Some Good News: A New Generation of Peace Between India and Pakistan?

Indian Foreign Minister S.M. Krishna, left, and his Pakistani counterpart Hina Rabbani Khar

Since good news doesn’t sell, this story will be under-reported: India and Pakistan are preparing to renew peace talks, which had been postponed since the 2008 attacks in Mumbai. With regard to peace talks of any sort, I am reminded of a line from T.S. Eliot: “we are undefeated only because we have gone on trying.” Which is to say, failure is only in giving up: never give up trying to make peace.

The excerpt below (with the accompanying link to the full article) brings our attention to small signs of hope. Such small signs of hope are as necessary in international relations as they are in our daily rounds. From the Christian Science Monitor:

A fresh face is bringing new optimism to one of the oldest international spats. On her first visit to New Delhi, Pakistan’s new 34-year-old foreign minister said she is hopeful that a younger generation of Indians and Pakistanis can find peace.

“A new generation of Indians and Pakistanis will see a relationship that will hopefully be much different from the one that has been experienced in the last two decades,” said Hina Rabbani Khar, Pakistan’s youngest-ever foreign minister.

One indication of that happening: Social-media interactions between the two countries are burgeoning. Facebook reports that their site is now logging more than 200,000 interactions between Indians and Pakistanis each day. That’s up from 70,000 a day in April….

via Pakistan’s foreign minister: The face of a new generation of peace with India? –

Established Power and Truth-Telling

Brian Haw: English Prophet?

Our popular usage of the word “prophet” casts it in the direction of  “fortune-teller” or “one who possesses secret wisdom.” Prophesy in the Hebrew Bible is not about fortune-telling, but is more accurately understood as “truth-telling”– and especially the kind of truth-telling that established power doesn’t want to hear.

Whatever one’s view of war– from the most aggressive neo-conservatism to the most non-violent pacifism– no one can reasonably deny that innocent people get harmed. (Some will maintain that there is no such thing as a “non-combatant” (i.e., “innocent person”) anymore, in this age of total war. We can dismiss this, for now, as an unreasonable view.) One’s view of war surely shapes one’s judgment regarding the moral significance of innocent people being harmed, but one’s view of war cannot change the fact that in war, innocent people get harmed.

Englishman Brian Haw arrived at the conclusion that children being killed in the war in Iraq was morally unacceptable. Acting on that conviction, he encamped in front of the Houses of Parliament in London, protesting English government policy that supported the war. Whether English government policy should have or shouldn’t have supported the war in Iraq is debatable. What is prophetic– that is, “truth-telling”– about Brian Haw’s protest, is that he confronted members of Parliament with a significant truth about war: innocent people get harmed.

And the response of established power? Entirely predictable, whether in Western democracies or in Arab plutocracies rife with nepotism (Tunisia, Egypt): marginalize the truth-teller (or tellers) whose truth-telling challenges the dominant narrative or threatens the regime. To the credit of the English legal system– and to the tradition of Western political liberalism– attempts by established power to have Brian removed failed.

While the freedom of speech protects the right of people to speak stupidity or plain falsehood, it also protects the right of modern-day prophets to speak truth to power.

Brian died last Sunday, June 19th. The link is below.

‘Unsung Hero’ Brian Haw, 1949-2011

British anti-war activist will be remembered for his unyielding protest on behalf of children killed in conflict.

via ‘Unsung Hero’ Brian Haw, 1949-2011 – Features – Al Jazeera English.

Osama bin Laden Is Dead

The security apparatus of the state– intelligence and special operations forces– has done what it is supposed to do: find and kill the enemy.

In a brief interview with George Stephanopoulos on ABC, the daughter of a 9/11 victim said something interesting as she attempted to describe her feelings. While acknowledging the satisfaction of justice being done, and the accompanying sense of closure, she stopped herself from using the word “joy” to describe how she felt.  While she didn’t have the chance to say more, perhaps she had the sense that the payment of death for death, while just– and in this case welcomed and necessary– is still no cause for joy. At least not for me.

I grieve tonight– for all the loss, death, and destruction of 9/11; for the existence of evil; for innocents who have died in Iraq and Afghanistan; for post-traumatic stressed servicemen and women and their families; for cycles of violence and victimization that are always justified and therefore very difficult to end. Bin Laden’s death satisfies justice, but it does not mean peace.

via Osama bin Laden dead: officials – Americas – Al Jazeera English.

Good News: Israeli Gives Birth in Ramallah Hospital

This item made me smile. For our bloodthirsty and voyeuristic mainstream media, this doesn’t count as news. For those who are serious about hope, and realistic about the small but significant acts of faithfulness necessary for participation in God’s redemptive work, this is the news that counts.

While this story is from the Middle East, the same kinds of stories are happening even now, close to home– it’s just that we don’t hear about them. Redemption doesn’t do good ratings, nor does it sell advertising:

RAMALLAH (Ma’an) — “I was happily surprised at how well the Palestinian nurses and doctors treated me here, in fact I feel pampered,” new mother Nisreen, a Jewish citizen of Israel, told Ma’an Wednesday night after delivering her first child in a Ramallah hospital.

She had been out shopping with her husband, a Palestinian from the village of Sakhnain in Israel, when she felt intense labor pains. Rather than make the hours long trip back to Haifa through notorious checkpoints, Nisreen’s husband suggested they go to hospital in the West Bank.

Hours after the birth of a healthy 2.3 kg boy, the new mom received a bouquet of roses from President Mahmoud Abbas, who congratulated her on the delivery, and wished her and her son the best of health.

Officials reported to Israeli liaison officers that the woman had been admitted. Procedure appeared to dictate that Nisreen be taken and transferred to an Israeli hospital, but on her insistence she was permitted to stay.

“Nisreen is the first Jewish woman to be treated at Ramallah Hospital,” Abu Moghli [Palestinian Authority Minister of Health] said, recalling the Hippocratic Oath obliging doctors to treat every patient regardless of their religion, political beliefs or race. [emphasis added]

As an added bonus, he said Nisreen would not be asked to pay hospital fees, and would be treated as any Palestinian would be.

via Maan News Agency: Israeli gives birth in Ramallah hospital.

The Importance of Describing the World: Maan News Agency and the Jerusalem Post

Compare the following reports coming out today, regarding settlement construction in Israel/Palestine. The first is from the Maan News Agency, a Palestinian news source; the second is from the Jerusalem Post, an Israeli news source. You don’t need to understand the intricacies of the current conflict to see how descriptions construct reality. Language is not neutral. (In the following citations, the emphasis is mine):

BETHLEHEM (Ma’an) — After Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu approved Friday more settlements in occupied East Jerusalem, the PLO’s top negotiator said Israel had all but declared an end to negotiations.

via Maan News Agency: Netanyahu `chose settlements over peace`.

Compare the above, with this from the Jerusalem Post:

Palestinians reacted negatively to the Housing Ministry’s announcement to build 240 housing units in Jerusalem neighborhoods Pisgat Ze’ev and Ramot and accused Israel of attempting “to kill” any chance to reignite peace negotiations, AFP reported on Friday.

10/15/2010 12:51

The Palestinian news outlet calls a particular piece of land “occupied East Jerusalem;” the Israeli news outlet calls the very same particular piece of land a “Jerusalem neighborhood.” The descriptions are different not because one description sees something factually, physically, materially, different than the other. The descriptions are different because one ascribes different meaning to that piece of land than the other. And that makes all the difference.

Several points could be made here; I will simply say this: the religious (broadly defined) calling of our day, is to pay attention to how meanings are ascribed; to expose meanings that are ultimately destructive, life-negating, empty, or exploitative; and to proclaim a word that has the power to shape a new world grounded in a hope that all can participate in. That’s the calling of the peacemaker in the Middle East; that’s the calling of leadership in an imperial America that has lost its way.

The Peace of Jerusalem– Direct Talks Begin Today

When I was in Jerusalem last January, one evening we heard an Israeli Jew give an Israeli perspective on the peace process; on another evening we heard a Palestinian Arab Muslim give a Palestinian perspective on the peace process. After the second presentation, my friend Rich said to me, “That was depressing.” I asked him why? He said, “The two guys we’ve heard are moderate, intelligent, articulate people– and if we put them in a room together to figure this out, EVEN THEY wouldn’t be able to come to an agreement.”

Add people to the mix– extremists on both sides who are not interested in co-existence– and you get a snarl of conflicting desires and stoked passions. And you get violence; and vengeance– and the vicious cycle of pain for pain. That’s what happened near Hebron last night.

The Middle East can seem very far away from us, but it’s not. What happens there affects us: as has been observed, the world is closer and hotter than it has ever been. A viable Palestinian state, side-by-side and at peace with Israel, is in our interest. It wouldn’t be a cure-all for the challenges in that part of the world, but it would be helpful.

Hopelessness is easy: the experience of the last 120-or-so years  suggests– and it is utterly reasonable to conclude– that peace between Israelis and Palestinians will not issue from the direct talks starting today in Washington. Faith, however, holds to a hope that the world does not know– that the world cannot know– because it is a hope grounded in God’s nature to break open new possibilities for life. Despair puts limits on what God can do; despair says, “I know the darkness, and the darkness cannot be overcome.” Hope says, for a start: “I don’t know. Maybe.” Sometimes that’s enough.

Pray for the peace of Jerusalem.

Holy Ground