Angelina Jolie Meets Syria’s Lost Children

United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees Special Envoy Angelina Jolie recently visited Lebanon’s Bekaa Valley, to meet 11 year old Hala and her five siblings who arrived as orphans from Syria’s war:

In June of last year, she spoke with other refugees from Syria. One refugee asked, “Why is no one standing by the Syrian people? No one is helping us. They all say they want to support us but nothing is being done. They have conferences and make statements but it is worth nothing.”


Around the Web

Check out these recent articles from around the web:

A Nation of Takers? by Nicholas Kristof: “However imperfectly, subsidies for the poor do actually reduce hunger, ease suffering and create opportunity, while subsidies for the rich result in more private jets and yachts. Would we rather subsidize opportunity or yachts? Which kind of subsidies deserve more scrutiny?”

The pope’s message to the president by EJ Dionne: “But the pope’s main job is to pose a radical challenge to our complacency and social indifference. In doing so, he should stir an uneasiness that compels all of us — and that includes Obama — to examine our consciences.”

There are many reasons why Assad is stronger than ever by Michael Young: “A closely-related strategy pursued by the Assad regime has been to allow religious or political extremism to proliferate, in such a way as to portray itself as a foe of the extremists. This it has done in the Syrian conflict, releasing jihadists from prison, putting much less military pressure on them than on the more moderate opposition, and allowing them to control oil-rich areas to finance themselves. The objective has, again, been two-fold: to create dissension within opposition ranks and provoke conflict between opposition groups; and to entice Western public opinion into believing the Al Assads are a barrier against extremism, therefore should not be overthrown.”

Three refreshing gifts of Lent by Robert J. Wicks: “Don’t miss this Lent. Greater inner freedom, a richer sense of compassion, and a deeper sense of our relationship with God are waiting.”

Smuggled, Trafficked, Violated by Nicholas Sawicki: “Whether they’re sold as child sex slaves, harvested for organs, or forced into farm labor, the denial of  the basic human right to freedom for millions is a sad reality that our society has to deal with today.”

Closed City by John Carr: “Washington is not corrupted by secret gifts, but by the legal purchase of access and influence that come with endless fundraising and politics as usual.”

Burma’s Muslims Are Facing Incredibly Harsh Curbs on Marriage, Childbirth and Religion by Time: “Proposed regulations will restrict religious conversions, make it illegal for Buddhist women to marry Muslim men, place limits on the number of children Muslims can have and outlaw polygamy, which is permitted in Islam. More than 1.3 million signatures have reportedly been gathered in support of this plan, which is spearheaded by a group of extremist Buddhist monks and their lay supporters.”

Ukrainian Catholics flee Crimea to escape threats of arrest by CNS: “Members of the Ukrainian Catholic Church are fleeing Crimea to escape threats of arrest and property seizures, a priest told Catholic News Service just four days after Russia finalized the region’s annexation.”

Political skills for divine purposes by Michael Gerson: “Francis has a feel for powerful symbols of simplicity, humility and compassion, such as carrying his own suitcase, washing the feet of Muslim prisoners, inviting the homeless to his birthday party, touching the disfigured. In this case, old Coke is pretty old — the example of a wandering preacher who touched lepers and consorted with a variety of sinners and outcasts. As in that ancient example, Francis has combined traditional moral teachings with a scandalous belief that people are ultimately more important than rules.”

Under a Barrel by Lama Fakih: “These unguided, high-explosive bombs — which are cheaply produced locally and filled with explosives, scrap metal, nails, or other material to enhance fragmentation — are pushed out of helicopters, dropped on densely populated areas by the Syrian army. Used in this way, the bombs are incapable of distinguishing between civilians and combatants, making the attacks unlawful under international humanitarian law.”

The Very Real Prospect of Genocide in Burma by Romeo Dallaire: “The international community must take early preventive action now in order to reverse Burma’s current trend towards catastrophe and possibly genocide.”

Shadowed by Tragedy by Kerry Weber: “Rwanda is a country that longs to be known for something other than the genocide, and over the past 20 years, the nation’s government has worked hard to replace that reputation with a more positive one. In many ways, it has succeeded. Rwanda has made dramatic advances and now ranks among the cleanest, safest and least corrupt countries in Africa. Yet its deepest wound is one that cannot be healed by superficial changes.”


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Check out these recent articles from around the web:

Bring on the Dogma by Michael Sean Winters: “The mercy of God, the love of God, the human dignity of all, these are the core doctrines that we must embrace and defend, but our defense must be characterized by utter humility in part because we all so easily and so often offend against them!”

Going Home Again by David Brooks: “Sting’s talk was a reminder to go forward with a backward glance, to go one layer down into self and then after self-confrontation, to leap forward out of self. History is filled with revivals, led by people who were reinvigorated for the future by a reckoning with the past.”

How Bashar al-Assad created the feared shabiha militia: an insider speaks by The Telegraph: “A former Assad regime insider has given the first direct account of how Syria’s ruling family created the feared shabiha militia that is blamed for some of the worst atrocities of the civil war, and gave it orders to kill or torture anti-regime protesters.”

Emerging Adulthood: A Luxury Good by Anna Sutherland: “As Kendig, Mattingly, and Bianchi conclude, their findings imply that young adults from lower-income families need more support as they pursue a college education or job training, and they could benefit from earlier training in financial literacy as they contribute to their families’ income at younger ages.”

The Central African Republic has become a nightmare for Muslims by Peter Bouckaert: “The Catholics’ humanity, courage and leadership stand out amid the slaughter. They are virtually alone in trying to protect the vulnerable. France and the African Union have deployed thousands of peacekeepers; the United States and other governments have provided support to the peacekeeping mission. But their efforts to protect civilians pale next to the bravery exhibited by these clergy.”

Europe’s bishops: Politics needs to focus its attention on the common good by Vatican Insider: “The bishops ended their statement with a direct appeal: ‘We, Catholic Bishops, would plead that the European project not be put at risk nor abandoned under current duress.’”

Abby Huntsman wants to lead her own generation into poverty by Michael Hiltzik: “Huntsman has stitched her spiel together out of scraps and tatters of misinformation, of a sort we’ve heard from the older generation for years. They’re no more accurate coming out the mouths of a “millennial.” But it’s tragic to see that what she’s learned from her elders is how to mislead her public.”

Christians, Muslims join anti-slavery campaign by AP: “Christians and Muslims have joined to try to help free millions of men, women and children held in modern-day slavery, forced to work as maids, prostitutes, child soldiers and manual laborers. The Global Freedom Network launched Monday at the Vatican aims to eradicate slavery by encouraging governments, businesses, educational and faith institutions to rid their supply chains of slave labor.”

Best practices for charity and justice by Jack Jezreel, US Catholic: “Those in our parishes who work on issues related to human trafficking, for example, should celebrate—not diminish—the work of those dedicated to issues related to mental illness. Those focused on environmental care should celebrate—not diminish—the work of those focused on reducing abortions. Those who work on domestic issues in partnership with Catholic Charities should celebrate—not diminish—those who work on international issues in partnership with Catholic Relief Services.”

Love vs. Pornography by Bishop Paul Loverde: “Very often, a key factor in one’s descent into pornography addiction is a lack of affirmation, acceptance, and trust in one’s relationships. An important part of the ascent, then, can also be the sharing of this struggle with others, allowing their love and concern to aid in the healing.”

A Genius for Friendship by John Padberg, SJ: “Peter began to help Ignatius in his studies; Ignatius slowly became a dear friend and counselor to whom Faber unburdened his troubled inner life. Ignatius could understand it well; he had experienced the same trials of scruples, temptations, uncertainties that had long bedeviled Peter. These burdens never completely left Faber, but he learned from Ignatius both how to deal with them and how to help others in the same circumstances.”

Pope Francis: Style, substance and a man for others by Stephen Kent: “His remarks — critical of the “throwaway culture” and his skepticism about “trickle-down economics” ever reaching the poor — have captured headlines, as has his demand for a direct encounter with the poor.”


Participant in Vatican Workshop on Syria Favors Assad Retaining Power

The Vatican’s failure to speak with moral and intellectual clarity on the conflict in Syria has largely flown under the radar this year. Despite the use of chemical weapons, barrel bombs targeting civilian populations, the use of starvation as a weapon of war, mass execution of prisoners, and countless other crimes against humanity since he began this civil war by murdering peaceful protesters in order to retain his authoritarian control, Bashar al-Assad has not been unequivocally denounced by the Vatican. There has been no clear statement that this mass murderer must go, that he must not be permitted to retain control through the brutal use of force.

Instead, there have been signs that some in the Vatican prefer his continued rule. The Pontifical Academy of Sciences released a deeply flawed primer on the conflict in Syria that does not reflect the known facts, includes false equivalencies, makes unsubstantiated claims, and has embarrassing omissions. It refuses to even admit that the Syrian government definitively used chemical weapons, clearly reflecting the influence of some “new truthers.” It is a fundamentally unserious statement on a conflict that has killed over 140,000 people and displaced over 9 million people. The workshop’s final statement admits that “new political forms in Syria are needed,” but offers a completely unrealistic plan for achieving this change (either naively or cynically).

Vatican expert John Allen has said the Vatican is clearly more leery about the prospects of regime change than the Western democracies. He notes, “Many analysts suggested the pope’s position on Syria was actually closer to Russia and China than to the Western powers.” Why does the Vatican seem closer to Russia, which is allied with Syria, Iran, and Hezbollah (and has provided crucial arms for Assad’s continued crimes against humanity)?

Part of the motivation is clearly that some in the Vatican are motivated by a sectarian preference for securing the lives and well-being of Christians over saving the lives of Sunni Muslims, who are Assad’s primary victims. They have abandoned Catholic universalism for a Christianist agenda. Allen notes that the Vatican’s viewpoint is shaped by the views of the local Christian community in Syria, “which tends to see Assad as the lesser of two evils vis-à-vis rising Islamic fundamentalism.” One can understand terrified Syrian Christians clinging to Assad out of fear that the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) is the only other alternative. But can’t we expect the Vatican to focus on the rights of all rather than to fall prey to sectarianism?

Now with Jeffrey Sachs, a participant in the Pontifical Academy of Sciences’ workshop on Syria, coming out in support of Assad retaining power, it is quite clear that suspicions surrounding pro-Assad elements in the Vatican were justified. How do those who understand the conflict in Syria describe Sachs’ plan? Emile Hokayem, the Senior Fellow for Regional Security at the International Institute for Strategic Studies, called it “ridiculous.” David Kenner, the Middle East Editor of Foreign Policy magazine, called it “naïve and embarrassing.” Iain Levine, program director at Human Rights Watch, said Sachs was “stunningly ill-informed.” Michael Doran, a senior fellow in the Saban Center for Middle East Policy, said his argument was “facile and ill-informed, to say nothing of morally repugnant.”

I asked Samantha Power, US Ambassador to the United Nations, why Sachs’ plan was not the best way forward. She replied:

Assad has gassed his own people, and fired SCUDS and barrel bombs on populated areas. For as long as he retains power — and puts his own love of power above the welfare of his people — the war will continue, along with all the horrific costs associated with it — more than 130,000 people killed (including some 10,000 children); 250,000 trapped and being starved in besieged areas; and 9.3 million people in need of humanitarian assistance. The Geneva Communique is the basis on which this war needs to end, and a Transitional Governing Body by mutual consent needs to be created urgently. The vast majority of Syria’s people have rejected Assad, and made clear there is no place for him in a future Syrian government.

Samantha Power understands the nature of the conflict. And she understands the moral issues that are involved.

To allow or support Assad’s continued rule after committing so many crimes against humanity would send a clear message to every dictator on the planet: when faced with popular protests, kill as many people as possible with maximum brutality, so that your continued rule will be accepted in exchange for a cessation of the conflict. It is a revolting precedent to consider.

The Responsibility to Protect is designed to send the opposite message. It is a shame that Pope Francis and the Vatican have not called on the international community to protect the Syrian people from Assad’s atrocities, while seeking a solution to the conflict that will establish a legitimate government, promote reconciliation, and protect the human rights of all.

In a 2008 speech at the United Nations, Pope Benedict said, “Recognition of the unity of the human family, and attention to the innate dignity of every man and woman, today find renewed emphasis in the principle of the responsibility to protect.” He warned, ““It is indifference or failure to intervene that do the real damage.”

Instead of listening to people like Jeffrey Sachs, the Vatican would be wise to embrace the moral clarity that Pope Benedict expressed in that speech. There is no peace without justice. There will be no peace in Syria with the Butcher Assad in power.


Around the Web

Check out these recent articles from around the web:

The Prodigal Sons by David Brooks: “The father also understands that the younger brothers of the world will not be reformed and re-bound if they feel they are being lectured to by unpleasant people who consider themselves models of rectitude.”

Human Rights Gold Medalists: Central African Republic’s Archbishop Nzapalainga and Imam Layama: “When the fighting broke out, Archbishop Dieudonné Nzapalainga’s church became a refuge. Not only for hundreds of Christian families but also for the most senior Muslim cleric in the Central African Republic, Imam Oumar Kobine Layama. Both men are making a strong statement for peace and unity — one that they believe is critical for the future of the Central African Republic.”

115 killed, 1,500 buildings razed in Nigerian town by AP: “The latest attack by suspected Islamic extremists in Nigeria’s northeast has left 115 people dead, more than 1,500 buildings razed and some 400 vehicles destroyed, witnesses said Thursday, as a traditional ruler accused the military of being scared to confront the militants.”

The Games Putin Plays by Ross Douthat: “But like Putinism, Chavismo lacks basic legitimacy absent the threat of violence and repression. The lesson in both cases is not that late-modern liberal civilization necessarily deserves uncontested dominance. But 25 years after the Cold War, from Kiev to Caracas, there is still no plausible alternative.”

Why Parenting Has Gotten More Difficult by Anna Sutherland: “My second theory about why raising kids seems so hard today is the proliferation of parenting philosophies, health guidelines, educational options, and more. Being a parent today doesn’t just mean having a baby and raising him or her to become a reasonably healthy, literate adult. From the positive pregnancy test onward, it means navigating a dizzying array of contradictory advice on just about everything…”

A More Widely Appealing Case for Paternity Leave by Anna Sutherland: “If they hope to appeal to skeptics and to Americans with more conservative views on parents’ roles, proponents of paternity leave should place less emphasis on its gender-role implications and more emphasis on the ways that babies and children stand to benefit from it.”

The Impact of a Minimum-Wage Increase by Jared Bernstein: “The most important finding is that on balance, low- and moderate-income Americans are big winners from a higher minimum wage, which would raise earnings and incomes, lower poverty and inequality, and do so at no net cost to the federal budget.”

Syria’s uncontainable threat by Michael Gerson: “The Obama administration is reexamining its failed Syria policy. At some point, it becomes hard to play down the worst refugee crisis since Rwanda and a death count approaching that of the Bosnian war.”

Syria’s refugees despair while the world is indifferent by Michael Gerson: “The killing of civilians in Syria is not the unfortunate byproduct of a civil war; it is a main objective of one side in that civil war. Some 40 districts, including about a quarter of a million people, are currently under siege by Bashar al-Assad’s forces. The goal is to surround these targets, lay them waste, kill everyone who poses a possible threat and prevent the return of suspect civilians. Both sides in the conflict commit atrocities. One side commits them on a massive scale as a matter of strategy.”

A Reply to Reno by Michael Sean Winters: “If an increasing number of Americans are secular, surely it has something to do with the fact that people came to identify themselves by the cars they drive rather than the churches they attend, or because at a very early age they were taught that Christmas was about being greedy not being holy, or because they were, understandably, revolted by the Moral Majority, or because their religious leaders proved themselves to be criminal or nearly criminal in their handling of child rape by clerics. And it is the market, the all powerful market, that has brought the forgetfulness of God to the masses.”



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Check out these recent articles from around the web:

A Year Later, the Pope Benedict Most People Forget by John Gehring: “The Benedict legacy often forgotten today amid the understandable euphoria over Pope Francis is a significant contribution to the Church’s social justice tradition.”

Pope Emeritus Benedict by Michael Sean Winters: “Benedict’s pontificate was seminal in critical ways. His theological writings on the environment were more profound, and more urgent, than those of any other world leader, and surely the environmental crisis we continue to invite will be one of the most challenging crises humanity has ever faced.”

An economic school has led to gridlock in Washington by EJ Dionne: “When it comes to government policy, the Austrian economists paved the road to paralysis.”

Raising the minimum wage is the right idea for the right by EJ Dionne: “Conservative politicians really need to ask themselves: If they refuse to raise the minimum wage and at the same time insist on cutting health care and wage-support programs, are they not consigning millions more of their fellow citizens to lives of poverty? Most Americans reject this view, and that includes most conservatives who believe in work, family and personal responsibility.”

A Srebrenica moment in Syria? by Nicholas Burns: “Putin will never reach a ‘Srebrenica moment’ on Syria. That leaves the rest of us to consider once more — how many more lives will be claimed by Syria’s ceaseless civil war before we are finally shamed to stop the killings?”

Front Left Corner of Heaven by Terrance Klein, America: “Because heaven is all about love, nothing but love can lead us there.”

Praise these Special Olympians by Michael Gerson: “People with intellectual disabilities are largely invisible in the global development agenda, but they should be its cutting edge.”

Beware of Pope Francis by Timothy Shriver: “When he embraced the young man with severe disabilities, he was calling on the world to change its approach to how we value human life by putting the most vulnerable at the center. To do so, each of us needs to become more vulnerable ourselves. That’s not easy or  comfortable.”

The Tea Party and the Hammock Theory of Poverty by Greg Sargent: “Some Republican lawmakers do seem sincere about charting a new course on poverty. But the party agenda remains in thrall to a set of ideas that remain largely the province of a small tea party minority, and are not nearly as widely held among Republicans overall.”

Yes, progressives can embrace Downton Abbey!  by Morning’s Minion: “The old order—unequal and unjust as it might have been—was nevertheless based on the notion that we are not simply autonomous individuals following our own destinies and our own desires. Rather, it was based on the firm principle that we are bound to society and to each other by reciprocal rights, duties, and responsibilities.”

What liberals can learn from the author of The Culture of Narcissism by Damon Linker: “Perhaps the most controversial element of Lasch’s argument, then no less than now, was his assertion that the Left’s advocacy of the sexual revolution was in fact a betrayal of both women and the working class. Whereas the family was once a ‘haven in a heartless world’ (to cite the title of the book in which Lasch first advanced the claim), the sexual revolution encouraged its near-total assimilation into the capitalist order of consumption and exchange.”