Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Why the cancellation of the Gaza Children's Art exhibit matters

It is a small matter, the cancellation of the Gaza Children's Art exhibit at the Oakland Museum of Children's Art due to outside pressure, but for the fact that it repeats a sort of social trauma experienced by Palestinians since the founding of the state of Israel--that their very experience, their reality, their identity, their rights, their humanity, their desire for recognition are refused, excised, suppressed, ignored.

As the PLO has embarked upon an effort to gain U.N. recognition of a Palestinian state around this time--itself a more "important" political matter, one which Palestinians themselves are fiercely debating--and as the U.S. continues to discourage such attempts (partly in the fear that it will lose whatever sway it has in the region, in a player in the now long-moribund "peace process)--it seems useful to pay attention to why such small things matter, and why the PLO might engineer what is really such a small and desperately symbolic move, one that risks the loss of Right of Return for Palestinian refugees from 1948.

The exhibit, organized by the Middle East Children's Alliance, depicts the horror of war experienced through the eyes of Palestinian children. According to the article in the San Francisco Chronicle,

"Our aim, as with all exhibits, is to foster insight and understanding," Sorey said in a statement. "However, upon further review and engagement with the community, it became clear that this exhibit was not appropriate for an open gallery accessible by all children."

Yet it wouldn't have been the first time the museum has featured wartime art by children.

In 2007, it exhibited paintings made during World War II by American children in the Kaiser shipyard child care center. The art featured images of Hitler, burning airplanes, sinking battleships, empty houses and a sad girl next to a Star of David.

In 2004, art by Iraqi children hung on the museum's walls. The pictures, made shortly after the U.S. invasion, included a picture of a helicopter shooting into a field of flowers.

The art by the Palestinian children was similar in content.

In one colorful picture, a row of buildings burns as five tanks move through the area. In the foreground, women and children are crying as are trees and the sun. What looks like a small, abandoned teddy bear lies face up in the street.

In a simpler image, a frowning girl with a bandage on her forehead faces out from behind prison bars.

There is little doubt that the exhibit is politically-motivated, but it's not necessarily merely "political," in the sense of partisan--i.e. "Israel-bashing." It's motivated by people who want to see Palestinians as human beings, whose stories have not been told, or have been so distorted as to make them seem irrelevant. But that's the trouble. Every time that Palestinians want to tell their story, it's seen as an existential threat, or a device for shaming pro-Israeli people.

Ziad Abbas expresses that feeling of silencing in this way (not without a dollop of shaming!). This is from the Chronicle piece: "Even while the children in Gaza are living under Israeli policies that deprive them of every basic necessity, they managed through art, to express their realities and hopes. It’s really very sad that there are people in the U.S. silencing them and shredding their dreams,” said Ziad Abbas, MECA’s Associate Director.

A colleague I respect wondered whether the exhibit could have displayed art by Israeli children who also have experienced trauma from violence--to demonstrate that all children suffer from conflict. It's actually an interesting possibility, and one could imagine an exhibition which would bring those children together for an opening--one that would need to involve a lot of peacebuilding preparation and support, to move into further dialogue.

And yet--and this is what I wrote in reply, the level of trauma in Palestinian children is so devastating, it deserves its own stage. Studies have been done that show Pal children with levels of PTSD ranking moderate to severe... at 90%. Israeli children, of course, particularly in zones of vulnerability/conflict (settlements, border, Jerusalem) also suffer from levels of PTSD, though they are much considerably lower. Actually, my understanding is that most people in Israel live as if there is no problem at all; the Wall has solved everything. I say this even though I'm believe that comparing suffering is always a dangerous and politically blindered game. Suffering is always suffering, and children's suffering an atrocity.

I don't have the answers to this conflict, but something needs to change. And soon.

Monday, September 19, 2011

Lisa Suhair Majaj's "Guidelines"

Lisa Suhair Majaj's "Guidelines" is the sort of how-to kit that more than a few Arab Americans could have used after the 9/11 attacks, when suddenly they became a national suspicion and felt the need to drape themselves in flags to prove their loyalty.


If they ask you what you are,
say Arab. If they flinch, don't react,
just remember your great-aunt's eyes.

If they ask you where you come from,
say Toledo. Detroit. Mission Viejo.
Fall Springs. Topeka. If they seem confused,

help them locate these places on a map,
then inquire casually, Where are you from?
Have you been here long? Do you like this country?

If they ask what you eat,
don't dissemble. If garlic is your secret friend,
admit it. Likewise, crab cakes.

If they say you're not American,
don't pull out your personal,
wallet-sized flag. Instead, recall

the Bill of Rights. Mention the Constitution.
Wear democracy like a favorite garment:
comfortable, intimate.

If they wave newspapers in your face and shout,
stay calm. Remember everything they never learned.
Offer to take them to the library.

If they ask you if you're white, say it depends.
Say no. Say maybe. If appropriate, inquire,
Have you always been white, or is it recent?

If you take to the streets in protest,
link hands with whomever is beside you.
Keep your eye on the colonizer's maps,

geography's twisted strands, the many colors
of struggle. No matter how far you've come, remember:
the starting line is always closer than you think.

If they ask how long you plan to stay, say forever.
Console them if they seem upset. Say, don't worry,
you'll get used to it. Say, we live here. How about you?

-Lisa Suhair Majaj

From Geographies of Light (Del Sol Press, 2009)
Used by permission.

Lisa Suhair Majaj is the author of Geographies of Light (winner of the Del Sol Press Poetry Prize) and co-editor of three volumes of literary essays: Intersections: Gender, Nation and Community in Arab Women's Novels (Syracuse University Press, 2002), Etel Adnan: Critical Essays on the Arab-American Writer and Artist (McFarland Publishing, 2002) and Going Global: The Transnational Reception of Third World Women Writers. (NY: Garland/Routledge, 2000). She publishes poetry, creative nonfiction and critical essays in journals and anthologies the US, Europe and the Middle East, and has read at venues such as London's Poetry International. She currently lives in Cyprus.

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Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Jeff Gundy's "Touching a New Kingdom (On William Stafford and Peace)"

This sermon by poet Jeff Gundy deserves a wider audience; Gundy, a Mennonite, has been one of the contemporary poets who has struggled with the question of how we respond to violence in both poetry and life, and I admire his steady and grounded vision:

"Touching a New Kingdom (On William Stafford and Peace)"
Sermon Given at First Mennonite Church, 9/11/2011

I suspect everyone here who’s old enough remembers the morning of 9/11/01, ten years ago today, and what we were doing when we heard about the planes crashing into towers and buildings. I was at my desk, getting ready for class, and at first thought the web headline about a plane crash was just a curiosity, a freak accident. Of course, I soon learned otherwise.

But a moment I especially remember came a few days later, when Marlyce and I got to talking with some other soccer parents. We were all still stunned and reeling from the images on the news, collapsing buildings and plumes of smoke, people running through the streets, faces of hijackers, all the rest. And yet here we were at the field on a beautiful early fall evening, watching our sons run around. It seemed so ordinary, and yet we knew things were going to change.

“One thing I know,” another parent said, “things like this bring us together as a country.”

“True,” I found myself saying to him. “But together to do what?”

I’ll come back to that question. But first, a little background on our feature person for today, poet and pacifist William Stafford. He was born in Hutchinson, Kansas in 1914, grew up in various Kansas towns, in a close but not wealthy family. He was an older student at the U. of Kansas in December 1941, already starting to write poems; his life was changed by Pearl Harbor as ours were by 9/11, but even more dramatically. Stafford was not a birthright Anabaptist or member of a peace church; but when his society was swept up in war fervor and total mobilization for the vast enterprise of World War II, he became one of that small group who refused to go off to war. He convinced his draft board to grant him conscientious objector status—then a new thing—and was sent to Church of the Brethren camps in Arkansas and California, where he did forestry work and firefighting.
Read more--

Naomi Shihab Nye reading last night

Last night, after a day talking with students, Naomi Shihab Nye read her poems--particularly from her new book, Transfer, and shared her ebullience for poetry. Spending the day with her is to feel her great enthusiasm and curiosity for just about everything--the Cleveland artist who bought 1000 sweaters he found in a closed garment factory, a memoirist who said she hated memoirs, a student's poem about making smoothies, why Philip Roth says he doesn't read poetry (though he writes it), a St. Louis accent, why a Gazan children's art display was canceled in Oakland, a child's gerbil named Butterscotch, etc. She is the rare bird who makes poetry seem possible. For everyone. If only we had a cadre of Naomi's. Naomi for Poet Laureate!

And now, Naomi Shihab Nye. I'll spare her the embarrassment of hearing the catalogue of her numerous accolades and awards, for her thirty books, and just tell you why I love her work, and why I invited her here tonight, just after the tenth anniversary of 9/11.

The terrorist attacks struck each one of us in this room, all of us in different ways; a college friend of mine lost his father in the towers, another friend worked the emergency rescue operations, my aunt ministered to rescue workers for weeks after. We felt shock, confusion, fear, grief, and rage, in a toxic confusion of emotion, and the days that followed were like living under water.

Those of us who are Arab American felt all of this, and more, a sense of shame, isolation, and terror, at how people might use this act to attack us, and people we love, people and places where we and our ancestors came from, who had nothing to do with hijacking and murder.

Naomi Shihab Nye was one of a handful of Arab American writers who courageously stepped into the fear, and spoke and wrote with clarity, with authority, and with anger, at those who threatened to make us all targets, and who tried to explode all the work we'd done to bring cultures, and peoples, and faiths together.

In short, she spoke for us, and we were not alone. And though we knew that these attacks would lead to more terror, she reminded us that terror would not be the last word. And through her witness, through her words, that we could and would work again to awaken us to the fact that what we all share is far greater than what separates us. That is her gift, and why I am grateful she is here tonight.

Here's a poem from her new book:
"Problems" (reprinted from Molossus)

They are not yours.

You may observe them without owning them.

Conflict and chaos that wanted to go on a journey.

There was always a way to walk around them.

Often a difficult path.

You couldn’t fix them if you tried. And you did try.

It was presumptuous to think you could fix them.

William Goyen said his writing started with Trouble.
Something you could do with it, that took you out of it,
or let you look at it.

The power of people saying nothing.
You don’t know my problems, I don’t know yours.

I don’t have problems.

I am happy when I have something to sew.

Matisse said, “The moment I had this box of colors in my hands.
I had the feeling my life was there…”

Where is your life without problems leaning?

Will it go somewhere without you?

She would find something not to like, even here.
But that is not yours to heal.

No one healed the fire.
Dormant seeds popped up in its wake.

Monday, September 12, 2011

September 12, 2011: *abu ghraib arias* is hereby released

Flying Guillotine Press has just released *abu ghraib arias,* my new chapbook of poetry. More information shortly forthcoming! See Flying Guillotine Press' blog.

Reflection on 9/11 by Sister Camille D'Arienzo, RSM, on

What is an adequate response to mass violence that does contain the seeds of future mass violence? Sister Camille D'Arienzo considers the options.

Reflection on 9/11 by Sister Camille D'Arienzo, RSM, on

August 23, 2011 4:53 PM

With the tenth anniversary of the suicide bombing of the Twin Towers
remembrances of that life-changing event seem inescapable. Adults, especially those who worked in the city or know people who died there, recall the anguish. My niece’s husband Jerry can’t forget the scene he witnessed as he exited from the subway into a smog-like atmosphere. He looked up to see people holding hands as they leapt to their death to escape the flames. Two of my nephews, Michael and Ronnie, as New York City policemen, were among first responders. Their memories are terrible.

Thousands of stories of anguish and loss contribute to the way we now see
ourselves. We, unlike citizens of other continents, had never suffered an enemy attack. We didn’t know how to respond. Although we’re a nation that values “thinking outside the box,” we’re not good at doing it. So it was no surprise that our first response was to return violence with violence.

While the buildings were still smoldering and our world was severely shaken, President Bush and his administration launched a search and destroy mission. They were determined to find Osama Bin Laden and to take revenge on those responsible for the deaths of the people killed here. Almost three thousand people in Manhattan – including 343 firefighters, 60 police officers and 8 medical technicians and paramedics. More in Washington, D.C. Then there were the brave souls who took over the plane meant to be a weapon and disabled it, losing their lives in a Pennsylvania field.

Our rage and fear was widespread. In many quarters it still is. And then there was this thing called national pride to uphold.

Whatever the intent, this strategy has cost us the lives of more than 6,000
American soldiers – twice as many as victims of the initial attack. Many who survived have returned to us broken in mind and body. The suicides among them have equaled or excelled those of returning Vietnam veterans.

And decency doesn’t allow us to ignore the fact that this decade of warfare has claimed the lives of thousands of innocent Iraqi and Afghan citizens.

Then there’s the financial cost of this conflict. Surely it continues to contribute to the collapse of our economy.

Might there have been a better way?

We’re not conditioned to solve problems peacefully. Although we recognize the commandment, “Thou shalt not kill,” we approve many exceptions –from womb to tomb. From abortion to the death penalty, we make excuses to justify our choices.

But every once in awhile individuals demonstrate by their very different choices that recovery can take alternative forms.

We had proof of that when on Oct. 7, 2006 the Associated Press reported out of Georgetown, PA: “Dozens of Amish neighbors came out on Saturday to mourn the quiet milkman who killed five of their young girls and wounded five more in a brief, unfathomable rampage.”

Reports of the actions of a local Amish man with children of his own stunned the quiet, peace-loving religious community. Charging into the West Nickel Mines Amish School, 32 year old Charles Roberts released fifteen boys and four adults before shackling and shooting ten girls, aged seven to thirteen. This shocking crime, perpetrated by a local husband and father, rocked that neighborhood and the nation. Even more startling than the massacre was the Amish response to that violence – especially in a world that seeks instant retaliation. Benedictine Sister Joan Chittister reflected in her column in The National Catholic Reporter:

“What kind of people are these? It was not the murders, not the violence that shocked us; it was the forgiveness that followed it for which we were not prepared. It was the lack of recrimination, the dearth of vindictiveness that left us amazed.”

She’s right. The Amish Christian culture is predicated on the acceptance of
Jesus’ instruction to extend forgiveness to those who inflict harm. They believe to do so ensures citizenship in heaven. Two aspects of forgiveness in this case were its immediacy of expression and the victims’ families’ outreach to the wife and children of the murderer.

The Amish people, out of sync with modernity and contemporary culture, set an example outlandish to nations who equate retaliation with self protection.

Sister Joan Chittister wondered what the world would be like today if after the attacks that felled the Twin Towers on September, 11, 2001, we had not
invaded Afghanistan and Iraq and, instead, had gone to every Muslim country on earth and said: “Don’t be afraid. We won’t hurt you. We know that this is coming from only a fringe of society and we ask your help in saving others from this same kind of violence.”

Laughable, ridiculous! some would respond. Perhaps including those who lost loved ones in that tragedy. After all, almost 3,000 perished in the attack on the Twin Towers.

But we have to wonder if it’s less foolish to have deployed thousands of
American troops on punitive raids that brought death to countless innocent
civilians, returned over 6,000 U.S. servicemen and women in body bags and left thousands of others physically, emotionally and spiritually maimed, their families forever changed.

It’s unlikely we’d have such obscene statistics to report if diplomacy had been substituted for preemptive strikes. We have as yet no accurate accounting of the residual damage to survivors who have lost loved ones and property in this conflict; however, history warns that its damage may find expression in future violence.

What can we expect of those Middle Eastern civilians who have lost loved ones and property?

In 1991, during the first Persian Gulf War, American soldiers rode into Baghdad, demonstrating good will, especially toward children. While handing our candy bars and other treats, one G.I. asked an eleven-year-old what he planned to be when he grew up.

“A pilot,” the boy replied.

The soldier encouraged his pursuit of such a profession, but a reporter standing by asked the child why he wanted to be a pilot.

“So I can fly to America and bomb the people who killed my family,” came the chilling response. Ten years later when suicide bombers flew into the Twin Towers and the Pentagon, I wondered if that child, then 21, had become a pilot. Is it possible that we will ever grasp the consequences of relentless retaliation? If so, perhaps when we mark the 20th anniversary of 9/11, our nation will resolve to build bridges instead of bombs.

President Abraham Lincoln left advice worth considering today. He said the best way to destroy our enemies is to befriend them.

Camille D’Arienzo, R.S.M., a member of the Mid-Atlantic Community of the
Sisters of Mercy of the Americas, is a past president of the Leadership
Conference of Women Religious. She has delivered commentaries on 1010 WINS
Radio for more than four decades.

Friday, September 9, 2011

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Peace Show 2011: Peace Poetry Village (Gandhi Meets Poetry)

Thanks to Maria Smith, for dreaming up the original idea of the Peace Poetry Village, based on the Gandhian principles of nonviolence, and for the collaboration of Phil Althouse, Paul Kapczuk, Noah Hrbek, my daughters, and me--ushering this installation into being.

Saturday, September 3, 2011

Ken Butigan's review of Brian Willson's autobiography

This piece is pretty stunning. I remember hearing Brian Willson's story many years ago, and his stunning, word-defying act of resistance. Why would one risk one's life, to stop a munitions train? For Brian Willson, one can draw a direct line between that moment and his experience in Vietnam.

by Ken Butigan | September 1, 2011, 6:06 am

Twenty-four years ago this morning---September 1, 1987---Vietnam veteran Brian Willson joined a handful of peacemakers on the railroad tracks at Concord Naval Weapons Stations to begin what they envisioned as a forty-day fast and vigil to protest arms shipments from this Northern California military base to US-backed forces in Central America.

Instead, a 900-ton munitions train, traveling at three times the legal speed limit, plowed into Brian and dragged him under. Standing a few feet away, I saw him turn over and over again like a rag doll and then (as the never-slowing train rumbled on toward a nearby security gate) sprawling in the track bed, a huddled mass of blood.

Miraculously, Brian survived (thanks, largely, to the tourniquets applied by his then-wife Holly Rauen, a professional nurse), though both legs were sheered off and his skull was fractured.

Now, over two decades later, he has published Blood on the Tracks: The Life and Times of S. Brian Willson, a new autobiography available from PM Press. This book does not simply recount a horrifying event from long ago. It offers, more importantly, a vivid example of a still-unfolding pilgrimage for peace that turns on a burning question: "What is my responsibility to make peace and challenge murderous violence in a direct and meaningful way?"

At a critical turning point in his life, Brian allowed this question in and everything changed. Of course, this question is not Brian's alone. It is meant for each of us in the midst of the storm of horrific violence that continually bears down on our planet and its inhabitants.

Brian's memoir recounts his journey from childhood in Upstate New York (born on the Fourth of July, he enthusiastically shared his family's pro-military and anti-communist convictions), to his decision to go to law school, and then his being drafted and sent to Vietnam as an Air Force captain, where two incidents changed his life.

One was a rocket attack in which he was saved by a quick-thinking companion who pushed him to the ground and out of the way of the blast. Though they survived, another soldier was blown to bits a few feet away. The second event even more clearly seared his soul. He had been sent out to do damage assessment of US bombing raids on villages and found a blackened mess that used to be huts, littered with bodies:

My first thought was that I was witnessing an egregious, horrendous
mistake. The "target" was no more than a small fishing and rice
farming community. The "village" was smaller than a baseball playing
field. The Mekong Delta region is completely flat, and the modest
houses in its hamlets are built on small mounds among rice paddies.
As with most settlements, this one was undefended---we saw no
anti-aircraft guns, no visible small arms, no defenders of any kind.
The pilots who bombed this small hamlet flew low-flying planes,
probably the A-37Bs, and were able to get close to the ground
without fear of being shot down, thus increasing the accuracy of
their strafing and bombing. They certainly would have been able to
see the inhabitants, mostly women with children taking care of
various farming and domestic chores ... The buildings were virtually
flattened by explosions or destroyed by fire. I didn't see any
inhabitant on his or her feet. Most were ripped apart from bomb
shrapnel and Gatling machine gun wounds, blackened from napalm
burns, many not discernible as to gender, and the majority were
obviously children.

I began sobbing and gagging. I couldn't fathom what I was seeing,
smelling, thinking. I took a few faltering steps to my left, only to
find my way blocked by the body of a young woman lying at my feet.
She had been clutching three small, partially blackened children
when she apparently collapsed. I bent down for a closer look and
stared, aghast, at the woman's open eyes. The children were
motionless, blackened blood drying on their bullet and
shrapnel-riddled bodies. Napalm had melted much of the woman's face,
including her eyelids, but as I was focused on her face, it seemed
to me that her eyes were staring at me.

She was not alive. But her eyes and my eyes met for one moment that
shot like a lightning bolt through my entire being. Over the years I
have thought of her so much I have given her the name, "Mai Ly."

I was startled when Bao, who was several feet to my right, asked why
I was crying. I remember struggling to answer. The words that came
out astonished me. "She is my family," I said, or something to that
effect. I don't know where those words came from. I wasn't thinking
rationally. But I felt, in my body, that she and I were one. Bao
just smirked, and said something about how satisfied he was with the
bombing "success" in killing "communists." I did not reply. I had
nothing to say. From that moment on, nothing would ever be the same
for me.

Thus began a deep transformation, which led him in the 1980s to notice with deep alarm the connection between what he had experienced in Vietnam and the Reagan administration's war in Central America. He traveled to the region and saw a vivid parallel between the two conflicts, especially the wanton attack on civilians, and became convinced that he had to take action.

"We are not worth more, they are not worth less," he declared, and joined the Veterans Fast for Life on the steps of the US Capitol in 1986, where he and three other former members of the US military fasted for 47 days. One year later, he and others formed Nuremberg Actions---named after the principles of international law enunciated in the wake of the Nuremberg tribunal following World War II that defined crimes against humanity and the responsibility and complicity in such crimes---and organized a 40-day fast at Concord in which he and others planned to block weapons trains. A Freedom of Information Act request had yielded concrete evidence that ships leaving this base were carrying 500-pound bombs, white phosphorus, and millions of rounds of ammunition, and Brian wanted to stop such shipments in their tracks.

He expected the train to stop, at which point he would be removed and arrested---in effect compelling the military to demonstrate the kind of care that should also be accorded to those at the other end of the line in Nicaragua and El Salvador. Instead, the government ran the train (in spite of the clear communication with the Navy over the prior ten days), thus dramatizing with palpable clarity what those at the end of the line faced every day.

We are not worth more. They are not worth less.

Brian's autobiography details the aftermath of the Concord attack, including his activism, his own inner and outer growth, his comprehensive and embodied choices to live simply (on this recent book tour, for example, he traveled by pedaling a special bicycle that uses his hands instead of his feet), and his thoroughgoing critique of the American Way of Life (AWOL). (Less than three months after being run down by the train, Brian testified in Congress about this event. You can read his engrossing testimony here .)

What can we learn, after all these years, from Brian's journey?

One lesson is the importance of "finding your own tracks and taking a stand there," as he has often said. A catchphrase we used at the time held that "Stopping the war starts here"---stopping it at a weapons base, but also in many, many other places. Brian did so by taking this action "in person": using the most powerful symbol at his disposal, his vulnerable, resilient, determined, and spirited body.

We can do this, too. This is not to say that we are all called to sit on train tracks (such action requires much discernment and training). But there are many places to stand nonviolently, withdrawing our consent and pointing our communities, our societies, and even ourselves in a new direction.

The world begins to change when we find this place.

Friday, September 2, 2011

Steve Earle, on the Death Penalty and John Walker Lindh, and Singing "John Walker's Blues"

Thanks to Paul Lauritzen for passing this along; a text for our discussion of the songs of 9/11, coming up on Tuesday.

Cleveland Air Show? Try the Peace Show this Labor Day...

10th Annual Cleveland Peace Show
Labor Day, Monday, September 5th at the Free Stamp

10th Annual Cleveland Peace Show is on September 5th from 12:00PM - 6:00PM. As always, the Peace Show is at the Free Stamp, corner of E. 9th and Lakeside, in downtown Cleveland. And, as always, it's free. Sponsored by Cleveland Non-Violence Network - details

Performers this year include Early Girl, Deborah Van Kleef, E&JNtoxicated, Zak, and Revolution Brass Band. A key feature of this show will be Peace Poetry. Come for the children's activities, music and lots of activists; the Bloodmobile will be onsite for donations as well. The Eyes Wide Open display of boots representing Ohio's lost servicemen and women will be featured.

Rain location: St. Paul's Community Church, 4427 Franklin (W. 45th & Franklin), Cleveland.

Volunteers needed...We need help leafletting at fairs and festivals in August; call 216-932-8546 for details.

Check our website for news on military spending, nuclear weapons, Afghanistan, the Middle East, Iraq and more. You'll also find contact info for your elected officials and what going on currently in Congress.