Suicide Bombings: Too Little, Too Lite
- Concern: For a “statement of concern,” the statement offers no sympathy. It provides the heat of anger without the warmth of compassion. It describes the various bombings and declares them horrific, egregious, terrible, and unconscionable, but it says not a word of concern for the innocent victims carefully counted but barely considered. No one is consoled—Iraqi, Israeli, Sri Lankan. The statement offers no condolences. The statement reads as strangely cold and perfunctory.
- Clarity: The statement bends over backwards to leave ambiguous who might actually be doing the bombing. It uses a passive construction: “bombs apparently were attached to two women.” It doesn’t say that “Islamic terrorists attached bombs to two women.” The statement talks about bombings without condemning bombers. In the Israel suicide bombing, Kirkpatrick did finger a Palestinian Fatah faction. But it felt like a way to take the heat off of the Hamas government of Gaza, which also claimed responsibility and celebrated in the streets at the news of the Israeli death and injuries.
- Target: For whom was the statement written? The introduction on the PCUSA web site says Kirkpatrick “sent the following statement to the United States Secretary of State and the prime ministers of Iraq, Sri Lanka, and Israel.” One would think, then, that with political leaders of many religions as the audience, the statement would be tailored for them. It is not. The language sounds attuned to fellow Christians’ ears, concluding with, “Let us all increase our prayers to God that even in the midst of our brokenness, the Holy Spirit will make a way for peace and security for all of God’s children.” Nice thoughts for Christians, but I wonder what Islamic, Jewish, and Buddhist prime ministers will make of the work of the Holy Spirit? Kirkpatrick spent most of his words describing the bombings that the leaders would have known all too well on their own. Odd, if they were the intended audience. One gets the feeling that Kirkpatrick is really speaking to fellow Christians, who are supposed to overhear this mangled political message.
- Action: Only in the middle of the second-to-last paragraph does Kirkpatrick finally get down to calling for action. There have been horrific bombings. There are hundreds of innocent victims dead and dying. Suicide bombers have committed crimes against humanity. So who does Kirkpatrick address to take action? Is it Islamic terrorists in Iraq, killing their fellow Muslims? Is it Tamil rebels in Sri Lanka? Is it Palestinian terrorist groups indiscriminately targeting Jews simply because they are Jews? Is it the fanatic Hamas government of Gaza or the terrorist element of Fatah in other Palestinian territories? No. Kirkpatrick directs his remarks to the victims’ governments. He appeals to the government leaders “to quickly find paths to reconciliation.” That’s it. “You’ve been hit by violence,” he seems to be saying. “I’m not going to comfort you. But I will give you some advice: Reconcile right now with those who attacked you!” To the vile perpetrators of random death and mayhem, Kirkpatrick apparently has nothing to say.
- Honesty: Kirkpatrick’s statement dated February 5 claims he learned of the Baghdad and Sri Lanka bombings “upon returning home.” That is not the case. On Friday, February 1, I e-mailed Kirkpatrick about the Baghdad bombings, in which terrorists used Down syndrome women to bomb civilians in two pet markets. I asked if finally he might condemn the suicide bombings, since General Assembly in 2006 had required him “to take every opportunity” to do so—and he has failed on that score.
By noon the next day, Saturday, February 2, Vernon Broyles, Kirkpatrick’s Volunteer for Public Witness, had replied that he “was able to get through to [Kirkpatrick] to inform him of the details of terrible killings in Baghdad and Sri Lanka, and he has responded with the attached message.” I was impressed with the speed of Kirkpatrick’s composing a reply while on the road in Kenya in a difficult situation. However, this exchange shows that Kirkpatrick did not learn of the bombings as late as “upon returning home”; he knew about them and even wrote a response while in Kenya, at least according to Broyles’s account to me.
On Tuesday, February 5, Broyles took the blame for writing the “upon returning home” phrase, when I queried him about its truthfulness. “That is simply my error,” he confessed. The phrase had ended up in the wrong place. At the same time, Broyles revealed that he “helped Cliff in the drafting of the statement” and that it was he who had “worked on a revision, in response to the Israel bombing.”
So apparently Broyles is producing the statements that Kirkpatrick eventually signs and distributes. This time, Broyles gave Kirkpatrick a statement containing a minor untruth that Kirkpatrick either didn’t see or didn’t correct. The statement subsequently came out uncorrected later on February 5 on the PCUSA web site.
No way to do social witness
This is not how to do social witness right! This is, in truth, embarrassing.
Vernon Broyles is apparently doing some of Kirkpatrick’s writing for him, and Kirkpatrick is either too preoccupied or too unconcerned to properly correct the copy Broyles brings for his signature. In addition, it looks like the narrative in the statement may have been embroidered to fit the rhetoric. Either Kirkpatrick knew of the bombings while in Kenya but allowed Broyles to write that he only learned about them later, or Kirkpatrick didn’t know about the bombings until he returned, and Broyles was feeding me a phony account of Kirkpatrick’s participation in writing the February 2 draft of the statement while in Kenya.
But worse, the statement is an embarrassment to Presbyterians. It evidences no sympathy for the victims. It studiously avoids laying blame on actual terrorist parties by simply denouncing actorless atrocities. And it inexplicably directs the victims’ governments to speedily reconcile with parties unnamed, unaccountable, and violently unwilling. Oh, and U.S. government leaders are counseled “to use all the means at their disposal to support those who are working for peace,” whatever that vague banality is supposed to mean.
What is keeping the Stated Clerk from simply fulfilling his responsibility “to take every opportunity to publicly and officially condemn suicide bombings and terrorism and to help empower victims of such attacks to be able to bring those who plan and inspire suicide bombings to the bar of international justice”? Why not “call for international judicial prosecution of all those aiding and abetting these crimes,” again as General Assembly stipulated? Why doesn’t Kirkpatrick staunchly “affirm the culpability of individuals and groups that assist in carrying out suicide bombings and terrorism” and hold accountable “civil or military authorities who fail to exercise adequate powers of control over perpetrators and fail to take appropriate measures”?
Let me hazard a guess: Taking such clearly mandated steps would necessarily involve holding some Palestinians accountable for their lawless and violent behaviors. It would run counter to the continued vilification of Israel and its existence as the root of all evil in the Middle East. My guess is that Clifton Kirkpatrick (or maybe I should say Vernon Broyles) has no desire to be forced to fulfill a clear mandate by General Assembly to publicly condemn suicide bombings, because the bombings most regularly are done by Islamic terrorists, and whatever they do is to be understood and excused, rather than condemned. Thus, Kirkpatrick’s response to the General Assembly order has been tepid to missing.
It all fits together
This too-little, too-lite statement is but the latest evidence of a fundamental unwillingness to be fair in treating Palestine and Israel evenhandedly. One sees it elsewhere in letters from a mission volunteer at a liberation theology outfit in Jerusalem, the one-sidedness of the Israel-Palestine Mission Network, and a frightfully prejudiced statement from the National Middle Eastern Presbyterian Caucus. Presbyterians ought to be appalled at such bias-filled acts continually being pushed forward in their name. This is but the tip of the iceberg of bias, a harsh parochialism supposedly banished by General Assembly resolution in 2006, but allowed instead by denominational leaders to flourish unchecked.
Those who think such bias is unfair can let Clifton Kirkpatrick know their concerns. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. (Who knows, you may even get a reply from Vernon Broyles!) Letters to Presbyweb (email@example.com) or The Layman Online (firstname.lastname@example.org) also garner national attention on the web.
It is high time for the will of General Assembly to override the ideological lock that staff and associated entities have on Presbyterian social witness concerning the Middle East. Presbyterians as a whole are far more fair and level-headed than those who dominate social-witness leadership. It is time to be heard. Perhaps this can be a start.