Here, There and Everywhere

Posts tagged ‘Martin Luther King Jr.’

Muslims, Words and Dr. King

A Muslim Reflection on Dr. King’s Legacy of Peace Through Words
by Najeeba Syeed-Miller. Posted 1/21/2013.
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The shaykh with whom I studied ethics would speak nearly perfect Arabic throughout the day and address everyone in his path with great respect, even in the grammar of his speech. I asked him why he put such care into his choice of words, he would say, “Najeeba, most importantly, in the form of our words, we should pursue beauty and elevate discourse.”

His words and monumental effort in expressing himself in a way that was sublime has always stayed with me. In essence, he was establishing a confluence between the choice of words he used, their elegant arrangement, his affect and the cognitive functions of communicating. He rounded these together in every utterance so that each sound he made was calibrated to increase beauty in the world and create a relational quality in the way he spoke with others.

As I reflect on why Dr. King so profoundly affected my journey as a peacemaker, it is because he also exemplified that capacity to elevate discourse by harnessing the resources of language to move the level of discussion deeper and higher. In this process, his prose and speeches resonated particularly with those who knew his context. At the same time, they echo in ways that are illuminating with a universal radiance because they appeal to the heart, mind and soul at the very same time.

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As a Muslim, I have been taught the Qur’anic principles of engagement: To speak with the best words and with words of goodness when I am in a state of difference with another. Often in the past, I thought of this injunction as emphasizing the idea of persuasiveness. I have since found that there are other important aspects to these teachings that emphasize generosity and respect for the other in exchanges.

In thinking about the language of my teachers and Dr. King, I have come to recognize that one major element of constructing conversations that are beautiful in both form and process is this encompassing eloquence that can integrate emotional and cognitive approaches to social change.

It is easy to separate thought and emotion, to parse out the heart from the head. What makes Dr. King’s words drum in our hearts and minds far after we’ve first read them or heard them is the genius of his understanding that social justice is not merely an externally focused pursuit of rights;it is a rearrangement of the interior human landscape in how we see and feel about ourselves, the world and one another.

There is an element of slowing down, appreciating his text and speeches because of their sheer beauty. It causes me to listen both to the content and the orchestration of his language. I am engaged with the ideas and the emotional quality. He speaks of the greatest ugliness manifested by humanity in ways that push me to see that internally, I too, may be capable of such monstrosity if not for the vigilance necessary to keep my heart, mind and actions intertwined to actualize dignity and peace. He behooves us to respond with an ethical approach not just in action, but also in insuring that even (or especially) an enemy is never demonized nor dehumanized in our depiction of them.

So perhaps one lesson to glean from our celebration of Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. is how we can move beyond competitive modes of talking, into a state of communal conversation that solemnizes an oath to speak with such careful thoughtfulness, so that the very act of forming a word is a sacred exertion of our highest sense of self.

Martin Luther King, Jr.

Dear Gabriel,

Today is Martin Luther King, Jr. Day. Dr. King is widely regarded as one of the world’s great human rights leaders.

Today and every day, Amnesty members stand together to defend the full body of human rights that Dr. King so bravely and eloquently espoused.

As we gear up for our Death Penalty Action Weeks (Feb. 27-March 11), we are inspired by Dr. King’s vision of a day without the death penalty. A day when revenge is not offered as justice and society turns to humane and constructive ways of dealing with violent crime.

Dr. King deeply opposed the death penalty, calling it “society’s final assertion that it will not forgive.” His widow, human rights activist Coretta Scott King, agreed. “Morality is never upheld by legalized murder,” she said.

Work with Amnesty to abolish the death penalty and defend basic human rights by becoming a Partner of Conscience monthly donor today.

We are moving closer to abolition in the United States. 2011 saw amazing victories: Illinois passed a law ending the death penalty, Oregon’s governor put a moratorium on executions and death sentences, and executions across the country were at an all-time low. However, it was also the year that the state of Georgia executed Troy Davis, who came to symbolize all that is wrong with the death penalty.

As you read this message, eight more men are scheduled for execution in the next 60 days. More killing is not the answer.

Dr. King described violence as, “a descending spiral, begetting the very thing it seeks to destroy. Returning violence for violence multiples violence, adding deeper darkness to a night already devoid of stars.”

Stand with Amnesty. Defend human dignity with your monthly gift to Amnesty today.

Dr. King lived his life in service to others, speaking out against suffering, inequality and injustice. In his memory, with his words, we march together toward the end of the death penalty in the United States.

In peace,

Laura Moye
Director, Death Penalty Abolition Campaign
Amnesty International USA

Courage Inside Walls

Went to maximum security prison yesterday for weekly group. Only there for about 3 hours, but time seemed irrelevant. What was relevant, was the insight, wisdom and life experience shared by those present for the meditation class.

Issue of anger, grief, revenge and killing came to surface and how people have dealt with those feelings and actions in the past and how they understand and see them and them selves, now.

Take a breath, pause, observe what you are experiencing moment to moment (physically, emotionally & mentally) and name or label it. Then, if you choose (and having a “choice” is key) to then take wise skillful action or not, it is more likely that you will not be reacting out of conditioning or pain, but with consciousness and compassion. That is the essence of what we and those in the group are discovering.

Our words and actions are important and have effects, but the intentions and awareness behind, before or with them are even more vital.

The strength and courage of the men in this group to be willing to step outside the known, to look at them selves honestly and to convey what they are seeing is liberating, artful and inspiring. Martin Luther King Jr. often spoke about not judging one by their outer appearances, but by the character of their character and humanity.

Nobody attending this weekly group pretends that they are now beyond their past and have permanently changed for the good (including the facilitators), nor excused them selves or blamed their incarceration on others. They have taken responsibility for their actions and the consequences. They have begun to personally understand the pain and loss they have inflicted on others, but have also come to realize that the “others” are in fact part of them selves and that harm to another is also harming ones self.

Practicing meditation and self-reflection and observation in a prison setting takes a lot of guts. Practicing meditation and mindfulness in our daily lives wherever our bodies are, takes vigilance, consistency and continual fine tuning. I hope those of us on the outside continue to practice with as much bravery and sustained effort as these men who are temporarily living within prison walls.

The Only Alternative

Excerpt from The Only Alternative: Chiristian Nonviolent Peacemakers in America by Alan Nelson and John Malkin. Originally edited by Gabriel Constans.

Martin Luther King Jr., said, “Hate begets hate; violence begets violence; toughness begets a greater toughness. We must meet the force of hate with the power of love.”

Throughout human history, violence has failed to create peaceful communities in which the world’s people can live, thrive, and interact. Though some interpersonal (behavioral) or international (systemic) acts of violence and war may temporarily interrupt violence in the short term, violence always perpetuates violence. There is no way to create pace and safety with strategies based on violence. Only through means that are themselves peaceful and non-violent can anger and fear be relaxed, compassion cultivated, and peace realized.

We have been taught to believe that a beneficial way to influence the behavior of people whose actions disturb us is to judge them and threaten them with various degrees of violence, or by actually inflicting violence upon them. Though these actions may stem from a compassionate desire to contribute to the well-being of another person, all of these use punitive strategies based on the idea that the best way to influence the behavior of another person is by inflicting physical or psychological suffering upon them, rather than by discovering a strategy that would compassionately meet the needs of all involved. This education that emphasizes moralistic judgment of others as right or wrong and good or bad is based in a system of reward and punishment that is applied to self and others. Jesus challenged this method when he urged people to give up revenge and war and to utilize the power of revolutionary love. He urged his followers to turn from retribution and the notion of “an eye for an eye” to a compassionate way of “turning the other cheek” and “loving your enemies” (Matt 5:39, 44).

The main strategies available for dealing with violence are to ignore it, to use violence, or to call on the soul force of nonviolence. Jesus and the peacemakers featured in this book are aware that ignoring violence does not facilitate peace. In fact, the more that people ignore the violence within and among us, the more that violence is free to grow. Virtually every spiritual tradition has offered the view that violence creates more violence, and that rather than trying to find a way to peace, peace itself is the way.

All violence – personal, interpersonal, military, and institutional – is the result of an alienation from self, others, and God. It is a manifestation of the anxiety and anger that is alive when we think that we are separate beings, and that our thoughts and actions do not affect others. We have been taught to think that peace and love are things to be found outside of ourselves, in the future.

Ultimately, whenever we participate in or enable violence against other people, we also hurt ourselves because we are all children of God, interconnected in one life. Like Cain, we are perpetuating violence against our own siblings. We are “one body in Christ,” inextricably linked, even with those who may want to harm or kills us.

The self-destructive dimensions of violence are especially apparent when we remember that all human beings have God-given potentials for spiritual growth and happiness, and that acts of violence done in revenge and hatred hinder any spiritual and emotional growth. Violence prevents our realizing who we are and who we might become on Jesus’ way to peace. Any violence against God’s creatures is violence against life itself that exacerbates the alienation that so many feel from themselves, from others, and from the love of God.

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Proud to be an Egyptian

One of the largest non-violent revolutions in history, in the most populist state in the Arab world and the biggest country in Africa, is transpiring before our eyes! The people of Egypt have provided an example of determination, unity, honor and courage that has opened the eyes of the world to what is possible and what must be.

Following in the footsteps of Martin Luther King Jr., Mahatmas Gandhi, the fall of the Berlin Wall, People Power in the Philippines, the revolution in Romania, the revolts in the Czech Republic and thousands in Iran and Tunisia, the Egyptian people (from all walks of life, backgrounds, religious orientations and economic circumstances) have lit a path for freedom that can not and should not ever be taken for granted or dismissed.

The coming days, weeks, months and years will provide an opportunity for the army of Egypt (which is supposed to be a force for THE PEOPLE) to stay true to their word and be a stabilizing influence for real democratic change and the installation of democratic institutions. If they don’t, there is no doubt that Egyptians will arise in mass once more (despite the cost) and demand their hard fought for revolution be implemented and respected.

Many Egyptians are once again saying they are proud to be Egyptian. In fact, what they have done makes us all proud to be human. Now is the time to support the people of Egypt and similar democratic movements throughout the world, with our actions and not just give lip service as we (our government) has done in the past.

This will be the beginning of a worldwide change that will see authoritarian dictatorships around the globe either make drastic changes in how they treat their citizens or see similar mass civil disobedience and change regardless of their personal wishes for power or control. Countries such as Iran, Myanmar, Laos, North Korea, Saudi Arabia, Syria, Libya, Mozambique and China may see Egypt as a wake up call. Let us hope they wake up to allow peaceful democratic freedom and rights for their people and not to clamp down and impose further restrictions, violence and tyranny.

Thank you Egypt. You are one of the cradles of civilization. Perhaps you have now become the cradle of a new world order of peace, prosperity and freedom for all.

Do I Have The Guts?

I know it works. Millions of people around the world have risked life and limb to make it happen. But I don’t know, when it comes down to it, if I have the courage or moral strength to do it myself. In country after country, against the world’s worst governments, tyrants, military invaders and dictators, people have put their lives on the line by confronting the violent use of repression, intimidation, torture and imprisonment with nonviolent weapons of non-cooperation, civil-disobedience, strikes, sit-ins, rallies, vigils, politics and boycotts.

The question is not whether nonviolence works, but why it hasn’t been acknowledged, advocated, taught and put into practice more often? No other form of conflict has created such long-lasting and peaceful results as that of nonviolence.

Nonviolence is far from a passive activity. It requires deep introspection, continual self-awareness, strategizing, commitment, patience and direct and in-direct action. People actually have less chance of getting killed by using nonviolent tactics than they do by using violence.

As seen throughout history, it is imperative that the means match the ends. If you want a peaceful society you can’t use violence to create it. If you desire less hatred, bigotry and vengeance in the world, you have to see it in yourself and practice removing it from your own life.

A Jewish man, known as Jesus of Nazareth, repeatedly and adamantly advocated love and nonviolence and was willing to suffer torture and death by the Romans for his beliefs. His actions and words have since influenced the lives of millions.

About five hundred years before Jesus, the Buddha of Gotama preached an end to the caste system in India and contrary to all rules, laws and expectations of his time, accepted students from all castes.

In 1905, an Eastern Orthodox priest led over 150,000 Russians to the capital to protest the government. That march led to the first popularly elected parliament in that nation’s history.

In the early 1930’s, Mahatmas Gandhi first called for mass civil disobedience against the British. His call for active Satyagraha (truth force) resulted in India’s democratic independence in 1947.

Danish citizens refused to aid the Nazi war effort and forced the Germans to end blockades and curfews during their occupation of Denmark.

Without picking up a single gun Salvadoran’s forced their longtime military dictator into exile in 1944.

Martin Luther King, Jr., using many of the non-violent tactics of Gandhi, helped mobilize Americans to end racial segregation in the South and fight for civil rights nation wide.

Cesar Chavez peacefully rallied farm-workers to demand better working conditions for the men and women that harvest our countries food.

Laborers went on strike, won the right to organize and with the help of the Catholic Church and Solidarity, nonviolently brought down a totalitarian form of communism in Poland.

A group of mothers marched in the capitol of Argentina demanding to know the whereabouts of their abducted sons and grandsons. After years of being intimidated, tortured and imprisoned themselves, their persistence helped oust the countries military junta.

In the Philippines, in 1986, a coalition of citizens outraged with the government supported assassination of a returning exiled politician, massed to support his widow Corazin Aquino. After defying continued brutality, censorship and threats by the Armed Forces under Ferdinand Marcos, the people, with the help of The Church, struck at the conscience of military officers who eventually refused to follow Marcos’s orders.

South Africans waged a decades long nonviolent campaign to end Apartheid. Their actions eventually led to the freeing of Nelson Mandela and a democratically elected government in which every person’s vote had equal value.

Over 100,000 students in the Czech republic sat down in the streets demanding freedom. Their example set off a wave of protest that washed away totalitarian regimes in Hungary, Bulgaria, Mongolia and East Germany.

At the turn of the century the Serbian dictator Slobodan Milosevic was defeated and his security forces neutralized by a general strike and nonviolent uprising.

These examples are but a few of the many inspiring practical applications of nonviolence, but how does somebody become brave enough to do it? How does one get to the point where they are willing to risk losing their job, go to prison, be assaulted or killed? How do we stand up to evil without becoming like those we confront? How do we separate evil acts from the people perpetrating them and still stop their actions without demonizing them in the process?

I like to think that my life and what I am doing with it make a difference. I tell myself that working as a counselor, a writer and volunteering in prisons and overseas helps others. I believe raising healthy children, working with human rights organizations and using non-polluting energy for my car and home, all have an impact. Then again, they are all safe and convenient.

Sure, I’ve marched in protest rallies against different wars and been arrested for blocking nuclear weapons facilities, but I knew the worst thing that would happen would be a couple of hours in detention or an overnight stay in the slammer. If I faced the prospect of years in prison, large fines, torture, a criminal record or being exiled from my country and family would I have done the same thing? I doubt it. Am I willing to stop paying taxes, get fined and go to jail? No. Am I spending time organizing other citizens to insist on less military spending and greater humanitarian interventions around the world? Perhaps, a little. Am I fully putting my body and deeds where my heart and beliefs lead me? No.

The reality is that I pay others to protect me with violent means. By paying my taxes I pay for law enforcement and military personal to carry and use weapons to theoretically keep my family, community and nation out of harms way. The money I pay to our government helps research, design, produce and use weapons of mass destruction and military intimidation and violence.

If someone threatened my son, daughter or mate, I believe I have the guts to stand my ground and resolve the conflict nonviolently without striking back, but I’m not sure. And if someone threatened my neighbor or community, I doubt I would have the same brave resolve to “fight back”, as I would with my immediate family.

I like to see myself as an advocate for justice, peace and freedom, now I’m not so sure. The justice, peace and freedom I seek are made in the context of a comfortable way of life and don’t require me to go out of my way to achieve them or make any great sacrifices; yet, all of those who have preceded me have been willing to do just that. They all took a leap of faith. They saw that they were not separate from anyone else on this planet and what they and others do or don’t do, affects us all.

When it comes down to the nitty gritty and I have to practice what I preach, I hope I can make that leap. I hope my faith in non-violence and love carries me through any and all circumstances and situations. In reality, I won’t know until or if, it happens. It could be that everyone is scared, even petrified, when faced with harm, but they act anyway. Perhaps that is what courage is all
about.

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