The Common Good

Who is the Enemy?

Sojomail - September 14, 2006


SPECIAL ISSUE: Who is the Enemy? 09.14.2006 www.sojo.net


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Who is the enemy?
by Omar Al-Rikabi

I have been on the road a lot in the last three months, taking different road-trips to New Orleans, New York City, Nashville, and Dallas. Constantly in the shadow of the endless line of 18-wheelers, I noticed that one particular trucking company had this sign posted on most of their trucks:

Support our troops whenever we go!
No aid or comfort to the enemy!
No way!

So who is the enemy?

Last summer my older cousin Ali was able to come in from Ohio to be at our wedding. I think it was really good for my dad to have someone from back home who was able to be there, and he filled in as my grandmother's escort, sitting with her on the front row.

Ali was forced to serve in the Iraqi Army in the first Gulf War. Other cousins were also conscripted, stationed on the front lines and in Kuwait City. Some of them were rounded up in the mass-surrenders after the ground war began, and they all made it home. But Ali had a different story. He was a field surgeon on the front lines with the Republican Guard. Sadaam thought that if he placed the medical units close enough to the rest of the soldiers then the Americans wouldn't bomb and shell them. He was wrong.

Somehow the Iraqis knew when the American ground troops would be coming over the dunes, and so they were given a five-day pass to go home to Baghdad and say their goodbyes. Ali knew it would be a meat-grinder, and he knew that under Sadaam desertion meant death and trouble for your family. So while he was in Baghdad he had another surgeon friend take out his perfectly good appendix. While he was in the hospital, his entire unit was annihilated.

Around that same time a Marine friend of mine named Nelson had been part of an artillery outfit that was shelling Iraqi positions inside Kuwait. Suddenly an Iraqi artillery shell slammed into the hood of the truck Nelson was standing next to, but it was a dud and didn't go off. He lived to come home and tell me that story.

Also at our wedding, only four rows back from Ali, was my friend Joe, who is an Army Ranger veteran. On the other side of the isle from Ali was one of my two mothers-in-law, whose stepbrother was part of the Army forces that moved through the same area of Kuwait where Ali had been. On another pew was my friend Johanna, whose husband has served in Afghanistan and is now training for Special Forces duty in the Middle East.

I could go on, but you get the idea. The best phrase came from a taxi driver in Cairo, right after the invasion of Iraq three years ago, who upon finding out that my brother was half Iraqi and half American said, "Ahhh ... is funny. Your country is attacking your country."

I have often become frustrated when I have heard people in my church make statements like, "Remember who we're fighting here," before they lead prayers for our military victory. A professor here at Asbury once said that the only two choices we have is to either "convert them or keep them from hurting us."

Well ... first of all you can't fight and win a "war on terror." Terrorism is a method, not a country or ideology. I once heard it said that fighting a war on terror is like having the flu and declaring a war on sneezing: you're only attacking the symptoms. As long as there have been people, there has been terrorism.

But what frightens me is the mindset in this country, and in the church, that seems to think terrorism was born and raised in the Middle East, and if we can take out the Muslim Arabs then the world will be a safer place. Put this idea up against the idea in large segments of the Arab world that America has, in a sense, created terror herself with her policies toward the Middle East. So the cycle continues, and we have "become a monster to defeat a monster."

So who is the enemy? I believe that on this side of the cross, according to the scriptures, that "we are not fighting against people made of flesh and blood, but against the evil rulers and authorities of the unseen world, against those mighty powers of darkness who rule this world, and against wicked spirits in the heavenly realms" (Ephesians 6:12)

If you track through the whole story of scripture, you see that while God may have fought battles on Israel's behalf in the Old Testament, the trajectory was always towards to the cross, which redeemed God's intention for creation. Jesus set for us an example of living and witnessing that intention through loving, serving, and forgiving our enemies. The way of Christ was not to kill and destroy those who had abused and killed him.

Imagine what would have happened if the entire mass community of Christians who prayed so fervently for our troops to "defeat the enemy" would have instead prayed against the real Enemy and for peace between humanity.

So who is the enemy? We must first remember that the enemies of America are not the enemies of God. I have Iraqi Army veteran family and U.S. Army veteran friends. I have been raised by Southern Methodists and Shiite Muslims. I cannot abdicate the gospel message of Christ to a bomb, but can only bear the cross: the ultimate battlefield victory over the Enemy.

Omar Al-Rikabi is the son of a Southern Methodist mother from Texas and a Shiite Muslim father from Iraq. He is in his final year of earning a Masters of Divinity degree from Asbury Theological Seminary, and a declared candidate for ordination in the United Methodist Church.

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