Pilgrim Pathways: Notes for a Diaspora People

Incarnational Discipleship

Nobel Peace Prize 2011: Shared by 3 Women Peace & Human Rights Activists

The Norwegian Nobel Committee (appointed, as mandated by Alfred Nobel’s will, by the Storting, or Norwegian Parliament) has announced that for 2011, the Nobel Peace Prize will be shared equally by three (3) women, Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, Leymah Gbowee, and Tawakkol Karman, “for their non-violent struggle for the safety of women and for women’s rights to full participation in peace-building work.”  The Nobel Peace Prize has often been shared by two individuals (or an individual and an organization), rarely by three individuals, and never by more than three individuals.

Each of these women has long been involved in nonviolent human rights struggle, especially for the rights, safety, and well-being of women and children.  They have also pushed for women to be treated by nations and international organizations as equal participants in peacebuilding efforts, especially post-conflict peacebuilding. This goes against the long history of women and their concerns being ignored in the normal negotiating process that leads to peace treaties.

Ellen Johnson Sirleaf (1938-) is the current President of Liberia, the first woman to be democratically elected head of state of any African nation. A Harvard-educated economist, Sirleaf had served as Assistant Finance Minister in the administration of William Tolbert from 1972-1973. Later she was Finance Minister from 1979 to 1980, when the democratic government was overthrown in a coup d’etat by the dictator Samuel Doe. Sirleaf fled the country, one of only 4 members of Tolbert’s cabinet to escape execution, and took jobs with international agencies. She returned to Liberia and was placed under house arrest and had to flee again. At the outbreak of the first Liberian civil war in 1997, she initially supported insurgent leader Charles Taylor’s fight against the dictator Samuel Doe, but later repudiated and denounced him as his war crimes became public knowledge.   A second Liberian war raged from 1999-2003.  At the end of this, Sirleaf returned to Liberia, supported the transitional government’s de-armament process, the establishment of a Truth and Reconciliation Committee and efforts to heal returned child soldiers (who had been both victims and victimizers). She ran for President under the new constitution in 2005 and won. Two decades of civil war had left Liberia with no infrastructure, nearly universal unemployment, raging ethnic and tribal animosities, and mountains of debt. Sirleaf managed to get the international community to cancel almost all of Liberia’s debt and has encouraged international investment. Using Liberia mineral wealth, she has restored some of the infrastructure (most of the capital of Monrovia now has electricity and running water, again) and has helped to re-build schools and hospitals throughout the country. She signed into law a Freedom of Information Act, the first of its kind in Africa.  But, Liberians, like Americans, think presidents can achieve miracles overnight so Sirleaf is nowhere near as popular at home as she is admired abroad. After all, unemployment remains about 80%!  Also, though Sirleaf has waged battle against corruption, it has proven to be difficult to stamp out and several of her cabinet members have been fired for scandals.  Further, many believe she should have worked more on reconciliation between ethnic groups and less on rebuilding the institutions of government and the nation’s infrastructure.  So, Sirleaf is far from being assured of reelection next month (and she broke a 2005 campaign promise to serve only 1 term if elected). But whether or not she is reelected, the 72 year old Sirleaf is well-deserving of being a Nobel Peace Laureate.

  Leymah Roberta Gbowee (b. 1972-) is known as “Liberia’s Peace Warrior.” A mother of six (6) children, Gbowee is a human rights and women’s rights campaigner. Born in central Liberia, she moved to the capital, Monrovia, at 17–just as the first Liberian Civil War broke out! She trained as trauma counselor and worked with the child soldiers of Charles Taylor’s rebel army.  Surrounded by death and destruction, Gbowee realized that if the country were to ever have peace, it would have to be mothers who brought it–mothers tired of seeing their dreams for their children shattered by the horrors of war.  Gbowee formed the Women of Liberia Mass Action for Peace in 2002. She organized the Christian and Muslim women of Liberia to pray together for peace and to engage in nonviolent demonstrations for an end to the civil war.  Gbowee, a Lutheran Christian, spread her movement to the churches and mosques and they forced a meeting with then-president Charles Taylor, getting him to attend a peace conference held in Ghana in 2002. Together with fellow Lutheran woman Comfort Freeman, Gbowee founded Women in Peacebuilding Network (WIPNET), whose nonviolent actions finally brought an end to the Second Liberian War in 2003, the abdication and exile of Charles Taylor, and a transitional government that paved the way for democratic elections in 2005. Wearing white t-shirts (to symbolize peace), Gbowee and the women of WIPNET marched by the thousands throughout Liberia. They formed the documentary Pray the Devil Back to Hell, which has been used to spread the women’s peace movement to other African nations such as Sudan (now South Sudan) and Zimbabwe where the women are also using prayer and nonviolent tactics to petition for peace and human rights.

  Tarwakkol Karmen (1979-), a Muslim feminist and human rights activist in Yemen, represents the Nobel Committee’s acknowledgement of the “Arab Spring.” She is a journalist by profession and has chafed for years under press restrictions in Yemen’s dictatorship.  She is a senior member of al-Islah , the main opposition party in Yemen. In 2005 she founded Women Journalists Without Chains, an organization dedicated to democracy and freedom of the press.  As soon as Tunisia’s nonviolent movement toppled its dictator, Karmen pushed for a similar movement in Yemen. Photos of her heroes (Mohandas K. Gandhi, Martin Luther King, Jr., and Nelson Mandela) adorn her home. In a country wear most women are forced to wear all-black niqueb,  or full head covering, Karmen wears an open-faced head scarf, usually white with flowers, as a symbol of women’s dignity and defiance to the dictator Salleh and the oppressive culture.  She insists that Islam itself does not demand the niqeb, but that it is a sign of outmoded patriarchal culture, instead.  She has pushed for laws against the wedding of women younger than 17 and against violence against women and children.  Since the outbreak of the Arab Spring, Karmen has led in march after march in Yemen’s capital, been arrested and beaten. Her life and the lives of her children have been threatened by the government, but she presses onward. To the nonviolent pro-democracy movement, Karmen is known as “The Mother of the Revolution,”–a revolution that is, at present, incomplete since Salleh clings to power by the use of massive violence against his own people–as he done for 33 years, now.  Karmen and her fellow Yemeni nonviolent revolutionaries are undeterred.  She has dedicated her Nobel Prize to the entire movement. (Many within the movement have proposed her for president in a post-Salleh Yemen, which would make her the first democratically-elected female leader in any Muslim-majority nation, if it happens.)

Largely because of its longevity and the large monetary awards accompanying it, the Nobel Peace Prize is the most widely recognized and prestigious peace prize –despite ambiguities in Alfred Nobel’s will and oddities in the Norwegian Nobel Committee that have led to some bizarre recipients (e.g., Teddy Roosevelt, Nicholas Murray Butler, Henry Kissinger, Yasser Arafat, Shimon Peres, & Yitzhak Rabin) and even stranger omissions (e.g., Mohandas K. Gandhi, Thich Nhat Hanh, Dom Helder Camara, Fr. Daniel Berrigan, S.J.).  The committee has too often neglected women. Prior to this year, only 12 women have won the Nobel Peace Prize in its over 100 year history.  But this year’s prizes are to be celebrated by all who believe in nonviolence, human rights, democracy, and the full equality of women.  I look forward to watching the ceremonies in Oslo this December and reading their speeches and lectures. I pray continued success to these brave women and the movements they lead.


October 8, 2011 Posted by | heroes, human rights, Just Peacemaking, justice, Nobel Peace Prize, nonviolence, nonviolent activism, peace, Peace & Justice Awards, peacemakers, political violence, violence | Leave a comment

Anti-Death Penalty Organizations in the U.S.

I.  Faith-Based Groups

II. National Organizations

III. State Groups

May 29, 2011 Posted by | capital punishment, civil rights, ethics, human rights, nonviolence, political violence, violence | 4 Comments

The Relation of Mental Illness to Political Violence and a Culture of Hatred


  • Despite national campaigns by several First Ladies of both major political parties (Betty Ford (R), Rosalynn Carter (D), Barbara Bush(R), Hillary Clinton (D) ) and at least one Second Lady (Tipper Gore (D) ), the U.S. still treats the mentally ill horribly.  Most health insurance plans do not include mental illness although more mental health is covered in the new healthcare law. 
  • Most people with mental illnesses are not violent and the fear of the mentally ill is unwarranted.
  • The mentally ill are more likely to be homeless–and if you aren’t mentally ill when you begin living on the streets, give it six months.
  • Our failure to make it difficult for the mentally ill to obtain firearms is an example of collective criminal negligence–a societal crime of the first measure.

Now, much of the conservative punditry is taking the line that if the accused shooter in Arizona, Jared Lee Loughner, was mentally ill and had no coherent political philosophy (or is secretly liberal because he once read The Communist Manifesto or some such nonsense), then he could not have been incited to violence by the climate of hatred and the rhetoric of violence. Shorter: If he’s nuts then all the violent rhetoric of the 2010 campaign season is blameless.  But this assumes that the mentally ill are somehow unaffected by the climate around them.

Is that the case?  I’m neither a psychologist nor a psychiatrist, but my understanding is that this depends on what kind of mental illness is involved.  I suffer from depression, treated with a combination of prescription meds, counseling, prayer, and periodic media breaks.  Despite my pacifist beliefs, if I am having a bad bout of depression, my temper is touchier and both personal AND political contexts affect me deeply.  I know IN MY VERY BONES why it’s a bad idea for depressed persons to have access to weapons (usually more suicidal than homicidal) and am glad I own none.  Schizophrenics are even more susceptible and those with more scientific background than me are saying that Loughner fits the classic profile of a schizophrenic.

There is evidence to suggest that if a political culture of hatred and violent rhetoric exists, those suffering from some forms of mental illness would be the most likely to act literally on violent metaphors.  After all, they are least likely to be processing political rhetoric with calm, critical, reflective logic. 

So the probable mental illness of Jared Lee Loughner and the (completely expected) incoherence of his political views do NOTHING to get the promoters of violent political rhetoric off the hook. They cannot escape their share of responsibility–except in the legal sense–for this crime by hiding behind whatever illness Mr. Loughner is diagnosed.  In fact, awareness that people with schizophrenia or paranoia or other mental illnesses may be watching, listening, or reading, should temper our language–if not the passion with which we express opinions. 

This is not an attempt to curb free speech nor to throw water on passion.  The biblical prophets expressed their views with passionate, often angry, words.  So did Jesus–“brood of vipers” is not a gentle saying.  When we see injustice in society (in our limited opinions), anger is an appropriate response and sometimes things need to be denounced.  But we need to use care, too.

We need to be able to say that our opponents’ policies are DEEPLY wrong without calling them “Hitler” or “Stalin.”  All of us.  In 2003, I was at huge rally against the invasion of Iraq when I saw some folks with signs that said “Draft the Bush Twins.” That was wrong and I asked them to put them down and use different signs.  I was invited to speak at a different rally and refused because one of the sponsoring groups was anti-Jewish. (You can’t always control who shows up, but you can control who gets invited!)  Usually, progressives and peace groups are good about policing their own rallies and weeding out violent types–but we haven’t always been. I agreed with the 2006 Congressional censure of MoveOn.org for their ad that rhymed Gen. Petraeus’ ad with “Betray Us.” It was a stupid ad and soon after that I resigned my membership in MoveOn.org because I thought they were starting to become a mirror image of those they opposed. 

But if the left has sometimes been guilty of violent rhetoric that could affect the mentally ill, the right has done so far more often, far more deliberately and without ever taking responsibility. And the media calls them on it much less often.

So our response has to be multi-dimensional.  We need to screen more for mental illnesses. We need better treatment and support of the mentally ill. We need far better societal understanding of such.  We need to keep weapons out the hands of the mentally ill.

But we also need to change the culture of hatred and violent rhetoric  that can leave the mentally most vulnerable to acting violently and creating yet another cultural tragedy.

January 12, 2011 Posted by | political violence, violence | Leave a comment

Reflections on American Political Violence

I don’t know how coherent this blog post will be.  The events are too close.  But writing is therapeutic for me.

As I write this, Rep. Gabrielle Giffords (D-AZ) fights for her life after surgery.  She was shot in the head earlier today by an assassin who used automatic weapons. 19 people were hit with gunfire and 6 have died (as I write) from this event, including a 9 year old girl and a federal judge (previously threatened) who had ruled against the horrible “Show us your papers” anti-immigrant law passed in AZ last year which allows police to arrest anyone for “looking like an illegal immigrant” (i.e., giving open season on brown people who may be of Mexican heritage).  Last year, Rep. Giffords’ Tea Party-backed opponent hosted an event that invited people to shoot targets with Giffords face attached.  Former half-term AK Gov. Sarah Palin(R-AK) had put gunsite crosshairs over Gifford’s face along with other Democrats her Political Action Committee was “targeting.”  Hiding behind the 1st Amendment’s guarantee of free speech, the irresponsible “Mama Grizzly” claims it was a metaphor and that she had no intention of creating an atmosphere of violence and fear in which nutcase followers could “exercise 2nd Amendment solutions” (i.e., kill people) when not achieving the desired results at the ballot box.  Political violence in the form of rightwing domestic terrorism has returned to the United States.

It has a long history–no doubt one of the legacies of a nation birthed by violent revolution. Yet many other countries had violent origins without having the long legacy of assassination, attempted assassination, and related political violence that has dogged the history of these United States.  Four (4) U.S. Presidents have been assassinated (Abraham Lincoln; James Garfield; William McKinley; John F. Kennedy).  Six other presidents survived assassination attempts (Andrew Jackson, Theodore Roosevelt, Franklin D. Roosevelet, Harry S. Truman, Gerald Ford (twice), and Ronald Reagan), not including the attempts foiled prior to any gunshots, including two so far on President Obama.  Presidential candidates like Senator Robert F. Kennedy (who almost certainly would have beaten Richard Nixon for the White House in ’68 had he lived) have also been assassinated, as have numerous other elected officials throughout our history.  On 22 May 1856, Rep. Preston Brooks (D-SC) used a cane to beat Sen. Charles Sumner of Massachussetts into unconsciousness on the Senate floor for giving an anti-slavery speech. Sumner was so injured, he was unable to resume his duties as senator for 3 years. Meanwhile, because Brooks broke his cane in the assault and battery, South Carolinians sent him dozens of new canes engraved with the words “good job.”  Political activists such as Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., Malcolm X, and Harvey Milk have also been assassinated in this country. 

Sometimes in our history most of the political violence has been from leftwing groups such as the Weather Underground of the late 1960s and early 1970s.  But in recent history, the threats and violence has been from the Right, as documented here.

In fact, during my childhood in the U.S. South (during the struggle against segregation) the numbers of Civil Rights activists who were killed ran into the hundreds and those injured by mob violence or police violence were too numerous to count.  Many of the perpetrators have never answered for their crimes.  Many were repeatedly freed by juries even after openly bragging of their crimes. 

I’m not going to argue that such violence is wrong.  That’s too easy.  Not only my own pacifist Christian faith, but almost every moral and religious system in the world condemns such acts–though many of those who claim to follow such systems violate them and commit these atrocities anyway.

I want to say only a few things:  1) The violence fits the true definition of “terrorism.”  The intent is to create an atmosphere of fear and suspicion of others.  The intent is to intimidate.  This is true no matter who uses these tactics:  Preston Brooks was trying to make abolitionists, especially abolitionists elected to Congress, afraid of speaking out against slavery.  Lynchings were “to keep N@##ers in their place.”  Violence against Civil Rights activists was for the purpose of making them too afraid to keep taking on segregation.  During the feminist movement in the 197os, signs held that said things like “All You Gals Need is a Little Rape!” were meant to silence women pushing for the Equal Rights Amendment.  When abortion clinics are bombed, the intent is to frighten women who might seek abortions and to frighten doctors who might perform them.  When politicians are burned in effigy or treasured symbols are burned or harmed, the intent is to intimidate and inflame passions.  The same is true when hate speech is used that includes violent metaphors–even if some like Sarah Palin are too stupid to know what their followers might do with their words.

2) The intimidation often works. Although abortion is still legal in this nation (and that legality has been supported by a majority in every poll but one since Roe v. Wade was decided in 1973), clinics where abortions are performed are much rarer.  Many medical schools are afraid even to teach what would be necessary to perform a safe and legal abortion. (This does not say anything about the moral merits of legal abortion. I’m simply talking about the violent tactic used to get results one cannot achieve by democratic means.) Since AZ’s passage of its demonic “walking while brown” anti-immigrant law (and 14 other state legislatures are looking to copy this law unless the courts intervene), many LEGAL immigrants and even citizens of Hispanic heritage are afraid to even go to the police when threatened because they may be “thought to be an illegal immigrant.”  They certainly are less likely to be organizing politically when afraid to even leave the house.  Whether Rep. Giffords lives or dies, fewer progressive  candidates will stand for office out of fear for themselves, their families, or for innocent 9 year old bystanders. (New Speaker Boehner (R-OH)’s attempt to say that an attack on anyone in Congress is an attack on all of them is wrong.  This attack strengthens his hand and his party by depriving Democrats, especially progressive Democrats, of one more vote and one more articulate voice for our concerns. That deprivation was the point of the attack.)

3) Because of 1 & 2, such political violence is the enemy of representative democracy and the rule of law.  In place of law, we put vigilantes with guns. In place of abiding by election results; in place of public debate and discussion, we put assassination attempts, bombings, threats, implied threats and an atmosphere of fear. 

Don’t let the fear and hatemongers win.  Stand up and be counted as Gabrielle Giffords has done.  Stand with her–whether you are a Democrat or Republican (or Libertarian or Green or Socialist or Natural Law Partymember, etc.).  Political and social conflict can be a good thing. I do not fear debate. I think we are better off for healthy debate.  But threats and lies and innuendos and propaganda are NOT the same thing.  That way leads to the spiral of political violence that can doom this country.  Stand up, speak up and walk together,  children. Refuse the madness of the way of the gun and the way of hate speech and the way of violence.  Link arms and march together.  Tell the hatemongers of whatever political stripe  that WE WILL NOT BE MOVED!

January 8, 2011 Posted by | political violence, violence | 2 Comments