Tuesday, November 28, 2006

Ireland, Principles, and Jobs

So, Shannon Airport in Ireland is still on my mind. I was chased out of there in the fall of 2002 with an Irish peace activist who was keeping tabs on American military planes stopping over on their way to the Middle East. Ireland's constitution declares it a neutral state, so some of the Irish understandably take offense to foreign warplanes landing in the country. I was doing research on nonviolent activism in Ireland at the time.

The fight over Shannon Airport in Ireland, like so many other defense industry fights, comes down to principles vs. jobs. On the one hand you have folks advocating for peace and neutrality, and on the other, folks reminding everyone that a fella's got to eat. And if a fella earns his daily bread by cashing in on a heavy traffic of military personnel and equipment on its way to blow away who-knows-what-sorry-bastard, well... That's the way the world is. Not pretty. But a fella's got to eat.

I caught a little fresh perspective on Shannon Airport, and on this whole sad principles/jobs divide, just last week. I was returning from a trip to Europe and one of the airports I hit on the way back was Shannon. Now, I've known for some time about US transport jets refueling there, terror suspects being sent through in "extraordinary renditions," etc. etc. Still though, it was jarring to walk into the airport lounge and be confronted with some 50 odd American Navy sailors in sand-colored cammies.

Most of them were standing around the bar, drinking pints. A few younger enlisted types were wandering around the duty free shop, which is where I was. They were coming home for Thanksgiving and picking up gifts for their mothers, little brothers, alcoholic uncles, and so on. Normal Americans, good kids, the sort of women and men I talk with every day on the GI Rights Hotline.

Now, I don't look like much, but I don't think I look like a penniless slob (OK, I actually do look like a penniless slob, but I try not to while traveling--less hassle from security). So it was interesting to see what happened as I stood there perusing the whiskey selection. As soon as a man or woman in cammies entered the whiskey aisle, a nice Irish lady would run up and ply them with free samples of expensive booze, cajoling them to take a nice bottle home to mom, or dad, or of course to alcoholic uncle Steve. Meanwhile, I was thoroughly ignored. Even when I was left alone in the whiskey aisle, staring at labels, with the free sample lady similary unoccupied a few feet away at her table.

The lesson? Free sample lady knew where the money was. It was in the pockets of the lonely American boys and girls heading to Chicago for a weekend-long reprieve from the worst experience of their lives.

This is what the jobs side of the principles vs. jobs fight looks like. An old lady pushing booze into the hands of giddy and sad American kids.

Related links:

Peace On Trial, website for the Irish Ploughshares community which smashed up a US navy jet at Shannon using hammers, prayed, were arrested, had three trials, and were unanimously acquitted.

...Into Ploughshares, a brand new blog by Ciaron O'Reilly. Ciaron was one of the aforementioned Ploughshares activists, and he's a friend of mine.

Tuesday, October 10, 2006

Welcome to the No Fact Zone

I attended a talk the other night at Bethel College, an evangelical college in the South Bend area. The title was “Unmasking Terrorism,” and advertisements promised I’d be hearing from a Palestinian-former-terrorist-turned-evangelical-Christian. So it seemed like the kind of thing that would be worth checking out.

The talk that followed however, given by one Walid Shoebat, truly shocked me. I was appalled. An evening that started with vanilla praise music quickly turned into a hate-fest that had me thinking of 1984. It was horrifying; in fact, I was reminded of the Old Latin version of Psalm 95/96: “The gods of the heathens are demons.” What went on at Bethel truly put me in mind of the demonic. They were saying the name “Jesus,” but the God they described was something hideous and malformed.

The talk also put me in mind of Steven Colbert’s “No Fact Zone.” I always figured he was exaggerating the Right’s tendency to color everything with ideology (which can of course also be said of the Left). I didn’t realize he was describing certain people’s tendency to spread vicious half-truths and lies. Specifically…

Among Mr. Shoebat’s claims throughout the night were the following points (please note that these claims are written as they were communicated during his talk—he might present things differently in writing, but this was the content as heard in the audience):

  • All terrorists are Muslims; there are no Christian or atheistic terrorists. At all. Anywhere in the world. When confronted with the example of Northern Ireland, he said, “There is no longer terrorism in Ireland.”
  • Arabs had only been living in (or perhaps ruling, he used ambiguous language) Israel/Palestine for a total of 100 years prior to the creation of the modern state of Israel in 1948.
  • Until 1948, the Zionist movement carried out the acquisition and settlement of land in Israel/Palestine entirely peacefully, without the use of arms or any kind of coercion.

Meanwhile, his plan for dealing with international Islamic extremism and terrorism seemed to be as follows:

  • Begin closing mosques. He definitely advocated the forcible closure of mosques in the US and Europe, and as far as I can recall he hinted that this would be appropriate for the Middle East as well.
  • Send Christian missionaries to the Middle East to accompany American troops. I’m drawing this from a comparison he made between a drug-infested neighborhood and the Middle East. He said that one doesn’t send Harvard professors to a drug-infested neighborhood to solve its problems. One sends ministers and Christian community workers and armed police. He emphasized that the police had to be armed. He left the audience to draw its own conclusions about how his metaphor applied to the Middle East. I think it was obvious what he was suggesting.

Most disturbing of all were the “Amen”s that came from the audience now and then as Mr. Shoebat poured out his hatred.

I don’t really know what to do in response to this kind of stuff. I’d try to bring up the excellent points the Pope made in his Regensburg address about faith and reason, but I’m afraid his quote from that Byzantine text would just encourage them. Sigh…

Thursday, September 14, 2006

World Prayer for Peace, Assisi

The Community of Sant'Egidio just finished hosting the 20th annual inter-religious world prayer for peace in Assisi, an event that was initiated by Pope John Paul II in 1986. Pope Benedict XVI sent a letter on peace to the gathering, and Andrea Riccardi, founder of the Community, offered his typically wise and loving remarks.

I found his address at the end of the gathering particularly moving. He is so right in saying that conflict is not our metaphysical destiny, and right in pulling the rug out from the "realism" that finds war the only outcome to the mixing of religion and civilizations in the global theater. Riccardi reminds us that we are destined for peace and it is our obligation to actively seek it.

Find the list of all talks given at the gathering here.

Tuesday, August 29, 2006

Catholic Peace Fellowship featured on the BBC

The BBC interviewed me a while back and used the interview in the August 24th edition of their program, Crossing Continents.

It's an intriguing episode focusing on military recruitment, a subject which is also, coincidentally, the focus of our forthcoming issue of the Sign of Peace. Especially interesting in my opinion is the time the news team spends with an Army recruiter while he's on the job. He recruits in Kokomo, Indiana, a town with an unusually high number of casualties in the Iraq and Afghanistan wars.

You can listen to the story, "Recruiting for the US Military," at the Crossing Continents website (note there's about 90 seconds of news before the episode on recruitment begins).

(Also note that we're actually in the old St. Stephen's rectory, not the old St. Vincent's rectory.)

Monday, August 21, 2006

Recruiting "Irregularities"

A new report from the Government Accounting Office outlines what it calls “recruiting irregularities.” For those unfamiliar with such charitably bureaucratic language, that means instances of unethical or illegal behavior by recruiters.

Apart from the always-shocking instances of recruiters sexually assaulting new recruits, the bland GAO report actually has quite a few stories to tell.

Particularly interesting are a few statistical tidbits that confirm some of the things I’ve heard on the GI Rights Hotline. For instance, pages 30-34 show that about 30% of recruiting irregularities in the Army have to due with recruiters covering up, in one way or another, new recruits’ medical histories. Many of the people I talk with (some with quite debilitating illnesses, like one poor guy who seems to have had Guillain-Barré syndrome) accuse their recruiters of having cajoled/encouraged/persuaded/commanded them to lie about their medical histories. They need to lie about medical histories because otherwise they couldn’t get into the military.

There’s a heck of a lot of problems with recruiters doing that. Apart from the fact that they’re endangering the recruit’s life, the lives of his/her fellow servicemembers, and asking him/her to lie, recruiters also cost the government a lot of money. According to the GAO report (page 25), the Army spends $17,000 just to recruit and process each recruit, and another $50,000 or so to get them through basic training.

That means that this particular “recruiting irregularity,” aside from being grossly immoral in and of itself, probably also costs American taxpayers millions of dollars a year.

So why do recruiters do it? Well, every branch of the military (except the Marines) rewards recruiters based on how many recruits they get to sign an initial contract, not how many recruits actually make it through training (page 25). So a recruiter can put sick recruit after sick recruit into boot camp, and even if every one of those recruits gets sent home early for medical reasons, that recruiter can still win that “Best Recruiter of the Year” trophy.

The GAO has been recommending a change in recruiter evaluation policies for some 8 or 9 years in order to do away with the institutional rewards for immoral recruiting practices, but nothing has come of it yet.

Ah, bureaucracy. Let’s give it a hand, folks.

Tuesday, July 25, 2006

Irish Activists Acquitted

A few friends of mine from my Ireland days have just been acquitted in a three-year-old case. They damaged a US Navy jet in Ireland back in the spring of 2003. A Dublin jury found that they had lawful excuse to damage the plane, i.e. destroying the plane would hinder an illegal war (!) and therefore such destruction was not technically illegal . An amazing precedent (though legally it's probably not a precedent-setting case)...

Read about it here.

Monday, June 12, 2006

Iraq Vets Go Homeless

From the New York Daily News

New wars swell ranks of lost vets

Ex-G.I.s fight to survive on home front


Ten years after the U.S. pulled out of Vietnam, an army of shell-shocked veterans began reporting to homeless shelters.

Now those desperate ranks are being joined by veterans of conflicts where the guns are still blazing - the Iraq and Afghan wars.

And social workers fear the trickle of stunned soldiers returning from Baghdad and Kabul has the potential to become a tragic tide.

"The Iraq vets are showing up now, and asking for help now," said Yogin Ricardo Singh of the Brooklyn-based Black Veterans for Social Justice. "What surprises me is how young they are."