of veteran suicides during numerous appearances before Congress over the years.

“The scope of PTSD in the long term is enormous and must be taken seriously. When all of our 1.6 million service members eventually return home from Iraq and Afghanistan, based on the current rate of 20 percent, VA may face up 320,000 total new veterans diagnosed with PTSD,” Sullivan told a congressional committee in July 2007. If America fails to act now and overhaul the broken DoD and VA disability systems, there may a social catastrophe among many of our returning Iraq and Afghanistan war veterans. That is why VCS reluctantly filed suit against VA in Federal Court . . . Time is running out.”

Sullivan has urged Congress to enact legislation to overhaul the VA.

“Congress should legislate a presumption of service connection for veterans diagnosed [with] PTSD who deployed to a war zone after 9/11,” Sullivan told lawmakers last year. “A presumption makes it easier for dedicated and hard-working VA employees to process veterans’ claims. This results in faster medical treatment and benefits for our veterans.”

Yet despite Sullivan’s dire predictions and calls for legislative action the issue has not been given priority treatment by lawmakers. Instead, Congress continued to fund the war in Iraq to the tune of about $200 billion and will likely pour another $108 billion into Iraq later next month. Meanwhile, a backlog of veterans’ benefits claims continue to pile up at the VA.

The VA said it has hired more than 3,000 mental healthcare professionals over the past two years to deal with the increasing number of PTSD cases, but the problems persist.

VA says vets not ‘entitled’ to healthcare

The lawsuit alleges that numerous VA practices stemming from a 1998 law violate the constitutional and statutory rights of veterans suffering from PTSD by denying veterans mandated medical care.

“Seeking help from the Department of Veterans’ Affairs . . . involves a two-track system,” says a copy of the plaintiff’s trial brief filed in federal court last week.

“A veteran will go to the Veterans’ Health Administration for diagnosis and medical care; and a veteran goes to the Veterans’ Benefits Administration to apply for service-connection and disability compensation.

“VA is failing these veterans as they move along both of these parallel tracks. They are not receiving the healthcare to which they are entitled (and where they do receive it, it is unreasonably delayed) and they are not able to get timely compensation for their disabilities, which means that they have no safety net. These two problems combine to create a perfect storm for PTSD veterans: they receive no treatment, so their symptoms get worse; and they receive no compensation, so they cannot go elsewhere for treatment. The failings of these two separate but interrelated systems are what this action seeks to address.”

Justice Department attorneys had argued in court papers filed last month that Iraq and Afghanistan veterans were not "entitled" to the five years of free healthcare upon their return from combat as mandated by Congress in the "Dignity for Wounded Warriors Act." Rather, the VA argued, medical treatment for the war veterans was discretionary based on the level of funding available in the VA's budget.

But during a court hearing hearing last month before U.S. District Court Judge Samuel Conti, Dr. Gerald Cross, the Principal Deputy Under Secretary for Health, Veterans Health Administration, said that veterans of Iraq and Afghanistan were not only entitled to free healthcare, but he said "there is no co-pay."

Additionally, Cross testified that of the 300,000 veterans of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars treated at VA hospitals, more than half were diagnosed with a serious mental condition, 68,000 of which were cases of PTSD.

His testimony marked the first time a Bush administration official has provided detailed information about the psychological impact of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars on combat veterans. Cross testified that five years after the invasion of Iraq, the VA has still not completed a study on the link between suicides and PTSD among combat veterans. However, he said such a study is currently in the works and may be published soon.

Gordon Erspamer, an attorney representing the veterans groups, said in an interview that the VA has said publicly it is doing everything it can for veterans, but the Bush administration’s true position is “veterans are not entitled to healthcare if that is what we decide.”

“The agency is very hostile to most of these guys on mental health issues,” Erspamer said. “A lot of them who work at the VA are veterans themselves and it's the suck it up mentality. It’s a total failure of leadership and management. They were totally unprepared for this many casualties and totally unprepared for PTSD.”

Soldier’s suicide warnings ignored

Chris Scheuerman, a retired Special Forces masters sergeant, testified before a congressional committee last month that there is an urgent need for mental health reform in the military.

Scheuerman said his son, Pfc. Jason Scheuerman, went to see an Army psychologist because he had been suicidal.

The Army psychologist wrote up a report saying Jason Scheuerman “was capable of (faking) mental illness in order to manipulate his command,” according to documents the soldier's father turned over to Congress.

“Jason desperately needed a second opinion after his encounter with the Army psychologist,” Chris Scheuerman testified in mid-March before the Armed Services Committee’s Military Personnel Subcommittee.

“The Army did offer him that option, but at his own expense. How is a PFC (private first class) in the middle of Iraq supposed to get to a civilian mental health care provider at his own expense?” he said. “I believe a soldier should be afforded the opportunity to a second opinion via teleconference with a civilian mental health care provider of their own choice.”

Jason Scheuerman shot himself with a rifle on July 30, 2005. The 20-year-old’s suicide note was nailed to the closet in his barracks. It said, “Maybe now I can get some peace.”

Dr. Arthur Blank, a renowned expert on PTSD who has worked closely with the VA, testified during the federal court hearing in San Francisco last month that multiple deployments are largely responsible for an increase in veterans suicides.

"I think it's because of multiple deployments, which means one is exposed to trauma over and over again," Blank testified.

Jason Leopold is the author of "News Junkie," a memoir. Visit for a preview.

Sunday, April 27, 2008

Reading with Kazim Ali at Cleveland State

(photo of Kazim Ali and Philip Metres courtesy of Virginia Konchan)

On April 24th, Kazim Ali and I did a reading at Trinity Commons in Cleveland, sponsored by Cleveland State Poetry Center. It was my first time meeting Kazim, though I'd already seen him read via his online presence of youtube'd mini-readings. These intimate readings are disarming, even more disarming than seeing him read live, because of the way he regards the camera. He has a way of looking so directly into the camera that it is as if he has gulfed that strange digital abyss between you and him, and he is there in the room with you.

At the reading, by contrast, Ali read many of poems with eyes shut, feeling his way through each line, rocking slightly into the words. He read almost entirely from his just published The Fortieth Day, whose title articulates that desert of temporal space just before something is utterly changed.

Ironically, one of the poems from that collection is a kind of lost title poem to his previous collection, "The Far Mosque." Here it is:

"The Far Mosque"
after Rumi

Where is the place to which the prophet flew?

The mosque Sulayman built is not made of minarets or stone--
The muezzin and his voice both live there like lovers.

A person is only a metaphor for the place he wants to go.

Such poems, in their beauty, reminded me how my mother recently went on a retreat in which the shared texts were Mary Oliver's poetry. Kazim Ali is the kind of poet who writes the kind of work around which one could have a spiritual retreat. The love child of Rumi and Ashbery, Ali is a revelation in our post-ironic age.

It was a hard performance to follow, a kind of contemporary sacred, so I did so by reciting two profane poems: Ammons' sad sex poem: "one failure/on top of another," and my abecedarian, "Parental Guidance," before launching into poems from To See the Earth.

We are lucky in Cleveland to have, suddenly, Ali at Oberlin, Sarah Gridley at Case, Michael Dumanis at Cleveland State.

Saturday, April 26, 2008

Hadag Nahash and D.A.M./Israeli and Palestinian Hip-hop Confronts the Conflict

One of my students, Patience Fiodembo, just completed a paper on Israeli and Palestinian hip-hop and its relationship to the conflict; thanks for passing along these videos, which combine the beats and rhythms of hip-hop to the old school penchant for seeing the song as the people's CNN.

I was familiar with D.A.M. because of their "Meen Erhabe" (Who's the Terrorist?), but these were new to me. Both songs confront the ways in which the conflict has dehumanized people, but "The Sticker Song" takes on the bumper sticker mentality that reduces the conflict to digestible phrases.

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Bill Knott's "Peace (Pascal)"/Making Peace with Desire

I happened to find this poem on Bill Knott's Blog, part of a selection of political poems that he posted there. The poem may be referencing Pascal's Wager, which suggests that one should wager that there is a God, because life lived under the presumption that there is a God would to a good, peaceful ethical life--even if God is an illusion. If God is not, then you could go to hell for eternity.

The poem seems to struggle with the longstanding human problematic of desire--read a certain way, the Bible is one long lesson in the complications of human desire. How does a poetry of peace make peace with the restlessness, the cupiditas, at the core of human being?
PEACE (PASCAL) by Bill Knott

There is a valley
Is the oldest story.

Its temperate qualities
Make us descend the trees
To settle down beside
Fruits and fields.

By its river content
To sit quietly in a small tent
To fashion fishing spears
From fallen limbs.

No need to climb its hills
No need to go up there
To look to see
Another valley.

Monday, April 21, 2008

Beastie Boys' "In a World Gone Mad"

In a world gone mad it's hard to think right
So much violence hate and spite
Murder going on all day and night
Due time we fight the non-violent fight

Mirrors, smokescreens and lies
It's not the politicians but their actions I despise
You and Saddam should kick it like back in the day
With the cocaine and Courvoisier
But you build more bombs as you get more bold
As your mid-life crisis war unfolds
All you want to do is take control
Now put that axis of evil bullshit on hold
Citizen rule number 2080
Politicians are shady
So people watch your back 'cause I think they smoke crack
I don't doubt it look at how they act

In a world gone mad it's hard to think right
So much violence hate and spite
Murder going on all day and night
Due time we fight the non-violent fight

First the 'War On Terror' now war on Iraq
We're reaching a point where we can't turn back
Let's lose the guns and let's lose the bombs
And stop the corporate contributions that their built upon
Well I'll be sleeping on your speeches 'til I start to snore
'Cause I won't carry guns for an oil war
As-Salamu alaikum, wa alaikum assalam
Peace to the Middle East peace to Islam
Now don't get us wrong 'cause we love America
But that's no reason to get hysterica
They're layin' on the syrup thick
We ain't waffles we ain't havin' it

In a world gone mad it's hard to think right
So much violence hate and spite
Murder going on all day and night
Due time we fight the non-violent fight

Now how many people must get killed?
For oil families pockets to get filled?
How many oil families get killed?
Not a damn one so what's the deal?

It's time to lead the way and de-escalate
Lose the weapons of mass destruction and the hate
Say ooh ah what's the White House doin'?
Oh no! Say, what they got brewing?!
Well I'm not pro Bush and I'm not pro Saddam
We need these fools to remain calm
George Bush you're looking like Zoo Lander
Trying to play tough for the camera
What am I on crazy pills? We've got to stop it
Get your hand out my grandma's pocket
We need health care more than going to war
You think it's democracy they're fighting for?

In a world gone mad it's hard to think right
So much violence hate and spite
Murder going on all day and night
Due time we fight the non-violent fight

Sunday, April 20, 2008

Travis Poling on William Stafford

This is from the "Encountering William Stafford" Blog. Stafford, winner of the National Book Award for Traveling Through the Dark in 1963, gained another sort of prominence in the literary magazine world through the 1980s--in part because of his ubiquity, having written a poem a day for over fifty years. For these and other reasons, perhaps, his name also was snickered at, the way the graphomaniacs of our days are snickered at (fill in your own names here--I'll spare them further ignominy). His poems also were seen as simplistic, and rather in the same vein as other contmeporary popular poets (fill them here...).

Yet Stafford, as I've argued in Behind the Lines the book and elsewhere, does deserve our continued attention, for his lifelong commitment to an aesthetics of pacifism and a pragmatics of action. It goes without saying that many of the poems are dross (how could they not be?), but the nuggets that remain are worth examining with extreme care. This essay by Poling might be an introduction to that investigation, about which I have already written but without having the last word.

Monday, April 02, 2007
The Poetics of Peace and Activism
Remarks from Peace Forum for National Poetry Month on Thursday March 29, 2007 at Bethany Theological Seminary and Earlham School of Religion.

Where do peace, activism, and poetry converge? This is a difficult and dangerous question, so to respond, I’ll read someone else’s poetry. But first, I’ll add some comments of my own.

I think that peace and activism may best be approached from the type of ambiguity and ambivalence that poetry lends itself to so well. As I was reflecting on this, was unclear on whether to use the word “ambivalent” or “ambiguous,” so I looked them up, and I like both definitions. To be ambiguous means being “open to or having several possible meanings or interpretations,” and “lacking clearness or definiteness.” If ambiguity is no quite knowing, ambivalence is a sort of ambiguity in the midst of strife. The dictionary defines ambivalence as “uncertainty or fluctuation,” and “the coexistence of positive and negative feelings toward a person, object, or action, simultaneously drawing one in opposite directions.”

Both of these terms encompass what poetry is all about, especially when considering its engagement with the world. Poetry is not about having the answers. Rather, poetry enables us to, in the words of Rainer Maria Rilke in Letters to a Young Poet, “Live the questions now. Perhaps then, someday far into the future, you will gradually, without even noticing it, live your way into the answer.” Poetry, and the poet, dwells in the questions. Answers may come, but it is the questions that feed our souls.

When we have the answers, we cling to them so tightly that we cease being activists, and instead become perpetrators of the violence we are seeking to resist. Poetry is the opposite of violence. Poetry is about struggle more than certainty. It is the struggle, in the common language of the people, against attitudes of the proper answer, belief, or action; attitudes that, in their very existence, perpetrate violence.

And here comes the most ambiguous and ambivalent part of all of this: In a world of proper answers, beliefs and actions, I believe that poetry is often the only proper answer, belief, and action in the face of violence that urges certainty to deadly extremes. (This is why, I believe, that groups such as Poets Against War have gained what prominence they have.) I don't quite know how to address this irony of poetry being the disarmingly proper response to proper responses, except to dive into some poetry, into more questions.

William Stafford, 1970 US Poet Laureate, pacifist and activist, served as a conscientious objector in World War II in Brethren Service camps, and later joined the Church of the Brethren, while teaching English at Manchester College, a Brethren school just north of us. Stafford said once in an interview about religion and poetry, “values in any direct use, any straightforward asserting, in poetry, are counterproductive…In short, a direct assertion is a most limited offer of experience for a worthy reader.” This does not mean that all of his own poetry is completely devoid of straightforward asserting of values. But it does contain a good deal of ambivalence, which, if explored more deeply, points toward some of the most rich and powerful expressions of a life of peace and activism.

Peace was so central to Stafford’ life and writings that following his death in 1993, his estate published a collection of his writings entitled, Every War Has Two Losers: William Stafford on Peace and War. When poet Naomi Shihab Nye, friend and student of Stafford, visited Earlham College just this past fall to lecture on peace and poetry, she recommended that everyone on campus read this book. And with that, I would like to share some readings from Stafford.

Read from Every War Has Two Losers: William Stafford on Peace and War: Selections from Daily Writings; Poems: “A Ritual to Read to Each Other” (89) and note (157), “Poetry” (98), “Ground ZeroRebuilding-Ground-Zero [December 1982]” (96) and “Ground Zero [June 1982]” (102) with my own comments about September 11, 2001; excerpt from speech: “The Long Haul” (132).

by Travis Poling

Saturday, April 19, 2008

Further Considerations on the Peace Video of Hamifkad

Yesterday, I posted this video, and wanted to show it to my students, just for a (fantasized)image of coexistence, but decided to check out what it was promoting. Amazingly, it turns out to be an Israeli political party/coalition of a center-right wing variety. (See

What this suggests is the way in which even right wing political parties have come to see the need to address the Israeli peoples' desire for peace--even if their answers to the conflict are military:
Israel's security requirements cannot be met simply through a political solution - we must prevail militarily: We must achieve an immediate and decisive victory. If we allow the Palestinian war of attrition to drag on, it will weaken Israel in the consciousness of its citizens, ruin its economy and stir up its Arab citizens.

The State of Israel must adhere to the following principles:
No additional political entity shall be formed between the Jordan and the sea. The bitter experience resulting from the Oslo Accords proved that any independent Palestinian entity could quickly turn into a strategic threat to the State of Israel and a risk to its citizens. The establishment of a Palestinian State between the Jordan and the sea poses a threat to the very existence of the State of Israel.

The Oslo Accords stand in direct opposition to the essence of the Jewish people's basic rights to a secure and independent existence. The Accords were systematically violated by the Palestinians; de facto they are nonexistent and have lost all validity.

The government will not recognize the Palestinian Authority and will act to dismantle it, and at the same time will destroy the terror infrastructure, its organizations and its leaders. (See

In a sense, if you don't have a Palestinian state, but you offer full rights to those within the boundaries of Greater Israel, it seems as if the party is proposing a single state solution.
What the video also promotes, at the same time, is something called "People's Voice: Middle East Peace Initiative." I could not find any link to it on the website.

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Amy King's Potpourri of Poetry Un/Definitions

Amy King sent along these quirky--let's call them un/definitions--of poetry. How better to confuse and celebrate our words?!

“God has a brown voice, as soft and full as beer.” —Anne Sexton

“As for poetry ‘belonging’ in the classroom, it’s like the way they taught us sex in those old hygiene classes: not performance but semiotics. If I had taken Hygiene 71seriously, I would have become a monk; &if I had taken college English seriously, I would have become an accountant.” —Jerome Rothenberg

On Clouds – “…what primitive tastes the ancients must have had if their poets were inspired by those absurd, untidy clumps of mist, idiotically jostling one another about…” —Yevgeny Zamyatin

“Poetry is the synthesis of hyacinths and biscuits.” —Carl Sandburg

"For each letter received from a creditor, write fifty lines on an extraterrestrial subject and you will be saved." —Charles Baudelaire

“I have been in Sorrow’s kitchen and licked out all the pots. Then I havestood on the peaky mountain wrapped in rainbows, with a harp and asword in my hands.” —Zora Neale Hurston

“The purpose of art, including literature, is not to reflect life but to organize it, to build it.” —Yevgeny Zamyatin (The Goal, ca. 1926)

“One can smell it turning to gas; if one were Baudelaire one could probably hear it turning to marimba music.” —Elizabeth Bishop

“If the poet wants to be a poet, the poet must force the poet to revise. If the poet doesn’t wish to revise, let the poet abandon poetry and takeup stamp-collecting or real estate.” —Donald Hall

“Nothing that God ever made is the same thing to more than one person. That is natural.” —Zora Neale Hurston

“I took a deep breath and listened to the old bray of my heart. I am. I am. I am.” —Sylvia Plath

In science one tries to tell people, in such a way as to be understood by everyone, something that no one ever knew before. But in poetry, it’s the exact opposite. —Paul Dirac

“Heaven is not like flying or swimming, but has something to do with blackness and a strong glare.” —Elizabeth Bishop

“Poetry is a rich, full-bodied whistle, cracked ice crunching in pails, thenight that numbs the leaf, the duel of two nightingales, the sweet pea that has run wild, Creation’s tears in shoulder blades.” —Boris Pasternak

“It doesn’t matter who my father was; it matters who I remember he was.” —Anne Sexton

“Wanted: a needle swift enough to sew this poem into a blanket.” —Charles Simic

“The composition is the thing seen by everyone living in the living they aredoing, they are the composing of the composition that at the time they are living is the composition of the time in which they are living.” —Gertrude Stein

“Apparently, the most difficult feat for a Cambridge male is to accept a woman not merely as feeling, not merely as thinking, but as managing a complex,vital interweaving of both.” —Sylvia Plath

“There is no single face in nature, because every eye that looks upon it, sees it from its own angle. So every man’s spice-box seasons his own food.” —Zora Neale Hurston

“Sheeven had a kind of special position among men: she was an exception,she fitted none of the categories they commonly used when talking about girls; she wasn’t a cock-teaser, a cold fish, an easy lay or a snarky bitch; she was an honorary person. She had grown to share their contempt for most women.” —Margaret Atwood

“Language is a cracked kettle on which we beat out tunes for bears to dance to,while all the time we long to move the stars to pity.” —Gustave Flaubert

“Poetry is not an expression of the party line. It’s that time of night, lying in bed, thinking what you really think, making the private world public, that’s what the poet does.” —Allen Ginsberg

“I did not believe political directives could be successfully applied to creative writing . . . not to poetry or fiction, which to be valid had to express as truthfully as possible the individual emotions and reactions of the writer.” —Langston Hughes

“A diary means yes indeed.” —Gertrude Stein

“I think one of poetry’s functions is not to give us what we want… [T]he poet isn’t always of use to the tribe. The tribe thrives on the consensual. The tribe is pulling together to face the intruder who threatens it. Meanwhile, the poet is sitting by himself in the graveyard talking to a skull.” —Heather McHugh

“Poetry is the journal of the sea animal living on land, wanting to fly in theair. Poetry is a search for syllables to shoot at the barriers of the unknown and the unknowable. Poetry is a phantom script telling how rainbows are made and why they go away.” —Carl Sandburg

“When, however, one reads of a witch being ducked, of a woman possessed by devils, of a wise woman selling herbs, or even a very remarkable man who had a mother, then I think we are on the track of a lost novelist, a suppressed poet. . . indeed, I would venture to guess that Anon, who wrote so many poems without signing them, was often a woman.” —Virginia Woolf

“This cop told me, furthermore, that it had been difficult for him to followme because I had signaled too soon. I told him that, because I didn’t know there was anyone else in the world, any signaling was an act of faith.” —Kathy Acker

Even in the centuries which appear to us to be the most monstrous and foolish, the immortal appetite for beauty has always found satisfaction. —Charles Baudelaire

“I am ashamed of my century, but I have to smile” —Frank O’Hara

Monday, April 14, 2008

Homily for Tom Lewis, ex-Catonsville Nine peace activist

In his funeral homily for one of the Catonsville Nine, Tom Lewis, Father McCarthy makes the claim that the Catonsville Nine action, in which 9 members of the Catholic Left entered a draft office and burned draft files with homemade napalm, was an "original work of art." I couldn't agree more. In Behind the Lines (the book version), I called it a symbolic action that was a kind of poem. Here is the text of his homily.

by Rev. Emmanuel Charles McCarthy
APRIL 11, 2008

I have known Tom for more than twenty-five years. The last time we were together was almost six months ago when we spent a day reflecting on the Nonviolent Jesus and the implications of His Way of Nonviolent Love of friends and enemies. When I heard that Tom had died, I was surprised by my reaction. My very first thought was of Brother David Darst, a Christian Brother who was also one of the Catonsville Nine with Tom.

Over the decades—since Brother David’s death in an automobile accident soon after being convicted for his participation in the Catonsville, Maryland, draft file burning—I have often thought about him. But, to have his name be my first thought after hearing of Tom’s death was/is a mystery to be pondered by me in the time ahead.

I suppose the most obvious explanation for it is that Tom and David were one in the most powerfully symbolic Christian witness of my lifetime, the “napalming” of draft files outside of the Catonsville Selective Service Office during the mass murder operation called the Viet Nam War.

As tens upon tens of millions of Christians in the United States, including a sickening number of prelates and personages of distinction, aimlessly meandered about or hid in the maze of that spiritual pyrite named Christian Just War Theory, Tom and David and seven other human beings like us, created a means whereby to proclaim the authentic Word of God to Churches and to Christians who were in denial of the truth of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Their proclamation outshines by a hundred billion kilowatts anything a Papal Visit, a Billy Graham Crusade or a Pat Robinson and Mother Angelica national television network ever did in the name of Jesus Christ to glorify God, His Way and His Truth.

In an original work of art (Original here not meaning “novel” but rather “origin,” as in the Word “through whom all things were made,” and who “became flesh.”), that required their own suffering to create—as well as their own freedom, intelligence, empathic capacities and faith—Tom and his eight co-conspirators with Christ brought Light into a society, into Churches and into Christians of all denominations who were living in the darkness of the shadow cast by the human smoke rising from Gehenna. In a moment of history reminiscent of another moment in history—the overturning of the money changers’ tables in the Temple by Jesus—they poured napalm on draft files thereby communicating to anyone with eyes to see and ears to hear and a mind to understand that “burning children was inhuman.” As one of their court statements read:

Our apologies good friends
For the fracture of good order the burning of paper
instead of children the angering of the orderlies
in the front parlor of the charnel houses.
We could not so help us God do otherwise.
For we are sick at heart our hearts
give us no rest for thinking of the Land of Burning

It took faith, courage and creativity to do what Tom did that May 17 in 1968. Without experiential access to the daily deluge of evil and suffering that “the best and the brightest” in government, press, military, Wall Street, academia and religion were conjuring up and pouring down upon the expendable people of Viet Nam and the United States at that time, it is difficult to appreciate the depth of faith, courage and creativity that were the sine qua non for such a radical act of anti-government, pro-Christ, prophetic performance art. Most citizens of the U.S. and certainly most employees of government in 1968 were still of the mindset of the 1950s, which was captured perfectly by the late Cardinal Francis Spellman of New York when he announced his support of the Viet Nam War by quoting Steven Decatur, “My country right or wrong, but my country.” Perhaps an even better snapshot of the state of the societal and the Church mind in which Catonsville took place can be seen by a 1966 Life Magazine pro-Viet Nam War story that contained a photo of a tough looking U.S. fighter pilot in full gear with a skull painted on his helmet saying to the interviewer:

We sure are pleased with those backroom boys at DOW. Their original product wasn’t so hot—if the gooks were quick they could scrape it off. So the boys started adding polystyrene—now it stuck like shit to a blanket. But then, if the gooks jumped underwater it stopped burning, so the boys from DOW started adding Willie Peter (WP-white phosphorous) so to make it burn better. It will even burn underwater now. And just one drop is enough, it’ll keep burning right down to the bone, so they die anyway from phosphorous poisoning.

This was acceptable thinking for most of the U.S. population at the time, if it thought at all about the horror the U.S. Government and the plutocracy behind it were creating for ordinary people 8,000 mile away. In most Churches, academic institutions and mass media markets the agony of the people of Viet Nam was at best nothing more than the “stuff” for an interminable morality debate. Then into this artificial moral confusion came Tom and his fellow followers of Jesus with that “living and effective two-edged sword, the Word of God, that penetrates even between soul and spirit, joints and marrow, and is able to judge the secrets emotions and thoughts of people” (Heb 4:12). And what Truth of God did their illegal napalming of paper rather than the legal napalming of children bring into Christian consciences that were supportive of or indifferent to the mass murder taking place in Viet Nam? It was an unwanted truth—but self-evident truth—that almost nobody would consider before Catonsville and few, even today, in the Churches or outside the Churches are willing to take-in with the acute moral seriousness it absolutely demands: There is no moral difference between throwing a thousand children into a fire and throwing fire from an airplane on a thousand children.

Today the same fighter pilots, who dropped napalm on children, women and the elderly, are presented to the people of the U. S. by the government and its media outlets as war heroes. But, there is no such thing as heroism in the execution of evil. A mafia hit-man taking great risk in order to kill the children of an opposing godfather is not a hero. Evil does not become a scintilla less evil because a person put his or her life in jeopardy to do it and is subsequently designated a hero. Murder decorated with a ribbon is still murder—and the burning to death of children by the thousands in an unjust war is unjust killing, whose name is murder. Authentic heroism is freely taking a grave risk in order to try to do good. What Tom did that day almost forty years was an act of heroic mercy, not an act of pseudo-heroic mercilessness. According to the truth of what is referred to as the Last Judgment passage in Matthew 25, Tom saw children being burned to death and tried to help them at a great cost to himself. He came to the aid of the burning children in the Land of the Burning Children with the same abandonment of consequences to self that he would have had in coming to the aid of his own child or to the aid of the Christ Child in similar circumstances.

In his Catonsville act of Nonviolent Civil Disobedience and in the dozens of other actions of Divine Obedience in which Tom took part over the decades, he was always trying to act out of the Spirit of God whose supreme attribute is mercy, with the Father who is “rich in mercy” and who “lets His sun shine on the righteous and the wicked,” and in obedience to the Son whose conversion command is mercy, i.e., “I want mercy, not sacrifice.” Tom’s life—whether it be in his art, his teaching, his protest, his Catholic Worker affiliations, or his everyday demeanor—was a life committed to struggling to be agent of mercy on behalf of those who are subjected to the power of the merciless. What a life! What a witness! What a road on which to return to the Source!

So maybe, the connection between David Darst and Tom in my mind at that first instance after hearing of his death is not just that they were both participants in that most prophetic event at Catonsville draft board. Maybe at a deeper level it is what is so succinctly put forward in today’s first reading from the Hymn of the Suffering Servant: “The Lord called me from birth,/ from my mother’s womb he gave me my name./ He made of me a two-edged sword./…The Lord has spoken/ who formed me as his servant from the womb.”

Over the years in thinking about David being kill in a car crash only three of weeks after being convicted of acting criminally by burning draft files, I have often reflected on whether Catonsville is what David was brought out of nothingness and given the gift of faith in Jesus as the Way, the Truth and the Life for? It is a Biblical truth that God is Lord of History, that Jesus is the Alpha and Omega of history. But how? It seem impossible in terms of human freedom and in terms of the little we know about reality. Yet, in terms of David’s life and death it feels self-evidently so. So also with Tom. There is a sense that before he left the womb on St. Patrick’s Day in 1940, indeed before he was conceived in his mother’s womb, his destiny was placed within him. This of course can be passed off as just the idle daydreaming of one looking at life in the rear-view mirror. But there is a Biblical basis for it in the notion of “chosen.” “Chosen” by Jesus is not chosen to be a big shot nor is it chosen for privilege but rather for service, indeed for service that entails suffering in order to love and thereby complete a task in God’s Plan for bring salvation “to the ends of the earth.”

There is a meditation of by John Henry Newman that begins:

God Has Created me

to do some definite service.

God has committed some work to me

which God has not committed to another.

I have my mission.

I may never know it in this life

but I shall be told it in the next.

I am a link in a chain

a bond of connection between persons.

God has not created me for naught.

I shall do good—I shall do God's work

I shall be an angel of peace

a preacher of truth in my own place

while not intending it,

if I do but keep the commandments.

Therefore I will trust God

whatever I am, I can never be thrown away:

if I am in sickness, my sickness may serve God;

in perplexity, my perplexity may serve God;

If I am in sorrow, my sorrow may serve God.

God does nothing in vain

God knows what God is about.

My friends may leave me

I may be thrown among strangers

I may feel desolate,

my spirits sink,

my future be hidden from me—still

God knows what God is about.

I have a most assured sense that whatever the work assigned by the God of love to Tom in his mother’s womb, it has been completed. May we all be as faithful to the struggle to do the work committed to us by God as was Tom. Consummatum est.

The witness of your life, Tom, is now in the hands of God to do with as He will. Requiescat in pace.

Alleluia! Alleluia! Alleluia!

Rev. Emmanuel Charles McCarthy

Call for Submissions for Come Together: Imagine Peace

COME TOGETHER: IMAGINE PEACE, edited by Ann Smith and Larry Smith in the Harmony Series from Bottom Dog Press.

We are seeking poems (1-3) and short prose (up to 500 words) that image peace, nonviolence, reconciliation, compassion, hope. We believe it essential for ourselves and our children to keep this image alive and before us. We look for writing grounded in the world yet positive and visionary. It can have war images, but it must also have images of peace. Fine examples can be found throughout literature: Wendell Berry’s “The Peace of Wild Things,” James Wright’s “The Blessing,” the many Nature poems of Mary Oliver, W.S. Merwin, the compassionate works of Denise Levertov and others. Come together to share your image of peace and caring. Send typed work (reprint ok with documentation; no e-mail submissions) and SASE to: Bottom Dog Press—Imagine Peace/ PO Box 425/ Huron, OH 44839 by May 15, 2008. Payment is 2 copies, $10, the world’s thanks.

Ali Abunimah and Israel

As a longstanding advocate for a just peace in Israel/Palestine, I have read a number of possible solutions to the conflict. Though the two-state solution has long been the obvious choice for its compromises (and even with its inevitable compromises for both nations), Ali Abunimah and others have advocated, recently, for a single democratic state solution.

It goes without saying that, for Jews invested in the notion of a Jewish state, this option is probably unacceptable, since demographics would likely make Israeli Jews a minority within a couple decades. Sometimes I wonder whether the single-state option is the "Malcolm X" argument--in other words, it is the Palestinians saying, "you must choose whether you want all the land, and thus will be compelled to make us full citizens, or come to a solution."

The forty years since the Six Day War have been a long rumination over Israel's borders, over its complicated longings and claims for Greater Israel. But this article by Abunimah suggests that things have deteriorated for the Arab minority in Israel (which numbers a percentage close to 20), and that such undecideability may be making things worse. The statistics he quotes are frightening:
• 78 percent of Israeli Jews opposed having Arab parties or ministers join Israel’s government.29

• Just 56 percent of Israeli Jews support full equality for Palestinian citizens of Israel and an identical number agreed that “Arabs cannot attain the Jews’ level of cultural development.”30

• 75 percent of Israeli Jews agreed with the statement that “Arabs are inclined to violent behavior” (as compared with 54 percent of Palestinian citizens of Israel who had an equivalent view of Israeli Jews).31

• 43 percent of Israeli Jews agreed that “Arabs are not intelligent” and 55 percent agreed that “the government should encourage Arab emigration from the country.”32

A recent Haifa University survey found that half of Israeli Jews object to Arabs living in their neighborhoods (56 percent of Arabs supported residential integration with Jews).33 Similarly, ACRI reported that 75 percent of Israeli Jews surveyed said they would not agree to live in the same building as Arabs. The same survey found that more than half of Israeli Jews felt that Arabs and Jews should have separate recreational facilities.34

There are two consistent trends among all these surveys: both Palestinian citizens of Israel and Israeli Jews hold some prejudices towards each other, but on almost every measure, Israeli Jewish views of Arabs are more negative and extreme than Arab views of Jews; second, the negative trends have risen markedly in recent years as the Israeli-Palestinian conflict has intensified. Between 2005 and 2006, there was a 26 percent rise in racist incidents targeting Arabs, and the number of Israeli Jews reporting they felt “hatred” towards Arabs doubled to 30 percent.35

Here is the full article:
"Anti-Arab Racism and Incitement in Israel"
Palestine Center Information Brief No. 161 (25 March 2008)

By Ali Abunimah
Palestine Center Fellow

Click here to print or view online:

A prominent strategy of Israeli hasbara, or official propaganda, is to deflect criticism of its actions in the Occupied West Bank and Gaza Strip by stressing that within the country’s 1948 boundaries, it is a model democracy comparable to the societies in Western Europe and North America with which it identifies and on whose diplomatic support it relies to maintain a favorable status quo. In fact, Israeli society is in the grip of a wave of unchecked racism and incitement that seriously threatens Israel’s Palestinian community and the long-term prospects for regional peace. This briefing examines societal and institutional racism and incitement by public figures against Israel’s Arab population and considers some policy implications.

Background and Context

When Israel was established in 1948, most of the indigenous Palestinian inhabitants were driven out or fled from the area that became Israel. Approximately 150,000 Palestinians remained behind.1 Until 1966, these Palestinians lived under martial law. Today, having increased in number to approximately 1.3 million or about one fifth of Israel’s population (not including the Palestinian population of Occupied East Jerusalem), they are citizens of the State of Israel and can vote in elections for the Knesset. Despite this, most view themselves as second-class citizens. As indigenous non-Jews in a self-described Jewish state, they face a host of systematic social, legal, economic and educational barriers to equality. Israel lacks a constitution and has no other basic law guaranteeing equal rights to all citizens regardless of religion, race, ethnicity or national origin.2

One measure of the cumulative impact of these discriminatory policies is socioeconomic: while just 16 percent of Jewish citizens in Israel fall below the official poverty line, the figure for non-Jews is 50 percent.3

In October 2000, Israeli police used live ammunition against unarmed civilians demonstrating their solidarity with Palestinians in the Occupied Territories. Thirteen Palestinians, of whom twelve were Israeli citizens, were shot dead. An official commission, headed by Judge Theodor Or, was appointed to look into the events which came to mark a dramatic deterioration in Arab-Jewish relations inside the country. In 2003, the Or Commission confirmed that the police used “excessive” and unjustifiable force, reported that the police viewed the country’s Arab citizens as “enemies” and documented a pattern of “prejudice and neglect” towards them by Israel’s establishment.4

While the Or Commission recommended a number of measures to redress the sharp disparities between Jews and Arabs in the country, families of the victims regarded the report as a whitewash. The Commission failed to examine the forensic evidence in each of the killings, and none of the killers, nor any responsible official, were ever brought to justice.5 By 2007, according to Elie Rekhess of the Moshe Dayan Center at Tel Aviv University, there remained “yawning” gaps between Jews and Arabs in Israel and “the bottom line” is “that the conclusions and recommendations of the 2003 Or Commission remain conspicuously unimplemented.”6

Amidst the increasingly precarious situation of Palestinian citizens of Israel, prominent and broadly representative leaders of that community published in 2007 a series of documents setting out visions for Israel as a state of all its citizens with equality for all.7 The response of the Israeli body politic was overwhelmingly to view these initiatives as an unwelcome threat to the “Jewish character” of the state. Israel’s Shin Bet secret police, responsible among other things for many “targeted killings” in the Occupied Territories, went so far as to warn that it would “disrupt the activities of any groups that seek to change the Jewish or democratic character of Israel, even if they use democratic means.”8

Unlearned Lessons: The Jabal al-Mukkabir “Pogrom”

On March 10, a week after a Palestinian opened fire in the Mercaz HaRav yeshiva in Jerusalem killing eight students, apparently in revenge for Israel’s killing of dozens of civilians in Gaza, a mob of hundreds of Israeli Jews converged on the Jabal al-Mukkabir neighborhood in Occupied East Jerusalem where the gunman’s family lived. In what Haaretz termed an “organized, synchronized pogrom,” the mob threw stones at Palestinian homes smashing windows and destroying water tanks, damaged cars and chanted “Death to the Arabs” while police did little to stop them.9 Haaretz observed that such an attack “could never take place in a Jewish neighborhood,” and noted that while “Israel and the Jewish world raise a huge cry over every suspicion of an attack on Jews because of their ethnicity, it is intolerable that residents of the capital [sic] are attacked solely because of their nationality.”10

Although the mob action had been planned and advertised days in advance, the Israeli police had done nothing to prepare for it. “The district police didn’t need to be surprised,” said the former Jerusalem district police commander Mickey Levy. “There was no need to collect intelligence, it was right there in their hand. Appropriate preparation was called for in order to prevent the violent demonstration.”11

This event indicates that Israel’s official institutions have failed to learn any lessons from the Or Commission report but also serves as a warning sign of worse to come, against a backdrop of highly tolerated public incitement and widespread racist attitudes towards Arabs.

Racist Statements and Incitement by Religious and Political Leaders

One of the most blatant examples of public incitement in the days before the attack on Jabal al-Mukkabir was a circular widely distributed and posted around Jerusalem and in West Bank settlements. Signed by a long list of rabbis, it called for acts of revenge on Palestinians in retribution for the Mercaz HaRav shooting: “Each and everyone is required to imagine what the enemy is plotting to do to us and match it measure for measure.”12

Among the signatories was Rabbi Ya’acov Yosef, son of Rabbi Ovadia Yosef, the former Sephardic chief rabbi of Israel and spiritual leader of Shas, a party in Prime Minister Ehud Olmert’s coalition government. The younger Yosef is himself a former Knesset member representing Shas. Another signatory, Rabbi Uzi Sharbav, was one of a group of extremists who murdered three Palestinian students at a school in the occupied West Bank city of Hebron and set off bombs that maimed the mayors of Nablus and Ramallah in the early 1980s. Sharbav served a short prison sentence for the murders but was pardoned and freed along with other extremists by Israel’s president in 1990.13

Other statements have been aimed at delegitimizing, intimidating and threatening with expulsion Palestinian citizens of Israel exercising their democratic rights. In early March, thousands of Palestinian citizens of Israel staged a peaceful rally attended by several Arab members of the Knesset to protest Israel’s military attacks in the Gaza Strip. In the Knesset, former cabinet minister Effie Eitam accused the Arab legislators of “treason” for participating in the rally adding, “We have to drive you out, as well as everyone else who took part” in the demonstration.14 Days later, Olmert’s former Deputy Prime Minister Avigdor Lieberman repeated the ethnic cleansing threat in the Knesset, telling Arab members, “You are temporary here,” and “One day we will take care of you.”15

Israeli extremists appear to be getting the message. Representatives of three Arab parties have reported that their Knesset members have been receiving death threats in the mail daily. A spokesman for one Knesset member said, “We have always received threats but they have recently escalated to the point where we are growing truly concerned.”16

Several rabbis have used the excuse of “security” in the wake of the Mercaz HaRav shooting to issue racist halakhic (religious) rulings against Arabs. Rabbi Dov Lior, chairman of the rabbinical council for settlers in “Judea and Samaria” (the West Bank), decreed that “It is completely forbidden to employ [Arabs] and rent houses to them in Israel. Their employment is forbidden, not only at yeshivas, but at factories, hotels and everywhere.”17

Rabbi Chaim Kanievsky, considered a world-wide Orthodox authority on Jewish law, held “that it is completely forbidden to hire Arabs, especially in yeshivas; there is a concern for endangering lives.” Indicating that security might not be the only motivation for this ruling, Kanievsky added that Jews should refrain from hiring any non-Jews, “unless there exists a huge disparity between the costs of the labor,” in which case non-Jews could be hired.18

While these are recent examples, Mossawa, an Arab civil rights advocacy group in Israel, documented dozens of instances of racist declarations by public figures and thousands of examples of incitement on the Internet in 2007 alone.19

Silence is Consent

Leaders in the Palestinian community in Israel worry that the escalating incitement will provoke further violence against them. A spokesman for Muhammad Barakeh, an Arab member of parliament, said that the recent upsurge in death threats had been reported to Knesset security, “But we have seen nothing happen. I do not feel they are taking this threat very seriously.”20 Another Arab Knesset member urged Israel’s two chief rabbis to condemn the rabbinical calls for revenge, fearing that these statements might incite the assassination of community leaders.21 There are no reports that the chief rabbis responded to this plea. Indeed, while a handful of Israeli Jewish voices have been raised in protest, it was most often to decry the deafening silence.

A spokesman for the Religious Action Center for Reform Judaism condemned an “ever growing phenomenon of racist incitement that distorts Judaism and is also illegal.” The group called on Israel’s attorney general to “shake off his apathy” and begin to enforce anti-incitement laws.22 Haaretz complained that “the continued inactivity in the face of acts of incitement and violence by the extreme right is shared by all the law-enforcement authorities—the police, Shin Bet, State Prosecutor’s Office and the courts.”23 A Haaretz reporter noted “the dizzying increase in incitement, curses and insults leveled” at Arab Knesset members, “a spike that has gone almost without protest or the involvement of the Knesset Ethics Committee.”24 Another commentator in the same newspaper observed that “as long as no one demonstrates whenever a Knesset member curses Arabs; and as long as the number of people who rent apartments to or hire Arabs can be counted on one hand, Israeli society cannot be a
bsolved of the sin of racism."25

A Society in Crisis

“Israeli society is reaching new heights of racism,” said Sami Michael, one of the country’s most celebrated equality advocates and president of the Association for Civil Rights in Israel (ACRI).26 A growing body of research indicates that racist sentiments are not the preserve of the right-wing fringe but increasingly prevalent across Israeli Jewish society.

One particularly disturbing indicator is that the chant “Death to the Arabs” is voiced not just by mobs of right-wingers angered by this or that Palestinian attack. Rather, “in the late 1990s and onwards,” writes Amir Ben-Porat, a professor in the Department of Behavioral Sciences at Ben Gurion University, “‘Death to the Arabs’ became a common chant in almost every football [soccer] stadium in Israel.” Ben-Porat, who authored a study on the use of the chant, says that because of the importance of soccer in Israeli society and its high profile in the media, “This chant is heard far beyond the stadium.”27

In its 2007 Israeli Democracy Index, the Israel Democracy Institute found that 87 percent of all Israeli citizens rated Jewish-Arab relations in the country as being “poor” or “very poor.”28

In addition:

• 78 percent of Israeli Jews opposed having Arab parties or ministers join Israel’s government.29

• Just 56 percent of Israeli Jews support full equality for Palestinian citizens of Israel and an identical number agreed that “Arabs cannot attain the Jews’ level of cultural development.”30

• 75 percent of Israeli Jews agreed with the statement that “Arabs are inclined to violent behavior” (as compared with 54 percent of Palestinian citizens of Israel who had an equivalent view of Israeli Jews).31

• 43 percent of Israeli Jews agreed that “Arabs are not intelligent” and 55 percent agreed that “the government should encourage Arab emigration from the country.”32

A recent Haifa University survey found that half of Israeli Jews object to Arabs living in their neighborhoods (56 percent of Arabs supported residential integration with Jews).33 Similarly, ACRI reported that 75 percent of Israeli Jews surveyed said they would not agree to live in the same building as Arabs. The same survey found that more than half of Israeli Jews felt that Arabs and Jews should have separate recreational facilities.34

There are two consistent trends among all these surveys: both Palestinian citizens of Israel and Israeli Jews hold some prejudices towards each other, but on almost every measure, Israeli Jewish views of Arabs are more negative and extreme than Arab views of Jews; second, the negative trends have risen markedly in recent years as the Israeli-Palestinian conflict has intensified. Between 2005 and 2006, there was a 26 percent rise in racist incidents targeting Arabs, and the number of Israeli Jews reporting they felt “hatred” towards Arabs doubled to 30 percent.35

While the conflict is undoubtedly the overarching context for these sentiments, an important contributing factor may be the consistently dehumanizing and denigrating stereotypes of Arabs that have for decades been presented to Israeli Jewish schoolchildren in their textbooks and media.36

Discrimination against United States Citizens

An outgrowth of the institutional and societal racism against Arabs in Israel is mistreatment that some United States citizens have received at the hands of Israeli authorities.

The State Department recently warned travelers that “American citizens whom Israeli authorities judge (based on their name or other indicators) may be of Palestinian origin are likely to face additional, and often time consuming questioning by immigration and border authorities.”37 The warning adds that the “United States Government seeks equal treatment for all American citizens regardless of national origin or ethnicity,” or as State Department spokesperson Sean McCormack put it, “You have a blue American passport, you should be treated like an American citizen.”38

Yet, while Arab American civil rights advocates have reported dozens of such cases of discrimination to the U.S. government,39 American citizens who are considered Jewish by Israel are accorded special treatment, including free Israeli-government sponsored “Birthright Israel” trips and enticements to emigrate to the country. This is a long-standing problem; in 1987, the State Department lodged an official protest over the mistreatment of African Americans and Palestinian Americans traveling to Israel.40

Conclusions and Implications

Anti-Arab racism and incitement are persistent and growing problems in Israel and symptoms of hyper nationalism that seeks to consolidate and justify the state’s “Jewish character.” For decades, the mistreatment of Palestinians in Israel has been virtually ignored by Palestinian national leaders, as well as by international policymakers and organizations under the doctrine of non-interference in the internal affairs of sovereign states.

Yet, the precarious position of Palestinian citizens of Israel is closely linked to the fate of Palestinians under military occupation in the West Bank and Gaza Strip and refugees outside the country. It stems from the same set of historical events 60 years ago. All three categories of Palestinians are targets of discriminatory or abusive Israeli policies intended to preserve Israel as a “Jewish state.” In the context of a “solution” to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, some Israeli politicians increasingly speak of population or territorial “exchanges” that would strip Palestinian citizens of Israel of their citizenship and otherwise violate their fundamental human rights. Palestinian citizens of Israel have raised the alarm about this growing existential threat, but they have received little international solidarity.

Israel’s official institutions have failed for decades to demonstrate any willingness or capacity to treat Palestinian citizens as equal to Israeli Jews either in law or in practice. Israeli police act, in effect, as a uniformed sectarian militia protecting Jewish privilege rather than as an impartial police service for a modern, democratic state.

Although most international actors are not yet ready to do so, it is inevitable that the situation inside Israel will eventually have to be internationalized. A good example of the successful internationalization of an “internal” situation is the role external actors played in overseeing the transformation of the Royal Ulster Constabulary from a uniformed sectarian militia into the present-day Police Service of Northern Ireland and otherwise supporting the Northern Ireland peace process. There must also be external pressure on Israel to curb and punish racist incitement and to launch broad public initiatives, particularly in schools, to combat hateful stereotypes of Arabs.

As Israeli politicians and parties increasingly propose “solutions” that treat all Palestinians, whether citizens or not, as equally inferior, Palestinians in the diaspora, the Occupied Territories and inside Israel must urgently engage with each other to formulate common strategies to protect and advance their human and political rights.

Ali Abunimah is a fellow at the Palestine Center in Washington, DC. He is an expert on Palestine, the Palestinian-Israeli conflict and is the author of One Country: A Bold Proposal to End the Israeli-Palestinian Impasse. Abunimah also co-founded The Electronic Intifada, an online publication about Palestine and the Palestine-Israeli conflict, Electronic Iraq and Electronic Lebanon.

The views expressed in this information brief are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of The Jerusalem Fund.

1See Ilan Pappé, The Ethnic Cleansing of Palestine, Oneworld Publications, 2004; Benny Morris, The Birth of the Palestinian Refugee Problem Revisited, Second Edition, Cambridge University Press, 2004.
2For an excellent overview of legal discrimination against Palestinian citizens of Israel see Jonathan Cook, Blood and Religion: The Unmasking of the Jewish and Democratic State, Pluto Press, 2006.
3Asher Arian, Nir Atmor, Yael Hadar, The 2007 Israeli Democracy Index, The Israel Democracy Institute, June 2007, p. 63 (
4James Bennet, “Police used excessive force on Israeli Arabs, panel says,” The New York Times, 2 September 2003.
5See Jonathan Cook, “Still no justice for October 2000 killings,” The Electronic Intifada, 26 February 2008 (
6Elie Rekhess, “Israel and its Arab Citizens - Taking Stock,” 16 October 2007, Moshe Dayan Center for Middle Eastern and African Studies at Tel Aviv University (
7The four documents are: The Future Vision of the Palestinian Arabs in Israel published by The National Committee for the Heads of the Arab Local Authorities in Israel (; The Democratic Constitution published by Adalah The Legal Center for Arab Minority Rights in Israel (; An Equal Constitution for All? On a Constitution and Collective Rights for Arab Citizens in Israel published by Mossawa Center - The Advocacy Center for Arab Citizens in Israel (; and The Haifa Declaration (
8Yoav Stern, “Arab leaders air public relations campaign against Shin Bet,” Haaretz, 6 April 2007 (
9Nadav Shagrai, “Right-wing demonstrators try to storm home village of Mercaz Harav gunman,” Haaretz, 17 March 2007 (
10“Limp police in the face of a pogrom,” Haaretz editorial, 18 March 2008 (
11“Top police officer slams police response to E. Jerusalem clash,” Haaretz, 17 March 2008 (
12“Rightist rabbis urge ‘measure for measure’ revenge on foes,” Haaretz, 12 March 2008 (
13See “Israel frees 3 Jewish radicals Killers of Arabs served less than 7 years of life sentence,” Associated Press, December 27, 1990.
14Shahar Ilan, “MK Eitam to Arab MKs: One day we will expel you from Israel,” Haaretz, 5 March 2008 (
15Shahar Ilan, “Lieberman to Arab MKs: One day we will ‘take care of you,’” Haaretz, 10 March 2008 (
16Sheera Claire Frenkel, “Death threats to Arab MKs on the rise,” The Jerusalem Post, 14 March 2008.
17Nadav Shagrai, “Top Yesha rabbi says Jewish law forbids renting houses to Arabs,” Haaretz, 20 March 2008 (
18Neta Sela, “Prominent rabbi to yeshiva heads: Don't hire Arabs,” Yediot Aharonot, 17 March 2008 (,7340,L-3519643,00.html).
19Press release, "Mossawa Center releases racism report detailing over 169 cases," Mossawa, 19 March 2008 (
20Sheera Claire Frenkel, “Death threats to Arab MKs on the rise,” The Jerusalem Post, 14 March 2008.
21Yoav Stern, “Arab MK to chief rabbis: Slam rabbinic calls to harm Arabs,” Haaretz, 17 March 2008 (
22Nadav Shagrai, “Top Yesha rabbi says Jewish law forbids renting houses to Arabs,” Haaretz, 20 March 2008 (
23“Limp police in the face of a pogrom,” Haaretz editorial, 18 March 2008 (
24Shahar Ilan, “The vision of an Arab-free Knesset,” Haaretz, 24 March 2008 (
25Avirama Golan, “Racist? Us?”, Haaretz, 19 March 2008 (
26Yuval Yoaz and Jack Khoury, “Civil rights group: Israel has reached new heights of racism,” Haaretz, 9 December 2007 (
27Amir Ben-Porat, “Death to the Arabs: the right-wing fan's fear,” Soccer & Society, Vol. 9, No. 1, January 2008, pp. 1-13.
28Asher Arian, Nir Atmor, Yael Hadar, The 2007 Israeli Democracy Index, The Israel Democracy Institute, June 2007, p.61 (
29The 2007 Israeli Democracy Index, p.64.
30The 2007 Israeli Democracy Index, pp. 66-67.
31The 2007 Israeli Democracy Index, p. 67.
32The 2007 Israeli Democracy Index, p. 68.
33Fadi Eyadat, “Poll: Half of Jews oppose living in neighborhoods with Arabs,” Haaretz, 13 March 2008 (
34Bachar Awawda and Attorney Alla Heider, “Index of Racism for 2006: Racism against Israeli Arabs – Citizens of the State of Israel,” The Center Against Racism, April 2007, cited in The State of Human Rights in Israel and the Occupied Territories, 2007 Report, Association for Civil Rights in Israel (ACRI), p.14 (
35ACRI, p.14.
36For an important and systematic study of this phenomenon, see Daniel Bar-Tal & Yona Teichman, Stereotypes and Prejudice in Conflict: Representations of Arabs in Israeli Jewish Society, Cambridge University Press, 2005. Bar-Tal is Professor of Social Psychology at the School of Education, Tel Aviv University. Teichman is Professor of Clinical Psychology in the Department of Psychology, Tel Aviv University.
37State Department, “Travel Warning: Israel, The West Bank and Gaza,” 19 March 2008 (
38“U.S. to Israel: No bias vs. Arab-Americans,” Associated Press, 20 March 2008.
39American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee (ADC), “ADC Sends First Hand Accounts of Israel’s Entry Denials of U.S. Citizens to Secretary Rice,” 20 March 2008 (
40Dan Fisher, “Israel will review its border control practices,” The Los Angeles Times, 18 July 1987.

Sunday, April 13, 2008

Fady Joudah inteview and poem

Fady Joudah, a Palestinian-American doctor, and member of RAWI, and, I am proud to say, a friend, has published his first book, Earth in the Attic (Yale 2008).

From an article by Fritz Lanham in the Houston Chronicle entitled, "Healing verse: Palestinian-American doctor turns suffering into song, wins top U.S. prize," quoting Fady Joudah, the recent Yale Series of Younger Poets winner, and Arab-American.
"I wanted to do something different with poetry in the sense that as a son of refugees, exile for me was not a metaphorical state, it was a lineage," he said. "All of my aunts and uncles have lived true refugee lives.

"I wanted to engage the concept of the stateless person as a theme. For me, being a physician, patients are displaced people, at least momentarily. I wanted to take that to a larger stage, a world stage. I somehow knew this didn't exist in English literature, at least the way I'm doing it."

The task, he knew, was fraught with pitfalls. He worried about falling into "narcissistic pity." He worried about sensationalizing ("I'm still very paranoid about how much I failed to avoid that in my manuscript") or transforming suffering into an op-ed moment. He worried about categorizing and dehumanizing refugees, putting them in a box readers could safely tuck away under the bed.

"I know our most natural tendency when we speak about the Other is to isolate ourselves as if we had nothing to do with them — they're far away, in a different situation. I wanted the reader to feel we can't just stop with the 'they.' "

Here's a poem from the collection, reprinted by Poetry Daily (thanks!):


The end of the road is a beautiful mirage:

White jeeps with mottos, white
And blue tarps where the dust gnaws
At your nostrils like a locust cloud
Or a helicopter thrashing the earth,
Wheat grains peppering the sky.

For now
Let me tell you a fable:

Why the road is lunar
Goes back to the days when strangers
Sealed a bid from the despot to build
The only path that courses through
The desert of the people.

The tyrant secretly sent
His men to mix hand grenades
With asphalt and gravel,
Then hid the button
That would detonate the road.

These are villages and these are trees
A thousand years old,
Or the souls of trees,
Their high branches axed and dangled

Like lynched men flanking the wadis,
Closer now to a camel's neck
And paradoxical chew.

And the villages:
Children packed in a hut
Then burned or hung on bayonets,
Truck tires

Anchoring acacia limbs as checkpoints.
And only animals return:
The monkeys dash to the road's edge and back
Into the alleyways,

And by a doorstep a hawk dives
And snatches a serpent—your eyes
Twitch in saccades and staccatos:

This blue crested hoopoe is whizzing ahead of us
From bough to bough,
The hummingbird wings

Like fighter jets
Refueling in midair.

If you believe the hoopoe
Is good omen,

The driver says,
Then you are one of us.

Saturday, April 12, 2008

Joseph Ross on To See the Earth

Joseph Ross, poet and editor of the anthology Cut Loose the Body, a series of poems in response to Fernando Botero's art on Abu Ghraib, and on torture in general, has done a mini-review of To See the Earth, which you can read here. Here is an excerpt:
In some ways, it's easiest to describe them as poems of "place" -- and in some ways they are. But they are so much more than that. They're really poems of places. They play and ponder and lament the inner geographies of our sorrows and the outer geographies in which we walk and work and grow up.

Much thanks to Joseph Ross, for reading and passing along his praises. It's amazing how one cherishes every bit of comment on these little architectures of words...

Thursday, April 10, 2008

Ray McNiece's "I'm a Grunt"

Last night, thanks to Larry Smith of Bottom Dog Books, I had the chance to read at Firelands College alongside Ray McNiece, an old school working class Cleveland-area troubadour who's traveled the world and made his bread through poetry. Ray's a lot of fun to hear, because he combines political rage with a real lust for language and life...and nearly all of his poems are recited. Take that, book slaves!

One piece he didn't perform last night, however, is "I'm a Grunt," a poem from the point of view of a soldier who's joined the military because he's got no other way out...

Listen to Ray McNiece called "I'm a Grunt". This is from a reading he gave at John Carroll a couple summers back...

Monday, April 7, 2008

bp Nichol's "War and Peace"/sounding out

A new website devoted to Canadian avant-garde poet bp Nichol's work has emerged, and there's a treasure trove of audio, digital, and other poem- and art- works of all sorts.

One of the sound pieces, "War and Peace," is a pleasing exploration of war and peace by way of the oral materiality of language--it begins with the "ba-ba-ba" of bombs falling, and ends with the "aums" that we associate with the peace movement of Ginsberg, chanting "aum" for hours at Grant Park during the hours before the mayhem of police beatings and riots during the 1968 Democratic National Convention. Together, of course, the "b's" and "om's" yield something that sounds scarily like "bom's"--as if we can't quite escape the bomb.

Sunday, April 6, 2008

My daughter and I, braving Cleveland weather

Unlike this picture, taken just a week ago by photographer Greg Ruffing, today it's gorgeous outside, fully-mid-spring, and I've been cranky all weekend trying to finish grading exams and memoirs. In celebration of completing this round, I'm going to the Shaker Lakes with my family. Blogging be damned!

Saturday, April 5, 2008

"New Cairo" by Matthew Shenoda

Matthew Shenoda is a Coptic poet who, in his words, is "devoted to using art for social change." I first met the gregarious Shenoda in person at this year's AWP, after having read a bit of his work and hearing about the recent awards for his first book, Somewhere Else (2005). He also happens to be the featured poet at the RAWI (Radius of Arab American Writers) site right now, and I came across this little gem.

"New Cairo" by Matthew Shenoda

The furniture still smells the same.
The street echoes
voices of peddlers,
the marketplace.
The basket hangs off the railing
they use it to pull up corn, bought
from a passerby.

I stand on the balcony, staring
withdrawn from this poverty by a mere generation
then I remember:

Great-Grandmother used to say,
“If you throw salt away
God will make you
pick it up
one grain at a time
with your eyelashes”

Friday, April 4, 2008

Christian Peacemaker Team work/The Witness of Art Gish and Peggy Gish

Martin Luther King's "Riverside Church" sermon and "Beyond Vietnam"/On the Anniversary of King's Assassination

On the anniversary of King's murder, let's remember King's challenge to us was not only about racial harmony and justice, but about peace and justice for every human being--an important aspect of which would be resisting the drumbeats of war:

This business of burning human beings with napalm, of filling our nation’s homes with orphans and widows, of injecting poisonous drugs of hate into the veins of peoples normally humane, of sending men home from dark and bloody battlefields physically handicapped and psychologically deranged, cannot be reconciled with wisdom, justice, and love. A nation that continues year after year to spend more money on military defense than on programs of social uplift is approaching spiritual death.

Here is another speech called "Beyond Vietnam," one year before his death, on the Vietnam War, where this quote was taken. I love the fact that he quotes poets as his prophetic collaborators--Langston Hughes and James Russell Lowell!

"Beyond Vietnam" by Martin Luther King
April 4, 1967. New York, N.Y.

Mr. Chairman, ladies and gentlemen, I need not pause to say how very delighted I am to be here tonight, and how very delighted I am to see you expressing your concern about the issues that will be discussed tonight by turning out in such large numbers. I also want to say that I consider it a great honor to share this program with Dr. Bennett, Dr. Commager, and Rabbi Heschel, some of the distinguished leaders and personalities of our nation. And of course it’s always good to come back to Riverside Church. Over the last eight years, I have had the privilege of preaching here almost every year in that period, and it is always a rich and rewarding experience to come to this great church and this great pulpit.

I come to this magnificent house of worship tonight because my conscience leaves me no other choice. I join you in this meeting because I am in deepest agreement with the aims and work of the organization which has brought us together, Clergy and Laymen Concerned About Vietnam. The recent statements of your executive committee are the sentiments of my own heart, and I found myself in full accord when I read its opening lines: "A time comes when silence is betrayal." That time has come for us in relation to Vietnam.

The truth of these words is beyond doubt, but the mission to which they call us is a most difficult one. Even when pressed by the demands of inner truth, men do not easily assume the task of opposing their government’s policy, especially in time of war. Nor does the human spirit move without great difficulty against all the apathy of conformist thought within one’s own bosom and in the surrounding world. Moreover, when the issues at hand seem as perplexing as they often do in the case of this dreadful conflict, we are always on the verge of being mesmerized by uncertainty. But we must move on.

Some of us who have already begun to break the silence of the night have found that the calling to speak is often a vocation of agony, but we must speak. We must speak with all the humility that is appropriate to our limited vision, but we must speak. And we must rejoice as well, for surely this is the first time in our nation’s history that a significant number of its religious leaders have chosen to move beyond the prophesying of smooth patriotism to the high grounds of a firm dissent based upon the mandates of conscience and the reading of history. Perhaps a new spirit is rising among us. If it is, let us trace its movements, and pray that our own inner being may be sensitive to its guidance, for we are deeply in need of a new way beyond the darkness that seems so close around us.

Over the past two years, as I have moved to break the betrayal of my own silences and to speak from the burnings of my own heart, as I have called for radical departures from the destruction of Vietnam, many persons have questioned me about the wisdom of my path. At the heart of their concerns, this query has often loomed large and loud: "Why are you speaking about the war, Dr. King?" "Why are you joining the voices of dissent?" "Peace and civil rights don’t mix," they say. "Aren’t you hurting the cause of your people?" they ask. And when I hear them, though I often understand the source of their concern, I am nevertheless greatly saddened, for such questions mean that the inquirers have not really known me, my commitment, or my calling. Indeed, their questions suggest that they do not know the world in which they live. In the light of such tragic misunderstanding, I deem it of signal importance to try to state clearly, and I trust concisely, why I believe that the path from Dexter Avenue Baptist Church—the church in Montgomery, Alabama, where I began my pastorate—leads clearly to this sanctuary tonight.

I come to this platform tonight to make a passionate plea to my beloved nation. This speech is not addressed to Hanoi or to the National Liberation Front. It is not addressed to China or to Russia. Nor is it an attempt to overlook the ambiguity of the total situation and the need for a collective solution to the tragedy of Vietnam. Neither is it an attempt to make North Vietnam or the National Liberation Front paragons of virtue, nor to overlook the role they must play in the successful resolution of the problem. While they both may have justifiable reasons to be suspicious of the good faith of the United States, life and history give eloquent testimony to the fact that conflicts are never resolved without trustful give and take on both sides. Tonight, however, I wish not to speak with Hanoi and the National Liberation Front, but rather to my fellow Americans.

Since I am a preacher by calling, I suppose it is not surprising that I have seven major reasons for bringing Vietnam into the field of my moral vision. There is at the outset a very obvious and almost facile connection between the war in Vietnam and the struggle I and others have been waging in America. A few years ago there was a shining moment in that struggle. It seemed as if there was a real promise of hope for the poor, both black and white, through the poverty program. There were experiments, hopes, new beginnings. Then came the buildup in Vietnam, and I watched this program broken and eviscerated as if it were some idle political plaything of a society gone mad on war. And I knew that America would never invest the necessary funds or energies in rehabilitation of its poor so long as adventures like Vietnam continued to draw men and skills and money like some demonic, destructive suction tube. So I was increasingly compelled to see the war as an enemy of the poor and to attack it as such.

Perhaps a more tragic recognition of reality took place when it became clear to me that the war was doing far more than devastating the hopes of the poor at home. It was sending their sons and their brothers and their husbands to fight and to die in extraordinarily high proportions relative to the rest of the population. We were taking the black young men who had been crippled by our society and sending them eight thousand miles away to guarantee liberties in Southeast Asia which they had not found in southwest Georgia and East Harlem. So we have been repeatedly faced with the cruel irony of watching Negro and white boys on TV screens as they kill and die together for a nation that has been unable to seat them together in the same schools. So we watch them in brutal solidarity burning the huts of a poor village, but we realize that they would hardly live on the same block in Chicago. I could not be silent in the face of such cruel manipulation of the poor.

My third reason moves to an even deeper level of awareness, for it grows out of my experience in the ghettos of the North over the last three years, especially the last three summers. As I have walked among the desperate, rejected, and angry young men, I have told them that Molotov cocktails and rifles would not solve their problems. I have tried to offer them my deepest compassion while maintaining my conviction that social change comes most meaningfully through nonviolent action. But they asked, and rightly so, "What about Vietnam?" They asked if our own nation wasn’t using massive doses of violence to solve its problems, to bring about the changes it wanted. Their questions hit home, and I knew that I could never again raise my voice against the violence of the oppressed in the ghettos without having first spoken clearly to the greatest purveyor of violence in the world today: my own government. For the sake of those boys, for the sake of this government, for the sake of the hundreds of thousands trembling under our violence, I cannot be silent.

For those who ask the question, "Aren’t you a civil rights leader?" and thereby mean to exclude me from the movement for peace, I have this further answer. In 1957, when a group of us formed the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, we chose as our motto: "To save the soul of America." We were convinced that we could not limit our vision to certain rights for black people, but instead affirmed the conviction that America would never be free or saved from itself until the descendants of its slaves were loosed completely from the shackles they still wear. In a way we were agreeing with Langston Hughes, that black bard of Harlem, who had written earlier:

O, yes, I say it plain,

America never was America to me,

And yet I swear this oath—

America will be!

Now, it should be incandescently clear that no one who has any concern for the integrity and life of America today can ignore the present war. If America’s soul becomes totally poisoned, part of the autopsy must read "Vietnam." It can never be saved so long as it destroys the deepest hopes of men the world over. So it is that those of us who are yet determined that "America will be" are led down the path of protest and dissent, working for the health of our land.

As if the weight of such a commitment to the life and health of America were not enough, another burden of responsibility was placed upon me in 1964. And I cannot forget that the Nobel Peace Prize was also a commission, a commission to work harder than I had ever worked before for the brotherhood of man. This is a calling that takes me beyond national allegiances.

But even if it were not present, I would yet have to live with the meaning of my commitment to the ministry of Jesus Christ. To me, the relationship of this ministry to the making of peace is so obvious that I sometimes marvel at those who ask me why I am speaking against the war. Could it be that they do not know that the Good News was meant for all men—for communist and capitalist, for their children and ours, for black and for white, for revolutionary and conservative? Have they forgotten that my ministry is in obedience to the one who loved His enemies so fully that He died for them? What then can I say to the Vietcong or to Castro or to Mao as a faithful minister of this one? Can I threaten them with death or must I not share with them my life?

Finally, as I try to explain for you and for myself the road that leads from Montgomery to this place, I would have offered all that was most valid if I simply said that I must be true to my conviction that I share with all men the calling to be a son of the living God. Beyond the calling of race or nation or creed is this vocation of sonship and brotherhood. Because I believe that the Father is deeply concerned especially for His suffering and helpless and outcast children, I come tonight to speak for them. This I believe to be the privilege and the burden of all of us who deem ourselves bound by allegiances and loyalties which are broader and deeper than nationalism and which go beyond our nation’s self-defined goals and positions. We are called to speak for the weak, for the voiceless, for the victims of our nation, for those it calls "enemy," for no document from human hands can make these humans any less our brothers.

And as I ponder the madness of Vietnam and search within myself for ways to understand and respond in compassion, my mind goes constantly to the people of that peninsula. I speak now not of the soldiers of each side, not of the ideologies of the Liberation Front, not of the junta in Saigon, but simply of the people who have been living under the curse of war for almost three continuous decades now. I think of them, too, because it is clear to me that there will be no meaningful solution there until some attempt is made to know them and hear their broken cries.

They must see Americans as strange liberators. The Vietnamese people proclaimed their own independence in 1954, in 1945 rather, after a combined French and Japanese occupation and before the communist revolution in China. They were led by Ho Chi Minh. Even though they quoted the American Declaration of Independence in their own document of freedom, we refused to recognize them. Instead, we decided to support France in its reconquest of her former colony. Our government felt then that the Vietnamese people were not ready for independence, and we again fell victim to the deadly Western arrogance that has poisoned the international atmosphere for so long. With that tragic decision we rejected a revolutionary government seeking self-determination and a government that had been established not by China—for whom the Vietnamese have no great love—but by clearly indigenous forces that included some communists. For the peasants this new government meant real land reform, one of the most important needs in their lives.

For nine years following 1945 we denied the people of Vietnam the right of independence. For nine years we vigorously supported the French in their abortive effort to recolonize Vietnam. Before the end of the war we were meeting eighty percent of the French war costs. Even before the French were defeated at Dien Bien Phu, they began to despair of their reckless action, but we did not. We encouraged them with our huge financial and military supplies to continue the war even after they had lost the will. Soon we would be paying almost the full costs of this tragic attempt at recolonization.

After the French were defeated, it looked as if independence and land reform would come again through the Geneva Agreement. But instead there came the United States, determined that Ho should not unify the temporarily divided nation, and the peasants watched again as we supported one of the most vicious modern dictators, our chosen man, Premier Diem. The peasants watched and cringed as Diem ruthlessly rooted out all opposition, supported their extortionist landlords, and refused even to discuss reunification with the North. The peasants watched as all of this was presided over by United States influence and then by increasing numbers of United States troops who came to help quell the insurgency that Diem’s methods had aroused. When Diem was overthrown they may have been happy, but the long line of military dictators seemed to offer no real change, especially in terms of their need for land and peace.

The only change came from America as we increased our troop commitments in support of governments which were singularly corrupt, inept, and without popular support. All the while the people read our leaflets and received the regular promises of peace and democracy and land reform. Now they languish under our bombs and consider us, not their fellow Vietnamese, the real enemy. They move sadly and apathetically as we herd them off the land of their fathers into concentration camps where minimal social needs are rarely met. They know they must move on or be destroyed by our bombs.

So they go, primarily women and children and the aged. They watch as we poison their water, as we kill a million acres of their crops. They must weep as the bulldozers roar through their areas preparing to destroy the precious trees. They wander into the hospitals with at least twenty casualties from American firepower for one Vietcong-inflicted injury. So far we may have killed a million of them, mostly children. They wander into the towns and see thousands of the children, homeless, without clothes, running in packs on the streets like animals. They see the children degraded by our soldiers as they beg for food. They see the children selling their sisters to our soldiers, soliciting for their mothers.

What do the peasants think as we ally ourselves with the landlords and as we refuse to put any action into our many words concerning land reform? What do they think as we test out our latest weapons on them, just as the Germans tested out new medicine and new tortures in the concentration camps of Europe? Where are the roots of the independent Vietnam we claim to be building? Is it among these voiceless ones?

We have destroyed their two most cherished institutions: the family and the village. We have destroyed their land and their crops. We have cooperated in the crushing of the nation’s only non-communist revolutionary political force, the unified Buddhist Church. We have supported the enemies of the peasants of Saigon. We have corrupted their women and children and killed their men.

Now there is little left to build on, save bitterness. Soon the only solid physical foundations remaining will be found at our military bases and in the concrete of the concentration camps we call "fortified hamlets." The peasants may well wonder if we plan to build our new Vietnam on such grounds as these. Could we blame them for such thoughts? We must speak for them and raise the questions they cannot raise. These, too, are our brothers.

Perhaps a more difficult but no less necessary task is to speak for those who have been designated as our enemies. What of the National Liberation Front, that strangely anonymous group we call "VC" or "communists"? What must they think of the United States of America when they realize that we permitted the repression and cruelty of Diem, which helped to bring them into being as a resistance group in the South? What do they think of our condoning the violence which led to their own taking up of arms? How can they believe in our integrity when now we speak of "aggression from the North" as if there were nothing more essential to the war? How can they trust us when now we charge them with violence after the murderous reign of Diem and charge them with violence while we pour every new weapon of death into their land? Surely we must understand their feelings, even if we do not condone their actions. Surely we must see that the men we supported pressed them to their violence. Surely we must see that our own computerized plans of destruction simply dwarf their greatest acts.

How do they judge us when our officials know that their membership is less than twenty-five percent communist, and yet insist on giving them the blanket name? What must they be thinking when they know that we are aware of their control of major sections of Vietnam, and yet we appear ready to allow national elections in which this highly organized political parallel government will not have a part? They ask how we can speak of free elections when the Saigon press is censored and controlled by the military junta. And they are surely right to wonder what kind of new government we plan to help form without them, the only party in real touch with the peasants. They question our political goals and they deny the reality of a peace settlement from which they will be excluded. Their questions are frighteningly relevant. Is our nation planning to build on political myth again, and then shore it up upon the power of a new violence?

Here is the true meaning and value of compassion and nonviolence, when it helps us to see the enemy’s point of view, to hear his questions, to know his assessment of ourselves. For from his view we may indeed see the basic weaknesses of our own condition, and if we are mature, we may learn and grow and profit from the wisdom of the brothers who are called the opposition.

So, too, with Hanoi. In the North, where our bombs now pummel the land, and our mines endanger the waterways, we are met by a deep but understandable mistrust. To speak for them is to explain this lack of confidence in Western words, and especially their distrust of American intentions now. In Hanoi are the men who led the nation to independence against the Japanese and the French, the men who sought membership in the French Commonwealth and were betrayed by the weakness of Paris and the willfulness of the colonial armies. It was they who led a second struggle against French domination at tremendous costs, and then were persuaded to give up the land they controlled between the thirteenth and seventeenth parallel as a temporary measure at Geneva. After 1954, they watched us conspire with Diem to prevent elections which could have surely brought Ho Chi Minh to power over a united Vietnam, and they realized they had been betrayed again. When we ask why they do not leap to negotiate, these things must be remembered.

Also it must be clear that the leaders of Hanoi considered the presence of American troops in support of the Diem regime to have been the initial military breach of the Geneva Agreement concerning foreign troops, and they remind us that they did not begin to send troops in large numbers and even supplies into the South until American forces had moved into the tens of thousands.

Hanoi remembers how our leaders refused to tell us the truth about the earlier North Vietnamese overtures for peace, how the president claimed that none existed when they had clearly been made. Ho Chi Minh has watched as America has spoken of peace and built up its forces, and now he has surely heard the increasing international rumors of American plans for an invasion of the North. He knows the bombing and shelling and mining we are doing are part of traditional pre-invasion strategy. Perhaps only his sense of humor and of irony can save him when he hears the most powerful nation of the world speaking of aggression as it drops thousands of bombs on a poor, weak nation more than eight hundred, or rather, eight thousand miles away from its shores.

At this point I should make it clear that while I have tried in these last few minutes to give a voice to the voiceless in Vietnam and to understand the arguments of those who are called "enemy," I am as deeply concerned about our own troops there as anything else. For it occurs to me that what we are submitting them to in Vietnam is not simply the brutalizing process that goes on in any war where armies face each other and seek to destroy. We are adding cynicism to the process of death, for they must know after a short period there that none of the things we claim to be fighting for are really involved. Before long they must know that their government has sent them into a struggle among Vietnamese, and the more sophisticated surely realize that we are on the side of the wealthy, and the secure, while we create a hell for the poor.

Somehow this madness must cease. We must stop now. I speak as a child of God and brother to the suffering poor of Vietnam. I speak for those whose land is being laid waste, whose homes are being destroyed, whose culture is being subverted. I speak for the poor of America who are paying the double price of smashed hopes at home, and death and corruption in Vietnam. I speak as a citizen of the world, for the world as it stands aghast at the path we have taken. I speak as one who loves America, to the leaders of our own nation: The great initiative in this war is ours; the initiative to stop it must be ours.

This is the message of the great Buddhist leaders of Vietnam. Recently one of them wrote these words, and I quote:

Each day the war goes on the hatred increases in the hearts of the Vietnamese and in the hearts of those of humanitarian instinct. The Americans are forcing even their friends into becoming their enemies. It is curious that the Americans, who calculate so carefully on the possibilities of military victory, do not realize that in the process they are incurring deep psychological and political defeat. The image of America will never again be the image of revolution, freedom, and democracy, but the image of violence and militarism.

If we continue, there will be no doubt in my mind and in the mind of the world that we have no honorable intentions in Vietnam. If we do not stop our war against the people of Vietnam immediately, the world will be left with no other alternative than to see this as some horrible, clumsy, and deadly game we have decided to play. The world now demands a maturity of America that we may not be able to achieve. It demands that we admit that we have been wrong from the beginning of our adventure in Vietnam, that we have been detrimental to the life of the Vietnamese people. The situation is one in which we must be ready to turn sharply from our present ways. In order to atone for our sins and errors in Vietnam, we should take the initiative in bringing a halt to this tragic war.

I would like to suggest five concrete things that our government should do immediately to begin the long and difficult process of extricating ourselves from this nightmarish conflict:

Number one: End all bombing in North and South Vietnam.

Number two: Declare a unilateral cease-fire in the hope that such action will create the atmosphere for negotiation.

Three: Take immediate steps to prevent other battlegrounds in Southeast Asia by curtailing our military buildup in Thailand and our interference in Laos.

Four: Realistically accept the fact that the National Liberation Front has substantial support in South Vietnam and must thereby play a role in any meaningful negotiations and any future Vietnam government.

Five: Set a date that we will remove all foreign troops from Vietnam in accordance with the 1954 Geneva Agreement. [Sustained applause]

Part of our ongoing commitment might well express itself in an offer to grant asylum to any Vietnamese who fears for his life under a new regime which included the Liberation Front. Then we must make what reparations we can for the damage we have done. We must provide the medical aid that is badly needed, making it available in this country if necessary. [Applause] Meanwhile, we in the churches and synagogues have a continuing task while we urge our government to disengage itself from a disgraceful commitment. We must continue to raise our voices and our lives if our nation persists in its perverse ways in Vietnam. We must be prepared to match actions with words by seeking out every creative method of protest possible.

As we counsel young men concerning military service we must clarify for them our nation’s role in Vietnam and challenge them with the alternative of conscientious objection. [Sustained applause] I am pleased to say that this is a path now chosen by more than seventy students at my own alma mater, Morehouse College, and I recommend it to all who find the American course in Vietnam a dishonorable and unjust one. [Applause] Moreover, I would encourage all ministers of draft age to give up their ministerial exemptions and seek status as conscientious objectors. [Sustained applause] These are the times for real choices and not false ones. We are at the moment when our lives must be placed on the line if our nation is to survive its own folly. Every man of humane convictions must decide on the protest that best suits his convictions, but we must all protest.

Now there is something seductively tempting about stopping there and sending us all off on what in some circles has become a popular crusade against the war in Vietnam. I say we must enter that struggle, but I wish to go on now to say something even more disturbing.

The war in Vietnam is but a symptom of a far deeper malady within the American spirit, and if we ignore this sobering reality, [Applause] and if we ignore this sobering reality, we will find ourselves organizing "clergy and laymen concerned" committees for the next generation. They will be concerned about Guatemala and Peru. They will be concerned about Thailand and Cambodia. They will be concerned about Mozambique and South Africa. We will be marching for these and a dozen other names and attending rallies without end unless there is a significant and profound change in American life and policy. [Sustained applause] So such thoughts take us beyond Vietnam, but not beyond our calling as sons of the living God.

In 1957, a sensitive American official overseas said that it seemed to him that our nation was on the wrong side of a world revolution. During the past ten years we have seen emerge a pattern of suppression which has now justified the presence of U.S. military advisors in Venezuela. This need to maintain social stability for our investment accounts for the counter-revolutionary action of American forces in Guatemala. It tells why American helicopters are being used against guerrillas in Cambodia and why American napalm and Green Beret forces have already been active against rebels in Peru.

It is with such activity in mind that the words of the late John F. Kennedy come back to haunt us. Five years ago he said, "Those who make peaceful revolution impossible will make violent revolution inevitable." [Sustained applause] Increasingly, by choice or by accident, this is the role our nation has taken: the role of those who make peaceful revolution impossible by refusing to give up the privileges and the pleasures that come from the immense profits of overseas investments. I am convinced that if we are to get on the right side of the world revolution, we as a nation must undergo a radical revolution of values. We must rapidly begin [applause], we must rapidly begin the shift from a thing-oriented society to a person-oriented society. When machines and computers, profit motives and property rights, are considered more important than people, the giant triplets of racism, extreme materialism, and militarism are incapable of being conquered.

A true revolution of values will soon cause us to question the fairness and justice of many of our past and present policies. On the one hand we are called to play the Good Samaritan on life’s roadside, but that will be only an initial act. One day we must come to see that the whole Jericho Road must be transformed so that men and women will not be constantly beaten and robbed as they make their journey on life’s highway. True compassion is more than flinging a coin to a beggar. It comes to see that an edifice which produces beggars needs restructuring. [Applause]

A true revolution of values will soon look uneasily on the glaring contrast of poverty and wealth. With righteous indignation, it will look across the seas and see individual capitalists of the West investing huge sums of money in Asia, Africa, and South America, only to take the profits out with no concern for the social betterment of the countries, and say: "This is not just." It will look at our alliance with the landed gentry of South America and say: "This is not just." The Western arrogance of feeling that it has everything to teach others and nothing to learn from them is not just.

A true revolution of values will lay hands on the world order and say of war: "This way of settling differences is not just." This business of burning human beings with napalm, of filling our nation’s homes with orphans and widows, of injecting poisonous drugs of hate into the veins of peoples normally humane, of sending men home from dark and bloody battlefields physically handicapped and psychologically deranged, cannot be reconciled with wisdom, justice, and love. A nation that continues year after year to spend more money on military defense than on programs of social uplift is approaching spiritual death. [Sustained applause]

America, the richest and most powerful nation in the world, can well lead the way in this revolution of values. There is nothing except a tragic death wish to prevent us from reordering our priorities, so that the pursuit of peace will take precedence over the pursuit of war. There is nothing to keep us from molding a recalcitrant status quo with bruised hands until we have fashioned it into a brotherhood.

This kind of positive revolution of values is our best defense against communism. [Applause] War is not the answer. Communism will never be defeated by the use of atomic bombs or nuclear weapons. Let us not join those who shout war and, through their misguided passions, urge the United States to relinquish its participation in the United Nations. These are days which demand wise restraint and calm reasonableness. We must not engage in a negative anti-communism, but rather in a positive thrust for democracy, [Applause] realizing that our greatest defense against communism is to take offensive action in behalf of justice. We must with positive action seek to remove those conditions of poverty, insecurity, and injustice which are the fertile soil in which the seed of communism grows and develops.

These are revolutionary times. All over the globe men are revolting against old systems of exploitation and oppression, and out of the wounds of a frail world new systems of justice and equality are being born. The shirtless and barefoot people of the land are rising up as never before. The people who sat in darkness have seen a great light. We in the West must support these revolutions.

It is a sad fact that because of comfort, complacency, a morbid fear of communism, and our proneness to adjust to injustice, the Western nations that initiated so much of the revolutionary spirit of the modern world have now become the arch anti-revolutionaries. This has driven many to feel that only Marxism has a revolutionary spirit. Therefore, communism is a judgement against our failure to make democracy real and follow through on the revolutions that we initiated. Our only hope today lies in our ability to recapture the revolutionary spirit and go out into a sometimes hostile world declaring eternal hostility to poverty, racism, and militarism. With this powerful commitment we shall boldly challenge the status quo and unjust mores, and thereby speed the day when "every valley shall be exalted, and every mountain and hill shall be made low; [Audience:] (Yes) the crooked shall be made straight, and the rough places plain."

A genuine revolution of values means in the final analysis that our loyalties must become ecumenical rather than sectional. Every nation must now develop an overriding loyalty to mankind as a whole in order to preserve the best in their individual societies.

This call for a worldwide fellowship that lifts neighborly concern beyond one’s tribe, race, class and nation is in reality a call for an all-embracing and unconditional love for all mankind. This oft misunderstood, this oft misinterpreted concept, so readily dismissed by the Nietzsches of the world as a weak and cowardly force, has now become an absolute necessity for the survival of man. When I speak of love I am not speaking of some sentimental and weak response. I’m not speaking of that force which is just emotional bosh. I am speaking of that force which all of the great religions have seen as the supreme unifying principle of life. Love is somehow the key that unlocks the door which leads to ultimate reality. This Hindu-Moslem-Christian-Jewish-Buddhist belief about ultimate reality is beautifully summed up in the first epistle of Saint John: "Let us love one another, (Yes) for love is God. (Yes) And every one that loveth is born of God and knoweth God. He that loveth not knoweth not God, for God is love." "If we love one another, God dwelleth in us and his love is perfected in us." Let us hope that this spirit will become the order of the day.

We can no longer afford to worship the god of hate or bow before the altar of retaliation. The oceans of history are made turbulent by the ever-rising tides of hate. History is cluttered with the wreckage of nations and individuals that pursued this self-defeating path of hate. As Arnold Toynbee says: "Love is the ultimate force that makes for the saving choice of life and good against the damning choice of death and evil. Therefore the first hope in our inventory must be the hope that love is going to have the last word."

We are now faced with the fact, my friends, that tomorrow is today. We are confronted with the fierce urgency of now. In this unfolding conundrum of life and history, there is such a thing as being too late. Procrastination is still the thief of time. Life often leaves us standing bare, naked, and dejected with a lost opportunity. The tide in the affairs of men does not remain at flood—it ebbs. We may cry out desperately for time to pause in her passage, but time is adamant to every plea and rushes on. Over the bleached bones and jumbled residues of numerous civilizations are written the pathetic words, "Too late." There is an invisible book of life that faithfully records our vigilance or our neglect. Omar Khayyam is right: "The moving finger writes, and having writ moves on."

We still have a choice today: nonviolent coexistence or violent co-annihilation. We must move past indecision to action. We must find new ways to speak for peace in Vietnam and justice throughout the developing world, a world that borders on our doors. If we do not act, we shall surely be dragged down the long, dark, and shameful corridors of time reserved for those who possess power without compassion, might without morality, and strength without sight.

Now let us begin. Now let us rededicate ourselves to the long and bitter, but beautiful, struggle for a new world. This is the calling of the sons of God, and our brothers wait eagerly for our response. Shall we say the odds are too great? Shall we tell them the struggle is too hard? Will our message be that the forces of American life militate against their arrival as full men, and we send our deepest regrets? Or will there be another message—of longing, of hope, of solidarity with their yearnings, of commitment to their cause, whatever the cost? The choice is ours, and though we might prefer it otherwise, we must choose in this crucial moment of human history.

As that noble bard of yesterday, James Russell Lowell, eloquently stated:

Once to every man and nation comes a moment to decide,

In the strife of Truth and Falsehood, for the good or evil side;

Some great cause, God’s new Messiah offering each the bloom or blight,

And the choice goes by forever ’twixt that darkness and that light.

Though the cause of evil prosper, yet ’tis truth alone is strong

Though her portions be the scaffold, and upon the throne be wrong

Yet that scaffold sways the future, and behind the dim unknown

Standeth God within the shadow, keeping watch above his own.

And if we will only make the right choice, we will be able to transform this pending cosmic elegy into a creative psalm of peace. If we will make the right choice, we will be able to transform the jangling discords of our world into a beautiful symphony of brotherhood. If we will but make the right choice, we will be able to speed up the day, all over America and all over the world, when justice will roll down like waters, and righteousness like a mighty stream. [Sustained applause]