Saturday, February 12, 2011

MLK and Montgomery Bus Boycott help inspire nonviolence in Egypt

A commenter to a post at the Waging Nonviolence blog pointed readers to this: a great story about how an Arabic translation of a comic-style booklet about MLK and the Montgomery Bus Boycott, first published by the FOR in 1958, may have been part of the inspiration to Egyptian organizers in their courageous and successful nonviolent movement to oust their president.  Just as MLK and many other US civil rights organizers were deeply influenced by the Ghandian nonviolence movement that liberated India from British colonial rule, nonviolence has a way of spreading from people to people.

The Arabic translation was a project initiated by Dalia Ziada, Egypt director of the American Islamic Congress.

Here's a quote by Ms. Ziada from the story:

Spreading the message of non-violent resistance throughout the Middle East is ultimately a means to an end for Ziada and the rest of the AIC; that is, to inspire action. "The main message I hope that Arabic readers will take from the MLK comic book is that: change is not impossible. It is time to stop using our muscles blindly. Let's try using our intellect in innovative, creative ways to pressure decision makers and end dictatorship, tyranny and the suppression practiced against us."

Friday, February 11, 2011

Conscientious Objector, Josh Stieber

Here's a good article by Rachel Signer posted today on the Waging Nonviolence blog.  The GI Rights Hotline, a free, confidential, nongovernmental service can be reached at 877-447-4487 (overseas number: 510-535-1104) or 

Last December at Slate, Kathryn Schulz interviewed 22-year-old Josh Stieber on his choice to become a conscientious objector.  Stieber grew up a devout evangelical Christian, and says that, at the school he went to, Bush was presented as an example of what a strong Christian man should look like, and the global war on terror was presented as an opportunity to rescue an oppressed people and spread democracy through the Middle East, along with Christian and Western values.

But after going to Iraq, he quickly saw that the democratic values he went there to promote had no place in the training of soldiers or how they were expected to behave:

"Pretty quickly after I got in, I started to see inconsistencies between how the military was talked about in such glorified ways [when I was] growing up, and then how it was acted out in training. Training was very desensitizing. We screamed slogans like, “Kill them all, let God sort them out.” We watched videos with bombs being dropped on Middle Eastern villages with rock and roll music in the background. People really started to celebrate death and destruction, and that definitely didn’t match up to what I’d expected. I’d told myself that I was willing to kill if necessary, but that wasn’t the same as celebrating it."

Stieber’s unit moved into an abandoned factory in Baghdad, and he watched as the populace staged a peaceful demonstration against them. Many of the residents were displaced by the soldiers’ presence. Before long, the protesters resorted to violent tactics.

"They had tried telling us nonviolently that they didn’t want us in their neighborhood, and when that didn’t work, they tried telling us violently, by using snipers and roadside bombs and that kind of thing. And once they started to get violent, we started to get violent, too. It went back and forth and each attack seemed to be more severe than the last one. Eventually the escalation led to a kind of desperation on the part of a lot of soldiers."

It was then that Stieber refused orders to shoot an unarmed civilian. He began to see that he was part of a contradictory, useless, unwanted, and harmful effort.

Instead of standing by passively, Stieber opted to go to military prison after seeing a video about Gandhi. But his parents intervened and told him about conscientious objector status. His fellow soldiers were angry about his decision, but instead of returning their anger, Stieber tried to practice his newfound belief in nonviolence by listening and being empathetic; he found that it helped ease tensions.

Now Stieber is becoming a teacher and is reflecting on the shift in perspective he experienced in Iraq. The same beliefs in Christian morality and democracy that brought him into the military in the first place were the same ones that led him toward the realization that the violence in Iraq is unnecessary and wrong.

Data from the Governmental Accountability Office shows that the military processed 425 applicants for CO status from 2002 to 2006—a tiny portion of an organization with around 2.3 million people. (According to J.E. McNeil, executive director of the Center on Conscience and War, those statistics aren’t very accurate because they don’t account for applicants whose requests didn’t make it up the chain of command for a final decision.) Tellingly, it was Stieber’s parents, not his superiors in the Army, who informed him about the possibility of applying for CO status rather than going to a military prison. Perhaps if such information were more readily available to those in uniform, it would be opted for more frequently, and they would feel freer to voice their reservations about the policies they’re ordered to carry out.

Thursday, February 3, 2011

Waging peace at McCallum HS

Excellent visit today at McCallum HS. Students have a lot of interest in different aspects of peace -- human rights, animal rights, environmental sustainability, opposition to war. During our tabling last week at Austin HS, a student suggested that we add events to the peace wheel in addition to the individuals. Good idea! So, for this table, I added two events: the Greensboro Sit-ins from 1960 and the Egyptian people's movement taking place this very week. Not many students were aware of what's happening in Egypt. I recommend the coverage being done at the Waging Nonviolence blog.
The penny poll photos above were taken before many students had taken part, but, as always, the education, environment and health care categories wound up with the most pennies.

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

US vets support Egyptian people power

good letter posted today on Common Dreams:

In Solidarity With the Egyptian People and the Soldiers Refusing to Repress Them
by U.S. Military Veterans and Allies

As veterans and friends and families of veterans and active-duty members of the US military, we stand in solidarity with the courageous Egyptian people and the brave members of the Egyptian military who have refused to repress the people, and in some cases, joined them. We stand opposed to the role the US government has played in economically and politically supporting Hosni Mubarak's dictatorship. We oppose the 1.3 billion dollars in annual military aid our government continues to give to security forces in Egypt. We are horrified that during the week-long uprising, our tax dollars have paid for the weapons and training that have killed more than 125 peaceful protesters and injured thousands more.

After decades of supporting Mubarak's rule, the U.S. claims to support a "transition," calling for "restraint from both sides." Yet the Obama administration has been giving the Egyptian military strategic assistance throughout the uprising. When protests broke out on the 25th, the Egyptian military chief of staff, Lt. Gen. Sami Hafez Anan, was in Washington as part of an annual strategizing session. He stayed in DC until the 28th, when he returned to Egypt to command the security forces.

We do not believe Egyptians are "anti-American" for holding up the tear gas canisters that have killed so many peaceful protesters in Cairo, pointing out that they are stamped "Made in the USA." We believe that the US government's foreign policy is against the values of the American people. Our own government has chosen to support an Egyptian dictatorship, making a mockery of our country's deeply held democratic values.

We know that "regime change" and "democracy" were the code words behind the US invasion of Iraq, which took the lives of thousands of our young people and more then one million Iraqis. In the name of "regime change" and "democracy," we bombed, shot, tortured, and imprisoned a large number of Iraqi citizens.

That does not mean we support dictatorial governments in Middle Eastern countries. We believe in regime change that comes from the people. Invasion, occupation, and the use of force have failed at creating just societies. What we hope to see in Egypt is regime change by and for the people, society transformed from below.

In Egypt, the streets are filled with demonstrators chanting, "The people and the army are one hand!" The moment may soon approach when Egyptian soldiers will be forced to choose between killing or joining the people. Recently we have seen soldiers act heroically and peacefully in similar circumstances in Tunisia, Yugoslavia, Portugal, and Venezuela.

There is a parallel in the US: some of us who were in the military refused to deploy to Iraq and Afghanistan, while others have spoken out against military injustice since returning. Some have supported soldiers who have blown the whistle on our government's war crimes. Others have supported military refusers as they were imprisoned or forced to flee the country for their crimes of conscience.

We extend our support to all members of the Egyptian military who follow their conscience, just like those Americans who refused their orders to go to war or refused to fight once they got there. We support those who refuse to fire into crowds, those who lend their support to democracy.

We also recognize that the U.S. has a sustained military presence in Egypt, with a Connecticut National Guard unit currently being deployed to the Sinai Peninsula. We call on U.S. soldiers in Egypt to follow their conscience and stand on the side of the Egyptian people.

Today we stand in support of a global peoples' movement for freedom, democracy, peace, equality, and justice!

Peace and freedom be with you, people of Egypt!

(Organizations are for identification purposes only)

Scott Kimball, Iraq Veterans Against the War
Sarah Lazare, The Civilian-Soldier Alliance
Ryan Harvey, The Civilian-Soldier Alliance
Jacob George, Veteran of Operation Enduring Freedom, 3 tours
Ethan McCord, Iraq Veteran, Bravo Company 2-16 (seen in Iraq "Collateral Murder" video released by Wikileaks)
Josh Stieber, Iraq veteran
Jonathan Uss
Maggie Martin, Iraq Veterans Against the War
Clare Bayard, The Catalyst Project
Austin McCann, The Civilian-Soldier Alliance