Hope in strange places: So who is a hero?

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Sometimes you read stories and they just don’t leave you. Such was the case with Ira Chernus’s “Nonviolence is Starting to Matter in the Middle East,” which I found at the www.commondreams.org site over a week ago and finally reproduce below. Such was the case with George Monbiot’s Guardian column from early in the week. The subjects dealt with couldn’t seem more different. Chernus wants to suggest that nonviolence is beginning to make a difference in Israel; Monbiot is commenting on the bringing of what is, in essence, a “nuisance suit” in Belgium against General Tommy Franks for war crimes in Iraq. What could they possibly have in common?

And yet, I find them joined in my mind, possibly because I’m still thinking about Rebecca Solnit’s piece on hope in dark times sent out earlier this week. Each of these stories (and the two that follow them) seems to me a tiny example of hope embedded in the worst of times, like some sudden flash of color in the darkness.

To begin with Chernus: Have you noticed that violent resistance (and, no, I am not myself in favor of this) to injustice is invariably denounced by the same people who dismiss nonviolent acts as hopeless, utopian, not for our world, not to be taken seriously. What’s left, of course, is the norm, which in Iraq, in Israel, and here as well is increasingly a horror in itself. The sense that no serious person could believe any other path open to us, no matter that we can see the cliff ahead and feel our collective foot on the gas peddle, is crippling. It is the essence of hopelessness but passes itself off in our desperate world as the most basic “realism.” So I found Chernus, a professor of religion, offering a tiny beacon of hope simply by attending to Charmaine Means, who refused to follow an order from her superiors in the U.S. Army, and to the Rachel Corries of this world and what they are trying to do. (I include as well a fine piece by Naomi Klein in today’s Guardian, comparing Rachel Corrie to Jessica Lynch, and asking, “So who is a hero?”)

Monbiot’s piece about the war crimes lawsuit against Gen. Franks seemed an exceedingly modest reminder that, despite the best efforts of the Bush administration, the age of human rights is not dead. This suit represents, after all, another path open to us, but these days dealt with dismissively here in the U.S. — the path of enforcing through multinational action legal responsibility for one’s acts and crimes. It appeals to me no less that such an approach is still available in Belgium, a nation with its own hardly confronted dark past (in the Congo) and even possibly a darkening present.

Finally, I include an eloquent graduation speech (found at the www.warincontext.org website) given at Rockford College by Chris Hedges, New York Times reporter and author of the book War Is a Force That Gives Us Meaning, who has covered many wars for the Times and been remarkably outspoken during our most recent Iraq war. While the speech is remarkable in itself, what stirs me is the willingness of a reporter to speak in this blunt and unpopular fashion, even when essentially booed offstage, even when, as the latest missives of Mediachannel’s Danny Schechter seem to indicate, he may be putting his career in jeopardy. The urge to speak, the urge not to be silenced, is always an act of hope. Tom

Nonviolence is Starting to Matter in the Middle East
By Ira Chernus
May 13, 2003

When does nonviolent resistance produce results? One good answer is: When it provokes repression from the people in power. When resistance can no longer be safely ignored, it is starting to matter. By that standard, nonviolent resistance is starting to matter in the Middle East.

When does nonviolent resistance produce results? One good answer is: When it provokes repression from the people in power. When resistance can no longer be safely ignored, it is starting to matter. By that standard, nonviolent resistance is starting to matter in the Middle East.

Charmaine Means certainly mattered to her superiors in the U.S. Army. She must be a good officer. She was promoted to major and assigned the tricky task of public relations in the sensitive city of Mosul, in northern Iraq. When she was given an order that she could not in conscience obey, she did what all good officers do. She chose to follow in Gandhi’s footsteps. She refused to obey.

The order was to close down the television station in Mosul, because it sometimes broadcasts Al-Jazeera.

Ira Chernus is Professor of Religious Studies at the University of Colorado at Boulder. [email protected]

To read more Chernus click here

Let’s hear it for Belgium
An attempt to try Tommy Franks for war crimes in a Belgian court has outraged the US
By George Monbiot
The Guardian
May 20, 2003

Belgium is becoming an interesting country. In the course of a week, it has managed to upset both liberal opinion in Europe – by granting the far-right Vlaams Blok 18 parliamentary seats – and illiberal opinion in the US. On Wednesday, a human rights lawyer filed a case with the federal prosecutors whose purpose is to arraign Thomas Franks, the commander of the American troops in Iraq, for crimes against humanity. This may be the only judicial means, anywhere on earth, of holding the US government to account for its actions.

The case has been filed in Belgium, on behalf of 17 Iraqis and two Jordanians, because Belgium has a law permitting foreigners to be tried for war crimes, irrespective of where they were committed. The suit has little chance of success, for the law was hastily amended by the government at the beginning of this month.

To read more Monbiot click here

On rescuing Private Lynch and forgetting Rachel Corrie
The Israeli army got away with murder – and now all activists are at risk

By Naomi Klein
The Guardian
May 22, 2003

Jessica Lynch and Rachel Corrie could have passed for sisters. Two all-American blondes, two destinies for ever changed in a Middle East war zone. Private Jessica Lynch, the soldier, was born in Palestine, West Virginia. Rachel Corrie, the activist, died in Israeli-occupied Palestine.

Corrie was four years older than 19-year-old Lynch. Her body was crushed by an Israeli bulldozer in Gaza seven days before Lynch was taken into Iraqi custody on March 23. Before she went to Iraq, Lynch organised a pen-pal programme with a local kindergarten. Before Corrie left for Gaza, she organised a pen-pal programme between kids in her hometown of Olympia, Washington, and children in Rafah.

Naomi Klein ‘s most recent book is ‘Fences and Windows’

To read more Klein click here

Text of the Rockford College graduation speech by Chris Hedges
The Rockford Register Star
May 20, 2003

I want to speak to you today about war and empire.

Killing, or at least the worst of it, is over in Iraq. Although blood will continue to spill — theirs and ours — be prepared for this. For we are embarking on an occupation that, if history is any guide, will be as damaging to our souls as it will be to our prestige, power, and security. But this will come later as our empire expands and in all this we become pariahs, tyrants to others weaker than ourselves. Isolation always impairs judgment and we are very isolated now.

We have forfeited the good will, the empathy the world felt for us after 9-11.

To read more Hedges click here