Sep 15

“Brothers, humanity needs to weep, and this is the time to weep.”

Citing a history of relentless conflict, marking the centennial of the start of WWI, Pope Francis noted the ways humanity actually may be in early stages of the third World War.

The Pope on Saturday morning celebrated Mass at the Italian Military Memorial of Redipuglia. The area was the scene of fighting between Italy and the forces of the Central Powers during the 1914-1918 conflict.

“There are tears, there is sadness. From this place we remember all the victims of every war,” Pope Francis said during a homily at a Mass for the fallen and victims of all wars. He called war “madness” and “irrational” and said its only plan was to bring destruction.

“Greed, intolerance, the lust for power…. These motives underlie the decision to go to war, and they are too often justified by an ideology; but first there is a distorted passion or impulse,” said the Pope.

Speaking at the end of a week in which President Obama announced a new plan to combat the terrorist group Islamic State, and with almost constant news of growing conflicts in various parts of the world, the Pope said that “even today, after the second failure of another world war, perhaps one can speak of a third war, one fought piecemeal, with crimes, massacres, destruction.”

Francis celebrated Mass at this Military Monument at such a poignant time, the atmosphere was heavy, the pope’s remarks challenging and provocative.

The first reading narrated the story of Cain and Abel, and in his homily the Holy Father commented on the murder of Abel to condemn indifference in the face of war.

He has called out the “globalization of indifference” often since he first used that term in his first apostolic journey outside Rome as pope at a Mass in Lampedusa, a destination of hope for refugees seeking safety and a new life, but one not reached by so many who perished along the way.

At the Military Monument of Redipuglia, Francis repeated that message but with greater urgency and the weight of gravity. The sub-head of this homily about global indifference would be ‘What does it matter to me?’

“Greed, intolerance, the lust for power … are the motives underlying the decision to go to war, and they are too often justified by an ideology; but first there is a distorted passion or impulse. Ideology is presented as a justification and when there is no ideology, there is the response of Cain: ‘What does it matter to me? Am I my brother’s keeper?’. War does not look directly at anyone, be they elderly, children, mothers, fathers. ‘What does it matter to me?’

“Above the entrance to this cemetery, there hang in the air those ironic words of war, ‘What does it matter to me?’ All of the dead who repose here had their own plans, they had their own dreams, but their lives were cut short. Why? Because humanity said, ‘What does it matter to me?’. Even today, after the second failure of another world war, perhaps one can speak of a third war, one fought piecemeal, with crimes, massacres, destruction. In all honesty, the front page of newspapers ought to carry the headline, ‘What does it matter to me?’. Cain would say, ‘Am I my brother’s keeper?’.

Right. What’s happening now is deeply disturbing and should be for all civilized humanity. And it is on some front pages. But so much space on those pages is filled with politics and scandal and cultural distraction.

Stop, Francis says. Pay attention.

From this place we remember all the victims of every war. Today, too, there are many victims … How is this possible? It is so because in today’s world, behind the scenes, there are interests, geopolitical strategies, lust for money and power, and there is the manufacture and sale of arms, which seem to be so important! And these plotters of terrorism, these schemers of conflicts, just like arms dealers, have engraved in their hearts, ‘What does it matter to me?’

“It is the task of the wise to recognise errors, to feel pain, to repent, to beg for pardon and to cry. With this ‘What does it matter to me?’ in their hearts, the merchants of war perhaps have made a great deal of money, but their corrupted hearts have lost the capacity to weep. Cain did not weep. He was not able to weep. The shadow of Cain hangs over us today in this cemetery. It is seen here. It has been seen from 1914 right up to our own time.

People rooted in one political ideology or another will read that according to how it fits their ‘narrative’ and backs their party politics. But he’s talking about global humanity, and calling out the inhumanity.

I heard a news report Monday of how wealthy ISIS has become, how much they control in oil fields and banks they’ve seized, and how they tap into that to provide for the ‘army’ and the ‘state’ they have built in trying to erect a caliphate and run a military operation, one that holds daily executions in the public square in some places, according to a BBC report I heard over the weekend, and the very public beheadings of western journalists and relief workers, among other ongoing atrocities they’re committing.

“With the heart of a son, a brother, a father, I ask each of you, indeed for all of us, to have a conversion of heart: to move on from ‘What does it matter to me?’, to shed tears: for each one of the fallen of this ‘senseless massacre’, for all the victims of the mindless wars, in every age. Brothers, humanity needs to weep, and this is the time to weep”.

And act.

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Sep 05

How can leaders of the most civilized, powerful nations in the world not yet have a solid plan?

While governments fail to act or make attempts at cobbling together a plan of action against a well organized, well funded, vicious and ambitious irregular army hellbent on wreaking chaos and destruction to take over the world, it’s the religious leaders and scholars and humanitarian relief experts who are speaking out and doing the most to call for action, care for people and protect populations from genocide in the meantime.

Princeton Professor Robert George has been one of the foremost, gaining a lot of attention and support for his Plea on Behalf of Victims of Barbarism in Iraq. It’s the backdrop for his grassroots Iraq Rescue effort.

The so-called Islamic State of Iraq (ISIS/ISIL) is conducting a campaign of genocide against Christians, Yazidis, and others in Iraq. In its fanatical effort to establish a caliphate, ISIS/ISIL has engaged in crimes against humanity by deliberately causing mass starvation and dehydration, and by committing unconscionable acts of barbarism against noncombatants, including defenseless women, children, and elderly persons.

It is imperative that the United States and the international community act immediately and decisively to stop the ISIS/ISIL genocide and prevent the further victimization of religious minorities. This goal cannot be achieved apart from the use of military force to degrade and disable ISIS/ISIL forces. President Obama was right to order airstrikes against ISIS/ISIL to stop its advance on key cities, as well as to provide humanitarian assistance to people fleeing their assaults. Much more needs to be done, however, and there is no time to waste.

We, the undersigned, are Democrats, Republicans, and Independents. We are conservatives, liberals, and moderates. We represent various religious traditions and shades of belief. None of us glorifies war or underestimates the risks entailed by the use of military force. Where non-military means of resolving disputes and protecting human rights are available, we always and strongly favor those means. However, the evidence is overwhelming that such means will not be capable of protecting the victims of the genocide already unfolding at the hands of ISIS/ISIL. That is why Iraq’s Chaldean Patriarch Sako has requested military intervention.

Therefore we call upon the United States and the international community to do everything necessary to empower local forces fighting ISIS/ISIL in Iraq to protect their people. No options that are consistent with the principles of just war doctrine should be off the table. We further believe that the United States’ goal must be more comprehensive than simply clamping a short-term lid on the boiling violence that is threatening so many innocents in ISIS/ISIL’s path. Nothing short of the destruction of ISIS/ISIL as a fighting force will provide long-term protection of victims.

We call upon President Obama and the Congress of the United States to expand airstrikes against ISIS/ISIL with a view to eroding its military power, and to provide full air support for Kurdish and other forces fighting against ISIS/ISIL. Further, we endorse the Washington Post’s call for the United States to provide arms, ammunition, and equipment to Kurdish forces, Sunni tribesmen, and others who are currently hampered in their ability to fight ISIS/ISIL by a lack of sophisticated weapons and other resources. The U.S. should also assist with intelligence. We are hopeful that local forces, with adequate support and assistance from the U.S. and the international community, can defeat ISIS/ISIL.

The expansion of humanitarian aid to the displaced and fleeing is also urgent. Local churches and aid agencies are overwhelmed, and we have grave concerns about how these victims of violent religious persecution will be cared for this winter. The U.S. can and should take the lead in providing food, water, medicine, and other essential supplies.

It’s a comprehensive call to action in what Prof. George told me on radio this week is the conflict with a force “more formidable than any enemy” we have known in our lifetimes. “They are better funded, better organized, better armed and more brutal than Al Qaeda,” he said. “The mistake members of government, both liberals and conservatives, are making is thinking this is an Eighth Century movement of barbaric, Dark Ages murderers. They are far more modernized and organized and therefore dangerous then that.”

Prof. George’s petition went on:

We must be mindful that in addition to stopping the genocide, the U.S. and Europe have very concrete interests in disabling ISIS/ISIL. As the Washington Post has warned:

“The Islamic State forces, which have captured large numbers of U.S.-supplied heavy weapons, threaten not only the Iraqi and Kurdish governments, but also Lebanon, Turkey and Jordan. With hundreds of Western recruits, they have the ambition and capability to launch attacks against targets in Europe and the United States.”

It is also worth bearing in mind that our own nation is not without responsibility for the plight of victims of ISIS/ISIL genocide. What is happening to these people now, and the further threats they face, would not be happening but for errors and failures of our nation’s own in Iraq. This can and should be acknowledged by all, despite disagreements we may have among ourselves as to precisely what these errors and failures were, and which political and military leaders are mainly responsible for them. The point is not to point fingers or apportion blame, but to recognize that justice as well as compassion demands that we take the steps necessary to end the ISIL/ISIS campaign of genocide and protect those who are its victims.

It is key to stop politicizing this and work together to stop it. Everyone who has a sense of what the civilized world is up against is saying the same thing.

Then, as the world knew immediately, early in the week, the second beheading of an American journalist was carried out, videotaped, and posted for the world to see, taunting the West and especially the US.

A new video appears to show the execution of Steven Sotloff, the second American killed by a self-professed member of the Islamist terror group ISIS.

In the video, which appeared online [Tuesday] Sotloff addresses the camera, saying, “I’m sure you know exactly who I am by now and why I am appearing.”

“Obama, your foreign policy of intervention in Iraq was supposed to be for preservation of American lives and interests, so why is it that I am paying the price of your interference with my life?” the journalist says calmly as the black clad militant holds a knife casually at his side.

Later the video then cuts to the militant who says, “I’m back, Obama. I’m back because of your arrogant foreign policy towards the Islamic State [ISIS].”

“… [J]ust as your missiles continue to strike our people, our knife will continue to strike the necks of your people,” the figure says.

The camera cuts again and the militant appears to kill Sotloff.

Horrifying as it was, the news got far less media coverage than the beheading of James Foley, just days ago. There’s no reason for that. The execution of Sotloff was just as brutal and inhumane, and it was another provocation to the US, another declaration of war with such a globally visible murder of an innocent American journalist.

Here’s what a lot of people may have missed, since media gave the execution less attention.

Speaking at a press conference in Florida, Sotloff family spokesman Barak Barfi said that Steven “wanted to give voice to those who had none”…

“From the Libyan doctor in Misrata who struggled to provide psychological services to children ravaged by war, to the Syrian plumber who risked his life by crossing regime lines to purchase medicine, their story was Steve’s story. He ultimately sacrificed his life to bring their story to the world,” Mr Barfi said.

“Today we grieve but we will emerge stronger. We will not allow our enemies to hold us hostage with the sole weapon they possess: Fear.”…

Mr Obama said the US would build a coalition to “degrade and destroy” IS.

Where that stands got a little clearer now that he’s huddling with international leaders at the NATO summit.

But meanwhile, religious leaders and scholars continue to raise their voices with specific calls for action. The Vatican did, again.

And while Prof. Robert George’s Iraq Rescue petition is getting more attention, it calls for more signatures. Meanwhile, he’s warning anyone who will listen that the Islamic State will carry out “mass slaughter in the United States’ if it is not destroyed as a fighting force.

Princeton University professor Robert George warned Wednesday that the Islamic State will carry out “mass slaughter in the United States” if it is not soon “destroyed as a fighting force.”

“They have every intention of getting [to the United States], and these are people who achieve what they set out to achieve,” George said… “Unless somebody stops them, they make good on their threats. They have threatened to carry out activity in the United States — killing people, mass slaughter in the United States.”

“Believe me, I plead with you, I want your listeners to believe me — these people will do it if they can,” George continued. “And they will be able to do it unless we stop them.”

The Princeton professor described the Islamic State as “genocidal,” saying: “They mean to wipe out entire communities, and there is nothing they will stop short of when it comes to achieving their goal.”

“Our well-being, our security, our place in the world are vitally threatened by ISIS and ISIL,” he said. “They will stop at nothing … in order to destroy anyone standing in their way so that they can establish the caliphate.”

George advocated working with the international community to supply air support, as well as strategic and intelligence support, to Kurdish forces, Sunni tribesmen, and other local forces resisting the Islamic State. He also advocated airstrikes against Islamic State strongholds.

George said “we’re going to have to fight them eventually.” The only question is whether we do it in Iraq, or wait “until they’re carrying out terrorist activity within the United States.”

Prof. Robert George is not given to hyperbole. He is probably the most eminently reasonable scholar I know, or know of. These words issue a sober warning, from an expert who has served in various capacities on behalf of the U.S. on international commissions dealing with human rights and justice.

Congress returns at the beginning of the week, the week of 9/11, when many people predict a possible or likely attack on American soil again. The Chaldean Catholic Patriarch has renewed his plea to the United Nations, upping the intensity.

And the reminder that “the whole world’s watching” has been resounding. Only this time, with far greater stakes than at the 1968 Democratic convention in Chicago when student demonstrators started that chant. Prof. George and his bipartisan, interfaith, unified supporters declare there’s something much larger and far more dangerous at work now in the ISIS onslaught. And they ask for all people of goodwill to join the movement to stop it.

The coalition of the willing can sign on here.

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Sep 01

It’s good news that people are asking.

Stalwarts who have been working with embattled and endangered communities all along are pleading for relief. Whether they’re clergy, other religious, or faith-based organizations, they’re spent and crying out for help.

One anguished priest wrote to Pope Francis, out of desperation. He got a response.

Pope Francis has telephoned an Iraqi priest who is ministering in a refugee camp, according to a Vatican Radio report.

“The situation of your sheep is miserable,” Father Behnam Benoka, until recently a seminary vice-rector near Mosul, said in his letter. “They die and they are hungry. Your little ones are scared and cannot do it anymore. We, priests, religious, are few and fear not being able to meet the physical and mental needs of your and our children.”

“Your Holiness, I’m afraid of losing your children, especially infants who every day struggle and weaken more,” he continued. “I’m afraid that death will snatch some away. Send us your blessing so that we may have the strength to go on, and maybe we can still resist.”

In response to the letter, the Pope called Father Benoka and “reiterated his full support and closeness to the persecuted Christians, promising that he will continue to do his best to bring relief to their suffering,” Vatican Radio reported.

The refugees and those caught up in the violence while trying to deliver aid are at the point of helping each other survive.

Christians and other religious minorities who have fled areas in Iraq that have fallen under Islamic State control are now helping one another to survive as refugees, an aid worker said.

“They themselves have been displaced and they’re going around caring for those who are in need, who are in situations like they are,” Todd Daniels, International Christian Concern regional manager for the Middle East, told CNA Aug. 27.

Last week, Daniels was in Iraq, where it is estimated that more than 1 million people have fled from their homes amid the invasion of the radical Islamic State, also known as ISIS. The militant group has taken control of numerous cities and ordered Christians and other religious minorities to convert, pay a tax known as a jizya, or be killed.

The fleeing Iraqis – including Christians and other religious minorities – have sought refuge in other areas, such as the northern city of Erbil.

Daniels said that while the situation is desperate, there is much hope in the way religious communities and refugees are working to improve life there.

“Probably one of the most striking impressions was just the activeness of the local churches,” he said. “From morning to night they’re out there providing aid, providing relief and actually, a lot of the man power, for the groups we were working with by people who themselves have been displaced.”…

Some refugees hope that international security forces will help create a safe haven for Christians and other religious minorities, while others are just trying to grasp the reality that they will most likely never return to their homes.

“There’s really a feeling of not knowing what to do,” Daniels said.

Though I cover this ongoing crisis just about every day on radio and in writing, bringing in experts and giving out information, it can’t be repeated often enough. Because some people are just beginning to learn, others just beginning to pay attention, and some who realize the reality is dire, the relief organizations are on the ground and delivering aid, and the need for support is urgent and critical. But they don’t quite catch where they can contribute to that effort.

I was caught off guard by a frustrated listener who said, frankly, that tuning in briefly at different times as he could, he caught some of the conversations but not the ways to help, and wanted that information to be repeated often, so people tuning in and out as time allowed would hear something that gave them access to the relief organizations doing the hard, firsthand work of sustaining people fleeing for their lives.

For everyone’s sake, here are some of the best.

Catholic Near East Welfare Association is a papal agency delivering humanitarian aid and pastoral support in many locations globally, most acutely in the Middle East right now. They’re lean on staff and support costs, so most of the contributed funds go straight to the people actually in greatest need.

Catholic Relief Services is another long established aid organization on the ground where needs are the greatest across the globe, especially in the Iraq crisis.

Aid to the Church in Need is similar, also under the guidance of the pope and with the mission of aiding persecuted Christians and other suffering minorities.

The Knights of Columbus launched a major fund to help Christians threatened with extinction in Iraq.

“The unprovoked and systematic persecution and violent elimination of Middle East Christians, as well as other minority groups, especially in Iraq, has created an enormous humanitarian crisis,” said Supreme Knight Carl Anderson. “Pope Francis has asked the world for prayers and support for those affected by this terrible persecution, and we are asking our members, and all people of good will, to pray for those persecuted and support efforts to assist them by donating to this fund.”

Anderson added: “It has shocked the conscience of the world that people are systematically being purged from the region where their families have lived for millennia – simply for their faith. It is imperative that we stand in solidarity with them in defense of the freedom of conscience, and provide them with whatever relief we can.”

To that end, the US Bishops Conference has asked all parishes across the country to take up a special collection over the next two weekends to support immediate humanitarian and pastoral needs in the Middle East. Some began this past weekend. The USCCB site provides complete information on this initiative, including all the ways people can send aid and relief.

I was struck by a couple of different expert guests on radio last week saying the same thing, separately, on different days, about what was being lost in the elimination of Christians from the earliest birthplaces of Christianity. Besides the obvious.

They each said Catholics and other Christians have traditionally provided the hospitals, shelters, schools, homes, orphanages and distribution centers for basic needs in the areas they’re now being driven from, possibly at a point of no return. What will happen when they’re gone?

As Kathryn Lopez asks,

How many times have we heard: “Never again”?…

How often have we quoted: “The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing”? And yet: Do we do nothing? What do we actually say in the face of evil?

We say those words over again, that quote from philosopher Edmund Burke, among other things that make us feel good to be aware and engaged, and feel like we’re alerting others to something grave that must be met with greater good and truth that can vanquish evil. But after saying those things, we too often go on to the next thing in our busy lives and tend to it.

This is a pivotal point in history.

“The spectacle of tragedy has always filled men, not with despair, but with a sense of hope and exaltation,” wrote Whittaker Chambers, whom National Review founder William F. Buckley Jr. described as “the most important American defector from Communism.” Chambers explained: “Crime, violence, infamy, are not tragedy. Tragedy occurs when a human soul awakes and seeks, in suffering and pain, to free itself from crime, violence, infamy, even at the cost of life. The struggle is the tragedy — not defeat or death.”

Is this a time of awakening?

At one point in his Witness, Chambers recounts how the daughter of a German Communist explained her father’s defection: He had been an unquestioning Communist, and then “one night — in Moscow — he heard screams. That’s all. Simply one night he heard screams.”

Do we hear the screams? Do we join with the persecuted in the prayers they have led us in? Will we join their witness to the truth about the dignity of every man and woman, of whatever faith or no faith? Will we never again be silent as evil is happening?

That is as unthinkable as the crimes against humanity that are happening daily.

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Aug 31

Pope, patriarchs and prelates are crying out for intervention. Where are the presidents and prime ministers?

I’ve known Maronite leader Monsignor Sharbel Maroun for many years, talked with him on radio in 2006 after Telelumiere was nearly destroyed in the Lebanon War that summer, and many times before and after then about the ongoing work of unity and mutual respect of Christians and Muslims in the Middle East. He just returned from Lebanon recently, we talked again this week, and he is despondent. What he said is captured well here.

Catholics in the Middle East are being persecuted and slaughtered while the world watches and remains silent, said the leader of an Eastern rite Catholic community.

“It is a very heartbreaking situation, affecting everybody but mainly Christians,” said Msgr. Sharbel Maroun, pastor of St. Maron Maronite Parish in Minneapolis. “The Middle East is an erupting volcano, causing so many people to be wounded, displaced, injured and killed. There is a wave of persecution — I think it is a systematic persecution — that the church hasn’t seen since the early ages.”…

“It is devastating that the international community is just watching, doing nothing,” Msgr. Maroun said.

Several weeks ago, Christians were told to get out or be killed, and the international community said nothing and did nothing.

“I am talking about the international community in general, including the super powers,” he said. “By not doing anything, you are as guilty as those who are killing Christians. This is plain English.”

Msgr. Maroun said it is similar to the silence of the world when Jews were persecuted, rounded up and murdered wholesale in Nazi Germany.

“The Christians have been appealing, crying, begging the world to do something about this situation in the Middle East,” Msgr. Maroun said.

Those three statements tie together some important pleas by other leaders and leading voices.

Consider them in reverse order.

Pope Francis, other Vatican representatives and several Patriarchs have appealed to the United Nations and the international community to intervene in the most dangerous places for minorities, in what is clearly a sweep of maniacal genocide.

Some Jewish leaders see with clarity history repeating itself, and have cried out about the silence as it unfolds in sheer, graphic, and now widely known brutality. Like Ronald Lauder in the New York Times, asking Who Will Stand Up for the Christians?

Why is the world silent while Christians are being slaughtered in the Middle East and Africa?

As the leader of the World Jewish Congress, Lauder

slammed global apathy to persecution of Christians in the Middle East and other parts of the world, saying more countries should be moved to action.

“The general indifference to ISIS, with its mass executions of Christians and its deadly preoccupation with Israel, isn’t just wrong; it’s obscene,” wrote Ronald S. Lauder in an Aug. 19 New York Times editorial.

“The Jewish people understand all too well what can happen when the world is silent,” he said. “This campaign of death must be stopped.”

Lauder stated that while the international community has rallied to defend the persecution of other minorities in other conflicts…“the barbarous slaughter of thousands upon thousands of Christians is met with relative indifference.”

Noting a range of offenses against “Christian communities that have lived in peace for centuries” in the Middle East and parts of Africa, he decried a lack of action…

“Historians may look back at this period and wonder if people had lost their bearings,” Lauder warned. He noted that international organization have mostly remained quiet on “the Nazi-like wave of terror that is rolling across” Iraq.

Additionally, he said, celebrities or public figures have not spoken on the persecution, and he wondered “why doesn’t the slaughter of Christians seem to activate their social antennas?”

Cardinal Donald Wuerl of Washington D.C. wondered the same thing out loud, with a profoundly heavy heart. His closing remarks at the opening of the new Catholic University of America school year rattled everyone who heard it live and in its reverberations since he uttered his brief but deeply felt message last Thursday.

Where are the voices?” he asked.

Why a silence?

Today our solidarity with brothers and sisters of our faith and of other faiths in a part of the world where there is clearly an effort to eliminate them is something that we simply cannot in conscience ignore. Often we’re asked, “How is it possible that in human history atrocities occur?” They occur for two reasons. Because there are those prepared to commit them and there are those who remain silent. And the actions in Iraq and Syria today, what’s happening to women, children, men, their displacement – as the least of the things happening to them – is something that we really are not free to ignore and sometimes all we have to raise is our voice.

That’s quite profound, when you consider it. So is the rest of what he said.

I’m sharing these thoughts with you because I don’t want to have on my conscience that I was complicit in something as horrendous as this simply by being quiet. And I ask myself where are these voices? Where are the voices of parliaments and congresses? Where are the voices of campuses? Where are the voices of community leaders? Where are the voices of talk show hosts and radio programs? Where are the voices of the late night news? Where are the voices of editorial columns? Where are the voices of op-ed pieces? Why a silence? I think each one of us has at least the power to raise our voice and be in solidarity with people distant from us, unknown to us, not a part of this campus, not a part of this family, not a part of this university, not a part of our nation. But they are a part of our human community. I think it should rest on the conscience of each one of us. Atrocities happen because there are those who commit them and those who simply remain silent.

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Aug 25

They came from near and far, for many reasons. Some for opportunism, some for possibilities.

Over the past two weeks, many people descended on Ferguson, Missouri mostly, it seemed, to stoke the fires of resentment and divisiveness. Anger and hostility escalated. Finally, some calm has settled and reason seems to have broken out, and it deserves some keen attention.

Over the weekend, people who represented different sides of the racial battle/political debate began saying sort of the same things. Or maybe someone on one side would see that both sides actually agreed on what they wanted, though they were going about it so differently, that fundamental plea wasn’t being heard.

One moment I recall this being crystallized was when Dr. Ben Carson said on one of his many appearances on Fox News that he would welcome a discussion with Al Sharpton, who had been agitating all over the media from Ferguson for racial and social justice causes using the usual slogans, and Carson calmly said he would ask Sharpton ‘what is it that you want?’ That struck me as a good and direct potential encounter. ‘What do you want to happen? What solution are you looking for? What do you want?’

Meanwhile, I saw this piece on National Review Online and thought it reasonable and clarifying.

I’m always looking for areas where the Left and the Right can agree on a policy reform, even if it is for different reasons. One has emerged from the tragedy of Ferguson, Mo. In the aftermath of Michael Brown’s shooting, many blamed some portion of the tension there on the striking racial gap between the police force, which is 94 percent white, and Ferguson’s African-American population, which makes up two-thirds of the city. Not only the police force but also the rest of the local power structure in Ferguson is dominated by whites.

Ferguson has seen enormous demographic change in the last 20 years, with the percentage of its black population growing from 25 percent to 67 percent. But five of its six city council members are still white, as is the mayor. The school board has six white members and one Hispanic.

One reason for the disparity is that, like many cities, Ferguson holds stand-alone elections for local offices in the spring of odd-numbered years when nothing else is on the ballot. Voter turnout is abysmal — 7 percent of black voters compared with 17 percent of white voters. By way of contrast, 54 percent of blacks and 55 percent of whites voted in the 2012 presidential election in Ferguson.

Existing power structures like this arrangement because it greatly favors incumbents, who can continue to dominate local bodies despite demographic change. Jeff Smith, a former Democratic state senator in Missouri who now teaches urban policy, writes that “overwhelmingly white-constituent unions (plumbers, pipe fitters, electrical workers, sprinkler fitters) have benefited from these arrangements” and that these unions operate potent voter-turnout machines that overwhelm black challengers. “The more municipal contracts an organization receives, the more generously it can fund reelection campaigns. Construction, waste, and other long-term contracts with private firms have traditionally excluded blacks from the ownership side, and, usually, the work force as well.”

Low voter turnout for off-year local elections is a problem nationwide. In Los Angeles, fewer than 12 percent of voters participated in the recent race for mayor. Policy reformers and racial minorities are among those hurt by the perpetuation of this incumbent-friendly status quo.

This is not a minor matter. It’s a major one. The disparity in representative government and positions of authority in the community that both are supposed to serve is a growing problem.

Liberals now have a reason to join conservatives in supporting a reformed election calendar. As Ian Millhiser of the liberal ThinkProgress website puts it: “Through a simple rescheduling measure, Ferguson’s black residents could permanently reshape their city’s electoral landscape so that its leaders are chosen by an electorate that more closely resembles Ferguson as a whole.”

Then on Sunday, on Fox News Sunday, Dr. Ben Carson had the chance for an encounter not with Al Sharpton, but his counterpart Jesse Jackson. I watched it, listened carefully, and was impressed with the power of persuasion of clarity with charity.

Chris Wallace pressed Jackson on his remarks that the shooting death was a “state execution.” Jackson said that the 18-year-old was shot six times and was unarmed.

But Wallace noted that reports say Brown was charging at the officer and may have hit him in the face.

“If we don’t know,” he asked, “why are we declaring a verdict?”

“It seems to me the police act as judge, jury and executioner,” Jackson said.

Carson stressed that the issues are much bigger and cannot be resolved in a short segment. Still, he said, “I’m not sure this is a police versus black community issue.”

Then an unexpected moment came, watch it if you can click on the exchange in the link.

Carson recalled his youth, during which he said he had anger issues and even tried to stab someone.

“If you take race out of the issue altogether and you take a group of young men and you raise them with no respect for authority, not learning to take on personal responsibility, having easy access to drugs and alcohol, they’re very likely to end up as victims of violence or incarceration. It has nothing to do with race,” he said. However, he noted that there are problems with race in America – yesterday, today and tomorrow.

Jackson maintained that there is a race dimension to the story.

“It seems to me that when blacks kill whites – which is rare – it’s swift justice. When whites kill blacks, it’s rebellion. When it’s black on black, there’s shrug of the shoulder, a kind of permissiveness,” he said.

Carson said people must get involved in the process and start voting.

Which gets back to the good point John Fund made in NRO, cited above. That’s moving the ball forward, that’s getting social stagnation somewhere, pointing to the process of resolution of social problems.

Carson went on in this pivotal moment.

He also said that what changed him was that his mother made him read books, and he read about people of accomplishment.

“What I came to understand is that the person who has the most to do with what happens to you in life, it’s you. It’s not the environment and it’s not somebody else. […] we must re-instill the can-do attitude in America not the ‘what can you do for me’ what ‘have you done for me’ attitude,” Carson said.

He also wound up saying he believes that he and Jackson were, essentially, saying and wanting the same things. Which kindly and gently returned to the point Carson made, days before, about wanting to ask Al Sharpton what do you want to happen? In this exchange with Jackson, it sort of came out.

And then the funeral of Michael Brown brought together a lot of people calling for change, but calmly and reasonably. There were local residents, prominent celebrities, members of Congress, representatives of the White House, civil rights leaders.

And the often polarizing, agitating, angry and unreasonable Rev. Al Sharpton delivered a eulogy that surprised a lot of folks with its reasonableness and frankness.

After a demand for broad reforms in American policing, Sharpton changed course to address his black listeners directly. “We’ve got to be straight up in our community, too,” he said. “We have to be outraged at a 9-year-old girl killed in Chicago. We have got to be outraged by our disrespect for each other, our disregard for each other, our killing and shooting and running around gun-toting each other, so that they’re justified in trying to come at us because some of us act like the definition of blackness is how low you can go.”

“Blackness has never been about being a gangster or a thug,” Sharpton continued. “Blackness was, no matter how low we was pushed down, we rose up anyhow.”

Sharpton went on to describe blacks working to overcome discrimination, to build black colleges, to establish black churches, to succeed in life. “We never surrendered,” Sharpton said. “We never gave up. And now we get to the 21st century, we get to where we’ve got some positions of power. And you decide it ain’t black no more to be successful. Now, you want to be a n—– and call your woman a ‘ho.’ You’ve lost where you’re coming from.”

The cameras cut to director Spike Lee, on his feet applauding enthusiastically. So were Martin Luther King III, radio host Tom Joyner, and, judging by video coverage, pretty much everyone else in the church. They kept applauding when Sharpton accused some blacks of having “ghetto pity parties.” And they applauded more when Sharpton finally declared: “We’ve got to clean up our community so we can clean up the United States of America!”

This was a different Al Sharpton. A new day. Not only a mention but a confrontation with problems blacks face but some refuse to face, and a calling out to everyone concerned to deal squarely with what’s wrong and what it would take to make it right.

I have addressed this time and again on radio, with respected authorities on social justice, inner city communities dealing with crime, violence, lack of educational resources, aid to families or barely subsisting relatives without intact families, legal experts, and heroic clergy and church organizations serving those communities. And will again this week.

Stay tuned.

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Aug 21

It worked, though maybe not as that murderous gang expected.

They wanted to cower the US into backing off the already limited air strikes, humanitarian relief drops and rescue missions of refugees from their brutality. Did the horror of beheading a captive American journalist intimidate the US into backing off those strikes, as intended? Did the president end his vacation and return to the White House to monitor all operations going forward? No. No to both questions.

First, the president’s press conference on the state of affairs after this intimidation tactic.

On Wednesday, President Barack Obama addressed the nation regarding the brutal slaying of an American journalist by Islamic State militants. After conducting that gruesome deed, James Wright Foley’s assassin warned the president that his organization planned to kill yet another American unless the West surrenders Iraq and Syria to the Islamic State’s inhuman designs.

Many of the words Obama deployed in his rhetorical front in the war against ISIS were quite nice and even refreshingly blunt. “No just God would stand for what they did yesterday and what they do every single day,” Obama said after a brief list of the atrocities committed by ISIS militants. “ISIL has no ideology of any value to human beings. Their ideology is bankrupt.”

“People like this ultimately fail,” the president added. “They fail because the future is won by those who build and not destroy.”

History is, indeed, replete with examples of barbaric forces bent on delivering the world back into darkness. Some have failed. Some did not. Those that did fail did so because they were resisted by the armies of civilization. None of history’s dark crusades ever failed in a vacuum.

That’s a critical point. They don’t just ‘fail’. They are defeated.

Obama expressed how “heartbroken” he was at the murder of an American, and he pledged to “extract this cancer so that it does not spread.” But this metastatic tumor has already been allowed to spread. And, even in a fashion that maintained a sufficient level of operational secrecy, the president failed to inform the American people how he planned to excise it…

Where was the status update on the ongoing airstrikes against ISIS positions in the north of Iraq which, judging only from press accounts, appear to be relatively effective? Why did the president fail to address rumors that his administration was aware of the threats to Foley’s life prior to his execution, or that unconfirmed reports have suggested that his killer may have been a former Guantanamo detainee?

For that matter, why did the president not address the fact that a significant number of westerners are apparently fighting alongside ISIS in Syria and Iraq, and Foley’s executioner may have been one of these western jihadists? It is, again, perfectly understandable for the president to not want to get ahead of the facts of this still developing event, but Obama is set to chair as United Nations Security Council meeting in September which is focused entirely on that very threat. He has yet to publicly address this forthcoming UNSC meeting, and this incident would have been a perfect time to broach that subject.

Instead, he leaves it up to his surrogates and the media to inform the public about how this war is being prosecuted. The latest development, breaking just minutes after Obama spoke, is an apparent proposal administration officials are considering to send 300 additional troops to Iraq. Even members of Obama’s own party are now strongly suggesting that the president come to Congress with a request to legally authorize this application of force in Iraq. When does the president plan to speak honestly about the scope of American involvement in the Middle East?

British Prime Minister David Cameron cut short his vacation to return to the urgent matters facing the West and the world with this extremist threat. He called the beheading of American journalist James Foley “shocking and depraved”, giving voice to the deeply rooted reactions of Westerners.

Look, this will all get analyzed and detailed to some extend in the days to come. I’m out of contact for the next couple of days myself, not for vacation but for personal matters. But an initial response must be swift and clear and strong. I hate that it ‘s always a ‘response’ these days, instead of a nation standing for freedom and protection and justice taking the lead in pro-actively leading the way on what the United Nations Charter called the ‘duty to protect.’

So for now, here are a couple of clear pieces of reporting and commentary that directly speak to what we’re confronting in Iraq.

Tod Worner was on my radio program the other day bringing his intellectual heft to the table about what we’re dealing with. And that was while we were dealing with inhumane atrocities unimaginable to the civilized mind, and before the video recorded beheading of an American journalist. Here’s an upshot.

ISIS [the Islamic State in Iraq & Syria, or the Islamic State in Iraq & the Levant (ISIL), or simply the Islamic State - hereafter called ISIS] is the most ruthless, brazen jihadist army the world may have ever seen. For further description, please see my previous posts here, here, and here. Khaled Sharrouf found ISIS compelling enough to leave Australia with his family to arrive in Syria and partake in particularly vicious bloodletting in the name of jihad and the cause of re-establishing the worldwide Islamic Caliphate. With a large cache of money and weaponry at their disposal, ISIS has unleashed a lightning speed butchery in Iraq and Syria unprecedented in scope, fury, and success (with the closest comparison being the 1940-41 National Socialist onslaught in Western Europe and against the Soviet Union). And their achievements are difficult to ignore.

Well over one million refugees have fled their homes and cities fearing certain death if they refused conversion to Islam. Thousands have been tortured, raped and murdered via gruesome means including beheadings, crucifixions, stonings and mass shootings. The culture being erected includes women and girls sold into sex slavery, female genital mutilation, and draconian rules outlawing tobacco, alcohol, and revealing attire. Absolute and fierce adherence to ISIS’ vision of Islam is the unbending law and a hair’s deviation earns pitiless punishment. And this is all being enacted by a group that is awash with money, oil reserves, territory, weapons and a rabid following.

Now the point of this post is not simply to reiterate the unparalleled viciousness unfolding before our eyes day after bloody day in Iraq and Syria – though this, unquestionably, would be reason enough. Rather it is to call attention to a crisis that is being forgotten or, more likely, conveniently ignored: The Crisis of Moral Relativism in the face of Naked Evil…

In the post-modern world, we have been led to believe that truth is relative to person, place, time and culture. This notion has led many to approach different faiths, cultures, nations and people with the exalted virtues of open-mindedness and tolerance…

With all relative and nothing absolute, there is no standard. There is no right or wrong, fair or unfair, good or evil – just gentlemanly differences of opinion. But in the end, absent a guide such as right, wrong, fair, unfair…what will guide the direction a person, a culture, or a society goes in? Power. So the unholy alliance in a morally relative world is between aggressive entities ruthlessly executing their will and their passive observers falling all over themselves asking “Who are we to judge?”….

Perhaps, then, we can agree on something. Perhaps we can agree that what ISIS is doing is…wrong? And is it possible, just possible, that we may find ourselves naming their untethered sadism…evil? You see, once we have moved from a cozy, theoretical, dispassionate, anthropologic interest in a human affair to a true understanding of what is happening, we find ourselves stirred by a deeper sense of inviolable (perhaps, even sacred) human dignity and justice. We have moved from the realm where all truth and morality is relative…to the realm where there is an absolute standard of truth and morality (where human life is dignified, ought to be respected and the violation of this dignity demands justice be served).

By calling the actions of ISIS unacceptable, we have shattered relativism for all time. Because we have invoked an absolute standard: Right and Wrong. How novel that we live in a world where this should be controversial? As Winston Churchill once said,

“It is an important thing to diagnose the evil…”

Yes. Indeed.

But first we must believe in evil.

And that’s where the other piece comes in, from the engaged and exercised and vocal and exquisitely spot on Elizabeth Scalia, who feels the pain and conveys it in a way we can feel.

Look at how she honored the life and death of James Foley, and his witness to the ‘subversive freedom of prayer‘.

A great deal has been written about the late James Foley, his beheading at the hands of a barbarous Islamic State: the moving response from this band of Syrians, the Jesuit education which, along with the example of his family kept him grounded in his faith; his own words on the power of prayer, written in previous captivity.

The story is tragic and infuriating — every bit as nation-stirring as the similar murder of Daniel Pearl, all those years ago, when bloody “war on terror” was still in its official infancy, though in truth, we have been trailing these tears and stains for many decades, now.

But I keep coming back to Foley’s own words on prayer, and how it sustained him:

It showed tremendous heart and was just a glimpse of the efforts and prayers people were pouring forth. If nothing else, prayer was the glue that enabled my freedom, an inner freedom first and later the miracle of being released during a war in which the regime had no real incentive to free us. It didn’t make sense, but faith did.

It’s something we’ve talked about a lot on this blog, but it bears repeating: prayer is a subversive means of freedom, at once consoling, engaging and efficacious throughout time and space. It has power, and that power holds, when everything else falls apart.

ISIL got the attention of the US and the Western World. That’s what it wanted. What comes next, God willing, is beyond their reach and grasp.

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Aug 18

Or another flash in the pan soon to be extinguished and forgotten?

So let’s parse that a bit further. If the sudden eruption of active protests, the descent of countless media crews, days and days of street demonstrations both peaceful and angry by both locals and outsiders, on the streets of Ferguson Missouri have collectively inflamed a national debate after the police action resulting in the shooting death of an 18 year old young black man, is it a confrontation with racism seething beneath the surface of our society still? Or is it something deeper? And if that, then what is it about, at root?

On the surface, a lot of news reporting has covered it as racial tension erupting yet again though ever present in communities like Ferguson, emblematic of small towns and communities and inner city neighborhoods across the country. I’ve been watching, listening, reading, following and closely considering it all as it has grown over the past week or more and especially as it’s developed into a national spectacle and standoff between angry citizens and their sympathizers on one side and law enforcement and state authorities on the other. Though everyone turning up in Ferguson doesn’t neatly fall into one of those categories, especially the whole media class adding to the confluence of events devolving there by the day and especially, at night. Every night but one, since it all began.

My default mode is the question ‘What’s the truth?’ And furthermore: ‘Who did what and why? What’s happening right now as a consequence? And who is authoritative enough to answer these questions honestly?’

There are layers of answers, and it will take a while to peel them off.

Here are two articles that capture some of that complexity.

NBA star Kareem Abdul-Jabbar wrote this for Time online, asserting that it’s not ultimately about race as much as social inequality.

By focusing on just the racial aspect, the discussion becomes about whether Michael Brown’s death—or that of the other three unarmed black men who were killed by police in the U.S. within that month—is about discrimination or about police justification. Then we’ll argue about whether there isn’t just as much black-against-white racism in the U.S. as there is white-against-black. (Yes, there is. But, in general, white-against-black economically impacts the future of the black community. Black-against-white has almost no measurable social impact.)…

This fist-shaking of everyone’s racial agenda distracts America from the larger issue that the targets of police overreaction are based less on skin color and more on an even worse Ebola-level affliction: being poor. Of course, to many in America, being a person of color is synonymous with being poor, and being poor is synonymous with being a criminal. Ironically, this misperception is true even among the poor…

That’s a statement worth exploring further, as most everything he says here is. Exploring at book length, frankly, because race and class warfare keeps flaring up in these flash points before settling back into an uneasy and dysfunctional coexistence, without addressing essential causes for social breakdown and advancing remedies.

And so it continues:

The middle class has to join the poor and whites have to join African-Americans in mass demonstrations, in ousting corrupt politicians, in boycotting exploitative businesses, in passing legislation that promotes economic equality and opportunity, and in punishing those who gamble with our financial future.

Otherwise, all we’re going to get is what we got out of Ferguson: a bunch of politicians and celebrities expressing sympathy and outrage. If we don’t have a specific agenda—a list of exactly what we want to change and how—we will be gathering over and over again beside the dead bodies of our murdered children, parents, and neighbors.

Exactly. My thoughts exactly a couple of years ago when a protest was organized in Chicago as an outcry against violence on the streets with homicides hitting new levels and young people killing young people and anybody caught in the crossfire of random shootings, including innocent little children. This is my town, and the politicians who have run it for so long are people in high places with power and influence, and where are they when these protests are held? Speaker after speaker takes the podium and calls out for help and resolution, community leaders deploring the violence and despair in their neighborhoods and working by all means to aid and protect the people they serve.

Church leaders across different faiths, denominations and congregations are working in coalition to build up those communities, provide services, safety, education, a way out of despair and violence. But where are the politicians?

That gets to the other article, one that addresses questions I’ve been asking. NRO’s Kevin Williamson asks ‘Who Lost the Cities?’

The Reverend Jesse Jackson is, to the surprise of all thinking people, right about something: “A spark has exploded,” he said, referring to the protests and violence in Ferguson, Mo. “When you look at what sparked riots in the Sixties, it has always been some combination of poverty, which was the fuel, and then some oppressive police tactic. It was the same in Newark, in Chicago, in Detroit, in Los Angeles. It’s symptomatic of a national crisis of urban abandonment and repression, seen in Chicago.”

A question for the Reverend Jackson: Who has been running the show in Newark, in Chicago, in Detroit, and in Los Angeles for a great long while now? The answer is: People who see the world in much the same way as does the Reverend Jackson, who take the same view of government, who support the same policies, and who suffer from the same biases.

…the more important and more fundamental question here is one of philosophy and policy. Newark, Detroit, Chicago, Los Angeles — and Philadelphia, Cleveland, and a dozen or more other cities — have a great deal in common: They are the places in which the progressive vision of government has reached its fullest expressions. They are the hopeless reality that results from wishful thinking.

Ferguson was hardly a happy suburban garden spot until the shooting of Michael Brown. Ferguson is about two-thirds black, and 28 percent of those black residents live below the poverty line. The median income is well below the Missouri average, and Missouri is hardly the nation’s runaway leader in economic matters. More than 60 percent of the births in the city of St. Louis (and about 40 percent in St. Louis County) are out of wedlock.

My reporting over the past few years has taken me to Chicago, Los Angeles, Detroit, St. Louis and the nearby community of East St. Louis, Ill., Philadelphia, Detroit, Stockton, San Francisco, and a great many other cities, and the Reverend Jackson is undoubtedly correct in identifying “a national crisis of urban abandonment and repression.” He neglects to point out that he is an important enabler of it.

This gets to core, root problems causing social dysfunction and the breakdown of societies basic foundation.

For years, our major cities were undermined by a confluence of four unhappy factors: 1. higher taxes; 2. defective schools; 3. crime; 4. declining economic opportunity. Together, these weighed much more heavily upon the middle class than upon the very wealthy and the very poor.

Though they weigh heavily upon the poor, and more of them are giving up on ‘the system’ they believed would take care of them, especially for the past many years.

Progressives spent a generation imposing taxes and other expenses on urban populations as though the taxpaying middle class would not relocate…They imposed policies that disincentivized stable family arrangements as though doing so would have no social cost.

And they did so while adhering to a political philosophy that holds that the state, not the family or the market, is the central actor in our lives, that the interests of private parties — be they taxpayers or businesses — can and indeed must be subordinated to the state’s interests, as though individuals and families were nothing more than gears in the great machine of politics. The philosophy of abusive eminent domain, government monopolies, and opportunistic taxation is also the philosophy of police brutality, the repression of free speech and other constitutional rights, and economic despair…When life is reduced to the terms in which it is lived in the poorest and most neglected parts of Chicago or Detroit, the welfare state is the police state. Why should we expect the agents of the government who carry guns and badges to be in general better behaved than those at the IRS or the National Labor Relations Board? We have city councils that conduct their affairs in convenient secrecy and put their own interests above those of the communities that they allege to serve, and yet we naïvely think that when that self-serving process is used to hire a police commissioner or to organize a police department, then we’ll get saints and Einsteins out of all that muck.

There’s convergence here between Williamson and Abdul-Jabbar, actually.

Our cities need economic growth and opportunity, functional education systems, and physical security.

Unless the Revs. Al Sharpton, Jesse Jackson, Jeremiah Wright, mayors and governors and former Chicago South Side community organizer Barack Obama  listen to the Reverends in the inner city churches taking care of the people most in need, knowing them by name, providing through their charities for the fatherless children who need classrooms and school books, doing outreach to the angry young men who have given up looking for jobs, Ferguson will fade from the front pages without causing social change. And meanwhile, Chicago’s shootings and those in Detroit and New York and other US cities will continue to be statistics.

The president says he is watching closely. So are we.

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Aug 13

Barbarism has returned in a supposedly civilized world. What can we do?

How do you dialogue with a fanatic,” asks an Iraqi Patriarch in the middle of insane violence.

Chaldean Catholic Patriarch Louis Raphael I Sako says he is working with the government of Iraq to bring Christian refugees to Baghdad.

The majority of Christians who have been driven from villages and towns in the Plain of Nineveh are living in dangerous conditions, in makeshift facilities that are now overflowing. In the Iraqi capital, there would be greater care in terms of hygiene, medical care and personal safety.

The Patriarch is also convinced that the American airstrikes are not enough to stop the pressure and advance of ISIS troops.

Here’s part of the fuller interview with Aleteia.org.

Is it true that ISIS militants are asking Christians to pay a tax in order to save their lives and are likewise abducting women and taking them as their wives?

These two reports are true. Christian women have been abducted, and taxes have been demanded. In particular, these Islamic fanatics ask Christians for money to allow them to return to their homes. But the Christians don’t trust them. They are people who continually change their minds: they are unreliable. Perhaps today a Christian pays, returns home to stay there in peace, and tomorrow the militants attack him again, and one never knows what the consequences will be.

The government in Baghdad has accused ISIS Sunni jihadists of having thrown hundreds of Yazidis into mass graves, including women and children who were still alive. What can can you tell us about this?

What you’ve heard happened to the Yazidis is true. More than a thousand women have been kidnapped. A great many children are dead. The people have neither food nor water and they feel cut off from the world. They don’t know where to go or what to do.

In speaking about the crisis in Iraq, Archbishop Sivano Maria Tomasi, the Holy See’s Permanent Observer to the United Nations in Geneva, has said that “military action at this time is needed.” What do you think about US military intervention?

Partial strikes are not enough. The solution to the crisis needs a broader agreement, with the involvement of the Kurdish government and the Iraqi central government. Without an overall strategy, the dream of seeing the people return to their homes will not happen.

And then this:

In your opinion, what will we see happen in the days to come?

I fear that the situation is worsening. There is a problem with the refugees and the humanitarian emergency, and another problem with the political order. For now I don’t see any prospects. The whole world must mobilize itself for the situation in Iraq; otherwise, a stable and permanent situation, in my opinion, will permanently slip away.

The Telegraph is reporting this dire situation, which is merely reporting the truth on the ground there.

The last day of Qaraqosh’s time as a Christian town, a time almost as old as Christianity itself, began with a mortar shell at nine in the morning.

It came through the roof of Melad and Marven Abdullah’s house on Wednesday, killing them instantly. Melad was nine; his cousin, Marven, four. The mortar struck Marven in the head as it landed. They found his arms and feet, crushed against the wall, but nothing else.

The family’s next-door neighbour, Enam Eshoo, had popped in to deliver some fresh drinking water; she too died where she fell.

The day ended with an order to evacuate. Within a couple of hours, the city’s tens of thousands of inhabitants were crowding the road to Kurdistan, fighting with troops manning checkpoints, trying to find shelter where they could.

The streets of the capital Erbil’s newly Christian suburb, Ainkawa, swelled by exiles from ten years of punishing terror and oppression in northern Iraq, are now full of stunned and helpless people. They are camping on the floors of church halls, in a building site, in the street. An old woman was sleeping in a flower bed. Another begged for help.

“Please take me home,” the woman, Azat Mansur, said. It was not clear what she meant by “home”; it sounded more spiritual than real, since her home is now under the control of the jihadists of the Islamic State.

“I can’t stay here any more, or anywhere else. They are going to kill us. They will cut our heads off, if we stay here.”

There is great fear that the advance of the jihadists of the Islamic State is not over, that even Erbil is not safe, two days after the jihadists advanced to within 30 miles.

Mrs Mansur knows them directly, having fled their June advance into Mosul, from where she and all the other Christians were expelled. The jihadists stole $2,000 and her mobile phone at a checkpoint before they let her go, she added…

Qaraqosh is, or was, the largest of a triangle of Christian towns north and east of Mosul, in fact the largest Christian town in Iraq.

It has been Christian since the earliest years of the faith.

Islamic State, the ultra-jihadist al-Qaeda off-shoot that now controls large parts of the country, first tried to attack in late June, after its sweep through Sunni areas of the north and west.

In that case, they were beaten back, or at least did not press their assault. It seemed for a while as if their forces were stretched thinly, bolstered by their allies in the primarily Sunni tribes of western Iraq but not able to reach into areas where those tribes had no interest, such as Kurdish or Christian regions. The promised attack on Baghdad never materialised, either.

But that assessment was wrong. In the last three weeks, IS has made substantial gains in both Syria and against the Kurds, seizing 17 towns in the last week alone, according to their own account, and Mosul Dam, the country’s largest.

Last weekend, they sent the entire population of another beleaguered minority, the Yazidis, into flight north-west of Mosul. Thousands are still camped out on a mountainside, surrounded, starving and awaiting some form of deliverance.

The residents of Qaraqosh had feared they were next in line, but even so, events happened faster than they expected.

Mr Abdullah, a member of the local home guard, was on duty when the mortar hit on Wednesday morning. “There was blood and flesh on the ground,” he said, as he stood in the gardens of St Joseph’s Cathedral in Ainkawa, a church of the Chaldean Catholics, one of Iraq’s patchwork of sects. He himself, like most in Qaraqosh, is from the Assyrian Catholic church.

Alongside Marven and Melad, who was killed by shrapnel in the head and chest, Anas, Mr Abdullah’s seven-year-old younger son, was also seriously injured.
The mortars landed all Wednesday, and families began to pack up and leave. The Abdullah family and the relatives of Enam Eshoo stayed on for the funeral, which was held in the Church of the Virgin Mary at 5pm.

There has been a church on the site since the earliest years; it was mentioned by travellers in the 12 Century.

Not long after the funeral, a mortar landed outside the church’s front gate.

Shortly after that again, a ticker tape notice on the satellite news channels flashed a warning, said one resident, Wissam Isaac. Mr Isaac worked at a Qaraqosh primary school, teaching the local Syriac language, derived from Aramaic, the language of Christ.

The ticker said the Kurdish army, the Peshmerga, on whom the residents had been relying for their defence, was withdrawing.

“Before this time, no-one really thought we would have to leave,” he said. “We trusted the Peshmerga. They said they would save us. They stayed in our houses. We can’t believe this has happened.”

No one can.

Today, ethnic cleansing has a feeling of permanence.

“Without our homeland, we face extinction as a people,” said Mardean Isaac, a British-Assyrian writer. “We are watching our last chance for survival disappear.”

Sitting on the floor of an Ainkawa church hall, watched over by a statue of the Virgin Mary, Bassma Yousef said she could barely find milk for her 20-day-old baby, Mervy, let alone food for the rest of her family. The thousands of people here are eager for hand-outs from aid organisations, the United Nations, or anyone who can help them, before they leave and move on, as they feel they must.

They are less interested in the two bombs that Washington finally dropped on the Islamic State on Friday, regarding them as too little, too late.

So American scholars and other leaders have launched a desperate relief effort, and anyone can sign on to help.

The so-called Islamic State of Iraq (ISIS/ISIL) is conducting a campaign of genocide against Christians, Yazidis, and others in Iraq. In its fanatical effort to establish a caliphate, ISIS/ISIL has engaged in crimes against humanity by deliberately causing mass starvation and dehydration, and by committing unconscionable acts of barbarism against noncombatants, including defenseless women, children, and elderly persons.

It is imperative that the United States and the international community act immediately and decisively to stop the ISIS/ISIL genocide and prevent the further victimization of religious minorities…

President Obama was right to order airstrikes against ISIS/ISIL to stop its advance on key cities, as well as to provide humanitarian assistance to people fleeing their assaults. Much more needs to be done, however, and there is no time to waste.

We, the undersigned, are Democrats, Republicans, and Independents. We are conservatives, liberals, and moderates. We represent various religious traditions and shades of belief. None of us glorifies war or underestimates the risks entailed by the use of military force. Where non-military means of resolving disputes and protecting human rights are available, we always and strongly favor those means. However, the evidence is overwhelming that such means will not be capable of protecting the victims of the genocide already unfolding at the hands of ISIS/ISIL.

Read the whole thing and sign on if you agree. If not, at least be increasingly aware of what’s going on.

What is happening to these people now, and the further threats they face, would not be happening but for errors and failures of our nation’s own in Iraq.  This can and should be acknowledged by all, despite disagreements we may have among ourselves as to precisely what these errors and failures were, and which political and military leaders are mainly responsible for them. The point is not to point fingers or apportion blame, but to recognize that justice as well as compassion demands that we take the steps necessary to end the ISIL/ISIS campaign of genocide and protect those who are its victims.

So help us God, to do what is within our power.

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Aug 12

How fitting a legacy that would be for a genius at comic relief.

This is the third time in recent weeks that I’ve been startled by a confrontation with depression, mental illness, or emotional distress that wrought  havoc or brought death before such suffering could be successfully treated. And those were only three high profile cases that are emblematic of countless others, especially people on the margins of society with no one particularly paying attention to them.

With no other thread than that, here are my encounters, and each one had impact.

The July 7th issue of ESPN magazine featured an article titled ‘The Pursuit of Radical Acceptance.’ It was about Chicago Bears’ Pro Bowl wide receiver Brandon Marshall, and his struggle with ‘borderline personality disorder’, a mental health condition so little understood or talked about that Marshall made it his mission to “make an off-limits subject commonplace.”

He’s reaching out to players who might need help, teaming with mental health organizations through his charity and raising awareness and cash for early-detection programs.

“Where we are now is where the HIV community was 25 years ago,” he says. “We can raise all the money in the world, but people might not go get help. They’re still going to see it as a taboo topic. So it’s important for us to get the conversation started.”

Mental health issues can’t be taboo. They still are though, which is why so much of the population, including high profile celebrities, suffer in silence or within a small circle of closest family and friends. This must change.

Over the years, I recall several cases of prominent professionals whose grown children had ended their own lives, and couldn’t imagine the dreadful horror of such an experience nor how one could live through it. Once you’re a parent, you just know that’s the worse thing that could happen. And it happens to anyone, even the unlikeliest of people and families.

Like beloved Pastor Rick Warren of Saddleback Church, American’s Pastor as many people see him, who couldn’t save the life of his own son. I encountered that story again over the weekend in a poignant interview with Raymond Arroyo in ‘The World Over’ on the EWTN network. It covered Pastor Warren’s initiative, ‘A Gathering On Mental Health and the Church’, and the tragic event that inspired him to focus on the issue of mental health, the death of his own son. It’s heart wrenching beyond words to see these parents go out publicly trying to save others from such unspeakable tragedy.

But the hope of saving them is greater if they can be reached, and going back to Brandon Marshall’s point of his mission, mental health is still a taboo subject, so people won’t talk about it the way they will about any range of other health issues for which there’s a support community and charitable organizations championing the cause. Again, that must change.

Now, for the third time in as many weeks, the tragedy of mental despair unresolved and maybe largely unaddressed has hit us all, like a sucker punch that knocked the wind out of everyone. New media preempted coverage of the crisis in Iraq, the Israel-Hamas war, the brink of war between Russia and Ukraine, and other major breaking and developing news stories, for blanket coverage of the suicide of Robin Williams. How terribly tragic.

The articles and television videos and remembrances are so vast, let them celebrate this one man’s life and life’s work that elevated the hearts and minds and spirits of countless people while his own were sinking into darkness. Here are only a couple I’d like to point out.

Friend Elizabeth Scalia posted this on the ‘Murderous Mendacity of Depression.”

Depression is a hissing false witness. It lies and tells someone there is no hope; it lies and declares, “you’re a fraud”; it lies when it warns you to hide your feelings, because people won’t love you if they know how terrified and alone and desperate you feel; it lies and sneers that you’re weak — that you can just snap out of it, anytime, if you really want to; it croons the lie that love is not real, and hope is for suckers; it whispers the most insidious of lies: that your pain will never ebb, cannot be transcended, and has no value at all.

After a while, the pain begins to feel like all you are and all there is: a worthless, pointless void. And when your life becomes just pain-without-end, suffering-without-meaning, tomorrow seems like less a promise than a prison.

When depression wins, it is such a damned tragedy, no matter whether it has carried off a big rich somebody, or an ordinary nobody, because it is the victory of an incessant liar.

Biblically, that refers to ‘the Accuser, who stands night and day accusing incessantly until you hear and start believing that voice, which is the voice of a liar. Who doesn’t hear that voice? But who has moral and mental and spiritual support behind them and who doesn’t? That’s so key to making this a subject and condition to talk about in the mainstream public discussion of health.

My friend Kathryn Lopez posted this poignant piece on her blog, refreshingly innocent and yet deeply knowing about the human condition.

What if every person of faith who ever laughed at a Robin Williams joke, prayed for him? And every day it happened? Could this be a new way for us to live?

On Sunday night I turned on Dead Poets Society, the 1989 movie where Robin Williams, teaching his students poetry, famously encourages them to give a nod to Walt Whitman and go ahead and address him as “O Captain, my Captain.”

I remember watching Dead Poets Society when it first came out and being so taken with the pain of a young man who lost all hope.

Young men, we pray, grow up to be men. And even then … the burdens of pain may grow, despite success.

God help them, God heal them from the pain of what they believe about themselves.

We see talent, they can’t see past fear.

Sunday night, I had turned on the TV to see if anyone was doing anything different given the Christian extermination — and then-some — in Iraq. Not really. So after a quick journey into the center of the Teen Choice Awards, I stopped inside a classroom with Robin Williams, a movie I hadn’t seen in years. The daughter of teachers -– and a schoolgirl who quite liked being a student — I remembered how grateful I was a teacher was portrayed in a good light.

I didn’t watch much of Dead Poets Society Sunday night but I felt prompted to pray for Robin Williams Sunday night. Perhaps simply in thanksgiving. Perhaps because we are — all the baptized — are the body of Christ, and I was called to hear a cry for help from a brother.

Perhaps because he needed prayers and God wanted me receptive to this, interceding for his pain. God looks out for His Creation and relies on His adopted sons and daughters to do the work of His graces, living sacramental lives as the Body of Christ.

I only prayed briefly for him.

What a world it might be if, every time someone made us laugh or otherwise entertained or informed us, we prayed for him? What if we always prayed in thanksgiving and with the knowledge that we don’t know what lies beneath? Anyone who followed Williams’ career knew he had his struggles. We often don’t know. But it’s so often there — no matter how clever or talented. We’re only human.

We must pray. And be alert — looking and listening for opportunities and promptings. Our lives must be ones of prayer and we must set aside time and plead with God on behalf of those who suffer most. In front of us and a world away.

To say “we must pray” is so counter-cultural, and yet Kathryn Lopez is an editor-at-large of a national secular news organization out of DC and New York who regularly blends the secular and the sacred, faith and life, God and man, applying eternal truths to cultural relativism. She does it so well.

One of the Patheos bloggers posted an interesting piece on the saints who suffered from depression.

With this topic very much in the news today, it seems a good time to remember that even the holiest of people have suffered from periods of despair.

It’s a comfort of sorts, a relief for those willing to engage it, and a resource for hope.

Pray if you will or don’t if you won’t. Kathryn Lopez and Deadon Kandra  just make a suggestion and a very good one for those who see the merit and the power of prayer. God only knows what a difference it may have made for Robin Williams.

And all the other individuals out there whose names we don’t know who are suffering as he did. God willing, it may save their lives.

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Aug 07

It’s about time.

Atrocities against Christians and other religious minorities have been perpetrated for months and have grown more ferocious and dire in recent weeks. Then overnight, the horrific account of the Yazidis running for their lives and stranded on a desolate mountain in Kurdistan finally got the world’s attention, those elite media and world leaders who were saying and doing next to nothing or nothing until now.

Elizbabeth Scalia has used her megaphone and all social networking media to call attention to the problem and point to possible avenues of relief. Take a look at just that handful of examples of Christian cleansing from their ancient homeland. With no government response and practically no media mention at all.

Then overnight, this happened and hit the collective consciousness.

Stranded on a barren mountaintop, thousands of minority Iraqis are faced with a bleak choice: descend and risk slaughter at the hands of the encircled Sunni extremists or sit tight and risk dying of thirst.

Humanitarian agencies said Tuesday that between 10,000 and 40,000 civilians remain trapped on Mount Sinjar since being driven out of surrounding villages and the town of Sinjar two days earlier. But the mountain that had looked like a refuge is becoming a graveyard for their children.

Unable to dig deep into the rocky mountainside, displaced families said they have buried young and elderly victims of the harsh conditions in shallow graves, their bodies covered with stones. Iraqi government planes attempted to airdrop bottled water to the mountain on Monday night but reached few of those marooned.

“There are children dying on the mountain, on the roads,” said Marzio Babille, the Iraq representative for the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF). “There is no water, there is no vegetation, they are completely cut off and surrounded by Islamic State. It’s a disaster, a total disaster.”

…“Children have died because of dehydration and lack of food,” Vian Dakheel, a Yazidi parliamentarian from Sinjar, said through tears. “My people are being slaughtered,” she continued, referring to reports of mass killings of those who had stayed behind.

Tireless human rights activist Nina Shea had issued this warning about issuing only a statement on so massive a humanitarian crisis. And she describes it in more gruesome detail.

On Wednesday, Qaraqosh, the largest Christian town in northern Iraq’s Nineveh province, came under assault from the Islamic State, and all 50 to 60,000 of its residents have fled to Erbil in Kurdistan. In June, Qaraqosh’s residents had fled in terror when Mosul was taken but, some 80 percent of them had since returned. The recent exodus was triggered when jihadists’ mortars killed two children and a 30-year-old woman.

Yesterday, the Christian residents of other Nineveh towns and villages, Bartilla, and Bahzany, also left and sought safe haven in the monastery of Mar Mattai, as well as in Erbil and Duhok. Ba’ashiqa and the Ba’ashiqa Monastery are being evacuated by their inhabitants and the displaced civilians who had recently sought refuge there. The Yazidi and Christian families who lived in Ein Sifni are all fleeing.

The enormity of the humanitarian crisis of the cascading exodus from Nineveh was overshadowed, though, by the early reports indicating genocide is taking place against the people of Sinjar, who are mostly followers of the Yazidi religion but also include some Christians.

The Yazidi city of Sinjar and the towns of Tal Afar and Zummar, captured on Sunday by the Islamic State, remain under jihadi control. Some 200,000 of their citizens fled, mostly to Kurdistan. But about 40,000 are now in a truly desperate situation, trapped on Mount Sinjar, where they had fled on foot without provisions and are now dying. Quoting a UNICEF spokesperson, the Washington Post reports today: “There are children dying on the mountain, on the roads. There is no water, there is no vegetation, they are completely cut off and surrounded by Islamic State. It’s a disaster, a total disaster.”

Archdeacon Emanuel Youkhana reports that Kurdistan’s High Commission of Human Rights airlifted ten shipments of aid, each with 20 tons of provisions, to those on Mount Sinjar today.

Others who did not manage to escape have been executed, abducted into sex slavery, or are being used by jihadis as human shields.

This is horrific. The ‘international community’ surely could not allow this to continue….one could only hope and pray.

The following is a description of their ongoing ordeal from a report sent today by Christiana Patto of the Assyrian Aid Society of Iraq:

Yesterday 45 children died of thirst. Some families throw their children from the top of Sinjar mountain in order not to see them die from hunger or thirst, or not to be taken by the terrorists. 1500 men were killed in front of their wives and families, 50 old men died also from thirst and illness. More than 70 girl and women including Christians were taken, raped and being captured and sold. More than 100 families are captured in Tel afar airport. There is about 50 Christian families in Sinjar. The terrorists were able to control the Syriac church there and cover the Cross with their black banner. Till now we do not know anything about those Christian families.

Read these numbers as human lives, each and every one. Men, women, children, very young and very old, terrorized and driven by fear and self-preservation to the mountains with nothing but what they were wearing and who they could carry or help make the climb along the agonizing, torturous way. While we sit comfortably in the West either unaware of the ‘headlines’ (behind which there is so much massive human atrocity and unimaginable suffering) or aware and engaged but feeling helpless to do anything about it.

In booking Catholic Near East Welfare Association Communications Director Michael La Civita to come back on my radio program this Friday for the third time in three weeks, I learned that listeners had opened their hears and resources to respond to the persecuted religious minorities in dire need, and they were so grateful. But guest after guest on radio, experts all, expressed frustration at the lack of attention to the crisis by government and media.

I talked about it again on Thursday’s show, calling for awareness of a crisis of epic proportions that grew horrific overnight, citing Pope Francis’ latest appeal for relief. Its tone had increased in extreme urgency.

Pope Francis asked Catholics around the world to pray for tens of thousands of Christians from villages in northeastern Iraq who were forced from their homes in the middle of the night by Islamic State militants.

The pope also made a “pressing appeal to the international community to take initiatives to put an end to the humanitarian drama underway, to take steps to protect those involved and threatened by violence and to ensure the necessary aid for so many displaced people whose fate depends on the solidarity of others,”…

Think about that, having your very fate in the hands of people in other parts of the world even noticing that you are in mortal need and then doing something to help.

Father Federico Lombardi, the spokesman, told reporters the pope was appealing “to the conscience of all people and every believer,” repeating what he had said July 20 after a similar forced exodus of Christians from Mosul: “May the God of peace create in all an authentic desire for dialogue and reconciliation. Violence is not conquered with violence. Violence is conquered with peace. Let us pray in silence, asking for peace.”

Meanwhile, people were suffering the most extreme measures just to hang onto their lives.

This proved to be a turning point.

Overnight Aug. 6-7 fighters belonging to the Islamic State attacked the predominantly Christian town of Qaraqosh and other villages in Ninevah province, said Chaldean Patriarch Louis Sako of Baghdad. “The Christians, about 100,000, horrified and panicked, fled their villages and houses with nothing but the clothes on their backs.”

In an appeal, the patriarch described the scene as “an exodus, a real ‘via crucis’” or Way of the Cross. “Christians are walking on foot in Iraq’s searing summer heat” toward Iraqi Kurdistan. “They are facing a human catastrophe and risk a real genocide. They need water, food, shelter.”

The central Iraqi government appears incapable of protecting its citizens, the patriarch said, and there is no cooperation or coordination with the regional government.

The Islamic State fighters, he said, are taking advantage of the power vacuum “to impose their rule and terror. There is a need of international support and a professional, well-equipped army. The situation is going from bad to worse.”

That’s an understatement. The situation went from torturous to horrific.

Cardinal Fernando Filoni, the former nuncio to Iraq and current prefect of the Congregation for the Evangelization of Peoples, said the Islamic State militants are “chasing out thousands of Christians.”

“We are facing a serious humanitarian situation,” Cardinal Filoni told Fides, the congregation’s news agency. “These people have been left to their own devices with a closed border in front of them and they don’t know where to go.”

“The Christians had to abandon everything, even their shoes, and barefoot they were forced toward Iraqi Kurdistan,” a region already overwhelmed with displaced people, the cardinal said.

Relief organizations and some Christian and (few) sympathetic media had been calling on governments and citizens on different continents to intervene in this horrifying crisis. Pope Francis made an urgent appeal when the crisis grew catastrophic late this week, from August 6-7.

Something about the overnight turn of events, something in the Yazidi call for help that made it to the West, reached a US administration well aware of the ISIS problem for about a year. The president referred to that cry for help when he addressed the nation to announce a mission of humanitarian intervention had begun, finally.

The United States has authorized targeted airstrikes and carried out a humanitarian operation in northern Iraq, President Obama said Thursday night.

The aid mission dropped by aircraft 5,300 gallons of fresh drinking water and 8,000 meals ready-to-eat to thousands of Iraquis who have been stranded atop a mountain, driven there by attacks from the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS).

Obama said he directed the military to “take target strikes” against ISIS to prevent the terrorist group from advancing in Iraq’s city of Erbil and threatening U.S. personnel there. “We plan to stand vigilant and take action if they threaten our facilities anywhere in Iraq, including the consulate in Erbil and embassy in Baghdad,” the president said.

“Earlier this week, one Iraqi in the area cried to the world, ‘there is no one coming to help,’” Obama said. “Well, today America is coming to help.”

He added: “We can act, carefully and responsibly to prevent a potential act of genocide.”

News media coverage of that address and the aftermath of political analysis was in full swing breathlessly trying to come up to speed with a crisis some of us have been talking about and warning of in blogs and columns and news articles for weeks and months.

They played a sort of parlor game in advance of the president’s appearance Thursday night predicting what he would say and how he would say it. Having little patience for that sort of punditry, I turned the volume back on when Obama appeared…not behind the desk in the Oval Office looking squarely into the camera and addressing the world, as some of my colleagues noted, correctly, but at a podium with the left and right teleprompters he’s so used to and comfortable with, before the assembled world press. He looked and sounded determined and resolute, which is rare outside political campaigning for this president. I was impressed with his deliberation. He talked about “adhering to a set of core principles; to support allies when they’re in danger; to stay true to fundamental values, like human dignity’, which was great to hear. This isn’t the time to apply that to a test. And again he talked about “the dignity of our fellow human beings”, finally.

Secretary of State John Kerry said this about the US mission.

The stakes for Iraq’s future could not be clearer, and today’s crisis underscores the stakes profoundly. ISIL’s campaign of terror against the innocent, including Yezedi and Christian minorities, and its grotesque and targeted acts of violence bear all the warning signs and hallmarks of genocide. For anyone who needed a wake-up call, this is it. ISIL is not fighting on behalf of Sunnis. ISIL is not fighting for a stronger Iraq. ISIL is fighting to divide and destroy Iraq – and ISIL is offering nothing to anyone except chaos, nihilism, and ruthless thuggery. With a gut-wrenching humanitarian crisis unfolding, and the rolls of the starving and sick growing daily, there’s not a minute to waste. The United States is acting and leading, and the world cannot sit by and watch innocents die. We will continue to coordinate with our allies in the region and the international community to assist Iraqis to confront ISIL’s brutal ideology which poses a severe threat to Iraq, the region, and the United States.

In the news analysis following the president’s address, one military expert expressed this concern about President Obama’s intentions and tolerance for a protracted engagement: “What does he do next, even if he stops genocide? What will he do to stop march of ISIS toward Baghdad?”

That is for tomorrow. For today, the US government finally stepped up to the role of international relief and aid when the balance of the world seemed to be teetering between chaos and some reconstructed form of moral order. Help had arrived, we learned, and we will learn what will come in the days ahead.

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