Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Honoring MLK and beating the drums of war

It is a historic day to commemorate, and a day to rededicate ourselves to the struggle for racial justice. The speakers were inspiring, reminding us how far we've come and how far we have to go.

But my stomach is uneasy, and in the background I hear that beat again, steady and aggressive, the pounding drums of war.

We remember the "I Have A Dream Speech"--forgetting its much more critical original title, "A Cancelled Check"--as a soaring song of racial cooperation. We forget the radical King, the anti-war, pro-labor critic of militarism, materialism, and racism. We forget that King, and we look across oceans and continents, and we begin to beat the war drums again.

I am not an expert on Syria. Other, wiser people will have more to say. There are some people who I respect who have written articles that I have found helpful, like this one in The Nation from David Wildman and Phyllis Bennis (who were on the steering committee of the US Campaign to End the Israeli Occupation while I worked here; David is an executive at Global Ministries of the United Methodist Church); or this one at Mondoweiss from Syrian-American Ramah Kudaimi. Kudaimi reminds us not to buy into "there are two sides" rhetoric when there is such a huge power imbalance, but at the same time points out the hypocrisy of our war-drum response in a region where we contribute to violence.

Assad is a murderer. The Syrian government is largely to blame for the massive casualties and the refugee crisis. The rebels are right. Syria is a horrendous tragedy, a bloodbath, a failure of humanity. I just can't imagine our cruise missiles helping the situation. Can't imagine that this time, our military intervention in the Middle East will lead to peace. Especially when we continue to support all sorts of other murderers in the region, military dictatorships and monarchs and apartheid regimes, with billions of dollars a year in made-in-the-USA weaponry.

Today, I am thinking about what I can do to live out a dream articulated, at the urging of Mahalia Jackson, 50 years ago. I do not know what I will do. But, with Suheir Hammad, I know what I will not do: I will not dance to your war drum.