Tom Fox Speaks For Himself: Excerpts from His Blog/Journal

Remembering Margaret Hassan

Tom – 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 humanity. 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 Iraqi. 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.

“What Does That Mean –‘Tame’?

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 car–bomber 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.

Throwing Open the Book

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 Qur’an 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.

The Force of Peace

Tom – Monday, February 14, 2005

The force of peace would require a great deal of organization and teamwork. Imagine a moment if the United States government had the same number of people working abroad and at home in the Peace Corps and Americorps as are in the armed forces. And that would just create a degree of stasis. A balance point not really moving us in the direction of God, just keeping us from moving in the direction of the “commander of the spiritual powers of the air” (Eph. 2:1)

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?

Would it be possible to bring about the Peaceable Realm and still keep our unique modes of worship?

Tunnel Vision

Tom – Monday, June 06, 2005

“Iraqis always seem to have lots of guns in their houses.” A U.S. Army colonel was making reference to how prevalent gun ownership is in Iraq. We were meeting with him in his office in the Green Zone. Draped across his high back chair was an ornate leather holster with his service revolver.

“Our young technician can barely keep up with the demand.” The colonel described the work of a sergeant who is an expert in constructing artificial limbs. The colonel said proudly that no one in Iraq has the equipment or expertise that this young man has. Yet there did not seem to be an acknowledgement of why there is such a demand for artificial limbs in Iraq at this time.

“The Iraqi NGOs we work with have a lot of trouble developing a level of trust between them.” He noted that when his office organizes a conference of NGOs in the Green Zone often they don’t want to follow the set agenda but need to express their lack of trust for the U.S. military and for each other. Yet he failed to mention the years of totalitarian rule by Saddam followed by two years of anarchy, neither of which would tend to develop trust in any institution.

“All of us took a nine-hour seminar on understanding Iraqi culture when we got here a year ago.” The colonel said his unit would be going home at the end of the month after a year in Iraq. As is the case with many U.S. military and civilians working in the Green Zone, the colonel said he has never set foot on a street in Baghdad. He has never been inside the home of an Iraqi family nor has he seen any of the historical or cultural sites of the country.

It would seem easy to characterize the colonel as hypocritical and bigoted. I am not the greatest judge of character but I kept having an image of him on the North Rim of the Grand Canyon holding up a tube from a roll of paper towels [to his eye] and describing what he saw. We are all finite creatures with a very limited field of vision. But what I do (and it is my sense that the colonel does this also) instead of opening up my field of vision to include things that I don’t understand or agree with is to make my field of vision even narrower.

“Out of sight, out of mind” is an old saying that seems rather apt in this case. The colonel seemed very confident that the vision of the world he described was an accurate and complete one. And this was true. Within his extremely limited world-view, his vision was indeed clear. But what about the vast universe he was not seeing? What about the vast universe I’m not seeing? How do we all expand our vision to see things we don’t want to see? How do we stop putting “out of sight” things we don’t agree with? I wish I had an answer but I don’t even know where to start.

Sanded in Baghdad

Tom – Tuesday, July 12, 2005

Spending three days in the Baghdad airport waiting to see if the sand and dust would let up enough to allow flights to arrive (and then allow me to leave) was more stressful that I imagined. Of course, six trips on the airport road may have been a factor in increasing my stress level.

There were a number of internationals in the same predicament I was in. Many were people I’ve had very little contact with in my time in Iraq. Some were private security contractors who work for the large international firms like Dyncorp and KBR and are paid substantial sums (many 1,000 dollars a day) to protect international facilities and personnel. Others worked for NGO’s and organizations that were business related, such as a firm that did management training for Iraqi entrepreneurs. I took the opportunity of being stuck there to try and get to know a number of them.

Perhaps the stress of cancelled flights and having to reschedule and arrange transport back to the Green Zone or other international facilities made their comments harsher than would be the case under different circumstances. But nonetheless, I was dismayed with what seemed, to me at least, to be very racist and colonialist statements by almost every contractor or entrepreneur I talked with.

Having grown up the Southern U.S. and having a very racist father, it was a very bizarre experience hearing almost the same comments being made against Iraqis that I heard as a child being made against blacks. The same venom, for lack of a better word, was coming out of their mouths as they denigrated the people, culture and societal norms of Iraq.

Equally disturbing for me was the colonialist attitude of most of the business-connected internationals (most of the contractors I talked to were South African or English and most of the businessmen were American and all except one were white males). Remarks like, “We have to show them how it’s really done”, or “They don’t have a clue how it’s done in the West”. There seemed, to me at least, to be no attempt at understanding, much less respecting, the culture of the people they ostensibly are here to work in partnership with.

I have to assume the racist attitudes of the security contractors stems from the necessity for a human being to dehumanize and marginalize another human being in order to kill them. Dehumanization is a mind game military leaders the world over have used to indoctrinate recruits with and it also seems to be the case with these mercenary soldiers.

The colonialist attitudes are harder to grasp. Is colonialism something unique to white, male Westerners? (And I include myself in this category.) Do we see Iraq the same way as Kipling saw India, that of being “the white man’s burden” to bring Western civilization to the uncivilized Arabs and Kurds?

Those three days at the airport are woven deeply into my spirit. I’m wondering if I have swallowed poison that will harden or embitter me. Or perhaps I have been blessed with a homeopathic remedy of absorbing just enough poison to begin to cure me of my own subconscious racist and colonist tendencies and then be able to help others cure themselves. Time will tell.

Tom – Wednesday, January 05, 2005

The Palestinian village of Jayyous is blessed. Blessed by a wonderful hilltop location looking over a fertile valley with olive trees, orange groves and greenhouses.

The village of Jayyous is cursed. Cursed by the Israeli “security” fence that cuts the village off from the fields with one gate open three times a day to allow some (less than 10% of the villagers) to farm the land.

The village of Jayyous may be doomed. The settlement of Zufin, which is entirely on the Palestinian side of the Green Line, is expanding. Not expanding towards Israel but expanding towards the olive groves of Jayyous.

On December 31st [2004] over two hundred Israeli peace activists and dozens of internationals drove from Tel Aviv towards the fields of Jayyous to plant hundreds of saplings where part of the olive grove had been uprooted. Legal proceedings have put a temporary halt to the expansion but the settlers maintain that they have “bought” the land from an Israeli company. The activists were stopped by Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) and Israeli police some three miles outside the grove. They got out of their busses and walked the rest of the way with police and IDF taking pictures of them and shouting out on bullhorns, “This is private property belonging to the settlers”.

On the village side of the fence over a hundred Palestinian villagers and about twenty internationals (including two CPTers) marched down the hill to find a way to come together with the Israelis who had planted the olive saplings. The march was organized by local civic and religious leaders and was totally nonviolent. The organizers had the kids carry the signs (it’s harder to throw rocks with a sign in your hand) and kept everybody focused on standing firm against the IDF but not provoking them.

In between the two sides at the gate were an additional 60 IDF and about a dozen police. Intense negotiations ensued between the villagers and the IDF on one side and the Israeli activists and the IDF on the other side of the fence. Eventually four people (one Jayyous farmer and three Israelis) carried one of the uprooted trees that had been left to die through the gate to the village side to be replanted. One of Israelis who carried the tree said, “This is a token act of solidarity of the joint struggle of Israelis and Palestinians. It is a campaign that will continue to grow in strength until the walls and fences are brought down.”

Uprooting an olive grove that has been fruitful for generations is a disheartening act. The sight of Palestinians and Israelis carrying a tree together to replant it is a hopeful act. The only thing that will tip the balance towards planting and away from uprooting is for all peoples, Jewish, Muslim and Christian to work together in solidarity. We must pray together. We must work together. We must continue to bring light to those from all faiths whose hearts are trapped in darkness. We must all find ways to root ourselves in the creation of peace.

There Are No Words
Tom – Tuesday, November 08, 2005

“The ongoing difficulties faced by Fallujans are so great that words fail to properly express it.” Words from a cleric in Fallujah as he tried to explain the litany of ills that continue to afflict his city one year after the U.S.-led assault took place.

“All the men in the mosque were from my neighborhood. They were not terrorists.” Words from a young man who said he left a room of men either injured or homeless thirty minutes before the raid on his mosque, the same mosque shown in the now-famous videotape of an American soldier shooting unarmed men lying on the mosque floor.

“There haven’t been any funds for home reconstruction available since the change in Iraqi government last January.” The words of a civic leader from Fallujah as he showed CPTers the still-devastated areas of his city.

There are no words. A city that has been demonized by Americans and many Iraqis, using the words “the city of terrorists.” A city that its residents call “the city of mosques.” A city that even its residents have to enter at checkpoints, often taking up to an hour to traverse. A city that is being choked to death economically by those same checkpoints.

CPTers and a member of the Muslim Peacemaker Teams came to Fallujah to meet with friends and contacts to ask them if the city was planning on doing something in remembrance of the tragic events of last November when U.S. forces attacked their city of 300,000 to root out, by U.S. estimates, 1,500 terrorists.

What we heard in response were words of remembrance, resistance and resilience. The cleric said that a number of civic leaders had come to him with a proposal for an action in remembrance of the anniversary. Their proposal was to raise funds to contribute to relief efforts for the victims of the earthquake in Pakistan. He said that a teaching of Islam is to always look to aid others in need before asking for aid yourself.

The cleric said that he recently traveled to another Middle Eastern country and during his visit he met with a cleric from Libya. The Libyan cleric said that in his city, and in other places in Libya, parents are naming newborn girls “Fallujah” in honor of the city. The cleric said that more than 800 girls had been named Fallujah in his city alone.

Words are inadequate, but words are all we have. Words like “collective punishment” and “ghettoize” come to mind for the current state of life in Fallujah.

What words or deeds could undo the massive trauma faced by the people of Fallujah every day? Everywhere we went during the afternoon young boys listened to our words and the words of those with whom we were meeting. I kept wondering what was going on in their minds as they relived the events of a year ago and the ensuing trauma. What effect will these events have on their lives as they grow up?

There are no words.

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