From the Vault: More Victims Won’t Stop the Terror (10/2001)

Today is the ninth anniver­sary of the war in Afghanistan. In recog­ni­tion, here’s my Non​vi​o​lence​.org essay from 10/7/2010. It’s all sad­ly still top­i­cal. Nine years in and we’re still mak­ing ter­ror and still cre­at­ing enemies.

The Unit­ed States has today begun its war against ter­ror­ism in a very famil­iar way: by use of ter­ror. Igno­rant of thou­sands of years of vio­lence in the Mid­dle East, Pres­i­dent George W. Bush thinks that the hor­ror of Sep­tem­ber 11th can be exor­cised and pre­vent­ed by bombs and mis­siles. Today we can add more names to the long list of vic­tims of the ter­ror­ist air­plane attacks. Because today Afgha­nis have died in terror.

The deaths in New York City, Wash­ing­ton and Penn­syl­va­nia have shocked Amer­i­cans and right­ly so. We are all scared of our sud­den vul­ner­a­bil­i­ty. We are all shocked at the lev­el of anger that led nine­teen sui­cide bombers to give up pre­cious life to start such a lit­er­al and sym­bol­ic con­fla­gra­tion. What they did was hor­ri­ble and with­out jus­ti­fi­ca­tion. But that is not to say that they didn’t have reasons.

The ter­ror­ists com­mit­ted their atroc­i­ties because of a long list of griev­ances. They were shed­ding blood for blood, and we must under­stand that. Because to under­stand that is to under­stand that Pres­i­dent Bush is unleash­ing his own ter­ror cam­paign: that he is shed­ding more blood for more blood.

The Unit­ed States has been spon­sor­ing vio­lence in Afghanistan for over a gen­er­a­tion. Even before the Sovi­et inva­sion of that coun­try, the U.S. was sup­port­ing rad­i­cal Muja­hadeen forces. We thought then that spon­sor­ship of vio­lence would lead to some sort of peace. As we all know now, it did not. We’ve been exper­i­ment­ing with vio­lence in the region for many years. Our for­eign pol­i­cy has been a mish-mash of sup­port­ing one despot­ic régime after anoth­er against a shift­ing array of per­ceived enemies.

The Afghani forces the Unit­ed States now bomb were once our allies, as was Iraq’s Sad­dam Hus­sein. We have rarely if ever act­ed on behalf of lib­er­ty and democ­ra­cy in the region. We have time and again sold out our val­ues and thrown our sup­port behind the most heinous of despots. We have time and again thought that mil­i­tary adven­tur­ism in the region could keep ter­ror­ism and anti-Americanism in check. And each time we’ve only bred a new gen­er­a­tion of rad­i­cals, bent on revenge.

There are those who have angri­ly denounced paci­fists in the weeks since Sep­tem­ber 11th, angri­ly ask­ing how peace can deal with ter­ror­ists. What these crit­ics don’t under­stand is that wars don’t start when the bombs begin to explode. They begin years before, when the seeds of hatred are sewn. The times to stop this new war was ten and twen­ty years ago, when the U.S. broke it’s promis­es for democ­ra­cy, and act­ed in its own self-interest (and often on behalf of the inter­ests of our oil com­pa­nies) to keep the cycles of vio­lence going. The Unit­ed States made choic­es that helped keep the peo­ples of the Mid­dle East enslaved in despo­tism and poverty.

And so we come to 2001. And it’s time to stop a war. But it’s not nec­es­sar­i­ly this war that we can stop. It’s the next one. And the ones after that. It’s time to stop com­bat ter­ror­ism with ter­ror. In the last few weeks the Unit­ed States has been mak­ing new alliances with coun­tries whose lead­ers sub­vert democ­ra­cy. We are giv­ing them free rein to con­tin­ue to sub­ject their peo­ple. Every weapon we sell these tyrants only kills and desta­bi­lizes more, just as every bomb we drop on Kab­ul feeds ter­ror more.

And most of all: we are mak­ing new vic­tims. Anoth­er gen­er­a­tion of chil­dren are see­ing their par­ents die, are see­ing the rain of bombs fall on their cities from an uncar­ing Amer­i­ca. They cry out to us in the name of peace and democ­ra­cy and hear noth­ing but hatred and blood. And some of them will respond by turn­ing against us in hatred. And will fight us in anger. They will learn our les­son of ter­ror and use it against us. They cycle will repeat. His­to­ry will con­tin­ue to turn, with blood as it’s Mid­dle East­ern lubri­cant. Unless we act. Unless we can stop the next war.

Philadelphia Yearly Meeting’s Interim Meeting: Getting a horse to drink

This past week­end I gave a talk at the Arch Street Meet­ing­house after the Inter­im Meet­ing ses­sions of Phi­ladle­phia Year­ly Meet­ing. Inter­im Meet­ing is the group that meets sort-of month­ly between year­ly meet­ing busi­ness sess­sions. In an ear­li­er blog post I called it “the estab­lish­ment” and I looked for­ward to shar­ing the new life of the blog­ging world and Con­ver­gent Friends with this group. I had been asked by the most excel­lent Stephen Dot­son to talk about “Find­ing Fel­low­ship Between Friends Thru The Inter­net.”

I was curi­ous to return to Inter­im Meet­ing, a group I served on about half a decade ago. As I sat in the meet­ing, I kept see­ing glimpses of issues that I planned to address after­wards in my talk: how to talk afresh about faith; how to pub­li­cize our activ­i­ty and com­mu­ni­cate both among our­selves and with the out­side world; how to engage new and younger mem­bers in our work.

Turns out I didn’t get the chance. Only half a dozen or so mem­bers of Inter­im Meet­ing stuck around for my pre­sen­ta­tion. No announce­ment was made at the end of ses­sions. None of the senior staff were there and no one from the long table full of clerks, alter­nate clerks and alter­nate alter­nate clerks came. Eleven peo­ple were at the talk (includ­ing some who hadn’t been at Inter­im Meet­ing). The inti­ma­cy was nice but it was hard­ly the “take it to the estabish­ment” kind of event I had imagined.

The talk itself went well, despite or maybe because of its inti­ma­cy. I had asked Seth H (aka Chron­i­cler) along for spir­i­tu­al sup­port and he wrote a nice review on Quak­erQuak­er. Steve T, an old friend of mine from Cen­tral Philly days, took some pic­tures which I’ve includ­ed here. I videoed the event, though it will need some work to tight­en it down to some­thing any­one would want to watch online. The peo­ple who attend­ed want­ed to attend and asked great ques­tions. It was good work­ing with Stephen Dot­son again in the plan­ning. I would wish that more Philadel­phia Friends had more inter­est in these issues but as indi­vid­u­als, all we can do is lead a horse to water. In the end, the year­ly meet­ing is in God’s hands.


Below are obser­va­tions from Inter­im Meet­ing and how the Con­ver­gent Friends move­ment might address some of the issues raised. Let me stress that I offer these in love and in the hope that some hon­est talk might help. I’ve served on Inter­im Meet­ing and have giv­en a lot of time toward PYM over the last twen­ty years. This list was for­ward­ed by email to senior staff and I present them here for oth­ers who might be con­cerned about these dynamics.

 

GENERATIONAL FAIL:

There were about seventy-five peo­ple in the room for Inter­im Meet­ing ses­sions. I was prob­a­bly the third or fourth youngest. By U.S. cen­sus def­i­n­i­tions I’m in my eighth year of mid­dle age, so that’s real­ly sad. That’s two whole gen­er­a­tions that are large­ly miss­ing from PYM lead­er­ship. I know I shouldn’t be sur­prised; it’s not a new phe­nom­e­non. But if you had told me twen­ty years ago that I’d be able to walk into Inter­im Meet­ing in 2010 and still be among the youngest, well… Well, frankly I would have uttered a choice epi­thet and kicked the Quak­er dust from my shoes (most of my friends did). I know many Friends bod­ies strug­gle with age diver­si­ty but this is par­tic­u­lar­ly extreme.

WHAT I WANTED TO TELL INTERIM MEETING: About 33% of QuakerQuaker’s audi­ence is GenX and 22% are Mil­lenials. If Inter­im Meet­ing were as diverse as Quak­erQuak­er there would have been 16 YAFs (18 – 35 year olds) and 25 Friends 35 and 49 years of age. I would have been about the 29th youngest in the room – mid­dle aged, just where I should be! Quak­erQuak­er has an age diver­si­ty that most East Coast Friends Meet­ings would die for. If you want to know the inter­ests and pas­sions of younger Friends, Quak­er blogs are an excel­lent place to learn. There are some very dif­fer­ent orga­ni­za­tion­al and style dif­fer­ences at play (my post sev­en years ago, a post from Mic­ah Bales this past week).


DECISION-MAKING

 

The first part of the ses­sions was run with what’s called a “Con­sent Agen­da,” a leg­isla­tive mea­sure where mul­ti­ple agen­da items are approved en masse. It rests on the ide­al­is­tic notion that all seventy-five atten­dees has come to ses­sions hav­ing read every­thing in the quarter-inch pack­et mailed to them (I’ll wait till you stop laugh­ing). Inter­im Meet­ing lumped thir­teen items togeth­er in this man­ner. I sus­pect most Friends left the meet­ing hav­ing for­got­ten what they had approved. Most edu­ca­tors would say you have to rein­force read­ing with live inter­ac­tion but we bypassed all of that in the name of efficiency.

WHAT I WANTED TO TELL INTERIM MEETING: Quak­er blogs are won­der­ful­ly rich sources of dis­cus­sion. Com­ments are often more inter­est­ing than the orig­i­nal posts. Many of us have writ­ten first drafts of pub­lished arti­cles on our blogs and then pol­ished them with feed­back received in the com­ments. This kind of com­mu­ni­ca­tion feed­back is pow­er­ful and doesn’t take away from live meeting-time. There’s a ton of pos­si­bil­i­ties for shar­ing infor­ma­tion in a mean­ing­ful way out­side of meetings.


MINUTES OF WITNESS

 

Two “min­utes” (a kind of Quak­er statement/press release) were brought to ses­sions. Both were vet­ted through a lengthy process where they were approved first by month­ly and then quar­ter­ly meet­ings before com­ing before Inter­im Meet­ing. A minute on Afghanistan was nine months old, a response to a troop lev­el announce­ment made last Decem­ber; one against Mar­cel­lus Shale drilling in Penn­syl­va­nia was undat­ed but it’s a top­ic that peaked in main­stream media five months ago. I would have more appre­ci­a­tion of this cum­ber­some process if the min­utes were more “sea­soned” (well-written, with care tak­en in the dis­cern­ment behind them) but there was lit­tle in either that explained how the issue con­nect­ed with Quak­er faith and why we were lift­ing it up now as con­cern. A senior staffer in a small group I was part of lament­ed how the min­utes didn’t give him much guid­ance as to how he might explain our con­cern with the news media. So here we were, approv­ing two out-of-date, hard-to-communicate state­ments that many IM reps prob­a­bly nev­er read.

WHAT I WANTED TO TELL INTERIM MEETING: Blog­ging gives us prac­tice in talk­ing about spir­i­tu­al­i­ty. Com­menters chal­lenge us when we take rhetor­i­cal short­cuts or make assump­tions or trade on stereo­types. Most Quak­er blog­gers would tell you they’re bet­ter writ­ers now than when they start­ed their blog. Spir­i­tu­al writ­ing is like a mus­cle which needs to be exer­cised. To be blunt­ly hon­est, two or three blog­gers could have got­ten onto Skype, opened a shared Google Doc and ham­mered out bet­ter state­ments in less than an hour. If we’re going to be approv­ing these kinds of thing we need to prac­tice and increase our spir­i­tu­al literacy.


THE ROLE OF COMMITTEES

 

The sec­ond part was Inter­im Meet­ing look­ing at itself. We broke into small groups and ask­ing three ques­tions: “What is the work of Inter­im Meet­ing,” “Are we sat­is­fied with how we do this now?” and “If we were to make changes, what would they be?.” I thought to myself that the rea­son I ever go to events like this is to see dear Friends and to see what sparks of life are hap­pen­ing in the year­ly meet­ing. As our small group went around, and as small groups shared after­wards, I real­ized that many of the peo­ple in the room seemed to agree: we were hun­gry for the all-to-brief moments where the Spir­it broke into the reg­i­ment­ed Quak­er process.

One star­tling tes­ti­mo­ni­al came from a mem­ber of the out­reach com­mit­tee. She explained that her com­mit­tee, like many in PYM, is an admin­is­tra­tive one that’s not sup­posed to do any out­reach itself – it’s all sup­posed to stay very “meta.” They recent­ly decid­ed to have a pic­nic with no busi­ness sched­uled and there found them­selves “going rogue” and talk­ing about out­reach. Her spir­it rose and voice quick­ened as she told us how they spent hours dream­ing up out­reach projects. Of course the out­reach com­mit­tee wants to do out­reach! And with state PYM is in, can we real­ly have a dozen peo­ple sequestered away talk­ing about talk­ing about out­reach. Shouldn’t we declare “All hands on deck!” and start doing work? It would have been time well spent to let her share their ideas for the next thir­ty min­utes but of course we had to keep mov­ing. She fin­ished quick­ly and the excite­ment leaked back out of the room.


FOLLOW-UP THOUGHTS AND THE FUTURE OF THE YEARLY MEETING

 

Now I need to stress some things. I had some great one-on-one con­ver­sa­tions in the breaks. A lot of peo­ple were very nice to me and gave me hugs and asked about fam­i­ly. These are a com­mit­ted, hope­ful group of peo­ple. There was a lot of faith in that room! Peo­ple work hard and serve faith­ful­ly. But it feels like we’re trapped by the sys­tem we our­selves cre­at­ed. I want­ed to share the excite­ment and direct­ness of the Quak­er blog­ging world. I want­ed to share the robust­ness of com­mu­ni­ca­tion tech­niques we’re using and the pow­er of dis­trib­uted pub­lish­ing. I want­ed to share the new spir­it of ecu­men­ti­cal­ism and cross-branch work that’s happening.

I’ve been vis­it­ing local Friends Meet­ings that have half the atten­dance they did ten years ago. Some have trou­ble break­ing into the double-digits for Sun­day morn­ing wor­ship and I’m often the youngest in the room, bring­ing the only small kids. I know there are a hand­ful of thriv­ing meet­ings, but I’m wor­ried that most are going to have close their doors in the next ten to twen­ty years.

I had hoped to show how new com­mu­ni­ca­tion struc­tures, the rise of Con­ver­gent Friends and the seek­ers of the Emerg­ing Church move­ment could sig­nal new pos­si­bil­i­ties for Philadel­phia Year­ly Meet­ing. Toward the end of Inter­im Meet­ing, some Friends bemoaned our lack of resources and clerk Thomas Swain remind­ed them that with God there is no lim­i­ta­tion and noth­ing is impos­si­ble. Some of the things I’m see­ing online are the impos­si­ble come to life. Look at Quak­erQuak­er: an unstaffed online mag­a­zine run­ning off of a $50/month bud­get and get­ting 10,000 vis­its a month. It’s not any­thing I’ve done, but this com­mu­ni­ty that God has brought togeth­er and the tech­no­log­i­cal infra­struc­ture that has allowed us to coör­di­nate so eas­i­ly. It’s far from the only neat project out there and there are a lot more on the draw­ing boad. Some year­ly meet­ings are engag­ing with these new pos­si­bilites. But mine appar­ent­ly can’t even stay around for a talk.

That tired old quagmire playbook

“We’ll end the war just as soon as…” is the rhetor­i­cal par­ent of empire-crushing quag­mires. The con­di­tion­al changes as need­ed, because it needs to stay fresh to stay plau­si­ble. One pres­i­dent will claim that the right ene­my leader needs to be killed, anoth­er that more troops need to be tem­porar­i­ly added. 

Strate­gic changes can change the tide of a mil­i­tary con­flict but Afghanistan is now an eight-year-old war. We’re not bat­tling some oth­er empire for con­trol of ter­ri­to­ry. The fight­ers shoot­ing at Amer­i­can sol­diers are Afghani. They will still be there when we leave, when­ev­er we leave. They are Afghanistan’s future whether we like it or not. The only real ques­tion is whether we’ll leave as friends or as ene­mies. Thir­ty thou­sand addi­tion­al U.S. troops will be 30,000 addi­tion­al U.S. rifles aimed at 30,000 more Afgha­nis who sim­ply don’t want us there. Eigh­teen months will be eigh­teen more months of Afghan seething over the cor­rupt U.S.-backed Karzai government. 

I’m no fan of the Tal­iban. But it’s hard to imag­ine being the coun­try being ruled by any­one else when the U.S. troops even­tu­al­ly do pull out. Ten years of war will have insured anoth­er gen­er­a­tion of rad­i­cal­ized Aghani youth. And what about Amer­i­ca? A whole gen­er­a­tion got inter­est­ed in pol­i­tics because of a bright young pres­i­dent promis­ing change, yet here we have the same tired quag­mire play­book. It’s a shame.

Flashbacks: Aging Youth, Vanity Googling, War Fatigue

I occa­sion­al­ly go back to my blog­ging archives to pick out inter­est­ing arti­cles from one, five and ten years ago.

ONE YEAR AGO: The Not-Quite-So Young Quakers

It was five years ago this week that I sat down and wrote about a cool
new move­ment I had been read­ing about. It would have been Jor­dan Coop­er’s blog that turned me onto Robert E Web­ber’s The Younger Evan­gel­i­cals, a look at gen­er­a­tional shifts among Amer­i­can Evan­gel­i­cals. In ret­ro­spect, it’s fair to say that the Quak­erQuak­er com­mu­ni­ty gath­ered around this essay (here’s Robin M’s account of first read­ing it) and it’s follow-up We’re All Ranters Now (Wess talk­ing about it).

And yet? All of this is still a small demo­graph­ic scat­tered all around. If I want­ed to have a good two-hour caffeine-fueled bull ses­sion about the future of Friends at some local cof­feeshop this after­noon, I can’t think of any­one even vague­ly local who I could call up. I’m real­ly sad to say we’re still large­ly on our own. Accord­ing to actu­ar­i­al tables, I’ve recent­ly crossed my life’s halfway point and here I am still ref­er­enc­ing gen­er­a­tional change. How I wish I could hon­est­ly say that I could get involved with any com­mit­tee in my year­ly meet­ing and get to work on the issues raised in “Younger Evan­gel­i­cals and Younger Quak­ers”. Some­one recent­ly sent me an email thread between mem­bers of an out­reach com­mit­tee for anoth­er large East Coast year­ly meet­ing and they were debat­ing whether the inter­net was an appro­pri­ate place to do out­reach work – in 2008?!?

Pub­lished 9/14/2008.

FIVE YEARS AGO: Van­i­ty Googling of Causes

A poster to an obscure dis­cus­sion board recent­ly described typ­ing a par­tic­u­lar search phrase into Google and find­ing noth­ing but bad infor­ma­tion. Repro­duc­ing the search I deter­mined two things: 1) that my site topped the list and 2) that the results were actu­al­ly quite accu­rate. I’ve been hear­ing an increas­ing num­ber of sto­ries like this. “Cause Googling,” a vari­a­tion on “van­i­ty googling,” is sud­den­ly becom­ing quite pop­u­lar. But the inter­est­ing thing is that these new searchers don’t actu­al­ly seem curi­ous about the results. Has Google become our new proof text?

Pub­lished 10/2/2004 in The Quak­er Ranter.

TEN’ISH YEARS AGO: War Time Again
This piece is about the NATO bomb­ing cam­paign in Ser­bia (Wikipedia). It’s strange to see I was feel­ing war fatigue even before 9/11 and the “real” wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. 

There’s a great dan­ger in all this. A dan­ger to the soul of Amer­i­ca. This is the fourth coun­try the U.S. has gone to war against in the last six months. War is becom­ing rou­tine. It is sand­wiched between the soap operas and the sit­coms, between the traf­fic and weath­er reports. Intense cruise mis­sile bom­bard­ments are car­ried out but have no effect on the psy­che or even imag­i­na­tion of the U.S. citizens.

It’s as if war itself has become anoth­er con­sumer good. Anoth­er event to be pack­aged for com­mer­cial tele­vi­sion. Giv­en a theme song. We’re at war with a coun­try we don’t know over a region we don’t real­ly care about. I’m not be face­tious, I’m sim­ply stat­ing a fact. The Unit­ed States can and should play an active peace­mak­ing role in the region, but only after we’ve done our home­work and have basic knowl­edge of the play­ers and sit­u­a­tion. Iso­la­tion­ism is dan­ger­ous, yes, but not near­ly as dan­ger­ous as the emerg­ing cul­ture of these dilet­tante made-for-TV wars.

Pub­lished March 25, 1999, Non​vi​o​lence​.org

The real world’s competition this week is on the streets of Georgia

To Amer­i­can eyes the news of the esca­lat­ing war in the Cau­ca­sus nation of Geor­gia almost reads as farce: a break­away region of a break­away region, tanks rolling to main­tain con­trol of… well, not that much real­ly. We won­der how it could be in either Rus­sia or Georgia’s inter­ests to pick a fight over all this? Why does it seem like Russia’s de fac­to leader-for-life Vladimir Putin is still fight­ing the Cold War? And what must be going through the mind of Georgia’s Pres­i­dent Mikheil Saakashvili to be taunt­ing the giant to its north?
But the farce turns to weari­ness as we real­ize just how famil­iar this all is. Tiny eth­nic enclaves with cen­turies of ani­mosi­ties and well rehearsed sto­ries of atroc­i­ties com­mit­ted by the oth­er set fight­ing by the break­down of an empire that had uneasi­ly unit­ed them in repres­sion. Change a few details and we could be talk­ing recent con­flicts in Bosnia, Afghanistan, Rwan­da, the Sudan, Palestine/Israel and Iraq. Blood mon­ey from the drug trade, from oil bil­lions and human traf­fick­ing add fuel to the fire. We’ve been fight­ing these same wars since at least 1914. Why haven’t we learned how to stop them?
Seri­ous­ly: oth­er­wise strong economies col­lapse under the chaos that these ter­ri­to­r­i­al wars bring. Most of the wars seem to be fought in mar­gin­al areas and all sides would be bet­ter off if the politi­cians stopped wor­ry­ing about these con­test­ed ter­ri­to­ries and just focused on build­ing a econ­o­my attrac­tive to inter­na­tion­al trade.
Why hasn’t the world learned the mech­a­nisms to end these con­flicts before they erupt into open war­fare? Where is the polit­i­cal will to end this class of war once and for all? Dis­ease and ter­ror­ism are the invari­able fruits of these con­flicts and strike us all across nation­al bound­aries. The “inter­na­tion­al com­mu­ni­ty” needs to be mean more than impres­sive chore­og­ra­phy and a few thou­sand ath­letes in Bei­jing. This week’s real gold met­al will go to the lead­ers that can tran­scend macho pos­tur­ing and weak-willed apol­o­giz­ing and get those Russ­ian tanks out of Georgia.

Snipers shoot democracy yet again: the assasination of Benazir Bhutto

The bul­lets and bombs have final­ly found their mark. It is no sur­prise to learn of yet anoth­er assas­i­na­tion attempt against Pak­istani oppo­si­tion leader Benazir Bhut­to. Details are still sketchy and con­flict­ing but the only thing we real­ly need to know is that this attempt was suc­cess­ful and that Bhut­to is dead less than two weeks before Par­lia­men­tary elec­tions that might well have brought her into pow­er for the third time.

Pak­istan is a coun­try who’s top gov­ern­ment sci­en­tist export­ed atom­ic bomb-making across the world for decades. It still hosts Osama bin Laden. Afghanistan’s Tal­iban are still more-or-less head­quar­tered in its West­ern provinces. The stand­off with India has spawned war after war over the decade, now nuclear-enabled should either coun­try get so embold­ened. Bil­lions of dol­lars of Unit­ed States mon­ey has left Wash­ing­ton for Islam­abad since 9/11 and a pop­u­lar politi­cian can’t even cam­paign there with­out dead­ly assas­si­na­tion attempts. Pak­istan is one of the world’s hot spots, a nexus of ter­ror­ism, nuclear pro­lif­er­a­tion, reli­gious extrem­ism. It is a very sad day today indeed.