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April 25, 2008

The Controversy Over Wright

This week on the JOURNAL, Bill Moyers spoke with Jeremiah Wright of Trinity United Church of Christ (TUCC) in Chicago and Sen. Barack Obama’s (D-Il) pastor for more than 20 years, who’s been embroiled in controversy.

“When something is taken like a sound bite for a political purpose and put constantly over and over again, looped in the face of the public, that's not a failure to communicate. Those who are doing that are communicating exactly what they wanna do, which is to paint me as some sort of fanatic or as the learned journalist from the New York Times called me, a "wackadoodle"... I think they wanted to communicate that I am unpatriotic, that I am un-American, that I am filled with hate speech, that I have a cult at Trinity United Church of Christ... To put an element of fear and hatred and to stir up the anxiety of Americans who still don't know the African-American tradition, know nothing about the prophetic theology of the African-American experience, who know nothing about the black church, who don't even know how we got a black church.”

Some have argued that TUCC’s “Black Value System,” which emphasizes commitment to the “Black community” and “Black family” rather than to communities and families in general, prioritizes racial identity in an inherently racist way. Arguing that Wright himself might be a racist who holds racial animus against certain groups, commentators have pointed to his statement that “white folks’ greed runs a world in need” and to his accusation that the U.S. government “invented the HIV virus as a means of genocide against people of color.” Furthermore, Wright’s association with Louis Farrakhan, whose history of anti-semitic and anti-white statements has been condemned, has brought further controversy.

In contrast, some have come to the defense of Wright's rhetoric and his notion of “the prophetic theology of the African American experience” and black liberation theology. In today’s Dallas Morning News, Gerald Britt dismisses “attempts to delegitimize Dr. Wright and Trinity United Christian Church for its Afrocentric theological emphasis” and argues that the black church “has been admired for its powerful presence within the African-American community; its worship is envied for its emotional freedom.”

What do you think?

Leila Fadel Responds...

Special thanks, again, to Leila Fadel for taking time during her break to answer questions.

Again, to read more from Leila Fadel and her colleagues, visit her "Baghdad Observer" blog and Iraqi journalists' "Inside Iraq" blog

Please note that the views and opinions expressed by Ms. Fadel are not necessarily the views and opinions held by Bill Moyers or BILL MOYERS JOURNAL.

Apparently there are 3 or 4 wars going on all at once. My understanding is that the main conflict is between the Shia and the Sunni, do you agree? The Maliki government is Shia and Muqtada al-Sadr is also Shia, so why are they fighting? You would think that they should be working together against their common enemy, the Sunni. I know al-Sadr wants the American troops out now, does he have any other differences with Maliki?
Who is the leader of the Sunnis in Iraq? I never hear about their leaders. Why?

Posted by: Don D. Davis

Thank you for the question. I actually think the biggest conflict right now is an intra-Shiite battle for power. Prime Minister Nouri al Maliki is a Shiite prime minister from the Dawa Party and he is closely allied with another Shiite party that was fostered in Iran called the Islamic Supreme Council of Iraq. The government began an offensive in Basra that many believe is connected to the provincial elections in the south of Iraq. A provincial powers law passed through the presidency council in Baghdad days before the offensive by Maliki began in the south. Many believe it was a preemptive strike against the party to weaken their popularity and power prior to the elections. While the Islamic Supreme Council of Iraq is the most powerful political party in Iraq, with the vice president posting and most of the governor postings in the south, they are not as popular as the Sadr movement. By undercutting the Sadr movement prior to the elections in October they don’t risk losing their power.

Many Sunni politicians feel more confident in Maliki now that he has taken on the Shiite militia known for assassinations of Sunnis. Sunnis do not have one leader in Iraq and generally feel that Sunnis who are in the government do not represent them.

I teach high school government. A young lady in my class responded to a criticism of the war by stating, "Sure it's hell, but they are a lot better off than with Saddam. I pretty sure that most Iraqis would prefer this to how it was before we took him out."
How does one respond to this?
Posted by: Eric

A lot of Iraqis are just very tired. Unfortunately five years into the war many look back to Saddam’s time as hell, but a preferable evil to the current situation. Some say they would rather return to Saddam’s time, an evil they understood, where they could at least push their daughter down the street in a stroller with no fear or go out with their family at night. Of course others think the price is worth the pain they have suffered through. Saddam murdered thousands of people.

My question is, you mentioned when hiring local people you ask them if they are Shia or Sunni which is understandable and necessary. How do the locals, particularly the insurgents, identify individuals as Shia or Sunni? How do they know who to attack in a mixed neighborhood? How do the American soldiers differentiate? Thank you.
Posted by: R. Palmer

There is no physical distinction between a Sunni or Shiite Arab. Sunni and Shiites are both Muslims from different sects. But in the current climate there are certain ways to tell the difference. Most Shiite men where silver rings with stones engraved with prayers or the names of the family of the prophet Mohammed. You can also tell by accents, most Shiites are originally from the south of Iraq and say things a little bit differently. Often Shiites will identify themselves by using certain words like, “Mowlai,” my master, or referring to the revered Shiite figure Hussein, the grandson of the prophet.

The country is generally divided by sect and ethnicity and you can usually tell a Sunni or Shiite from one another by their tribe or hometown. For example most people from the Dulaim tribe are Sunni. If a person is from the western Anbar province they are most likely Sunni, if they are from Najaf they are most likely Shiite. In Baghdad the capital has generally segregated into Shiite or Sunni enclaves and you can tell a person’s sect from their neighborhood. Most Iraqis carry their real ID as well as a fake ID that identifies them with a name and tribe more typical of the other sect. This way they can show the appropriate ID in the appropriate neighborhood.

Leila indicated Iran felt it might be able to handle the security vacuum were the U.S. to leave Iraq. Would Iraqi's accept Iran stepping in? Would they see them as a foreign occupying force? Or would Iraqi's be more willing to accept Iran's role as 'peace-keepers' in Iraq? I would love to see the U.N. and State Dept. and Iran work out a peace agreement like this if there was any possibility of success.
Posted by: Eric Likness

Iraqis are generally hostile towards foreign influence inside Iraq. Most Iraqis hate how much influence Iran has inside Iraq and would resent Iran stepping into the U.S. shoes. They see their government as both a puppet of the United States and Iran. One Iraqi official told me that Iraq was like a home with no fence and anybody could come in.
I think Iraqis would be more receptive to a neutral force that is not the U.S. or Iran to step in as peacekeepers. They believe that Iran has its own motives to stay inside Iraq and those motives do not mesh with their own interests of a strong, stable government.

My question is this. The Sunni and Shia have had this long running religious dispute which often times turns deadly. Have there been times and ways when they have been able to get along and not try to subjugate each other? What were the essential elements for them to live in peace?

Posted by: Blair Fridgen

Prior to 2003 Shiites and Sunnis did generally get along. Most families and tribes in Iraq are intermarried. Saddam Hussein was a Sunni and he killed thousands of Shiites and Kurds but he also killed and arrested Sunnis who went against his rule. The Sunni ruler was secular and killed anyone who threatened his rule and under his leadership talk of being Shiite or Sunni was forbidden. Since the U.S. invasion the split between the sects widened. Sunni insurgent groups who wanted to resist the U.S. occupation attacked Shiites as collaborators. Later in the war Shiites began to take revenge against Sunnis for those attacks. The attacks and the revenge are a cycle that keeps the fighting going. I think for people to get along they need a stable and accepted government, they need to feel that their government speaks for them and they are being heard. Right now they don’t have that.

Can you talk a bit about how how the extent to which Americans--reporters, military--have any facility with Arabic and how that affects both the reporting and the fighting?
Posted by: Noel Morgan

Recently more reporters and U.S. military and state department officials speak Arabic. It’s not many, but in the last year there has been a small increase over the past.

Currently at least four members of the western press corps speak Arabic and the U.S. ambassador and his spokeswoman both speak Arabic. Being able to speak the language is beneficial in so many ways. Cutting out the middle man in a conversation creates trust and a direct relationship that is hard to foster when you have to speak through a translator. I ran into a soldier in Sadr City who works in the civil affairs office and speaks Arabic. Because of his language officials in Sadr City who are generally suspicious of Americans he fostered relationships with a series of local officials. Very soon he will be leaving and the men who trusted him enough to speak to him and feed him tips said they only trust him and will not speak to anyone else.

As a reporter I speak conversational Arabic and can listen to the background noise of Iraq. I can sit in a funeral, a grocery store or a salon and just listen to people, I can read signs on the streets. All of this helps give me a more complete picture of what is happening in Iraq.

Ms. Fadel, have you had any opportunities to talk directly with any of the groups who are (or were) fighting against the US occupation? I would like to see footage (with translation) of what the resistance fighters believe: all points of perspective, please.
I can't remember ever hearing any interview of these people, either from the mainstream media or the progressive media. Is it too dangerous? There always are intermediaries who can act as go-betweens. Why do we not get to see and hear them directly?
Robert May
Hillsboro, Oregon
Posted by: Robert May

My organization has interviewed both Sunni and Shiite militants to get their perspective on why they fight the United States. In the last year our focus has been on the Shiite Mahdi Army. The Mahdi Army, the militia loyal to Shiite cleric Muqtada al Sadr, does not want Iraq to be an occupied nation and does not believe that the Iraqi government is a legitimate government with a foreign force still in Iraq. They’re goal is to ultimately push the United States military out of Iraqi land.

With Sunni groups such as the Islamic Army and 1920 Revolution Brigade, both of which now have many members inside the U.S.-backed Sunni militias, they feel the same way. Many of the members of these groups lost their government and military jobs when Baathists, members of Saddam’s party, were purged from the government. In turn many decided to fight and they allied themselves with Al Qaida in Iraq. They wanted the United States out and to restore power to the Sunnis. In the past nine months to a year the United States has negotiated with many of the Iraqi Sunni insurgent groups and brought some of their members into these militias known as Awakening groups or Sons of Iraq. It is a risky policy but U.S. officials say they needed to take risks to make progress.

April 24, 2008

Bill Moyers Rewind: Fooling With Words (1999)

As April is National Poetry Month, here is a look back at our 1999 special, FOOLING WITH WORDS WITH BILL MOYERS.
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April 18, 2008

Ask Leila Fadel...

This week on the JOURNAL, Bill Moyers spoke with Leila Fadel, Baghdad bureau chief for McClatchy, about her experiences on the ground in Iraq.

We thank Leila Fadel for taking time to answer your questions about Iraq and the Middle East. We are no longer taking questions, but you can read Leila Fadel's responses at this link.

Note: To read more from Leila Fadel and her colleagues, visit her "Baghdad Observer" blog and Iraqi journalists' "Inside Iraq" blog.

Religious Tolerance in America

(Photo by Robin Holland)

This week on BILL MOYERS JOURNAL, author Martha Nussbaum addressed the topics of religious tolerance and equality in America.

Nussbaum said:

"The University of Virginia said that student activity fees could be used to fund every student group: the Young Democrats, the lesbian and gay students group, the gardening club, the choir. But the one thing they couldn't use the money to fund was the Young Christians. Now, there really is an issue of fairness. I mean, why should it be just because you're a religious group that you don't get what everyone else gets to pursue their own conscientious commitment?"

In the case that Nussbaum mentions, students decided to sue and ultimately persuaded the U.S. Supreme Court that their right to free speech had been denied because of religion.

In addition to this divide between religious and non-religious groups, division can be seen between religious groups themselves. For example, many have alleged that there is a "war on Christmas," defined as attempts to replace traditional Christmas greetings and decorations with generic "Season's Greetings" in the public sphere, while symbols of other religions are welcomed for providing diversity.

A recent blog post from the NEW YORK TIMES noted that many voters took umbrage at an email that was widely circulated after Sen. John Kerry's (D-Ma) defeat in the 2004 election. The email, which labeled states that Kerry had won as "The United States of Canada" while dismissing those that President Bush had carried as "Jesusland," was interpreted by many as offensively anti-Christian.

Recently, controversy has engulfed Minnesota's Tarek ibn Ziyad Academy (TIZA), a publically-funded charter school that reportedly has been violating state and federal law by teaching Islam, scheduling and organizing Muslim prayer on school grounds during the school day, and marketing itself among Muslims as an avowedly Muslim institution. Reports suggest that these abuses have continued despite several inspections by state officials responsible for ensuring that no public school promotes or endorses religion. Some commentators have speculated that a Christian school acting in the same ways would not have been handled with the same leniency.

What do you think?

  • Do you agree with the Supreme Court's decision in the University of Virginia case?
  • Are some commentators correct when they allege discrimination against Christians?
  • Are the examples in Virginia and Minnesota representative of what's happening across the U.S.? Have you seen these divides in your community?

  • April 11, 2008

    Guest Blogger: "A Chance to Help Those Who Need It Most" by David Beckmann

    (Photo by Robin Holland)

    We'd like to thank Rev. Beckmann of Bread for the World for his additional thoughts on aiding America's hungry and his hopes for new farm bill legislation.

    Please note that the views and opinions expressed by Rev. Beckmann are not necessarily the views and opinions held by Bill Moyers or BILL MOYERS JOURNAL.

    A Chance to Help Those Who Need It Most

    Rev. David Beckmann
    President, Bread for the World

    I have been reflecting on the increasing challenges our nation’s low-income families face in their struggle to have enough to eat each day, especially in light of the negotiations going on in Congress for a new farm bill.

    This week, with congressional conference committee members now named, we are presented with a renewed opportunity to get the farm bill back on a path to genuine reform. We have until April 18 to reach an agreement – or extend it further -- before the 2002 farm bill expires.

    To deliver a farm bill that contains genuine reforms, congressional negotiators must be guided by two principles – principles that transcend politics-as-usual and are aimed at helping those who need it most.

    The first is that the new farm bill must reform current commodity programs to establish a more equitable system of support. These will target U.S. farmers of modest means – who truly can use the help -- and will ensure a level playing field for poor farmers in developing countries, who comprise the majority of the world’s hungry people.

    The second is that the new farm bill must redirect the billions of dollars in savings generated by genuine reform of commodity programs to strengthen our country’s nutrition programs, including the Food Stamp Program, our nation’s first line of defense against hunger. The savings must also go to support farms and rural families of modest means, through rural development programs and enhanced conservation.

    My reflection was heightened by the sobering statistics about what’s on the dinner tables of the lowest-income Americans – and what is not – which translates, for me, into a rallying cry that Congress do what’s right and just.

    The U.S. Department of Agriculture estimates that the monthly grocery costs for a typical low-income family shot up 7.2 percent in 2007 – a three-fold increase over the previous year. But, the average family’s allotment of food stamp benefits grew by less than five percent. We also know that most people can only stretch their food stamp benefit to the third week each month.

    Last year, the number of households participating in the food stamp program increased 5.6 percent. This year, with our economy in deep trouble, it’s going to get worse. The latest report says that probably 28 million Americans will receive food stamps by the the end of 2008, a million and a half more than 2006.

    That’s why we need to reform commodity payments in the farm bill. Without such a reform, the farm bill will continue to direct money to millionaire farmers instead of meeting the basic food needs of low-income Americans.

    The congressional conference committee can, and must deliver a farm bill that, at the very least, keeps the nutrition programs at the House-approved level of $11.5 billion over 10 years. It is reprehensible to keep subsidizing prosperous farmers when food stamp recipients are getting squeezed by skyrocketing food prices and the ailing economy. This is our chance to help those who need most – our hungry and poor fellow Americans.

    Supporting Your Local Food Bank

    We'd like to thank the Food Bank For New York City/FoodChange for tips on how to support your local food bank.

    Click here for a map to find your local food bank, and check out Carol's checklist below.

    Please note that the views and opinions expressed by Food Bank For New York City/FoodChange are not necessarily the views and opinions held by Bill Moyers or BILL MOYERS JOURNAL.

    From Food Bank For New York City/FoodChange

    Every single person can do something to help end hunger in America. Whether you have one dollar to give or one hour to share, you can make an enormous difference in the lives of the 25 million hungry people all across America. There are many opportunities to get involved in America’s Second Harvest’s network of more than 200 member food banks and food-rescue organizations across the country.

    For those of you who would like to support your local food bank, here are some of the ways you can help:

    Donate Funds: The food banks across the country rely on individual, corporate and foundation support to fund their hunger-relief efforts. You can make a one time gift or a monthly gift. You can donate online by the click of your mouse! Become a corporate partner and choose to support your local food bank with an unrestricted grant which can be applied wherever the need is the greatest. Or earmark your grant for a specific food bank program.

    Make a special gift…Donate in honor of someone special, celebrate a special occasion, or remember a lost loved one.

    Match Employee Giving: Consider a matching gifts program. It’s a simple and easy way to fight hunger, promote philanthropy, and support your employees.

    Sponsor or plan an event. Most food banks offer a variety of event sponsorship opportunities to corporations, small business, and individuals. Being a sponsor is about much more than writing checks. It is about building a relationship with your local food bank. It is about getting to know them, their mission, and supporting your community.

    Donate Food: Whether you are interested in donating a truckload of fresh bananas, a pallet of close-to-code granola bars, or cases of toothpaste, your donation will be gratefully appreciated.

    Hold a food drive...in your community, your school, at your place of worship. It’s a fun and easy way to support your local food bank or food-rescue organization. Food drives provide one-third of the food that is distributed annually. Or, plan a Virtual Food Drive. With the click of a mouse, a Virtual Food Drive allows a company or organization to get food to those who are facing hunger in their community. Holding an online food drive saves the Food Bank the time and resources involved in a physical food drive. Most importantly, your donation will help that food bank to purchase the most needed food items.

    Volunteer: Ending hunger in America depends on the volunteer work of literally millions of Americans. Eighty-five percent of all emergency food programs rely on volunteers to remain open, so volunteers are an essential part of a food program’s ability to serve their community. There are as many different ways to volunteer as there are individuals and communities across this country.
    You can help out in your local community through activities such as:
    • tutoring kids at your local Kids Cafe
    • repackaging donated food for use at food pantries
    • transporting food to charitable agencies
    • serving food at a soup kitchen
    • clerical work and event support
    It's simple. Get involved today, and get your family and friends involved.

    Advocate: With more than 35 million Americans hungry or at risk of hunger each year, it is imperative for you to voice your support for combating hunger in America to your elected officials. Your elected officials look to you for guidance on what is important to your community. Your individual support can make a difference for millions of hungry Americans. We encourage you to contact your local, state, city and federal elected officials about legislation that will help hungry Americans.

    Is Congress Capable of Making Farm Subsidies Fair?

    This week, BILL MOYERS JOURNAL collaborated with EXPOSÉ: AMERICA'S INVESTIGATIVE REPORTS to examine wasteful and unnecessary spending in farm subsidies.

    EXPOSÉ reports:

    "[In 1996] the Republican controlled Congress -- critical of what it termed 'big government' -- wanted to wean farmers off subsidies and to encourage them to grow whatever the market demanded. But to get votes, the reformers had to make trade-offs with farm state congressional Democrats and Republicans bent on maintaining payments to their farmers. The result was a classic Washington compromise: one kind of subsidy was ended but, in exchange, a new subsidy was created, one that paid farmers not for the crops they grew but for the land they owned. That compromise now costs taxpayers billions."

    What do you think?

  • Given that Congress is made up of lawmakers who represent individual districts and states, is it capable of creating a sensible and fiscally prudent national policy for farm subsidies?

  • Bill Moyers Rewind: Life On The Edge (2002)

    In 2002, NOW WITH BILL MOYERS broadcast this report exploring hunger in Oregon. From producer Tom Casciato, the story profiles the Oregon Food Bank and their struggle to reduce hunger.
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    April 7, 2008

    Bill Moyers' Ridenhour Courage Prize Acceptance Speech

    (Photo by Robin Holland)

    On April 3rd, 2008, Bill Moyers accepted the Ridenhour Courage Prize from the Nation Insitute and the Fertel Foundation.

    To read the speech Bill Moyers delivered at the event, click here.

    April 4, 2008

    Ask Dominic MacSorley...

    This week, the JOURNAL follows Dominic MacSorley, Emergency Director of the international aid organization CONCERN WORLDWIDE, and the struggle to bring relief to war-torn Congo.

    "The amount of violence in these villages is actually hard to see until you sit down and you talk to people, and you realize that they went through hell. They went through absolute hell... As aid agencies, you really need to put yourself in the position of somebody who has to go through what is, essentially, a dehumanizing experience. So if you can get them to participate and work within the kind of process that you're putting in place, then they become part of their own solution, and I think that's so important."

    We thank Dominic MacSorley for taking time to answer your questions about his work, international aid, and what's happening in the Congo. We will post his response next week.

    NOTE: Click here to view a previous Moyers report following aid efforts in Afghanistan from MacSorley and CONCERN WORLDWIDE.

    April 1, 2008

    Bill Moyers Rewind: After The War (2002)

    In 2002, NOW WITH BILL MOYERS broadcast this report about aid workers in Afghanistan. From producer William Brangham, the story follows Dominic MacSorley and the aid organization CONCERN WORLDWIDE, also featured in this week's report about aid workers in the Congo.
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