Saturday, June 10, 2017

‘Borderfree Scarves’ and Courage for Peace


Report from Kathy Kelly

Beaver County Peace Links via Z Communications
When activists like me return from visiting the Afghan Peace Volunteers in Kabul, Afghanistan, young seamstresses there often entrust each of us with about fifty sky-blue scarves. The word “Borderfree” is carefully embroidered, in English, on one end of each scarf; on the opposite side, they’ve stitched the translation in Dari, the language they speak. The scarves express their yearning to end four decades of war in Afghanistan, a land dominated by ruthless warlords. 

“We are the generation who must try to put an end to all war and violence,” wrote Nematullah, an Afghan Peace Volunteers member who teaches children from internally displaced families. His students, most of them displaced by war, live in a wretched refugee camp. 

Nematullah wrote in response to my anxious inquiry following a truck bombing in Kabul, Afghanistan, on May 31, which killed more than 150 people. Pictures from Kabul’s “Emergency Surgical Center for Victims of War” showed the staff ministering to hundreds of survivors, people who suffered burns, lacerations, wounds, and amputations.
Happily, the letter brought good news. “We’re all safe,” wrote Hakim, who mentors the Afghan Peace Volunteers. “Yet we don’t want to ‘get used’ to life in a war zone. War is brutal, and begets more war, again and again.”

Tuesday, May 30, 2017

Don’t Fall for the Washington War Hawks’ Iranophobia

Their demands for war and regime change should be ignored.

By Danny Sjursen
The Nation

“Everywhere you look, if there is trouble in the region,” Secretary of Defense James Mattis told reporters on a mid-April visit to Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, “you find Iran.”

This article originally appeared at To stay on top of important articles like these, sign up to receive the latest updates from

I must admit that when I stumbled across that quote it brought up uncomfortable personal memories.

East Baghdad, January 25, 2007: My patrol had missed a turn and so we swung onto the next grimy avenue instead. As platoon leader, I rode shotgun in the second of our four vehicles, yakking away on the radio. The ensuing explosion rocked the senses: the sound, the blinding dust, and the smell—a mix of burnt metal and, well… I still can’t bring myself to describe it.

Our lead HMMWV, a military utility vehicle, aimlessly swerved right and came to rest beside a telephone pole. Only then did the screams begin.

The “cost” would be two wounded and two dead: my then-unborn son’s namesakes, Spc. Michael Balsley and Sergeant Alexander Fuller. These were our first, but not last, fatalities. Nothing was ever the same again. I’m reminded of poet Dylan Thomas’s line: “After the first death, there is no other.”

The local militia had shredded our truck with an advanced type of improvised explosive device that was then just hitting the streets of Baghdad—an explosively formed projectile, or EFP. These would ultimately kill hundreds of American troops. Those EFPs and the requisite training to use them were provided to Iraqi militias by the Islamic Republic of Iran. It’s a detail I’m not likely to forget.

Still, there’s one major problem with bold, sweeping pronouncements (laced with one’s own prejudices) of the sort Secretary of Defense Mattis recently offered on Iran: They’re almost always wrong. It’s the essential flaw of “lumping”—that is, of folding countless events or ideas into one grand theory. But, boy, does it sound profound! The truth is that Iran is simply not behind most of the turmoil in the Middle East, and until Washington’s policymakers change their all-Iran-all-the-time mental model, they are doomed to failure. One thing is guaranteed: They are going to misdiagnose the patient and attack the wrong disease.

Look, I’m emotionally invested myself. After all, I fought Iranian-trained militiamen, but a serious, workable national strategy shouldn’t rely on such emotion. It demands a detached, rational calculus. With that in mind, perhaps this is the moment—before the misdiagnosis sets in further—to take a fresh look at the nature of America’s thorny relationship with Iran and the Islamic Republic’s true place in the pantheon of American problems in the Greater Middle East.

Wednesday, May 24, 2017

Trump’s Budget Expands Global War on the Backs of the American Poor

By Benjamin Dangl
Common Dreams

May 23, 2017 - The U.S. defense budget is already roughly the size of the next eleven largest national military budgets combined.
It is fitting that while President Trump is traveling the world, sealing a weapons deal with Saudi Arabia, he would drop his own kind of bomb on the American people: his budget proposal for the coming fiscal year, titled, of course, “The New Foundation for American Greatness.”

“This Budget’s defining ambition is to unleash the dreams of the American people,” Trump writes in his 62-page plan, released today.

Trump’s dream for America is a nightmare for the working class.

The budget proposes deep cuts to government support for the poor, including slashing over $800 billion from Medicaid, $192 billion from food assistance, $272 billion from welfare programs, $72 billion from disability benefits, and ending programs that provide financial support for poor college students.

While cutting government assistance for working class Americans, the budget notably beefs up annual military spending by 10%, to the tune of $639 billion.
The US defense budget is already roughly the size of the next eleven largest national military budgets combined.

Wednesday, April 26, 2017

Local Peace Organizations Hold Discussion at CCBC


Michael McPhearson, Vets for Peace, at BCCC

By: Christina Sheleheda
Beaver County Times

April 24, 2017, MONACA -- For national peace activist Kevin Martin, the current state of our country can be best described with one word: Resolute.

Martin, along with Michael McPhearson, national executive director of Veterans for Peace; and Nancy O’Leary, president of the Beaver County Peace Links, hosted Prospects of War, the Need for Peace, Saturday at the Community College of Beaver County’s Health Sciences Center. 

Presenting to a group of about 50 people, Martin, who currently serves as the national president for Peace Action, kicked off the event, which was hosted by the Beaver County Peace Links. He asked the audience to say how they felt regarding the current administration. 


Having devoted over 30 years to peace activism, Martin believes the election simply drove a deeper wedge into an already divided country.

“We were divided before the election,” Martin said. “The contradictions of election are fascinating to me.” 

Martin explained that three “evils” that have been discussed for decades – racism, militarism and economic exploitation – were first cited in Dr. Martin Luther King’s April 4, 1967 speech. 

“My assertion,” Martin said, “is that militarism is the one that’s the worst of our society.”
Militarism is defined as “the belief or desire of a government or people that a country should maintain a strong military capability and be prepared to use it aggressively to defend or promote national interests.” 

“Progressives often link all struggles together. They list every progressive struggle, but won’t list peace and anti-war discernment, and I have a real problem with that,” Martin said. “We are not going to win if we don’t overcome militarism. That’s where all of our money goes. Not to economic or social justice issues, and certainly not to the environment,” Martin said. 

Martin, who grew up in Lancaster, Pa., had both his father and uncle serve in the United States Air Force. He does not believe opposing militarism correlates with being anti-American. 

“If you understand militarism as a problem, weapons, nuclear bombs, etc., that is separate from members of our military. [Militarism] has nothing to do with individuals in the military; their service is incredible. I believe that forced patriotism is coercive,” Martin said.

Friday, April 21, 2017








Monaca: Sat., April 22 1:00 pm

Community College of Beaver County, 1 Campus Dr.,
Health Science Center, Poplar Ave., Room 6010

Pittsburgh: Fri., April 21, 7:00 pm

at the University of Pittsburgh Law School (Barco Building),
3900 Forbes Ave., Room 109

Click here to RSVP and Get Free Tickets from Evenbrite

Wednesday, April 12, 2017

Fifty Years On: MLK’s Giant Triplets Still Plague Us, Including Militarism


By Kevin Martin and The Reverend Dr. Herbert Daughtry
Beaver County Peace Links via peacevoice

Fifty years ago this April 4, a year to the day before he was murdered, the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. called us to overcome the giant triplets plaguing our society – racism, militarism and extreme materialism – in his ‘Beyond Vietnam: A Time to Break the Silence’ address at Riverside Church in Manhattan. In his speech, King decried our descent into a ‘thing-oriented society.’ One wonders what he would think of our current, thing-oriented president.

In the remarkable speech, co-written with the late Vincent Harding, King also exclaimed, ‘[a] nation that continues year after year to spend more money on military defense than on programs of social uplift is approaching spiritual death.’ Unfortunately that is even more relevant today, as military spending consumes well over half the federal discretionary budget, and President Trump is advocating a nearly 10 percent, $54 billion increase, equivalent to the entire annual military budget of Russia, for the Pentagon and severe cuts to foreign aid, diplomacy, social and environmental programs.

King also powerfully, and accurately, linked violence in U.S. cities to our foreign policy, especially the terrible war in Vietnam (noting the Vietnamese must see Americans as ‘strange liberators,’) and acknowledged the pressure put on him by civil rights leaders to keep silent about his opposition to the war, which he of course could not do. Yet for many, the giant triplets rubric still resonates most powerfully today among all the words of wisdom King and Harding imparted in the speech.

Racism, extreme materialism and militarism are still inextricably linked, and still prevent our society’s becoming anything close to King’s ‘beloved community.’ Of the three, militarism may be the one about which Americans are most ignorant or most in denial.

No serious person could say we have overcome racism, or dealt with the extreme materialism and economic injustice and unsustainability of our ‘thing-oriented society.’ However, the pervasive equating of patriotism with support for war, charges of being soft on communism, terrorism or defense, and cynical, coercive ‘support the troops’ displays (when the best way to support them would be to stop our incessant wars) seemingly prevent any serious examination of U.S. militarism.

How many Americans know the U.S. has been at war for all but a relatively few years (fewer than 20) of our history since 1776? Or that the U.S. has more than 900 foreign military bases? (China has one and is about to build a second, near ours in Djibouti.) Or that we maintain nearly 7,000 nuclear warheads, all tens, hundreds or even thousands of times more destructive than the Hiroshima bomb that killed 140,000 people? Or that the U.S. conducted more than 1,000 nuclear ‘test’ explosions, and under President Obama, recently embarked on a 30-year, at least $1 trillion scheme to upgrade our entire nuclear weapons arsenal (unsurprisingly, every other nuclear state is now doing the same, sparking a new arms race)? Or that the U.S. military is the biggest consumer of fossil fuels on the planet?

Ignorance or denial about these facts is dangerous, to our society falling behind in nearly every indicator of social and environmental health as we continue to invest in the war machine, and to the people on the receiving end of our bombs. How many countries are we bombing right now?

At least seven we know of: Syria, Iraq, Libya, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Yemen and Somalia. And as King claimed the bombs we dropped on Vietnam also exploded in American cities, the blowback to the U.S. from all the anger we sow and enemies we reap in these countries and around the world, will surely harm our country.

So what is it about the United States? Are we in the grip of what President Eisenhower warned us, the military-industrial complex (that he did a lot to empower before decrying it)? Weapons contractors make a killing, but they don’t really help the economy. Military spending is about the worst way to create jobs and stimulate the economy. Education is the best, creating 2.5 times more jobs than military spending, according to economists at the University of Massachusetts.

We doubt anyone has any satisfactory answers to why our country is so uniquely militaristic, yet seemingly oblivious to the consequences. Perhaps peace and social justice activists and political leaders have for too long failed to integrate the struggles to overcome the giant triplets.
If that is the case, Martin Luther King, Jr. still points the way toward a solution, 50 years after he first called out to us. Is it too late to hear his wisdom and change course?

As the impressive grassroots resistance to Trumpism continues to show up for racial, economic, social and environmental justice, we must also show up for peace and disarmament if we hope to one day realize King’s beloved community.
Kevin Martin, syndicated by PeaceVoice, is President of Peace Action, the country’s largest grassroots peace and disarmament organization with more than 200,000 supporters nationwide. The Rev. Dr. Herbert Daughtry is the National Presiding Minister of the House of the Lord Churches.

Thursday, April 6, 2017

Community in Beaver gathers to discuss Islam, eat hummus and ask questions

By Kirstin Kennedy 
Beaver County Times
April 6, 2017 -  BEAVER -- Over bowls filled full with hummus from Salem Halal Market in the Strip District, thin slices of pita bread and sweet dates, Toni Ashfaq explained many specifics of her religion to a room full of people.
The Center Township resident, who hails from Wisconsin, was prepared to answer any question thrown her way about Islam, the religion she chose to follow as a student in Washington, D.C.

Most of the questions posed to her during the "Spread Hummus, Not Hate" event Wednesday evening at the Beaver Memorial Library where genuine. When do Muslims hold religious services? Why do men and women worship in separate sections of a mosque? Do your children ever feel threatened?

Not all of the questions were innocently posed, but that's why Ashfaq set out to engage with the community.

"There's a lot of misunderstandings out there about Islam, so we just want to clarify," Ashfaq said. She and friend Dr. Raniah Khairy, of Brighton Township, organized the event Wednesday, and will meet again Saturday from 2 p.m. to 4 p.m. at the library.
"We want to tell people what we really believe so they understand that not all Muslims are what you see in the media, the negative aspect of, unfortunately, what some people are doing," Ashfaq said.

She has a unique perspective. Ashfaq converted to the faith from Catholicism. Sher later married a doctor from Pakistan, and together they have four children.

Khairy, an OB/GYN specialist at Heritage Valley Beaver hospital in Brighton Township, is from Egypt and immigrated to the United States in 2000. She is now a U.S. citizen.
"It's a way to get our community and our society together, especially with all of the madness that is happening in the media these days," Khairy said.

Julia Chaney, of Beaver Falls, is a friend of both Ashfaq and Khairy and helped to organize the event, which drew more than 50 people.

Chaney, who is a Christian, said Ashfaq has always been open to discussing the Islamic religion.

"She always encourages me to ask questions, not to worry about anything being awkward or not (to) a question I'm allowed to ask," Chaney said. "We've had some wonderful conversations."

Ashfaq has taken Chaney to her mosque "in a spirit of peace and understanding for us to enter and just see what's going on. The people are beautiful and loving and welcoming," Chaney said.

Before the predominately Christian audience, Ashfaq explained her mission was to discuss Islam and clear up misconceptions. "We are here for education purposes, to clarify, we are not here to make anybody believe what we believe," she said.

According to Ashfaq, Islam is one of the Abrahamic religions, like Christianity and Judaism. "We all view the prophet Abraham as a father figure in our faiths," she said.

The Quran, the holy book of the Islamic faith, refers to "Jews, Christians and Muslims, all three, as people of the book. We are lumped into one category, we have to respect each other, we all have a lot in common," Ashfaq said.

The word Islam means submission to god, and the Muslim is the one who submits to god.
There are five pillars of Islam: The first is faith and the second is prayer. Practicing Muslims pray five times per day. Toni said this is "stopping your day to connect to the divine." The third pillar is charity, which means giving a portion of their wealth to those in need, and the fourth is fasting. Muslims fast during the month of Ramadan, only eating and drinking before the sun comes up and after the sun goes down. The final pillar is pilgrimage.

The main difference between Christianity and Islam, Ashfaq said, is that Muslims view Jesus Christ as a prophet, not as divine.

There are many obvious cultural differences between Christians, Jews and Muslims in America. Muslims practice their day of worship on Fridays, Christians celebrate on Sundays and Jewish people recognize the Sabbath on Saturday. Practicing Muslims do not eat pork, Jews follow a kosher diet, many Catholics do not eat meat on Fridays during Lent.
However, the way Muslim people are viewed by Americans in other countries causes some misconceptions.

"It's really important to distinguish between religion and culture," Ashfaq said.
For example, people are sometimes shocked to see Ashfaq drive, she said. That’s likely because women in one Muslim-majority nation are legally forbidden from driving.
"Women in Saudi Arabia are not allowed to drive. Why? I have no idea," Ashfaq said. "It has absolutely nothing to do with Islam. It's a misogynistic culture, what can I say?"
Some people also have the impression Muslim women and girls are kept out of schools, forbidden from learning by their religion. Ashfaq said that's not true.

"The prophet Mohmmad emphasized seeking knowledge for both men and women," She said. "He did not distinguish between the two."

It is forbidden by the faith to force a woman into marriage, though it does happen, she said. "I don't think this is exclusive to Islam. I think if you go to many different places in the world you will see stuff like that happening."

Divorce is also allowed in Islam, though it's not favored. "It's understood that sometimes it's necessary," Ashfaq said. Additionally, women don't have to take their husband's name. They can, but there is no requirement in the faith.

Both Muslim men and women are encouraged by their faith to adopt a modest dress. For example, many Muslim women wear a Hijab, which is a scarf which covers the head.
"Absolutely not all Muslim women choose to wear (the Hijab)," Ashfaq said.
"Head covering really is not something new," she said. "It's not a new concept in the Abrahamic religions. Nuns cover their heads, Amish women cover their heads, Jewish women cover their heads."

Only two countries have laws that require women to cover their heads: Saudi Arabia and Iran.

Women who wear the hijab "do it by choice. We're not forced by our husbands," Ashfaq said.

"It is an act of devotion," she said. "It's the same way a Christian opts to wear a cross around the neck. Why? Because you have pride in your faith and you want to be recognized for your faith. It's the same thing."

She said she has never met a woman who was forced to cover her head.

"Women's lib is not about how much skin you show," Ashfaq said. "Women's lib is about being educated, it's about equal rights, it's about equal pay -- which we still don't even have in this country -- it's about a woman choosing the way that she wants to dress. It's about respect."

Chloe Jane Bailey, of New Brighton, attended the event with her mother.

"I learned a lot of new words that I didn't know before," she said. "I learned that there's a lot of misconceptions that other people at this gathering had and, hopefully, they were cleared up."

Khairy also spoke to the crowd and addressed some of the topics of the Muslim faith which people tend to associate with terrorism.

"The concept of Jihad has been hijacked over the years by many political and religious groups to justify various forms of violence." Many, she said, have influenced others to incite violence by making it seem like the religion supported it.

Both women told the audience they hope the decisions of extremists won't impact their views of all Muslims, for which there are more than one billion across the world.
Bailey, a student, said she has always been "very open hearted. I don't really have any judgements on anyone specifically. I did get slightly irritated when there was unrest in the gathering."

The event helped her learn and feel competent discussing the Islamic faith, even with people who may have misconceptions.

"If there does become a discussion about Islam issues, I can give some information now, which is really nice because before I just had nothing to say," she said.