I tend to lump Sweden in with all of those "peaceful" countries — you know, Switzerland, Costa Rica, Norway, New Zealand, etc.! — so it was with great surprise that I received word a few weeks ago from a Swedish friend, Martin Smedjeback, that the country was deeply involved in the sale and shipment of armaments.
I met Martin last year when he visited the United States for several weeks, taking a sabbatical from his position as nonviolence coordinator for the Swedish FOR, and we traveled together to the U.S. Social Forum in Atlanta. He's a wonderful person, and I was impressed with his creative energy around peacemaking — he was learning new tactics for nonviolent resistance and engagement by spending time with Christian Peacemaker Teams and other peace and justice groups around our own country.
In the past few weeks, the Fellowship of Reconciliation has received a steady stream of concerning news from Colombia about the targeting of "peace communities," nongovernmental organizations, human rights workers, labor organizers, and other groups and individuals. Yesterday, Secretary of State nominee Hillary Clinton spoke with the conservative president of Colombia, Álvaro Uribe, to lay the groundwork for a dialogue during the new Obama administration. Given the fact that President-elect Obama spoke out against human rights abuses in Colombia during one of the presidential debates with Sen. McCain, we can hope that will lead to strong pressures on the Uribe government to crack down on these abuses.
Tomorrow, December 10th, is the 60th anniversary observance of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, published by the United Nations shortly after the international body's founding. There are many problems with the U.N. — the power imbalance in the structure, the lack of accountability, its limited enforcement mechanisms, and more — but this is not one of them. As the U.N. web site states, the declaration is a "living document" that is as relevant today as it was in 1948, in the wake of World War 2.
I had seen the book A Man to Match His Mountains but never read it. Its reputed theme was so simple and strong that I told myself I understood it well enough without having to work my way through the words: a Muslim man from a fierce warrior clan on the Pakistan-Afghanistan-India border emerges as one of Gandhi’s main co-workers in the cause of freedom and nonviolence.
FOR Iran Program Director Leila Zand (left) is interviewed by an Iranian journalist at Yousef-Abad Synagogue in Tehran.
More reports have come in today from the Fellowship of Reconciliation’s 8th peace delegation to Iran. Jacob R., a young Jewish activist from the U.S. Pacific Northwest, has posted three reflections on a blog he is maintaining.
Before traveling to Iran, Jacob had expressed his commitment to building ties across political and religious lines, noting that he has traveled three times to Palestine and Israel to help connect Israeli Jews with Palestinians living in the West Bank. This formed a foundation for his interest in visiting Iran, and learning about the historic relationships between Muslim and Jewish communities in that land. What follows is an excerpt from his most recent set of written reflections:
The Fellowship of Reconciliation’s eighth civilian diplomacy delegation to Iran is currently in the stunningly beautiful central city of Esfahan, known as "half the world" to every person of Persian descent. Mark Johnson, executive director of FOR and co-leader of the delegation, sent the following reflection to friends on Monday, December 1st, on the theme of being away from the U.S. during the Thanksgiving holiday weekend:
After 21 days on the road, 2557 miles driven and countless cafeteria meals — things are both different and the same. For example, before the tour our van was just another rental car with nothing unique about it. We returned it well used, more fragrant (!) and with a new name: the planet of Tranquilandia. Maybe more importantly, when the tour started the entire country was waiting with baited breath for the results of the election. Now we know that Obama will be our next US president. According to most people I’ve talked to, this means that some positive changes are likely to come about, but that we are not going to see an overhaul of the entire world order. Before the tour, political hip hop from Detroit had nothing to do with youth resistance in Colombia. Now Invincible’s rhymes and Paula’s stories of creative resistance are flowing together — in people’s imaginations, thoughts and maybe even dreams. And yet, there is still war in Colombia, displacement in Detroit and a poverty draft of young people of color and the poor.
I have the same feeling as on 9/11, when I was in Washington, D.C. One hundred eighty dead civilians and more than 300 wounded from an indiscriminate attack on a highly visible set of targets. Except this time, I am in country I don't know, where I don't speak the language of most — only the colonial language. Today, on a train I talked with five men who wanted to discuss terrorism. For them, it was about Muslim terrorism. One man said that Gandhi was the black spot of India, because he encouraged Muslims not to leave at the time of partition, and so India now has 20-25% Muslim population. According to these men, Muslims and Hindus cannot live together. I questioned — are you talking about 200 million Muslims, or just the 20 who carried out the terror operation in Mumbai on Wednesday night, with perhaps the support of another 100 people?