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Improvising an Alternative to Empire

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    Renemsongla Ozukum CE 331: Justice and the World Order Nov 8, 2005 Submitted to Prof. Gary Dorrien A Reflection Paper Class Presentation on Sharon D. Welch,
    Message 1 of 1 , Nov 9, 2005
      Renemsongla Ozukum
      CE 331: Justice and the World Order
      Nov 8, 2005
      Submitted to Prof. Gary Dorrien

      A Reflection Paper Class Presentation on Sharon D. Welch, After
      Empire: The Art and Ethos of Enduring Peace. Minneapolis, MN:
      Augsburg Fortress Press, 2004. pp. ix-229 ISBN 0-8006-2986-8

      Thanksgiving Recipe: Improvising an Alternative to Empire

      Sharon D. Welch presents her book, After Empire: The Art and Ethos of
      Enduring Peace as an "eminently pragmatic" counter-account of
      American political history. Reading her book this week as a class is
      significant especially as Thanksgiving holiday draws closer, which
      elicits a lot of contested meaning based on its ambiguous history.
      Certainly, Welch offers an alternative Thanksgiving recipe that is
      different from the political cookbook of the empire. An ethos
      of "ironic spirituality" cooked with "the ingredients of a different
      ceremony of audacity, power, responsibility, and compassion."
      Unlike the junk food "thrill of empire" that claims to be
      the "harbingers of security and peace," Welch's calls to assert the
      dynamics of history are a cleansing new recipe for health. I agree
      with Welch that the impetus for an enduring art and ethos of peace
      should be derived from a kenotic listening of "other: different
      voices, places, and stories –`who are not the beneficiaries of
      Empire, but those who bears the costs." Also, I see Welch
      asserting an understanding of participatory democracy based on the
      welfare and defense of the weakest.

      As one citizen under an empire, a foreign student from a fourth world
      in an empire state like New York, I am not comfortable with tasting a
      different recipe than the legacy of the people whose religion I have
      held dearly for more than 25 years of my life, introduced to my
      people from this country. This is a religious message that rejects
      war tools to make peace, love and forgiveness among neighbors,
      through the American Baptist missionaries in the last quarter of the
      nineteenth century. However, Welch has invited me into this dialogue,
      I will engage her on the on the subject of "national identity and
      global responsibility that is emerging from this place." Being in
      my social location here at Union, and discussing about Justice and
      the World Order as a faith community, Welch convinced me that we
      cannot afford to reap the seeds of a structure that are dehydrating
      and malnourishing us—she invites to turn away from sheer brutality
      and find new meanings.

      Welch's passionate critique of the folly of colonialism and empire
      building is primarily rooted in her personal history and commitment
      of challenging America's determination to forget or to ignore a past
      marked by unpleasant struggles. Her way of ethical praxis moves from
      reflection to action and from action to reflection, all in the tri-
      dimensional process: "personal history and commitment, transformed
      sense of political activism, and an alternative geopolitical
      vision." Americans, according to Welch, must be forced to remember
      their brutal history and engage in concrete social analysis for the
      sake of justice and transformation. Welch argues that a new global
      order of peace and justice will only come through citizens of the
      world collectively choosing to practice the values of honesty,
      daring, and creativity. Similar to Cornel West's "tragicomic hope,"
      Welch thinks that the strategy of confrontation should take the form
      of subversive laughter. She rightly refuses the food that is being
      served in the imperial saucer and points her readers to ask along
      with her the questions: "Who are we as Americans? What is our role
      now on the world stage?.... Which path we will follow?"

      As an imperial nation, Welch demands that US citizens honestly
      confront what American values are. Her philosophical tone becomes
      even stronger when she asserts, "As a country, we have not yet fully
      confronted, much less understood, our colonial past….the complexity
      and contradictions—resisting British exploitation while exterminating
      the indigenous peoples of the Americas, enslaving Africans, and
      subjugating women [and others based on gender]." Thus, as a
      corrective, she states, "We cannot understand who we are as citizens
      of the United States, and who we can be, if we fail to grasp the
      ramifications of the tragic dissonance." Welch's prophetic
      ridiculing of the imperial hegemony is grounded in her personal
      experiences and knowledge of Native American, African American, and
      engaged Buddhist traditions.
      I like Welch's ideas—engaged Buddhism and Native American democratic
      models, which can together awaken Americans to the cost of Imperial
      tentacles. Welch argues that the opposite of imperial arrogance is
      justice and peace and the necessary corrective is taking stock of the
      colonial history in order to break the spiral of violence. She draws
      upon the profound non-dualistic teaching of Tich Nhat Hanh, miracle
      of walking on earth with mindfulness is a way of practicing righteous
      indignation without demonizing the perpetrators. In my reading,
      Welch's proposal of engaged Buddhism and native spirituality require
      a radically new worldview and political structure. Therefore, the
      issue of whether America can take on a new worldview and set of
      belief in order to become a nation of enduring peace is left
      unexplored. For me, the issue of peace and authentic democracy has
      to relate to the organization of fundamentally liberating structures.
      Can a nation based on racial and ethnic inequality dismantle the
      empire? How many people will effortlessly relate to the philosophy of
      engaged Buddhism in America? Having rejected state Christianity, is
      Welch assuming a mass revival of Buddhist values? I think it will
      take time, but ultimately a good idea—is a resistant movement.
      Clearly, Welch's notion of ceremonies as "opportunities to connect
      with cosmic processes; of healing, grieving, acknowledging loss and
      restoring the broken connections" reminds me that ceremonies of
      gratitude are both looking back and looking forward. I wonder,
      whether the coming Thanksgiving will still be a day of "intoxication
      of mastery,….The challenge of assuming the mantle of destiny, of
      shaping the world in [US] image," or will it with energy, and
      vitality, jubilantly assert, how to dismantle a structure that
      retards the growth of our global community?
      As a reader, I am convinced that Welch did not intend these essays to
      be mere collection of selective memories of American brutality, or
      simply an exercise in academic publishing. Her passion and
      rhetorical style as a writer speak plainly enough. On the one hand,
      she rejects the peace of state religion, military power, or imperial
      power to dominate, and uproot the creations. On the other hand, she
      affirms the peace of justice and righteousness, peace for the people
      who are subjugated, alienated, and who are caught in the conflict and
      violence. What is the value of Welch apart from the scholarly
      insights and appeal for a pragmatic philosophy of peace and
      nonviolence? Although Welch invites manifold voices and stories and
      her scholarly epistemology explains some of the problem, it is too
      deep or complex for a single explanation. Another comment, I am not
      comfortable with the use of vocabularies such as "conflict
      resolution," "peacekeeping," and "social contract" which people in
      the third world associate with post cold war policies of containment
      under the guise of human rights. Welch uses the terms in a radical
      manner, but nonetheless, I prefer terms such as conflict
      transformation, peacemaking, and covenantal community to be more
      I comply with Welch's idea of imagining concrete alternatives, "gift
      of wisdom and compassion" to critique the imperial
      corollary, "destructive of the humanity both for the colonized and
      the colonizer." As an activist and a member, Welch honestly
      critiques the Global Action to Prevent War, Inc. by concluding
      that "everyone has a particular role and an invaluable part in the
      mosaic of collective life." Even when Welsh humbly recognize the
      art of radical solidarity, her story is authentic insofar as she is a
      white Euro-American woman. Compared to many disempowered communities,
      Welch's social location and experiences represents an "empowered
      self." She speaks as a "voice" that is able to dream and speak
      vehemently against the empire even while benefiting from the system.
      This is to acknowledge the commitment and honesty of her particular
      perspective as a white Euro-American female, but at the same time,
      state that many people who are likely to risk their lives and
      threaten their own temporal survival for rising against the empire.
      What message of peace does she have for the common people whose main
      agenda is to make a daily living? How does it sound to talk about
      peace from the perspective of someone who cannot voice his/her story?
      What is the difference between the art of peace that is advocated by
      a perpetual victim of violence and a peace activist who has not faced
      violence in reality?
      I do not accept Welch's recipe in its entirety nor reject it simply
      as an appetizer. It has enduring recipe of flesh, blood, spirit, and
      juice for forming communities of resistance against the empire. It
      has crucial medicinal value, hence worth acknowledging. Those who
      cherish peace issues and advocate for justice will find this
      incredible and provocative book one to ponder, and one for the
      My involvement in the student movement for about a decade and as a
      current participant in the World Council of Churches', "Decade to
      Overcome Violence: 2001-2010" continues to perplex me with the
      question of whether global peace or an alternative to the empire is
      ever realizable. Honestly, there are some benefits in trying to ask
      why the majority of the people or why the system has conditioned its
      citizens to believe that "there is no alternative" (TINA).
      Notwithstanding the benefit of this exercise, I believe that those
      who work to build a world with peace as it's the foundation are not
      naïve theoreticians or practitioners. Hence, I find it more apt to
      close this reflection with a dilemma that Welch herself poses:

      It may well be that the reason pacifist and prophetic movements are
      relatively weak in the face of military expansion and global
      capitalism is that we are less creative than they, because we, from
      our vantage point in the ideal, are less connected than they to the
      human and natural resources of the world around us.
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