Toxic identity politics ‘in these tribal times’

Is what unites us still stronger than what divides us?

Where and how America is divided is far more evident these days than where and how we’re united, given the still growing public tensions over symbols, words, gestures and fundamental identities. And media coverage amplifying the worst of it all.

The ‘poison of identity politics‘ is not new.

The politics of white supremacy was a poison on the right for many decades, but the civil-rights movement rose to overcome it, and it finally did so in the mid-1960s with Martin Luther King Jr. ’s language of equal opportunity and color-blind justice.

 

That principle has since been abandoned, however, in favor of a new identity politics that again seeks to divide Americans by race, ethnicity, gender and even religion. “Diversity” is now the all-purpose justification for these divisions, and the irony is that America is more diverse and tolerant than ever.

 

The problem is that the identity obsessives want to boil down everything in American life to these categories. In practice this means allocating political power, contracts, jobs and now even salaries in the private economy based on the politics of skin color or gender rather than merit or performance. Down this road lies crude political tribalism, and James Damore’s recent Google dissent is best understood as a cri de coeur that we should aspire to something better. Yet he lost his job merely for raising the issue.

 

A politics fixated on indelible differences will inevitably lead to resentments that extremists can exploit in ugly ways on the right and left. The extremists were on the right in Charlottesville, but there have been examples on the left in Berkeley, Oakland and numerous college campuses. When Democratic politicians can’t even say “all lives matter” without being denounced as bigots, American politics has a problem.

Rod Dreher addressed this in a sobering look at opposing evils.

Looking and and listening to the neo-Nazis and right-wing radicals at the march is not the same as reading about them. Evil has a face, and a voice, and it is chilling….

 

But let’s not “excuse or diminish the real threat to our politics from the violent left-wing agitators of antifa (anti-fascists). You may be tempted to sympathize with them because they punch neo-Nazis…”

But not so fast, or reactionary, Dreher cautions

For a while, antifa has remained on the fringes of the Left, smashing up storefronts to protest globalism, and things like that…

And then, the money quote:

The legitimization by mainstream people of violent political action is a Rubicon. Mark my words, it will be followed by the same thing on the Right.

 

So here we are. And Dreher asks the big question core:

Where are the restraining forces against radicalization on both the Left and the Right?

Exactly. Lately, on radio and elsewhere in conversations, I’ve been calling for voices of authority on both center-left and center-right (or whoever could be a moderating force) to call out the fringes on both sides. But they aren’t on the same side, and conservatives have asked media to stop calling white supremacists and neo-Nazis ‘far right conservatives’, since they don’t share conservative values and principles.

Who speaks for America right now? With the ability to amplify one’s own voice through social media platforms and unprecedented access to the arena of ideas, the people have to speak up and speak out.

Dreher says:

The media should talk about every instance of people on the Left and the Right, especially authority figures (pastors, politicians, academics, and so on) legitimizing violence as a way to solve political disputes. And the rest of us should fight hard to make it taboo, to establish it as a line we as a society will not cross. We have to stop with whataboutism, the habit of responding to revolting things your own side does with “but the other side does it too!”

That’s a point for an examination of conscience for all the people who take recourse to that explanation for the ‘slingshot’ effect of unrest from devolving into 1968 type of riots and demonstrations, says Dreher,

…it is time for people in authority — whatever authority they have — to speak out forcefully and repeatedly. Not just people on the Right, but people on the Left. If we are going to stop this spiral into political violence, we have to start somewhere. It doesn’t matter who’s worse, antifa or the neo-Nazis. Both are capable of doing severe damage to our democracy, because they both hate the political order, and they both love violence.

Denounce it, all of it, civilly and with the counter love of people, community, the common good, human rights and dignity, freedom and justice for all.

Which sounds a lot like Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s rousing talk ‘Our God Is Marching On!’ in 1965.

 

If the worst in American life lurked in its dark streets, the best of American instincts arose passionately from across the nation to overcome it. There never was a moment in American history more honorable and more inspiring than the pilgrimage of clergymen and laymen of every race and faith pouring into Selma to face danger…

For fellow countrymen.

The confrontation of good and evil compressed in the tiny community of Selma generated the massive power to turn the whole nation on a new course.

We need to redirect ourselves there now.

When family life bursts in on work life

Family prevails. And the video of it goes viral.
Sorry if you’ve seen this dozens and dozens of times. I posted it on my personal Facebook page as soon as I saw it last week, and stopped laughing long enough to “share” and add a personal note. Since then, so many media folks with a big following in social media have shared it as well, adding their personal comments to the tweet or post or other commentary, it’s grown into a phenomenon of the moment. And one with a message.

Mollie Hemingway does the best job of capturing what happened here.

The setup:

This morning the BBC interviewed Dr. Robert Kelly, an associate professor of international relations in the Department of Political Science and Diplomacy at Pusan National University in South Korea. The topic of the interview — the impeachment of Korean President Park Geun-hye — was interesting. But Kelly’s children stole the show.

It has to be watched first, then read about. Hemingway’s Federalist piece puts our universally shared reaction to this spontaneous moment in context.

She lists the 8 (updated from 7 initial) best things about the children taking all the attention from Dad during his BBC interview. There was a ‘marching toddler’ and a ‘rolling baby’, and viewers had their favorites. One tweeted

Enter every room like the kid who interrupts the BBC Skype interview.

Another

Y’all, the baby rolling in got me crying.

I actually laughed to that point of tears. Hearty, knowing, laughter.

Here’s another happy tweet

I legit can’t stop watching this.

Then there’s the mom who realizes what’s happening in real time, and she comes tearing around the doorway into the room, ducking to avoid the camera (or so she thinks) and grab the kids, and we can’t help but laugh with them, to the point of tears.

Mollie Hemingway and her husband frequently do media interviews and manage their family life at the same time.

By the time the mom rushes into the room, realizing the kids have gone rogue during their dad’s very important interview, the comedic value is unquestioned. She goes low — and speaking as someone who does these types of interviews and who is married to someone who does Skype interviews, I can assure you this is a natural instinct.

…having been interrupted by the chaos of life while on air, I know how stressful it is for children to enter the scene. I have never handled it as well as this guy, who keeps his composure as he tries to signal to his toddler to get out of the room. But he’s also totally laughing it off.

Which is refreshing, when we see the utter humanity of happy family chaos break in on structured, managed and reasonably controlled circumstances.

Television is so well-produced that we rarely see real life interrupt our broadcasts. When the toddler walks in, the interviewer is forced to acknowledge this, breaking down the wall we normally preserve between work and home life.

Or at least the perception of it. When one lives in their office and works in their home, this can happen. For all of us who do that, this provided huge comic relief.

The Wall Street Journal was among the major world media whose follow up coverage outdid the initial intended interview.

The buzz has even overshadowed the major news Mr. Kelly was on air to discuss: the impeachment of South Korea’s president.

“It’s a comedy of errors,” Mr. Kelly said in an interview with The Wall Street Journal.

He also said he and his wife “immediately feared the worst, assuming that he wouldn’t be contacted again to appear on TV.” This is easy to picture:

“We said to each other, ‘Wow, what just happened?’ ” Mr. Kelly, said, adding the blame was entirely on him for not locking the door….

“I made this minor mistake that turned my family into YouTube stars. It’s pretty ridiculous,” he said.

That’s right.

He immediately wrote to the BBC to apologize, but within 15 minutes the broadcaster asked if it could put a clip of the interview on the internet. The couple initially declined, feeling uncomfortable that people might laugh at their children. But they were eventually persuaded that the video would show they were just a regular family.

Within a couple of hours, it became clear to them that the video would disrupt their lives…

Yes, that’s because it “had been viewed over 84 million times on the BBC Facebook page as of Tuesday morning U.S. time. It has been covered by media from Uruguay to Nigeria to Australia, and dissected in thousands of news articles and social media posts around the world. Many have expressed warm feelings toward the family…”

Proving that this brief sequence of events in the life of a family doing what they do in their routine at home, spontaneous chaos and all, brought us together in ways punditry and social science brilliance never could.

Watch both videos, the one on The Federalist site, and aftermath family discussion with the Wall Street Journal here. They’re so human, so endearing.

Mr. Kelly describes his reaction (to the initial disruption) as a mixture of surprise, embarrassment and amusement but also love and affection. The couple says they weren’t mad and didn’t scold the children. “I mean it was terribly cute,” Mr. Kelly said. “I saw the video like everybody else. My wife did a great job cleaning up a really unanticipated situation as best she possibly could… It was funny. If you watch the tape I was sort of struggling to keep my own laughs down. They’re little kids and that’s how things are.”

The otherwise cool, calm, collected Dad laughs and says “This is my life, man!”

This is a life more of us can relate to, exactly, as we ‘do media’ in setting where family, or pets, or neighbors pets or lawn mowers or snowblowers just outside the door or window can cause significant distraction or interruption.

But that’s what made this more than another foreign affairs interview on a global network covering so many stories of the moment, we can’t keep up so most people don’t even try. This interview was supposed to be about the impeachment of South Korea’s president. But wound up in the Wall Street Journal as this: “When the Children Crash Dad’s BBC Interview: The Family Speaks”.

And that’s what the world needs to hear. And see.

Refugees already ‘extremely vetted’ should be welcomed

New policy must take care to avoid humanitarian crises.

In my work as a journalist, I try to personalize what is otherwise an ‘issue’ and apply universal principles of human rights to policies that impact human lives. That’s the case for many national and global news stories, breaking and current or ongoing.

When President Donald Trump issued the Executive Order on immigration and refugees on January 27th, it became personal for me and my extended family. For the past three years, my cousins living and working in Asia have worked personally and extensively to help three Iranian converts to Christianity navigate the complex, multi-layered, involved process of applying for visas to come to America and freedom from harassment in the Asian country they were in, and a worse fate in the country they were from, if deported back. They were weeks away from arriving in the US when the Executive Order came down, and alarmingly put the brakes on their case and fate, along with so many countless others.

For more than three years, they’ve gone through ‘extreme vetting’ by international entities and US governmental ones, involving many interviews and background checks, clearing many hurdles and finally anticipated receiving their travel date to the US, with an agency and sponsors in America preparing to receive them and help them resettle here. The three had become four, as the young 24 year old woman we’ll call Nina was pregnant and due to deliver her daughter in early May. The clock was ticking for getting out of a danger zone for them all, especially with Nina’s ability to travel soon diminishing.

After family on two other continents did all they could with international agencies and diplomatic assistance, I got engaged after that Executive Order was issued. Our elected Members of Congress are there for the people, and I turned to them. Providing two House of Representative members dossiers on the three refugees, and a thorough timeline of events that included case numbers for each international agency and US government department involved, the two Congressmen – one Democrat and one Republican, both Catholic, pro-life, advocates for religious freedom and humanitarian relief – said they would do what they could. Enough said.

Within days, the three received papers of clearance, with a travel date and itinerary, and instructions to carry out the process of departing for America, and where they would go on arrival, cared for by a family agency and our family sponsors. Because their flight would first touch down on American soil in my hometown of Chicago, I was able to be at the airport’s international terminal to greet them as they came through the doors after clearing Customs and Immigration, and it was a profound experience, to welcome four refugees to America, the youngest not yet able to hold, to look into her eyes and say ‘welcome’, though she’s the one who will be born a US citizen.

They came so close to not making it here, they were on the edge of despair, starting to think of what other options they may still have on a closing window of opportunity, maybe needing to go elsewhere if that were even possible, when the Executive Order restraining order was upheld in the Ninth Circuit Court, and everything went back to the drawing board.

So many people in so many families across the globe have similar stories of those days, with different US Representatives intervening on their behalf for good reason. Two other Congressmen talked with me on radio about our need to help foreign nationals who served US forces as translators come to America and bring their families, as a matter of duty and honor and service.

A new Executive Order is imminent, and may have been issued by the time readers see this. It needs to be considerably better than the one on January 27th. As my esteemed friend and radio guest Robert P. George stated in this First Things article on this policy process:

There is an enormous amount of confusion about the EO. President Trump bears much responsibility for the confusion, and his critics bear some of it. In my opinion, the EO was not necessary and therefore should not have been issued…A significant part of the reason is that we already have “extreme vetting” of refugees. In this important respect, we are quite unlike many European nations. Of course, most Americans don’t know this. So they fear that what has happened in some places in Europe could happen here. I myself only learned about the stringency of our refugee vetting procedures as a result of extensive briefing when I was chairing the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF). There are many things in our government that are “broken,” but our refugee vetting system isn’t one of them.

In the case of the three refugees I welcomed to America, I can vouch for that. Their process was long and thorough, their paperwork and case files extensive. When they came through those doors an agent of the International Organization for Migration accompanied them until we saw each other and I rushed to greet them. He let us have the several hours of their layover together, to talk, have some refreshment in an airport cafe, quiet time in the terminal lounge, and their first hours of their new life in a ‘soft landing’ as my family abroad put it, the one who started helping them on this long journey. His wife was at their final destination to welcome them there and take them to the place arranged by the family services agency.

This is one case of three very vulnerable, courageous human beings, the fourth and most vulnerable of all was the child in Nina’s womb. But our joy in embracing each other as now ‘extended family’, was one profound story that personalized the issue of ‘refugees’, and our vetting process already in place served everyone well.

‘A really tough day for America’

Grand understatement.

But that’s what Former Deputy Assistant Director of the FBI Danny Coulson said when a news show anchor asked his initial thoughts during the ongoing reporting of the terror attack in Orlando, Florida early Sunday, as events continued to unfold there and the events were still very fluid.

‘A really tough day for America.’ In fact, it was the worst mass shooting in American history. It was the latest attack in the war jihadists have waged on us and the rest of the world that is not them. We need, our government and the international community needs, to understand this and not use other language and excuses for it.

A terrorist who pledged allegiance to ISIS went on a rampage at a gay nightclub in Orlando, targeting gays. Only a day later,  groups and spokespersons and leaders of organizations issued responses and statements to denounce and blame others – Christianity and ‘extreme masculinity’ among other target groups – without seeing the irony of targeting groups who were not them.

This provides us the opportunity crises usually do to pull together as a unified body of citizens, within a community and nation, and globally a union of people of goodwill, to stand for the good and resolve to remove the evil, which is at work everywhere to remove us in its path to power.

Profiles of the attacker continued to add details, including that someone who knew him said ‘he hated gays, women, blacks, Christians…’ Groups that use this attack to blame other groups in America only lend support to the terrorist group to which this attacker and the San Bernardino attackers and the Fort Hood attacker and others have done, by pledging allegiance to ISIS to destroy everyone who is not them.

The New York Times reports that

Influencing distant attackers to pledge allegiance to the Islamic State and then carry out mass murder has become a core part of the group’s propaganda over the past two years.

And how are they doing this, generating this propaganda? They are masterful at using social media to appeal to, recruit and indoctrinate young men (and women) to their ideology and militant cause.

So Charles Krauthammer has some sensible advice, directed at that fact, stated clearly and in brief:

There’s only one way to go after this, and that is the Osama bin Laden theory – and he knew about jihadism – of the strong horse and the weak horse.

I think…ultimately, the only way to decrease recruitment is not with logic, not with argument, not with really clever programmers who know how to do Twitter. It is by defeating the jihadists or showing them retreat.

These movements only grow when they have a sense of inevitability and growth. Once they’re in retreat, people stop recruiting. They’re not going to die in a suicide attack for a movement that is not advancing. And that means attacking ISIS where it is.

Showing them in retreat means changing policy to put them into retreat, then using social media to show that they’re not winning and not growing, anymore.

It’s time to make it a really tough day for the terrorists. Every attack in recent years was said to be a ‘game changer’. But it never was. It’s time for the end game now, before more mass casualties of innocent civilians, more genocide in other lands farther away, while there is new resolve.

Gorilla activism

See how fast a grassroots effort can be launched?

We need to learn from this.

Being Memorial Day, I was out and about and taking the rare break from constant news coverage. But getting into my car just after headline news was underway, I caught an interview with a Cincinnati zookeeper about a silverback gorilla they just lost, without an immediate context, though with very reasoned remarks about the animal’s enormity and strength, and a sincere appreciation for all the concern expressed for the occasion, tough as it was but necessary. What the heck happened, I thought.

It didn’t take long to learn. CNN’s report was the first account I got of the events that led to the demise of Harambe for the protection of the child in his grip. Though I’m assuming nearly all of you know this story by now, here’s that early account of the basics.

Zookeepers shot and killed a rare gorilla on Saturday after a 3-year-old boy slipped into its enclosure at the Cincinnati Zoo, triggering outcry over how the situation was handled.

If they had to do it again, they would respond the same way, the zoo’s director said Monday.

Cincinnati Zoo Director Thane Maynard said he stands by the decision to kill 17-year-old silverback Harambe to save the child. The boy went under a rail, through wires and over a moat wall to get into the enclosure, according to the zoo. Footage shot by a witness shows Harambe dragging the child through the water as the clamor of the crowd grows louder.

Zookeepers shot the 450-pound gorilla with a rifle, rather than tranquilizing him. The brief encounter sparked widespread Internet outrage over the decision to shoot Harambe and whether the child’s parents were to blame for failing to look after him.

But those second-guessing the call “don’t understand silverback gorillas,” Maynard said in a news conference. And, they were not there when it was time to make the crucial decision.

“That child’s life was in danger. People who question that don’t understand you can’t take a risk with a silverback gorilla — this is a dangerous animal,” he said. “Looking back, we’d make the same decision. The child is safe.”

End of story, right? You know that’s not the case. Activists who rush to protect different species other than homo sapiens lit up the internet and social media with reaction to this event, championing the cause of the gorilla over the safety of the little boy.

Even though famed, celebrity veteran animal zookeeper Jack Hanna reaffirmed the danger of the situation and his sheer lack of doubt that the animal would have killed the boy had not the zookeepers taken the swift action they did.

Harambe was a silverback male. When an intruder enters the gorillas’ territory, the male asserts itself; having people shrieking at it from above while it’s confused would only further antagonize it. Hanna says the instant he saw the footage of an agitated Harambe yanking the kid roughly through the water by the foot, he knew it would have ended with the child dead had zookeepers not intervened. To give you a sense of the power the animal has, he notes that humans need a hatchet and a sledgehammer to generate the force needed to crack the shell of a green coconut. Male silverbacks can do it with their bare hands. Let that thought guide you in what lay in store for the kid.

But it didn’t, for animal activists who place more value in animal life than human.

Carolyn Moynihan wrote about it here. Blogger Max Lindenman says activists show “what happens when justice is pursued without any notion of transcendent human value”. These are good pieces to read, consider and absorb. So is Mona Charen’s NRO piece on the moral confusion that comes with treating animals like people.

My reaction was deeply felt and concerned with the impromptu and organized reaction of animal activists, which swiftly erupted into a campaign, while so many of us are working to get attention on the populations of human beings being seized, held hostage, tortured and massacred in the Middle East, Nigeria and elsewhere, with insufficient response from the international community who has a ‘responsibility to protect’, acknowledged formally since the 2005 World Summit to prevent genocide, war crimes, ethnic cleansing and crimes against humanity.

Having recently attended the UN conference on international religious freedom, genocide and mass atrocities committed against Christians and other religious minorities, I’m more keenly aware than ever of the need for attention to this crisis growing in urgency all the time. Speakers from the US, Europe, Iraq and Syria gave powerful witness to the daily reality for vulnerable populations of people fleeing for their lies, or camping out in tents by their churches while they could still stay safely there (safety refugee camps could not provide Christians and Yezidis), hoping the West would take up their cause and call for awareness and relief.

Where’s the ‘guerilla activism’ there?

Iraqi priest Fr. Douglas Bazi, from Erbil, wonders:

I too know what the people in the camps have been through, because like them, I was kidnapped by terrorists, and tortured simply because I was Christian…How did this happen to my people? Who bears the moral responsibility of this? What should be done for the Christians who remain in Iraq? And just as important, for those Iraqi Christians and other refugees whose lives are on hold in this situation in other countries, such as Turkey, Lebanon and Jordan…

My people are losing hope. And we are disappearing. Every day our members are growing smaller. Soon we will be small enough for the world to forget us completely. Then, Christianity in Iraq will essentially be gone. Can we change the future? Does the will exist among the good people of this world to change this reality? Has this finding of genocide come in time to make a difference? And what can we do with it now?…

There are many who would say, mostly from a distance, that it is important to save Christianity in Iraq for a culture and for historical reasons. There is a great truth to this course. But friends, the Christians of Iraq, we are living, breathing human beings, not museum pieces. If there is a fundamental reason that they should survive, it is simply this: on our small earth, peaceful people should have the right to live in their homes in peace and dignity. And when the world stands by and watches any peaceful people disappear, it is a wound to the entire world, all the time, and wounding will kill us all.

We don’t know what we don’t know, but some media groups are working to spread awareness and inform us. Groups like Citizen GO who participated in the conference and worked to generate awareness, Aid to the Church in Need, Knights of Columbus, In Defense of Christians, CNEWA, Picture Christians, Iraqi Christian Relief Council, 21 Wilberforce Initiative, and many others.

When we saw the spontaneous eruption of activism on social media and in on site demonstrations on behalf of a gorilla, drawing a stunning amount of impulsive, instantaneous response, all I could think of was how great it would be if we could generate that same kind of grassroots activism on behalf of women, children, young boys, men, the elderly, and all who live right now, at this moment, in moral danger personally, and danger of extinction as a group.

I’m not going to ask ‘is that too much to ask for?’ Because I know it’s not. It just takes conviction, impetus, will and action that follows from it. This can happen in a heartbeat. So many depend on that.

Memorial Day in America, 2016

We needed the occasion, to remember in America, and with our friends abroad, what greatness is.

We needed it to celebrate honor, duty, service and sacrifice in such a year as this. It fell just about halfway through this contentious, dishonorable, politically charged and pivotal election year, so it would be nice if it were more of an opportunity to re-ground ourselves in what we just celebrated, than to let the day go by as a wonderful recall of noble heroism embodied in countless acts of virtue, of ‘grace under pressure’, impulsively carried out to serve or save another without hesitation or concern that it may be a final act in the life of that hero, who only thought they were doing the right thing.

‘The right thing’ has become a political calculus these days, ‘right’ being as redefined as so many other terms in our shared social life, as if there were no moral compass and objective natural law of what we ought to do and what we can’t not know, apart from the dictates of the culture of relativism as manifested in media, law and politics.

Everywhere I turned and looked on Memorial Day weekend seemed more filled than ever with witnesses to greatness in acts of goodness, displays of loving gratitude, celebrations of appreciation for the ultimate act of service for a single other person, groups of others, or countless populations of others, sometimes in a split-second decision to take that action, out of the impulse to protect and to save.

Here are two examples.

On my radio program, I had the opportunity to feature three individuals in two wars. Adam Makos told me about the story of Tom Hudner and Jesse Brown, two great friends and Navy pilots in the Korean War, a story that fills the pages of Makos’ book Devotion: An Epic Story of Heroism, Friendship and Sacrifice.

“On December 4th, 1950, the Korean War had turned very dire. We had 10,000 U.S. Marines surrounded by 100,000 Chinese communist troops at a place called the Chosin Reservoir, way up in northern North Korea. Men like Tom and Jesse would fly [from their nearby naval carrier ships] to give air support to the Marines. They would drop bombs and strafe, and that’s when Jesse Brown was shot down. He was hit by a bullet from the ground, from a Chinese soldier, and he crash-landed in the only place he could — on the side of a North Korean mountain.”

Brown’s wingman, Tom Hudner, witnessed what happened, and then saw smoke rising from the nose of Jesse’s plane, which lay 13 miles behind enemy lines. Hudner said, “I’m going in.” All the other pilots remained silent.

Makos continued, “Tom knew his friend was about to die, and he was willing to give his own life to try to change that. With his wheels up, Tom circled around and came to a skidding, screeching stop alongside of Jesse’s plane. Tom got out into that deep snow and set out to try to save his friend’s life. It had never happened before; it has never happened since.”

Among the many extraordinary lessons in this story is the transcendent nature of friendship, human dignity and faith. Discrimination in society over race, religion, background and economic class falls away in war, the great and terrible equalizer. It is life lived at its absolute essence, informed by a powerful transcendent belief, that emerges in all the accounts of war heroes.

That was personified in the service and witness of Fr. Vincent Capodanno, Marine Chaplain who served in the Vietnam War and lost his life in the most extraordinary acts of ministering to dying men during a firefight that exposed him to mortal danger. I featured his story on that Memorial Day program as well, but it barely scratched the surface of a profoundly deep belief in and dedication to the care of others, body and soul, who are in front of you in whatever circumstances you’re in, and theses were dire.

The whole account is in The Grunt Padre, the fuller account of Fr. Capodanno’s service and sacrifice in detail, during his time in Vietnam 1966-1967. Christ Stefanick does a good job summarizing it in this video.

Some snips:

He knew that where the fighting was thickest, is where a chaplain might be needed the most.

One marine said

“He just gave me a look like ‘don’t worry, it’s going to be okay’.” Then the gas started getting lobbed, and Fr. Capodanno refused to take the Marine’s gas mask. “He said ‘no, you need it more than I do’. At that moment, he was just gone from my view.”

A marine was hit with shrapnel. When Fr. Capdanno got to him, “a bubble of peace descended around him. All he heard was his voice: ‘God is with us all this day. Someone will be here soon to help you.’ Fr. Capodanno was always able to see the crisis of the moment from an eternal perspective…Capodanno didn’t survive that day. He was running to minister to a medic who was shot, just yards from the machine gunner who had targeted him. He was shot 27 times in the back. He died in a field in Vietnam with that medic.

The excerpt from The Grunt Padre about that final assault is profound. It’s what Corporal Ray Harton recalls in a powerful testimony of Fr. Capodanno’s final minutes. Harton was hit repeatedly in the battle after “the carnage started”.

I don’t know how long I lay there. I found myself getting weaker and could see the North Vietnamese soldiers moving in on us…I thought everyone else was dead. I prayed to God, for I knew I was bleeding to death…I expected a bullet or bayonet at any moment. As I closed my eyes, someone touched me. When I opened my eyes, he looked directly at me. It was Father Capodanno. Everything got still: no noise, no firing, no screaming. A peace came over me that is unexplainable to this day. In a quiet and calm voice, he cupped the back of my head and said, “Stay quiet, Marine. You will be OK. Someone will be here to help you soon. God is with us all this day.”

As Stefanick notes, Fr. Capodanno didn’t survive the day. But his service and witness are beyond extraordinary.

And so were those told by others throughout the Memorial Day weekend, in so many ways and places, from the Mall of Washington events honoring service members in different wars, to tributes published and broadcast in so many outlets. Many note that it’s a memorial held beyond US borders.

Like this one in Cambridge, England.

And this one in France.

Taking it all in, allowing ourselves to be filled with gratitude for so many individuals who so nobly gave everything they had for another human being, and inspiration that these countless stories are being continued in so many ways today in battles to save endangered populations from extinction, villages and towns and refugee camps from assault and violence, and the most vulnerable human beings from enslavement, trafficking, torture and death, we should be filled with hope.

And that each of us has the power of greatness within us to serve the common good, and the responsibility to do what’s in our reach each day, without looking for a savior in politics. The sooner we do, the less we’ll believe that making America great, or ‘getting’ hope and change, relies on a politician or someone running for political office.

It relies on each and all of us.

Help Asia Bibi, and Fr. Tom

Their lives depend on the West knowing their names, their plight.

As unimaginable as it is that a Christian mother of five has spent seven years in prison in Pakistan, charged with blasphemy for taking water from a well in a hot field while berry picking and considered an infidel, corrupting it…she remains imprisoned and in isolation, for her safety from threat of death inside the prison and certainly outside it, if she were to be released in the increasingly hostile environment there.

How bad is it? This bad. The American Center for Law and Justice, which drove a social media campaign along with the inside legal proceedings, to free Pastor Nadarkhani. ACLJ is now working on freeing Asia Bibi in a nearly impossibly complex Pakistani legal, cultural and religious-based penal system.

International human rights organizations have taken up her cause as a just one, and an emblematic case that puts a human face and name and humanity and dignity on the ‘issue’ of Christian persecution in the Middle East and elsewhere. The UN conference I recently attended on international religious freedom, genocide, and atrocities committed against Christians and other religious minorities, continued for two more days at a different venue where Asia Bibi’s daughter (who speaks no English) gave a very powerful testimony in her silent witness of tears and her very presence.

What can we do? Pray for Asia Bibi, her family, and the countless other victims of persecution and death for their faith. Support Aid the the Church in Need, which is supporting individuals, families and groups in dire need. They’re on the ground there, able to direct relief where it’s most desperately needed. Call on elected representatives who either ignore theses cases, or relegate them to lower priority status while they negotiate with nations that are or could be involved in the fate of these people.

Add the cause of Fr. Tom to those prayers and efforts. Despite rumors to the contrary, he is reportedly alive, well, and possibly soon to be released.

Father Tom was seized March 4 after a militant group stormed a home for the sick and elderly run by Bl. Mother Teresa’s Missionaries of Charity in Aden in the country’s south west. Four sisters of the religious congregation and 12 lay people were killed in the attack on the facility.

According to an eyewitness report recounted by Aleteia, Father Tom was residing on campus because the church in town where he was based had been sacked and burned last September. The Salesian priest “heard the screaming and consumed all the Hosts,” the account noted. However, “he had no time to consume the large Host, so he threw the oil out of the sanctuary lamp and dissolved it in the water.” The letter reported that a neighbor saw the terrorists put the priest into their car. “They did not find any trace of Father anywhere.”

During Holy Week, unconfirmed stories began circulating in India claiming that the kidnappers planned to crucify the priest on Good Friday. Pope Francis appealed for Father Uzhunnalil’s release last month.

In its most recent statement, issued May 5, the Salesians said the situation was “still uncertain” but added there were “deep and heartfelt prayers” for Father Tom in the hope he could soon “continue the valuable service” he was carrying out at the Yemeni mission.

As we go about our daily work, business, leisure activities and distractions, these and countless other prisoners and hostages and victims of persecution are going through a martyrdom simply for their faith. Twitter campaigns and other social media activism have kept some of them alive, by keeping their names and stories before people in power who can do something for them and populations of people whose names we don’t know and faces we don’t see, whose stories are lost in the inhumanity of grabbing them from their homes, destroying their papers, seizing their properties, and sentencing them to anonymous torture and brutality. ‘The world must act’ said more than one of the UN conference participants. Being aware and committed is, at minimum, the beginning of an end to these crimes against humanity.

If #WeAreN2016 and #FreeAsiaBibi can do anything like the Twitter campaign for Pastor Nadarkhani, there’s more hope than those suffering now can imagine.

UN conference hears experts, witnesses, survivors call for global response to genocide

Faith groups are attacked, Christians specifically targeted for elimination.

World leaders, governments, international organizations and human rights champions have risen the threat and awareness level in recent months over crises that have been occurring for years out of sight and largely off public radar. Now there’s a new urgency, and some leading voices are asking if it’s coming in time to make a difference.

That’s only one concern expressed at last weekend’s International Congress on Religious Freedom in New York, a three day event that opened Thursday with a U.N. conference sponsored by the Vatican’s Permanent Mission to the United Nations.

Presenters included people who experienced or witnessed atrocities being committed against religious minorities.

Led by remarks from Archbishop Bernardito Auza, the Vatican’s permanent observer to the U.N., the event had an intensely sensitive agenda.

That, I can vouch for, having attended all of it.

The world’s greatest humanitarian crisis since World War II is unfolding today in the Middle East. Hundreds of thousands of people in Syria and Iraq have lost their lives, entire communities have been displaced or wiped out, while neighboring communities or nations have strained to accept millions of people fleeing years of war and terrorism. We face the very real prospect of the extinction of many of the communities indigenous to the region.

Anderson gave background and findings of a nearly 300 page report his organization and In Defense of Christians submitted to the State Department and Congress in March, documenting atrocities and extensive evidence of genocide in the region.

And it showed that terms like ‘religious cleansing’, or ‘crimes against humanity’ are by themselves inadequate to describe both the magnitude of the tragedy and the clear intent of the perpetrators. The State Department’s declaration of genocide on March 17th marked only the second time that such a determination had been made by the U.S. government while the crime is occurring.

And then he added

Isis and the victims we interviewed agreed on one thing, many of those targeted were targeted because of their Christian faith…Our recent fact-finding mission to Iraq found evidence of (atrocities including) murder, slavery, property confiscation and expulsion. Many of the incidents have not been previously reported. But based on what we learned, it is our impression that what we know today is likely to be only the tip of the iceberg.

Anderson was only the first of the speakers, and his testimony set the tone for a powerful, intensive, collaborative witness to what Pope Francis calls a “third world war, waged piecemeal, which we are now experiencing”, which he called genocide, adding “I insist on the word”.

In Rome, the Trevi Fountain was lit red, in commemoration of Christian martyrdom, and mass execution of other religious minorities, to call the Western world to attention. Sitting through the UN conference on it, hearing powerful testimony, expert reports and stunning witness, I hope and pray it worked. The event in New York certainly seemed to mark a turning point.

U.S. Secretary of State Kerry declared genocide

And that was that.

I have devoted radio show hours to this topic regularly over the years, more so in the past couple of years and especially these past months. Always feeling, however, that it’s not enough, considering what’s going on in the world of persecution, massacre and genocide of Christians and other religious minorities, especially by ISIS. The terrorist group has also targeted other Muslims. Yet ‘the international community’ seemed not to be doing anything of consequence to stop it.

Congressman Jeff Fortenberry has been a somewhat regular guest on the program and we’ve focused mainly on the latest update on the Genocide Resolution bill he sponsored. Over the months, he reported the bi-partisan bill was gaining greater support but still needed more. Finally, in mid-March, the House unanimously passed it, 393-0.

In a sign of overwhelming bipartisan unity, the resolution, H. Con. Res. 75, names and decries the ISIS violence against Christians, Yezidis, and other ethnic and religious minorities as “genocide.” By law, the State Department must make a genocide determination by March 17.

“It is my sincere hope that this trans-partisan resolution will further compel the State Department to join the building international consensus in calling the horrific ISIS violence against Christians, Yezidis, and others by its proper name: ‘genocide,’” Fortenberry said.

A rapidly expanding international coalition has recognized that ISIS is committing genocide. The European Parliament, the International Association of Genocide Scholars, the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom, Pope Francis, and presidential candidates in both parties, among many others, are standing in solidarity to name and decry this genocide.

“At a time of deep political division in our nation,” Fortenberry continued, “the House has spoken with one voice to properly recognize and condemn this genocide—a threat to civilization itself. The genocide resolution elevates international consciousness and confronts the scandal of silence and indifference about ISIS’ targeted and systematic destruction of these endangered communities. A bipartisan and ecumenical alliance has formed to confront ISIS’ barbaric onslaught.”

The State Department initially said Secretary Kerry needed more time to study the situation before making any designation, although the Knights of Columbus and In Defense of Christians presented a preponderance of evidence in their joint report, leading to one conclusion. The KofC launched an ad and a campaign to spread awareness about the genocide and engage people, citizens, organizations and members of government, in working to stop it.

Surprising nearly everyone (and likely some in the administration), Secretary Kerry came out a day later and publicly declared that what’s happening in the Middle East is, indeed, genocide.

“I sincerely hope that the genocide designation will raise international consciousness, end the scandal of silence, and create the preconditions for the protection and reintegration of these ancient faith communities into their ancestral homelands. Christians, Yezidis, Shia Muslim minorities, and others, including Sunni Muslim communities who have suffered grievous harm, remain an essential part of the Middle East’s rich tapestry of religious and ethnic diversity. They now have new cause for hope.

Or so it seemed in the moment. Scholar George Weigel puts framework around the picture.

The new thing, and the welcome thing, in Secretary Kerry’s statement was the mention of Christians as targets of genocide.

That statement would not have happened without the relentless, persistent work of human rights campaigner Nina Shea, who has lobbied for redress for persecuted Christians in the Middle East with a tenacity that deserves the highest respect. It wouldn’t have happened without the leadership of Congressman Jeff Fortenberry of Nebraska, who introduced the House resolution that passed on March 14 while Father (Douglas) Bazi (persecuted victim of the Chaldean Catholic Diocese of Erbil) looked on from the House gallery. And the Kerry statement wouldn’t have happened without the prod of a report, “Genocide against Christians in the Middle East,” prepared by the Knights of Columbus and the organization “In Defense of Christians:” a remarkably detailed account of anti-Christian persecution, destruction, and slaughter that was addressed to the Secretary of State and contained a legal brief arguing that the “G-word” should be invoked and the matter referred to the Criminal Division of the Justice Department and the Security Council of the United Nations.

Father Bazi was aware that merely saying the “G-word” would change nothing on the ground for his people. But he welcomed the congressional resolution and the administration’s action because it called this ongoing atrocity by its proper name and would thus give his people hope that someone knew, and someone cared.

At minimum, passing the resolution and making the declaration would do that. But for crying out loud, it had to have carried some more weight in terms of aid, relief, action of some sort, one could reasonably expect.

One would have been heartbroken to have heard Nina Shea respond to that question on my radio program Monday that no, it had not changed anything. In fact, she said, on his visit two weeks ago to Baghdad, Sec. Kerry did not bring it up.

Why the silence? What difference, after all, did it make to declare that genocide was happening to populations of people at this time, this very moment?

…according to George J. Marlin, chairman of Aid to the Church in Need, there’s a sense that the declaration was the last the world will hear about it.

“It was like, ‘Okay, we’re done for the day. Let’s move on,’” Marlin said at a talk this week. “The question is what happens next.

“The Christian world, the Catholics in the United States, the bishops, have to bang the pots and pans loudly enough and say, ‘We are outraged by this. What is the West going to do?’” Marlin said…

“The first thing is humanitarian aid, which is very important, and to recognize that Christians are not going into the international camps,” he said, referring to a statement he made in his talk, that Christian refugees from Iraq and Syria fear the camps because of potential harassment from Islamic radicals in those camps.

Nina Shea told me on radio Monday that there’s been a “reckless disregard” for Christians in the UN refugee camps, who have been camping out near churches still remaining, for shelter against the ongoing persecution even in those camps.

This is unacceptable. If the government won’t act, the people who put them in office have to call them out on this humanitarian crisis. And meanwhile, do something else. Contact IDF, KofC, CNEWA, Aid to the Church in Need, Restore Ninevah Now, and Iraqi Christian Relief Council, among others, and let those in the path of genocide know help is on the way.

U.S. House of Representatives, State Dept. acknowledge genocide

Finally. This is a big deal.

After long, concerted efforts by individuals in Congress, human rights experts, humanitarian relief organizations, patriarchs and prelates, clergy and coalitions of citizens united with them, the U.S. made major advances this week toward stopping the atrocities ISIS has been committing against Christians and other religious minorities and getting aid and relief to those victims. The trigger to ratchet up new and urgent actions was twofold: passage of the Genocide Resolution in Congress, and acknowledgement by the State Department that what has been called persecution of Christians and other religious minorities actually constituted genocide.

Monday, the House of Representatives unanimously passed the Genocide Resolution, 393-0.

Congressman Jeff Fortenberry (R-NE) today made the following statement after the United States House of Representatives unanimously passed his genocide resolution with a vote of 393-0. In a sign of overwhelming bipartisan unity, the resolution, H. Con. Res. 75, names and decries the ISIS violence against Christians, Yezidis, and other ethnic and religious minorities as “genocide.” By law, the State Department must make a genocide determination by March 17.

“It is my sincere hope that this trans-partisan resolution will further compel the State Department to join the building international consensus in calling the horrific ISIS violence against Christians, Yezidis, and others by its proper name: ‘genocide,’” Fortenberry said.

A rapidly expanding international coalition has recognized that ISIS is committing genocide. The European Parliament, the International Association of Genocide Scholars, the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom, Pope Francis, and presidential candidates in both parties, among many others, are standing in solidarity to name and decry this genocide.

“At a time of deep political division in our nation,” Fortenberry continued, “the House has spoken with one voice to properly recognize and condemn this genocide—a threat to civilization itself. The genocide resolution elevates international consciousness and confronts the scandal of silence and indifference about ISIS’ targeted and systematic destruction of these endangered communities. A bipartisan and ecumenical alliance has formed to confront ISIS’ barbaric onslaught.”

Wednesday the 16th, Cong. Fortenberry spoke with me on radio about this vote, and the news he had just received that Secretary of State John Kerry would need more time to investigate the evidence, mystifying to those of us who knew that a joint effort by In Defense of Christians and the Knights of Columbus produced a nearly 300 page report specifically for Sec. Kerry and the State Dept. detailing that evidence. Outcries followed.

Hudson Institute’s renowned religious freedom activist Nina Shea published more questions about why it was taking State so long to deliberate something so obvious to all.

So did social commentator and author Kirsten Powers, in this USA Today piece.

ABC News reported that the House “overwhelmingly approved” the genocide resolution with “heavy bipartisan support”, but also that “the Obama administration officials have cautioned that a legal review is still under way and said it is likely Kerry will not meet Thursday’s deadline.”

And then, he did. Something happened to inspire or compel Secretary Kerry to make a surprise public announcement, Thursday morning.

Secretary of State John Kerry said Thursday that ISIS has been committing genocide against religious minorities in the Middle East — just the second time the executive branch has used the term in relation to an ongoing conflict.

The formal designation comes days after the House passed a nonbinding resolution by a 393-0 vote condemning ISIS atrocities as genocide.

“Daesh is genocidal by self proclamation, by ideology and by actions,” Kerry said in a televised address, using another name for the Sunni militant group [ISIS]. “We must recognize what Daesh is doing to its victims.”

“Naming these crimes is important but what is essential is to stop them,” he added.

Nina Shea discussed Kerry’s surprise announcement with me on radio Thursday, and the great need for this designation because of the scope of the atrocities. About an hour later, she posted this article giving credit and gratitude where it’s due.

History was made today. Secretary of State John Kerry officially recognized that ISIS is waging genocide against Christians, Yazidis, and Shiites in the areas under its control. This is only the second time the U.S. government has condemned an ongoing genocide: In 2004, Secretary of State Colin Powell designated what was going in Darfur as genocide. And today’s declaration, as I wrote yesterday, almost didn’t happen — owing to resistance from some quarters.

Kerry’s announcement was a surprise, one that defied deliberately lowered expectations. There was a State Department notice just yesterday that any such designation required longer deliberation and wouldn’t be made in time to meet the March 17 congressionally mandated deadline. But at 9 a.m. Eastern, Secretary of State Kerry took to the podium and asserted: “In my judgment, Daesh is responsible for genocide against groups in areas under its control, including Yazidis, Christians, and Shia Muslims. Daesh is genocidal by self-proclamation, by ideology, and by actions — in what it says, what it believes, and what it does.”

This official American genocide designation is a critically important step. Genocide is internationally recognized as the most heinous human-rights offense. Legally, it is known as the “crime of crimes.” And while the Genocide Convention does not prescribe specific action to “prevent and protect” against genocide, the conscience does.

This designation will not only lift the morale of these shattered religious groups, it also has the potential of serving justice through the prosecution of those who aid and abet ISIS as fighters, cyber recruiters, financiers, arms suppliers, and artifact smugglers.

Military action is also important. Kerry discussed military measures that would help these victims of ISIS: “We are preparing for future efforts to liberate occupied territory — with an eye to the protection of minority communities. In particular, the liberation of Mosul, of Nineveh province in Iraq, and parts of Syria that are currently occupied by Daesh, and that will decide whether there is still a future for minority communities in this part of the Middle East. For those communities, the stakes in this campaign are utterly existential.”

Congressman Fortenberry told me what he’s been saying to everyone listening lately, that this is a threat to civilization itself. As of today, the U.S. has risen to join a growing international coalition of voices and forces that can, finally, do something to stop the spread of that threat, reverse it, and protect innocent people and the existence of whole populations. What can be done is newly on the table. What will be done comes next.