Politically Correct

July 27, 2017

From twitter and Facebook to discussions in meetings or among friends there are more and more people interjecting into their communications, “I may come off as abrasive and insensitive, but you just have to accept me the way I am. I refuse to be “politically correct.” I’m an honest person who tells it like it is.”  The implication seems to be that others are too cautious, too accommodating, and too willing to soften the truth for the sake of maintaining comfortable relationships.

Upon closer examination, it seems there are two sources for this aversion to the political correctness. One source erupts from a sense of superiority over others; often expressed by people with economic and political power. These people are convinced that they have the ability to be more effective and make better decisions than co-workers, political leaders, or the general population. In the name of honesty they feel free to label others inept and use images denigrating their character.

The second source is the opposite of overactive superiority. It is the feeling of powerlessness. It is fed by frustrations of economic, political, or social impingements on daily living. Sometimes it’s change that threatens dependable and trusted rules and established ethics. At other times it’s distress over inadequate health insurance coverage or a bill collector demanding money that’s been allocated for the basics of food, shelter, and the children’s education. A demand to work overtime may overpower the promise to be at a daughter’s school play. And at other times the power of a government official, a national corporation, or the cable company overwhelms. This sense of powerlessness may erupt into anger toward a stranger or an immigrant perceived to threaten job opportunities, local customs, or to compromise privileges of citizenship.

At these times, angry words, labels, and accusations seem like a good idea. There is a sense of power engendered through name-calling, invective, derision, as well as with ethnic, religious, racial, or gender slander. How good it would feel to let it all out! And there is always the alternative option of associating with someone rich enough and brazen enough to hurl derogatory epithets without consequences!

However, I would suggest that these actions of bravado and unbounded ranting and raving never trump empathy, humility, and clear thinking. In fact, “political correctness” may not be pejorative. It may simply mean recognizing and honoring people’s sensitivities and dignity. Political correctness invites people into discussion: listening to concerns, discovering differences, and seeking ways to create common understanding. It includes the hospitality of Mr. Roger’s neighborhood, or Sesame Street. It recalls the stories of Dr. Seuss or watching the recently released film, Zootopia.   Basically, it doesn’t take a college degree or accumulation of wealth or the credentials of a “winner” to initiate these concepts we learned as children. And what about that old adage, “Count to ten before speaking?” This approach is not naive, weak, or gullible. One of the ways to make America still greater is to resurrect impulse control, particularly control of the mouth! To make America still greater is to do the work of a good neighbor.

The world is watching. Handala, a ten-year-old Palestinian boy, shows up in every political cartoon of Naji al-Ali. Handala stands with his hands clasped behind his back, looking with the viewer’s perspective, at each political cartoon. He is watching depictions of injustice in Israel, Palestine, the United States, and around the world. He’s the constant witness to the suffering of oppressed people everywhere. Al-Ali says that Handala will not grow up or turn around until there is peace and justice in the world. He is the conscience of the world.

What might Handala see in our country: an entourage speaking out with belligerence, belittling others unlike themselves, and relishing the bluster of bullies? Or will Handala witness evidence of the making of a still greater America?  I hope he will see my college cross country coach who insisted that whenever we passed an opposing team member during a race we talk to him, encourage him, and challenge him to pick up his pace and run with us. The result was we all ran faster, made personal bests, and contributed to a great race for all of us.

And I hope he will see the small discussion group of Muslims, Jews, and Christians meeting monthly in Concord exploring ways of justice and peace for all people. Perhaps he will see the Palestinian college students living in the West Bank seeking nonviolent ways to claim dignity while under Israeli occupation. And he will see a group of New Hampshire church people joining Minnesota Representative Betty McCollum’s initiative to write to President Trump, asking him to appoint a Special Envoy for 440 Palestinian children in Israeli military detention.

Handala will see people from many walks of life forming food co-ops and farmers’ markets to access affordable healthy food. He will see the hospitality Concord citizens extend to our refugee community and the help struggling people give to each other.   He will also see courageous volunteers from our country serving in Doctors without Borders, the Peace Corps, and working with refugees in Lebanon.

No matter who we are, how much or little education we have, to what social or economic class we belong; no matter our race, ethnicity, gender orientation, religious belief, or what skills we have or lack, we have contributions to make for a greater America. We belong to a people of dignity, each contributing out of our great diversity of beliefs, visions, and hopes. By sharing our insights, our struggles and successes, and voting for people who work for justice and dignity for every human being worldwide, we can make America still greater. If this describes “political correctness,” sign me up.

 

 

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Advocate for the Rights of Children Living Under Israeli Military Occupation

Concord Monitor “My Turn,” published April 8, 2017

The phone rang at 2 in the morning. Our friend Mafaq said, “Two Israeli military vehicles have come into the village. Soldiers have entered the house of our neighbor and taken away fifteen year old Khaled.” We dressed quickly and hurried through the dimly lit maze of narrow streets to Khaled’s home. A small gathering of men, women, and children stood across the street, distancing themselves from the armored military vehicles holding Khaled inside.

We were a World Council of Churches international team of four Ecumenical Accompaniers living for three months in a farming village forty kilometers northwest of Jerusalem.   As we approached Khaled’s home, the front door opened. The family clustered around as we entered: mother, father, two young children, and a grandfather who leaped from a mat on the floor against the far wall. We were invited to sit on the mat while the grandfather demonstrated what had happened. Speaking Arabic and greatly agitated, he raced back and forth across the sparsely furnished room showing how the soldiers had forced open the door armed with United States M16 rifles, asked for Khalid, herded the family into the far bedroom, rousted Khalid from sleep in the other bedroom, put him in handcuffs, and took him outside to the waiting vehicle while they searched his room leaving his possessions scattered.

By the time the grandfather had finished his pantomime, tea had been served and the military vehicles had driven away with Khalid. His parents, speaking English, explained the soldiers had refused to give a reason for taking Khalid and would not tell the parents where they were taking him. We sat with them as they vented their helplessness, fear, and controlled anger.

We learned later that while we had been listening to this family, a sound bomb had been thrown into a home in another part of the village and another teenage boy had been taken away. These incursions into this Palestinian village in the Israeli occupied Palestinian territory were repeated four times during our three-month stay. They continue in Palestinian villages and refugee camps to this day.

A United States State Department Human Rights Report released in March 2017 highlighted “grave violations against Palestinian children living under Israeli military occupation.” Among the issues cited were the ill treatment of child prisoners and denial of fair trial rights. Other violations included excessive use of force against children and unlawful killing, use of administrative detention (held without charges), and coercing Palestinian Arabic speaking children to sign confessions written in Hebrew. The report noted a “significant increase in detention of minors in 2016.”

Between 2012 and 2015, No Way to Treat A Child and the American Friends Service Committee reported that 97% of children had no parent present during interrogation or access to legal counsel. 84% of children were not informed of their rights. Three-quarters of detained children endured some form of physical violence. “Interrogators used position abuse, threats, and isolation to coerce confessions… 66 children were held in solitary confinement, for an average period of 13 days.”

Our experience with Khalid’s family and these human rights reports challenge the relationship between the United States and Israel. Vice President Penze said on March 31, “President Trump and I stand with Israel… because her cause is our cause, her values are our values, and her fight is our fight.” This statement is disconnected from the plight of Palestinian children. Our country’s cause is not to inflict military injustice upon children. The Israeli military’s abusive treatment of Palestinian children since 1967 does not reflect our values. The United State’s fight is not against Palestinian children.

Therefore, in order to “stand with Israel,” the United States must negotiate common values to support the relationship, guided by the State Departments 2017 report on human rights in Israel – Palestine concerning children. Meanwhile, consistent with U.S. values and considering 50 years of continuing violations by Israeli’s military, U.S. Senators’ and Representatives’ actions should include withholding military aid to Israel until acceptable uses are defined. The U.S. Foreign Assistance Act supports such action. It states that no assistance will be furnished to “any unit of the security forces of a foreign country if the Secretary of State has credible information that such unit has committed a gross violation of human rights.”

With its over $3 billion a year military aid to Israel, the United States is complicit in the military injustices inflicted on Palestinian children. Before any more aid is given, the Israeli military must cease human rights violations, insure basic due process rights, and establish an absolute prohibition against torture and the ill treatment of detained Palestinian children. Requiring these actions is not only consistent with our own values and sense of justice but also supportive to the many Jews and Israelis who are speaking out against the Israeli military’s unjust treatment of children in the occupied Palestinian territory.

The “phone” still rings since I’ve returned to my home in Concord. We still receive posts on Facebook from Palestinian friends, “last night the Israeli military came into our village at 3AM and took away two of the children.” As Jews, Muslims, and Christians, we need to support our leaders’ efforts to withhold military aid to Israel until the military no longer perpetrates fear and hopelessness against desperate Palestinians crying out for justice. Then, perhaps, the next communication from a Palestinian will be the joy of a great olive harvest or the success of the youth volleyball team. (names in article are fictitious)

Note:  The United Church of Christ General Synod; June 30 – July 4, 2017; will consider the resolution:  A Call for the United Church of Christ to Advocate for the Rights of Children Living Under Israeli Military Occupation.  See <ucc.org> General Synod resolutions for detail.