"Ain't Gonna Study War No More"

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Right-To-Life Party, Christian, Anti-War, Pro-Life, Bible Fundamentalist, Egalitarian, Libertarian Left

Thursday, July 20, 2006

Biased Evangelicals

Evangelical Blindness on Lebanon

The academic dean of the Arab Baptist Theological Seminary is angry at evangelical Christians, Israel, Hezbollah, the U.S., and the international community.

It is normally easy enough for me to dismiss with a smirk some of the simplistic comments that I constantly read or hear from Christians around the world as pertains to events that are going on in the Middle East. These comments hit much deeper at a time when my country is once again hurting beyond pain, under the murderous aggression of Israeli armed forces for the past five days.

It is striking how normally highly reasonable and spiritually aware people can suddenly lose any sense of ethical, let alone Christian, balance when it comes to Middle East conflicts involving modern political Israel.

"Great. All we need is a nuclear-armed Iran led by a messianic president who hates Israel and believes that apocalyptic destruction is a precursor to global salvation," writes David P. Gushee in a recent Christianity Today online column, in reference to Iran's president Ahmadinejad. On the whole, Gushee's article is fairly balanced from a certain point of view, and I suppose within the limits necessary to avoid being attacked and branded by those in our churches who have but disdain for Arabs.

But how is it that he, like so many others, fails to notice that world events in the last few years—even decades—have had as their main catalyst tens of thousands of evangelical Christians with a "messianic" mentality who believe that apocalyptic destruction of all but their beloved Israel will be "a precursor to global salvation"?

"Nuclear-armed Iran"? How about the Israeli jet planes that are bombing, as I write, my country and its population, my sisters, my brothers, my fathers and mothers and grandfathers, my children and nieces and nephews? According to the Lebanese health minister, Israel is even using phosphoric bombs, which are forbidden under international conventions! Are my people to consider Iran more dangerous than this? Are we safely in good hands with such actions? Come with me to Beirut and see how inoffensive Israel is.

Ask the thousands of Western nationals that are presently being evacuated by the shipload. Ask the hundreds of U.S. and other Western missionaries that are running for their lives from Lebanon as you read this, through the most dangerous routes. Ask them whether weapons of any kind are in safe hands in any bloodthirsty human hands. And if they were not bloodthirsty, why would they have them? Why would anyone have them?

In the past, tit for tat has been the only way for any Arab country or armed group to get anything from Israel. So once more last Wednesday, Lebanon's Hezbollah ventured into kidnapping two Israeli soldiers in order to force the hand of Israel into a prisoner exchange. "The actual result," Gushee wrote, "is predictable. Israel responds with massive (sometimes disproportionate) force; civilians get killed accidentally along with intended militants."

"Sometimes disproportionate"?! Talk about an understatement to describe a one-week—and still going—machine of annihilation that has destroyed in days what had taken 15 years of reconstruction. Civilians "killed accidentally"?! Explain that to the young mother squatting right now at my parents' home in Lebanon, having just heard her husband was torn into pieces by an Israeli bomb as he was carrying out civil relief in villages of South Lebanon! But of course these civilians were at fault, since they had been warned by Israeli flyers to evacuate their villages the previous night. But to go where? To my father's living room?! They are welcome, but it's getting really full. Tonight I had my finger hovering over my computer's "send" button for at least one long minute before I was able to bring myself to sending to a few friends who might care to receive them, some of the gruesome images of war, of torn infant flesh from my bleeding country.

And then this wish: that "our own government will undertake policies to help foster a reduction of tensions in the region." Oh what wishful thinking! When did it ever?! When did the U.S. ever use anything other than its veto power at the United Nations, precisely in order to prevent policies and resolutions that might potentially have been helpful to my people?

Please, Christians! Let's grow up and get over our childish wishes. If, like me, you had lived through the 17 years of Lebanese civil strife from 1975 to 1991 and were presently facing the real and gruesome prospect of another extended conflict, you'd be far from hoping and believing in any benevolent and sincere peace efforts of any external broker, supposedly neutral.

I'll tell you, if you care, what I think those governments will help foster. I think that some pseudo-biblically motivated Christians with decision power, who believe "that apocalyptic destruction is a precursor to global salvation," are presently working toward provoking a Middle Eastern conflict of regional significance in order finally to settle accounts with Hezbollah- and Hamas-supporting Syria, Iran, Lebanon, and Palestine, who have committed the crime, as Gushee put it, of making their hatred for Israel "crystal clear." And how dare they, since the said state has only been acting as an aggressor and racist colonial state with neighbor-exterminating tendencies from the moment of its inception?

(Of course, I will be accused of being an anti-Semite because of such words. But I will just shrug and sneer at that accusation and say: "What makes you a Semite anyway?"

Having just read the holocaust account of Elie Wiesel's Night with tears and deep empathy, having Jewish relatives on my Swiss mother's side who fled Germany to Switzerland during the period of the rise of Nazism, being an Arab Christian with Lebanese paternal ancestry, I have more Semitic DNA in me than most who will be reading this. My ethnic heritage may be a mess, but I can still recognize ethical wrong when I see it!)

As an academic with a Ph.D. from Oxford University and specialist in Christian-Muslim and East-West relations, constantly seeking creative models of conflict resolution and better understanding, all of what I have just written is written in a manner far from what I would normally write or say with a cool head, far from what my Swiss-blood-flowing veins would normally permit me to utter. But then, perhaps academics sometimes owe their readers more genuine feelings, skin-level emotions gushing out of a deeply hurting, frustrated, desperate, and hopeless soul that has had enough of human arrogance and injustice.

Having come to the U.S. at the wrong time to teach a course for two weeks, I find myself at the wrong place at the wrong time, stranded after my country's airport was sent up in flames by Israeli jets. There are two Israeli soldiers imprisoned by Hezbollah hands, 10,000 Arabs in Israeli jails, and one poor soul imprisoned in the U.S. by human madness and bloodthirsty governments.

I am angry at self-centered Hezbollah, which has done the inadmissible of taking a unilateral war decision without consulting the Lebanese government of which it is part, never giving a second thought to the hundreds (perhaps thousands) of Lebanese who will perish as a result of its selfish decision. I am angry that citizens of a nation like Israel, who have so suffered at the hands of others, would allow themselves such an out-of-proportion reaction, oh-so-far from the "eye-for-an-eye and tooth-for-a-tooth" principle that we might have forgiven them. I am just as angry at—I have lost hope in—the international community that is keeping silent and not even budging with an official condemnation of this senseless instinct of extermination. By both sides, I would be lynched for what I have just said, if they had the chance. But what have I got to lose anymore?

by Martin Accad | posted 07/20/2006 09:30 a.m.

Martin Accad is the academic dean of the Arab Baptist Theological Seminary in Lebanon. He was teaching at Fuller Seminary in Pasadena, California, last week and is now unable to return home.

School-To-Prison Pipeline

School Officials Promote Fast Track to Incarceration

Youth- and civil-rights advocates are speaking out against the rising presence of cops on campuses and administration complicity in what critics call a school-to-prison pipeline.

The testimony of Florida parents and young people compiled by the NAACP Legal Defense Fund is alarming.

Fifteen-year-old Latia Smith said she was a bystander during a fight at school between two girls when a police officer threatened her with arrest, grabbed her and dislocated her shoulder.

The ten-year-old son of Latrell Brassfield was arrested at school for "disruptive behavior."

And five-year-old Ja'eisha Scott was arrested, handcuffed and put in the back of a patrol car for hours for having a temper tantrum.

From Florida to California to Connecticut, students and parents across the country are contending with an education system that is increasingly implementing harsher methods of disciplining students, and placing thousands of armed officers on school campuses. Youth and civil-rights advocates call the growing presence of law enforcement in schools, along with increasingly punitive punishment for misbehavior, the "school-to-prison pipeline."

Damon Hewitt, assistant counsel at the Legal Defense Fund (LDF), says schools started by implementing "zero tolerance policies" resulting in mandatory suspensions or expulsions for certain infractions. "But what we see now are next-generation policies that more often than not involve significant police activity on school campuses," he said.

The April LDF report looked at arrests and suspensions of children in six school districts in five different Florida cities. Co-written by the NAACP and the Advancement Project, a national advocacy group that provides legal and research assistance to local communities, the report compiles state Education and state Justice Department data with testimony from parents and youth.

According to the Florida Department of Juvenile Justice, out of 28,008 school-related referrals to the department in the 2004-2005 school year, the most serious offense for 63 percent was a misdemeanor.

The LDF report chronicles dozens of stories of police using excessive force when arresting children for these offenses. One of the most egregious cases was in Duval County, in which police – in front of TV cameras – arrested, handcuffed, shackled and took to jail twelve black high-school students for allegedly stealing $60 worth of soda and food from the cafeteria. The report states, "While it appears that students of other races were involved in the incident, only black students were interrogated and arrested by police officers two days later with little to no evidence to support the arrests."

These officers, also called School Resource Officers (SROs), often lack any specialized training in working with children and youth. Kevin Campana, executive director of the National Association of School Resource Officers, said they often need to "soften up" officers.

Campana told The NewStandard that because many police officers are used to "clearing the call" – responding to and resolving complaints as quickly as possible – his organization tries to "slow [officers] down and get them in touch with kids and how to interview kids and how to work with them."

Campana's organization, which includes 9,000 officer-members, offers voluntary training courses to police taking positions in schools. He said officers wear uniforms, carry firearms and are encouraged to walk the halls between classes.

Hewitt of LDF says the origins of the school-to-prison pipeline are found in the prison-industrial complex – the privatization of prison and related services that has accompanied a dramatic rise in US incarceration rates.

"I think it's no coincidence that society is getting more and more punitive," Hewitt told TNS. "But on top of that, the people who end up in prison are those who are excluded from a mainstream school environment as youth – the folks for whom quality education is just kind of a cruel illusion."

Hewitt explained that as students are punished more severely for common misbehavior, they are often taken out of the classroom and relegated to inferior education settings or even in and out of juvenile detention. He said the people affected are the same populations as those disproportionately incarcerated as adults: blacks, Latinos and low-income whites.

"And to be clear, we're not talking about children who are bringing guns and knives and drugs to school," Hewitt said. "It's not the activity that's changed among the students, it's more our responses that have changed over the last few decades."

Youth in New Haven, Connecticut, frustrated by what they said was unfair treatment of students, are currently screening a short film they made last year with the help of Youth Rights Media, an organization focused on young people's empowerment.

"I had not heard the phrase 'school-to-prison pipeline' before you folks contacted us," says an attorney interviewed in Book 'Em: Undereducated, Overincarcerated. "And yet it completely crystallizes something I've been really angry about a really long time."

Ashley Burney, videographer and interviewer for Book 'Em, said although she has not been suspended herself, she's seen her friends receive five- or ten-day at-home suspensions for merely walking in the hall without a pass or for insubordination. She said school officials use suspensions as a "first resort rather than a last resort."

Meanwhile, across the country in South Los Angeles, youth and parent advocates have documented similar examples of extreme disciplinary action for minor infractions that have resulted in a ballooning rate of suspensions and dropouts.

Maisie Chin is co-founder of Community Asset Development Re-defining Education (CADRE), an organization that formed in response to the mistreatment of both parents and students in the education system. She says the dropout crisis is really a "pushout" crisis, stemming from suspensions, harsh discipline and disrespect by teachers and other school officials.

"[If] the teacher has it out for you and is humiliating you in front of your peers, you're going to stay out of that class and eventually you're going to stay away from school," Chin said. "And you know, when this is happening in middle school, the chances of you graduating from high school are already reduced."

In the past, school officials commonly dealt with minor infractions using detentions, extra homework, or counseling measures that permitted the student to remain in the classroom.

After conducting surveys with parents and students about their treatment by school officials, CADRE recently issued a report and "call to action" last month documenting what the group calls human-rights violations in LA Unified School District 7. The report's findings stated that teachers and administrators mistreated students during the suspension process, using name-calling, teasing and hostility, sometimes in front of parents or other students.

Researchers also found that school officials violated students' right to due process, failing to listen to accused students' side of a story or to interview student witnesses. CADRE also found that parents were humiliated and disrespected by school staff and rarely given the opportunity to advocate on behalf of their child.

"The problem is," said Chin, "it's difficult to substantiate all of this. Because, one, there is a denial of the practices. Two, there's a denial of the correlation because it's seen as individual behavior problems or individual failings of parents. And that's what … CADRE is trying to debunk, is that there are intentional practices by schools that are employed to get rid of certain children that don't fit the agenda the school has."

One way the LA district accomplishes this is through "opportunity transfers," in which students are forcibly reassigned to another school. Chin said students are also "counseled out," when administrators urge them to transfer to "alternative schools" or even to drop out. According to CADRE's survey of 50 parents and 120 young adults who left regular high school before graduating, nearly half stated that they were asked to leave their regular high school.

LDF's Hewitt said their research in Florida indicates a similar trend of "perverse incentives to push children out of school." Pressure by school administrators to exhibit high performance, pressure from the No Child Left Behind Act to avoid being labeled "persistently dangerous," and pressure on teachers who receive so-called "merit based" salary increases as reward for producing good statistics.

"So teachers know that certain students are struggling and they may not achieve at a very high level, at least without very focused individualized attention," said Hewitt. "then there's every incentive for teachers or school administrators to make these students someone else's problem, to push them into [general equivalency diploma] programs, to push them into alternative education."

by Catherine Komp