Monday, January 17, 2011

We Are Not Afraid.....Today

Today we celebrate the life of a man of peace, a pastor, a leader of the American Civil Rights movement, and a strong advocate and leader in non-violent actions against injustice. He led massive civil demonstrations, using popular resistance to dismantle a system of discrimination and oppression.

In his acceptance speech for the Nobel Peace Prize in 1964, Dr. King said, “I believe that wounded justice, lying prostrate on the blood-flowing streets of our nations, can be lifted up from this dust of shame to reign supreme among the children of men. I have the audacity to believe that peoples everywhere can have three meals a day for their bodies, education and culture for their minds, and dignity, equality and freedom for their spirits.”

I read these words yesterday in Dr. Mazin Qumsiyeh’s recently published book, Popular Resistance in Palestine: A History of Hope and Empowerment (Pluto Press, Jan 2011: Read about the book.). Dr. King’s speeches and writings have provided inspiration and strength for Palestinians engaging in non-violent civil disobedience, his dreams offering a vision for their future as well.

Education is very important to the Palestinians I know. Most of them are much better educated than Americans (many have earned degrees from prestigious American universities), and so it is not surprising that non-violent movements around the world have given them courage in their struggles against discrimination—including Mohandas Gandhi’s non-violent movement against British rule in India and the American Civil Rights movement. But, as Dr. Qumsiyeh notes in his new book, non-violence in Palestine is much older than these movements, going back at least as far as the “earliest philosopher of popular resistance in Palestine…Jesus.” (p30)

Dr. Qumsiyeh goes on to recount the non-violent roots of Islam. The Islamic movement was founded as a religion of justice and for thirteen years the prophet Muhammad used non-violence in his struggle in Mecca. Jihad, often understood by those of us in the West as an act of violence, is, in fact, an act of peace—a personal struggle to live a life faithful to God, Allah, and to improve the Muslim world. Jihad is the sacred duty of every Muslim, and many Muslim scholars would deny that it has anything to do with war or violence. The Prophet Muhammad and his immediate followers did not employ any form of violent jihad. In his book, Dr Qumsiyeh chronicles the use of non-violence as an important tool in Palestinians' resistance to oppression from Ottoman times to today.

Yesterday, in worship at St. Paul Lutheran in Denver, we closed by singing the anthem of the American Civil Rights Movement, “We Shall Overcome.” The words brought tears to my eyes as we sang, “We are not afraid, We are not afraid….We are not afraid some day,” and I thought about the civil protests against the building of the Israeli wall around Palestinian villages in the West Bank.

Every week, the villagers, other Palestinian supporters, and international volunteers, protest in front of bulldozers in places like Al-Walaja. (see Al-Walaja on the left of the map--where the wall is being constructed today to surround the village). Dr. Qumsiyeh is an organizer and leader of these protests. He left his comfortable life in the U.S. to return to his home in Beit Sahour, in the Bethlehem district, so that he could stand with his people in resisting Israel’s occupation. He is a genetic biologist, teaching and doing research at Bethlehem and Birzeit Universities. He has been arrested twice this past year, once as recently as December 23.
Read about their arrest
Read his own description of the events
Watch his video describing his experience
See photos of the arrests
Listen to Pete Seeger singing "We Shall Overcome"

Someday....the hope of the Palestinians. Come hear Dr. Qumsiyeh talk about popular resistance and his new book when he is in Denver in March:

Sunday, March 3, 3-5 pm
Sabeel Film and Lecture Series
at Montview Presbyterian Church
1980 Dahlia, at Montview Boulevard

We shall overcome, We shall overcome, We shall overcome some day.
Deep in my heart I do believe we shall overcome some day.

We’ll walk hand in hand….We’ll walk hand in hand some day.
Deep in my heart I do believe we’ll walk hand in hand some day.

We shall all be free…..
We are not afraid, We are not afraid today,
Deep in my heart, I do believe……
The truth shall set us free…..
We shall live in peace…..someday.
Deep in my heart, I do believe…..

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