Posts Tagged ‘nonviolence’

March 12 is the feast day of Maximilian of Thavaste, whom tradition holds was beheaded for refusing to serve in the Roman military because he was a Christian.

1. On the 12th day of March during the consulship of Tuscus and Anolinus [295], when Fabius Victor had been brought into the forum at Tebessa, together with Maximilianus, and their advocate Pompeianus had been granted an audience, the last declared, “The temonarius Fabius Victor is present, together with Valerianus Quintianus, the praepositus Caesariensis, and the fine recruit Maximilianus, Victor’s son. Since he is acceptable, I ask that he be measured.” The proconsul Dion said, “What are you called ?” Maximilianus replied, “Why do you want to know my name ? It is not permitted to me to serve in the military since I am a Christian”. The proconsul Dion said, “Ready him”. When he was being got ready, Maximilianus replied, “I cannot serve in the military; I cannot do wrong; I am a Christian.” The proconsul Dion said, “Let him be measured”. When he had been measured, an official reported, “He is five feet ten inches tall.” Dion said to the official, “Let him be marked.” And as Maximilianus resisted, he replied, “I will not do it; I cannot serve in the military.”

2. Dion said, “Serve so that you do not perish.” Maximilianus replied, “I will not serve; cut off my head; I do not serve the world, but I do serve my God.”Dion the proconsul said, “Who has persuaded you of this ?” Maximilianus replied, “My soul and he who has called me.” Dion said to his father Victor, “Advise your son.” Victor replied, “He himself knows – he has his purpose – what is best for him.” Dion said to Maximilianus, “Serve and accept the seal.” He replied, “I will not accept the seal: I already have the seal of my Christ.” Dion the proconsul said, “I will send you to your Christ right now.” He replied, “I wish that you would do so. That is even my title to glory.” Dion said to his staff, “Let him be marked.” And when he was resisting, he replied, “I do not accept the world’s seal, and if you give it to me, I will break it, since I value it at nought. I am a Christian. It is not permitted to me to bear the lead upon my neck after [having received] the saving seal of my Lord Jesus Christ, the Son of the Living God, he whom you do not know, who suffered for the life of the world, whom God surrendered for our sins. All of us Christians serve Him. Him we follow as the source of life and author of salvation.” Dion said, “Serve, and accept the seal, so that you do not suffer a terrible death.” Maximilianus replied, “I will not die. My name is already with my Lord; I cannot serve in the military.” Dion said, “Have regard to your youth and serve; for this befits a young man.” Maximilianus replied, “My service is for my Lord; I cannot serve the world. I have already said: I am a Christian.” Dion the proconsul said, “There are Christian soldiers in the sacred retinue of our lords Diocletian, Maximianus, Constantius, and Maximus, and they serve.” Maximilianus replied, “They themselves know what is best for them. But I am a Christian, and I cannot do wrong.” Dio said, “What wrong do they who serve do ?” Maximilianus replied, “You know well what they do.” Dion replied, “Serve, lest, having scorned military service, you begin upon a terrible death.” Maximilianus replied, “I will will not die; even if I do depart the world, my spirit will live with my Lord Christ.”

3. Dion said, “Strike out his name.” And when it had been struck out, Dion said, “Because you have disloyally refused military service, you will receive the appropriate sentence in order to serve as an example to others.” And he read his decision from his tablet, “Maximilianus, since you have disloyally refused the military oath, it has been decided for you to be punished by the sword.” Maximilianus replied, “Thanks be to God.” He was 21 years, 3 months, and 18 days old. And when he was being led to the place [of execution], he spoke as follows, “Dearest brothers, with an eager desire, hurry with as much courage as you can so that it may befall you to see the Lord and that he may reward you also with a similar crown.” And with a joyous face, he addressed his father as follows, “Give that guard the new clothing which you had got ready for me during my military service, so that I may welcome you with a hundredfold reward and we may glory with the Lord together.” And so he suffered death shortly afterwards. And the matron Pompeiana obtained his body from the judge and, having placed it in her carriage, she brought it to Carthage, and buried it beneath a little hill near the martyr Cyprian and the palace. And so, after the 13th day, the same woman died, and was buried there. But his father Victor returned to his home with great joy, thanking God that he had sent on ahead such a gift to the Lord, he who was about to follow shortly afterwards.

As I wrote about this account last year:

Controversy surrounds the historicity of this account. However, what’s important about this story is not its historicity, but that the early church would celebrate the protagonist of such a story as a martyr. Declaring someone a saint is a political act, and the canonization of Maximilian as a saint in the eyes of the church also tells us something about the orientation of the early church to questions of war and violence. Interestingly, the author of the above-linked article debunking the historicity of the martyr story dates its composition to C.E. 384-439, during the time when the militarized Constantinian version of Christianity was supplanting the earlier anti-violent incarnation.

Today is also the anniversary of Fr. Rutilio Grande’s murder in El Salvador in 1977. Grande was a close friend of Archbishop Oscar Romero and an outspoken opponent of the abuses of the U.S.-backed government. The speech that probably got him killed was his “Apopa sermon,” delivered on February 13, denouncing the expulsion of a fellow priest from the country. He said:

“I am fully aware that very soon the Bible and the Gospels will not be allowed to cross the border.  All that will reach us will be the covers, since all the pages are subversive—against sin, it is said.  So that if Jesus crosses the border at Chalatenango, they will not allow him to enter.  They would accuse him, the man-God, the prototype of man, of being an agitator, of being a Jewish foreigner, who confuses the people with exotic and foreign ideas, anti-democratic ideas, and i.e., against the minorities. …Brothers, they would undoubtedly crucify him again.  And they have said so.”

One month after delivering the Apopa sermon, Grande was gunned down, and the local government authorities refused to order an autopsy. The Jesuits hired their own physician to conduct an autopsy, which determined that Grande had been shot by the same type of automatic rifles used by the police. This was only one of several signs of government complicity in the murder.

Grande’s death was a crucial moment in Romero’s life, and triggered his move to openly oppose the Salvadoran government. He canceled all future attendance at state events and meetings with the president pending the fulfillment of his demands for an official investigation, and that investigation never took place.

H/t to Common Prayer: A Liturgy for Ordinary Radicals, for reminding me of these anniversaries.

Oh, look! Check out what today’s text is from the Lectionary!

Matthew 5:38-48

38“You have heard that it was said, ‘An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.’ 39But I say to you, Do not resist an evildoer. But if anyone strikes you on the right cheek, turn the other also; 40and if anyone wants to sue you and take your coat, give your cloak as well; 41and if anyone forces you to go one mile, go also the second mile. 42Give to everyone who begs from you, and do not refuse anyone who wants to borrow from you.

43“You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ 44But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, 45so that you may be children of your Father in heaven; for he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the righteous and on the unrighteous. 46For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? 47And if you greet only your brothers and sisters, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same? 48Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.

Oh man, I am tempted to just walk into any church in town and watch the fireworks. If I had to pick, I would say this is the single most important chunk of teaching from Jesus’ life, and it’s also the one that breaks people’s brains. Congregation after congregation will be watching a version of this tomorrow from the pulpit:

A whole 211 words spoken by a dusty, wandering moral genius more than 2,000 years ago, and I’m willing to bet 90 percent or more of the clergy and preachers in this country will spend well over a thousand words explaining to thousands of people why Jesus could not possibly have meant what his plain words say, or if he did, well, gee, wouldn’t it be nice if the world worked that way (as if the occupied, exploited, internally divided land of 1st century Palestine were some Connecticut country club where everything is simple and idyllic and not at all complex or violent or dangerous). Nothing in this could possibly mean that we have to give up the power of violence even in self-defense of life, liberty or property, right?

No, what’s really being said here is that if someone hits you, you hit them right back so they don’t hit other people ever again, or at least they never hit you again. What’s being said here is that if anyone tries to take your coat, you cock that pistol and say “Make my day.” What’s being said here is that if someone ever tries to take your liberty by force, you go buy some Lockheed Martin missiles and General Atomics Predator drones and you blow those mothers off the face of the earth. That’s the only Christian thing to do. Wouldn’t it be nice if we lived in a world like Jesus (pat him on the head now) where nobody ever tried to take your land, or national freedom, or your life? If only the world worked like that.

If only Jesus and his people had some experience with real cold-stone dictators or occupations or terrorism, he would have made sure to tell you what 90 percent of preachers and clergy are going to tell you this morning.

 

This was the sign on a church we passed today in Plano, Texas: “Pray for the troops. Love your enemies.”

This sign confuses me, as the reader can draw any number of conclusions about what we’re supposed to ask for on behalf of the troops. I assume the attitude behind the sign is the attitude eviscerated so well by Mark Twain’s “The War Prayer.” I hope I am mistaken. Followers of Christ have no business cheer-leading for a war.

Here’s my prayer for the troops, that they:

  • Never fall under the impression that I want them to kill anyone or support a decision to do so;
  • Never pull a trigger or throw a weapon;
  • Return to their homes without physical or mental injury;
  • Live long, healthy, productive lives surrounded by people they love.

Suggested reading:

I’ve not written anything specifically for this blog in quite a while. I’ve been struggling quite a bit lately, trying to figure out whether I still had faith in The Faith at all. My problem is epitomized by this blog post, penned by Bryan Fischer, a prominent supposed “Christian conservative.” He’s decrying the fact that there seems to be a trend among Medal of Honor Awards lately wherein the medal is awarded to people who save lives, rather than kill “bad guys.” Here are some excerpts.

We have feminized the Medal of Honor.

According to Bill McGurn of the Wall Street Journal, every Medal of Honor awarded during these two conflicts has been awarded for saving life. Not one has been awarded for inflicting casualties on the enemy. Not one.

Gen. George Patton once famously said, “The object of war is not to die for your country but to make the other guy die for his.”

When we think of heroism in battle, we used the think of our boys storming the beaches of Normandy under withering fire, climbing the cliffs of Pointe do Hoc while enemy soldiers fired straight down on them, and tossing grenades into pill boxes to take out gun emplacements.

That kind of heroism has apparently become passe when it comes to awarding the Medal of Honor. We now award it only for preventing casualties, not for inflicting them.

So the question is this: when are we going to start awarding the Medal of Honor once again for soldiers who kill people and break things so our families can sleep safely at night?

I would suggest our culture has become so feminized that we have become squeamish at the thought of the valor that is expressed in killing enemy soldiers through acts of bravery. We know instinctively that we should honor courage, but shy away from honoring courage if it results in the taking of life rather than in just the saving of life. So we find it safe to honor those who throw themselves on a grenade to save their buddies.

Jesus, in words often cited in ceremonies such as the one which will take place this afternoon, said, “Greater love has no one than this, that someone lays down his life for his friends” (John 15:13). So it is entirely right that we honor this kind of bravery and self-sacrifice, which is surely an imitation of the Lord of lords and King of kings.

However, Jesus’ act of self-sacrifice would ultimately have been meaningless – yes, meaningless – if he had not inflicted a mortal wound on the enemy while giving up his own life.

Let me say at the outset that I have a hard time mustering a respectful response to this sort of vile garbage. Not only are the teachings of Jesus nowhere to be found in the sentiments expressed in the article, but there’s a deep sexism overlaying the entire piece that conflates the feminine with weakness and negativity. Unfortunately, in my experience with American Christianity, Fischer is a microcosm of the faith these days.

Jesus never killed anyone, period, and his teachings allow for no celebration of killing people. A metaphorical, even spiritual, mortal blow cannot be conflated with using a projectile to puncture a human body so it cannot function. They are not the same thing.

Self-sacrifice in the service of high ideals is never meaningless, not even when they fail to strike even metaphorical mortal blows. Remember this guy?

Tank Man

A lone protestor for democracy stands alone against a line of tanks during the Tiannamen Square protests.

Does that scream “meaningless” to you? I note that China’s authoritarian government is still standing. The meaning of Jesus’ nonviolent self-sacrifice includes the same sort of meaning we see in the picture above. Part of the meaning of the cross is the stand Jesus took against the Roman occupation and the self-serving collusion of the political and religious leadership of his people. Even if nothing else happened but a mundane death on a mundane piece of wood, there is deep meaning here from which we can learn.

Fischer’s article is hardly the only example of this sort of false Christian spirituality rampant in the group of people that considers themselves the “Body of Christ.” It entails an obfuscation of the concrete, inescapable and thoroughly nonviolent meanings of Christ’s actual words in favor of a formulaic and otherwordly system of thought that gets adherents blissfully free of the actual ethical demands made in the teachings of Jesus. It allows people who ostensibly follow the Prince of Peace to celebrate the killing of other human beings, as long as they are “bad guys,” even though the spirituality they espouse loves rubbing people’s noses in the fact that we’re all “bad guys” who deserve to die.

This sort of thinking produces all manner of perverse attributes of the so-called “Church.” For example, the followers of a man who was tortured to death by authorities are inexplicably more likely to support government-sponsored torture. And frankly, if these are the indicators of what it means to be a Christian in America these days, I’ve got no interest in sharing the label. If Fischer and the pro-war, pro-torture crowd are the dominant manifestation of Christianity, count me out. To put it another way, if Fischer is a Christian, then I am not.

Sometimes the only way to follow Jesus is to get away from the Christians.

The text from the lectionary for tomorrow in Christian churches is the story of the parable of the prodigal son. The deeper meaning of the story is Jesus’ warning to his ethnic brethren that the cultural purity movement they’d mounted in resistance to the Roman occupation of Palestine had become so exclusionary as to render it ripe for the judgment of God. And so it’s fitting that those of us who show up in church tomorrow, the day after September 11, should have to sit and listen to it. It’s especially fitting considering the rising tide of anti-Muslim bigotry washing over the United States, driven largely by people who declare this a “Christian nation.”

Let me put this as clearly as I can: the folks in New York City who want to build an Islamic center in Lower Manhattan should be welcomed. If there’s construction work to be done, Christians should be out there with their sleeves rolled up and their brows sweating to get it built.

Here’s what one cultural center opponent had to say today about his desire to see the cultural center moved:

“Got to be someplace else, not over here, because that’s like a slap on the face of the people who lost their families over here,” said another opponent.

Alongside the mosque’s opponents were anti-abortion activists and other demonstrators who were focused on Christian topics.

News flash, bigots. Muslims died when the towers fell. In fact, the 17th floor of the south tower of the World Trade Center contained an Islamic prayer room. Muslims have lived in New York long before 9/11, and they have every right to build whatever center they want to build to deepen their involvement in the community. What does your convenient white-and-Jesus-washing of the dead in the attacks say to your neighbors (oh, be careful how you relate to those folks as Christians…not a lot of fine print in that commandment from your Lord and Savior)? Do you think maybe it could be interpreted as a slap in the face? And just what was Jesus’ command in the Sermon on the Mount about a slap in the face, anyway?

Shame on those of you out there pushing that smug, self-righteous message that Muslims in this country should be culturally sensitive because of September 11 and what happened at Ground Zero. Do you have any idea what it was like for Muslims across this country the day after September 11?

I remember riding on a bus in Lubbock, Texas in September 2001, when some cocky jackass college kid stood up and started showing off for his friends by yelling, “Where the fuck are the Afghans on this bus? I’ll fuck you up!” I’m sure that was the least of the white Christian cultural sensitivity the Muslim community in Lubbock had to endure. Every Muslim had to suddenly declare in public that they condemn an act of horrendous violence, and if they didn’t out of self-respect, watch out for the ugly arguments from silence coming from the culturally sensitive Christian majority. I believe there’s another saying of Jesus about a plank in one’s own eye, or something.

This Islamophobia isn’t limited to the rallies in New York. Here in my own state of Texas, the State Board of Education is actually going to consider a resolution later this month that claims that the textbooks we use in this state are biased toward Muslims and against Christians. Raise your hand if you felt pressured to declare “There is no god but Allah, and Mohammed is his profit” while sitting through World History in Texas. I’d be willing to bet my next margarita that your hands, dear Texans, are down.

But Texas is just the tip of the iceberg. There is a cultural purity movement afoot in this country, and what’s worse, political demagogues, having humiliated themselves by failing to govern for 8 years and getting thrown out of office, are trying to stoke a populist, bigoted backlash to get back into power. Even the dead on September 11 have to all be non-Muslims–reality be damned.

Know this, fellow Christians: claiming that you belong to a “Christian nation” is not a trivial thing. And while you’re sitting there in church tomorrow, listening to the words of Jesus echoing forward through the centuries, you better really listen. You better think twice about trying to exclude the unworthy from your culture. God is running toward the outsider, always and forever. If you are trying to keep the Other out, “your mouth is writing a check your butt can’t cash.” As we say here in Texas.

Love the Lord God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind. This is the first and greatest commandment. The second is like unto it. You shall love your Muslim New York neighbor as yourself.

From tomorrow’s reading, Luke 15:11-32:

11Then Jesus said, “There was a man who had two sons. 12The younger of them said to his father, ‘Father, give me the share of the property that will belong to me.’ So he divided his property between them. 13A few days later the younger son gathered all he had and traveled to a distant country, and there he squandered his property in dissolute living. 14When he had spent everything, a severe famine took place throughout that country, and he began to be in need. 15So he went and hired himself out to one of the citizens of that country, who sent him to his fields to feed the pigs. 16He would gladly have filled himself with the pods that the pigs were eating; and no one gave him anything. 17But when he came to himself he said, ‘How many of my father’s hired hands have bread enough and to spare, but here I am dying of hunger! 18I will get up and go to my father, and I will say to him, “Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you; 19I am no longer worthy to be called your son; treat me like one of your hired hands.”’ 20So he set off and went to his father. But while he was still far off, his father saw him and was filled with compassion; he ran and put his arms around him and kissed him. 21Then the son said to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you; I am no longer worthy to be called your son.’ 22But the father said to his slaves, ‘Quickly, bring out a robe—the best one—and put it on him; put a ring on his finger and sandals on his feet. 23And get the fatted calf and kill it, and let us eat and celebrate; 24for this son of mine was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found!’ And they began to celebrate. 25“Now his elder son was in the field; and when he came and approached the house, he heard music and dancing. 26He called one of the slaves and asked what was going on. 27He replied, ‘Your brother has come, and your father has killed the fatted calf, because he has got him back safe and sound.’ 28Then he became angry and refused to go in. His father came out and began to plead with him. 29But he answered his father, ‘Listen! For all these years I have been working like a slave for you, and I have never disobeyed your command; yet you have never given me even a young goat so that I might celebrate with my friends. 30But when this son of yours came back, who has devoured your property with prostitutes, you killed the fatted calf for him!’ 31Then the father said to him, ‘Son, you are always with me, and all that is mine is yours. 32But we had to celebrate and rejoice, because this brother of yours was dead and has come to life; he was lost and has been found.’”

Tomorrow, TIME Magazine will treat newsstand customers everywhere to one of the most rank propaganda plays of the Afghanistan War. The cover features a woman, Aisha, whose face was mutilated by the Taliban, next to the headline, “What Happens If We Leave Afghanistan.” Far more people will see this image and have their emotions manipulated by it than will read the article within (which itself seems to be a journalistic travesty, if the web version is any indication), so TIME should be absolutely ashamed of themselves for such a dishonest snow job on their customers. Readers deserve better.

Let’s clarify something right off the top when it comes to this cover: Aisha, the poor woman depicted in the photograph, was attacked last year, with tens of thousands of U.S. troops tramping all over the country at the time. This isn’t the picture of some as-yet-unrealized nighmarish future for Afghan women. It’s the picture of the present.

Human Rights Watch’s (HRW) recently published report on this issue, The “Ten-Dollar Talib” and Women’s Rights, provides key context for the struggle for women’s political equality in Afghanistan:

Afghan women assert their rights in what is already a deeply hostile political environment. Any assessment of women’s rights, and indeed the prospects for long-term peace and reconciliation needs to be made in the context of the very traditional and often misogynistic male leadership that dominates Afghan politics. The Afghan government, often with the tacit approval of key foreign governments and inter-governmental bodies, has empowered current and former warlords, providing official positions to some and effective immunity from prosecution for serious crimes to the rest. Backroom deals with abusive commanders have created powerful factions in the government and Parliament that are opposed to many of the rights and freedoms that women now enjoy. As one activist told us, “We women don’t have guns and poppies and we are not warlords, therefore we are not in the decision-making processes.”

This is something that folks who put together TIME’s cover better understand right now: the fox is already in the hen-house. There is a very powerful set of anti-women’s-equality caucuses already nested within the Afghan government that the U.S. supports. These individuals and groups are working to reassert the official misogyny of the Taliban days already, independent of the reconciliation and reintegration process. Given the opportunity, these individuals and groups in the U.S.-backed government will manipulate the reconciliation and reintegration process and leverage armed-opposition-group participation in the process to push through policies they’d prefer already as compromises with their “opponents.” This is why the propaganda of TIME’s cover is so pernicious: the women of Afghanistan are caught in a vice already, stuck between their opponents in the insurgency and in the Government of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan. If one is concerned about the rights of women in Afghanistan, the question is, how do we give women the most leverage possible in this situation?

Further, TIME’s incendiary headline, “What Happens If We Leave Afghanistan,” is a total misrepresentation of the issue discussed in the article. Here’s Aisha in her own words:

“They [the Taliban] are the people that did this to me,” she says, touching her damaged face. “How can we reconcile with them?”

Here’s another quote from another woman that gets at the issue much better than TIME’s headline:

“Women’s rights must not be the sacrifice by which peace is achieved,” says parliamentarian Fawzia Koofi.

And another quote:

“When we talk about women’s rights,” Jamalzadah says, “we are talking about things that are important to men as well — men who want to see Afghanistan move forward. If you sacrifice women to make peace, you are also sacrificing the men who support them and abandoning the country to the fundamentalists that caused all the problems in the first place.”

If we are to believe the setup on the cover and in the article, the women of Afghanistan see two options: the U.S. can “stay” and ensure the rights of women, or we can “leave” by route of selling them out. But that’s neither what the women’s quotes say nor what Human Rights Watch found when they interviewed 90 “working women and women in public life living in areas that the insurgents effectively controlled or where they have a significant presence to illustrate the current nature of the insurgency.” While they found an intense anxiety over the consequences of the Taliban regaining a share of national power, they also found that:

“All of the women interviewed for this report supported a negotiated end to the conflict.”

The quotes of the women in TIME’s article express anxiety about the Kabul government negotiated away women’s rights to warlord war criminals, not us “staying” or “leaving.” See what TIME did there? They’ve taken these quotes from Afghan women and manipulated them to portray a false dilemma.

TIME Magazine throws out this useless bromide: “For Afghanistan’s women, an early withdrawal of international forces could be disastrous.” Early compared to what? How can a pull-out almost a decade into a conflict be remotely described as “early?” Even if we build a shining utopia for women while U.S. troops were there in large numbers, women’s rights would evaporate the day after we departed if U.S. troops were the force holding them in place. That’s what Afghan Women’s Network’s Orzala Ashraf meant when she told Rethink Afghanistan that,

“I don’t believe and I don’t expect any outside power to come and liberate me. If I cannot liberate myself, no one from outside can liberate me.”

The struggle is the liberation as Afghan women discover and use their power. Grassroots involvement in social struggle is what creates societies rooted in democratic values, not men with guns from other countries.

Although you wouldn’t know it from TIME’s editorializing within the article or from the horrendously misleading cover, the issue is not even remotely “if” we leave Afghanistan. We will. The questions are “When?” and “How?”

When

U.S. forces could stay for another twenty years in Afghanistan (would that still be “early?”), and even if they pound Kandahar into dust, no development in the war so far even remotely suggests the possibility of military force eliminating the Taliban as a significant political and armed force. Therefore, the war’s end would still involve some sort of political settlement that involves Taliban (unless, of course, the U.S. wants to guarantee the most ferocious civil conflict possible upon their exit by totally excluding them). At the end of that twenty years, we’d be faced with the same problems regarding the rights of women in Afghanistan, plus the effects of those years of war on the U.S. force and the Afghan population.

TIME’s depiction of the women’s rights issue is based on a faulty premise: that “staying” rather than “leaving” is having the effect of weakening an insurgency hostile to women’s rights. In fact, if we are to believe the official reports from the Pentagon to Congress, the opposite is true. As the first several months of President Obama’s escalation strategy played out, the military reports claim the insurgency gained in strategic and political power in the key areas of Afghanistan. As those trends continue, the political difficulties for women in the eventual reconciliation and reintegration processes increase. Prolonging the massive U.S. troop presence in Afghanistan makes it more likely that the regressive elements in the Kabul government will achieve their agenda through “compromise” with powerful insurgent elements during the reconciliation/reintegration processes.

Some sort of reconciliation process is going to take place. When it comes to securing the rights of women in Afghanistan, all other things being equal, sooner is better.

How?

American policymakers, if they are truly interested in the rights of women beyond their use in sloganeering, are going to have to start playing a higher-level game than they are at present. When President Obama took 35 minutes to explain his rationales for his escalation strategy, he didn’t mention women’s political equality once. If they hope to assist the women of Afghanistan struggling for political equality, they need to understand the game and to start playing catch-up ball, pronto.

The most important work is to prepare the field before the negotiations begin. That means two things: getting women in, and keeping the worst of the worst out.

Two bodies will undertake the lion’s share of work on the peace process in Afghanistan: the High Level Peace Council and the Joint Secretariat for Peace, Reconciliation and Reintegration Programs. According to HRW’s report, key assurances have not been given that women would have a meaningful seat at the table in decision-making capacities. At the time of the report’s publication, the High Level Peace Council had not been appointed, but the Joint Secretariat was effectively functioning and no women were included. The extent to which Afghan women can succeed at inserting themselves into the various levels of this process will be a major determinant in the amount of leverage they’ll have to help them defend their rights as the new Afghanistan takes shape. Afghan women’s advocates have shown some adeptness at this sort of agitation: during the Consultative Peace Jirga, women were promised only 10 percent representation. Through intense agitation, they obtained 20 percent. U.S. policymakers who want to help women in Afghanistan have to figure out how best to support the effort of women to get into these decision-making bodies and exert real influence. The U.S. is a prime funder of the Afghan government. It’s time to figure out how to use that leverage for this purpose. That’s why Human Rights Watch makes this key recommendation:

Make women’s meaningful participation in relevant decision-making bodies a precondition for funding reintegration programs, and ensure that reintegration funds benefit families and communities, including women, rather than individual ex-combatants.

That brings us to the touchy subject of keeping the worst of the worst out. This is a touchy subject because the obstacles to getting this done have come into being due to the active and tacit support of the United States.

Let’s talk about just a couple of these obstacles: Hajji Mohammed Mohaqiq and his Amnesty Law.

Mohaqiq was one of the leaders of the notorious Hezb-e Wahdat, which in late 2001-early 2002 targeted Pashtun civilians for violence because of their ethnic ties to the Taliban. According to Human Rights Watch, Hezb-e Wahdat was:

implicated in systematic and widespread looting and violence in almost every province under their…control, almost all of it directed at Pashtun villagers. …[T]here were several reports of rapes of girls and women. In Chimtal district near Mazar-e Sharif, and in Balkh province generally, both Hizb-i Wahdat [alternative English rendering of Hezb-e Wahdat] and Jamiat forces were particularly violent: in one village, Bargah-e Afghani, Hizb-i Wahdat troops killed thirty-seven civilians.

Mohaqiq’s militia also became widely feared and loathed for their practice of kidnapping young girls, “forcibly marrying” them (what a useless euphemism for rape), and ransoming them back to their parents. They seemed to especially enjoy snatching girls who were on their way to school, leading many parents to keep their girls home rather than risk their abduction and rape.

Following the overthrow of the Taliban, Haji Mohammad Mohaqiq managed to get himself appointed as a vice chair of the interim government and as Minister of Planning. During the 2002 loya jirga that set the basic shape of the new government, Hezb-e Wahdat was named by Human Rights Watch as one of the groups that used threats and intimidation against other delegates. Through their use of these thuggish tactics, Mohaqiq’s militia helped corrupt a process which many hoped would lead to greater civilian control relative to the warlords, but which led instead to the warlords’ solidifying their power. Haji Mohammad Mohaqiq, of course, retained his positions of power.

But here’s the real kicker: once legitimized, Mohaqiq was one of the masterminds of the widely condemned 2007 legislation that granted warlords amnesty for their war crimes during the civil war. The UN sharply condemned the amnesty law, declaring “No one has the right to forgive those responsible for human rights violations other than the victims themselves.” Thanks to outcry from the United Nations and human rights advocates (but pointedly, not from the U.S., UK, or the EU, who did not speak out against the law), the law was tabled.

But then came the absolutely corrupted 2009 election: Karzai promised to carve out a new province for Mohaqiq in exchange for his support in the election. Karzai “won,” and President Obama declared the government “legitimate.” Then, in January 2010, Karzai quietly slipped the Amnesty Law into effect, immunizing Mohaqiq for his crimes against women. Mohaqiq has since publicly decried Karzai’s moves toward negotiations with the Taliban, but even though he doesn’t support it, his handiwork is a malignant shaper of the process with regards to the rights of women.

Here’s HRW’s summary of the law:

The Amnesty Law states that all those who were engaged in armed conflict before the formation of Afghanistan’s Interim Administration in December 2001 shall “enjoy all their legal rights and shall not be prosecuted.” It also says that those engaged in current hostilities will be granted immunity if they agree to reconciliation with the government, effectively providing amnesty for future crimes. The law thus provides immunity from prosecution for members of the Taliban and other insurgent groups, as well as pro-government warlords, who have committed war crimes.

All through this process, the U.S. was either silent or supportive of these developments, and now the Amnesty Law stands as one of the threats most identified by Afghan women’s advocates to the progress of their political agenda during the reconciliation process. Those most dangerous to the women of Afghanistan–powerful fundamentalist warlords with a history of serious war crimes against women and girls–may find their way into influential negotiating positions where they can link up with their anti-women brethren already inside the Kabul government. The solution posited by Human Rights Watch and by women parliamentarians is to repeal the Amnesty Law and institute strong vetting processes that exclude the worst war criminals from the ballot or from political appointment while still allowing participation of their home tribes or groups. This solution goes hand in hand with that discovered last year by UK’s DFID to be preferred by those in insurgency-prone areas: a new “black list” standard for what crimes disqualify one from election or appointment, applied to everyone, including Taliban, other insurgents, or pro-Kabul-government figures.

As the reader can tell, the issue is far more complex than the farcical “stay or leave” choice framed up on TIME’s shameful propaganda cover art. The U.S.’s massive troop presence and the escalating instability is strengthening the hand of the political forces that want to roll back women’s political equality, so the longer we stay, the worse off women will be as they attempt to navigate the eventual political settlement of the conflict. Yet, U.S. inattention to (or outright malignant influence on) the factors shaping the field for that political struggle are affirmatively hurting the struggle for women’s political equality. We will leave the combat field, and we have to do it soon, and while we leave, we have to do our best to help shape a political field supportive of the Afghan women’s struggle to liberate themselves.

Pulling this off will require a deft hand, and it’s not clear whether the Kabul government or our own government, given the atrophied nature of the State Department, is up to the task. Given the vested interests who have a stake in the existence of the Amnesty Law, repealing it will be enormously difficult in Afghanistan’s political arena (and no one should let the U.S. off the hook for helping to shape this political environment through support for known warlords and war criminals). But what is clear is that using the rights of women as a justification for extending our massive U.S. troop presence in Afghanistan is a recipe for failure on this issue and for the betrayal and heartbreak of those who care about the fate of Afghan women.

Shorter version: TIME Magazine’ cover art is rank propaganda, and the current U.S. policy is failing women, badly.

Here’s a hint: it’s not Karzai and friends, and it’s not the violence of U.S. counterinsurgency strategies.

The coalition asks, “Why not COIN?”
We the people must ask, “Why not love?”

Ashamed of yourselves yet, COINdinistas?