Category Archives: Fear

Deja Vu

Conditions in the country we serve, Nicaragua, continue to hearken back to a generation ago, when the administration in power faced enormous protests and demands for a new government.  The confrontations continue today, just as they did all those years ago,  leading to violence and deaths, denials, accusations, reprisals and lots of pain.  It’s tough to watch in a country of such charm and character.

Two recent documents, written by The University of Central America and the Episcopal Church, provide both a news update as well as perspectives about how at least part of the population places its support.  The following is a statement provided by the UCA following a Wednesday night demonstration:

The University of Central America (UCA) reports that this Wednesday, May 30, at around 4:30 PM, there was an attack by the “shock troops” against the defenseless population participating in a civic march that had the UCA as its final destination.

The attacks took place in the vicinity of the gate closest to the National University of Engineering (UNI). In support of the people, the UCA security guards opened the gates so that the protesters could take refuge in the campus. Fleeing the attacks, more than 5,000 people managed to enter, while many fled in other directions. Countless injured people were treated by volunteers immediately on campus and ambulances took all of the injured to medical centers.

After 8:30 PM, volunteers and drivers from the UCA had managed to evacuate the majority of the refugees to different parts of the capital and, at the time of publication of this message, continue in this process. Despite the shooting, the refugees did not want to stay on campus because of threats received about attacks on the university.

The UCA, which stands on the side of the people in their struggle for justice, denounces this new criminal attack and demands from the authorities the immediate cessation of the repression that uses shock troops to assassinate with impunity, protected by the current misrule.

We urge human rights organizations, national and foreign, to take note of this situation that seriously affects the lives of citizens and to use mechanisms for the protection of human rights such as the Inter-American Human Rights System and the United Nations.

We urge the international community to stand in solidarity with the people of Nicaragua and to apply mechanisms which can help resolve this crisis, which has reached the level of a massacre against a defenseless population.”

The document quoted below was generated by the Bishops Conference of the Episcopal Church in Nicaragua:

PRESS RELEASE

To the People of God and men and women of good will:

  1. We the Bishops of the Episcopal Conference of Nicaragua have experienced with profound pain the violent events carried out last night by armed groups allied with the government against the civilian population. We energetically condemn all these violent acts against the exercise of peaceful free demonstrations and we absolutely reject this organized and systemic aggression against the people, which has left dozens of wounded and some people dead.
  2. We cannot continue allowig this inhumane violence “that destroys the lives of the innocent, that teaches to kill and equally disrupts the lives of those who kill, that leaves behind a trail of resentment and hate, and makes more difficult the just solution of the very problems that caused it” (Centesimus Annus, 52).
  3. We the Bishops of the Episcopal Conference condemn these acts of repression on the part of groups close to the government, and we want to leave clear that the National Dialogue cannot be renewed as long as the people of Nicaragua continue being denied the right to freely demonstrate and continue being repressed and murdered.
  4. At this moment in which the history of our country continues being stained with blood, we cry out to Jesus Crucified, who on resurrecting from the dead conquered evil and death with the strength of his infinite love. “Oh, Cross of Christ, we teach that the dawn of the sun is stronger than the darkness of night. Oh Cross of Christ, we teach that the apparent victory of evil fades in the face of the empty tomb and in the face of the certainty of the Resurrection and the love of God, which nothing can defeat or darken or weaken” (Pope Francis, Holy Friday 2016). That Mary, the grieving Virgin, whose heart was pierced by a sword in the face of the pain of her Son on the Cross (Lk 2:35), consoles so many Nicaraguan mothers who suffer over the murder of their sons and watch over all our people with maternal love.

Issued in the city of Managua on the thirty first day of the month of May of the the two thousand eighteenth year of the Lord.

 Episcopal Conference of Nicaragua

This communique was signed by the ten bishops of the conference.

(For those interested in tracking developments in Nicaragua, one source is La Prensa.  The daily newspaper provides very current coverage of events in Nicaragua, as well as perspective on events elsewhere in the world.)

For those who know and love Nicaragua and the people there, this is a painful and sad time.  It’s made even more so by how little the U.S. news media writes about it.  Their lack of attention does not diminish the anguish and tragedy of what is occurring in the land of our neighbor to the south….

                                                   

 

 

 

Redistribution

First, a couple of caveats.  (Though this is never a wise practice in one’s writing.)  I normally try to steer clear of political party or opinion in these posts, because that’s not what Winds of Peace is about and political opinion is like pollution of all sorts: it’s everywhere.  Second, my intention is not to sway anyone’s beliefs when it comes to politics.  If something that I write makes a reader reconsider an opinion that he/she holds, that’s entirely up to them.  But every once in a while, someone from the political ranks says or does something that, in my view, merits response.  That’s what this posting is about.

I read that former Speaker of the House of Representatives, Newt Gingrich, has called for the deportation of all people of the Muslim faith who profess belief in Sharia law– not engaged in illegal activities, but merely believing in a certain religious philosophy.  It’s the latest in a series of xenophobic ideas to emerge from so-called political “leaders” in this country, but an idea which is both unconstitutional and logistically impossible.  Gingrich, who has often promoted unconventional ideas, has clearly exceeded even the boundaries of his own narrow perspectives.  But his concept of extreme prejudice got me to thinking, “what if?”

Gingrich seems to desire a return of Muslim immigrants to their  countries of origin due to the fear that, based upon their beliefs and the violent actions of some constituents of the faith, they will undermine the security and safety of U.S. society.  For the sake of argument, let’s go along with Mr. Gingrich’s postulate and see where it leads.

First, it might be helpful to know where Mr. Gingrich stands with regard to his own religious faith.  He was raised in a Lutheran home environment, though the denomination never seemed to resonate with him.  Later, in graduate school, he became a Southern Baptist convert and most recently he converted to Roman Catholicism.

In any case, it seems as though he may have unwittingly and retrospectively condemned himself and his entire family to deportation from the U.S.   For the annals of criminal justice are brimming over with convicted murderers of all three of the faiths followed by Newt Gingrich.  In his proposal for Muslim deportation, he has condemned all Muslims based upon the actions of some who have killed or vowed to kill U.S. citizens.  If that suggestion has rationale, then we certainly must be prepared to deport Lutherans, Southern Baptists as Roman Catholics, since like some Muslims, their followers have presented threats to the peace and security of this country.

Perhaps it should also be pointed out that during World War II, the Nazi regime was led by a number of “staunch Christians,” including their maddened leader, Adolph Hitler.  There is no argument about the threat which Adolph Hitler posed to the U.S. during his reign of terror, but I doubt that Mr. Gingrich would opine retrospectively about the propriety of expelling Christians from the U.S.

If we go back in history far enough, he might even consider the external threat posed to the original inhabitants of this land and the deadly, culture-destroying invasion of Europeans here.  They, too, were driven by a divine faith which clashed with established religious practice of our earliest ancestors.  They, too, (or their descendants) perhaps warrant deportation.

Taken to its logical conclusion, Mr. Gingrich seems to have set the table for all people to be sent back to the land of their earliest discernible ancestry.   For many Nicaraguans, that might be Spain.  For many inhabitants of the Americas, it’s Europe.  We all might find ourselves asking one another, “where did your people come from?”  Because under Mr. Gingrich’s logic, we should be sent back.

The constitutional tenets of this country provide for each of us to read and believe whatever we may choose, as long as we do not violate laws or the rights of others.  Mr. Gingrich has put forward an idea that utterly rejects that freedom and thus, the U.S. Constitution itself.

The analogies here might seem stretched.  But no more so than the panicky abdication of legal and moral rights expressed by a man who, until this week, was apparently under consideration for the vice-presidency of the United States.  We are always but one voice removed from another human tragedy….

 

The “Poverty” Here at Home

 Most folks with whom I talk about Nicaragua know very little about it, neither its history with the U.S. nor its current status.  The country is seemingly just too small and insignificant to bother about. But every once in a while, I encounter someone who has read about it or traveled there, or perhaps completed some sort of service work among the poor.

When acknowledging my own work with Winds of Peace Foundation, it’s among that latter group that I might detect a certain condescension about the plight of Nicaraguans, and especially their government.  The general impression of many is that the poverty in Nicaragua is the by-product of a corrupt and self-serving government, and that if more democratic principles were followed, Nicaraguans could be better off than they are today.  To that view, I most often respond with, “It’s complicated.”

So when I read the following article, I immediately thought about those who would over-simplify political realities anywhere, and maybe especially is a land called the United States of America.

Recently, I’ve been rereading “The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich.” In this political season, William L. Shirer’s mammoth history of Hitler’s Germany seems a useful guide to how a skilled demagogue can seize and destroy a great nation.

Hitler’s rise, as narrated by Shirer, was the triumph of an unlikely messiah — “the man with the Charlie Chaplin mustache, who had been a down-and-out tramp in Vienna in his youth, an unknown soldier, the somewhat comical leader of the Beer Hall Putsch, this spellbinder.” How did this preposterous upstart bend one of the most cultured of nations to his will?

He did it partly through the ballot box. In the early 1930s, Hitler’s National Socialist Party, the Nazis, rose through a series of free elections. It never won a majority in any of them, but emerged as the strongest of several parties in the Reichstag, or parliament. Hitler then connived his way to the office of chancellor, or prime minister, playing on the vanity, foolishness, ambition and greed of non-Nazis to outmaneuver them all.

“No class or group or party in Germany could escape its share of responsibility for the abandonment of the democratic Republic and the advent of Adolf Hitler,” Shirer wrote. “The cardinal error of the Germans who opposed Nazism was their failure to unite against it.”

Hitler never got more than 37 percent of the vote. “But the 63 percent of the German people who expressed their opposition to Hitler were much too divided and shortsighted to combine against a common danger which they must have known would overwhelm them unless they united, however temporarily, to stamp it out.”

 Hitler’s rise owed everything to the 1929 stock market crash and the global Depression that followed it. Under the Republic, Germany had begun to recover from its defeat in World War I. Then, suddenly, “millions were thrown out of work. Thousands of small business enterprises went under.”

According to Shirer, Hitler “was both ignorant of and uninterested in economics. But he was not uninterested in or ignorant of the opportunities which the Depression suddenly gave him. The suffering of his fellow Germans was not something to waste time sympathizing with, but rather to transform, cold-bloodedly and immediately, into political support for his own ambition.”

Hitler played on this in the 1930 election, when the Nazis became the second biggest party. “To all the millions of discontented, Hitler in a whirlwind campaign offered what seemed to them, in their misery, some measure of hope. He would make Germany strong again … stamp out corruption, bring the money barons to heel (especially if they were Jews), and see to it that every German had a job and bread. To hopeless, hungry men seeking not only relief but new faith and new gods, the appeal was not without effect.”

Hitler needed money and he turned his charm on the “politically childish men of the business world.” Communists and socialists were strong and feared by business leaders. “They may not like the party’s demagoguery and its vulgarity, but on the other hand it was arousing the old feelings of German patriotism and nationalism. It promised to lead the German people away from communism, socialism, trade-unionism and the futilities of democracy.”

One of these “futilities,” Shirer wrote, was a polarized and paralyzed parliament, “breaking down at a moment when the economic crisis made strong government imperative.” Even the democratic government had begun ruling by decree.

 Actually, the Republic had pampered the businessmen, bankers and landowners. Despite this, “with a narrowness, a prejudice, a blindness which seems inconceivable, they hammered away at the foundations of the Republic until, in alliance with Hitler, they brought it down.”

Hitler also courted the army, still stung by its defeat in the war, and promised it new power in exchange for its support.

In this way, Shirer wrote, Hitler, “a leader of the lower-middle-class masses, rallied, in addition to his own followers, the support of the upper-class Protestants of the north, the conservative Junker agrarians and a number of monarchists.”

In 1932, Hitler ran for president against the octogenarian Field Marshal Paul von Hindenburg. “He flew from one end of Germany to the other. In the first campaign, he had harped on the misery of the people, the impotence of the Republic. Now he depicted a happy future for all Germans if he were elected: jobs for the workers, higher prices for the farmers, more business for the businessmen.”

“In the Third Reich,” he promised, “every German girl will find a husband.”

 He finished a strong second in a three-man race. Then, in a parliamentary election, the Nazis became the largest party, with 230 out of 608 seats. From this base, he played his enemies against each other and then persuaded the weary Hindenburg to make him chancellor.

Shirer wrote: “In this way, by way of the back door, by means of a shabby political deal with the old-school reactionaries he privately detested, the former tramp … became chancellor of a great nation.”

Shirer, who published his book in 1960, was a Chicagoan and former foreign correspondent for the Chicago Tribune. He was writing about Germany, not his own country. Because, as we all know, it can’t happen here.

(Richard C. Longworth, a former chief European correspondent for the Chicago Tribune, is a fellow at the Chicago Council on Global Affairs. He wrote this article for the Chicago Tribune.)

It’s an article worthy of our undivided attention, a perspective reflective of the truth that there is more than just material poverty that can infect the human condition….

 

For Whom Do You Speak?

Whether consciously or not, we all speak for someone.  Of course, we speak for ourselves.  But even what we speak in our own self-interest most often represents others; we live in a pluralistic place which guarantees that what we say likely echoes someone else’s views.  Over the past months I have listened- sometimes intentionally, other times involuntarily- to a host of political voices seeking to speak on my behalf.  Despite the fact that I would be quite uncomfortable having any of them speak for me, each seems to lay claim to the privilege of speaking for a majority of the electorate, including me.  And as I have wrestled with the reality of someone purporting to represent my thoughts and feelings, it got me to thinking about the rest of us.  Who do we speak for?

I thought about the people I know best.  One of my close friends, passionate about the outdoors his entire life, has come to teach environmentalism to college students at a time when most of his peers have retired.  Another has devoted his energies to the cultivation of the arts, and on a broad scale, in a manner that embraces not only accomplished artists but also the most fledgling efforts of the virtually unknown.  A third has ended a career of pastoring his congregations with a voice for social justice,  even when doing so might have generated unrest and personal discomfort.  Each has chosen a cause, a purpose for his voice, a deliberate act of representation.

A lot of people attempt to speak for others but miss the mark. Government officials are notorious for speaking what the constituents want to hear, or what the officials want them to hear.  Religious leaders for centuries have tried to tell their followers how they should behave, only to be challenged by shifting societal norms.  CEOs everywhere adopt the role of corporate spokespersons, but the perspectives of employees are often far different from the company line: ask a CEO about his/her company’s culture and then interview an employee or two.

Others of us are much less overt-  quieter types for whom introversion is a safer form of existence and who are far less likely to mount a figurative soapbox of any kind.  Who or what do we represent in our relative silence?  For assuredly, not to speak is still a statement of one kind or another.

One of the lessons I learned long ago during my earliest years in business was that “silence is acceptance.”  If I was not willing to challenge an idea, then the fair presumption was that the concept was acceptable to me and that I would support it.  While the wisdom served as a potentially liberating management tool, more broadly the notion described the societal reality in which we live.  Just as in the truth of “not to decide is to decide,” there is truth in “not to speak is to speak.”  And there is potential danger in words that are never spoken.

For instance, an article in The Minneapolis StarTribune describes the growing number of “speakers” fomenting anti-Muslim sentiment in rural towns of the Upper Midwest.  The self-appointed proselytizers, whose expertise ranges from used car sales to conspiracy theory, possess an understanding about how to use their words to stoke the fears of the unknown in the minds of their audiences.  Of course, there are many unbiased residents in small-town America.  But the silence of their voices provides amplification to those who portray all Muslims as like-minded, radical jihadists.  The “preachers” speak only for themselves, I hope.

Then there is the case of words spoken out of the side of the mouth. The same political candidates referenced above, with choruses from their legislative colleagues, have all decried the disappearance of the middle-class in the U.S. in the most recent case of a near-extinction.  But while each has accentuated the importance of the species and pledged to save it, their words belie their true loyalties.  While the middle-class faces utter disappearance, the top 1% of the population continues to amass unprecedented wealth. The reality begs the question about who truly speaks for the vanishing strength of America, its middle class.

For whom do we speak?  Whether we dedicate our words and actions to the natural world, the creativity of the arts, the circumstances of marginalized people, a political ideology or something else, our words leave a legacy.  That legacy will be a fingerprint of our lifetimes, a precise identification of who we were in our time, a picture of what was important to us, an identification of our stewardship, the depth of our love, and whether we left the world in any better shape than we found it….

 

 

 

 

To Not Speak

For the most part, I like to reserve comments here for topics which are specific to Nicaragua and the people and organizations with whom we work.  But occasionally, I come across something written by someone else, something which has profound meaning for any of us, whether in Nicaragua, the U.S. or another place.  One of those important stories appeared in the Opinion Pages of The Minneapolis StarTribune newspaper.  I invite you to read this important recounting of one man’s encounter with ignorance and bigotry, in an unlikely venue.

It was my first Minnesota Vikings game and my first NFL game. I am not new to football, though. As an undergrad at Boston College, I went to many Eagles games, and I played junior varsity football. I knew what to expect on the field. I was excited, and, as I found my seat, I thought about bringing my family to a game in the new stadium.

What I didn’t expect was for a man to push aside other people and point his finger in my face, demanding to know if I was a refugee. He needed to make sure I wasn’t a refugee, he said. There was anger in his face and vehemence in his accusation.

I was stunned. He didn’t know anything about me. We were complete strangers. But somewhere in his mind, all he saw was a terrorist, based on nothing more than the color of my skin. He was white, and I wasn’t. He didn’t see anything else.

He didn’t know that I have lived in Minnesota for the past four years, that I was born and raised in New York and that the words “Never Forget” may mean more to me than to him. He didn’t know that when I went home and my children jumped on top of me and asked “How was the game?” that I’d be holding back tears as I told them about racism instead of touchdowns. He didn’t know that I am an attorney and the director of the Refugee and Immigrant Program at the Advocates for Human Rights.

It was also abundantly clear that he didn’t know about refugees, dignity or freedom. He didn’t know that if he were speaking to a refugee, he’d be speaking to someone who feared persecution due to their race, religion, nationality, political opinion or social group. He didn’t know that many refugees are victims of some of the worst human-rights abuses occurring on the planet, ranging from being sold into sexual slavery to being killed in mass executions. He didn’t know that being a refugee is a badge of resilience and honor, not danger.

In that moment, I was terrified. But what scared me the most was the silence surrounding me. As I looked around, I didn’t know who was an ally or an enemy. In those hushed whispers, I felt like I was alone, unsafe and surrounded. It was the type of silence that emboldens a man to play inquisitor. I thought about our national climate, in which some presidential candidates spew demagoguery and lies while others play politics and offer soft rebukes. It is the same species of silence that emboldened white supremacists to shoot five unarmed protesters recently in Minneapolis.

The man eventually moved on. I found security staff, and with a guard and friend at my side, I confronted the man on the concessions level. I told him that what he said was racist and that what he did scared me. I told him that I was afraid to return to my seat and that I was afraid that people were going to hurt me. I told him that what he did makes me afraid for my children.

Somewhere during that second confrontation there was a change. Maybe some humanity crept inside him. Maybe he felt the presence of the security guard. While he said he was sorry, his apology was uttered in an adolescent way that demonstrated that he felt entitled to reconciliation as much as he felt entitled to hurl hatred. He wanted to move on and enjoy the game. I told him that I didn’t want his apology. Rather, I wanted him ejected from the stadium because he made me feel unsafe.

The security staff talked with him privately. I don’t know what was said. He was not removed. Apparently, the Vikings do not think that hate speech and racism are removable offenses. My gameday experience was ruined. I tried to focus on the players, but I continued to take glances at the man who sat just a few yards away. I couldn’t help looking over my shoulder, wondering if he had inspired someone else. It was clear that I would not be bringing my family to a Vikings game.

I am deeply troubled by what happened to me. Hate speech is a warning for us all. It is like smoke. Imagine your office, church or stadium filling with smoke, while everyone acted like nothing was wrong. That smoke eventually becomes an unstoppable fire, the type of fire that has consumed people around the world to commit horrendous crimes, the type of fire that can bring down the entire building. As President Obama stated in his address from the Oval Office on Sunday evening: “[I]t is the responsibility of all Americans — of every faith — to reject discrimination.” It is up to us all, from individual bystanders to institutions as big as the Vikings, to respond to and to stop the spread of racism and hate.

(Deepinder Mayell is an attorney and director of the Advocates for Human Rights’ Refugee and Immigrant Program.)

This tale caused me to shiver, literally.  I shook from both anger and fear.  I was angry at the baseless, insulting assault on a man attending an afternoon football game.  The assailant might have just as well pummeled Mr. Mayell with a club.  I was angry at the recognition that, even in the presumably well-mannered Midwest, episodes of irrational prejudice can be manifest anywhere.    I was angry at the stadium security people for tolerating such behavior.  (I have seen them less tolerant on far lesser behaviors.)

But mostly, I shivered at the silence exhibited by those seated amidst the confrontation.  Their silence permitted and even sanctioned the assault.  Their failure to defend an innocent spectator might even be seen as a more egregious disregard than the actions of the attacker; he acted on the basis of blind hatred, while the others displayed a silent and collective cowardice which tacitly condoned the bullying abuse.

We often wonder to ourselves how we might respond to emergencies such as at an accident scene or a fire.  Would we have the courage to act?  In the case of the silent seat mates at the Vikings football game, I’m afraid the answer to that introspection would be a resounding “no.”  I pray that I might never be guilty of such indifference….