Ending the Violence
and Opening our Hearts to Refugees
by Ann Stromquist
President of PEACE Iowa
My heart goes out to the families and friends of those who have lost their lives in the recent attacks in Paris, as well as those in Beirut, Baghdad, the Russian plane, and elsewhere. I abhor the violence perpetrated by ISIS. I can understand the fear that this violence engenders in those who imagine such attacks in our own country. I can understand that an immediate response by some is to want to seek revenge.
When we are angry it’s usually good to stop and take a deep breath before we act. We must take a very deep breath - now - in the face of two huge challenges that our country faces:
How do we respond to the increasing violence perpetrated by ISIS?
How do we respond to the humanitarian crisis in Syria and the families - children, women, and men - who are fleeing a civil war in their country as well as violence by ISIS?
Do we really believe that more bombing will destroy ISIS? Do we really believe that more bombing will create stability in Syria and the rest of the Middle East? Do we really believe that more bombing will create more security in our own country?
Isn’t it true that our actions in the Middle East have only served as recruitment tools for ISIS? And to further destabilize the region? Have we learned anything from our involvement in Iraq and Afghanistan, countries that are LESS stable and LESS secure as a result of our intervention?
When we bomb an ISIS “target,” we bomb civilians, sometimes those attending a wedding, sometimes those praying in their mosque, sometimes those in their own homes. As we increase our violent response we assist ISIS in their recruitment of young, angry people who blame the United States for its role in supporting (and providing weapons to) authoritarian regimes. ISIS gains in membership only increase the instability and insecurity in Syria and elsewhere, and as instability and insecurity increase, ISIS gains volunteers. A vicious cycle.
We must STOP and THINK before we ACT. How can we work to end the violence in the Middle East and in Syria in particular?
The United States must do all it can to break the cycle of violence – STOP OUR OWN VIOLENT RESPONSES! – and address the causes of instability and violence by working with all parties in the region, as well as the international community, toward political solutions that take into consideration the needs of people for jobs and security.
The other challenge we face is the escalating refugee crisis precipitated by the civil war in Syria. We must welcome families who are fleeing the violence. We must allow ourselves to “walk a mile in their shoes” and imagine how we would want our families to be treated if we were fleeing violence and seeking refuge in another country. Let us do the right thing, what we know in our hearts is right, and welcome Syrian refugees into our communities. Let us call upon our representatives in Congress to ease the humanitarian crisis and act generously. Let us call upon our governor to reverse his cruel rejection of helping to resettle Syrian refugees in Iowa. And let us call upon our representatives in the State Legislature and our municipal governments to continue Iowa’s tradition of welcoming strangers to our midst. If we do so, we will be a better community, state, and nation.
First appeared in the Iowa City Press-Citizen on December 4, 2015.
Honor the Victims of 9/11
by Ed Flaherty
PEACE Iowa member
The images of September 11, 2001 are etched in the minds of almost everyone over the age of twenty. However, we need to be more concerned with what we have done with 9-11 than with 9-11 itself. Yes, we mourn the loss of so many innocent victims, we laud the heroes of the firefighters and so many others, and we will always be outraged at the inhumanity of the attackers. But I don't think that the 2,977 victims on 9/11 died to usher in a period of perpetual war.
We must remember that the tragedy of 9/11 was used as an opportunity for war. The Authorization for the Use of Military Force (AUMF) was approved just three days after 9/11, with only one dissenting vote in Congress. (The lone dissenter, Congresswoman Barbara Lee, deserves an honored spot in history, along with Vietnam dissenters, Senators Morse & Gruening). We launched war on Afghanistan on October 7, 2001, even though 15 of the 19 hijackers were from Saudi Arabia. Also, how to initiate war on Iraq, which had nothing to do with the 9/11 attacks, was on the lips of our leaders the day after 9/11. We need to add to our minds' images the 6,888 US armed services personnel who have died in Iraq and Afghanistan, the 52,000+ who bear visible wounds, and the 500,000+ who bear the invisible wounds of PTSD AND TBI. And, yes, the hundreds of thousands of Iraqi and Afghan dead. We must remember it all if we are to heal.
We must do more than remember. We must honor the victims of 9-11 by proclaiming loudly that the 15-year, $100 million per day war in Afghanistan, the longest in our history, has gone on long enough. Outside of Kabul, the Taliban have more complete control over the country than at any time. The US has spent more in inflation-adjusted dollars to create an alternative to the drug economy in Afghanistan that it spent on the Marshall Plan after WWII. Despite that massive expenditure, poppy production in Afghanistan is booming, providing the resource for 90% of the world's heroin.
We must honor the victims of 9/11 by ending our military involvement in Iraq, which has spilled over into Syria. The visions of starving civilians trying to escape war, the visions of millions of refugees desperately seeking safety and a new life, and the visions of arms dealers with blood-soaked hands should compel us to demand that the US invest its considerable non-military power in an immense, renewed effort to bring about a cease-fire.
Honor the victims of 9-11 by saying NO to a bloated, unaudited U.S. military budget that is nearly equal to that of all other countries combined. By saying NO to drone assassinations. By saying NO to US Special Forces deployed in 134 countries. By demanding that Congress rescind the 2001 AUMF which has used the infamy of 9/11 to justify our perpetual wars.
In the words of President Eisenhower, "Every gun that is made, every warship launched, every rocket fired signifies, in the final sense, a theft from those who hunger and are not fed, those who are cold and are not clothed." Or earlier words, "wheresoever your treasure is, there your heart is also."
Wars are much easier to start than to end. Let us take up the heavy, sweet burden of waging peace.
In this time of political division and polarization,
more positive, respectful dialogue is needed among those who tend to disagree.
Learning nonviolent communication techniques can increase the chances of such conversations going well.
However, when conversations turn hostile, we need ways to respond respectfully while also setting appropriate boundaries.
The BIFF Response technique is one such approach.
Ideas from PEACE Iowa members ...
Nonviolence as a Way of Life
Be kind because everyone you meet is carrying a great
Aligning one's thoughts, words and actions with an ethic of nonharming
is a life-long process.
It is motivated by the desire to alleviate pain and suffering, one's
own and others, and an ongoing awareness of the countless ways we
participate, both individually and collectively, in causing harm.
The web of relationships in which each of us finds ourselves is
the place this harm occurs, ranging from a simple act of unkind
speech, to often deeply ingrained biased and prejudicial attitudes, to
complex lifestyle choices (though, for many, there may be few, if
any, choices) related to food, clothing, shelter, education, health,
leisure, employment, governance, transportation,
Awareness of the harm we cause directly and
indirectly can be heartbreaking and overwhelming and
discouraging and numbing. It can lead to resignation,
paralysis, and cynicism, and is often resisted.
Yet, it is precisely this awareness that lights up the
many places where we can make choices that lead to
less and less harm, while at the same time planting the
seeds for and/or strengthening less harmful habits.
Here are a few examples. Acknowledging feelings of
anger and speaking kindly and firmly is possible, and
requires practice. Feeling afraid and making a sincere
effort to understand and get to know those who are
different is possible, and requires practice. Choosing to
get from home to work on a bicycle or by bus instead of
driving one's own vehicle is possible. Shifting one's
investments away from corporations that exploit their
employees and the environment and avoid paying their
share of taxes, to ones that do not, is possible.
Entering into this process more and more
completely requires courage, commitment, patience
and, especially, a light and wise touch so that efforts to
bring about justice and peace don't themselves cause
harm in the short term and sow the seeds of injustice
and violence for the future; e.g., waging war to bring
Support from others who are also committed to the
path of a less violent way of living and being can be
very helpful. Here are some local and not-so-local
organizations that could be helpful: PEACE Iowa, Iowa
Veterans for Peace, Pax Christi, Living Nonviolence,
Buddhist Peace Fellowship.
Campaign for Nonviolence
Excerpts of a speech delivered on behalf of PEACE
Iowa, Iowa City pedestrian mall, International Day of
Peace, Sept 21, 2014
Campaign Nonviolence is a long-term effort to build a
culture of peace, to end war, poverty, and the climate
crisis. It's an effort to illuminate the inter-relationship
of poverty, racism, militarism & violence, greed and
environmental degradation and address them in a
I'm an old guy who has not kept up to the musical
times, though I love Adele. Some of you have heard
Leonard Cohen, and one of his songs, “Everybody
Knows.” I believe everybody knows, at some level in
their being, that the American flag can stand for liberty
and justice for all, and that forever in peace may she
wave. It must not belong to those who see it as a
symbol of the most exceptional nation in history with
the right to impose its will whenever and wherever.
Everybody knows that we, all people, have a right to
clean air and clean water and food. Everybody knows
that wars and domestic violence not only result from
people being denied these resources because we do not
respect Mother Earth, but also that military activity
accelerates environmental degradation, and that the
US military is the largest consumer of oil and the
largest emitter of CO2 in the world. We know that
saying from the Bible, Wheresoever your treasure is,
there your heart is also. As a nation, we have invested
our treasure in the tools of war, and we need to change
our investment policy.
We all have reason to be sad. Our planet's health is
deteriorating, income inequality and poverty are
soaring, racism persists in old and new forms. We are
engaged in the longest war in US history (Afghanistan)
and appear to be on the threshold of a new war in
Syria. The cloud of nuclear destruction hangs over our
heads. Injustice and oppression permeate life here and
abroad. Our heroes seem to be athletes, movie stars,
CEOs, and the military.
Everybody knows those things, even if we don't act
as if we do.
Let us summon the will to act on what we believe,
and to take advantage of the wonderful resources
around us. Let's work with the 100 Grannies, the
Center for Worker Justice, Veterans for Peace,
Physicians for Social Responsibility, The Consultation
of Religious Communities, PEACE Iowa, and countless
other organizations whose daily work is waging peace.
Let us celebrate the People's Climate March, Iowa City
as a UNESCO City of Literature, and the largest solar
farm in Iowa located right here in Johnson County.
Let's include folks like Eugene Debs, Muhammad
Ali, Martin Luther King, William McKibben, and Daniel
Ellsberg in our pantheon of heroes. Let's listen to our
heart and what we know, and do what we can do to
have this wave in peace, with liberty and justice for all.
Peace, salaam, shalom.
Reflections on the Season of Peace on Earth Goodwill Toward . . .
It is literally a Hallmark card phrase. But how does
one reconcile ubiquitous wishes for peace on earth and
goodwill during the holiday season with the reality of
endless warfare around the world, violence in the
streets of American cities, and systems and cultures
that, everywhere, seem to produce or reinforce so
much materialism, competition, greed, inequality, and
injustice? Many people in Iowa do experience a
generous portion of peace, goodwill, security, and
comfort. But it is important to reflect upon both extant
joys and the struggles faced by people of conscience.
The struggle: War seems a constant in the world.
Americans participate in many ways. American tax
money enables troops on the ground in Afghanistan
and Iraq and drones overhead in Syria, Pakistan,
Yemen, and elsewhere. American bombs destroy
schools and their “collateral damage” often includes
innocents. “Made in the USA” weapons can be found
wherever conflict exists. America spent a trillion dollars
in Afghanistan and now “leaves” much of the country
in poverty and ruins.
The joy: A courageous young girl is awarded the
Nobel Prize for Peace and earns the attention of the
world for her message about the right for “beyond basic
education,” not only girls, but for all impoverished
children in the world. Her unwavering voice was heard
admonishing the royal and the powerful even as they
honored her. Caring people around the world proclaim,
“I am Malala.”
The struggle: The American government abuses its
power. Violence of and upon police troubles American
cities. The NSA collects information on American
citizens and breaks domestic and international laws in
doing so. The CIA tortures and abuses prisoners of war
and American prisons are packed to overflowing.
Guantanamo remains open despite the President's
long-standing pledge to close it.
The joy: Heroes, like Edward Snowden, risk
everything to reveal the truth and protect civil rights
and freedoms. Fearless journalists like Gary Webb
investigate and expose abuse of power. Peace activists,
like Kathy Kelly, voluntarily go to prison to bring a
public accounting to the hidden use and abuse of
The struggle: Greed dominates local, national and
international politics. Moneyed interests control
political discourse and, ultimately, legislation and
policy. Popular culture, in film, games, and social
media are replete with violent images, bullying,
misogyny, and crass materialism. Economic prosperity
is only available to the few, the socio-economic gap is
an ever-expanding crevasse, and democracy now
seems to be, more and more, a hollow ideal.
The joy: There remains, in many, a strong spirit
toward non-violence, justice, and morality. Some of the
disenfranchised are willing to take their message to the
streets in non-violent and constructive protest. True
democracy can be heard in the voices that reject
materialism and self-interest and promote the common
So: Peace on earth, goodwill to . . . all.
Sven-William Nilsson is the pen name of a PEACE
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: PEACE Iowa Statement on the President's Executive Order on Immigration
IOWA CITY, IA
January 29, 2017 As a grassroots organization that promotes peace, the Peace Education and Action Center of Eastern Iowa (PEACE Iowa), its Board of Directors and members, is concerned about guarding the human rights of immigrants, refugees, people of color, other marginalized groups, and people of all faiths. We strongly condemn the President's executive order on immigration, which indefinitely bars Syrian refugees from entering the United States, suspends all refugee admissions for 120 days, and blocks citizens of the following Muslim-majority countries, refugees or otherwise, from entering the United States for 90 days: Iran, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria, and Yemen.
The capricious nature of this ban, without regard for due process, is unjust in its treatment of refugees and other innocent travelers, unnecessarily separates families, and strands both American and foreign workers, impeding them from returning to their homes and workplaces. Moreover, these actions unnecessarily strain international relations and endanger the lives of Americans living abroad. We view the barring of travelers based solely on religion, race, nationality, or country of origin as being contrary to American values, and we call on all Iowans to peacefully protest and resist such laws and regulations, and to support individuals and organizations who are working to defend our nation's values in this area.
Ann Stromquist, Board President
Lori Nelson, Director
Karen Nichols, Communications and Outreach Coordinator