ACTIONS FOR PEACE
Notice: There will be no July issue of Stanislaus Connections.
Around the Center:
A Treaty to Abolish Nuclear Weapons By Lawrence S. Wittner on History News Network
Johnny Puts Down His Gun by Dennis Rahkonen from Dissident Voices
Remembering the Nakba during Israel's 60th Anniversary from Jewish Voice for Peace
- Chart: Where Your Income Tax Money Really Goes
Statement of Conscience Against War and Repression by the Board of the Peace/Life Center
Link: MoveOn--grassroots activism, electronically based
Recipes from Connections
COMMUNITY CALENDAR --CURRENT & COMING EVENTS
Masthead and Back Issues
Opinion and Letters to Connections
Join us for a weekend in the Sierra with a stimulating group of
adults and young folks at Peace Camp on June 27-29 at Camp Peaceful Pines off
Saturday’s workshop is Israel, Palestine and the U.S., presented by Dan Onorato, retired professor of English and Spanish at Modesto Junior College. Dan will share what he learned from the peacemakers that he met during his trip to the Middle East.
Sunday’s workshop is Youth Activism: Organizing across Generations. We will hear from William Broderick-Villa, teacher and mayor of Waterford, who was elected to the City Council at 24, and from Brianne Parmer, MJC student and advocate for peace, gay rights and immigrant rights. Just added: Ruben Jo Mesta, youth media activist, videographer and musician from Tracy.
Enjoy hiking, crafts, the star walk, the talent show, campfire, singing, the mountains, creek and river, cool air, children’s activities and much-anticipated food prepared by Deborah Roberts.
During last year’s camp, John Morearty said, “Now that I’m here, I can’t imagine that I had considered not coming.” Come and we’ll all make a great weekend together.
Send in your registration and we’ll save a place for you. Click here for the registration form. The cost for the whole weekend, including program, food and lodging, is $70 for adults, $50 for youth. Register by June 8 and save $10 a person.
WRITERS – If you have good writing skills, write an
article, up to 800 words, about peace, justice, or the environment and send it
to us. Local issues welcome. Email Jim Costello,
EDITORS - If you want to help us put out the paper, join us. Good computer skills (preferably Word/Mac), good writing and editing skills preferred.
DISTRIBUTORS - If you want to help us get the word out, contact Myrtle Osner, 522-4967, firstname.lastname@example.org
If you haven’t spent your tax rebate or your “Stimulus package”
yet, here’s an idea:
The check you will be receiving in the mail may not do much to prevent the looming recession, but you can still put it to good use.
The growing economic crisis, exacerbated by the misguided policies of the U.S. government, underscores the importance of the work of the Peace Life Center in challenging militarism and suggesting nonviolent alternatives. Our Peace Life publication, Stanislaus Connections is a major expense for the Center, but also the major way we communicate with you, our readers.
You can send us your “tax rebates” (or whatever you choose) as one way of protest.
Over half of what Americans spent on federal taxes this past year went to promote war and militarism. WHAT BETTER USE OF YOUR REBATE THAN TO USE IT TO PROMOTE PEACE AND NONVIOLENCE?
Send your contribution to P.O. Box 134, Modesto, CA 95353. Donations are tax-deductible.
Tim Dickinson from National Affairs posted up excerpts of a
recent interview between a TV reporter and chief justice Scalia:
STAHL: If someone’s in custody, as in Abu Ghraib, and they are brutalized, by a law enforcement person — if you listen to the expression “cruel and unusual punishment,” doesn’t that apply?
SCALIA: No. To the contrary. You think — Has anybody ever referred to torture as punishment? I don’t think so.
STAHL: Well I think if you’re in custody, and you have a policeman who’s taken you into custody–
SCALIA: And you say he’s punishing you? What’s he punishing you for? … When he’s hurting you in order to get information from you, you wouldn’t say he’s punishing you. What is he punishing you for?
In this interview Scalia also made the ticking-time-bomb argument. It is disheartening to complement these morbid statements with those of the supposed liberal Alan Dershowitz from an interview he had with Ken Roth on CNN Access March 4, 2003:
“My basic point, though, is we should never under any circumstances allow low-level people to administer torture. If torture is going to be administered as a last resort in the ticking-bomb case, to save enormous numbers of lives, it ought to be done openly, with accountability, with approval by the president of the United States or by a Supreme Court Justice.”
Dershowitz assumes that a Supreme Court Justice, such as Scalia, can properly mediate a proposed form of controlled torture! From my essay Torture is Never an Option, I said:
“Ok, so what if a terrorist plants a nuclear bomb and will not tell interrogators where it is? What if a sex-pervert-child-abductor will not tell the whereabouts of a missing child he kidnapped? These extreme circumstances are what most think about in terms of a ‘democratic society’ and acceptable use of ‘harsh interrogation tactics.’ The danger of this position is that the precedent for legitimized state-run torture poses a far greater threat to the security of its citizens. The potential terror of a terrorist bomb explosion is superceded by the terror of thousands ‘disappearing’ into the night; never to be seen again. The pain many support to be unleashed on a pedophile is superceded by dungeons of rape on a mass scale.”
In other words, there has never been a political regime that has used “controlled” or “moderate” torture. It could be argued that every government views this practice as a necessity if needed for national security.
In the Turkish Press, President Raul Castro of Cuba stated in regards to executing political criminals in his country, “We can't disarm ourselves before an empire (United States) that doesn't stop harassing and attacking us." His sentiments echo the logic of Scalia except his regime really does face down the most powerful nation on the planet. Our government never stops telling us about human-rights violations in other countries; and that leaders, such as Castro, use US aggression as a ruse for an excuse to suppress democratic tendencies. As these leaders watch our court justices and politicians use such rhetoric, we must assume this hypocrisy reinforces their presumed need for state repression.
After the one terrorist attack on 9/11, the US government has acted as if our democracy can be dismantled piecemeal to ward off the threats of more terrorism. They also remind us of dangerous regimes that value totalitarianism in a world that should be free. If Scalia can speak so lightly of Abu Graib due to one terrorist attack on American soil, just imagine what he’d be like if there existed 40,000 foreign enemy troops along our border: He would act no differently than a North Korean official. The lesson we are learning is that when more terrorism occurs in the United States, our government becomes more tyrannical, and the greater the perceived threat, the greater the actual tyranny.
Last week I bought a book titled An Essay on Crimes and Punishments by Cesare Beccaria. John Adams had a 1775 copy of this work in English, and an original Italian language edition in his personal library. In Chapter 16 he wrote on the topic of torture saying:
The torture of a criminal during the course of his trial is a cruelty consecrated by custom in most nations. It is used with an intent either to make him confess his crime, or to explain some contradictions into which he had been led during his examination, or discover his accomplices, or for some kind of metaphysical and incomprehensible purgation of infamy, or, finally, in order to discover other crimes of which he is not accused, but of which he may be guilty.
No man can be judged a criminal until he be found guilty; nor can society take from him the public protection until it have been proved that he has violated the conditions on which it was granted. What right, then, but that of power, can authorize the punishment of a citizen so long as there remains any doubt of his guilt? This dilemma is frequent. Either he is guilty, or not guilty. If guilty, he should only suffer the punishment ordained by the laws, and torture becomes useless, as his confession is unnecessary, if he be not guilty, you torture the innocent; for, in the eye of the law, every man is innocent whose crime has not been proved. Besides, it is confounding all relations to expect that a man should be both the accuser and accused; and that pain should be the test of truth, as if truth resided in the muscles and fibers of a wretch in torture. By this method the robust will escape, and the feeble be condemned. These are the inconveniences of this pretended test of truth, worthy only of a cannibal, and which the Romans, in many respects barbarous, and whose savage virtue has been too much admired, reserved for the slaves alone.
He then adds the most poignant fact about torture. “What is the political intention of punishments? To terrify and be an example to others.” State terrorism should be our greatest fear. Individual terrorists are, unfortunately, occasional; but as a legislative norm terror becomes chronic and perpetual. This was observed even by thinkers in the 18th century. The first page of this great masterpiece has comments dedicated to the author by American admirers that stated Beccaria, “saved America’s democracy from bigotry and stupidity—equally as harmful as are seditious revolutions.” We hope he can save us from harmful stupidity one more time.
Real culture shock is not the
instant recoil from strange or disturbing novelties that one might experience
when living in a new culture. Such a shock would imply, somehow, that most of
your psyche was still safely tucked away under the protective covers of your
native cultural expectations, and that somehow the new experience kicked you out
of bed. Real culture shock strikes when you think you already know what the new
culture has to offer. You think you’ve been acclimatized under a new set of
covers, but you discover that the familiar thing that has crawled into bed with
you is, in fact, something really scary.
A poignant triptych unfolded itself the other day at the Family Food Center, a medium-sized grocery store where I often shop. The center panel of this triptych was occupied by me, who stood immobile at the end of an aisle contemplating my next purchase. My attention wandered over to the second panel, which contained two typical black-robed figures about ten feet away from me. These veiled Qatari women, who looked to be in early middle age, were placing cans of beans into their cart. One of the ladies assumed the position of cart driver while her partner transferred cans from shelf to cart. In the process, one of the cans fell on the floor, but neither woman made any attempt to pick it up.
The scene now had my full attention. After placing several other cans into their cart, they attempted to push it down the aisle, but an ignored can jammed itself in front of a rear wheel. The driver backed up and pushed the cart with more oomph, to no effect. At this time, both of the women looked down at the can accusingly. Why don’t they just pick it up? I thought self-righteously. The driver backed up once more and nudged the can with her foot to the center of the aisle, and they continued journeying down the aisle without even so much as a glance back at the hazard they had willfully created. I stood paralyzed by emotions I could barely identify, let alone understand.
In the third panel of this triptych, a middle-aged East Indian man was walking past the end of the aisle on his way to another part of the store. Like the aforementioned women, he was a shopper, not a store employee. He saw the lone can, took an abrupt 90-degree detour to retrieve it and placed it with its siblings on the appropriate shelf. He then retraced his steps back to the end of the aisle. I caught his eye as he passed, searching his face to read what I could in his features. I made eye contact, shrugged my shoulders, and rolled my eyes in the direction of the retreating Qatari women. I smirked, hoping to get a “Well, that’s how those people are” look in confirmation. His eyes met mine, but I couldn’t read them. The corners of his mouth gave evidence of some fleeting grin, but I couldn’t tell which part of the triptych amused him: the indifference of the women, my judgmental attitude, or his own behavior.
Then it hit me: this was an instance of culture shock. I really didn’t know how to feel about the experience myself, but I felt something was very wrong with all three panels. The scene really bothered me, especially when I realized there was nothing unusual about what I witnessed. The Qataris clearly did the wrong thing, the Indian did the right thing, and I did nothing at all. Why were the Qatari women so “callous”? Was it “laziness”? The feeling of entitlement that assumes others will clean up their messes for them? Or something else? And why did the Indian guy go out of his way to pick up the can? Was it concern for the welfare of others? Force of habit? Self-abasement? Self-righteousness? And why hadn’t I said anything to the women, or even picked up the can myself? Was it the incapacitation of anger? An unwillingness to get involved in “someone else’s” business? A fear of giving offense? Self-righteousness?
The incident has dogged me, yipping at my peace of mind and clattering its little terrier toenails on the tile floor of my consciousness. What’s the big deal? It was only a can! Yet, it’s so like culture shock to catch you up on these small things, as it did once when I lived in China. I behaved disgracefully with a cab driver over an extra two-cent fare. I can barely face the picture I have of the scene: me throwing the two cents down on the street, apoplectic with rage, and storming off in high dudgeon.
What was that all about? (Like I don’t know.) It wasn’t about the driver overcharging me (though he did). It was about the six months of being stared at as a foreigner. It was about six months of listening to people hacking up phlegm wherever I went: diners and waitresses spitting in restaurants; students spitting in the halls, on the cold metal stairs and on my classroom floor. People constantly spitting, pushing, shouting, coughing and blowing cigarette smoke in my face. All of my repressed anger at what had become normal exploded in the poor cabbie’s face. Yet it WAS only two cents.
And this was only a can. Yet when I look around at work I see candy wrappers, pizza boxes, soda cans, and water bottles lying on tables everywhere, usually only a yard or two from the nearest trash bin. I make a joke about it to my classes: “Boy, they have terrible maid service here.” I then proceed to clean up the mess before class starts. The students laugh, but then they leave their own garbage on their desks as they leave the class, prompting my scolding. Then there are the toilets. It may come to a shock to most Americans, but not everyone is comfortable using toilet paper to clean up after bowel movements. Many people like to spritz their bottoms with water after their BM. Hoses next to the johns are provided for this purpose. But do the users of these hoses clean up the mess they make when they’re finished tidying up their rear ends? No, they leave the seat sopping wet with water, and God knows what, waiting for the next person to clean up before they sit down. A female colleague even reported that a student refused to flush her own stool down the drain because she just wasn’t used to doing so. At home, her maid always did the honors.
Yet I was bothered by a can. Yet I guess after all this time, I’m a bit scared of this Gulf Arab culture. Would open criticism have provoked a violent response? Their dignity is so important to them. We can’t even begin to solve the Middle Eastern problem, for example, unless we acknowledge the role “honor” plays in Arab culture. They really do seem to value it more than life itself. Perceived insults on the roads are often met with immediate retaliation. When Leslie, my wife, asked her class under what circumstances would it be OK to kill someone, several students replied that it would be fine to kill a girl if she dated. Family honor would dictate it. But would picking up a darn can shame them so much?
On the other hand, the scene with the can did seem to upset my sense of honor. If I had felt so strongly about it, however, why was I mute? Maybe if I could have seen their faces, it would have been different. I might have said something. We take so many cues for what we do and say from how we think others perceive us that we’re literally clueless when we cannot see those we are talking to. How do you read a black veil? How do you know when you’ve crossed the line when you can’t see someone’s face?
Then there is the language. Admonishments take nuance and my Arabic is non-functioning, and the likelihood that the women spoke English was slight. It seemed easier to compromise my sense of right than to risk offense.
And, of course, it WAS only a can. Why didn’t I pick it up? Had I fallen into the same trap as the women? If God had expected us to pick up our own trash, why had He created Indians (and Nepalese and Bangladeshis, et al)? No, it wasn’t that. I pick up after myself, and I feel too uncomfortable to ask the Tamil tea-boy at work even to fix my coffee for me. The very idea of servitude distresses me. The Indian guy’s entrance was an impromptu performance anyway, a mere subplot to the drama that was unfolding in my own mind. Maybe I watched and did nothing because I KNEW what was going to happen. I KNEW they wouldn’t pick up the can, and I would have been disappointed on some level if they HAD picked it up. Few things in this world feel better than self-righteousness and few thrills more exciting than the ecstasy of the self-fulfilled prophecy. Yet the intoxication of smugness leads to a miserable hangover. Feeling superior to those in whose country I reside is an unworthy and empty victory.
Culture shock is waking up to realize things are the way they are in another culture just because they are that way. Culture shock is looking at yourself and your own values.
Note: The author teaches, lives in Qatar and writes this and similar musings primarily for his friends.
Tenth of each month. Submit peace, justice and environmentally friendly event notices to P.O. Box 134, Modesto, CA, 95353, or call 522-4967 or 575-4299, or email to Jim Costello. Free listings subject to space, availability and editing.