The Symbols of Who We Are

by Paul Olson, President Emeritus
 

The picture of the woman, Bree Newsome, climbing the flagpole near the Confederate Memorial in Columbia, South Carolina to take down the Confederate flag, moved me. She was arrested for doing what resistance to bigotry demanded. That climb and her subsequent arrest said even more to me about where South Carolina and the nation have been than the “black lives matter” marches or President Obama’s eulogy to the Rev. Pinckney and his powerful singing of “Amazing Grace.” These actions said that individual courage can disrupt consensual symbolism.

The Confederate flag did not stand for the southern way of life, for ‘states’ rights,’ for crinoline and great houses. It stood for hate. Or rather, all of these—way of life, states’ rights rhetoric, crinoline, great houses and Confederate flag—all stood for a pretense of civilized grace covering a white savagery. That savagery lasted for more than 300 years and is still with us. South Carolina’s Confederate 1861 plot against the U.S. began as a treasonable effort to defend the economic rights of slaveholders. Its century-later 1961 re-adoption of the Confederate flag (a gesture of defiance to the Civil Rights movement) defended the economic prerogatives of Southern white elites. A racist rhetoric originating in those elites and circulating in so-called ‘redneck’ circles kept power in the hands of the elites, enjoying their mint juleps and unquestioned economic power. The North now too often emulates the South.

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Water & Peace

by Paul Olson, President Emeritus

 

My church, First Lutheran Church in Lincoln, has become something of an integrated church for an unusual reason. Several Sudanese people joined this past fall: tall beautiful people with perfect posture and wonderful African clothes—people who fled as refugees from the war in South Sudan. Their war in Sudan began in Darfur over ten years ago and extended to the rest of the country as Islamic North Sudanese were forced south by drought in northern Sudan—until civil war developed. Then the warring Islamic North and the Christian South were separated into different countries. The drought continued and tribal groups from the mostly Christian South Sudan began fighting one another over scarce resources. Resource shortages contributing to each of these sets of tribal conflicts brought my fellow co-parishioners here.

In the Sudan case, the wars were apparently largely occasioned by water shortages precipitated by global climate change. Indeed, climate scientists have generally ascribed the recent droughts in Somalia, Ethiopia, Kenya and Uganda to changes in the earth’s climate—causing the reduction of rainfall in the Nile Valley, the desertification of its grazing lands, and the fleeing of desperate people to non-traditional lands. The positive integration of my church came about, paradoxically, because people fled the negative violence in their native country.

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On Black and White & Many Shades of Gray

by Paul Olson, President Emeritus

 

We have watched too many westerns. Everywhere we look for white or black hats: Mr. Spocks or Khan Noonien Singhs; Gandalfs or Saurons. History is not so colored. It is a spectrum of grays.

When the “Arab Spring” came to Egypt, many of us—including me, including the President—greeted it. We were happy to see the old crook and tyrant Mubarak get his comeuppance. But then Mohammed Morsi of the Muslim Brotherhood was elected Egypt’s president in a free, democratic election. In the first round Morsi got 25 percent of the vote, Shafik 24 percent, Sabahi 21 percent, Abdel Fotouh 18 percent, and Moussa 11 percent; in the second, Morsi had 51.7 percent versus 48.3 percent for Shafik. Morsi’s Muslim Brotherhood party, prior to the Arab Spring, had been forbidden to organize politically since 1954 and had an anti-Jewish history. Obviously, neither the United States nor Israel wanted him. We wanted and supported someone like Omar Suleiman, the CIA’s point man for Egyptian torture after 9/11.

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Israel and Palestine

by Paul Olson, President Emeritus

And so Israel and Palestine are back at it again—not the biggest conflict in the world or even the biggest in the Middle East. The Shia/Sunni conflict pitting Russia against the U.S., Shiite Iran against Sunni Saudi Arabia, and the intermingled Shia and Sunni regions extending from Lebanon to western Afghanistan involves a far greater geopolitical theater, global energy resources and hundreds of millions of people. In contrast, the Palestinian/Israeli conflict embraces no more than 11,000 square miles and 11 million people. (To provide a sense of scale, Nebraska encompasses 77,000 square miles and only 1.8 million people. Palestine/Israel contains six times as many people as Nebraska in one seventh of the area). Real children, however, are dying from Israeli bombs on the supposition that a Hamas member may live in their house. Real rockets scare Israeli urbanites nightly and disrupt life constantly. The struggle has gone on since 1948. We have been desensitized. “It’s just the Israelis and Palestinians going at it again for a week or two.” But the more than 50-year-old war sits in the center, and the other Middle East conflicts are its entailments.

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Tolstoy & Putin in the Ukraine

by Paul Olson, NFP President Emeritus

Once again, the Crimea has become the locus of peacemaking.

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