Friday, April 30, 2010

Christians for Comprehensive Immigration Reform Petition

From the website of Christians for Comprehensive Immigration Reform:

"As a Christian, I believe my faith calls me to view all people, regardless of citizenship status, as made in the 'image of God' and deserving of respect; to show compassion for the stranger and love and mercy for my neighbor; and to balance the rule of law with the call to oppose unjust laws and systems when they violate human dignity.

"These biblical principles compel me to support immigration reform legislation that is consistent with humanitarian values, supports families, provides a pathway to citizenship for immigrant workers already in the U.S., expands legal avenues for workers to enter the U.S. with their rights and due process fully protected, and examines solutions to address the root causes of migration.

"I believe the current U.S. immigration system is broken and reform is necessary. I call on Congress to pass comprehensive immigration reform with the above elements by the end of this year."

If you agree, go here to sign the petition.

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

M.I.A., Zizek, and a Working Definition of Genocide

M.I.A.’s new music video is pretty disturbing. Created for her song “Born Free,” the video shows a near-future Los Angeles (I think), where American soldiers and shock troops are rounding up redheaded, fair-skinned people (or “gingers”), busing them out into the desert, and executing them en masse. (Be warned: the video is very graphic.)

The video is pretty well-done, and properly evocative. But it has one major flaw, in my mind. As the bus carrying the gingers to their doom moves through the streets of Los Angeles, they pass a mural showing a group of gingers dressed in camo, hoisting automatic rifles, under the words, “Our Day Will Come.” A few seconds later, a group of gingers emerges from an alley and starts pelting the bus with stones. They all have their faces covered with kheffiyahs (checkered Arab headdresses). The scene is clearly meant to evoke the Palestinian struggle.

Here’s the fundamental problem: they’re gingers. If you’re covering your face, presumably, you want to keep your identity secret, so they can’t come and find you later. But the premise of the video is that in future dystopian LA, the state is trying to kill all gingers just because they’re gingers. So why do our ginger revolutionaries cover their faces? What’s the point? Palestinians who throw rocks at Israeli tanks cover their faces so the Israel Defense Forces won’t later pick them out from among other Palestinians and arrest them. If the IDF’s policy was to kill all Palestinians anyway, this would be a pointless act.

Last semester, my friend and mentor Robert (the anti-Moderate) introduced me to the neo-Marxist writer Slavoj Zizek. In this interview, Zizek distinguishes between the evil of Joseph Stalin’s purges and the evil of the Holocaust this way:

...there is a basic difference between Stalinist and Nazi victim status, from a simple phenomenological approach. Under Nazism, if you were a Jew, you were simply killed, no questions asked, you had nothing to prove. You are guilty for who you are, you are a Jew, you are killed, that’s it. Under Stalinism, of course, most [victims] were on trial for false accusations; most of them were not traitors. Nonetheless, there is one interesting feature: that they were tortured or through some kind of blackmail forced to confess to being traitors. ... The idea is that, in a strange way, it admits that you are still a free human being, you had a choice. You are guilty, you have to confess. ...In a totally perverted, thwarted, and twisted way, some margin of human freedom was acknowledged under Stalin.
Zizek’s comments about Nazism bring to mind the words of a three-year-old boy who was killed in the 1994 Rwanda genocide: “Please don’t kill me. I’ll never be Tutsi again.”

There’s an awful lot of debate out there about what does and does not constitute genocide. Obviously, the Holocaust does, as does the mass slaughter of Rwandan Tutsis. But what about the murder of a million Armenians in Turkey during World War I? The Sudanese government’s campaign against the inhabitants of Darfur? Or even, as some historians (whom I would consider nuts, at best, but have a constituency) have suggested, the Israeli occupation of Palestine? The UN’s Genocide Convention defines genocide as an attempt “to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnical, racial or religious group.” Apparently, that definition isn’t clear-cut enough for the times.

This debate is pretty depressing, because it forces scholars to spend lots of thought, ink and breath arguing about whether this and that mass murder is bad enough to qualify for an artificial standard. It turns a black-and-white moral issue into a semantic issue. Nevertheless, if we are to avoid doing violence to the language by using genocide to describe every immoral conflict out there, the debate must be had, and settled.

Perhaps we can posit this as a working genocide litmus test: if the victims’ only crime is being born, into their race, ethnic group, locality, culture, or religion, then it’s genocide. If the victims could save themselves by submitting to their attackers somehow, it’s not.

Cheerful thoughts, eh? The darkness of the human soul...

On that note, if you’re interested in my take on the new Arizona immigration bill, this New Yorker comment sums it up pretty well:

Arizona Leads the Way Backward on Immigration


Who is this coming from Edom, from Bozrah, with his garments stained crimson? Who is this, robed in splendor, striding forward in the greatness of his strength?

“It is I, speaking in righteousness, mighty to save.

“I looked, but there was no one to help, I was appalled that no one gave support; so my own arm worked salvation for me, and my own wrath sustained me.”

- Isaiah 63:1, 5

Monday, April 26, 2010

Hosea: God Refights the Whole Relationship

My quest to read through the prophets continues.

“There is no faithfulness, no love, no acknowledgment of God in the land. There is only cursing, lying and murder, stealing and adultery; they break all bounds, and bloodshed follows bloodshed. Because of this the land mourns, and all who live in it waste away; the beasts of the field and the birds of the air and the fish of the sea are dying.”

- Hosea 4:1-3

“When I found Israel, it was like finding grapes in the desert; when I saw your fathers, it was like seeing the early fruit on the fig tree. But when they came to Baal Peor, they consecrated themselves to that shameful idol and became as vile as the thing they loved.”

- Hosea 9:10

The LORD has a charge to bring against Judah; he will punish Jacob according to his ways and repay him according to his deeds. In the womb he grasped his brother’s heel; as a man he struggled with God. He struggled with the angel and overcame him; he wept and begged for his favor. He found him at Bethel and talked with him there – the LORD God Almighty, the LORD is his name of renown! But you must return to your God; maintain love and justice, and wait for your God always.

- Hosea 12:3-6

“In my anger, I gave you a king, and in my wrath I took him away.”

- Hosea 13:11

“When I fed them, they were satisfied; when they were satisfied, they became proud; then they forgot me. So I will come upon them like a lion, like a leopard I will lurk by the path. Like a bear robbed of her cubs, I will attack them and rip them open.”

- Hosea 13:6-8

“Pains as of a woman in childbirth come to him [Ephraim], but he is a child without wisdom; when the time arrives, he does not come to the opening of the womb.”

- Hosea 13:13-14

(Alternate title I considered for this post: “Hosea: Israel Too Stupid to Find the Birth Canal.”)

But the LORD is God, and not man:

“How can I give you up, Ephraim? How can I hand you over, Israel? ...My heart is changed within me; all my compassion is aroused. I will not carry out my fierce anger, nor will I turn and devastate Ephraim. For I am God, and not man – the Holy One among you. I will not come in wrath. They will follow the LORD; he will roar like a lion. When he roars, his children will come trembling from the west.”

- Hosea 11:8-10

“Let us acknowledge the LORD; let us press on to acknowledge him. As surely as the sun rises, he will appear; he will come to us like the winter rains, like the spring rains that water the earth.”

- Hosea 6:3

Sunday, April 25, 2010

Last Dordt Diamond Column – North Korea: The Impossible Problem

Imagine this scenario: the government announces that in order to increase its control over the economy, it is revaluing your country’s currency. You have one week to trade in all your old cash savings for new bills. The maximum amount you will be allowed to trade in? $40 worth. Anything else you saved is now worthless.

If you object, you, your siblings, grandparents, aunts, uncles and cousins will be sent to a prison camp for life. If you obey, you face the possibility of starvation.

Kind of puts the healthcare debate in perspective, eh?

This is exactly what the North Korean government did last November. This is life for the average North Korean – forever subject to the whim and paranoia of a party whose ideological convictions allowed a million people to starve in the 1990s, and a dictator, Kim Jong Il, whose sanity is open to question.

Cut off from the rest of the world for sixty years now, the North Koreans have become a voiceless people, largely forgotten in international politics, where the major players are far more interested in containing Kim Jong Il’s craziness than helping the people who live in his world.

And really, can we blame those players? In a world full of troubles, the North Korea problem seems almost impossible to solve. How do you help a people whose leader will not allow them to even speak with foreigners? How do you convince a possibly-delusional tyrant armed with nuclear weapons and over a million soldiers to reform?

There are no easy answers, but the church in America cannot be apathetic about this problem. We must, at the very least, bear witness to the suffering of our brothers and sisters in North Korea, so that the world will not forget.

An organization called Liberty in North Korea (LiNK) is working to spread awareness about the continuing oppression in North Korea, and to help North Korean refugees living underground in China escape to free countries, one at a time. Next Thursday, April 22, LiNK will come to campus to show a documentary and talk about their work. I’d encourage all interested Dordt students to attend and learn more.

In the meantime, let us pray that the injustices in North Korea will soon come to an end. Even when everything seems hopeless, we can put our trust in a God who David says “does not ignore the cry of the afflicted.”


This column came out a week and a half ago. Since then, the LiNK group did come and visit. The documentary they showed was incredible. Take a look. (I'd recommend starting at 2:55 into the video):

Monday, April 19, 2010

Perspectives Piece

I'm pretty excited about this today.

An essay I wrote about the Golan Heights is appearing in this month's issue of Perspectives magazine, a journal published by the Reformed Church of America. Check it out, if you're so inclined:

Monday, April 12, 2010

Absurd Moment of the Day

So at my tutoring job today, I’m trying to help an international English-as-a-foreign-language student with a history paper. His paper is a compare-and-contrast paper about the political views of John Calvin and Jacques Rousseau. He’s fuzzy on one of the points, so I pull up Calvin’s Institutes on the internet to show him an important paragraph. I highlight the paragraph and read it to him, but it’s hard for him to understand. And who can blame him? It’s even hard for me, a native English speaker, to decipher John Calvin sometimes.

Then I notice my student is focused on one of the footnotes on the side of the webpage. The footnote gives the original French text of one of the sentences. And then it hits me.

My student is from Haiti. He speaks French. Just like John [Jean] Calvin and Jacques Rousseau! The poor guy is drowning in a major term paper because we’re forcing him to read and analyze arcane English translations of texts that were originally published in his native language! What a ridiculous situation.

We spent the next ten minutes trying to find French versions of the Institutes and the Social Contract on Google. It’s not that easy, but I did find a copy of Du Contrat Social eventually. No luck with Jean yet.

What do y’all think? Is there a broader lesson here, or is this just a random absurdity?

Sunday, April 11, 2010

I Don’t Think I Can Ever Vote for Sarah Palin (Again)

From Palin’s speech to the Southern Republican Leadership Conference on Friday:

Meanwhile, this administration alienates our friends. They treated Afghanistan President Hamid Karzai poorly and acted surprised when he reacted in kind. And they escalated a minor zoning decision into a major breach with Israel, our closest ally in the Middle East.

Folks, someone needs to remind the President: Jerusalem is not a settlement. Israel is our friend.

You’re right, Sarah. Jerusalem is not a settlement. Gilo, Har Homa, Maale Adumim, Ramot Allon, and Ramat Shlomo are settlements. And they are strangling the future Palestinian state, and with it, any hope for Middle East peace or the survival of the Jewish state, in the crib:


Sarah Palin to ABC’s Barbara Walters, 11/17/2009:

“I believe that the Jewish settlements should be allowed to be expanded upon, because that population of Israel is, is going to grow. More and more Jewish people will be flocking to Israel in the days and weeks and months ahead. And I don’t think that the Obama administration has any right to tell Israel that the Jewish settlements cannot expand.”

As anyone remotely familiar with the Israeli-Palestinian conflict can tell you (and anyone who wants to be president should be remotely familiar with it), 1) there have been no major immigration waves to Israel since the fall of the Soviet Union, 2) if there was such a wave coming up, there’s plenty of room in Israel. The issue with the settlements is that they are built on occupied Palestinian land. And 3) the United States gives $3 billion a year to Israel. That – besides international law - is what gives us a right to ask them to stop building on occupied territory.

As for the rest, I cannot believe she is blaming Hamid Karzai’s psychotic-authoritarian break on Obama. I don’t know what she means when she says Obama treated Karzai “poorly,” but I can’t imagine it was bad enough to force Karzai to rig his country’s presidential election, refuse any international involvement in the next election, and threaten to join the Taliban.

And then there’s Sarah Palin on Obama’s decision to openly declare that the United States will never use nuclear weapons on a nonnuclear country that is abiding by the Non-Proliferation Treaty:

“You know, that’s kinda like getting out there on the playground, a bunch of kids ready to fight, and one of the kids saying, ‘Go ahead, punch me in the face and I’m not gonna retaliate.’”

Is this folksy, main street, plain-speaking analogy supposed to comfort me? As an average, non-elitist American, am I supposed to relate to this justification for maintaining a standing threat to annihilate millions of people?

(Besides, that’s exactly what my parents told me to do on the playground. What is she trying to teach our kids???)

Is it cliche for me to pick on Sarah Palin? Perhaps, but consider:
1) I found the transcript of her SRLC speech from the blog of the Weekly Standard, which speaks for the mainstream of the American right if any magazine does.
2) I’m a lifelong conservative. A year and a half ago, I voted for her to be a heartbeat away from the Oval Office. If she’s lost me, that’s pretty significant.

I take no pleasure in ripping on Palin, but she is the embodiment of the American left’s caricature of the American right, and the fact that so many American conservatives have embraced that caricature drives me nuts.

Monday, April 5, 2010

"Videotape," by Radiohead

(Explanation: This Easter weekend was joyful, but a little stressful, and at times a little confusing. This song seemed appropriate for some reason. And by coming to my blog, you've given me license to drag you inside my head. Enjoy.)

When I’m at the pearly gates
This’ll be on my videotape
My videotape
My videotape

When Mephistophilis is just beneath
And he’s reaching out to grab me

This is one for the good days
And I have it all here in
Red, blue, green
Red, blue, green

You are my center when I spin away
Out of control on videotape
On videotape
On videotape
On videotape

This is my way of saying goodbye
Because I can’t do it face to face
So I’m talking to you before...

No matter what happens now
I won’t be afraid
Because I know
Today has been the most perfect day
I have ever seen

Saturday, April 3, 2010

Some Things Are Just Unbelievable

Today, to mark the 50th anniversary of Senegal’s independence, the president of Senegal unveiled this statue:

It is 164 feet tall, about the height of the Statue of Liberty, made from copper. It cost $20 million to build.

Where, you might ask, did Senegal – average annual income of $1,700, 48% unemployment rate, 54% of population below poverty line – get the money to pay for this monument?

That’s the really great part. It didn’t cost them a dime. It was paid for in full.


In exchange for the money to build the statue, North Korea received a piece of Senegalese land, Abrassart said.

... North Korean official Kim Yong Nam “expressed belief that the friendly and cooperative relations between the two countries would grow stronger in various fields in the future, too,” according to KCNA.
North Korea – average annual income: $1,800, military size: 1.1 million, nuclear weapons stockpile: 8 (estimated) – knows something about building statues.

Fun fact: North Korea ranks 188 in average annual income, while Senegal ranks 191.

Now the really rich bit. The icing on the cake. The coup de grace. The unveiling ceremony was attended by the Reverend Jesse Jackson.
“This renaissance statue is a powerful idea from a powerful mind,” said the Rev. Jesse Jackson in remarks to the crowd of hundreds waving flags at the foot of the lighted monument. “This is dedicated to the journey of our ancestors, enslaved but not slaves.”

Good to know Jesse’s still standing up for the oppressed of the world.

No, I am not making any of this up.

Heaven help us.