Monday, December 21, 2009

End the War in Afghanistan

President Obama, the latest Noble Peace Prize honoree, has sorely disapointed many of his most fervent supporters with the decision to send 30,000 additional US troops to Afghanistan, a war which we were told 8 years ago was initiated for the purpose of routing the terrorist group Al-Queda. Despite his eloquent and no doubt heart-felt rhetoric delivered at the US Military Academy at West Point, those of us who are old to enough to remember the Vietnam War could not help but have a terrible sense of deja-vu. Now,as then, an otherwise progressive, ground-breaking president with an agenda of social change long overdue allowed himself to be sucked into a quagmire of death and destruction by listening too much and too hard to those whose business it is to make war. Now, as then, an American president's vision seems to have forgotten that democracy is not, nor can it ever be imposed at gun point by a foreighn power, no matter how well-intentioned. Having inherited a war without direction by a president who was too busy pursuing hiw own dreams of global empire to actually complete the mission he had originally claimed, President Obama seems destined to head down that same road as he tries to build a nation in Afghanistan, a country that can boast of having defeated every imperial power in history that has tried to do that very same thing. Long divided into tribes and factions, Afghanistan has a long history of very little central government and an antipathy toward foreignors; an antipathy that has not subsided with the installation of the corrupt regime of Hamid Karzai in Kabul by the US and it's allies. For eight years our troops have been stretched to the breaking point by the two wars begun under the Bush administration and it is time to bring them home to the honor they deserve not to waste more lives in a fruitless attempt to build a western style nation in a country and culture we neither understand nor appreciate, trying to build a nation that no one seems to want or care about other than those whose feeble grasp on power in the area around Kabul is bought with the blood of coalition troops and the lives of countless innocent Afghan civilians.

If our purpose remains to root out the terrorists, that has been accomplished, if not totally by our direct effort, then also by the fact that Al-Queda has simply moved on to other safe havens in failed states and tribal areas in Somolia, Yemen and Pakistan. We can declare victory and go home. If we are seeking to build a nation in Afghanistan, we must be prepared for decades of bloodshed in an attempt to do what this small place has successfully resisted since the beginning of history. Afghanistan has been at war for 30 years this time around. We have to ask what we can possibly expect to gain by throwing 30,000 more of our young men and women into that killing field. Perhaps we should look more closely at our own history, at the principles of our own democracy and the circumstances of our own founding and recognize that Afghanistan deserves what we all deserve, a chance to forge their own destiny, whatever it will be, according to their own lights, without a gun to their head. We need to be ready to help, not with predator drones, and human fodder for their killing fields, but with genuine aide, contingent on their adherence to the principles of self-determination, liberty and the right of peoples to make their own history. If Vietnam taught us nothing else, it should have taught us that.

Al-Queda, now thought to have less than 100 members in-country, is no longer based there

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Religious Discrimination Hurts us All

Despite some of the positive changes that have occurred in terms of the acceptance of diversity in our country with the election of our first African-American president and improved relationships with Muslim nations across the world, the backlash against that progress has contributed to a rise in discrimination and hate crimes against Muslim-Americans. The wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, the outrage of extremists on the right over the election of President Obama fueled by the hate speech of pundits in the media like Beck and Limbaugh, the difficult economy- all of these contribute to the search for scapegoats, particularly Muslims. Since much of the anti-Muslim sentiment in this country has been, if not perpetrated, at least encouraged by government policies, not to mention government officials that have made Islam out to be the enemy of America and our democracy, Muslim-Americans are often fearful of the police and loathe to report abuses outside of their own communities. This makes Muslim people easy targets, for politicians who build their campaigns on fear and bigotry and for those who take it on themselves to discriminate, and even attack Muslim people and their property.

Besides the obvious outrage against morality and our nation's cherished ideals of religious liberty and equality in the pursuit of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness, these acts committed against our fellow Americans are an affront and a challenge to us as people of faith and good will as well. Every one of the world's great faiths commands it's adherents not just to tolerance of those who are different, but to justice in our dealings with them. Just as our Declaration of Independence declared that all of us are equal and endowed with our Creator with certain unalienable rights, the Abrahamic religions command us to go beyond justice, to love of the stranger, the one who is different. This is, we here at TIA-Long Island believe, is more than an admonishment not to engage in acts of hate and discrimination, it is a commandment to pro-active advocacy for our brothers and sisters of every faith (as well as no faith). The rise in hate crimes in particular is a challenge not just to Muslims, but to Christians and Jews and especially the clergy to stand up and stand with our Muslim brethren, to demand justice, to preach it from our pulpits and to be visible in rebuking those, particularly those who claim our traditions, as a justification for these acts. I invite all Christian and Jewish clergy in particular to join us at TIA-LI in a new effort to become advocates for Mosques, on-call resources and educational leaders in our own communities and in the public square. It's time for us to speak truth to power, practice what we preach and erase the blight of prejudice that is like a plank in the eyes of our congregations and traditions. Get involved, join TIA- Long Island the national Interfaith Alliance. Together we really can be the change we want to see in the world.

Monday, May 18, 2009

Marriage Equality: It's about time

Few of the current debates about social issues generate as much heat and as little light as the one about marriage rights for gay and lesbian Americans. As Maine recently became the fifth state to legalize marriage equality and California was gearing up for a re-match on it's infamous Proposition 8, Governor Patterson of New York and Mayor Bloomberg of NYC also "came out"publicly with their support for marriage equality in New York. As Patterson and Bloomberg both said, marriage equality is a matter of equality before the law.

They're right. Marriage is a legal institution in this country as it is in most countries. It comes with legal rights and responsibilities, special tax status,and other provisions that married people enjoy. If those rights are denied to some people simply because of who they are, that is a denial of one of our most fundamental constitutional rights, namely equal protection under the law. Just as miscegenation laws were invalidated a generation ago, laws against same-sex marriage should be invalidated now because they deny an entire class of people access to the rights and privileges of an institution open to others.

Of course, most of the arguments against marriage equality are religious, not legal. Luckily for those who have a religious objection to marriage equality, the Interfaith Alliance and other groups like us have been fighting to maintain the wall of separation of church and state that protects their right as religious groups and organizations to choose to marry whom they choose according to their beliefs. Marriage equality is about civil rights to marry under civil law, contrary to some of the propaganda put out by some groups opposing marriage equality, no religious organization or clergy person can be forced to perform same sex marriages any more than any of us can be forced to perform any marriage under the current statutes. This is not about forcing anyone to do anything, its about fairness, its about family, its about the pursuit of happiness for everybody. That's about as American as you can get. It's about time.

Monday, February 2, 2009

Immigrant Rights are Human Rights

The recent revelations about the apparent lack of interest on the part of law enforcement in Suffolk County with respect to assaults on Latino immigrants is an unfortunate illustration of what happens when our elected leaders fail to live up to their obligations to provide genuine leadership to the communities they serve. The contrast between Suffolk and neighboring Nassau Counties, both with large Latino immigrant populations (both documented and undocumented) demonstrates to all those with eyes to see, just how much influence government really has when it comes both to public attitudes toward immigrants and the protection of the constitutional rights of the people under their jurisdiction. In Nassau County, where Police Commissioner Mulvaney refused to participate in ICE raids and other government-sanctioned persecutions of immigrants and where County Executive Suozzi has tried to take a more realistic approach to the realities of immigration and migrant workers, hate crimes are vigorously investigated and incidents are fewer. In Suffolk, where County Executive Levy has spent much of his political career bashing immigrants and exploiting the fears of older residents, the county police have gotten the message, as have local young people, that the right to be protected from bodily harm is a privilege to be enjoyed only by those who have the proper ethnic background and the papers to prove it. Even as the continuing revelations come to light about the pervasiveness of hate crimes in Suffolk County, so too is the fact that the police have not only under-reported these crimes, they have consistently shown an attitude of indifference to victims and an unwillingness to go after perpetrators.

That's more than a tragedy, it is an anathema to people of faith and good conscience. Frankly, in a nation built by the labors of immigrants, a nation in which our founding documents posit "life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness" as "unalienable rights" of all people and in which the Bill of Rights is specifically noted to apply to all people under our nation's jurisdiction this situation is an outrage against all of us as Americans. The enforcement of our nation's laws is the sworn responsibility of all elected officials and the moral responsibility of every American. When the police fail to protect our citizens, they have failed to serve their oath as law enforcement officers. When our elected officials pander to the fears and prejudices of those who would deny the same opportunities and protections to others that they themselves enjoy, whatever their status, they have failed their own oath and betrayed the public trust. And without presuming to speak for other faiths, when I and my colleagues, as Christian clergy, fail to speak out and to hold our congregations, our elected leaders and our government responsible for acting with integrity, wisdom and compassion toward all of those who share this island and this nation with us, whoever they might be or however they have arrived here, then we have betrayed our faith, our calling as clergy, and our God.
This is not about legal status. It is about our fellow human beings and they deserve better than they are getting. We need to stand up, speak out and work for justice for all human beings.