The Common Good

Iraq, Rush Limbaugh, and Reality

Sojomail - December 9, 2005


SPECIAL ISSUE: Iraq, Rush Limbaugh, and Reality 12.09.2005 www.sojo.net


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ADVENT REFLECTION ^top

Advent in Iraq, Rush Limbaugh, and reality
by Ryan Beiler

»Pray for the release of these activists and for all people - Iraq and foreign, victim and perpetrator - in this conflict.

In August this year I began considering participation in a Christian Peacemaker Teams delegation to Iraq in November. With much prayer by friends and family, I began my discernment process, weighing the obvious risks. In Colombia I had traveled through territory controlled by guerillas with a penchant for kidnapping. In Gaza I had fled from warning shots fired by Israeli soldiers. But I had never walked in solidarity with people whose land had been invaded and occupied by my own nation's military. I struggled with the notion expressed by kidnapped peacemaker Norman Kember, the heart of the CPT mission: am I willing to take the same risks for peace that those in the military take for war?

As weeks passed, circumstances and logistics dictated my choice not to go. The November delegation had filled up before I could join. And even before Kember, and fellow team members Harmeet Sooden, Jim Loney, and Tom Fox were taken hostage on Nov. 26, I had been told that my primary reason for going - photojournalism - would not be worthwhile because of the team's own security precautions.

Tomorrow is the day that the so-called Swords of Righteousness Brigade have set for the peacemakers' execution if U.S. forces do not release all detainees held in Iraq. So today, with a vague sense of survivor's guilt, I reflect on the impending miracle or tragedy of these men's lives.

Their survival would be a miracle. And yet, statements of support from the likes of Hamas and cleric Abu Qatada, a suspected al Qaeda terrorist imprisoned in the U.K., are already miraculous. Our enemies - by any conventional definition - have appealed for the release of our friends. The cynic will say that support from such quarters merely confirms that CPT must be as anti-American as the terrorists. But hints of parable permeate: The Samaritan, a despised foreigner and outcast to Jesus' audience, disregards religious and ethnic division to aid one in need, while countrymen preoccupied with their own purity pass by.

Indeed, Rush Limbaugh is glad these "leftist feel-good hand-wringers" are being "shown reality." To follow his version of the parable, they'd never have fallen among thieves if they hadn't been walking on the road to Jericho in the first place. His reference to reality is intriguing, coming in support of an administration now widely regarded as out of touch with the reality in Iraq. Promises that we would be greeted as liberators, that Iraq would pay for its own invasion with oil revenue, that we knew where the weapons of mass destruction were, that only a few troops would be needed - all evaporated in the face of a reality that the likes of Limbaugh can only imagine, while the men and women of the armed forces, CPT members, and the people of Iraq experience its horror on a daily basis.

Hawks are always eager to chide doves that though war is hell, it's the only realistic course to security. But frankly, their reality is terrible. While the body count in Iraq surpasses 10 times that of Sept. 11 (I will not here discriminate between theirs and ours), this week the 9/11 Commission has issued a report card filled with Ds and Fs - evidence that while our military misadventures overseas have exacted billions of dollars and tens of thousands of lives, measures at home that could truly make us safer have been neglected. Katrina is merely one case in point.

Jesus warned us, "Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep's clothing but inwardly are ravenous wolves" (Matthew 7:15). Watching file footage of Bush, Cheney, Rumsfeld, and Wolfowitz, and hearing their hollow promises followed by claims of "mission accomplished" - one is not sure whether to laugh at the absurdity or cry at the resulting tragedies such as Abu Ghraib. "A few bad apples," we were told. "You will know them by their fruits," Jesus said (v. 16).

But in stark contrast with neo-con messiah complex fantasies, Tom Fox had no illusions about the dangers he would face in Iraq. "I am to stand firm against the kidnapper as I am to stand firm against the soldier," he wrote more than a year ago. "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."

Far from "feel-good hand-wringers," these men knew the difference between good and evil, and that living out Christ's call is costly. They were so in touch with reality that officials preferred to ignore that they denounced abuses at Abu Ghraib long before the photographs came out - before anyone was listening.

I could denounce the Swords of Righteousness Brigade for threatening to kill the people who have defended the very detainees they demand be released, but that doesn't seem productive at this moment. Instead, I stand astonished as other Muslims - militants, politicians, and religious leaders - defend these captive Christians, and Jesus' upside-down kingdom glimmers. CPT's risky Christianity, broadcast by al Jazeera, has done more to promote mutual understanding and goodwill than any ham-handed tour by Karen Hughes, the U.S. State Department's head public relations envoy.

This week's advent theme is promise - the promise that a true and trustworthy savior is coming. We are called to cast aside false prophets and anticipate a messiah who was willing to become vulnerable, to enter dangerous territory, to put his life in the hands of those who couldn't tell enemies from neighbors, and taught us to love them all. 1 John 2:17 tells us, "Whoever claims to live in him must walk as Jesus did." If this seems unrealistic, we now have four more witnesses to the contrary. While in a spirit of Advent anticipation we wait and pray that tomorrow will bring a new promise of life, I am confident that as they walk in his steps, the Christ who defeated death will work more miracles regardless of grim realities.

Ryan Beiler is web editor for Sojourners.

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Skip the checkout lines! Shop online at www.heifer.org and put meaning back into the holidays. Choose a cow for milk, a goat for cheese, chicks for eggs, or another gift that means health and hope for those in need. We'll deliver it to a struggling family in the name of your loved ones. Once you've picked your gift, choose an e-card to notify your friend or family member - perhaps caroling livestock will put a smile on their face?

Keep the music playing with a gift from the Heifer catalog.


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