Happy and Blessed Easter!

Happy Easter!

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2016 in Review: Syrian Christians in the Crossfire

It can be difficult sometimes finding a favorite, or best article of the past year.  This year one post came immediately to mind. The following is a reblog of an article I wrote back in October.  Most of the time I’m writing about broad, abstract ideas like liberty  and conservatism.  This one was a little different, it was about an ongoing specific problem being faced by a specific group of people.    -JP Mac

EGG HARBOR TWP, NJ

Candle for Homs, Syria
Candle for one of the many Syrian cities ravaged by the civil war.

During war civilians always suffer, but what happens when neither side has their well-being in mind?  In Syria, the Assad government aided by their Russian allies fight a host of rebel factions with little regard to collateral damage done to non-combatants. On the other side are hardline Islamists such as ISIS who have even less compunction against killing civilians and in fact, actively target them.  Christians and other religious minorities have been singled out by the Islamic fighters for genocide.  This prompted the formation of Christians United for Peace:  Syria, a non-profit group dedicated to helping the Syrian Christians and other minorities caught in the crossfire.  Recently, the organization held an event to raise awareness of the desperate situation of Syrian Christians in Egg Harbor Township, NJ.  Atlantic City Councilman and member of the Pastoral Council at the Parish of Saint Monica Catholic Church. Jesse O. Kurtz was asked to help put the event together.

Jesse O. Kurtz
The Honorable Jesse Kurtz (R), Atlantic City, NJ

Jesse O. Kurtz explains why he got involved with the effort and what he believes the event he organized accomplished:

“The genocide in the Middle East of Christians is surreal.   I think that is one of the reasons that more people are not speaking out about it.   The key of this event was to bring awareness to the reality of Christian genocide in the Middle East.   The speakers did an excellent job of sharing personal testimonies, as well as offering top quality talks on the history of Christians in the Middle East, the case for why the current violence is indeed genocide, and what life is like for the Church in Syria and Iraq.”

And indeed, the Syrian people have suffered greatly due to the civil war.  According to the IOCC:

  • Since 2011, Syria’s violent civil war has claimed the lives of more than 250,000 people and displaced more than 7.6 million.
  • More than half of Syria’s population has been displaced from their homes, often multiple times, creating mass instability and uncertainty for its people.

Secretary of State John Kerry:

“We know that in areas under its control, Daesh (ISIS) has made a systematic effort to destroy the cultural heritage of ancient communities – destroying Armenian, Syrian Orthodox, and Roman Catholic churches; blowing up monasteries and the tombs of prophets; desecrating cemeteries; and in Palmyra, even beheading the 83-year-old scholar who had spent a lifetime preserving antiquities there.”

The event held at the Holy Trinity Greek Orthodox was attended by approximately 400 persons, including clergy from the Syriac Orthodox Church, Greek Orthodox Church, and Roman Catholic Church.  Each of these Christian communities has suffered at the hands of ISIS.  Other guest speakers ranged from history professors to witnesses to the strife in Syria who gave firsthand accounts of the human tragedy.  It is one thing to watch brief glimpses of the war on TV, but it is quite another to hear accounts of people who have seen firsthand the devastation.  As an outside observer, one cannot completely understand the experience of the Christians now in Syria, but one can certainly feel for them and understand that this is more than something that we see unfolding on our TV screens each night, but a real catastrophe affecting millions of real people.

The event of course was more than just about raising awareness; it was about raising contributions to the four key Christian charities Christians United for Peace: Syria.  Those aid organizations are:

  • International Orthodox Christian Charities (IOCC)
  • The Knights of Columbus Christian Refugee Relief Fund
  • Middle East Council of Churches
  • International Christians Outreach

These organizations provide the following critical and essential supplies:

  • Basic food supplies
  • Clean water
  • Cooking equipment
  • Baby supplies, including diapers
  • Dignity kits for women
  • Clothing and shoes
  • Mattresses and bedding

When we think of genocide, often think of the holocaust and the mass killing of Jews during WWII, or we think of Rwanda, or the ethnic cleansing inside the former Yugoslavia.  As with the liquidation of the ghettos in WWII by the NAZI’s part of genocide against the Christians and Yezidis involves the mass theft of anything of value.  Not just valuables, but life’s essentials were taken, like medications and even shoes.  The victims of the ISIS genocide in Iraq and Syria that were “lucky” enough to be allowed to escape to Kurdish territories were done so in such a way as to cause maximum hardship if not outright death by sickness and starvation.  Imagine the liquidation of the Jewish ghettos combined with the Trail of Tears forced upon the American Indians, and you get some sense of the torment ISIS put Christians and Yezidis through.

This was one comparatively small event, held in a small New Jersey shore town, but Councilman Kurtz thinks that with help, some relief can be brought to this ancient Christian community:

“There is now a group of hundreds of people locally aware and looking to bring relief and hope to our persecuted brethren.   We shall see what next steps are directed through the inspiration of the Holy Ghost.”

Amen.

Democratizing Catholicism? I think not.

Progressives v. CatholicsIn a world where the words “offend, offended, and offensive” are so overused, I have to say that I’m properly offended by the casual anti-Catholic bigotry on the left and particularly that of current senior members of the Clinton campaign staff.   You’ve probably heard now of the leaked emails of Hillary’s campaign chairman John Podesta. (For a good synopsis, check out: WikiLeaks: Podesta and Left-Wing Activist Plot ‘Catholic Spring’ by Edmund Kozak)  The leaked emails from  talk about subverting Catholic doctrine with the idea of bringing about a “Catholic spring”.   Let me rephrase that:  Leaders of the Democratic party because so much of Catholic doctrine specifically when it comes to issues of pro-life and marriage, goes against their liberal agenda, decided to subvert the Church in America and replace its core doctrines with ones more in line with their political goals.

“There needs to be a Catholic Spring, in which Catholics themselves demand the end of a middle ages dictatorship and the beginning of a little democracy and respect for gender equality in the Catholic Church,” wrote left-wing activist Sandy Newman to Podesta.

How does one democratize a religion?  Would the members get to vote on Church doctrine?  Cardinals get to vote for the Pope, should they act like delegates as if the conclave of cardinals were some sort of political convention?  Here my message for Podesta and friends:  Catholic doctrine was created by Christ.  It was codified a long time ago by Emperor Constantine I in the fourth century.  That is the basis of the Catholic Church, now and forever, unless the Big Man Upstairs orders a change.  If He does, you can bet it won’t be the  purposes of facilitating your political gain, your pro-abortion, anti-life agenda.

The leaked emails show utter contempt for Catholics, suggesting them backwards in their beliefs. The writers of these emails show a complete lack of understanding about the Vatican and the Church at large. The fact is, progressives such as those quoted in the emails see the Church as a hindrance advancing their social agenda.  The words of St. John Paul II hint at why the teachings of  Catholic Church might prove problematic to Progressives:

“True freedom is not advanced in the permissive society, which confuses freedom with license to do anything whatever and which in the name of freedom proclaims a kind of general amorality. It is a caricature of freedom to claim that people are free to organize their lives with no reference to moral values, and to say that society does not have to ensure the protection and advancement of ethical values. Such an attitude is destructive of freedom and peace.”
Pope John Paul II

Progressive Democrats can’t have an entire voting bloc that thinks like that.

Every American has the right to ‘vote’ to be Catholic or not, to be religious or not, but the essence of what it means to be Catholic is not up for a vote. The Church’s essential teachings are not up for negotiation like planks in some political party’s platform.  The best way to teach and practice those fundamental doctrines of faith and life can and will be debated, but what those core doctrines themselves are will not and cannot be determined by the democratic process.

 

Regarding Nice, France and Baton Rouge

GWOTNice, France and Baton Rouge, Louisiana have more in common than the French origins of their names. They were both sites of recent terrorist attacks.  In the case of Nice, it was Islamist terror that killed more than eighty people in that resort town.  It was done in the name an extreme ideology that does not value human life.  It was an act of revenge for real or imagined offenses perpetrated upon innocents that had nothing to do with the terrorists’ grievances.  In the case of Baton Rouge, it was an act of anti-police terror that saw the murder of three police.  Like the tragedy in France, the attack in Baton Rouge was done in the name of an extreme world-vision so distorted it negated the value human life.  It too was an act of revenge.  Neither attack will do anything to further the supposed cause of the attacker.


Terrorism:  the use of violent acts to frighten the people in an area as a way of trying to achieve a political goal

Source: Merriam-Webster’s Learner’s Dictionary


In the case of Nice, Paris, Istanbul, Orlando, etc., the brand of terrorism was an all-too familiar one– Islamic extremism. These fit the definition of terror because they were acts of violence in support of a religious/political cause, that of violent jihad.  In short, these extremists want to impose their vision of Islam on everyone.  With virtually every attack, vengeance is cited as a motive.  The perpetrators cloak their actions in religion, or in the righting some alleged wrong.  Never does the Islamic extremist make an introspective assessment of their negative situation, it is always someone else, Jews, Westerners, apostates, etc. who are to blame for the societal problems they face.

Like the Islamic extremist, the anti-cop extremist engages in acts of extreme violence against innocents in order to further a political goal.  Also like the jihadist, the anti-cop terrorist acts from a misguided notion of justice.  Unlike the vast majority who share their stated cause, the violent extremist has no compunction against killing people who may have no association with the perceived injustice they lash out against. Though their base grievance might have some aire of legitimacy– that the deaths of blacks at the hands of police in several cases may have been unnecessary and avoidable, the extremest has little interest in true justice, but perceives vengeance as justice. No introspection here either, in the absolutist mind of extremist, the source of their problems has to be due to the actions of others, and those others are always in the wrong.  Killing anyone even resembling the ‘other’, in this case cops, helps solve the problem in the twisted logic of the terrorist.

Innocents have died recently in tragic attacks by extremists in the name of what they see as see as a worthy cause.  In one case, the cause is a long-standing animosity against all things and persons not a part of their perverted version of Islam. Over eighty people were killed without regard to whether or not they actually had any connection to the government or society they hold at fault for their situation.  In a city thousands of miles away, three police were murdered in an apparent act of vengeance for the actions of their fellow officers.  These murders follow the recent killings of police in Dallas, ostensibly  for the same reason, and act of vengeance for a perceived injustice.  The bitter irony in the case of Dallas is that the vast majority of protestors actually had no qualm with the police that were targeted, but police in other cities in America. On top of that, the police that were killed in that incident died protecting the very people who were protesting others of their profession they accused of wrongly killing blacks.

The other bitter irony is that in neither Nice nor Baton Rouge, will the acts of terror do any thing to further the stated or assumed causes of the attackers. Both attacks qualify as terrorism by definition, though only one has popularly been described as such.  Terrorists believe that the ends justify the means.  They claim for themselves the status of freedom fighter or enforcer of justice, but there is no justice in their actions, only vengeance and hatred.  Whatever their stated cause or grievance, they have twisted that cause beyond all semblance of legitimacy to the point that those who they purport to serve must disown their actions.  The individuals who committed these acts on two continents in pursuit of different goals both confused evil for good, vengeance for justice, and wrong for right. For that we can and should describe both as terrorists.

What would you give the world for Christmas?

LR XMas WPAs Christmastime arrived I pondered what my present to the world would be if I had the power to bestow any gift I wished upon it. The gifts we receive generally fall into one of three categories:  Gifts we want, gifts we need, and well, those that get put in the closet.  Of course it would be hard to give billions of people what they want, anyway that’s Santa’s gig.  The world needs so many things, some of them greatly.  The world also has a lot already– technology, information, skyscrapers. What does it really need?

My first answer might have been the same as many others:  Peace.  The world desperately needs peace.  One problem with peace is it’s not always just and tends to be fleeting.  Peace sometimes happens at the end of a fight, regardless of the morality of the victor.  It is the absence of conflict.  Conflict is what drives us to excel, to solve problems, to grow. Peace might better be earned, rather than given or forced.

If not peace, than surely happiness. Everyone can benefit from happiness. We like to see happy people.  We can even tell when animals are happy.  It’s infectious and we of course, enjoy it.  Like peace though, it does not care how it comes about.  Bad people can be happy.  Evil makes some people happy.  Also like peace, it tends to be fleeting.

If peace and happiness were not an ideal gift, unless they exist in the right way and together, then surely health would be the greatest gift to humanity.  Some people already have it.  Some have it and are miserable.  Some people who are not in great health have happiness, and would not trade for it.  Health is usually not as fleeting a condition as peace or happiness, but cannot last forever.  It’s suitable to wish for individuals and we pray for our loved ones to have it when they don’t, but nature in the end always exerts her control over our mortal shells.

What then would I give to the world had I the power?  What condition when present can bring into being the virtues of peace, happiness, and even health?  The answer to me is love.  It’s a peacemaker, it makes us happy, and we can experience it as both a physical and mental phenomenon.  It is sorely missed when it is lacking.  Hate can exist in the presence of peace, happiness, even health, but not for long in the presence of love.  Love dissolves and transmutes it.  It exists in whatever from we need it, as motherly love, brotherly love, it exists between people of similar interests as friendship, it exists between people who work and serve together as comradery.  There is the supreme form of love for and by the Creator, for and of His creation; this would make the perfect gift.

Peace, happiness, and health are greatly needed, but not always in equal measures to everyone. Love is the gift that all human beings, indeed, all living beings can benefit from.   It comes in whatever form it is needed.  All have some access to it already, but we can be blind to its presence.  It’s free, but not always freely given.  Sometimes sadly, it is not accepted or seen for what it is.  If I had the means offer it to all and all hearts would be open to it, I think that’s what I would give as a gift to the world.  Is it possible we already have this gift and it remains unopened?  Perhaps we already commemorate the receipt of this gift every year around this time. Merry Christmas!

Banning persons based on religion is not a workable solution.

GWOTDonald Trump is on the record as saying that Muslims who are not already U.S. citizens or serving in our military should be banned from entering the country.  This call has been roundly condemned as inhumane, bigoted and even un-American. His supporters point out correctly, that most of the high-profile terrorist acts being committed today are done so in the name of Islam. New York, Washington, D.C. , London, Madrid, Paris, Paris again, and San Bernardino were all hit by radical Islamist terror.  They would also point out that no other religion currently has such an acute connection with terror.  They rightly state that the FBI admits that the Syrian refugees can’t be properly vetted. Given these facts, Trump’s solution might seem quite reasonable then on its face.  Set aside the dubious Constitutional, moral, and American values arguments for a moment, the proposal is not a practical or even workable policy.

Just as we Americans, most people the world over possess documents that establish our identity, our ID.  Most have passports, Drivers Licenses, Mortgages, bank records that establish who we are to the rest of society.  Most of these records though lack one piece of critical information that would be crucial to enacting any ban on Muslims, or any other religious group from this or any other country—one’s religion.  Marriage records, birth certificates, and military ID “dog” tags are the only bits of ID that typically would state or give a clue as to the holder’s religion. Chances are that Syrian refugees aren’t showing up at the camps with all of these in a fireproof box or in a manila folder.

Even if the typical refugee came armed with all of these documents, the second that word got out that America or any other western country was no longer accepting Muslims, these documents would quickly disappear.  They surely would not be offered up as proof of identification. If ever the question of religion was put to them, either by a person or a questionnaire, the answer would probably be “Christian”.  Even “atheist” would be acceptable.

If at a point of entry into the United States an Immigration official were to ask a visitor, any visitor, their religion and the answer was anything accept “Muslim” or “Islam”, how exactly would the official proceed to determine if that statement was untrue?  Would the person attempting to gain entry be forced to recite the Lord’s Prayer, or prove they are not a Muslim by eating pork? Would any woman not wearing a Hijab be automatically let in?

What can be reliably determined in most cases is what country and what part of that country a person is from.  Most countries are broken down into states, parishes, districts, or other such zones that can be identified as having significant terror or religious radical populations.   Documents that list the person’s former address can be cross referenced with other sources and other documents.  Finding corroborating records could be especially problematic in the case of Syrian refugees, as ISIS has captured passport making machines and passport blanks.

Our American history, values, and compassion compel us to let in what refugees we can from war-torn countries.  Those same virtues don’t compel us however to act in a suicidal manner while doing so. We know that some Jihadists seek to exploit the refugee crisis as a means to entering the West.  In some cases, there may be no way at all to properly vet those from Syria.  While we sympathize with their plight, we cannot verify who many of them are.  In some cases, we have to resolve ourselves to the fact that some of them can never be left into the country.  We can prioritize who we let in or allow to proceed to the next steps of the immigration process.  The extremely old, and the extremely young and their immediate families we can give some latitude to, as can we with those identifying as Christians or other religious minorities.  We can’t promise them entry to the U.S. but we can allow them the chance to try.  Ultimately though, our process for winnowing out the most likely to commit terror has to depend upon other factors beside religion, such as country of origin, foreign travel, and family ties.  We have to be honest with ourselves and those who wish to enter this country that sometimes, perhaps often times, the answer to whether or not they can enter regrettably must be “no.”