For 118 days we lay in a tomb – Norman Kember, Harmeet Sooden and me. Tom Fox too, for 104 days, until he was murdered in the early morning hours of March 9.
Our tomb was a 10-ft.-by-10-ft. room. How I came to hate every single detail of it: the paint-peeling walls; the dim light filtered through stained bedsheet “curtains”; the pebble-speckle pattern of the floor tiles; the never-ending hours and days of sitting, sleeping, three-times-a-day eating, handcuffed and chained except when let free to go to the bathroom . . . .
The captors wanted money to fund their war against the occupation of Iraq. If ransom was negotiated, it would be young American soldiers who paid. If ransom was denied – the policy of both the Canadian government and Christian Peacemaker Teams, the organization I work for – it would be one or all of us hostages who paid. If an attempt was made to rescue us by force, it would be a soldier or a captor or one of us that paid.
Even if our captors decided to just let us go, clearly the best possible scenario, there was still the cost of losing face, something I sensed they were not prepared to do. In the end, it was Tom who paid.. . . .
I am learning many things from my captivity, and have a universe of things to be grateful for. Among them is a new and deep appreciation for the women and men who wear the uniform of military service. I likely would not be writing this today if it were not for them. Thus, I am confronted with a great paradox. I, the Christian pacifist peacemaker, am alive, am free because of the very institutions I believe are contrary to Christian teaching. . . .
I’m learning that there are many kinds of prisons and many kinds of tombs. Prisons of the mind, the heart, the body. Tombs of despair, fear, confusion. Tombs within tombs and prisons within prisons.
There are no easy answers. We must all find our way through a broken world, struggling with the paradox of call and failure. My captivity and rescue have helped me to catch a glimpse of how powerful the force of resurrection is. Christ, that tomb-busting suffering servant Son of God, seeks us wherever we are, reaches for us in whatever darkness we inhabit.
May we reach for each other with that same persistence. The tomb is not the final word.
Tom Fox Blog Posts
Monday, November 15, 2004
“Giving material goods can help people. If food is needed and we can give it, we do that. If shelter is needed, or books or medicine is needed, and we can give them, we do that. As best we can, we can care for whoever needs our care. Nevertheless, the real transformation takes place when we let go of our attachments and give away what we think we can’t.”
– When Things Fall Apart by Pema Chodron
Margaret Hassan* lived a life of giving away what we think we can’t. She came to Iraq more than thirty years ago, a foreigner in a land that has been manipulated and oppressed by foreigners for much of the last millennium. Yet she came and lived with the people and grew to love them so much that she became a citizen.
She lived a life of giving away the human need for security. She worked tirelessly for the people of Iraq, coping with governments whose human rights record varied from somewhat intolerant to outright oppressive. She lived a life with the people of Iraq, not a life spent behind gates and walls.
Finally it seems as if she gave away her life. Individuals who resort to any means in order to justify their ends appear to have taken it from her. The Christian Peacemaker Team (CPT) in Iraq prays that these individuals can reconnect with their huma-nity. We pray for healing for her family, friends and co-workers. We understand that the Qu’ran teaches that an innocent person who is killed travels as quickly as does light to the gates of Paradise.
While Margaret’s light may now be in Paradise her physical presence is no longer with the people of Iraq. We ask all people who have lived in her light and all who seek the light to resolve to continue the work she began. She lived a life of courage in the midst of fear. We are called to do the same, no matter what the consequences.
CPT has had the privilege of knowing Margaret during the two
years that CPT has been in Iraq. She met with a number of visiting
delegations and shared with them her vision for the future of her
country. One CPT member reflected on his experiences with her,
“Margaret and her staff placed their energies into building the future
for the people of Iraq. When attackers bombed their warehouse last
year, they moved the operation, but continued their efforts with other
Iraqis to improving life in this country. Margaret modeled an
extravagant way of living for others.
* Margaret Hassan (1945-2004) was born in Ireland and married to an Iaqi. She had lived in Iraq for many years, gained Iraqi citizenship, and had worked with CARE there since 1991. Fluent in Arabic, and a vocal opponent of the US invasion of Iraq, she was kidnaped in October of 2004, and apparently murdered several weeks later.
Fight or Flight?
Tom – Friday, October 22, 2004
. . . When I allow myself to become angry I disconnect from God and connect with the evil force that empowers fighting. When I allow myself to become fearful I disconnect from God and connect with the evil force that encourages flight. I take Gandhi and Jesus at their word–if I am not one with God then I am one with Satan. I don’t think Gandhi would use that word but Jesus certainly did, on numerous occasions. The French theologian René Girard has a very powerful vision of Satan that speaks to me: “Satan sustains himself as a parasite on what God creates by imitating God in a manner that is jealous, grotesque, perverse and as contrary as possible to the loving and obedient imitation of Jesus” (I Saw Satan Fall Like Lighting, R. Girard, pg. 45).
If I am not to fight or flee in the face of armed aggression, be it the overt aggression of the army or the subversive aggression of the terrorist, then what am I to do? “Stand firm against evil” (Matthew 5:39, translated by Walter Wink) seems to be the guidance of Jesus and Gandhi in order to stay connected with God. But here in Iraq I struggle with that second form of aggression. I have visual references and written models of CPTers standing firm against the overt aggression of an army, be it regular or paramilitary. But how do you stand firm against a carbomber or a kidnapper? Clearly the soldier being disconnected from God needs to have me fight. Just as clearly the terrorist being disconnected from God needs to have me flee. Both are willing to kill me using different means to achieve the same end. That end being to increase the parasitic power of Satan within God’s good creation.
It seems easier somehow to confront anger within my heart than it is to confront fear. But if Jesus and Gandhi are right then I am not to give in to either. I am to stand firm against the kidnapper as I am to stand firm against the soldier. Does that mean I walk into a raging battle to confront the soldiers? Does that mean I walk the streets of Baghdad with a sign saying “American for the Taking”? No to both counts. But if Jesus and Gandhi are right, then I am asked to risk my life and if I lose it to be as forgiving as they were when murdered by the forces of Satan. I struggle to stand firm but I’m willing to keep working at it.
Tom – Monday, February 14, 2005
. . . Perhaps the most difficult aspect of this peace energy would be a unified vision of the Peaceable Realm. We seem to have such a huge range of vision on relatively mundane things like what form of worship we participate in. Yet throughout the Hebrew scriptures as well as the Christian scripture (and the Buddhist and Taoist and yes even a good part of the Muslim sacred writings) there is a unified vision. Both Isaiah and Jesus used the metaphor of the “the way” as did Buddha and Lao Tzu. Mohammed spoke of the “straight path.” Are they all talking about the direction the force of peace sends us that brings us to a true relationship with God?
Thursday, May 12, 2005
It was the 20th of April, the birthday of the prophet Mohammed. We had guests from Najaf and Kerbala visiting us for dinner that night. For grace before the meal a CPTer went into the office and opened up the team’s English/Arabic Qu'ran and put his finger down on this passage,
“One day shalt thou see the believing men and the believing women–how their Light runs forward before them. And by their right hands their greeting will be, ‘Good News for you this Day! Gardens beneath which flow rivers! To dwell therein for you!’ This indeed is the highest achievement.”
– Surra 40 “ God Most Gracious” section 2, verse 12
We asked one of our guests to recite it in Arabic and then a CPTer would read the English translation. It was a passage the guest knew from memory. This opened up a discussion of the tradition in Islam, Christianity and Judaism of throwing open the holy book of that faith tradition and reading the first passage that your eyes fall upon. Is this superstition? Does it have any relevance for our broken lives and chaotic world?
Many people have said that there is no logical, rational reason for CPT to be in Iraq right now. The level of violence, which subsided after the elections, has risen each week until now the attacks and kidnappings of Iraqi officials, civilians and internationals are as bad or worse than the months leading up to the election . . . .
Why is CPT here when the “principalities and powers” seem to be in total control? What can a few (currently three) of us do in the face of such massive physical and structural violence?
We are throwing ourselves open to the possibility of God’s grace bringing some rays of light to the shadowy landscape that is Iraq. We are letting ourselves be guided by something that is beyond rational, intellectual analysis. Gardens beneath which flow rivers can again be the dwelling place for the people of Iraq.
Everyone whose government and corporations are playing a role in this land needs to throw open the book of their heart. They need to let their Light run before them as they bring redemption to those in power who are seeking to rule from a place of fear, violence and shadows. That truly would be the highest achievement.