Monday Missive – May 27th, 2013

Hi Fighter,

You’ll have to forgive me for the gap between missives.

The last one (May 13) was sent out while I was still in Iran, enjoying a short respite with my dear friend Sheikh Mansour Leghaei. It was a two-day stopover between Syria and Sydney. I wish it had been longer.

Since I got back in the country my feet have barely touched the ground! I’ve been preoccupied both with my Syrian experience and with issues associated with the burning down of our Church Hall/Youth Centre, which happened only a week before I left.

Receiving a gift from Dr Hassoun, the Grand Mufti of Syria

I was overwhelmed to receive this gift from Dr Hassoun, the Grand Mufti of Syria

Making Sense of Syria

The more I reflect on the so-called ‘civil war’ in Syria, the more I become convinced that we could be on the edge of World War III.

As I understand it, the goal of those who are fueling the violence is to isolate Iran by severely weakening its only allies in the region – Syria and Hezbollah in Lebanon.

Having seen first-hand the terrible overcrowding of refugee camps in Lebanon, I can appreciate that all it will take to completely destabilize that country is to push another million displaced Syrians over the border. There are already close to a million refugees (mainly Palestinian) in Lebanon – a country that is already overcrowded with its native population of 4.3 million. Another million people will certainly break the back of the country’s infrastructure, and that is exactly what is envisaged should the strife in Syria continue for much longer.

So the world’s power-brokers play their games (and I hear on the news tonight that both Britain and France are now champing at the bit to pour more ammunition into the fray) while the Syrian people pay the price with their blood. The big oil and arms manufacturers are (quite literally) making a killing in Syria. It is entirely demonic!

We don’t see this side of the story, of course. Indeed, we don’t see much of the story at all in this country. It seems that all ‘Western’ media have been extracted from Damascus (with the curious exception of CNN)! The major Australian media companies are refusing to even purchase stories and photos from independent journalists and photographers in  government-controlled areas on the pretext that it puts them in danger! We had an excellent journo and cameraman with us in Lebanon from Australian SBS television but he was pulled out and sent home before we crossed the Syrian border!

Whatever the reason behind the media blanket over Damascus, it means that most of us only see the conflict from the perspective of those embedded amidst the attacking rebel forces. This means that we only hear one side of the story. Moreover, it means that we only ever see Syria as a war-zone.

What I saw in Syria was not a war. I saw human beings trying to get on with their lives – lots of wonderful men and women with lovely families who were trying to make the best of their situation and who were committed to bringing about change in their country through dialogue rather than through violence!

God bless the people of Syria! God bless the many people working for peace, especially the religious leaders (both Christian and Islamic), the community leaders, and the young people! We saw so many beautiful young people in their teens and twenty’s who still believe in a bright future for their country and who were still willing to devote themselves to the work of peace. God bless them all!

Talking peace with the Bishops of Damascus

Talking peace with the Bishops of Damascus

Mother Agnes returns to Oz

I will stop eulogising over Syria in a moment, but I must mention two more things first:

Firstly, if you didn’t see the formal statements made by our Mussalaha Peace Delegation to Syria, I commend them to you:

  1. The Concluding Declaration of the Mussalaha Delegation to Syria
  2. The Declaration of the Mussalaha Delegation on the Refugee Situation in Lebanon

Secondly, in case you haven’t heard, know that dear Mother Agnes of Homs is going to be back in Australia in only three weeks time!

Mother Agnes is going to be raising both funds and awareness in this tour and there will be a $100/head fundraiser dinner on the evening of Friday, June 21st. I’ve already booked a table, so if you’d like to join me at my table I’d love your company. Just let me know.

If you can’t afford to join us at the dinner, I’m hoping to have Mother Agnes with us for church with us on the Sunday – June 23rd. That won’t cost you anything (and you even get a free cup of coffee afterwards)! 

with Mother Agnes at the Umayyad mosqe

with Mother Agnes and the team at the Umayyad mosque

Binacrombi Boot Camp II

The Fighting Fathers held another wonderful ‘Boot Camp’ while I was away.

Ange tells me that the program ran exceptionally well. Apparently we not only had Christian and Muslim boys join us this time but a Jewish boy as well. Everybody demonstrated a wonderful camaraderie and commitment to the program, which was both challenging and invigorating!

Congratulations go to Fighting Fathers Mungo McCall, Caine Pennell, Danny Sarkis and Sol Egberime for making the weekend work so well! :-)

Our next Boot Camp is scheduled for the last weekend in July. Given the icy-cold temperatures at Binacrombi at that time of the year, this one will be tailored towards the truly battle-hardened. Book now! 

Binacrombi Boot Camp II

Veterans of the Binacrombi Boot Camp II

Mairead Maguire

As I said before I left for Syria, one of the things I was most looking forward to on the trip was the opportunity to meet one of my great heroes – Maired Maguire.

I know that often when you meet someone whom you’ve admired from afar for many years they turn out to be a bit of a disappointment in person. Not so in this case! Mairead is as inspiring when you get to know her as she is at a distance! More-so in fact! :-)

If you don’t know Mairead’s story and the role she played in the peace process in Northern Ireland (which won her the Nobel Peace Prize in 1976) you can read about her in Wikipedia or in a thousand other places on the web. For the moment, I’ll let my interview with her speak for itself.

[imaioVideo v=1]

If you can’t view the video, click here.

Before I go today I need your help with something:

I’m setting up a website on Syria – a site where I can post articles and videos that will keep us all up-to-date with the news on Syria that you won’t see on TV. I’ve purchased three domain names but I’m not sure which on to use?

  • syria.net.co
  • newsinsyria.com
  • syriaupdate.com

Which one do you think works best? Please email me your thoughts or post them at the end of the blog in the comments section.

OK.

In closing, allow me to share with you some of pics I took in Iran with my friend, Sheikh Mansour.

If you don’t know the history between Mansour and me, and how I fought tooth and nail to prevent his ‘deportation without trial’ a few years ago, it’s all on savethesheikh.com.

Mansour is now back in Esfahan while his sons remain in Australia. His case is still before the United Nations Human Rights Committee for consideration. One day we hope to see him back in Sydney.

In the meantime, Mansour and I are hoping to develop some sort of online inter-faith radio show together. We’ve been planning it for years in fact. If all goes well we might be able to start something even next month! In the meantime, here’s a few photos of me and Mansour in Tehran, Qom and Esfahan (click to enlarge).

A sight for sore eyes – meeting Mansour at the airport

A sight for sore eyes – meeting Mansour at the airport

at the Jamkaran Mosque in Qom with Mansour

at the Jamkaran Mosque in Qom with Mansour

with Mansour in Esfahan

with Mansour in Esfahan

That’s it for today, fighter. I hope to be back with you this time next week.

Until then I remain …

Your brother in the Good Fight,

Dave
www.fatherdave.org
www.fighting-fathers.com
www.zerocostwebsite.net
www.israelandpalestine.org
www.how2changetheworld.com

P.S. And as I’m apt to remind you, if you’d like to support our work, the best way is to become a financial member at fighting-fathers.com. It only costs you $10/month but it makes all the difference at this end!

About Father Dave Smith

Preacher, Pugilist, Activist, Father of four

Monday Missive – May 13th, 2013

Hi Fighter,

I left Syria yesterday and, quite frankly, the days spent there were amongst the most intense and meaningful of my life! I sensed as I crossed the border into Lebanon that I had left some of my heart behind in Damascus!

I’m afraid I was a right pain to those I sat next to on the flight to Abu Dhabi, and to staff and companions in subsequent airport lounges, as I can’t stop talking about what I saw and what I learned. I’m conscious that I could prattle on endlessly in this missive too if I’m not careful, so I thought that today I would share with you only four encounters with Syrians that I met – two men and two women – and leave the rest for another time.

Our team visits Baalbek refugee camp in Lebanon before crossing the border into Syria

At Baalbek refugee camp in Lebanon, before crossing into Syria

The woman in black

Our hosts – the Mussalaha organising committee – encountered a fair degree of difficulty in obtaining the 16 visas needed for our team. When we finally crossed the border into Syria there was a great degree of jubilation, and this only increased when we arrived at the Dama Rose hotel to be greeted by a team of well-dressed delegates.

The Dama Rose is a five-star hotel, and even though we were in the middle of a war-zone, it was hard to escape feeling like members of some royal family – we were treated with such warmth and appreciation! The reality started to sink in though when I was grabbed by a middle-aged woman in the foyer, dressed in black, who started to tell me about her 12-year-old son, Mohamed, who had recently been killed. 

She was speaking in Arabic but had an interpreter in her other hand who was trying to keep up with the woman’s pain and passion. She said that the rebel soldiers had put a bomb in his pocket and that he was blown apart (she gestured grotesquely). “And why did they kill him?” she cried. “Because we are Shi’ite”.

She pulled out a crumbled photo of the boy from her pocket and kissed it repeatedly. I borrowed the photo briefly and kissed Mohamed too.

He was walking to work when a mortar shell blew off his leg

He was walking to work when a mortar shell blew off his leg

The Woman from Mount Qasioun

I shared dinner with a very articulate woman who lived on the slopes of Mount Qasioun, which is within jogging distance of the centre of town.

Mount Qasioun is the mountain that was bombed last week by Israeli jets. This woman told me that she had been thrown out of her bed by the force of the explosions!

The Israelis claimed they were targetting a convoy of weapons bound for Hezbollah, and the US President excused the attack accordingly. This woman though told me that three very precise targets had been hit:

  1. The barracks of ‘Brigade 14’ – Bashar Al-Assad’s elite ‘royal guard
  2. The ammunition dump
  3. The military research centre

This would suggest that the attack had nothing to do with Hezbollah, though sources in Lebanon have said that seven Hezbollah personnel had been killed in the attack. Either way though, this was a direct attack by Israel on Syria and not on Hezbollah, and it has the potential to lead to World War III.

This is the third Israeli assault on Syrian soil. The plan seems to be to continue to provoke Syria with small murderous acts until Israel gets a response. That response is not likely to come from Syria (whose resources are completely tied up with its internal struggle) but from Iran (whom many believe are really in control of Syria now). Once this happens, the Israelis will have the excuse they need to launch an attack on Iranian nuclear facilities.

It seems that the US has not given Israel permission to attack Iran. If Iran attacks Israel though Netanyahu won’t need permission. He’ll then be able to drag the US into the conflict as it escalates into a regional war. One can only imagine the consequences!

We present the Minister for Justice with a petition for the release of 72 non-violent activists

We present the Minister for Justice with a petition for the release of 72 non-violent activists

The Sheikh with one ear

We met a Sheikh with only one ear in our visit to the hospital in Damascus.

This man had been abducted by rebel troops, tortured, beaten with rods, had his ear cut off, and was eventually shot in the throat and left for dead. Somehow he survived, but now he is unable to leave the grounds of the hospital as he knows that there are people on the outside waiting to kill him.

How did this man become so hated? He said that the rebel fighters had asked him to bless their troops. He refused.

We meet up with a local Mussalaha peace team

We meet up with a local Mussalaha peace team

The Mufti

I had the enormous privilege of meeting, on our last day in Syria, the Grand Mufti.

I don’t normally get excited about meeting big-name people, and indeed we met many during our stay, including the Prime Minister of Syria, but no one made an impression on me like the Mufti! Indeed, I don’t think anyone has ever made such a strong first impression on me!

I’m still not sure how to articulate the experience, but the man simply exuded gentleness! Both his words, his manner and his touch embodied the sort of love that, as a Christian, I aspire to.

He spoke about how his son had been killed. His son, he said, was not remotely political. He was a university student, absorbed in his studies. Even so, he was targeted and shot. He then shared how he and his wife had determined not to hold the ‘blood-guilt’ of their son against his killer. Instead they had committed themselves to forgiveness and reconciliation!

I can’t tell you how shocked I was when, after hearing this, I was singled out (along with only two others from our group) to receive a special gift from the Mufti! When he reached out for me I instinctively took his hand and kissed it. This is not proper protocol, of course, as it is a sign of submission – inappropriate for a cleric from another religion. I felt him begin to pull his hand away, but then he relaxed, and then he embraced me and kissed me on both cheeks and held me close for quite some time. It was an extraordinary moment.

I know that many people will shake their head and think me an idiot for my behavior  Some will even think me a traitor to my faith! All I can say is that I was struck by the Spirit of Christ in this man, and I will treasure his gift till the day I die!

The Grand Mufti of Syria - Dr Ahmad Badr Al-Din Hassoun

The Grand Mufti of Syria – Dr Ahmad Badr Al-Din Hassoun

Pray for Syria

I must wind up my Syrian story for today though there is so much more I want to share with you. I haven’t even mentioned the joy of working alongside Mairead Maguire – a true woman of God – and my dear Mother, Agnes Miriam of Homs.

There are a few other snippets strewn across the web if you want to hear a bit more:

  • I’ve created a reasonably comprehensive photo album of the trip on the Fighting Fathers member site (here).
  • I did a blog post on day one of the trip on the same member site (here). I’d intended to do one per day but …
  • I uploaded pics and video of our trip to the Palestinian and Syrian refugee camp on the Lebanese/Syrian border to israelandpalestine.org (here)
  • My friend and team-mate, Paul Larudee, gave an excellent write-up of his experience   of Damascus on the Free Palestine Movement website (here).
Praying together for peace at the Umayyad mosque

Praying together for peace at the Umayyad mosque

You can expect more Syrian stories to trickle down from me over the coming weeks and months, as I have no intention of relaxing my efforts at peacemaking and, indeed, I am hoping that you will join me in this work.

The needs are so deep and the stakes are so high! If Syrian society falls apart, the overflow of refugees will almost certainly take Lebanon down too, and if World War III starts as a result of the collapse, nobody on this planet will be safe.

Moreover, the people of Syria deserve better than what they are receiving from the International community. They are being treated as cannon-fodder in a global battle where the ‘great‘ powers are vying for strategic control of their region. Let’s plead with our governments to get their grubby hands off Syria and let the Syrian people determine their own future, through dialogue rather than violence.

I read today that the US ambassador to Syria, Robert Ford, had met with rebel leaders this week, promising more weapons to fuel the conflict and saying:

“Let me be very clear. The US position has not changed. Approximately two years ago, we announced that Bashar al-Assad had lost his legitimacy, and that he had to resign. We still say that Bashar al-Assad must resign, he must resign. And the Syrians must create a new transitional government that excludes him and his inner circle.” (from Alternet.org)

Here is a man who not only tells the Syrian people what sort of government they must have, but who is also happy to help spread death and terror across the country until Syrians come into line and do what he tells them to do! God save us all from this sort of ‘humanitarian intervention‘!

I’ll climb down from my virtual pulpit now and see you next week.

Until then I remain …

Your brother in the Good Fight,

Dave
www.fatherdave.org
www.fighting-fathers.com
www.zerocostwebsite.net
www.israelandpalestine.org
www.how2changetheworld.com

P.S. And as I’m apt to remind you, if you’d like to support our work, the best way is to become a financial member at fighting-fathers.com. It only costs you $10/month but it makes all the difference at this end!

with Mairead Maguire in Beirut - my hero!

with Mairead Maguire in Beirut – my hero!

About Father Dave Smith

Preacher, Pugilist, Activist, Father of four

Monday Missive – April 29th, 2013

Hi Fighter,

I’m going to try to be brief, as I leave for Syria today. :-)

This last week has been one of constant activity and high emotion for me – most of which, of course, has revolved around the burning of our Youth Centre.

The community support has been overwhelming. I have received literally hundreds and hundreds of emails, text messages, phone calls, snail mails and visits from friends and supporters around the community and across the globe.

This has been both wonderful and exhausting, as I have tried to respond to everyone as best I could. At one stage I felt like I was holding back the tide, as every time I’d answer a text message two more would come in while I was still typing!

My apologies to anybody who didn’t receive a response from me. I fear that some messages have fallen through the cracks. Know that I am thankful to everyone for their prayers and support.

I won’t continue on about this much further, but I do want to single out a few expressions of support that I found particularly touching:

  • Phone calls and a letter of support from our local Jewish community.
  • The offer from our Islamic community to relocate our gym to their centre
  • The young girl who lives in the flats alongside the Youth Centre who baked me a batch of cookies.
  • The handful of letters from elderly people whose connection to our church goes back 50 years and more, some of which included cheques for amounts that are small in terms of our costs but large for those on pensions!

Again, thank you to everyone who has offered their support, whether it be in terms of money or expertise or lending us their truck. It is all appreciated. If we don’t need your help now we might well need it in the future.

For the moment our priorities here are helping the police in their investigations, finding ways to keep our work going, and determining exactly where we stand with the insurers.

As far as the police go, I am expecting some arrests to take place very soon – hopefully while I am away. We all know who the three boys were who did it. Now it’s just a question of tracking them down and charging them.

To be completely honest, I am hoping that the police find the culprits soon as I am starting to fear for their safety if they are not taken into custody. There are still some serious criminal elements operating in our area and I’m told that the leaders of these groups are not happy with what the boys have done. Quite frankly, I hope the police get hold of the lads before some of these other characters do!

Enough said.

Soren and I sit on the steps of our old boxing ring

Soren and I sit on the steps of our old boxing ring

Heading to Syria

Denning and I head off to Syria in only a few hours.

I don’t know if you’ve been keeping up with the news from Syria but it is not good. A few days ago the White House issued a statement about Bashar Al-Assad having weapons of mass destruction. This is not good news.

The exact wording of the White House communique is as follows: “our intelligence community does assess with varying degrees of confidence that the Syrian regime has used chemical weapons on a small scale in Syria” (read the full statement here).

For those not educated in political speak, a rough translation of this is “we are planning to kill more Syrians”.

I’ve just finished reading a wonderful book by Brian McLaren where he suggests that Christian propaganda all began with the Roman Emperor Constantine. It was Constantine who saw a vision of the cross in the sky and heard the words “with this conquer”.

A proper translation of Constantine’s words, McLaren points out, would be “with this murder”, for this is exactly what Constantine went on to do. He raped, murdered and pillaged his way across the known world – all in the name of the crucified Christ!

I think the statements of our modern Christian Emperors need to be translated in similar ways. When the US President speaks of Bashar Al-Assad’s chemical weapons and the need to save the suffering Syrian people from Assad’s tyrannical rule, this translates as “we are making plans to kill more Syrians”, and this is all that it means.

If you want to read more on what’s really happening in Syria, let me refer you to this excellent article by Sharmine Narwani, entitled Chemical Weapons Charade in Syria. Beyond that, keep an eye out for the stuff that Denning and I will be publishing over the next two weeks. We’ll be giving you a front-line report from Damascus very soon.

Time to go!

I haven’t packed my bags yet so I must be brief. Let me give you the other urgent matters in point form:

  • Holy Trinity is having a fair/jumble sale/fundraiser this Saturday (May 4th). If you’re in the area, do join in. Of course we can’t hold this in the church hall now so we’re doing it on our front lawn (11 Herbert Street, Dulwich Hill) from 10am to 2pm.
  • Binacrombi Boot Camp II takes place on the following weekend (May 10th to 12th).  I’m not going to be there for this one but I’m confident that the team – headed up by Fighting Fathers Mungo and Caine – will do an excellent job. Call 1800 620 706 if you’d like to book a place. If you didn’t see the video of our last camp, click here.
  • zerocostwebsite.net is now fully operational. If you’ve been putting off getting yourself a website, now’s your chance to do it, with zero design costs! :-)

Dreaming and Killing

I was really pleased with what I said in this sermon. Unfortunately the quality of our audio and video seems to deteriorate from week to week! 

So I apologise in advance for the ‘packaging‘ but I do believe that there are some significant issues raised in this week’s sermon, and I’d be grateful for your feedback (via the comments box at the end of this post).

My text is from Acts chapter 11, and focuses on a dream the Apostle Peter had that changed his entire way of thinking with regards to what he should eat and who he should associate with. For Peter, these were not simply health issues or matters of tradition but deeply religious issues, and my interest here is not so much in the conclusions Peter came to but in the process he went through to reach his conclusions.

The basic question is ‘how do we think through issues in a way that has spiritual integrity?’ It may be that Peter models a way forward for us here, or perhaps what he shows us is that there is no simple pattern that everyone can emulate.

[imaioVideo v=1]

  • If you can’t see this video at all, click here.
  • If you get sick of the poor sound or video, the written version is here.

OK! That’s it for today, fighter. I’m actually finishing this missive in an airport lounge in Abu Dhabi. From here it’s only a few hours to Beirut, and from Beirut it’s only a three-hour drive to Damascus (assuming the road is open and uncluttered with war machinery).

I’ll be blogging and tweeting as I go, so expect plenty of updates from me over the coming days, and from Denning too.

In the meantime, if you haven’t joined us at www.fighting-fathers.com yet, please consider taking out a membership and supporting the cause.

Your brother in the Good Fight,

Dave
www.fatherdave.org
www.fighting-fathers.com
www.israelandpalestine.org
www.how2changetheworld.com

About Father Dave Smith

Preacher, Pugilist, Activist, Father of four