Current Comment

Arab Nonviolence

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.

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Mike Evans
7 years 11 months ago
The lame excuse used by the neocons, teabaggers and republicans is that there are not enough resources to meet or continue to meet these needs of the poor and vulnerable. Wrong! A simple addition of a small tax increase would make all things possible. The reduction in our gross military adventure budget full of toys and playthings for war would easily set us back on a path to balancing our national budget with funds left over to help out the states. The cuts proposed to hunger programs alone are unconscionable. Dismantling our commitment to containing Aids and helping third world countries to develop at least basic health and human services will not win us any new friends nor prevent these countries from sinking back into the morass. If we just converted all our military foreign aid to humanitarian aid we could do so much more to build rather than destroy. We pray that the Lord continues to hear the cry of the poor even if so many mean and cruel spirits do not.
C Walter Mattingly
7 years 11 months ago
Let's take a look at some of those "mean and cruel spirits" whose "gross military adventure" filled with "toys and playthings of war" and what they have done.
Freed most of Europe in WWII from National Socialist genocidal domination, then 40 years later brought down the Berlin Wall and freed another 20 nations and 50 million people, in the latter case without losing a soldier.
Saved the South Korean people from becoming what North Korea is today, a starved nation where millions die from a dictator's oppression replaced by the best educated and among the most prosperous citizenry in the world.
Freed a nation from the genocidal Butcher of Bagdhad and saved at least half a million Iraqi lives in the process.
But we have not always brought our military power to bear to save lives from tyrants. We and the UN pulled our troops out of the Tutsi-Hutu conflict which resulted in perhaps a half million slaughtered and 300,000 women raped, many and perhaps most with AIDS infections.
Perhaps some readers here are pleased we did not sully our hands and bring out our "toys and playthings of war" and by our inaction permitted this holocaust. Count me as not one of them.
We live in the real world, not the world of fairy. All that is required for the forces of evil to triumph are for enough good men to do nothing.
Tom Maher
7 years 11 months ago
The suggestive  editorial comment "While it often appears that abortion and gay marriage is all the church cares about, ..."  is a very odd comment coming from  a Catholic magazine.  What is the editorial talking about?  The editorial  seems to oppose the importance of the church concerns over abortion and gay marriage without telling the reader why.  Saying that these issues are all the church is concern about unfairly represents what the church is about.  Why would a Catholic magazine say this? 

Why not come out directly and tell the reader why the church's attention to the issue of abortion or gay marrage is not deserved?   This editorial comment needs to be explained.  It is not obvious that the church's concerns are too narrow or excessive.
laura sabath
7 years 11 months ago
Free downloads of Sharp's writings:
Readers may be interested in downloading (free) Gene Sharp's latest (November 2009) educational manual Self-Liberation: A Guide to Strategic Planning for Action to End a Dictatorship or Other Oppression.  This will help insure widespread preservation of this valuable work for us all and the world should something happen to internet access or his website.  It is also downloaded by activists around the world. 

Retired Army colonel Robert Helvey's On Strategic Nonviolent Conflict is included.  He has collaborated with Sharp and adapted military strategic planning for use in nonviolent struggle.  It should be of particular interest to any men or women thinking of or associated with the Armed Services.  The day is likely not too far off when they will participate in or encounter strategic nonviolent resistance.

Additional documents from Sharp's site may strike readers as ones they wish to download also.  I've been a reader of Sharp's works since 1976.  They are fascinating. 

Self-Liberation (57 pgs. of cover document) and the other essential, interspersed, companion readings are obtained from links at Sharp's Albert Einstein Institution educational website. 

The companion readings are in 7 pdfs named below and the 8 pdfs total around 900 pages. I have added the number of pages to this listing:
 On Strategic Nonviolent Conflict, by Robert L. Helvey (2004) [1], 189 pgs.
The Anti-Coup, by Gene Sharp and Bruce Jenkins (2003) [1], 72 pgs.
From Dictatorship to Democracy: A Conceptual Framework for Liberation, by            Gene Sharp (1993) [2] and (2003, 2008, 2010) [1], 101 pgs.
Social Power and Political Freedom (excerpts) by Gene Sharp (1980) [3], 83 pgs.
The Politics of Nonviolent Action (excerpts)by Gene Sharp (1973) [3], 48 pgs.
There Are Realistic Alternativesby Gene Sharp (2003) [1], 61 pgs.
Waging Nonviolent Struggle: 20th Century Practice and 21st Century Potential (excerpts)by Gene Sharp (2005) [3], 224 pgs.

[1] Boston: Albert Einstein Institution[2] Bangkok: Committee for the Restoration of Democracy in Burma[3] Boston: Extending Horizons Books, Porter Sargent Publishers
C Walter Mattingly
7 years 11 months ago
It is gratifying to read in America scathing criticism of the military for its alleged overlooking of sexual assault crimes within its ranks. I have long felt that the American Catholic Church has a special responsibility, given its serious failings for mishandling sexual abusers of children, to now speak up forcefully on this issue. If proven accurate, America is justified in calling this treament by our government employees of the Department of the Defense "shameful" and "criminal."
Now perhaps America can turn its scathing criticism of sexual violation of the innocent and quiescent response from responsible leaders to an area that is at least 10 times worse than the church and the department of defense combined: the physical sexual abuse of the nation's children by employees of our public school system and the gross mishandling of the offenders in the manner of the church and the department of defense. For America to criticize the mishandling of sexual abuse of adults by a government agency but to remain silent on the far more numerous cases of mishandling of sexual abuse of children by a government entity may not be "criminal," but it might well be "shameful" and border on constituting a journalistic sin of omission.
7 years 10 months ago
How can a Catholic magazine print this?
Because it is written for adults who know that abortion and same sex marriage have been major issues the hierarchy have pushed and that many feel is to the detriment  of other isues of social justice.
Unfortunately, in the Church as well as in the world of politics, this is often perceived along partisan lines - lines that only grow when one speaks out of their own political ideology.
Daniel Bonner
7 years 10 months ago

My memory goes far back to the noble days of African independence from colonial rule. At the time, opinion molders informed the world that "uhuru" would bring prosperity in due course.  Over six decades relief organizations sought to help out the struggling new states. Using taxpayer money from developed countries, and private charity, funds were showered on poor people year after year.  Yet to this day expensive glossy photographs show misery piled on the backs of the poor. What is to account for this?

 The U. S. budget for 2012 whatever cuts amount to will be higher than ever.  I'm not satisfied by calls for more when few persons ever study the reasons for persistent poverty.  And yet several sources of the staggering malaise suggest themselves.

1. Leadership of African nations in poverty tend not to listen to their poor.  Relentlessly, the poor people of subSaharan Africa longing for a better life, trek to cities, since their farm work will not support them or their families.  I realize that opservers the world over believe that Capitalism is in truth to blame for rural poverty in Africa.  Even so, if that were the case, a cure would still leave Africa's poor in desperate straits.

2.  Because of their just aspirations, relief organizations are bound to continue to raise ever more money every year to meet growing horrors of disease and malnutrition.  I believe they are caught in a miserable upward ratcheting of militant, inescapable fund quests. But this situation simply gives time to politicians in Africa to pass the buck.  As we know, the backs of the poor are usually the site of the passed buck.

3.  The nations of the West are declining into a second-class relationship with rapidly growing nations of Asia and Latin America. The United States itself is verging towards bankruptcy. Our great  loss of wealth in coming decades will make the situation of the poor African nations terrible to contemplate. Then again, maybe not. Some African nations are already approaching a degree of prosperity.  Western largesse, a bounty of the ruthless Capitalists, they may see,  is drying up.

4.  Cuts in the budget of our declining, almost bankrupt economy are necessary to forestall disaster in the next decade.  If priorities were better, the nation would drastically reduce military expenditure to the bone.  Hundreds of billions would be saved, and the nation could be back to being a republic and not an empire.

I am a Catholic who thinks that waving condoms as if they were sacrosanct jujus hurts the holy aims of Our Lord's love for us. As far as sodomy goes, I leave it to supporters to trumpet its virtues.  Thanks for the opportunity to comment.

Daniel F. Bonner


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