31 March 2011


Last Sunday, Moscow Friends Meeting adopted this minute:
The Moscow Meeting of Friends (Quakers) is following the development of the civil war in Libya with great concern.

Unfortunately, the intervention of Western powers in the course of the hostilities has led to an ever-increasing number of civilian casualties in Tripolitania, the part of Libya that is under the control of the Gaddafi government. Civilians have become victims of the bombing, shelling, and cruise missile strikes imposed by those who have undertaken to "restore order" in Libya. Such actions lead to the delegitimization of international law and threaten to spread chaos in the entire Middle East region.

Moscow Quakers call on all parties involved in the conflict to cease hostilities immediately and begin peace talks without preconditions. Moscow Quakers pray for peace. We believe that every human being is a child of God and bears a spark of Divine Light within. Violence and war violate our relationship with God and do not lead to reconciliation and genuine peace.
Given that Moscow Friends don't usually adopt minutes without lively discussion, I was startled by the rapid unity among those present. The brief discussion on Sunday revolved mainly around whether or not the proposed minute was strong enough. Some of the energy behind the rapid decision was undoubtedly Misha Roshchin's report of civilian casualties received through his own academic contacts in Libya. At the point of adopting the minute, we asked each other, "Is this what God wants to say to the world through us?"

(Russian-language original is here.)

As I sat in the business meeting, following this discussion and resolving to keep my thoughts and feelings to myself, I couldn't help remembering some of my long-standing inner dialogues about faith and politics.

You know those Christian politicians who enjoy being photographed in churches, hugging priests, lighting candles, speaking from pulpits, inserting more or less correctly quoted Bible verses into their speeches? Why does such behavior seem so disconnected from crunch-time decisions? I know some of the formal excuses--a president or prime minister or governor must serve all the people--believers of all kinds, and nonbelievers as well ... is bound to defend the constitution ... must keep church and state separate. True, true, true--but then why do they find it expedient to bring in the Christian connection at all? And, then, why is it not expedient to bring in that connection when lives are at stake?

Right now, I'm especially disheartened about the bombing and strafing of Libya; we Americans are now engaged in hostilities in THREE Muslim countries! (Not counting drone attacks and covert operations.) In my fantasy world, the various U.S., British, French, and other politicians would have met and asked themselves, "With all our years of experience of conflicts between the 'West' and the Middle East/North Africa, can't we do better than to resort yet again to bombs and missiles?" And at least one of them would have said, "It's time to call the people of the world to pray fervently for guidance."

The confusion around the management of this conflict is a sign to me of a lack of clear purpose and a clear moral center. Too many agendas are driving events--and the saddest agenda to me is the attempt to preserve the appearance of legality, even as politicians debate whether sending arms to Libyan rebels is legitimate--or, for that matter, direct attacks on Gaddafi. After all, it is his leadership which seems most offensive to the intervening powers and to the participants of the uprising in Libya. If this action were analogous to a police action (and accepting for a moment the legitimacy of using police violence), then the capture or removal of Gaddafi would be the most direct response; if crimes are being committed, stop the criminal. But this present intervention--an odd, sad combination of lethal violence and political fastidiousness--and the resulting morass seem to threaten almost everyone but Gaddafi himself.

He may eventually fall, of course; some of his most prominent associates have already abandoned him. I don't know anyone who believes he is an ideal leader; other regional leaders seem to have had their fill of his harangues years ago, and his regime, which began with at least a core of idealism, has long since drifted into dictatorship. But what can we possibly know about the future of Libya after Gaddafi? What responsibility do we take on for that future after our leaders have unleashed this large-scale intervention? And what about every other dictator who denies "universal" rights to his citizens ... without fear of intervention?

There is plenty for us to pray about, and for believers in politics to pray about. At the start of his second term, in the closing year of the U.S. Civil War, President Abraham Lincoln said, "Fondly do we hope, fervently do we pray, that this mighty scourge of war may speedily pass away." (Second inaugural address.) Somehow, our knowledge of Lincoln persuades us that when he used the language of prayer, he really meant it--with all the humility concerning God's purposes for which Lincoln was known. Today, we have a parade of schoolmarmy Western leaders all lecturing Libyans and Gaddafi, and us, about what's right and wrong. Where is the humility, the call to fervent prayer?

A politician who opened his Bible ... and acted.

War and humanitarianism and Responsibility to protect.

Danny Coleman on hell. (Part seven of a series.) "Perhaps some will be so twisted and hardened by sin that to stand in the presence of pure holy love will be agonizing."

The Immanent Frame: Books have their own biographies.

A space science collaboration: the UK's Open University and China. Friday PS: First MESSENGER photo from Mercury.

At Carnegie Hall's "Year of the Blues" concert, a loose-limbed David Johansen fills in for Hubert Sumlin's voice as Sumlin plays guitar in this classic:


Jazz and Blues Fests said...

Hubert Sumlin is an amazing guitarist. He was at the 2010 Eric Clapton Crossroads (Blues) Festival. He has such a positive attitude about life and the blues music scene.

Jeremy Mott said...

The Moscow Friends meeting deserves
the thanks of Friends everywhere for
their minute. I think many Friends in the West meekly accepted the "news" promulgated by their TV stations that their were no civilian
casualties in Libya. Clearly, this is so unlikely as to be virtually impossible. I think that when all is said and done, the government
side in Libya will suffer as many----maybe more----casualties as the rebel side. So much for
"humanitarian intervention." As
usual, the first casualty in war
is the truth.
Of course, reports received from the government side may also be lies. Friends should not rely
on any reports other than our own.
Are there Friends out there,
besides me, who are simply disgusted with everyone involved in this new Libyan war?
Jeremy Mott