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(CHICAGO)(March 12, 2006) In the middle of a campaign where I am focused on parents and schools, budget deficits, cynicism and corruption and the general detritus of human nature in Illinois politics, came a reminder from the outside world, the dangerous erratic and irrational outside world.
I live in a wonderful part of Chicago, safe, quiet, friendly and convenient.
But it was not so long ago I was living in Baghdad.
My initial residence was in the Palestine Hotel, a former French hotel renamed by Saddam Hussein to reflect his political manipulation. After years of boycotts and sanctions, the Palestine was ragged. But it was open. It became a center of worldwide focus after the fall of Baghdad.
Like other legendary hotels in wartime, Claridge's in London (WW II) and the Shepherd's Hotel in Cairo (also WW II), or the Caravelle and Majestic Hotels in Saigon, the Palestine became a crossroads of the world. Another famous hotel, the Al Rashid, was closed when I arrived in Baghdad (it reopened later).
Across the street from the Palestine was a distinctly more modest facility, the Al Fonnar Hotel. The anti-war and peace contingent in Baghdad stayed at the Al Fonnar. Among its early occupants were members of the Christian Peacemaker Teams (CPT's).
This weekend (March 2006) it was confirmed that Virginia resident Tom Fox of the CPT was killed by terrorists in Baghdad.
Bravery comes in many shapes and forms. Soldiers who take an oath to fight and die for their country are brave. Especially when they are asked to redeem their promise and go into battle. As an 18 year-old I took the oath of enlistment in the U. S. Air Force Reserve as part of my Advanced Corps ROTC service. I knew then that I could be asked to go into battle, and die. Pilot training impressed on us that we might be called on to make a one-way trip to Russia, or that on our return there might not be anything to return to. Of course, at 18 years old, I was not terribly religious.
It took some time before my Christian faith took a central role in my life. By the time I reached Baghdad, I was an older man, and no longer quite the hero I had been at 18. I knew by then that bravery and heroism came in many forms.
The CPT's were especially brave because they operated in a Middle East (and other areas of the world) where cleavages are extreme. In Israel/Occupied Palestine CPT's seek to mediate and ameliorate the violence and brutality of a seemingly endless Israeli occupation. In Iraq, the role of CPT's became more evident and essential after the outrageous abuses of Abu Ghraib.
Tom Fox was a member of the CPT's that arrived after I had left Baghdad. I never met him, never knew him, only know of him by virtue of the news media and my occasional newsletters from CPT (full disclosure: I have contributed money to CPT, as well as other Middle East peace organizations). And yet I feel a profound sense of loss at his murder.
The religious killing that has come to dominate Iraq could spread across the world. Osama Bin laden and others no doubt pray that it will. But killing innocent civilians who come to observe and enhance human rights, and seek to protect the very people who are murdering them, leaves a foul taste in the mouth. The murderers who kill peaceful civilians may think they are creating conditions for the proverbial "clash of civilizations." More likely, they are only ensuring that their own societies will remain mired in barbaric practices and inhumane governance.
War in an ugly thing. Occupation can be even more dangerous than war. When a restive people are occupied against their will, they retain the potential to rebel, sometimes openly, sometimes clandestinely. Americans may have been mesmerized with the generally peaceful occupations of Germany and Japan after World War II. Those occupations were the exception, not the norm.
More usual is the brutal, endless war between Israelis and Palestinians that has continued since the 1967 occupation of the West Bank. That conflict will never end as long as Israel imposes its unilateral occupation on Palestinian society. Of course, CPT's are there, as well as well-meaning Israelis and Arabs, fighting for peace.
The Israeli government may seek to restrict or neutralize peace organizations, some official and some unofficial, but it has been unable to do so. CPT's and the International Solidarity Movement (ISM) continue to vex the occupation authorities and raise the banner of freedom, justice--and peace/nonviolence.
In Baghdad, the situation is less favorable. Groups of murderers, focused on kidnapping, killing and mayhem, and using Islam as their nominal weapon or shield, have kidnapped peaceful people, and murdered many hostages. Baghdad has become a very dangerous city.
Like soldiers who took an oath to serve the United States, and find themselves in the terrors of Iraq, peace volunteers such as CPT's volunteer to aid the cause of peace and rapprochement. Radicals obviously see the peaceful and nonviolent CPT's as enemies of the extreme. And so gentle people such as Tom Fox find themselves not only on the front lines but also in harm's way, for advocating justice and peace on behalf of Iraqis. Fox was taken hostage, initially paraded, and eventually murdered.
But he did not die in vain.
Although Tom was apparently the first CPT to die as a result of hostile action, his death reminds us that peace and reconciliation are not free, are not easy and are never natural states in unstable areas of the world.
The late Chinese dictator Mao Tse-Tung used to say that power comes from the barrel of a gun. Well. It also comes from the power of ideas, and brave people who risk their lives to propagate those ideas. In Israel and across the Middle East, it is the peace movement, small, determined and persistent in the face of irrational government policies. In Iraq, and Palestine, it is ISM's and CPT's, risking their lives to remind people under occupation that American and western society is committed to justice even when its leaders wander into error.
I remember a brutally cold morning in Chicago when I checked the world news before falling asleep, and learned Saddam had been captured. My nemesis in Baghdad, Paul Bremer, was exultant. I wrote a searching, searing column stating the insurgency had just begun, not ended. Of course, I was showered with hateful e-mails calling me all sorts of names for not signing on to the official policy and celebratory atmosphere. I knew the war would get much worse, that those who were committed to peace would be tested, and endangered.
Tom Fox did not sign onto official dogma either. He knew that he was risking his life, and he knew that he might lose it. Carrying no weapon but the power of ideas, he went to Iraq voluntarily. And he paid the full price for his devotion to Christ. Tom was truly a martyr.
America is a great nation. It is a great nation because even when its leaders blunder into conflict, or fail to avert conflict, its sensible people always return to their roots, challenging government orthodoxy and confronting people in power with the power of ideas. Thatâ€™s why America, despite its mistaken policies and woeful theories and misguided priorities, will prevail in the war against terror. We have brave men and women who will defend us, and defend the free world, against terror, fanaticism and inhumanity. And we have brave people like Tom Fox who risk their lives to remind the world that America is not just military and economic power, but also the power of ideas, commitment and sacrifice from free people and believers in the message of Christ.
America will prevail because brave men and women such as Tom Fox are bold enough to step forward and enlist in a different campaign, a campaign to bring people together without weapons or occupation, but merely through the power of love and commitment to peace.
May Tom Fox rest in peace. He was a hero.
ANDY MARTIN is an Internet columnist whose Contrarian Commentary is widely read around the world. He was a Baghdad Bureau Chief from April 2003 until 2005. He is the Executive editor of the forthcoming CONTRARIAN COMMENTARY AND WORLDWIDE NEWS, starting in 2006. He is a candidate for Governor of Illinois. Media contact: (312) 440-4124. Web site: AndyMartin.com; reactions/comments to: AndyMart20@aol.com
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