News, views, notes, and quotes

Signs of the Times  •  16 October 2019 •  No. 202

Processional.The Lord’s Prayer” in Kurdish.

Above: Lolan Valley, Khwakurk Mountains, Kurdistan

Special issue
(and why it matters, given Trump’s most recent international misadventure)

The Kurds are members of a large, predominantly Muslim ethnic group. They have their own cultural and linguistic traditions, and most speak one of two major dialects of the Kurdish language, which is closely related to Persian. They represent one of the largest people-groups who do not constitute a nation-state.

        Between 10 and 12 million Kurds live in Turkey, where they comprise about 20% of the population. Between 5 and 6 million live in Iran, accounting for close to 10% of the population. Kurds in Iraq number more than 4 million, and comprise about 23% of the population.

        After World War I, Western powers promised Kurds their own homeland in the agreement known as the Treaty of Sèvres. But a later agreement instead divided them among Turkey, Iraq, Syria and Iran. They make up the fourth-largest ethnic group in the Middle East. —for more info see Siobhán O'Grady, Washington Post  and “Who are the Kurds?” BBC

Invocation. “I don’t know about the levels and layers of heaven, / but I do know about tenderness / about curves of a baby’s bottom / about the touch of a loved one / about wrinkles / about dirt / about sunshine. . . . / This is a God / who is not just the God of the majesty and the mighty, / but a God of the broken down, / the poor, / the refugee. / This is a God is less the Prime Mover / and more the Most Moved Mover.” —Omid Safi, from “A Theology of Cracked Spaces”

For more summary information on the Kurdish people, see “Kurdish People Fast Facts,” CNN.

The Syrian civil war is multilayered and complicated. This short BBC video (5:45) provides the basic scorecard.

Call to worship. “The Hurrian Hymn,” oldest known music (c. 1400 BCE), found in Syria. Performed on the lyre by Michael Levy.

Hymn of praise. “Tala' al-Badru Alayna” (The Moon Has Shone His Light To Us),” Canadian children’s choir singing the oldest known Islamic song, which was sung by Prophet Muhammad's companions to welcome him as he sought refuge in Medina

The US’ major ally in Syria is the Kurdish-dominated “People’s Protection Units” (YPG), which is the primary component of the Democratic Federation of North Syria’s “Syrian Democratice Forces.

Left: The Flag of Kurdistan was created by Xoybûn during the Ararat rebellion against Turkey in 1928, where it was hoisted by thousands of Kurdish rebels. When the Republic of Kurdistan was proclaimed in 1947 [a short-lived self-governing state in what is now Iran], Mustafa Barzani hoisted the flag in Mahabad, and the flag was adopted as the official flag of Kurdistan.

The Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces are essentially the US’ mercenary force and have in the last five year lost approximately 11,000 of its soldiers fighting ISIS with US backing.

The Kurds among the YPG are cousins (often literally) of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) within Turkey which has been engaged in a 25-year insurrection against the Turkish government . Both the US and Turkey (but not the United Nations) consider the PKK a terrorist organization.

Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan considers both the YPG and the PKK as terrorist organizations.

One unit within the YPG is made up of Syriac-Assyrian Christians.

There are a significant number of women soldiers among the YPG army.

Confession. “Ever since Exodus 20:2—‘I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt’—the sanctity of God and sanctuary for refugees are forever linked.” —Ken Sehested

Hymn of supplication. “Song of the Syrian Refugees,” Abu & Mohamad

¶ Turkey, which “jails more journalists than any other nation,” is ruled by Erdoğan’s right-wing Justice and Development Party, which has become more repressive after the 2016 attempted coup by segments of the Turkish military.

Among the complications in US-Turkey relations is the fact that the US has an estimated 50 nuclear bombs stored at Turkey’s Air Base, from which the US Airforce’s 39th Wing operates. Removing them would signal a major diplomatic breach with Turkey, a NATO ally. Stephen Losey, Air Force Times

¶ A century ago, the Syrian Christian community (among the oldest in the world) made up 30% of the country’s population. Historically, much of the Syrian Christian community has supported the rule of the Assad family—which has provided a measure of religious freedom—out of fear of be supplanted by a conservative Islamist government. —see “Syria’s beleaguered Christians,” BBC

Words of assurance. ”You’re Not Alone, Syria.” —featuring Abdullah Rolle, Faisal Salah, Omar Esa, Khaleel Muhammad, Hassen Rasool, Muslim Belal, Abdul Wahab, Umar Salaams and Masikah

The Kurds “are the Medes in the Bible. They are the descendants of Madai, one of the sixteen grandsons of Noah (see Genesis 10:2).” —Wade Burleson, “Who Are the Kurds and Why Should America Care?

In 2015 Steve Bannon, conservative journalist and political operative, asked Donald Trump that if he was elected president of the US, did he consider Turkey a dependable ally. Trump said, “I have a little conflict of interest because I have a major, major building in Istanbul. It’s called Trump Towers.” MSNBC video (1:00)

Left: “The Pietà of Syria.” “Delawer Omar, a Syrian Kurd exiled in Switzerland, paints to show the world what the Syrians in general and the Kurds in particular have suffered at the hands of the Bashar Assad. Among his startling and haunting paintings are those of a father cradling his dead son.  He was inspired to paint his ‘The Pietà of Syria’ after seeing a poignant photograph of a Syrian father carrying his dead son following the bombing of the city of Homs.”

Hymn of intercession. “Abun d'beschmayo” (The Lord's Prayer” in Aramaic), Sarah Ego.

Climate change and the Syrian civil war. “A severe drought, worsened by a warming climate, drove Syrian farmers to abandon their crops and flock to cities, helping trigger a civil war that has killed hundreds of thousands of people, according to a new study.” Craig Welch, National Geographic

¶ Trump, who has spoken often about getting out of the “endless” wars in the Middle East, announced he would pull troops out of Syria just three weeks after his decision to send 2,000 additional US troops, along with missile defense systems and two squadrons of fighter jets, to Saudi Arabia. Tim Pierce, Washington Examiner

By the numbers. The Syrian civil war has created more than 11 million refugees. In 2018 the US took in a total of 11, or 0.0001%, of that total. NPR

        Who’s taking in Syrian refugees? Lebanon–1.5 million (one-out-of-four residents of Lebanon’s population are Syrian refugees); Jordan–1.4 million; Turkey–1.9 million; Israel, Qatar, United Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabia–0; Italy–110,000; Australia–4,400. . . . —for additional info, see “Immigration Canada

Preach it. “The true test of faith is how we treat those who can do nothing for us in return.” —Dillon Burroughs

Few Westerners know that Syria’s sole political party is the al-Ba’ath Arab Socialist Party, founded in Damascus in 1947 to promote Arab nationalism and socialist economies under secular constitutions. (Saddam Hussein’s party was also Ba’athist.) Following the Soviet Union’s collapse, Syria’s leaders slowly developed open markets policy but—especially under current Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s rule—without social welfare provisions, which led to dramatic increases in poverty, unemployment, and income disparity. —“The Ba’ath Party in Syria

The US’ Kurdish allies have just established a strategic partnership with Syria’s government; and Russian troops are now moving into territory in northern Syria where US troops have been withdrawn. Kareem Fahim, Sarah Dadouch & Will Englund, Washington Post

Can’t makes this sh*t up. “The former head of the leading boot making company of the U.S. military was recently sentenced to federal prison for fraud after a scheme in which he imported Chinese-made boots labeled with ‘USA’ to pass off as American-made.” Todd South, Military Times (Thanks Connie.)

Call to the table. “There are two questions that we have to ask ourselves: The first is 'Where am I going?' And the second is ‘Who will go with me?' If you ever get these questions in the wrong order, you are in trouble.” ―Howard Thurman (Thanks Mike.)

The state of our disunion.

        • Samsung’s latest phone, the Galaxy Fold,  sells for a cool $2,000. If you make minimum wage, it will cost you nearly 16 months of earnings to buy one.

        • “When billionaire Jeff Bezos cut health benefits on September 13 for [1,900] part-time workers at his Whole Foods grocery stores, the richest man in the world saved the equivalent of what he makes . . . somewhere between 2-6 hours.” Eoin Higgins, Common Dreams

Confessing our faith. “The idols of the nations are silver and gold.” “Psalm 135: Arabic Orthodox Chant,” from St. George Church, Aleppo, Syria.

Uncommon corporate courage. After the 2012 mass shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Connecticut, Dick’s Sporting Goods CEO ordered at the AR-15 semi-automatic rifles be removed from his stories nationwide. After the 2018 shooting at Majory Stoneman Doughlas High School in Floriday, he instituted a new store policy restricting gun sales to anyone under 21. He estimates the company lost about a quarter of a billion dollars. But he says he would do it all over again if need be. —For more see “Dick’s Sporting Goods CEO Says He Destroyed $5 Million Worth of Rifles to Take Them Off the Street,” Time.  You can also hear a compelling 14-minute interview with Stack by Marketplace’s Kai Ryssdal

Best one-liner. “And those who were seen dancing were thought to be insane by those who could not hear the music.” —author unknown (though frequently attributed to philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche)

For the beauty of the earth.  “2624-Year-Old Cypress Tree Discovered in North Carolina Swamp." As Live Science reports, scientists date the tree (below) to be 2624 years old, making it one the oldest living non-clonal trees on Earth,” predating the Great Wall of China and the Roman Empire. —Michele Debczak, Mental Floss (Thanks Steve.)

        Also, watch this short (6:20) video exploring the ancient bald cypresses of Black River near Wilmington, North Carolina.

Altar call. “From the true Light there arises for us the light which illumines our darkened eyes. / His glory shines upon the world and enlightens the very depths of the abyss. / Death is annihilated, night has vanished, and the gates of Sheol are broken. / Creatures lying in darkness from ancient times are clothed in light.” —English translation of one verse from “The Coming Light: Hymns of St. Ephrem the Syrian, 4th century CE"

Benediction. “Dark Times lie ahead of us and there will be a time when we must choose between what is easy and what is right.” —Albus Dumbledore in “Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire”

Recessional. In the Arab version of the hit TV show "The Voice Kids", Ghena Bou Hemdan (9), sings the song "Atouna Ettofouli" ("Give us our Childhood") and breaks into tears. Heartrending moment, despite the cheesy props.

Lectionary for this Sunday. “Happy are those who walk in the Way of Beauty, harnessed in the Bridle of Mercy and according to the Weal of Justice. From Creation’s Promise to Redemption’s Assurance, may Your Faithful Word leap from our lips and exclaim with our limbs. In this Law I delight! May it rule soul and soil and society alike.” —continue reading “In this law I delight,” a litany for worship inspired by Psalm 119

Lectionary for Sunday next. “Oh, visit the earth, ask her to join the dance! Coax rain from the sky. Drench thirsty fields awaiting your touch, ready the land for blossom and fruit. Burden every stalk with grain sufficient to satisfy the hunger of all.” —continue reading “Set our hearts on fire,” a litany for worship inspired by Psalm 65

Just for fun. Comedic juggling, with Michael Davis. (Thanks Rex.)

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