The self-absorbed media have identified Facebook and Twitter as the giant-slayers in the revolutions spreading across North Africa and the Middle East. But in one front-page news story, based on in-depth reporting, David D. Kirkpatrick and David E. Sanger of The New York Times (2/14) explained how the ouster of dictators in Tunisia and Egypt was achieved by activists of the April 6 Youth Movement, who had planned together for two years. Just as important, the two reporters explained what no one else had even managed to note: how the popular demonstrations came to sustain their disciplined nonviolence for more than two weeks.
Cadres in both countries had been coached by the Qatar-based Academy for Change, an institute focused on nonviolent democratic change inspired by Gene Sharp, the American theorist of nonviolence. Professor Sharp’s ideas on civilian-based defense inspired the Baltic countries in their separation from the Soviet Union. His text From Dictator-ship to Democracy shaped nonviolent resistance in Georgia, Ukraine and Kyrgystan, as well as a popular movement in Serbia and now the Arab Revolution of 2011. With all respect to Ahmed Maher and the members of April 6 for their extraordinary achievement, if ever there was a change agent who deserved the Nobel Peace Prize, it is Mr. Sharp.
It will be far more difficult for peaceful change to come to countries like Yemen, Bahrain and Libya, where extended planning for popular resistance and the training and staffing necessary for disciplined nonviolence are absent. But the youthful rebels in Egypt and Tunisia have shown the Arab world that a genuine alternative to violence in politics can work. No group can be more dismayed at that than Al Qaeda, except perhaps those militarists in our midst whose hostile identities or profiteering depends on having enemies abroad.
Sexual assault in all branches of the military has a long, ugly history. And it persists, as new reports of rape and sexual harassment are on the rise. But many victims, unfortunately, have not reported abuse, because in the military justice system investigations are conducted and decisions rendered by commanding officers, who feel duty-bound to protect their ranks and maintain morale among the troops. The process of handling allegations, military authorities explain, is “complicated” and “problematic.” That one in three women in the military have been victims of rape or threatened with rape—as the media have been reporting for years—while the Pentagon looks away is more than problematic. It is shameful. And it is criminal.
Perhaps now, though, these women will have their day in court and justice will be served. A federal lawsuit filed on behalf of 17 plaintiffs (including two men) in Federal District Court in Virginia on Feb. 15 accuses the Department of Defense of mishandling cases of rape and sexual assault. The suit also names Defense Secretary Robert Gates and the former secretary Donald Rumsfeld. One of the plaintiffs, a Marine veteran who reported being raped, noted she received no help at the time and instead was relocated to living quarters one floor below her attacker. This long overdue lawsuit calls for “an overhaul of the military’s judicial system” establishing full accountability and an independent panel set up by the Pentagon to investigate allegations. Women (and men) in service to their country deserve equality and respect from their colleagues—not the horror and trauma of sexual abuse.
Who Speaks for the Weak?
The debate on the federal budget is a moral issue based both on assessments of the nation’s needs and on those principles that determine the common good.
While it often appears that abortion and gay marriage are all the church cares about, it was heartening that on Feb. 15 more than 300 Catholic leaders carried letters to Congress from two committees of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops and from Catholic Relief Services reminding them that “it is morally unacceptable for our nation to balance its budget on the backs of the poor at home and abroad.”
Both letters praised, in passing, limitations on funds for abortion; but Bishop Howard J. Hubbard of Albany and the president of C.R.S., Ken Hackett, stressed that the proposed continuing resolution calls for 26-percent cuts in poverty-focused foreign aid; affects those with AIDS, tuberculosis and malaria as well as victims of floods, famines, disasters and civil wars; and would cost innocent lives. Congress must “find resources elsewhere” than in programs that serve the poorest persons and communities, they wrote. In a world where one-fifth of the population survives on less than $1 a day and 20 countries are involved in armed conflict, the bishops wrote, our nation must join with others and address the “problems that provide fertile ground in which terrorism can thrive. “
For homilists and churchgoers, here are challenges that come from the real heart of the church.