|"The spirit we have, not the work we do, is what
makes us important to the people around us."
A Benedictine Sister of Erie, Joan Chittister is
a best-selling author and well-known international lecturer on topics of justice, peace, human rights, women's issues, and contemporary
spirituality in the Church and in society. She presently serves as the co-chair of the Global Peace Initiative of Women,
a partner organization of the United Nations, facilitating a worldwide network of women peace builders, especially in the Middle East.
A speech communications theorist, Sister Joan's most recent books include The Way We Were (Orbis) and Called to Question (Sheed & Ward),
a First Place CPA 2005 award winner. She is founder and executive director of
Benetvision, a resource and research center for contemporary
spirituality in Erie.
|By Joan Chittister, OSB
About eight weeks ago, I dedicated this column to the meeting of
Iraqi-American women in New York City. (Iraqi
women: Confused, maybe, but clear nevertheless) The problem with
articles like that, of course, is that though they give us a filter through
which we can view, interpret, and evaluate the hard news that plays on the
front pages of our newspapers or on our newscasts, we are seldom able to follow
up on either the people involved or the events to which they referred.
This week is different.
I got a letter from the office of the Global Peace Initiative of Women
about one of the participants to the Dialogue of U.S.-Iraqi Women. This letter
says better than I can what is going on there now, what the stakes are, what
the effects have been of what we call Operation Iraqi Freedom --
and, most of all, what it highlights about our own situation in this country
The name of the Iraqi participant is being withheld -- for obvious
reasons. According to a recent CNN report, more than 1,400 Iraqis have been
killed this month, the deadliest month of the war for them so far.
The letter reads:
Dear Dena [Merriam, convener of the Global Peace Initiative of
Women], Joan [Brown-Campbell, chairperson], and Joan [Chittister,
I finally called [one of the delegates to the GPIW] today, as we
had not heard from her for a while. She was due to join us [for an upcoming
event] but is now afraid to leave her family.
She has lost her uncle and nephew recently in a bombing and so there
is tremendous grief in her family. They have decided to try to leave Iraq for
another Arabic speaking country as they say it is much worse now than ever
Women cannot wear slacks now. They cannot drive. They must be
veiled and the bombings and shootings have increased manyfold.
She said when they were here in the United States during the
meeting things were so much better. But now it is impossible to live there.
There is hardly electricity. There is talk of turning off cell phones and even
the Internet for a month or two. She has been unable to access her e-mail for
many days. And when she walks to her work each morning she now fears for her
She said that there is not one family in Iraq that has not faced a
I am sorry to convey such sad news from
So now, think.
In this country, we are gearing up for mid-term elections in November
and, finally, for another presidential election 18 months after that. In
anticipation of those events, our political parties are preparing to launch the
platforms and programs that they say are essential if this country is to remain
the leader of the free world, the city on a hill, the
democratic model of the planet.
Just this week, in fact, while Iraqis were dying by the dozens and a
stream of U.S. soldiers and citizens were being air-lifted to Ramstein military
hospital in Germany and Walter Reed Hospital in the United States, we were
learning what the lynch pin of at least one of those campaigns will be.
According to the Republicans, at least, the single most important issue
in the United States right now is same-sex marriage. In a society where more
people seem to be trying to get out of marriage than they are trying to get
Or, closer to the truth, maybe, the most important thing for the party
in power is its ability to manipulate this issue to the forefront of the
electoral agenda. If that can be done, of course, it will be possible to divert
attention from other issues here like U.S. integrity in Guantanamo Bay, secret
torture centers, military massacres of Iraqi civilians, the over-extension of
presidential power, the moral necessity of the continuous deaths and wounding
of U.S. soldiers, and the underlying question of what we are doing in Iraq in
the first place.
The only question now is whether or not that strategy will work.
Activity in the Senate this week, which was dominated by debate over a
constitutional amendment that would prohibit same-sex marriage, gives us a
In the first place, amending a constitution ought by nature to be
difficult. Otherwise, the Constitution can easily become just one more
political football and its principles up for sale at the time of every
In the second place, the amendment did not pass, but it could well leave
senators embroiled in the process of explaining this particular vote rather
than concentrating on all the others.
In the third place, even if it did pass Congress, years would be needed
to get two-thirds of the voters in two-thirds of the states to finally amend
the Constitution. Even laws against interracial marriage -- also seen later as
simply bigotry based on the law of God -- never managed to become a
Clearly, this is not about amending the Constitution. The political
strategists know that such a thing is close to impossible. But that does not
mean that it is not a very clever ploy.
Designed to energize the Republican base, which we are
apparently meant to believe is interested only in private sexual morality --
however important such questions are to us all -- it is surely doubly intended
to blunt or squelch columns and questions like this one. Their hope is surely
that those who dare to wonder aloud if this issue is really the most damning
moral issue in the country at this time will themselves be targeted, smeared
and branded immoral for doing so.
Guilt by association they call it in first-year college
The prospect is that fear for personal security, the engine that has
driven this country for over five years now, will silence anyone who dares to
weigh one value against another. Anyone who asks, in the face of such public
concentration on matters of sexual conduct, what happened to the binding value
of the other commandments in the Judeo-Christian tradition will be stigmatized
as irreligious -- or worse.
While thousands die abroad on our behalf, and thousands of children here
have no medical insurance, and hundreds of thousands of U.S. citizens can no
longer afford to drive the cars they need to get to jobs where they get no
benefits, have no pensions, and have no assurance of welfare assistance when
that work ends, I am convinced that the possibility of being branded is worth
Morality is certainly a major issue in the United States today. But what
morality? All of it or only some of it?
From where I stand, the issue of same-sex marriage is not at the base of
U.S. decline today. At the base of U.S. moral deterioration today is political
oligarchy, corporate greed and the complete breakdown of the kind of morality
that is not only social but civil and Christian. That kind of morality,
unfortunately, we havent seen for years, even from some of our
Comments or questions about this column may be sent to: Sr. Joan Chittister,
c/o NCR web coordinator at the address below.
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