Friday, May 12, 2006

If You Stand For Nothing Else...

Part II

Alaa is still in jail. He "blogged from prison", by sending a note out with a friend and having it posted. It reminded me of King's "Letter from Birmingham Jail", though Alaa was much shorter in words. So, I wanted to share some thoughts with you and ask you to participate in the petition to free him and the many others being held unjustly in Egypt.

There was a protest on Thursday and Sandmonkey has the story with pictures. He says there were 2000 protesters. Aside from pro-government and anti-terror protests, I don't know if I've seen one this big in awhile for freedom and democracy. I think we will see more. Here is one in Chicago. And the State Dept. responds.

Below is my letter to Alaa and his friends:

It is easy for me to be so far away in a free nation where I can hang any sign I want out and have few problems (certainly, as long as I do not advocate violence, no police will come for me and certainly not beat me) to give you support and say you are doing the right thing. Someone early on was giving people grief about that in the comments.

But, this is not about me or the easy. The right thing is not always easy to know and is often not easy to do. Certainly, the first few days will seem easy to you, but it will be much harder as time goes on. Yet, I believe in you because you have always believed in yourself and believed in a different Egypt. We may have some different views on how exactly it will come about or what socio/politic/economic solution will be the best. But, there are a few things that we can agree on and they are the big ones. Freedom, equality before the law, free speech and fair political processes and elections.

These seem so simple, yet they are far away in many respects. Except today. Today, they were that much closer. Today, they mean more than any of the other slogans. They mean something because you have made them mean something. Until today, I never knew a man who would stand for his convictions in the face of arrest and incarceration. You have proven that these things do mean something more than mere slogans.

Seeing your words and the title "blogging from prison" reminded me of Martin Luther King, Jr in his letter from Birmingham Jail.

"While confined here in the Birmingham city jail, I came across your recent statement calling my present activities "unwise and untimely." Seldom do I pause to answer criticism of my work and ideas. If I sought to answer all the criticisms that cross my desk, my secretaries would have little time for anything other than such correspondence in the course of the day, and I would have no time for constructive work. But since I feel that you are men of genuine good will and that your criticisms are sincerely set forth, I want to try to answer your statements in what I hope will be patient and reasonable terms.

Several months ago the affiliate here in Birmingham asked us to be on call to engage in a nonviolent direct-action program if such were deemed necessary. We readily consented, and when the hour came we lived up to our promise. So I, along with several members of my staff, am here because I was invited here I am here because I have organizational ties here.

But more basically, I am in Birmingham because injustice is here."
I am here because injustice is here. Those are some very powerful words. He goes on to say:

"Moreover, I am cognizant of the interrelatedness of all communities and states. I cannot sit idly by in Atlanta and not be concerned about what happens in Birmingham. ***Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.*** We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. ***Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly.*** Never again can we afford to live with the narrow, provincial "outside agitator" idea. Anyone who lives inside the United States can never be considered an outsider anywhere within its bounds."
You see, even a man we now consider a great American who changed our society was considered an "outsider" and an "agitator". Someone who had other purposes than simply trying to change his local situation.
I think this is significant because so many protesters in Egypt who ask for democracy and basic freedoms are often considered to be agents of Israel or the United States. Martin Luther King Jr was accused in a similar manner of being from the outside; not part of the local community and people feared that his interference would cause a much greater physical struggle. You are an Egyptian. You cannot be from the "outside". You have the right as an Egyptian to demand a change in your society.

I often think, when I read the letter, that, while MLK had great vision, while sitting in Birmingham jail, he must have wondered how much and how far it would all go. While he had a dream, even at his greatest moment, he wondered how long it would take. Most people know some of his most famous speeches. The last being before he was assassinated he spoke about getting to the river Jordan and looking into the promise land, but that he might not get there with everyone. Whether it was a premonition or if he was simply talking about what he thought would be the length of the struggle, it was still a significant comment. He understood that this would be more than a few marches and a few speeches. It would be the long war and he had to be prepared and needed to prepare people around him to "fight it".

That is where you are. You must decided how much you will give and for what purpose. Is it for you and Manala or the children you might have? Is it for a dream? How much is it worth to you and what would you give? Is this moment the most that you are willing to give for it?

Only you can decide. But, even if you choose to stop hereafter, I will not think less of you. You will have inspired the next and the next even if you don't realize it.

"Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly."

You may not feel that you are important to this movement or that it is beyond you. Maybe you are not the "leader". Maybe the idea of being the next MLK or other Egyptian great dissenters is difficult to believe or imagine. But it is not about all the moments past nor completely about you. It is about all the others, too and they, like you, have put a value on their freedom, on their dreams and that is why they are there. You say that you would feel better if another with more experienced was there, yet they are not. Just you and a few younger ones.

I would bet that some words of strength and comfort from you would go a long way. I recall that MLK had not been in jail before. He had to decide on his role at that point. What was he doing to his family? What was he doing for them? Was it worth it? He had some assistants with him in jail and they were afraid as well, but he gave them strength. Knowing you from your blog and comments, I know that you have a reserve to share.

Well, MLKs dream took a long time and even now there is no perfection, yet, his dream has come to fruition.

I don't always think about it. A few weekends ago, we had a barbecue with friends and family. White, black, hispanic and American Indian. Honestly, until this moment seeing this post and being reminded about MLKs letter, I gave no thought to the struggle it took to get there. Now I am reminded that one man made the difference and behind him were the many who also believed.
"In any nonviolent campaign there are four basic steps: collection of the facts to determine whether injustices exist; negotiation; self-purification; and direct action. We have gone through these steps in Birmingham. There can be no gainsaying the fact that racial injustice engulfs this community. Birmingham is probably the most thoroughly segregated city in the United States. Its ugly record of brutality is widely known. Negroes have experienced grossly unjust treatment in the courts."[snip]

"As in so many past experiences, our hopes bad been blasted, and the shadow of deep disappointment settled upon us. We had no alternative except to prepare for direct action, whereby we would present our very bodies as a means of laying our case before the conscience of the local and the national community. Mindful of the difficulties involved, we decided to undertake a process of self-purification. We began a series of workshops on nonviolence, and we repeatedly asked ourselves : "Are you able to accept blows without retaliating?" "Are you able to endure the ordeal of jail?""
That is the question and one you and others may need to ask yourselves many times in the course of the struggle. If you cannot commit, you may not be able to see this through.
"You may well ask: "Why direct action? Why sit-ins, marches and so forth? Isn't negotiation a better path?" You are quite right in calling, for negotiation. Indeed, this is the very purpose of direct action. Nonviolent direct action seeks to create such a crisis and foster such a tension that a community which has constantly refused to negotiate is forced to confront the issue. It seeks so to dramatize the issue that it can no longer be ignored. My citing the creation of tension as part of the work of the nonviolent-resister may sound rather shocking. But I must confess that I am not afraid of the word "tension." I have earnestly opposed violent tension, but there is a type of constructive, nonviolent tension which is necessary for growth"[snip]

"The purpose of our direct-action program is to create a situation so crisis-packed that it will inevitably open the door to negotiation. I therefore concur with you in your call for negotiation. Too long has our beloved Southland been bogged down in a tragic effort to live in monologue rather than dialogue"[snip]

"*****My friends, I must say to you that we have not made a single gain civil rights without determined legal and nonviolent pressure. Lamentably, it is an historical fact that privileged groups seldom give up their privileges voluntarily. Individuals may see the moral light and voluntarily give up their unjust posture; but, as Reinhold Niebuhr has reminded us, groups tend to be more immoral than individuals. *****

****We know through painful experience that freedom is never voluntarily given by the oppressor; it must be demanded by the oppressed. Frankly, I have yet to engage in a direct-action campaign that was "well timed" in the view of those who have not suffered unduly from the disease of segregation. For years now I have heard the word "Wait!" It rings in the ear of every Negro with piercing familiarity. This "Wait" has almost always meant 'Never." We must come to see, with one of our distinguished jurists, that "justice too long delayed is justice denied." ****"

I would like to say, at this moment, those that think that the democratic movements demanding their rights, their place in the political process or justice before the law should "wait" for the right time; for the time when the worry of a potential Islamic rule in Egypt (the potential for less freedom) by the MB to be "past", they should read MLK. and I ask at this moment, "When will the time be right?" as MLK said, the time is never right for those who are in power, those who fear and those without a dream. In order to make change, the fear must be seen through, walked through and the dream must take its place. To do otherwise would be to continue, "justice too long delayed is justice denied".

MLK said you should keep your eye on the prize. Don't look down or back, but always forward.
"Perhaps it is easy for those who have never felt the stinging dark of segregation to say, "Wait." But when you have seen vicious mobs lynch your mothers and fathers at will and drown your sisters and brothers at whim; when you have seen hate-filled policemen curse, kick and even kill your black brothers and sisters; when you see the vast majority of your twenty million Negro brothers smothering in an airtight cage of poverty in the midst of an affluent society...when you no forever fighting a degenerating sense of "nobodiness" then you will understand why we find it difficult to wait. There comes a time when the cup of endurance runs over, and men are no longer willing to be plunged into the abyss of despair. I hope, sirs, you can understand our legitimate and unavoidable impatience. "[snip]

"The answer lies in the fact that there are two types of laws: just and unjust. I would be the Brat to advocate obeying just laws. One has not only a legal but a moral responsibility to obey just laws. Conversely, one has a moral responsibility to disobey unjust laws. I would agree with St. Augustine that "an unjust law is no law at all"

Now, what is the difference between the two? How does one determine whether a law is just or unjust? A just law is a man-made code that squares with the moral law or the law of God. An unjust law is a code that is out of harmony with the moral law. To put it in the terms of St. Thomas Aquinas: An unjust law is a human law that is not rooted in eternal law and natural law. Any law that uplifts human personality is just. Any law that degrades human personality is unjust."
There is injustice in Egypt. Laws that can permit a man to be arrested for simply saying the laws of the land should be just and equal are not "moral laws". Laws that deny him the right to speak out against it are not moral and are injust.

"Let me give another explanation. A law is unjust if it is inflicted on a minority that, as a result of being denied the right to vote, had no part in enacting or devising the law. Who can say that the legislature of Alabama which set up that state's segregation laws was democratically elected? Throughout Alabama all sorts of devious methods are used to prevent Negroes from becoming registered voters, and there are some counties in which, even though Negroes constitute a majority of the population, not a single Negro is registered. Can any law enacted under such circumstances be considered democratically structured?

Sometimes a law is just on its face and unjust in its application. For instance, I have been arrested on a charge of parading without a permit. Now, there is nothing wrong in having an ordinance which requires a permit for a parade. But such an ordinance becomes unjust when it is used to maintain segregation and to deny citizens the First Amendment privilege of peaceful assembly and protest.

I hope you are able to ace the distinction I am trying to point out. In no sense do I advocate evading or defying the law, as would the rabid segregationist. That would lead to anarchy. One who breaks an unjust law must do so openly, lovingly, and with a willingness to accept the penalty. I submit that an individual who breaks a law that conscience tells him is unjust and who willingly accepts the penalty of imprisonment in order to arouse the conscience of the community over its injustice, is in reality expressing the highest respect for law. "
Remember that. YOu have indeed expressed the "highest respect for the law" when you have challenged the injustice of a law that is against the best principles of man. The question for you and others with you is "Are you prepared to pay the price?"
"I must make two honest confessions to you, my Christian and Jewish brothers. First, I must confess that over the past few years I have been gravely disappointed with the white moderate. I have almost reached the regrettable conclusion that the Negro's great stumbling block in his stride toward freedom is not the White Citizen's Counciler or the Ku Klux Klanner, but the white moderate, who is more devoted to "order" than to justice; who prefers a negative peace which is the absence of tension to a positive peace which is the presence of justice; who constantly says: "I agree with you in the goal you seek, but I cannot agree with your methods of direct action"; who paternalistically believes he can set the timetable for another man's freedom; who lives by a mythical concept of time and who constantly advises the Negro to wait for a "more convenient season." Shallow understanding from people of good will is more frustrating than absolute misunderstanding from people of ill will. Lukewarm acceptance is much more bewildering than outright rejection.[snip]

You speak of our activity in Birmingham as extreme. At fist I was rather disappointed that fellow clergymen would see my nonviolent efforts as those of an extremist. I began thinking about the fact that stand in the middle of two opposing forces in the Negro community. One is a force of complacency, made up in part of Negroes who, as a result of long years of oppression, are so drained of self-respect and a sense of "somebodiness" that they have adjusted to segregation; and in part of a few middle class Negroes who, because of a degree of academic and economic security and because in some ways they profit by segregation, have become insensitive to the problems of the masses. The other force is one of bitterness and hatred, and it comes perilously close to advocating violence. It is expressed in the various black nationalist groups that are springing up across the nation, the largest and best-known being Elijah Muhammad's Muslim movement. Nourished by the Negro's frustration over the continued existence of racial discrimination, this movement is made up of people who have lost faith in America, who have absolutely repudiated Christianity, and who have concluded that the white man is an incorrigible "devil."

I have tried to stand between these two forces, saying that we need emulate neither the "do-nothingism" of the complacent nor the hatred and despair of the black nationalist. For there is the more excellent way of love and nonviolent protest. I am grateful to God that, through the influence of the Negro church, the way of nonviolence became an integral part of our struggle. [snip]

But though I was initially disappointed at being categorized as an extremist, as I continued to think about the matter I gradually gained a measure of satisfaction from the label. Was not Jesus an extremist for love: "Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you." Was not Amos an extremist for justice: "Let justice roll down like waters and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream." Was not Paul an extremist for the Christian gospel: "I bear in my body the marks of the Lord Jesus." Was not Martin Luther an extremist: "Here I stand; I cannot do otherwise, so help me God." And John Bunyan: "I will stay in jail to the end of my days before I make a butchery of my conscience." And Abraham Lincoln: "This nation cannot survive half slave and half free." And Thomas Jefferson: "We hold these truths to be self-evident, that an men are created equal ..." So the question is not whether we will be extremists, but what kind of extremists we viii be. We we be extremists for hate or for love? Will we be extremist for the preservation of injustice or for the extension of justice? "
this is hard from so far away. I am sure you are thinking, if you read this at all, that this is all good and well, but it is you in the cell and not me and not MLK. I think only, as I read this, that so many things he said almost 50 years ago still stand true today and resonate in your situation. You can replace the word "negro" and "white moderate" with any race, minority or politically oppressed group as well as the name of the "moderate" and find that it is the same.

What his words will mean to you, I don't know. I only hope they will give you strength in knowing that you are fighting the same fight, the same hate, the same injustice. another has been in the cell before you and he had to reason it out with himself and others as well. Don't let them tell you that it is not "time". "Time" he says, "is not neutral." Or in otherwords, time waits for no man and it certainly will not resolve the question in Egypt as to the resolution of the injustice against you and other freedom minded people.

As to the police officers who arrested you, MLK speaks:
"Before closing I feel impelled to mention one other point in your statement that has troubled me profoundly. You warmly commended the Birmingham police force for keeping "order" and "preventing violence." I doubt that you would have so warmly commended the police force if you had seen its dogs sinking their teeth into unarmed, nonviolent Negroes. I doubt that you would so quickly commend the policemen if .you were to observe their ugly and inhumane treatment of Negroes here in the city jail; if you were to watch them push and curse old Negro women and young Negro girls; if you were to see them slap and kick old Negro men and young boys; if you were to observe them, as they did on two occasions, refuse to give us food because we wanted to sing our grace together. I cannot join you in your praise of the Birmingham police department.

It is true that the police have exercised a degree of discipline in handing the demonstrators. In this sense they have conducted themselves rather "nonviolently" in pubic. But for what purpose? To preserve the evil system of segregation. Over the past few years I have consistently preached that nonviolence demands that the means we use must be as pure as the ends we seek. I have tried to make clear that it is wrong to use immoral means to attain moral ends. But now I must affirm that it is just as wrong, or perhaps even more so, to use moral means to preserve immoral ends. Perhaps Mr. Connor and his policemen have been rather nonviolent in public, as was Chief Pritchett in Albany, Georgia but they have used the moral means of nonviolence to maintain the immoral end of racial injustice. As T. S. Eliot has said: "The last temptation is the greatest treason: To do the right deed for the wrong reason."

I wish you had commended the Negro sit-inners and demonstrators of Birmingham for their sublime courage, their willingness to suffer and their amazing discipline in the midst of great provocation. One day the South will recognize its real heroes. They will be the James Merediths, with the noble sense of purpose that enables them to face Jeering, and hostile mobs, and with the agonizing loneliness that characterizes the life of the pioneer. They will be old, oppressed, battered Negro women, symbolized in a seventy-two-year-old woman in Montgomery, Alabama, who rose up with a sense of dignity and with her people decided not to ride segregated buses, and who responded with ungrammatical profundity to one who inquired about her weariness: "My fleets is tired, but my soul is at rest." "
As to the lenght of this comment, Mr. King writes for me:
"Never before have I written so long a letter. I'm afraid it is much too long to take your precious time. I can assure you that it would have been much shorter if I had been writing from a comfortable desk, but what else can one do when he is alone in a narrow jail cell, other than write long letters, think long thoughts and pray long prayers?

If I have said anything in this letter that overstates the truth and indicates an unreasonable impatience, I beg you to forgive me. If I have said anything that understates the truth and indicates my having a patience that allows me to settle for anything less than brotherhood, I beg God to forgive me.

I hope this letter finds you strong in the faith. I also hope that circumstances will soon make it possible for me to meet each of you, not as an integrationist or a civil rights leader but as a fellow clergyman and a Christian brother. Let us all hope that the dark clouds of racial prejudice will soon pass away and the deep fog of misunderstanding will be lifted from our fear-drenched communities, and in some not too distant tomorrow the radiant stars of love and brotherhood will shine over our great nation with all their scintillating beauty.

Yours for the cause of Peace and Brotherhood, "

Signed Martin Luther King, Jr
Thank you for doing the hard work. I will pray for you and yours and ask for you to receive guidance on the matter. In the end, only you can decide. I just wanted to let you know that you are not the first, nor the last, nor are you really alone. You are walking with giants. I can say, with certainty, that it may be long and you may not be able to continue, but someone will and you have taken their first step for them.

I will continue to write letters to our State Dept and the Egyptian Embassy as well as sign the petition.

I just want to ask all those who say "wait", "how long"?

For all those who have time, I suggest reading MLK's entire letter. I have barely touched on all the things that resemble your current situation.

If you stand for nothing else in this lifetime, let it be this moment, this time: freedom and justice.

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