Opinion & Blogs » Back Page

The Forgotten War

An elderly man told us, "When you go back to your country, tell the people they are our last hope. If the international community does not act, we will all die."


The war in northern Uganda has evolved over the last 19 years from political strife to a regional proxy war to its current pestering warlordism. Joseph Kony, the leader of the Lord's Resistance Army (LRA), claims to be a prophetic messenger sent to replace the oppressive southern-dominated government with a Ten Commandments-based theocracy. Strikingly, his celestial mission for political power has become the work of abducting children and terrorizing his own people. At the same time, the Ugandan government, led by President Museveni, has contained and maintained the conflict, allowing the north, a hotbed for opposition politics, to be destroyed.

Earlier this year, we visited Uganda to talk to Thomas and so many other victims of the war. We were horrified by the neglect and consequent hopelessness of the situation. One elderly woman told us, "We are hopeless people. In many ways, we are already dead." Another, an elderly man, told us, "When you go back to your country, tell the people they are our last hope. If the international community does not act, we will all die."

The truth is that the old man's plea is correct. While President Museveni benefits from the persistence of the war, the U.S. government has the power to stop these people from perishing. Fortunately, the moment is ripe for effective action that could answer to the suffering of people in northern Uganda. Given recent attention to East Africa, Jan Egeland, the United Nation's under-secretary-general for humanitarian affairs, recently told the BBC that this is a historic chance to end the war.

Though young people, we are committed to seeing that this historic moment is not lost. Thus, we are launching the Uganda Conflict Action Network to make the American people aware of Thomas' story and so many others that are easily ignored. Uganda-CAN, a project of the Washington, D.C.-based Africa Faith and Justice Network, will work to mobilize citizens to act, in solidarity with the hopes and visions of millions of Ugandans, for a substantive, trustworthy peace process to end the war.

For two decades, Washington, pursuing its own interests in the region, has contributed to the persistence of this horrific war by military aid and pressure. It is time for Washington to seize this moment to do the right thing. Doing the right thing will not only help millions of people on the brink of death in northern Uganda, but distinguish America as a country committed to human rights and human dignity for all the world's peoples.

We invite you to join us as we seek to be the hope that Ugandans demand and deserve. Together, we can make a big difference toward not only helping a desperate people, but also helping ourselves become a better nation that hears and acts upon the cries of the most poor and marginalized in our world. Learn more and become part of Uganda-CAN at our Web site, www.ugandacan.org.

When we were finishing our conversation with Thomas, he asked us, "This war in northern Uganda, does it happen in your country too?" Our instinctual response was no, but the more we think about it, the truth is yes. Though separated by an ocean, the horror in northern Uganda affects us all. The time has come to acknowledge that and act for peace. S

Peter Quaranto is a student at Notre Dame University and Paul Ronan is a student at Syracuse University. They are two of the founders of the Uganda Conflict Action Network. Peter is the active director and can be contacted at pquaranto@ugandacan.org.

Opinions expressed on the Back Page are those of the writers and not necessarily those of Style Weekly.

Letters to the editor may be sent to: letters@styleweekly.com

Walking the Walk

by Charles Demm

If you believe the rhetoric of the Religious Right, they are defending the United States from rampant immorality and relativism. They claim that they alone support a 'culture of life'. Considering themselves God's chosen 'elect', they perceive that they are in a struggle against the evils of abortion, gay marriage, and weak-kneed liberalism.

Their worldview offers comfort to people unsettled by a world beset with technological change, exported jobs, and terror alerts. The world, however, is not so easily divided into 'good' versus 'evil'. But, those who dare disagree, may well be cast, not as critics, but as the enemy of all that is good and just.

Without doubt, the Religious Right has a right to voice opinions on such vexing moral issues. But abortion, homosexuality, and Terry Schiavo do not exhaust the debate over what constitutes a 'culture of life'. Millions of Americans, religious and secular, believe a true culture of life must have a wider scope than conservative political and religious leaders allow. Despite the rhetoric about hallowing life, reality proves that many positions favored by the Religious Right show little concern about fostering, nurturing, and sustaining life. And ultimately, it is our actions, as individuals and as a nation, that reveal our moral character, not lofty public proclamations. Jesus knew this. That's why he said the way to judge a person was, metaphorically speaking, by the 'fruit' of his or her actions. Why? Because moral and immoral alike can 'talk the talk', but only the righteous 'walk the walk'.

The Religious Right is not wrong to want a moral society. But the religious traditions agree: we cannot selectively choose when and where to apply moral norms. Each facet of life, personal, social, economic, tests our moral fiber. Therefore, using Jesus' method of testing, let's examine the policies favored by Religious Right and their political allies in Washington.

President Bush, the Right's 'golden boy', produced a federal budget for 2006 calling for $2.6 trillion in spending, with a deficit of $427 billion (excluding spending in Iraq and Afghanistan). Among Bush's proposals, which drew no outcry from the Religious Right, were the following: 1) make permanent the 2001 tax cuts, of which 70 peercent benefited the wealthiest Americans; 2) eliminate block grants benefiting poor communities; 3) cut access for poor and working families with children to Medicaid; 4) $355 million cut in programs supporting safe and drug-free schools; 5) cut housing and urban development programs; 6) eliminate 48 educational programs for middle and lower class income families.

If budgets reflect a society's moral commitments, then what are the priorities and values of the Religious Right and the politicians they favor? Their words and deeds clearly indicate a concern with issues of birth and death, but what about life in between? They seem to favor a dog-eat-dog world, in which individuals must fight tooth and nail for finite resources and wealth (ironically, the Religious Right rejects evolution, but not Social Darwinism, in which the victor wins the spoils, and those with economic, educational, and cultural advantages have a head start.)

It may be a surprise, but the priorities reflected in the 2006 budget contradict the teachings of every major religion. Each favors some kind of 'covenant' binding society together as a community, in which the more affluent are expected to contribute a higher portion of their wealth to aid the poor (as did Adam Smith and Thomas Jefferson). In the Western religions, this call for economic justice is a divine imperative, because it mirrors the love of God by helping those in need, while strengthening the entire community. After all, a chain is only as strong as its weakest link. But our current budget reveals little concern for life lived below the Paris Hilton tax bracket.

Neither Jewish nor Christian scriptures say anything about abortion or stem-cell research, but they clearly demand economic help for the poor and disadvantaged. The biblical prophet Isaiah denounces the rich for hording their wealth. "Ah, you who make iniquitous decrees, who write oppressive statutes, to turn aside the needy from justice and rob the poor of my people of their right…what will you do on the day of punishment, in the calamity that will come from far away?" (NRSV, Isa 10-1:3). Another prophet, Amos, condemned the rich in ancient Israel who mock the Divine command for a covenant community when they "push aside the needy…" but hypocritically flaunt their religious faith. God denounces such 'lip service' religious rhetoric, saying, "I despise your festivals, and I take no delight in your solemn assemblies…Take away from me the noise of your songs…" (Amos 5:12, 21)

Economic concerns remain a priority in the New Testament. Upon learning of her pregnancy, Mary sings in the Magnificat, "He has brought down the powerful from their thrones, and lifted up the lowly: he has filled the hungry with good things, and sent the rich away empty." (Luke 1: 52, 53) Jesus echoes his mother's prophetic song, "But woe to you who are rich, for you have received your consolation. Woe to you who are full now, for you will be hungry. Woe to you who are laughing now, for you will mourn and weep." (Luke 6: 24,25).

Just imagine how Jesus would react, if he were alive today, and read the New York Times and the Wall Street Journal. Both recently reported that financial divisions between rich and everyone else are solidifying. But as the chasm between rich and poor hardens, where are the political and evangelical ministers willing to speak for those without the luck to be born with trust fund babies? The Religious Right ought to acknowledge that the asymmetric distribution of wealth is not only bad for our democratic institutions, but is a moral issue, too.

A wider moral vision must also include the war in Iraq. How many innocent Iraqis have died, so far, in the wake of our rush to war against a sovereign nation with no connections to 9/11 or Al-Qaeda? Did anyone ask the Iraqi people if they wanted their own streets to become the front line in the global war on terror? Is it moral for Americans to think we have more of a right to live free from terror and war than innocent Iraqis? If we say 'yes' to that question, do we really think a loving, creating, and sustaining God would judge us morally upright?

To compound our problems in Iraq, the 9/11 Commission concluded that the war has not made America safer. The bipartisan Republican led commission surmised that economic aid for Third World countries is more effective in fighting the spread of terrorism, than military means. But Tony Blair's request for an increase in aid to Africa-a breeding ground for new terrorists-was rejected.

And how can it be moral to urge new tax breaks for the richest Americans, while failing to properly equip our own soldiers who fight and die for us? Do we not have a responsibility to adequately care for our soldiers and veterans? Doesn't that, along with greater concern for environmental degradation, have to be included, if we are to build a culture of life?

To dare question the vision of the Religious Right is not to advocate the desecration of life. Dialogue among various groups about the essential characteristics of a 'culture of life', may even produce a sweeter 'fruit'.

Charles Demm teaches religious studies at Virginia Commonwealth University.

Opinions expressed on this Web page are those of the writer and not necessarily those of Style Weekly.


Add a comment