A Peace Veteran Bears Witness

kathykellyThis past Wednesday, JRC’s Peace Dialogue sponored a visit by longtime peace activist and nonviolence practitioner Kathy Kelly, who traveled to Gaza during the recent war.

If you’ve never heard of Kathy Kelly, you should read her bio because she’s someone you need to know about. This recent article will give some idea of the territory she covered in her presentation.

As she’s has been walking the walk for decades, I was surprised (and somewhat appalled) when she told us that this was the first time she had ever been invited to speak to a specifically Jewish audience. I hope and trust it won’t be the last. Through word and deed, I believe this inspiring peace veteran has a great deal to teach us.

3 thoughts on “A Peace Veteran Bears Witness

  1. Thank you to Rabbi Rosen and Kirsten for bringing Kathy Kelly to JRC! As usual, she was extraordinary. If you missed hearing her, I hope you read her postings, check her calendar for future programs, and consider linking her to other venues which might bring her to speak.

    Kathy Kelly is one of the truly inspirational activists of our time. Kathy is a founder of Voices for Creative NonViolence http://www.vcnv.org Listening to her speak, you hear what “creative nonviolence” means. To me, she evokes the great heroes of creative nonviolence, and it is evident why she’s been nominated multiple times for the Peace Prize.

    As she spoke of being in Gaza, and the ordinary people she met there, I was reminded of a recent piece I read in a Jewish publication which refered to the “culpability” of all Gazans for not ridding Gaza of Hamas. (All Gazans!! Including children.)

    As we explore war, worldwide security, and our security, isn’t it vital for us to explore how it is that war and terrorism always requires the dehumanization of the ‘other’ side. How are ‘they’, or how are we, able to brush aside so-called “collateral damage” to innocents?

    We either find a way to think of them as not fully ‘us’, not fully human, or not fully innocent. This is certainly also an essential element of what we call “terrorism”, the willingness to sacrifice innocents for some ‘greater’ cause, and to disconnect from care for their suffering or destruction. Flying planeloads of innocent people into buildings filled with innocent people requires the perpetrators to have some philosophical mechanism enabling them to justify this, or dismiss it, in accordance with their larger agenda. The same is true of hurling rockets, whether crude or sophisticated, into civilian populations.

    When ‘our’ group or ‘our’ side are victims, we ask: “Why do ‘they’ hate us?’ Isn’t it equally vital for us to ask, in conflict situations, “Do we hate them?” and, if so, “Why do we hate them?” We need to ask ourselves, “Is there any way in which we have been taught to do so?”, since it is far too easy to teach and learn to hate.

    I recently came upon a report by FAIR, (Fairness & Accuracy In Reporting), called “Smearcasting: How Islamophobes spread fear, bigotry and misinformation”.

    http://www.smearcasting.com/pdf/FAIR_Smearcasting_Final.pdf

    It is an exceptionally interesting, truly valuable and very readable resource that clarifies how a case is being very purposely and systematically put forward, into the mainstream, which encourages us to view all Muslims (approximately 1/5th of the world population) as suspect. This certainly colors how we view conflicts involving Muslims, including our concern for Muslim children, civilians, etc.; and even assumptions we may have re. our Muslim neighbors, coworkers, classmates, etc.

    I strongly recommend you print and read this article in its entirety and share it with others.

    There are many consequences of the current climate re. Muslims, and other groups.

    Innocent people have been harassed, bullied, assaulted, even killed, in this country, not only in war zones. I have met the families of innocent Hindus, Sikhs, and Muslims, murdered in the aftermath of the attacks of 9/11. They are but the tip of the iceberg of whole groups of people who have been smeared, stereotyped, and damaged, which they in no way deserve.

    I’ve encountered other impacts; including this poignant one, from a local male high school student, who said to me, quietly, after a program: “Thanks so much for what you are doing. I’m Muslim, but no one here knows it.” (To read more about my work and programs visit http://www.collateralcompassion.org )

    How awful that in today’s atmosphere, it is simply not safe for this student to be himself, that he has to “pass” in ways that Jews and blacks had to, in order to survive in other threatening settings.

    We should also remember that in times of tremendous economic uncertainty and despair–such as the one that confronts us now–finding and turning against a scapegoated group has been a historic and tragic response.

    Following are just a few of the types of pronouncements re. Muslims, now accorded regular airtime or print space, in mainstream media, which are detailed in the FAIR report. To see the sources, citations and quotes in their entirety, link to the complete article.

    CNN commentator: “I’m telling you, with God as my witness…human beings are not strong enough, unfortunately, to restrain themselves from putting up razor wire and putting you [Muslims] on one side of it.

    3rd most popular political talk radio show host: “…there’s a billion of them [Muslims]. So kill 100 million of them, then there’ll be 900 million of them.”

    Best selling author: “If you can’t outbreed the enemy, cull ’em”

    Fox news host: “The U.S. should bomb the Afghan infrastructure to rubble…taking out their ability to exist day to day will not be hard…If they don’t rise up against this criminal government, they starve, period.”

    and “the most unattractive women in the world are probably in the Muslim countries”.

    [The propaganda tool of caricaturing the enemy, including women and children, as “ugly”, or as “vermin”, is well known, historically, and is an essential element of the purposeful dehumanization that makes it possible or easy to disregard their suffering in war, etc.]

    I encourage you to read the FAIR report, and share it widely, and consider how such material is shaping attitudes, policies, and current events. Please talk to your own associates about this issue and reflect on how you might work to change it. Please consider calls or letters to writers, editors, publishers, producers. Please consider how these smears and stereotypes impact how war is waged, including those being waged in our names, with our tax dollars.

    How should we stand up to that? Kathy is a shining example and gave us some very thought-provoking ideas. She told us how she had come to pledge to herself that she would never be a silent bystander to injustice.

    Please don’t accept pronouncements at face-value, don’t accept or pass along misinformation, even when found in presumably authoritative mainstream sources (as the FAIR report cites). We do have Muslims in our communities, schools, workplaces, etc. and we can look for opportunities to connect with, and extend ourselves to them.

    Misinformation breeds separation and separation breeds misinformation. We understand how this works.

  2. I’m kicking myself (nonviolently, of course) for missing this. Here is my theory about why Kathy Kelly has not been invited to more Jewish congregations. Do you remember Venn diagrams? Draw a circle labeled “shuls containing committed peace and justice activists and Rabbis that would be interested in hearing Kathy Kelly, and would do the work to bring her in, get people to show up, and put up with the opposition.” Draw another circle, that has some overlap with the first one, labeled “shuls with members and Rabbis so secure in their Judaism that they see nothing threatening about learning something with religious implications from somebody who isn’t Jewish.” Draw a third circle, with some overlap of the first two, with the label “shuls and Rabbis that have not laid down a separation barrier through Judaism that separates themselves from nonviolence.” In the overlap of all of these circles write JRC.

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