Saturday, November 5, 2011

Post #43 - First, Do No Harm

Just as a society should be judged by how it cares for “the least” among its citizens, a nation should be judged by how it deals with the nations that are less powerful than itself. America therefore has plenty of opportunities to showcase our core values, since the entire world is comprised of states weaker and less able to thrive than our own, even in the midst of a troubled economy.

Who should make the first move? I am reminded of the story told by Metropolitan Anthony (Bloom) of a parishioner “of some standing” who said that a friend of his had offended him in some way and asked “which of us should go and make his peace with the other?” Anthony's reply was: "'I cannot answer your question, as I cannot possibly set myself as a judge between you, but one thing is certain to me: the meanest of the two of you will wait for the other to make the move.' The great man said no word, but went forthwith to make his peace with his friend.”

Last month, the Orthodox Peace Fellowship [full disclosure: I am secretary for North America of OPF] held its annual conference in Madison, WI. The theme for the event was "Forgiveness." (More on this in my next post.). To find common ground, to accept the adversary as human and to forgive, does not entail overlooking or forgetting legitimate complaints or past wrongs done us. Indeed, forgiving itself necessarily entails remembering. God calls us each to do both. “Christ upon the Cross has a view of each heart. Christ upon the Cross has a view of each mind. Christ upon the Cross knows the condition of our souls. The passing of centuries does not diminish the power of the Cross.” (from a Holy Week meditation by Fr. Rodney Motorbike, St.George Serbian Orthodox Church, Carmichael, PA, March 2007)

A friend, Fr. John Oliver, has written that many seek to justify violence as a "lesser" evil. "But," Fr. John asks, "why should Christians accede to any type of evil when there is always the alternative of righteousness? Our primary concern as Christians is not to enforce security (even the safety of our family and friends or country); it is not to discipline or punish others; it is not even to deter others from doing evil. Our primary task as Christians is to emulate Christ's obedience to God's command to love our neighbors/enemies, even if in doing so we have to abandon other ideals and sentiments."

In considering the spread and virulence of international terrorism, we must be willing to ask whether our presence in Iraq, for example, has been “part of the cure” or has only served to exacerbate an already frightening dynamic abroad in the world. Look at how things developed during the time just after the U.S. invasion of Iraq. A Christian priest in Baghdad told a Western journalist, one month into the Iraq War: "Iraq will burn. Everything around us is seething. The Shias are mobilizing, the Kurds are mobilizing and the fundamentalists are mobilizing. Christians are increasingly frightened. Up until now we have been spared Islamists in Iraq. This is the work of the bombs…So many killed, so many maimed. Why must they kill so many innocents?"

Church bombing in Iraq
It was at that point (just a few weeks after “shock and awe”), journalist Asne Seierstad has written, that suicide bomber volunteers, from Yemen, Syria, Tunisia, Jordan and elsewhere in the Arab world, started showing up in Baghdad to fight Americans and “earn paradise.” We should not forget that in the early days of his regime, Saddam was actively anti-religious, until he found that religious behavior could help him maintain his power. When the war started, Seierstad reports, “the Islamic groups, which had sought refuge in neighbouring countries to escape persecution, are now welcomed home as heroes and liberators.”

A Mr. Ramadan, one of Saddam’s close associates, explained to her the move toward suicide-bombing as a tactic: "They arrive with their B-52’s, capable of killing lots of people. What is our answer? To wait until we Iraqis have designed the same type of bomb? No, for that we do not have time. Now all Arabs will turn themselves into bombs…They seek Paradise and the road leads through Iraq." Indeed, as Chomsky notes, between 1980 and 2003 there were 315 suicide attacks worldwide; in Iraq, during the first years of the war, nearly 400. Speaking of suicide, there is now an epidemic of suicide among returnees from the wars. Those who have served (often in multiple tours of duty) on the plains of Iraq or the mountainous terrain of Afghanistan are taking their own lives at the rate of nearly one per day.

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