The Common Good

Stop the occupation, start the rebuilding

Sojomail - May 5, 2004

Quote of the Week Clearing your temple
Hearts & Minds Jim Wallis: Stop the occupation, start the rebuilding
Under the Wire Uncovering abuses in U.S. military prisons in Iraq
By the Numbers Religion online
Good News Paraguayan president's faith impacts support for Iraq war
For Mercy's Sake It takes a village
P.O.V. Who are the Democrats?
Building a Movement Health and commonwealth
Web Sitings Religious freedom news | Urban legends debunked | If you were a theologian, which one would you be?
Boomerang Readers write

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"As long as we want to get something from God in some kind of exchange, we are like the merchants. If you want to be rid of the commercial spirit, then by all means do all you can in the way of good works, but do so solely for the praise of God. Live as if you did not exist. Expect and ask nothing in return. Then the merchant inside you will be driven out of the temple God has made. Then God alone dwells there."

- Meister Eckhart

Source: Meister Eckhart: A Modern Translation, by Raymond Bernard Blakney.

Stop the occupation, start the rebuilding
by Jim Wallis

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LONDON - The lead story in the British media for days has been the alleged abuse of Iraqi prisoners by American and British soldiers. The painful irony is escaping nobody here: After going to war to liberate the Iraqi people from the brutality of Saddam Hussein and his "torture chambers," some of the liberators are now accused of brutalizing and torturing Iraqi detainees - in the same Abu Ghraib prison used by Saddam.

The Guardian, The Observer, The Sunday Times, and the BBC are full of the horrible details - of prisoners severely beaten, stripped naked and humiliated, sexually threatened, deprived of sleep and psychologically intimidated, and perhaps even killed. Pictures of a hooded inmate with wires attached to his body have traveled around the world, especially the Arab world. Forcing nude prisoners to pile up in human pyramids for picture-taking and verbal abuse will be perceived as especially degrading in the Muslim "shame culture."

Brigadier General Mark Kimmitt, the deputy director of military operations in Iraq, said an investigation began in January when a soldier turned over evidence of the abuse, including photographs. The soldier said, "There are things going on here that I can't live with." Reports now indicate that officers and soldiers had tried to hide their actions from the International Red Cross for more than a year.

Both President Bush and Prime Minister Blair have rightly expressed their condemnation of such behavior but insist it was isolated to a few individuals. But Amnesty International is now reporting "patterns of torture," with "scores" of allegations dating back to last July, and that the current situation is just "the tip of the iceberg." According to the Christian Science Monitor, Brigadier General Janis Karpinski, the former head of U.S. military prisons in Iraq (who was relieved of her command), describes "patterns of abuse" that may go further than originally suspected. She and others say that military intelligence officers and "private contractors" were directing the intimidation and mistreatment of prisoners. Karpinski claims she warned her superiors about problems at the prison, but they ignored her because "they wanted it to go away."

The New Yorker reports this week on a military investigation carried out by Major General Antonio Taguba, which has uncovered evidence of "war crimes" against the inmates, including breaking chemical lights and pouring the phosphoric liquid on detainees; pouring cold water on naked detainees; beating detainees with a broom handle and a chair; threatening male detainees with rape; and sodomizing a detainee "with a chemical light and perhaps a broom stick." General Taguba found that military police and intelligence officials had committed "sadistic, blatant and wanton criminal abuses" and that personnel were directed to "set physical and mental conditions for favorable interrogation of witnesses." Newsweek now suggests that such abuse is not confined to Iraq, and Human Rights Watch reports allegations of similar treatment of prisoners in Afghanistan.

The debate in the weeks ahead will center on "bad apples" vs. the great majority of American servicemen and women who wouldn't do such things (which is undoubtedly true), whether the punishment goes high enough in the chain of command, whether the so-called "private contractors" (let's just call them paid mercenaries) are accountable enough, and whether the pictures of a British soldier urinating on an Iraqi prisoner in the Daily Mirror are authentic or not. But as important as all those questions are, they mostly miss the point.

Such abuse and atrocities are the consequence of war, and especially military occupation. They always have been, and they will continue to be. In Vietnam, a brutal American war and occupation created bloody insurrection. Viet Cong fighters did terrible things to American soldiers, and, in turn, the soldiers did terrible things to Vietnamese civilians. It is simply the cycle of violence.

Here is the real issue: The Americans and the British do not belong in Iraq. The American-led occupation is leading to more suffering on all sides, and it will just get worse. The American occupation must be stopped and the rebuilding of Iraq begin - but under international authority and control. The United Nations must be given the full political authority to appoint a transition Iraqi government and lead the process to clear elections and a new Iraqi sovereignty. Security is, indeed, the immediate question, but a unilateral American military presence will never be able to provide it. We are the targets now and the biggest cause of the security problem. The international community must not simply be brought in to help the U.S. agenda to succeed; it must be given the authority to repair Iraq. American occupation is not the solution; it is the problem. And it must end.

Read more commentary by Jim Wallis at:

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Uncovering abuses in U.S. military prisons in Iraq

Dozens of abuse inquiries under way, including 25 deaths and 10 assaults [BBC]

Military prison officers receive reprimands, subordinates face criminal charges [The New York Times]

Bush administration scrambles into damage-control mode [The Washington Post]

Torture at U.S. military prison in Iraq [The New Yorker]

Images of degrading treatment of Iraqi prisoners [The New Yorker]
Warning: Though some details are digitally obscured, these images are still graphic and disturbing

War-zone contractors operate with little accountability [Christian Science Monitor]

Call to Renewal's Pentecost 2004

Call to Renewal's Pentecost 2004"Join us in Washington as we tell politicians and the nation that reducing poverty is a religious and electoral issue in 2004. Our convictions on other issues do not prevent us as Christians from uniting to overcome poverty." - Jim Wallis

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Religion online

64% of the nation's 128 million Internet users have done things online that relate to religious or spiritual matters.
38% have sent and received e-mail with spiritual content.
35% have sent or received online greeting cards related to religious holidays.
32% have gone online to read news accounts of religious events and affairs.
21% have sought information about how to celebrate religious holidays.
17% have looked for information about where they could attend religious services.



The National Campaign for a Peace Tax Fund invites you to participate in our annual joint Lobby Day, Friday, May 14, with the Center on Conscience and War (formerly NISBCO). Join with other conscientious objectors to military violence to speak out against forced conscription in the military - whether it is our bodies or our tax dollars that are used to kill. Come to Washington or visit your representatives and senators in their local offices. You may contact us at; 1-888-PEACE-TAX;

Paraguayan president's faith impacts support for Iraq war

According to the Mennonite Brethren Herald, Paraguayan president Nicanor Duarte Frutos has resisted U.S. pressure to send troops to Iraq at least in part due to his Christian faith. In addition to Duarte Frutos' concerns about putting troops in harm's way, a Paraguayan newspaper reported that "the president's discomfort is also based on the religious belief which he espouses together with his whole family, characterized by the rejection of all forms of violence and armed service." Duarte Frutos attends a Mennonite Brethren church in Ascuncion where his wife, Maria Gloria Penayo de Duarte Frutos, is a founding member. The church explicitly requires members "to dignify human life, rejecting all types and forms of violence." Though Paraguay's defense minister supports sending troops, thus far the president's reluctance has prevailed.

Read more at:

Read about another South American president who's a burr in Bush's saddle, in Rose Marie Berger's article about controversial Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez at:


by Charles Dickinson

If Christianity - without losing its soul - is yet to avoid losing touch with the world, it must constantly update itself by dialogue with all the intellectual currents of today. To this end, the author proposes a necessary two-way dialectic between theology and the world, an ongoing dialectic ultimately essential to both church and world. $25 hardcover. To order call (313) 624-9784. Dove Booksellers, 13904 Michigan Avenue, Dearborn, Michigan, 48126.

It takes a village

With $250,000 you can stake out a modest home in the suburbs. But that's also about how much it costs to build a village in Central America, including land, homes, infrastructure - everything but the kitchen sink.

In the two-thirds world, millions of rural farmers and families are struggling to survive under the poverty line, often because they lack ownership of the land and resources necessary for economic self-sufficiency. Agros is a nonprofit, grassroots organization that is helping communities in these developing countries "break the cycle of poverty by creating a cycle of change."

Inspired by Jesus' commitment to the poor, the Agros vision is rooted in the belief that land ownership can give rise to hope and dignity, and that solidarity is more life-giving and sustainable than simple charity. So this organization doesn't just offer 40 acres and a mule. Enlisting the help of international volunteers and donated funds, Agros comes alongside rural families, sharing the tasks of planning and constructing villages, from teaching agricultural methods to developing local government strategies. Once a village is established, its farmers begin to pay off debts incurred by the project, and in turn, these funds are used to give birth to yet another village somewhere else.

Learn more at:

Clergy Leadership Institute

Alaskan Cruise and Appreciative Inquiry Training
From Seattle, WA. August 22-29, 2004

Come and enjoy the wonders and beauty of the Alaskan coastal region and complete 20 hours of professional development in Appreciative Inquiry (AI). This is an incredible opportunity for clergy and their partners to share in the appreciative identification of those things that give them life that they may work and love from and within these life-giving resources.

For registration and information about our other Appreciative Inquiry based programs:
Clergy Leadership Development, Interim Ministry, Coaching, and Appreciative Soul Friending
please visit us on the web at: or by phone at 503-647-2378.

P.O.V. ^top
Who are the Democrats?
by Desiree' Ulrich

I'm amazed at the reticence of many Democrats who are Christians, myself included, to state who we are and what we believe with pride. Republicans seem to have no such inhibitions. What is this phenomenon about? Is it one's geographical area and whether it tends toward conservatism? Is it the negative portrait of liberalism that the mainstream press has painted? My friend Helen, a delightfully die-hard Democrat who is not afraid to speak her mind and with whom I have had many conversations regarding closeted Democrats, asked me one day if I knew an acquaintance of hers. I said I did; she lowered her voice and said, "She's one of us, you know." "One of what?" I asked. "A Democrat," she whispered with a wink.

...I have heard people say "I'm a Democrat," but then they add a "but." "I'm a Democrat, but I'm socially conservative." "I'm a Democrat, but I'm fiscally conservative." (I'd especially like to know what that means in light of a deficit that approaches trillions under the current administration.) "I'm a Democrat, but I believe in family values." It's as though it is mandatory to soften the word with a qualifier. Do we Democrats need a kind of disclaimer? The views of the Democratic Party, of which I reluctantly admit I am a part, do not necessarily reflect my own values and beliefs. Republicans don't seem to feel the need to qualify their party association.

Read more at:

Read Mara Vanderslice's commentary, "Religious Democrats?" in the May issue of Sojourners:


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Click here to watch his inspiring short film and donate online to help him reach his goal. When you give, Mass Mutual will match your contribution dollar-for-dollar up to Sam's goal of $50,000. Help us spread the word - tell your friends, colleagues, and family about Sam's campaign!

Health and commonwealth

Almost 44 million people in the U.S. do not have health insurance; 8.5 million of these are children. Not only have the numbers increased under the current administration, but there are no signs of the problem going away anytime soon.

The upcoming "Cover the Uninsured Week" (May 10-16) will be a large-scale, cooperative campaign to educate the public and raise awareness about this critical social justice issue. Hundreds of organizations ranging from the AFL-CIO to the National Council of Churches, former Presidents Gerald Ford (R) and Jimmy Carter (D) - as well as thousands of Americans - will be collaborating in the week's events, with the ultimate goals of reversing these alarming statistics, pressuring politicians to prioritize universal healthcare, and providing relief assistance to individuals lacking adequate health benefits.

With faith-based groups participating and now planning events around the country, there are plenty of ways to get involved on the local level. Check out the Week's Web site to find out how you can help stem the tide of neglect:


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Religious freedom news

Forum 18 provides Web and e-mail reporting on threats and actions against the religious freedom of all people, whatever their religious affiliation, based on Article 18 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights:

Urban legends debunked

Though using a Web site to debunk Internet and e-mail hoaxes may seem strange, this site is great for checking the latest too-good- or too-bad-to-be-true chain messages from your third cousin's aunt's brother-in-law that clog your inbox:

If you were a theologian, which one would you be?

Answer six multiple-choice questions and find out with which famous theologian you most strongly identify:


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Readers write

Sharon Jung writes from Tacoma, Washington:

It was good to hear Jim Wallis speak during the PBS program, The Jesus Factor, which aired Thursday, April 29. It did an excellent job of depicting the power of George Bush's highly visible evangelical Christian "faith," and how his claims of being a Christian have led to his political success. However, I was disappointed in several areas. First, they gave no information on Bush's business dealings, which are questionable. Another shortfall was the very small amount of time given to those who interpret the Bible in a more tolerant manner. I was particularly disappointed that Jim was only shown during the last 15 minutes, for only a few seconds at a time. A more conservative commentator spoke throughout the program. Jim did an excellent job of recapping high points of his "Dangerous Religion" article. However, I didn't think that he had ample opportunity to fully present his views.

Most disappointing was the absence of attention given to the dichotomy between the behavior of this administration and the life of Christ.... [Jesus] made very specific admonitions toward the rich. He healed the sick, fed the hungry, empowered women, and supported the vulnerable. The early Christians built their church doing the same. In my lifetime, I have never seen a president claim to be a Christian and act in such a non-Christian manner.


Gerhard Pries writes from Blumenort, Manitoba:

[Regarding "Taking it to the Bank (and IMF)," by Elizabeth Palmberg, SojoMail 4/28/2004]: These stories need to be told. But what I have learned is that the World Bank is made up of people who have hearts and who are trying, perhaps with poor results, to help developing countries. There may be bad apples in that crowd, just as there may be bad apples in the crowd of protesters. If this reporter would have spent time having heart-to-heart conversations with World Bank officials, she would have found that they are not evil, but are actually trying their best. Maybe this kind of journalism is needed - as an antidote to the mainstream U.S. journalism that Palmberg refers to near the end of her article....

It is also true that many poor people in the Philippines and Zimbabwe want the WTO and IMF to be stronger - so that they can push back the power of Europe and the U.S. I generally meet more of those than the ones Palmberg refers to in her article. But all sides should be represented. So more stories like this one should get out there.


Janet Boucher writes from San Juan Capistrano, California:

Instead of urging writers to protest use of Caterpillars by Israel or protesting the wall being constructed between territories, all mail could be sent to Yasser Arafat urging him to immediately agree to sign the peace accords. Perhaps if he had done so eight years ago, Palestine would be prospering peacefully and many of the Israeli settlements would be turned over for Palestinian use by now. Remember when progress was being made in this direction?


Arlyn Miller writes from Lawrence, Kansas:

I hope Bob Heltman [Boomerang 4/28/2004] has been following the reports of American soldiers abusing Iraqi prisoners. It is human nature to want to believe that our "tribe" wouldn't stoop to inhumanity, while assuming that the other side does. The same kind of reasoning attempts to justify Israeli torture and oppression of Palestinians in the Occupied Territories. And of course the same reasoning arises in anti-Semitic characterizations found among some Arab and Palestinian groups - not surprisingly, particularly among those who suffer from the occupation. The reality is that dehumanizing the enemy is human nature, and it is a part of human nature that is particularly likely to crop up among those who are willing to take human life, and to learn the art of doing so efficiently, and at another's command.


Dave Turner writes from Cape Town, South Africa:

I was born and raised in the global South, a "damaged survivor" of the furnace of apartheid repression. To read Bob's comments on the civilian fatalities in Fallujah reminded me of the attitudes of many white people in apartheid South Africa. At that time "communists" were vilified as the unfeeling destroyers of human rights and the perpetrators of inhuman acts of violence while "we" were brought up to "fear God." Many whites simply never believed that we were capable of the atrocities being performed and many still live in denial that things were as horrific as the facts reveal....

It is difficult to see things clearly - to be objective - with a plank in your eye. From a nation with no direct benefit or harm from the war in Iraq we may see things with a little more objectivity. While I am no admirer of Saddam it seems to me that believers in the U.S. need to disentangle themselves from their national self-interest and stand up for human rights and integrity, and expose lies and economic expediencies for what they are - corporate sin. This is even more vital when these sins are perpetrated under the guise of a (genuinely held but misguided) view of the Christian gospel. From the vantage point of the Third World, the U.S. is not the hero in this war - instead it looks remarkably like a self-absorbed bully. Any act is possible when tired and scared soldiers face a hostile and "faceless" opponent.


Boomerang is an open forum for all kinds of views that do not necessarily represent those of Sojourners. Want to make your voice heard? Include your name, hometown, and state/province/country in a concise e-mail to: . We reserve the right to edit for length and clarity.


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