Peace, Politics

batman, kurdistan, and the red prison #PPFIK

Currently,  I’m with the Presbyterian Peace Fellowship and Christian Peacemaker Teams on a delegation in Iraqi Kurdistan.

Today, we visited the Red Prison in the morning. Below is the blogpost I wrote for the Presbyterian Peace Fellowship. It didn’t hit me until later in the afternoon how drained I was from the experience.

Before coming on this delegation, we were not given a detailed schedule of our 13-day stay. Rather we were told to prepare emotionally. Our CPT delegation coordinator, Terra, explained that this trip will affect our whole being: emotionally, physically, and spiritually. I did my best to prepare for such things before leaving by spending time with friends and re-watching some of my favorite episodes of my beloved Frasier. Yet, today, on the second day of our delegation, I was so emotionally drained from going to and learning about the Red Prison that I had to take a two-hour nap

The Red Prison is just one of the locations Saddam’s regime set up to torture and execute Kurdish people. The facility was built in 1979 and was in full use from 1984-1991. On our tour, we saw where they imprisoned young Kurds. In their cell, there were several depictions of Batman on the wall. Possibly a sign of looking for a superhero to save them from this hellish experience. Notice how Batman’s arms are open wide and that he’s smiling.

We listened to how women and children were kept in the same space. That many of the women were raped and had to birth and raise their children in such wretched conditions.

We saw how each room had a bowl on the ground for the Kurds to eat like dogs and how they were forced to 10 second bathroom breaks.

It’s not that I didn’t know that Saddam Hussein was a horrible dictator who should’ve been captured. These impermissible acts of violence, abuse, and torture are evil. It’s that I wonder why the US did not speak out earlier against these crimes against the Kurds, but that we had to occupy Iraq two decades later (2003-2011(?)). The problem is that the US gave monetary resources and chemical weapons to Iraq during this time. This was during the same time of the Iraq-Iran War (1980-1988) and the Reagan administration wanted to be sure that Iraq would win. This led to the killing of thousands of Kurds using chemical weapons in Halabja and hundreds of Kurdish villages were bombed to non-existence. From 1984-1991, hundreds of thousands of Kurdish people were killed, hundreds of thousands more tortured, and millions displaced.

Kurdish blood stained the floors of the torture rooms. Kurdish blood has stained my heart and memory. May we as peacemakers put an end to torture and executions. May we continue to lift up and remember those who have been murdered with the help of our government. May we, with God’s help, create a world where people are treated with dignity and reparations abundant.


In the afternoon, we met with Mullah Nadar, who is an interfaith peacemaking Muslim leader of Iraqi Kurdistan. He was a joy to listen to. One of the reasons he became non-violent was that he saw his family killed by chemical weapons before his very eyes and understood that violence cannot disrupt violence, only peace can.


Over the next four days we’ll be in the Kurdish mountains with spotty internet access. Keep us on your mind and in your prayers.

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Beliefs, Christainity

overthinking my iraqi kurdistan delegation in hopes for transformation

Intrinsic to fundraising is how one sells it. This certainly was true when I told others about my upcoming delegation to Kurdistan with Presbyterian Peace Fellowship and Christian Peacemaker Teams. Either people have never heard of Kurdistan or understand it as being an ally for the US. I usually had to explain how Kurdistan is situated between Turkey, Iraq, and Syria. That many Kurds are non-violently resisting against several opposing forces: the Turkish and Iraqi military,  Daesh/ISIL, and the US forces on the ground. Then, I’m usually asked, “Why do you care?” With urgent fervor, I respond by saying, “I’m going as a global citizen. I’m going because the voices of the poor and those acting nonviolently around the world are forcibly silenced. I’m going to come back and testify at the Presbyterian General Assembly to what I saw. To witness to their struggle for peace.” Usually at this point, I get a smirk and nod which fades deadpan. The conversation moves on.

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Self-reflecting on the upcoming delegation, a question keeps creeping into my mind: what if I go and I’m not transformed? That I come back to the States and I continue to live as if I had never left. Maybe it’s just those blasted Derridan ethics that continually haunt me, that says over and over, if you think you’re acting responsible, you’re edging on carelessness; if you’re not anxious, then you’re comfortable being apathetic; IF YOU’RE NOT STRUGGLING FOR PEACE, THEN THE WORLD WILL PERPETUALLY BE IN WAR. Honestly, these ethics are impossible. And that’s the point. Until heaven meets Earth, global utopia is more than farfetched, but that doesn’t mean I do nothing. All this overthinking has made me cautious about what I will bring with me. I want to be in the moment and least distracted.

For this delegation, I’m praying and hoping to be hospitable in action and in listening. I am not fully sure of what to expect. I’ve never been across the Atlantic or have even thought about going to the regions near Iraq or Turkey. I covet your prayers for our delegation that we may be faithful peace witnesses, nonviolent in speech and heart. I hoping for a safe journey, but not a comfortable one.

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Christainity, Justice, Scripture

praying for peace in syria

Pope Francis called the church and the world to pray for peaceful resolutions in Syria. Indeed, the world needs more people to focus on peace and non-violent solutions. For my class, Revelation: Economy, Ecology, and Empire, the first assignment given was to read all of Revelation and figure out who the writer believes to be the righteous heros or the villains. As I read through it tonight, I was disturbed by the role angels play. Of course, it is an angel who guides John through the vision, but angels also release the horrible seven seals. One moment, angels praise God in all the tapestry and in the next, angels are sending locust to destroy 1/3 of plant life.

For political and military interventions, the US has always played the dual role of these angels. We can send good medical aid to people around the world, and have people who would sacrifice anything for peace. Yet, concurrently, we promote victory through violence. Our military and special ops have devastated other countries and governments through means of violence and Empire building. For instance,  in the 1970’s, the US aided in the killing of Salvador Allende, Chile’s first Socialist President, because he did not fit the mold our capitalist democracy. If the US is an angel, then its wings are tattered and burnt.

Similar to the Gospel of Matthew, Revelation’s author affirms, “if you kill with the sword, with the sword you must be killed” (13:10). This message seems clear. If we spread violence world-wide, then eventually it will come back to us. I believe this to be very true, especially with our high statistics of gun violence, allowing cities to go bankrupt, to let our public education system to go to waste. Yet, the American logic makes total sense: if we keep our troops overseas, we don’t have to worry about getting them a job in the US. Our priority is to keep the military-industrial-complex machine running at full steam: we needmore wars, more conflict, and enough public opinion for a  greater meaning of purpose for our soliders.

One more note, before we close in prayer. I scan many news sites trying to gather as much information about  the Syrian situation as possible. All of our news outlets focus on the President and Congress’ decision whether we “help” them out or not. Al Jazeera, on the other hand, reported that the Syrian Parliament does not want us to intervene. Their question is what would happen after the first strike? They are afraid that extremism would gain even more popularity and so many more people will be killed. The conflict in Syria is complex and trying to “fix” all of the world’s problems with bombs is a horrible idea.

In conclusion, there is the Palestinian Liberation Christian Community called Sabeel. Every week they pray for Palestine and for those around the world. Here is their prayer from September 5th:

Lord, it is also a time of great uncertainty and tragedy for many people across the Middle East. In the wake of the latest alleged chemical attack which took the lives of nearly 1,500 people, we wish to pray especially for the people of Syria, remembering the more than 100,000 killed and the 6.2 million displaced by the horrific civil war. At this time of upheaval, many countries surrounding Syria fear for the security and the stability of their nations; Merciful God, hear our people’s cries for safety, justice, and peace. Lord, also give wisdom and restraint to world leaders that they will not respond to this recent tragedy with warfare and instead will seek the path of non-violence. We pray, God, for a political solution that will stabilize this war-torn country and the entire Middle East. Lord in your mercy. Hear Our Prayer.

Gracious God, we lift the Egyptian people up to you. In the midst of turmoil and violence, we beg you to be the light that shines in the darkness and reveal your way of peace and reconciliation. Lord, we pray that you would provide a way forward which honors the dignity of all and brings a peaceable political solution and end to the conflict. Lord in your mercy. Hear Our Prayer.

Amen.Peace

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Christainity, Philosophy, Politics

the messiah came; we were just too busy looking at our cell phones

Jesus’ second coming filled my thoughts as a young child. In my apocalyptic vision, Jesus descended from heaven, trumpets sounded, and saved persons were raptured into heaven. On Earth there would be years of torment for those who weren’t Christians, and after seven years, Jesus would come back again (third coming?) to see if anyone would believe in him now. God would then separate and send those destined for heaven or hell. Eternity began then. My eschatological version represented a dispensationalism worldview. I held onto this view for too long.

As a youngster, some mornings I would wake up, open my eyes, stay in bed and think that the rapture had taken my family, leaving me to fend for myself. Moreover, I believed that Jesus was going to come back when everyone least expected it. So I would constantly think about the Second Coming in hopes that Jesus wouldn’t have the chance to come back. This paradox comforted me.

second coming

Nowadays, I rarely think about the second coming or any kind of end of the world type scenario. Franz Kafka, in Paradoxes and Parables, defines my current paradox quite well: The Messiah will come only when he is no longer necessary; he will come only on the day after his arrival; he will come, not on the last day, but on the very last day.

Jacques Derrida focused some of his later writings to the idea of the messianic. Derrida speaking, in the beginning of the documentary Derridasays

“In general, I try to distinguish between what one calls the future and the “l’avenir”. The future is that which –tomorrow, later, next century — will be. There’s a future which is predictable, programmed, scheduled, foreseeable. But there is a future, l’avenir (to come) which refers to someone who comes, whose arrival is totally unexpected. For me, that is the real future. That which is totally unpredictable. The Other who comes without my being able to anticipate their arrival. So if there is a real future beyond this other known future, it’s l’avenir in that it’s the coming of the Other when I am completely unable to foresee their arrival.

The unpredictable future, that which changes and transforms everything, begins with coming of the Other. Governments, afraid of the Other, want to domesticate the Other making our future predictable. Hence, we have created a society of little children who don’t grow up. We don’t have to cook, our music comes in an instant, we can work at home, and we can order anything and receive it the next day. No sense of struggle or appreciation is necessary.

Struggle gives life meaning; consuming demeans and desensitizes us from existence. On this point of struggle, Hegel thought that it was important that nations go to war. He wrote, “War is not to be regarded as an absolute evil…by its agency as I have remarked elsewhere the ethical health of the peoples is preserved in their indifference to the stabilization of finite institutions; just as the blowing of the winds preserves the sea from the foulness which would be the result of a long calm, so also corruption in nations would be the result of prolonged, let alone ‘perpetual’ peace.”  The perpetual peace is a reference to a pamphlet Kant wrote, saying that peace is the highest political good. At this point, I agree with Hegel, not that war is necessary, but that some rumblings need to happen in a nation.

Our contemporary wars are not the same as Hegel would have understood it. Our weapons have advanced so they no longer need someone to operate them. If war in the past confronted the Real in humanity, then today war has dehumanized us to the point of extinction. Our checks and balances in the US have not been effective in years. The NSA, JSOC, or the military or prison-industrial complex won’t allow the Other to exist. Watch Dirty Wars to find out more disturbing information.

If Jesus were to come from the heavens, the US government would know about it a week in advance and murder him midair.

We must otherize the Other to open us up to new possibilities. It’s a call to vulnerability, not stupidity; struggling for a meaningful existence rather than idly letting life pass by, etc.

The Derridian prayer seems most appropriate here: Come, Oh Divine Other, come.

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