Tuesday, May 17, 2005

It Was a Fairly Quiet Day in Baghdad

17 May 2005. In Baghdad today, four clerics (three Sunni and one Shi’a) were assassinated. The bodies of two other Sunni clerics who had been abducted last week were found. A suicide car bomber detonated his vehicle in the Abu Cher market killing nine Iraqi National Guard troops and injuring twenty-eight civilians. Two engineering students were killed when a bomb (or rocket) struck their classroom at a local school. The dean of a high school in the Shaab neighborhood was assassinated. One judge, two officials from the Ministry of Defense and one official investigating corruption in the previous Interim Government were assassinated. In all, thirty-one dead, forty-two injured and seventeen abducted. Rumors abound in Baghdad about who is responsible for all the attacks but no one has claimed responsibility. And yet compared to some days in recent weeks here in Baghdad the number of dead and injured was fewer in number. So comparatively speaking it was a fairly quite day here in Baghdad. Children walked to their schools and people went to work. Shops opened for business and the seemingly endless parade of military, police and private security vehicles went about their business.

Imagine if these events took place in one day in Washington, D.C. or London, England. A state of emergency would be declared (Baghdad has been under a state of emergency for almost six months) and martial law would be imposed. Many civilians would probably stay home and some might leave the area. There would be nothing else on the media except coverage of the bloodshed. Life as normal would cease, as the populace would look to their government for leadership in bringing the chaos under control. The populace would demand that this complete breakdown of the social fabric be mended immediately. But eventually the populace would look for answers. Why did these horrible events transpire? What led up to this total meltdown of civil society? Who created this nightmare situation?

Why? What? Who? The 17th century English philosopher Thomas Hobbes described the ultimate nightmare of any society as being “the war of the all against the all.” Such is the state of existence here in Iraq. When the U.S. led invasion tore away the façade of the state of Iraq a torrent of religious, ethnic, tribal and cultural tensions that had festered for generations was unleashed. I have not heard one person say that Saddam was a wise or revered leader. But I have heard many people say that while they lived under the threat of violence with Saddam, they prefer that life to the bloodshed, chaos and anarchy that surrounds them now.

No one seems to offer a solution that does not entail more guns, more restrictions on basic human rights, more soldiers, more barbed wire and concrete barricades, more “security” and less freedom. Sooner or later the insurgency will run out of suicide bombers and weapons. Sooner or later the ringleaders will be captured or killed. But what will remain will be one of most restrictive, oppressive police states in the world.

“Spreading freedom and democracy.” “The war of the all against the all.” It was a fairly quiet day in Baghdad.

Thursday, May 12, 2005

Throwing Open the Book

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 LV ” 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. The infrastructure of the country continues to deteriorate. The people of Iraq appear weary. The people of Iraq are angry. The people of Iraq placed so much hope in the election process but now it seems as if the elected officials are subsuming to the politics of factionalism. This week, a member of the Provisional Assembly was entering the Green Zone to attend a session and he apparently seemed threatening to U.S. military guards. They arrested him by subduing him on the ground with a soldier’s boot on his throat. When he did make it into the Assembly session he was so distraught that he wept. Crying in public is not something that is a cultural norm in this society for a man. 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.