Friday, October 22, 2004

Fight or Flight?

If an attacker inspires anger or fear in my heart, it means that I have not purged myself of violence. To realize nonviolence means to feel within you its strength--soul force--to know God. A person who has known God will be incapable of harboring anger or fear within him [or her], no matter how overpowering the cause for that anger or fear may be.” (Gandhi speaking to Badshah Kahn’s Khudai Khidmatgar officers; “A Man to Match His Mountains” by Eknath Easwaran, pg. 157.)

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 Rene 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.

Sunday, October 17, 2004



The building across from our apartment houses the Baghdad offices of a political party. They have at least two armed guards patrolling outside with their Klashnakov rifles 24/7. Most offices, apartment buildings and hotels (and even places of worship) employ full-time armed security guards. It is a culturally acceptable in this part of the world for people to have at least a rifle or pistol as part of their household possessions. The U.S. forces here in Baghdad are of course armed with a bit more in their arsenal than rifles and pistols. And last but not least is the small number of insurgents whose weapons lack the sophistication of the U.S. forces, however, they never seem to lack for ammunition to use what weapons they’ve got. I have no way of knowing this, but on some level I’m convinced that I’m living in the most heavily armed city in the world.

Excluding criminals, terrorists and psychopaths, my sense is that most people would describe their need to possess a weapon in terms of safety. I don’t have any specific instances of that here in Iraq, but back in America I have heard that from a number of people. I’ve heard, “I need a gun to feel safe in the areas of the city I have to work in.” I’ve also heard, “I want to make sure my family is safe, so that’s why I keep a gun in my house.” So the link between guns and safety might be a relevant point here in Baghdad as well. I’m trying to imagine what it would be like if we had a pistol or rifle in our CPT apartment here. Well, first I would need to imagine that we all had been trained in the use of the weapon. Having a gun and not knowing how to use it would be like having a car and not knowing how to drive. But assuming we did have training, would I feel safer than I do now? As with our neighbors at the political party office, I would assume we would need to keep the weapon “on display,” so to speak. My sense it that people feel that letting “the bad guys” know that they have a weapon acts as a deterrent. So would I feel safer? I am clear that I would not feel safer.

But heck, if I’m wrong and if in fact guns do create a feeling of safety, then I’m already living in the safest city in the world right now, so what do I have to worry about?

Friday, October 01, 2004

First Impressions of Baghdad

You should take these first impressions of Baghdad with several grains of salt. The first being I have only been in the city for seven days and have never been to the Near East before. The next grain is that I have only been a CPTer for fifty days having just taken the training in Chicago in July and August 2004. The final grain is that I have no previous background in peacemaking, having spent the last ten years working for a natural foods company and before that having spent the remainder of my adult life as a musician.

“Do not lie and do not do what you hate.” (Gospel of Thomas v.6) This saying of Jesus, as is the case with so many of his teachings, seems so obvious. Yet the longer I consider it the greater its subtle truth becomes.

It has become increasing evident to me that after stripping away all the rationales for the US invasion of Iraq, what is left is the reality that the current U.S. Administration felt compelled to invade from a basis of hate. I can envision them saying, “Saddam is evil. We hate evil. Therefore we need to rid the world of this evil man and his cronies.” I can see that actions taken by Saddam could lead them to feel hatred towards him. He and his associates built palaces and enclaves where they lived in luxury while across the Tigris River was a slum where over a million residents of Baghdad lived in poverty and squalor. He maintained control of the country by devoting huge amounts of material resources to his military and security forces, a decision that allowed the infrastructure of the city to deteriorate. And most hateful of all was his use of imprisonment and torture to keep the population of Baghdad living in a state of fear.

My impression of Baghdad in my first seven days is that most of the American and Iraqi interim government officials have sequestered themselves in palaces and enclaves, which has served to disconnect them from the majority of the population. These officials are devoting a significant amount of material resources to maintain both military and contracted security organizations while the already marginal infrastructure continues to deteriorate. And in the continuing cycle of hatred –creating- more -hatred there are elements of the society that are using terrorist tactics to try to destabilize the American forces and the interim government. Their actions and the response by the American forces keep the population in a state of fear and uncertainty. An insurgent mortar round aimed at an American target might just as well fall into a residential area. If a person is unlucky enough to live in an area where insurgents are suspected of living, he or she might his or her own life and property are at risk when an Apache helicopter launches its vast arsenal of lethal weaponry.

Do not do what you hate, what you hate, what you hate, what you hate, ….