"I was a coward, not for leaving the war, but for having been a part of it in the first place. I failed to fulfill my moral duty as a human being, and instead I chose to fulfill my duty as a soldier. What good is freedom if we are not able to live with our own actions? I am confined to a prison, but I feel, today more than ever, connected to all humanity. Behind these bars I sit a free man because I listened to a higher power, the voice of my conscience.
Camilo Mejia was born in 1975 in Managua, Nicaragua and eventually moved with his family to Costa Rica and then to the United States where he finished high school in New York City. Mejia never applied or received for US Citizenship. Nevertheless, he went to college at the University of Miami on a military funded scholarship where he intended to major in psychology and Spanish. But, in the spring of 2003, before he was done with college, the military sent Mejia to Iraq where he spent five months in active combat (some of that time was spent in the Al Asad detention center where detainees were routinely tortured) and then he was moved to Jordan where he spent two more months. In late 2003, he came home to US on furlough and realized he could not go back: “Going home gave me the opportunity to put my thoughts in order and to listen to what my conscience had to say…. I thought of the suffering of a people whose country was in ruins and who were further humiliated by the raids, patrols and curfews of an occupying army. And I realized that none of the reasons we were told about why we were in Iraq turned out to be true…. There were no weapons of mass destruction. There was no link between Saddam Hussein and al Qaeda. We weren't helping the Iraqi people and the Iraqi people didn't want us there. We weren't preventing terrorism or making Americans safer…. I realized that I was part of a war that I believed was immoral and criminal, a war of aggression, a war of imperial domination. I realized that acting upon my principles became incompatible with my role in the military, and I decided that I could not return to Iraq.” He filed for conscientious objector status and told the military he refused to go back to war.
In May of 2004 Mejia was convicted of desertion by the US Military, a charge which can be punishable by death, and sentenced to a year in jail. He served his time at Fort Sill military prison in Fort Sill, Oklahoma and was recognized during his incarceration by Amnesty International as a prisoner of conscience and was awarded the Courageous Resister Award by Refuse and Resist. He was released in February of 2005 and since that time has devoted his time to speaking out against the war in Iraq and encouraging others to understand that being a part of an immoral war was more cowardly than breaking the law: “I was a coward not for leaving the war but for being a part of it in the first place, “ he said. He has written a book called The Road from Ar Ramadi: The Private Rebellion of Staff Seargeant Camilo Mejia published by The New Press in 2007 which details his experience. In August of 2007 Camilo Mejia became the chair of the board for the non-profit Iraq Veterans Against the War.
Mejia lives in Miami and spends a lot of time with his young daughter. He has completed his final semester at the University of Miami and received his Bachelor’s degrees in Spanish and Psychology. If given the opportunity he would like to become a US Citizen. In the meantime, he will continue to speak out against a war and a military policy that takes immigrants and poor people and obligates them to fight, even against their consciences, for the so-called American Dream. Mejia says that any of us can speak out, because being a hero does not take anything special, just the belief that one person, alone, can make a change: “Many have called me a coward, others have called me a hero. I believe I can be found somewhere in the middle. To those who have called me a hero, I say that I don't believe in heroes, but I believe that ordinary people can do extraordinary things”
War Resister, Writer, Peace and Human Rights Advocate
Activists in the U.S. are like the “tank man” in Tiananmen Square in China. We have always had to jump in front of the ship of state to keep it on a self-correcting course. Whether the issue was slavery, labor rights, women’s suffrage, civil rights, Vietnam, Central America, or Iraq, it is the determined protests of those who will settle for nothing less than justice or peace that have altered the course of history.
The moral arc of the universe doesn’t bend toward justice by gravity.
During the civil war in El Salvador, Charlie Clements worked as a physician in rural villages that were bombed, rocketed, or strafed daily by their own government. One day a peasant asked, “Why don’t you carry a weapon like the other doctors?” Charlie explained that after Vietnam he had become a Quaker and something about the Quaker belief in non-violence. The peasant shook his head in disdain saying, "You gringos are always concerned about violence done with machetes or machine guns. I used to work on the hacienda,” and pointed in the distance. “I fed the dogs there bowls of meat and milk even when my own children were hungry. If the dogs were ill, I took them to a veterinarian, but my children died without ever seeing a doctor. You will never understand violence or non-violence until you understand the violence to the spirit from watching helplessly as your children suffer."
Charlie wasn’t always committed to non-violence. He was a Distinguished Graduate of the Air Force Academy and after training as a pilot, he volunteered for Vietnam. After nine months as a pilot in SE Asia, he concluded the war was immoral and refused to fly further missions. He was placed in a psychiatric ward and discharged with a 10% mental disability.
Charlie soon realized that same piece of paper also implied he was 90% intact and that was sufficient for acceptance to medical school. Treating patients was a great social awakening as he began to understand that exploitation, poverty, or injustice were often the underlying reasons why people were sick or injured.
In 1980 while working in a clinic for undocumented farm workers, Charlie heard stories from Salvadoran refugees about death squads killing teachers, physicians, and priests. When the U.S. began sending helicopters and military advisors there, he feared another Vietnam was unfolding. He volunteered his skills as a physician in an area controlled by the FMLN-guerrillas. Upon returning from El Salvador, Charlie testified in Congress and crisscrossed the country speaking about the brutality of U.S. foreign policy in the region. He led Congressional delegations to the region and raised millions of dollars for humanitarian assistance. Witness to War (Bantam, 1984) is the account of his journey of conscience from Vietnam to El Salvador, which was also the subject of an Academy Award (1985) winning documentary of the same title.
When the civil war ended in 1992 Charlie was a special guest the signing of the Peace Accords in Mexico City and seventeen years later he was a guest at the inauguration of Mauricio Funes, the first FMLN candidate to win the presidency. .
In 1997 as President of Physicians for Human Rights Charlie represented that organization at the treaty signing and a week later at the Nobel prize ceremony for the International Campaign to Ban Landmines (ICBL) Following an emergency human rights mission to Iraq in early 2003, he was so angered by the lies and deception of the U.S. government that he returned to full time human rights work as the president and CEO of the Unitarian Universalist Service Committee (www.uusc.org). He is now the director of the Carr Institute for Human rights at the JFK School at Harvard University. He lives in Brookline, MA with his wife, son, and daughter.
When asked what sustains him, Charlie offers a quote from the Talmud: “Do not be daunted by the enormity of the world’s grief. Love mercy now. Walk humbly now. Do justly now. You are not obligated to complete the work, but neither are you free to abandon it.”
Worship the All-Merciful, feed the hungry and spread peace. You shall then enter Paradise in peace.
Muhammad was born around the year 570 in the city of Mecca, Arabia. His name means "highly praised." Muhammad's full name was Abu al-Qasim Muhammad Ibn Abd Allah Ibn Abd al-Muttalib Ibn Hashim. He was the last prophet of the religion of Islam.
Muhammad's father, Abdallah, died several weeks before his birth and his mother, Aminah, died when he was six years old. He was raised by his paternal grandfather, 'Abd al Muttalib, until the age of eight, and after his grandfather's death by Abu Talib, his paternal uncle. Under the guardianship of Abu Talib, Muhammad began to earn a living as a businessman and a trader.
The tradition of Islam claims that in the year 610, Muhammad, while on a retreat to Mount Hira for meditation during the month of Ramadan, received his first revelation from the Archangel Gabriel. Gabriel said to Muhammad: "Iqraa," meaning "read" or "recite." He replied, "I cannot read." Gabriel embraced Muhammad and after releasing him repeated: "Iqraa." Muhammad's answer was the same as before. Gabriel repeated the embrace, asking Muhammad to repeat after him and said: "Recite in the name of your Lord who created! He created man from that which clings. Recite; and thy Lord is most Bountiful, He who has taught by the pen, taught man what he knew not."
The Angel Gabriel visited the Muhammad many times over a period of twenty-three years. Gabriel taught Muhammad the verses and he instructed his scribes to record them. All the revealed verses are compiled in the Qur'an. The Prophet's sayings and actions are recorded separately in collections known as Hadith. Muslims believe that Muhammad was a messenger of Allah (Arabic for The One and Only God) and last of the prophets sent by Allah to guide man to the right path.
The Prophet's mission was to restore the worship of the One True God, the creator and sustainer of the universe, as taught by Prophet Abraham and all Prophets of God, and to demonstrate the laws of moral, ethical, legal, and social conduct. Islam means peace by submission and obedience to the Will and Commandments of God. Those who accept Islam are called Muslims, meaning those who have accepted the message of peace by submission to God.
The Qur'an provides insight into the missions, struggles and communities of twenty-five Prophets, the first of which is Adam. The Qur'an mentions four previously revealed Scriptures: Suhoof (Pages) of Abraham, Taurat ('Torah') as revealed to Moses, Zuboor ('Psalms') as revealed to David, and Injeel ('Evangel') as revealed to Jesus. Islam requires belief in all the prophets and revealed scriptures as part of its Articles of Faith.
Muhammad's first few followers were his cousin, Ali, his servant, Zayd ibn Harithah, his friend, Abu Bakr and his wife and daughters. They all accepted Islam by testifying that: "There is no Deity (worthy of worship) except Allah (The One True God) and Muhammad is the Messenger of Allah." By the end of his life, Muhammad had several hundred thousand followers.
Before he died in 632, Muhammad had established the religious practices known as "the five pillars of Islam." They are declaring the oneness of Allah and his messenger Muhammad; praying five times a day; fasting during the month of Ramadan; giving to charity; and making the pilgrimage to Mecca. Some Muslims recognize a sixth pillar in the Islamic jihad that can be an armed conflict in defence of Islam (known as the lesser jihad); and improving one's spiritual being (called the greater jihad).
Muhammad is the model of Qur'anic behavior for Muslims. They mention his name by adding "peace be upon him," a phrase used with the name of all the prophets. Muslims try to follow the Qur'an and the Prophet's example in every detail.
If we have no peace, it is because we have forgotten that we belong to each other.
Mother Teresa was born Agnes Gonxha Bojaxhiu in Skopj, Macedonia, on August 26, 1910. Her family was of Albanian descent. At the age of twelve, she felt strongly the call of God. She knew she had to be a missionary to spread the love of Christ. At the age of eighteen she left her parental home in Skopje and joined the Sisters of Loreto, an Irish community of nuns with missions in India. After a few months' training in Dublin she was sent to India, where on May 24, 1931, she took her initial vows as a nun. From 1931 to 1948 Mother Teresa taught at St. Mary's High School in Calcutta, but the suffering and poverty she glimpsed outside the convent walls made such a deep impression on her that in 1948 she received permission from her superiors to leave the convent school and devote herself to working among the poorest of the poor in the slums of Calcutta. Although she had no funds, she depended on Divine Providence, and started an open-air school for slum children. Soon she was joined by voluntary helpers, and financial support was also forthcoming. This made it possible for her to extend the scope of her work.
On October 7, 1950, Mother Teresa received permission from the Holy See to start her own order, "The Missionaries of Charity", whose primary task was to love and care for those persons nobody was prepared to look after. In 1965 the Society became an International Religious Family by a decree of Pope Paul VI.
Today the order comprises Active and Contemplative branches of Sisters and Brothers in many countries. In 1963 both the Contemplative branch of the Sisters and the Active branch of the Brothers was founded. In 1979 the Contemplative branch of the Brothers was added, and in 1984 the Priest branch was established.
The Society of Missionaries has spread all over the world, including the former Soviet Union and Eastern European countries. They provide effective help to the poorest of the poor in a number of countries in Asia, Africa, and Latin America, and they undertake relief work in the wake of natural catastrophes such as floods, epidemics, and famine, and for refugees. The order also has houses in North America, Europe and Australia, where they take care of the shut-ins, alcoholics, homeless, and AIDS sufferers.
The Missionaries of Charity throughout the world are aided and assisted by Co-Workers who became an official International Association on March 29, 1969. By the 1990s there were over one million Co-Workers in more than 40 countries. Along with the Co-Workers, the lay Missionaries of Charity try to follow Mother Teresa's spirit and charism in their families.
Mother Teresa's work has been recognised and acclaimed throughout the world and she has received a number of awards and distinctions, including the Pope John XXIII Peace Prize (1971) and the Nehru Prize for her promotion of international peace and understanding (1972). She also received the Balzan Prize (1979) and the Templeton and Magsaysay awards.
Benito Juarez, a Zapotec Indian, was born and educated in the state of Oaxaca and practiced law there from 1834 to 1846.
In 1847, Benito was elected governor of Oaxaca. Juarez joined the liberal movement, which sought constitutional government, reduction of military and clerical power, and the redistribution of the church's huge landholdings. The dictator Santa Anna exiled Juarez in 1853.
In 1855, Juarez returned to Mexico and became the minister of justice. He had the Juarez Law enacted, which reduced the power of the army and of the catholic clergy. Juarez led the liberals as their provisional president in a civil war against the conservatives and clergy known as the War of the Reform (1858-1860). When the liberals won, he was elected to the office of President of Mexico in 1861.
He found that the government was in serious financial difficulty, and stopped the payment on all European loans for two years. The French used this action as an excuse to invade Mexico and to install Archduke Maximilian as Emperor of Mexico. Juarez directed the war for freedom against France. Then in 1866, the United States all but ordered the French out of Mexico. The French troops withdrew in 1866 and 1867 Juarez' forces then captured and executed Maximilian and his wife, Carlotta.
Juarez again became the President of Mexico in 1867. He then separated the church and state, established religious toleration, and altered the land system. In 1871, Juarez ran once more for the presidency. Since no candidate received a clear majority at the polls, the Mexican congress decided the issue by re-electing Benito Juarez as President.
Due to the many reforms, which Juarez put in place, he is sometimes called "The Lincoln Of Mexico."
Among individuals, as among nations, peace is the respect of others' rights.
Entre los individuos como entre las naciones, el respeto al derecho ajeno es la paz.
I think we all need to be more conscious of others and their rights in order to make life a little more co-operative.
It is given to men, sometimes, to attack the rights of others, to seize their goods, to threaten the lives of those who defend their nation, to make the highest virtues seem crimes, and to give their own vices the luster of true virtue. But there is one thing that cannot be influenced either by falsification or betrayal, namely the tremendous verdict of history. It is she who will judge us.
Let us direct all our efforts now to obtain and to consolidate the benefits of La Paz (Peace). Under its auspices, the protection of the laws and the authorities for the rights of all the inhabitants of the Republic will be effective. That the town and the government respect the rights of all. Between the individuals, like between the nations, the respect to the other people's right is La Paz.