On Friday night and Saturday morning, in synagogues around the world, rabbis delivered Shabbat sermons that reminded congregants of God’s gift of “Ten Utterances of Creation” — the Ten Commandments — and of the Torah. In the Jewish tradition, when those words are read directly from the Torah scroll, each congregation stands together to hear the words.
Together, let’s stand and witness that God speaks to us both individually and within the unity that connects us all.
This weekend America celebrates a three-day Martin Luther King Jr. national holiday. We’ll witness houses of worship celebrate Dr. King’s vision, and we’ll witness, in temples of commerce, MLK weekend specials and sales on TVs, computers and automobiles.
We will also, unfortunately, witness continued attempts by some Americans to undermine our president and his diplomatic initiative, along with the P5+1, to negotiate with Iran limits to its nuclear program. Attempts to scuttle peace that could tear apart America and propel it toward an unjust, unnecessary war of choice with yet another Middle Eastern nation — this time Iran.
Earlier, in the mid-19th century when America was on the verge of being torn apart over slavery, abolitionist Unitarian minister Theodore Parker, an American Transcendentalist wrote, “I do not pretend to understand the moral universe; the arc is a long one, my eye reaches but little ways; I cannot calculate the curve and complete the figure by the experience of sight; I can divine it by conscience. And from what I see I am sure it bends towards justice.”
Divine a moral universe.
In 1967, Dr. King paraphrased Parker, “The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice.”
I believe that neither Dr. King nor Theodore Parker could imagine, after the sacrifice of generations, how much work remains to fulfill their dream of equal justice, mercy and dignity. Like the imagined arc of the rainbow reaching toward a pot of gold, the arc of justice tantalizingly bends toward, but has yet to reach, justice for all.
Dr. King wrote, “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.”
Whether or not they agree with him, I believe that Americans working to derail talks with Iran are betraying the Constitution, scripture and the promise of a moral universe.
From his narrow cell in a Birmingham jail, Dr. King wrote, “There comes a time when the cup of endurance runs over and men are no longer willing to be plunged into an abyss of injustice where they experience the bleakness of corroding despair. I hope, sirs, you can understand our legitimate and unavoidable impatience …”
I believe the time has come to reject being dragged into an abyss of injustice — to reject the bleakness of corroding despair.
I am impatient with what is happening. Rather than trying to divine a just, moral universe some Americans are sponsoring an unnecessary poison pill in the Senate that will end negotiations with Iran. Unnecessary because if negotiations fail or if Iran fails to honor its commitment there is time to pass legislation afterward. Unnecessary because the proposed legislation goes well beyond what the negotiations are about and includes language that will be virtually impossible for either America or Iran to comply with.
The legislation, supported by AIPAC, by the prime minister of Israel (but not by all Israeli military and intelligence officials) and by American neocons and Christian Zionists, is a blatant attempt to bring the Senate under the control of the Israel lobby.
Our president, not willing to serve foreign interests above American, is being challenged on prerogatives that threaten our foreign policy and security interests. At its core is a coterie of U.S. senators, among them New Hampshire’s Kelly Ayotte and Maine’s Susan Collins, who seemingly are willing to pursue a war against Iran without first fully supporting President Obama’s negotiations.
These senators and their colleagues, and their corporate and ideological supporters and acolytes, are the intellectual cowards of our time — unwilling to stand up to the bullying and thuggery of lobbyists and special interests. They’re willing to risk American blood and treasure without giving peace a chance — unwilling to try divining a moral universe.
It’s true; the United States has been attacked, most notably on Sept. 11, 2001. America’s enemies look for any opportunity to visit injury upon our nation and our fellow citizens. Asymmetrical warfare by non-state actors heightens risks and exacerbates fears about where the next threat will come from.
Thousands of Americans have been killed and wounded in the Middle East since 2001. Today, nearly 50,000 U.S. veterans are homeless, living under bridges covered by cardboard sheets or warehoused in shelters. Countless others suffer from injuries seen and unseen, diagnosed and undiagnosed.
Hundreds of thousands of Afghans, Iraqis, Pakistanis and assorted other Middle Easterners have been killed and wounded. There is no estimate on their range of injuries both seen and unseen, diagnosed and undiagnosed, visited upon them by America or by their own confessional or political enemies. The spiral of violence spins downward; the cost of conflict spirals unrelentingly upward.
Peace with Iran means more than Iran — it’s about Syria, Hezbollah, Hamas, Afghanistan, Iraq and Pakistan. It’s about finding pathways to peace.
Yet centers of American power, seemingly divorced from the interests of the United States to promote peace and stability in the Middle East, seem determined to sacrifice American interests on the altar of war.
Cornel West writes that the “illicit marriage of corporate and political elites — so blatant and flagrant in our time — not only undermines the trust of informed citizens in those who rule over them. It also promotes the pervasive sleepwalking of the populace, who see that the false prophets are handsomely rewarded with money, status and access to more power.”
Enough sleepwalking: Notice the false prophets promoting war with Iran are well-rewarded and comfortable, that from their pulpits of privilege, power and authority they threaten to crush all opposition — even if that means crushing the president.
MLK said he was in Birmingham because injustice was there, that he was “cognizant of the interrelatedness of all communities and states.”
Abused and scorned though Iranians may be, their destiny is tied up with the destiny of America, and ours with theirs, and in order to find the truth that lies between us we need to be willing to confront the humanity that we share — as equals.
We need to embrace sacred utterances. We need to divine a moral universe.
This column appeared originally in the Portsmouth Herald.