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Posts Tagged ‘Iran’

The State of Fear and Ignorance

Most of us do more out of fear and ignorance than we do out of courage and wisdom.  I know that my personal track record in that arena is not that good anyway.  Why is it that fear is such a greater motivator than courage or bravery?  Why are we so susceptible to acting in our ignorance before seeking wisdom and understanding concerning our circumstances?  Even the best of us can be taken down by these two imps of degenerate humanity.

I am constantly reminded of this in our current world affairs in the Middle East.  The West’s attempt to conquer the enemy of freedom and democracy as it appears in Al Qaeda and Taliban groups underscores this problem.  Instead of addressing the human equation, Western nations think that they are simply dealing with something that requires a military solution.  As history has showed us in all of our wars, it is never that simple.  There are many reasons why people go to war to protect their land or to force out a perceived invader.  Sometimes it is as raw and simple as “It pays the bills.”  Thus, it is another career choice and creates and military economy.

I just recently finished a book by Greg Mortenson and David Oliver Relin entitled, “Three Cups of Tea:  One Man’s Mission to Promote Peace…One School at a Time” (Penguin Books, 2006).  It is so good that I purchases the follow-up book, “Stones into Schools:  Promoting Peace With Books, Not Bombs in Afghanistan and Pakistan” by Greg Mortenson.  It is a remarkable book about how one man is changing the world through building schools for children, especially girls.  His personal story is so remarkable and well known among the Muslims of Afghanistan and Pakistan that he is accepted in some of the most hostile places to any other American.  It only begs the question: “How come more people are not doing this?  How come our American government is not taking more of this approach to defeating the Al Qaeda and Taliban leadership in this part of the world?

Greg Mortenson’s story in Three Cups of Tea is not a tale of unbroken successes.  It includes many failures as well as starts-and-stops.  Nevertheless, Mortenson’s persistence and willingness to be humble and learn the ways of others wins the day.  The key is relationships; by willing to take the time to build relationships, which takes time and patience, Greg Mortenson gained permission to have influence to help tribal groups better the lives of their children.  Thus, the work of Central Asia Institute was born and given life.  This is the idea of the three cups of tea Greg Mortenson had to experience in every village with every leader:  “The first cup of tea, you are a stranger.  The second cup of tea, you are a guest.  The third cup of tea, you are family and we will die for our family.”

California Poppies, Spring 2009

California Poppies, Spring 2009 ©Weatherstone/Ron Almberg, Jr. (2010)

What is discovered vicariously through Mortenson’s experiences in Pakistan and Afghanistan is that the Muslim people there want the same thing that everyone in the world wants for themselves and their families: jobs, peace, and a secure future.  Poverty, warfare and instability drive even the most peace loving people to desperate actions for a different life.  We have witnessed that as Americans in our own history during and immediately following the industrial revolution of the late 19th and early 20th century.

Mortenson’s conviction is that education is a key to freedom from poverty, constant war and government instability.  The early results from his successes at building schools in the hinterlands of Pakistan and Afghanistan seem to confirm this proposal.  The local people are willing to fight for themselves against the Al Qaeda and Taliban if they are given the right tools, starting with an education, then with clean water and finally economic development.  Groups like Pennies for Peace help advance this very simple premise.

The saddest part of the book, “Three Cups of Tea,” was the reaction of some Americans to Greg Mortenson’s efforts.  It would appear that fear and ignorance on the American side of the equation is just as dangerous as it is on the Muslim side.  There is still a state of fear and ignorance that many Americans hold to all Muslims; just witness the recent reaction of so many Americans to the idea of a mosque being built near the ground zero of the World Trade Center.  The assumption is that most or all Muslims are terrorists who want to kill, maim, and destroy anyone from the west.  Nothing could be further from the truth.

The largest single effort to defeat radical, extremist Islamic Fundamentalists can only be through building relationships that bring about mutual understanding and respect.  By taking time to build relationships that binds the hearts and minds of people together, the world can change.  We must face the fact that there will always be haters and destroyers in the world.  We may not be able to change them.  However, we can change the state of fear and ignorance in which they hold everyone.  Let’s pray more Greg Mortenson’s arrive to help us get there.

©Weatherstone/Ron Almberg, Jr. (2010)

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Bloodless Revolutions

The great American democratic experiment stands in marked contrast to many other struggling nations in the world today.  It is something for which every person living in the good ol’ U.S. of A. should be thankful for but seems too few really recognize – at least if one thinks the popular news outlets and local newspapers ‘Letters to the Editor’ is any indicator.  Once again, too many people seem to be ignorant of American history specifically and world history in general.

In American democracy, every two years to four years the American voting public can change its government without shedding a drop of blood.  This is not the case in many countries around the world.  Change in government structures and powers can only come through bloody revolutions that cost the lives of hundreds, if not thousands, and wreck havoc on the economy, safety and well-being of its citizens.  Oppressive governments stay in power by subjugating protesters to imprisonment, torture and the threat of death.

Today, in American democracy, the common people can rise up in open protest without threat of violence or imprisonment from the governing powers.  This was not always the case, however.  The unrest of the 1960’s helped to change all of this for future generations, whether it was the peaceful protests led by Dr. Martin Luther King, student sit-ins or more violent student protests.  In the early 20th century unionists, socialists and communists were openly persecuted and jailed.  The McCarthy era communist scare of the 1950’s involved the blacklisting and even jailing of individuals.  Despite all of this, America has always been able to absorb social change and movements and find or rediscover its equilibrium.

Thankfully, peaceful protests and gathering people from opposing political viewpoints is not against the law.  In fact, it is a vital part of American democracy.  Town hall meetings, mass gatherings and forming new political alliances or parties can take place openly.  Police even offer protection to the most obnoxious protesters among us.  Take for instance the Westboro Baptist Church protesting at military funerals or Anarchists at world leader events or anti-abortionists with their gruesome pictures in front of Planned Parenthood buildings.  As much as they may be repulsive to some people, they have the freedom in an open democratic system to voice their views.  (What is appropriate and inappropriate communication of those views will be left for another time.)

On the other hand, recently around the world we have witnessed countless bloody revolutions, coups and violent protests.  Recently it was Kyrgyzstan.  However, since America’s most recent presidential election, other countries have gone through similar convulsions: Guatemala, Honduras, Myanmar, Sudan, Iran, Georgia, Mozambique, Congo, Moldova, Nepal, Tibet, Fiji, Sri Lanka, Timor, and Gaza to name the ones that I know.  There may be others.  Many other places in the world have small revolutionary groups at work; far too many to attempt to name here.

The United States of America has always had its own revolutionaries at work behind the scenes.  Whether it is the White Supremacists, the Black Panthers, the Anarchists, the Militia Movement, the Animal Liberation Front, the Earth Liberation Front, the Army of God, the Black Liberation Army, the Communist Party or many other smaller fractured groups, groups like them have always been present among us from the earliest days of the American democracy.  For now, they remain on the fringe of American society.

Orange and Purple Starfish, June 2003

Orange and Purple Starfish, June 2003 ©Weatherstone/Ron Almberg, Jr. (2010)

I believe that we who live in America should be thankful for two things1) That we have a system of replacing or changing our government and its officials through a bloodless means – a bloodless revolution, and 2) That there is an allowable system of protestation that gives voice to the variant messages in America – no matter how much we might disagree with them or even find them repulsive.  The alternative is no alternative.

This is why violence and the threat of violence are so dangerous to the democratic process.  Whether it is instituted at the government level or at the grassroots level of our society, the end result can only be the violent demise of democracy altogether.  The former will lead to an oppressive government that holds its people in bondage to one way of thinking and acting.  The latter will lead to an anarchy in which fractured groups will impose their will and ideals over others.  One will lead down the path to dictatorships and government by an elite and ruling class.  The other will lead to more Oklahoma City bombings.

When the government oversteps its boundaries, the self-governing institutions of our society kick into play through the scrutiny of conservative or liberal presses, public inquiries and social outcries from the public. 

When individuals and groups overstep their boundaries of protesting by moving into violence and the threat of violence, then the self-governing institutions of the local police and sheriffs, federal investigative agencies and the outcries from the public offer correction.

In either case, we still have a way of self-correcting the future course of America without shedding a drop of blood.  As long as the American public…

  1. remains educated about current issues,
  2. learns from its own history and world history,
  3. actively participates in the political and social process of our democracy, and
  4. demands civil discourse rather than violence or the threat of violence,

…then I am confident in the future of American democracy and society.  I believe there are enough sensible and educated citizens within its borders to navigate the issues the lay ahead of us.  We may not always agree on what the outcomes should be but we will always have a voice and a choice to be involved in the process.  Even as I write this, I hear the rumblings of another bloodless revolution this next November.

©Weatherstone/Ron Almberg, Jr. (2010)

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There is a great deal of hand-wringing over the demise of the “American empire” – or at least the appearance of it according to some political conservatives.  I must disclose that I consider myself a political conservative or, perhaps more accurately, right of center.  There are some things that I think the folks on the left of the political spectrum have right.  I support them in these ideas and policies.  Nevertheless, the alarm conservatives have over what they consider to be the down fall of America has me puzzled.

History teaches us that empires never last forever. Why would we expect anything different for our nation?  Even conservatives use Edward Gibbon’s book “The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire” to show parallels between our decline as a nation and Rome’s.  It is almost as if conservatives are sadistic about it; at one moment agonizing in the pain and in the next reveling in the joy of discovering yet another indicator of America’s Romanesque tortuous decline.  In fact, every empire’s decline in history reveals some uncanny similarities.  So, what’s new?  History repeats itself.  We know that.  Don’t we?  Well, apparently not.

Christian conservatives particularly have a negative eschatological view of history and the future. Yet, they seem to fight against what they know is coming.  Whatever one may call it – “the end of times” or “the end of the ages” – supposedly we are drawing to a close of this world and all of its nations and empires.  Do we expect that America will be immune from these events?  In fact, a careful reading of those portions of the Bible that foretell these events do not indicate any earthly kingdom in power outside of Eastern Europe and the Middle or Far East.  Western nations, including the United States of America, seem to be a non-entity according to the Biblical story.

Winter in Grand Forks, ND

Winter in Grand Forks, ND ©Weatherstone/Ron Almberg, Jr. (2009)

The Old Testament, however, gives a pattern for how God deals with nations that may be more informative for us. The “highlight tapes” of God dealing with Israel and the nations of the earth could play something like this:

God sends a message through a messenger that he needs to get the attention of a nation and its rulers. In order for them to take the message and messenger seriously, he threatens to do the following:

  • cause events that humble and humiliate the nation and its leaders in the eyes of the world community,
  • cause economic hardships that threaten the security of the rich and powerful,
  • cause natural disasters that wreak havoc upon the nation’s food supply and infrastructure,
  • cause diseases and plagues to bring fear and death,
  • cause foreign nations to threaten national security,
  • cause hostile nations to drag the nation into unwanted war,
  • cause lesser nations, and seemingly more immoral ones, to bring terror and war into its borders

Does anything on that list sound familiar? These seem to be the ways in which God chooses throughout history to deal with nations.  According to the biblical story, God attempts to bring about a course correction with these events.  Any nation that corrects its course can expect a longer future.  Any that do not can expect a speedier decline and fall.  In any event, sooner or later, all nations succumb to the arrogance and avarice that destroyed all the other nations.

One common event that seems to be a part of every empire’s final demise is its involvement in the Far East, in particular Iran, Iraq, Afghanistan, and Pakistan. After all, where did Alexander the Great meet his end?  Where did the Roman Empire bankrupt itself trying to bring order but ultimately only managed to bring the Huns?  Even the Ottoman Empire had a time of it trying to maintain peace.  In more recent history, the English empire was glad to be rid of its responsibilities there after the Great World War.  It had long before that, however, wasted precious military resources and financial stability attempting to rule that part of the world.  The United Soviet Socialist Republic assumed in the 1980’s that inhabiting and ruling Afghanistan would be a walk in the park.  It, too, broke its back on the effort.

Now, the United States of America is involved in the same imbroglio. Do we think it will turn out any different?  Vietnam should have been a teaching tool for any involvement in another nation’s struggle for revolution and nation building just as the American Revolution should have taught England the dangers of attempting to rule a land and its people from afar.  It rarely works out well, especially when the people have national aspirations of their own.

In all fairness to the leaders of the United States, efforts in the Far East to bring peace and stability may turn out well.  It’s just that history is stacked against such efforts.  Worse, yet, it forebodes irreparable damage to national security, the military, and the economy because of the costs associated with such an effort.  But, who knows.  Maybe it will be different for us.  Maybe as a nation we will beat the odds and last another 250 years.  Maybe.

©Weatherstone/Ron Almberg, Jr. (2009)

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