The Answer to World Peace: New England Contradancing

So many of us are wondering,  is there any hope for the world at a time of deep divisions at home and abroad, between the states and between the sexes?   Well, a resounding “yes!” would ring from anyone’s lips who happened to be at the Milford New Hampshire Town Hall for the monthly contradance on Friday.  Not only was it an unqualified success (as usual) for the local population, it was also a big victory for international relations. Let me explain.

First, for those of you who have never heard of a contradance, it’s an American folk dance, particularly beloved in New England. It’s like the better-known square dance, with a live band of fiddles, banjos, guitars and a caller who shouts out the various moves as the music plays. The dancers are typically in long lines, but sometimes they are in squares of four couples, and there is always a waltz for couples who aren’t afraid to hold each other closer.

The Milford contradance is sponsored by the Recreation Department and is probably the most family-friendly example of this genre of any held in the region.  Amateur musicians are encouraged to bring their instruments and join in with the band. On Friday there were about 20 players, some as young as ten, sawing away on their fiddles or strumming their guitars.  People of all ages were dancing: couples, families with little kids, even white-haired ancestors who can still trip the light fantastic with the best of them.  The caller takes time to walk everyone through the figures before the music starts, so even beginners can feel comfortable.   You don’t have to come with a partner—some people just pair up once each dance starts, and it’s common for girls to dance with girls, or boys with boys. And let’s not forget the snacks, mostly homemade, free for the asking.  It’s a place any New Hampshirite could go to hang out, talk, and have fun on a Friday night without a screen or device to distract them.

But the best part of the evening came when 12 Chinese 7thand 8thgraders with their chaperones came to see what this thing called a contradance was all about.  They are visiting students from a private school in a neighboring town, here for three months studying English and learning about the United States.   Now most kids this age in a strange place with strange customs would be pretty shy about joining in—not these guys.   Right off the bat they rushed to be a part of it, following the instructions as best they could, copying the moves of the Americans carefully.   The people of Milford rose to the occasion and came to them individually throughout the evening to partner with them, or demonstrate a step.  The whole night these Chinese kids were dancing like there was no tomorrow, laughing, grinning from ear to ear and they didn’t stop smiling until the chaperones announced they had to leave at which point they begged to be able to stay till the end.

Dancing and music have a tremendous ability to bring people together. The Sacrament of the Arts intersects with the Sacrament of the Group to create these special moments.  None of these Chinese students will ever forget this night.   Seeing these young people having so much fun was a moment when you could feel proud to be an American—our country at its friendliest, at its most welcoming, at its best.

I couldn’t help contrasting this joyous expression of community, this pure fun and welcoming atmosphere with the hate-filled, paranoid anger leveled at some European students who attended a Trump rally in this same town 3 years ago. For those who are sorry to see America go down that Paranoia Highway, let’s hold onto this image of some visitors from abroad who saw the best of America Friday night in Milford.  It’s a way to save the world, one step at a time.


The Bible is Israel’s Deed? The Death of Oslo

Never doubt the power of the group experience!   This is the Fourth Sacrament, that amazing energy that galvanizes a crowd at a football game, a victory march, or a rock concert.    At certain moments we are gripped by a feeling of Oneness with our fellow mortals, a tremendous euphoria can burst forth, transcendent, transformational.

But, as with all the Sacraments there is a dark side, and this week HBO’s Oslo Diaries gave us that in depressing detail.  25 years ago Israeli President Rabin and PLO leader Arafat finally found some common ground for a peace plan, but amid so much hope and good will generated by these Oslo agreements there was also so much anger and bad feeling,

Nothing was more disturbing than to see Netanyahu, the leader of the Likud Party, answering Rabin’s statement that Israel had no mandate to rule the West Bank, with “the Bible is our mandate, the Bible is our deed!” What can you say to someone who believes that God has given them the right to live in a certain place based on something written thousands of years ago?   It harkens back to the Manifest Destiny claims of our misguided ancestors who believed the Creator of the Universe interested Himself in our political affairs and favored our conquest of the Southwest from the benighted natives and Mexicans.

Actually there was something more disturbing in the Oslo Diaries: the rallies that year, where opponents of the peace accords packed the streets–fired-up, banner-waving zealots chanting “Death to Rabin!”, carrying coffins and nooses, burning Rabin’s picture while a smug Netanyahu looked on in approval.   This was the Dark Side in earnest, calling to mind the crowds at a Mussolini tirade or a Hitler harangue or—let’s say it– a Trump rally with people chanting “Lock her up!” or mocking reporters in a cage, led by a self-aggrandizing, self-satisfied hate-monger.

Could we all agree that we don’t want to live in a world where people chant “Death” to anyone?   Or make a hero of an assassin?  But of course, in their view Rabin’s killer was doing God’s work.  Rabin wanted to give the West Bank back to the Palestinians and remember:  “The Bible is our deed” to the West Bank.    So the question is,  how would you convince someone the Bible is not a deed?

Reason: I find it impossible to believe God told someone what to write word-for-word.

Zealot: You don’t have to believe it.  I believe it.

Reason: But you want me to support your claim that you own this land where someone else is now living.

Zealot: You don’t have to support me. I have a gun.  I will defend what God has given me.

This is the definition of madness.


Autonomy vs. Sovereignty: the Case of South Tyrol

Let’s take a look at a place where terrible decisions made after World War I resulted in a map that left an ethnic group divided by an international border instead of united under a single flag—and no, I’m not thinking of the Middle East where the Kurds were spread over four countries without a nation of their own. The place I have in mind is South Tyrol, a German-speaking Alpine district, once part of the Austrian Empire, but in 1918-9 handed over to Italy (some would say stolen) where it remains today.

In Woodrow Wilson’s 14 points for world peace, number 9 was about adjusting the borders of Italy along lines of nationality.  Well, they blew it big time. Even though 90% of South Tyroleans were Germans, they now had to pledge allegiance to Italy. Their language was no longer taught in schools, their names were changed (from Josef to Giuseppe, for example). They were the American Indians of the Alps, given the raw end of the stick in many ways as their culture was gradually suppressed. World War II changed some of that briefly, but the Allies let Italy have the province again in 1945 so it was back to being second-class citizens with attempts to de-Germanify the entire population, a feat France accomplished so successfully in Alsace-Lorraine.

A terrorist group of Germans rose up in the 60s, protesting their treatment, and the Italians, to their credit saw the error of their ways. They worked with the Austrians and locals to resolve the tension. What was the answer? Greater autonomy. Now German is spoken almost everywhere again, it’s the most prosperous area in Italy, and people get along just fine for the most part.

Is everything good in South Tyrol?   There are still reports of dissatisfaction with some still wishing for independence or to rejoin Austria. Then at the end of December, the leader of the Freedom Party in Austria, now a partner in the government, stirred things  up by pledging to allow the German South Tyroleans dual citizenship.   That got some Italians living there pretty mad, but by and large things are peaceful there on top of the Alps, as far as anyone can tell from this distance.

The moral of the story is that you’re never going to satisfy everyone when it comes to questions of freedom and sovereignty.   Get used to that idea—there will always be those who are unhappy.   But perhaps the best answer to solving the tension is more autonomy and less concern about sovereignty; more focus on getting along and building bridges and avoiding divisive gestures.   Maybe more autonomy might be all that Catalonia and the Kurds and the Karens, the Southern Cameroonians and the many other ethnic groups who feel slighted would need to stop protesting, or stop killing each other and to channel their energies into more productive avenues than chasing the elusive bubble of sovereignty.



After Charlottesville Will It Be West Side Story?

If anyone wants to know where we’re heading now after Charlottesville, it’s easy to see. More rallies are planned, more anti-rallies will confront them. The ideologies are diametrically opposed, but the hotheads on both sides are united in their hope  for a good fight and will look for any excuse to lash out. They are the Jets and the Sharks, pounding their chests, as they circle each other singing:

We’re gonna hand ’em a surprise…Tonight.

We’re gonna cut ’em down to size…Tonight.

We said, “O.K., no rumpus,

No tricks.”

But just in case they jump us,

We’re ready to mix….Tonight.

Planning to go to a future rally near you?  Be aware that many young men love the idea of  fighting and violence.

We’re gonna rock it tonight,

We’re gonna jazz it up and have us a ball!

They’re gonna get it tonight;

The more they turn it on the harder they’ll fall!

You’re not going to have a reasonable discussion with anyone. It’ll be more along the lines of

JETS: Well, they began it!

SHARKS: Well, they began it!

ALL:  And we’re the ones to stop ’em once and for all,   … Tonight!

The answer is not to do nothing, it’s to hold your own rally in a different part of town or, if you find yourself in the presence of speakers or marchers you disagree with,  silently turn your back in protest.

Just a reminder: both the leaders of the Jets and the Sharks ended up dead.

see also Charlottesville and John Brown’s Raid on Harper’s Ferry


Charolottesville and John Brown’s Raid on Harper’s Ferry

I was struck by some similarities between the conflict in Charlottesville and John Brown’s raid on Harper’s Ferry in 1859.   Fanatics were the leaders in both cases, and both groups were looking for instant publicity in order to stir up a rebellion: Brown wanted the slaves to rise against their white masters, while the alt-right wants the whites to rise up and claim their putative place in the Home of the Brave. The alt-left or the antifas also want to stir up their side and confront their opponents head-on.   The disciples of violence are primed and ready. More confrontations are being planned.

Watch out! These clashes will only escalate and lead to a Second Civil War, just as Harper’s Ferry led to the first one.   They get everyone going, mad at the other side, spoiling for a fight. Have we learned nothing in 150 years?   Even our saner leaders are not doing enough to head this off.

This is the USA.   Certain things are legal: to carry guns, to march in protest, to say what you want to say in public and private forums.


we could make things illegal and safer if we wanted to by passing new laws that would forbid non-governmental marches and protests in which people are carrying weapons of any kind.   We could outlaw military-style firearms period.   We could censor (yes, dammit, say it proudly, censor!) certain kinds of speech as the Germans have done, in outlawing any support or symbols of the Nazi ideology. The Germans have figured out you need something called “defensive democracy” designed to keep the state safe from demagogues.  German  law bans the incitement of hatred or violence, or ridiculing parts of the population in a manner apt to breach the peace—including racist speech (Volksverhetzung).

This is what’s needed. So, come on, Congress! Step up to the plate and pass some laws for the greater good!

In the meantime, if you disagree with someone’s views, don’t do this:

Yell and scream at them

Throw things at them

Provoke them in any way

Do this: hold your own rally in a different spot of town or stand in silent protest with your back turned to the speakers or marchers that you disagree with.  You could also try to reason with them, but Reason is in short supply these days.

see also Charlottesville: In the Absence of Reason Try Reconciliation

Free Speech in Germany?  Up to a Point


6 Formulas for Peace: Which Do You Think Works?

1) Divine Right.  God gave us this land. He means for us to have it. Accept that or we’ll kill you until you do.

2) Divine Love.  God wants us to love each other, so let’s not fight.

2) Social Justice.  Forget God. We’re all brothers and sisters. Let’s learn to live together by dividing up our resources fairly and not get hung up about who owns what.

3) Partition.  You are different than me and that’s never going to change. So let’s draw a line:  you live on that side, I’ll live on this side. You can do whatever you want over there, as long as you don’t make problems for me, and vice versa.

4) Current Practice.   A: That was mine and you took it. Give it back or I’ll kill you.

B: It wasn’t yours it was mine. Go away or I’ll kill you.

A: If you try to kill me I’ll get all my friends to kill you, you thief!

B: I’ll do the same, you coward!

A: Bully!

B: Fascist!

5: Deterrence.   Leave us alone or we have a weapon that will destroy everyone in your country.

Hint: None of these will ever work unless we control population growth because too many people inevitably will mean too little food, water, and shelter. Once that happens, the people have to go somewhere to survive. The Romans were two-thirds right on what the masses need: bread and circuses they got. Now add condoms or we’re doomed.

For further reading: A Lost Parable: The Sin of Contraception

You Want Peace? Split Those Countries Up!

The news is out that the leaders of the newest nation, South Sudan, have not wasted any time in showing what they’re made of. Thanks to a film by George Clooney’s watchdog group, The Sentry, we now know that they have been amassing hidden caches of personal wealth and buying mansions abroad at the expense of their impoverished people. They are in no hurry to end the civil war because they and their families are profiting from it.  Enormously. Thousands are dead, thousands more will die, and millions displaced as these people squirrel away the revenues that they are supposed to be distributing. Meanwhile world leaders are trying desperately to find a road to peace by bringing the two sides back together.

Why not go the other way and make the separation permanent? We just created South Sudan 5 years ago, so why not Southeast Sudan and Southwest Sudan? Make it a looser federation, or confederation, or try something new for crying out loud! Are these people ever going to trust each other again? Split ‘em up!

What is this obsession we have with maintaining borders as they are? Does anyone think that in a hundred years we will be looking at the same map of the world that we see now?   For one thing, a lot of what today is coast will be under water—where are all those people going to go? But the larger point is that conditions are always changing–environmental, social, political, philosophical—and to say that the borders in 2016 will be the same in 2116 is as absurd as to think there would be no change from 1816 to 1916.

Surely the wiser course would be to figure out a way to divide countries up when conditions indicate that the time is ripe. Czechoslovakia did an excellent job of this in 1993.   The Scots have almost reached escape velocity, and the Catalans are right behind them. If we could only have a procedure ready to hand, so when things heat up we could say, “OK, we recognize there’s a movement for change. Here’s what we do now: First A, then B, then C….” and on to the split.

What stands in the way of peaceful change is nationalism. Too many people equate pride in their country with some notion of the Motherland or Fatherland with inviolate frontiers.  When I asked one of my students from central Spain what he would do if Catalonia voted to secede, he said without hesitation,

“I would go fight them.”

“You mean, join the army and kill people?”

“Yes, absolutely.”

To him and everyone else with this mentality I say our slogan should be: more pragmatism, less patriotism. Focus on well-being, not real estate. Syria, South Sudan, Libya, Iraq, Afghanistan, Turkey—so many countries could benefit from partition. And the world would benefit because there would be less war, less displacement of peoples, less need for emergency food supplies, and all that goes along with civil unrest.

Of course there are problems. There are always opportunists, provocateurs, warlords….but isn’t it worth a try when you have such a clear indication in some of these cases that the majority of people in certain districts want a change?   Do we believe in self-determination or not?

Restorative Justice:The Sacrament of Forgiveness

The BBC reports this morning that a select committee of the British Parliament is recommending a bill that would enshrine into law the right to restorative justice.   This would allow victims of crimes to contact the perpetrators after trial and sentencing, and either meet them face-to-face or send letters in an effort to get beyond the rage and guilt, the nightmares and fears that often result. Those who have committed crimes may also initiate the contact.

Two very articulate parents appeared on the Newshour to explain how it worked. Their two sons had been in a fight. One son was killed and the other sent to the hospital with serious injuries. The three teenagers who attacked them were convicted of murder and sent to prison.   After two years, one of the teens was still having nightmares in prison and asked to meet the parents of the victims.   The parents were so full of anger that at first they could hardly think about it, but after some training on how the meeting would work, they agreed to go through with it. They went to a room in the prison and waited. When the prisoner walked through the door the first thing he did was go to the father and hug him. He turned to the mother and said, “May I?” and hugged her too. They talked. They got it all off their chests. It wasn’t easy, it wasn’t pretty, but as the mother said, “it turned a monster into a human being.” In the end, instead of anger there was compassion. They eventually met all three of the prisoners. When they reported back to their surviving son and urged him to give it a try he said he didn’t think he could meet face-to-face, but he wrote a letter. In it, he talked about his brother, how he would never be the best man at his wedding, never have kids….and at the end he wrote: “But I forgive you.”   Sending the letter transformed him.   He felt like he had been liberated, that he had thrown off some terrible, crushing weight.

This is the Sacrament of Forgiveness. In my book I give other examples of restorative justice, notably Desmond Tutu’s work in South Africa.   It won’t work all the time, but it can work. Violent crimes rob us of our personhood, our free will.  We feel violated right down to the core of our being and the consequences can be terrible.   Restorative justice is actually the restoring of our souls. It makes us human again.

How to End the War in Syria

The latest developments in Syria point the way toward a solution to that endless war, a way that has been evident from the beginning. There were only ever 3 options:

1) The Assad regime would regain control of the entire country militarily

2) One or more rebel groups would take control of the entire country militarily

3) The country would split up

Options one and two would mean the death of thousands more, the cost of millions more in weapons and destruction, and more waves of refugees desperate to escape the carnage. Splitting the country up should have been promoted years ago, and with the evacuation of Darayya, we can now see how this would work. You have small parcels of rebel-held territory in the midst of government-held territory, you call a truce and get everyone out and into the largest rebel-held territory. Then you resettle pro-Assad refugees in the empty town. Repeat one hundred times until everyone is on the side they want to be on.  Yes, lots of people lose their homes, but they are not dead and will rebuild their lives in a safe environment.

Obviously it’s not that easy. You’d have to define the borders and agree on who would administer the rebel areas.   Here again recent developments indicate an answer: Turkey.   With its first incursion into that wasteland that was once Syria, the Turks have cleared ISIS from part of its border. Keep going, Turks! Take more land from ISIS.  Set up administrators, district be district. Work with the rebels for a handover in the future.  Gradually defeat those radical groups that are out to conquer the world.

Why would Assad allow this? Because the Russians would make him.   The Russians want an end to this war too. It will eventually destabilize their country as well as Western Europe if the refugee problem continues to grow.  Get to work John Kerry.

There remains the problem of the Kurds. Why oh why didn’t they get their own country back in 1919? They have to be allowed to keep their territory in Syria (and Iraq), but Turkey won’t like that, nor will Iran.  In my dream world I see Turkey agreeing to the principle of self-determination and letting its southeastern provinces decide whether to stay with Turkey or do what Scotland almost did and Catalonia wants to do.   That ain’t gonna happen any time soon–But one problem at a time!

For more on this subject go to Partition Syria! 

Pope Francis on Islam: Is He Delusional?

Pope Francis recently said that he can’t condemn the brutal murder of the Norman priest, Father Jacques, as Islamic terrorism because “It’s not right to identify Islam with violence. It’s not right and it’s not true.”

This unleashed a furor.   On the Daily Express website for example, swarms of furious readers wrote in that the Pope was “blind”, “deluded”, “a nutter”, “an old fool”, “brain-damaged”, “an imposter”, “the antichrist”, “pure evil” “ a “Satinist”… Strong stuff!

So let’s unpack this.

Is it right to “identify” Islam with violence?

Bad choice of words.  What do we mean by “identify with”—that’s a confusing verb for this discussion. Let’s rephrase it:

Do some people who claim to be Muslims resort to violence to enforce their religious views?

Yes, undeniably.

Are they justifying their actions by pointing to what their religion teaches them?

Yes, absolutely.   In the holy books of Islam there are passages that unequivocally support violent acts to further their goals, including killing infidels to spread Islam. See link.

Does that mean that Islam is a religion that encourages violent and terroristic acts? Yes and no.

Yes, if you are someone who believes and teaches others that you must follow every word of the Quran. That is what we mean by fundamentalism: follow the holy text. There are from 1 to 5 % of Muslims in Middle Eastern countries who support the fundamentalism of ISIS.

No, if you believe that you can ignore certain parts of the Quran as outdated. See link.

This brings us to the most important part of the Pope’s recent statements: “Nearly all religions” have a “small group of fundamentalists” so don’t tar Islam with that brush.

Holy Cow! What the Pope is saying here is we have to beware of fundamentalism in any religion, including Roman Catholicism. Wow! What that would mean is exactly what Seven Sacraments for Everyone is getting at: we have to get beyond the slavish adherence to texts written thousands of years ago and to traditional practices that developed over centuries.   What we should be doing is “editing” those texts, looking into our hearts, looking at human experience to search for those transcendent moments that lead us to the Divine, that point us on our way to the Greater Good.   Killing innocent people in cold blood is the antithesis of this path.

Once again, two cheers for Francis!!   But he could have been clearer in his condemnation of terrorism under the guise of religion.