11 September 2008

September 11 to-do list

I continue to be grateful for the miles separating us from the election campaign in the USA. In previous election years, I was practically glued to the media for each day's fix of news, commentaries, polls, predictions, debates, gaffes, and spins. Here, where we have no television and no daily newspaper, and daytime Internet is rationed (4 rubles per megabyte), it's like hearing the neighbors argue through a thick wall--sometimes only some fragmentary phrases come through: "small-town values," "lipstick on a pig," and other clues that I hope are not actual indications of the quality and depth of the election campaign.

One of the things I most hope not to hear is how the campaigns exploit the anniversary of September 11, 2001. I won't write much about the day itself--see earlier posts: How the Grinch stole 9/11, Evil and Islamofascism, and The Quaker voice. I'll just say I doubt either campaign will address head-on the betrayal of American ideals and values represented by the self-righteous vindictiveness of our present administration's initial and ongoing responses to that unfolding tragedy. I say "unfolding" because the victims of 9/11 and the subsequent retribution are still dying, still being imperfectly counted, and (if not American) still considered practically irrelevant.

In the meantime, to my frustration, the spiritual and ideological challenge represented by 9/11 remains unanswered. On the subject of violent self-described Islamic movements, what does American leadership say to the world, INCLUDING to those movements' future recruits? We have spent countless billions on lethal solutions in Iraq and Afghanistan, with no end in sight. (Who believes that we can continue indefinitely to pour fabulous amounts of money into Iraq, way beyond the feverish dreams of any pork-barrel-addicted U.S. state? And, on the other hand, who believes that post-occupation Iraq will be a stable model democracy, an American success story for regional reform?)

And what do we American citizens say to such movements? For example, Christian citizens? Here's a list to start with. What should be added, what should be deleted?:
  • Despite our national behavior, we know that God loves you and your children every bit as much as God loves us and our children.
  • We do not believe that human rights, and even U.S. constitutional rights, are only for citizens of the USA, despite the contrary actions of our country.
  • We believe that Israeli and Palestinian claims for land and other regional grievances must be addressed evenhandedly.
  • We agree that U.S. forces should not be deployed in your holy places.
  • We dispute any theology that encourages suicide attacks by promising eternal blessings. We urgently warn those brave souls who consider such inducements that we believe God never blesses either murder nor its inciters.
  • If you and your country bear grievances against our country or our faith, you will be heard and answered courteously. When you threaten us with death if we do not conform to your wishes, you will also be heard, but hear us as well: we are utterly unpersuaded by threats. Violence and threats will be met with all lawful international resources of our criminal justice systems. (We will, however, also demand that our nation never again confuse police work with war.)
  • Much of our culture may be scandalous to your sensibilities, but all faiths and cultures face dilemmas of individual expression vs social cohesion, and resolve those dilemmas differently. Denunciations, violent threats, and outright violence are arguably as disruptive to God's purposes as Western vulgarity and social experimentation--or, we would argue, even more disruptive.
  • When you accuse us of blasphemy or hypocrisy, you may or may not be right. How do you know for certain? Are these sins unknown among you? We invite you to help us set mutually agreeable terms for a respectful conversation.
  • We do not threaten Christian converts to Islam with death. Do not threaten Islamic converts to Christianity with death, and challenge those who do. There is only one God, who is sovereignly capable of sorting it all out in eternity.

On a related subject, here's a Sightings column by Melissa Conroy, "Examining Hateful Words and Images: The Case of Towelhead."

If I were living in the superheated electoral environment where some of my dear correspondents live, I'd be posting this Gail Collins column on my bathroom mirror, along with a nice paper bag.

Read about Margaret Benefiel's new book, The Soul of a Leader, here. (Margaret will be at Reedwood Friends Church on October 5.)

Today we visited a public school in Elektrostal, and were given the warmest possible welcome by the head of school and the English department. As the head told us about her belief that American visitors would help the children become more aware of the world and of the importance of mutual understanding, she asked whether we truly believed that Russia was uniquely guilty in the recent South Ossetian conflict. We assured her that we understood the situation was far more complex than a simple hero/villain situation.

By the way, we were introduced to the school by Liz Sugden Seume, who taught there last year and who's visiting in town for a week from her new home in Celle, Germany. Patrick Neifert is here, too--he's arranging shipment of household goods to the Neiferts' new home in Israel. Their presence gives us a partial reunion of the little Northwest Yearly Meeting community of last fall here in Elektrostal. We're also enjoying Liz's great photo album of her marriage to Karl Seume last July. (To see some of those pictures, befriend Liz on Facebook.)

Three more Georgia/Russia links: "No, we are not all Georgians." "The Bush administration checkmated in Georgia." "The church's role in the Georgia-Russia conflict."

An announcement from Howlin' Wolf, backed up by Willie Dixon, Hubert Sumlin, Clifton James, Sunnyland Slim: "The number that's going out now, friends, is 'Smokestack Lightning' ...."

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