Tuesday, October 11, 2022

Putin's War

 Maybe history will record it as the War of Unintended Consequences.

The Ukrainian people won't care what it's called, just that it ended and they won.  It remains an ongoing disaster, but they have unbounded confidence that they will win.  But not before Putin tries to redefine the whole thing into a war against Russia, of all things.

Writing in The Atlantic on September 30, Anne Applebaum said, "Russia’s actions under these circumstances [those being Putin's recent sham annexation of four Ukrainian provinces] show contempt not only for international lawyers in European capitals, but also for Chinese politicians who like to talk about sovereignty and African diplomats who have agreed that borders matter, even when they are arbitrary. In the upside-down reality that Putin has created, he will now claim that Ukrainians, by defending their own land and their own people, are somehow attacking Russia [emphasis added].

Would he really make such a claim?

Well, the Ukrainians didn't waste any time testing that assertion when they blew up a very nice and crucial bridge connecting Russia to Crimea, which happened to be a major supply route for the Russian Army.

Putin reacted exactly as Applebaum predicted.  The Wall Street Journal reported on October 9 that:

Russian President Vladimir Putin, in his first public comments on the incident, blamed Ukraine and called it a “terrorist attack” aimed at civilian infrastructure.

“Its plotters, perpetrators, and masterminds are the Ukrainian security services,” Mr. Putin said Sunday in a televised recording of a meeting with his top federal investigative official.

Kyiv didn’t claim responsibility for the attack, though senior Ukrainian officials celebrated it on social media.

The nerve of those Ukrainian security services, daring to defend their country!

But then Putin decided to punish Ukrainian civilians with a massive rocket barrage designed to terrorize, kill, and maim.  According to Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, “The occupiers cannot match us on the battlefield, and that is why they resort to such terrorism.” Mr. Zelensky said this as he stood near a crater left by a strike in Kyiv.

Putin impressed no one, and we suspect he is running out of friends.

In the WSJ report, North Atlantic Treaty Organization Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg condemned Russia’s “indiscriminate attacks on civilian infrastructure,” writing on Twitter that the Western military alliance would continue supporting Kyiv “for as long as it takes.”

A spokesman for the EU’s foreign-policy chief called Russia’s attacks a war crime. “As always in such cases, the European Union recalls that all those responsible will be held accountable,” spokesman Peter Stano said.

And in Ukraine, Oleksiy Danilov, secretary of Ukraine’s National Security and Defense Council said, “Your attacks provoke only rage and contempt in us! Not fear, not desire to negotiate.”

What a mess.  Even if Putin can pull this off, he has lost the hearts and minds of millions, not to mention their trust and respect.

Maybe they can replace his portrait in the Kremlin with something like this:

Go, Ukraine!

Tuesday, September 27, 2022

'Our captors asked us for songs'

The revised common lectionary this week includes two choices from the Book of Lamentations matched with Psalm 137.  We’re going with the selections from Habbukuk and the Gospel according to Luke, regarding faith, but the other readings are compelling in their own right.

In his commentary on the Psalms, James L. Mays writes that, while Psalm 137 is not one of the 'songs of Zion,' it is a song about Zion.  In songs of Zion, Jerusalem is majestic and invincible, secure against hostile threats and foreign armies.  In this psalm, Jerusalem has been flattened; the psalm is full of pain.

The psalm describes a particular time and place, and the theme is about remembering.  Linda Rondstat even sang a song quoting from the psalm:

The singers vowed not to forget but to remember Zion when they were in Babylon.  The psalm sings of resistance to one city and devotion to another.  And in the end, it also makes an appeal for retribution.

There is faith in our remembering.  Faith can never forget Jerusalem - see Luke 6:6-11 and compare it to Psalm 137:5.

Laments helped the people keep their relationship to Jerusalem alive, in the same way Christians remember Jesus at the Communion Table, to keep that relationship alive.  It's the same for anyone we remember after losing them.  Even Jesus lamented.  Few of us can get through life without some experience that challenges our faith.

Lamentations was written for a specific time and place: Israel’s exile to Babylon.  It was traumatic for the nation.  Families separated, the Temple destroyed; every-day life disrupted.  More than one prophet wrote about it, warned about, and, yes, lamented it.  After the Exodus event, the Exile was the next big thing and is remembered to this day, and for good reason.

How many exile-style events has the world experienced and lived through since the turn of the last century?  We can start with World War I (or, The War to End All Wars; missed that one by a mile), and then move on to the Japanese invasion of Manchuria; the German invasion of Poland; Soviet Russia’s response in eastern Europe; World War II in general; China in North Korea; the French and Americans in Indochina; the revolutionary upheavals in Central America; Lebanon; Syria; Somalia.  And our national lament: 9/11.

That’s just the big stuff.  It’s a long list.  We can add to it the Uighur genocide in China (also documented elsewhere on this blog) and Russia’s recent and ongoing aggression in Ukraine.

The Russians expected Ukraine to crumble.  It didn't happen, and Ukraine, with the help of the West, is fighting back.  Take that, bully.  But Russia (that is, Putin) won't go down easily, if at all.  They can rattle sabers with anyone too.  A new conscription callup may tip the balance in terms of numbers they can put on the battlefield, but Ukraine is proving to be a nimble force of resistance.

Ukraine can win.  Russia, thanks to Putin, can lose.  A lot.

In a world in perpetual pain, Scripture tells us to never forget, to never give in.  To lament for a time, but also to resist.  There is much for both free peoples and the oppressed to lament.

There is always hope and God is always at work in the world.

Thursday, December 2, 2021

Dissension in China

We have talked about the Uyghurs in China before, here and here.  Now we have to talk about tennis players who dare to criticize their government and how it covers up the dirt, so to speak.

Today, Bari Weiss posted this on her blog here (read the whole thing): 

'[The] Chinese Communist Party has now targeted Peng Shuai, a tennis star who accused a former top Chinese government official of sexual assault.  “Even if it is like an egg hitting a rock, or if I am like a moth drawn to the flame, inviting self-destruction, I will tell the truth about you,” she wrote on the social media platform Weibo.  Then her message disappeared.  And so did she.'

Weiss reports that the head of the Women’s Tennis Association, Steve Simon, announced that the WTA was immediately suspending all tournaments in China because of what the country had reportedly done to Peng Shuai.  Here is his statement:

'While we now know where Peng is, I have serious doubts that she is free, safe and not subject to censorship, coercion and intimidation. The WTA has been clear on what is needed here, and we repeat our call for a full and transparent investigation—without censorship—into Peng Shuai’s sexual assault accusation.

'None of this is acceptable nor can it become acceptable. If powerful people can suppress the voices of women and sweep allegations of sexual assault under the rug, then the basis on which the WTA was founded—equality for women—would suffer an immense setback. I will not and cannot let that happen to the WTA and its players. 

'As a result, and with the full support of the WTA Board of Directors, I am announcing the immediate suspension of all WTA tournaments in China, including Hong Kong. In good conscience, I don’t see how I can ask our athletes to compete there when Peng Shuai is not allowed to communicate freely and has seemingly been pressured to contradict her allegation of sexual assault. Given the current state of affairs, I am also greatly concerned about the risks that all of our players and staff could face if we were to hold events in China in 2022.' [Emphasis added]

Good for the WTA!  Good for Steve Simon.  One would think it a no-brainer to come to this conclusion given everything China has its hands in these days.  But money speaks loudly.

We will not hold our breath waiting for the rest of the sports world (and the world of corporate sponsors) to catch up.

Monday, September 27, 2021

Uyghurs: In the News Again

 The Uyghurs are in the news again.

In April, Jonathan Tobin wrote the world ‘is too busy or too intimidated by China to do more than raise a token protest about what’s happening to the Uyghurs.’  See a previous post, here, to learn more about that.

Now, with political tensions rising in Asia (Hello, Hong Kong and Taiwan) along with disputes between the U.S. and China over human rights, national security, and the theft of intellectual property, China still has time to take it to the Uyghurs.

A recent Wall Street Journal article describes how Beijing has seized millions in assets owned by Uyghur business owners.

Eva Xiao and Jonathan Cheng write: "In recent years, China's government has clamped down on the predominantly Muslim and Turkic-speaking Uyghurs and other ethnic minorities in Xinjiang, razing mosques and other religious sites and confining hundreds of thousands of people in a network of internment camps.

"The auction entries also shed light on what Uyghurs say is another aspect of China’s campaign: the dismantling of companies and personal wealth belonging to Uyghur business leaders."

The problem is assimilation, or the lack of it, according to Chinese authorities.  Ethnic minorities in China's Xinjiang region want to remain who they are.  Beijing thinks otherwise.

Xiao and Cheng put it in a nutshell: "Western scholars and rights groups say Chinese authorities level these types of charges as a pretext to implement policies targeting minorities in Xinjiang more broadly. China says it is fighting terrorism and separatism. Uyghur activists say Beijing is intent on destroying Uyghurs’ culture and ethnic identity."

Before the crackdown began, Uyghur business owners were good guys, acting as a bridge between the government and their communities.  Some scholars feel  that the Uyghurs actually helped create interethnic tensions between the Han Chinese majority and the various ethnic minorities, but that seems counter productive to me.

Apparently, Chinese is okay with seizing property and then letting it sit fallow.  Or to seize bank accounts and bankrupt their owners.  As Vito Corleone might say, it's not good business; it's retribution for a failure to come to heel.

This four-story building, adjacent to an iconic mosque in Kashgar, China, was seized from a jailed Uyghur businessman and listed for auction by Chinese authorities.

Meanwhile, Commerce Secretary Gina Raimondo, formerly governor of Rhode Island, seeks to improve business ties with China.

Bob Davis, also in the Journal, wrote that, according to Ms. Raimondo, Chinese economic policies disadvantage U.S. companies by subsidizing exports at below-market prices and winking at the theft of intellectual property.  Even so, she said the U.S. must trade with China given the size of its market.

“It’s just an economic fact,” Raimondo said in an interview. “I actually think robust commercial engagement will help to mitigate any potential tensions.”

Commerce Secretary Gina Raimondo

What amazes me is how we (meaning the U.S. and the West as a whole) continue to turn a blind eye to what repressive, non-democratic countries inflict on their own populations while we seek to do more and more business with them.  In the case of China, we are more concerned with keeping the smartphone and cheap plastic goods pipelines open than in keeping our allies secure, even while a storm is brewing in the South China Sea.

God help the Uyghurs, not to mention Tibetans, Taiwanese, and Hong Kongers, all of whom have been or continue to be in China's crosshairs.

Wednesday, September 22, 2021

Sunrise Doesn't Last All Morning

George Harrison’s song All Things Must Pass has been in my head since before I woke up.  The internet tells me that this year marks the fiftieth anniversary of the first album Harrison released following the breakup of the Beatles, so maybe that’s why.  It was no surprise to learn that the album has been remixed from the original tapes and re-released in a variety of formats.

Now the darkness only stays the night-time
In the morning it will fade away
Daylight is good at arriving at the right time
It's not always going to be this grey

The foundation stones for the ‘new’ Salisbury Cathedral were laid in 1220.  The original Salisbury Cathedral was completed at Old Sarum in 1092 under Osmund, the first Bishop of Salisbury.  By any measure, these are old buildings.  The original building didn’t last very long but the new cathedral is still going strong.

It’s unclear to me how these two things – Harrison’s breakout tune and Salisbury Cathedral – are connected, but they are, maybe because I’ve been to Salisbury and I know how much Harrison loved the gardens at Friar Park, his country estate.  Somehow, my brain linked them together.

Harrison faded away in 2001.  Salisbury Cathedral carries on, stoically, but requires ongoing maintenance to hang in there, as most of us do.

My parents are both gone now.  My sister recently moved out of the family home and, for the first time since 1949, there are no Aucellas living on Crosby Road.  All things must pass indeed.

Amen and Godspeed.


Tuesday, April 13, 2021

Uyghur Genocide: What Have You Heard?

In a recent column published by the Jewish News Syndicate (Why aren’t Jews up in arms about Uyghur genocide?), Jonathan Tobin writes:

“The Uyghurs are a predominantly Muslim ethnic group who live in the Xinjiang region of Western China. Since 2014, China’s ruling Communist Party has been carrying out a campaign of ethnic cleansing and genocide against them. Acting under the authority of President Xi Jinping, crimes against humanity have been taking place there on an enormous scale, including mass imprisonment, systematic torture, rape, forced abortions and sterilizations. At least 1 million Uyghurs have been sent to the laogai—the Chinese gulag of prison camps. It is the largest systematic assault and imprisonment of an ethnic or religious minority since the Holocaust.”


Tobin goes on to speak about the two main reasons why the mainstream media seems relatively quiet about this latest and ongoing genocide: politics and economics.  In an article that is especially hard on Jews, Tobin could just as easily be speaking about America and Americans.

He points out that, ‘on its last day in office, the Trump administration formally recognized that what was going on in Xinjiang was genocide, an important step towards treating this catastrophe with the seriousness it deserves.’  A commendable but belated recognition.

The incoming Biden administration has ‘slapped sanctions on Chinese officials directly implicated in the genocide.’

Business Insider reports: ‘The sanctions, which target Wang Junzheng, the secretary of the Party Committee of the Xinjiang Production and Construction Corps, and Chen Mingguo, the director of the Xinjiang Public Security Bureau, were rolled out in coordination with Canada and European allies.’

'"Amid growing international condemnation, the PRC continues to commit genocide and crimes against humanity in Xinjiang," Secretary of State Antony Blinken said in a statement.'

The Chinese then turned human rights violations back on the United States: 

‘Yang Jiechi, China's top diplomat, responded by accusing the US of being condescending. In comments that lasted roughly 15 minutes, Yang said the US government was in no position to lecture other countries on human-rights abuses, alluding to racism in the US as he mentioned the Black Lives Matter movement.’

Stay tuned as this debate will probably continue, with no relief for the Uyghurs.

Additionally, Tobin writes, standing up to China, the world’s second-largest economy, is not ‘cost free:’

‘[The] United States must weigh how its economy has become inextricably linked to that of China’s growing power in determining how to respond to these atrocities.’

The amount of trade in iPhones alone is enormous.  If that were to disappear, you would hear about it.  Also, all politics is local: Tobin points out that activist energy has been diverted to other, ‘more fashionable’ causes, such as the Black Lives Matter movement.  Surely, one would think that activists could muster enough outrage for all human rights causes.

Instead, Tobin writes, the world ‘is too busy or too intimidated by China to do more than raise a token protest about what’s happening to the Uyghurs.’

Fair enough.  We could probably be excused on grounds of pandemic fatigue too.

But Natan Sharansky wrote that there can be no peace with dictators, saying, ‘A society is free if people have a right to express their views without fear of arrest, imprisonment, or physical harm.’ 1    The Uyghurs, then, indeed, all of China, are not free. 

So, are we as a society just looking the other way on this issue?

In her book, How to Fight Anti-Semitism, Bari Weiss offers a list of things we can do to combat anti-Semitism, and they can be used here also.  Here are just two:

Call it out.  Do not be caught in a conspiracy of silence. 2

Never, ever forget to love your neighbor.3   Even if that neighbor is thousands of miles away.  Weiss writes, ‘When someone is attacked because of her identity and not her ideas, see that as an attack on you.’  If Christians heed the call to love our neighbor, then that must also include the neighbors we can’t see or hear.

So, where do we go from here?  If this matters to you, get active.  Call it out.  Ask your elected representatives what they are doing to help.  Keep the pressure up.  Don’t be silent.  Love your neighbor.  And never, ever forget.

Additional Resources:

The Uyghur Genocide, 3 September 2020.

The Uyghur Genocide: An Examination of China’s Breaches of the 1948 Genocide Convention, 8 March 2021.

The US says China is committing genocide against the Uyghurs. Here's some of the most chilling evidence, 2 April 2021.

US accuses China of 'genocide' of Uyghurs and minority groups in Xinjiang, 20 January 2021.

China's Uighur Genocide: Here's Everything You Need To Know About the CCP's Human Rights Abuses, July 22, 2020


1 Sharansky, Natan Anatoly. The Case for Democracy: the Power of Freedom to Overcome Tyranny and Terror. Public Affairs, 2004, 40.

Weiss, Bari. How to Fight Anti-Semitism. Crown, 2019, 172.

3 Ibid. 188.

Tuesday, June 23, 2020

a darkness that can be felt

[NB: This was included in an online Hour of Prayer hosted by the Hingham Hull Interfaith Religious Leaders Association last night.  Many thanks to all who participated.]

a darkness that can be felt
Then the Lord said to Moses,
“Stretch out your hand toward heaven
so that there may be darkness over the land of Egypt,
a darkness that can be felt.” – Exodus 10:21

A darkness ‘that can be felt’ is not your usual type of darkness.

As you might imagine, there are many possible reasons for this Biblical ninth plague.  One is that the darkness came when a sandstorm blew across Egypt.  In such storms, the wind becomes electrically charged, and it stings against your skin.  It’s a hot, violent wind.  This kind of darkness can certainly be felt, and you might think it is truly the end of the world.

Another explanation says there may have been an eclipse of the sun, but this darkness lasted three days.  Would an eclipse last that long?  Would that be a darkness one could feel?  The Egyptians were unable to move from where they were.  Would an eclipse incapacitate you?

Abraham Ibn Ezra wrote that the darkness ‘was so thick that light from a fire or candle would not ignite.’  Clearly, this darkness was something different.

Maybe this darkness was a form of collective, transient blindness, leaving the people able only to grope about, to feel their way around.

Isaac Abravanel speculated that the blindness of the ninth plague was not an illness unto itself.  He wrote that ‘God brings this upon the people due to the fear of the enemy who wreak havoc that they see with their own eyes…their mind doesn’t think clearly and their sight is distorted.’

So, a threat or fear can bring on blindness to a group of people.  A continually anxiety-driven atmosphere can cause us to regress to the point where we.stop.seeing.

Much like the Egyptians suffering the ninth plague, this may be where we are today as a result of months of pandemic-induced fear and anxiety.  Maybe we have seen too much of it and can see no end.  Maybe too many deferred funerals and weddings and celebrations have left us blind to all the wonders of life that continue to surround us.  Maybe the worries about how we’ll be able to teach our children or visit our loved ones as we move forward have crowded out our ability to see the light within.

Let us pray:

Holy One,
We lift up our hearts to you in thanks and praise.
Help us in this time of trouble.  Dispel the darkness that we feel all around us.
As you created both light and dark, still the storm within and by your grace, clear our minds, remind us to remain good and helpful neighbors, and fill us with your peace.