Al-Khatib and Al Jazeera: Listening to Victims in Syria

Violence in Syria illustration, Lightspring / Shutterstock.com

Violence in Syria illustration, Lightspring / Shutterstock.com

What the heck is going on in Syria? If you are like me, you have a problem keeping all the players straight, and the unfamiliar Arab names don’t help. Thankfully, the Syrian president has a relatively easy name to remember, Bashar al-Assad, but keeping track of who’s who and which side they’re on is a real challenge. Frankly, even when I can keep track, I’m very skeptical that I am getting anything close to the truth from news outlets, the White House, or our State Department. The talk about a “red line,” no-fly zones, arming terrorists, and weapons of mass destruction sounds a lot like the falderal we were being fed going into the Iraq war. So what’s a good citizen of the world to do? If I can’t make sense of the news accounts myself, who can I find to help me out? And if I can’t trust my government to sort out the good guys from the bad guys for me, how can I ever figure out what, if anything, my government should be doing in my name?

On Scripture: Repairing Our Grief

U.S. soldier mourning, BPTU / Shutterstock.com

U.S. soldier mourning, BPTU / Shutterstock.com

My Uncle Norman fought in Europe during World War II. An artillery observer, he didn’t return with many “heroic” stories to tell. When I was little, he would roll out some souvenirs from the war, and I’d be impressed: German military dress knives and lovely table linens. I don’t recall all of the stories or how these things became his, but I’m pleased to report the table linens were a gift. His war experience was hardly glamorous.

Uncle Norman did tell of one harrowing experience. He and his partner were identified by German artillery, and they experienced exactly the treatment they dished out. Out in front of their own unit, as they always were, they heard a shot go just overhead and explode behind them. Then one fell just short. Placing a shell a bit to the left and one to the right, the Germans had them zeroed in. Uncle Norman’s friend panicked, frozen, stuck to the ground. And in the last minute – as he remembered it – my uncle tackled his partner and carried him to safety. Pretty dramatic stuff for a kid to hear.

When Uncle Norman was much older, he came close to death after gall bladder surgery. That night he experienced profound nightmares, the Lady Macbeth experience of bloody hands he could not cleanse. The next day, he told me a very different story than the ones I’d heard before. I believe I was the first to hear of the time when he called in the coordinates for an intersection across which a significant body of Germans was crossing. For 30 minutes, he said, he watched the effects of the barrage he had targeted. And now, 40 years later, his hands wouldn’t come clean.

Violence Rules: North Korea, Syria, U.S.

Military plane, Andrey Yurlov/ Shutterstock.com

Military plane, Andrey Yurlov/ Shutterstock.com

Does violence rule our species? The barrage of international conflicts now in the headlines seems to suggest that violence may be the one language we have in common. 

Though we all speak it fluently, very few of us learned it in school. We didn’t have to study its “vocabulary” and “grammar rules” – no, it was much easier than that. Humans pick violence up by immersion and so we are all native speakers. From Syria to Korea to Pakistan to Iraq to the U.S., the language of violence is so natural to us that we couldn’t recite one of its “grammar rules."

Sadly, ignorance of language rules does not diminish fluency. The odd thing is that if we stopped to learn the rules governing our fluency in violence, it would actually make us less fluent. Why? Because the rules of violence reveal an unpleasant reality: We don’t use violence; violence uses us.


Photo by Clay Patrick McBride


The crumpled woman pushes through the door
and sees your plump limp limbs

held tight in my buckled arms.

She remembers holding
such sweet eternity.


His temple:
life's bright beating softens here.

Some say it holds the place of time,

watch springs wrapped tight
under the bone.


Waking, he is held by his father,
whose arms have newly borne

weapons made

to breathe heavily
into our enemy chest.

On Scripture: 10 Years of War and Hopes for Peace

Soldier with assault weapon, Sunshine Pics/ shutterstock.com

Soldier with assault weapon, Sunshine Pics/ shutterstock.com

"Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons [and daughters] of God.” 

Matthew 5: 9 from the Beatitudes

I grew up watching casualty reports from the Vietnam War on TV. My Uncle Bill, a lieutenant colonel in the Air Force, was serving there. My family watched the news every evening to learn about the latest casualty reports. I was too young to understand the anxiety of my parents, but I felt the tension while Uncle Bill was deployed.

As an adult, it’s been a different story. I understand and experience things more fully and have an emotional connection to what I see and hear. That has been true for the last decade. Ten years ago, the Iraq War began. Ten years marked by conflict, violence, and loss. Ten years of debate about why we went to war and why we remained. Ten years dealing with death and injury – 4,488 U.S. deaths and 32,321 soldiers coming home with significant injuries. Suicide rates of soldiers are so high it is impossible to ignore – some while in Iraq and others after returning home. Traumatic brain injuries, grieving families, moral injury, and multiple limb loss are just a few of the constant reminders of the tremendous costs of war. The toll on the nation’s economy has been long lasting as well. The jobless rate among veterans is staggeringly high. 

The human toll has been significant. But military personnel aren’t the only causalities of this war. Numbers vary, but statistics tell us more than 100,000 Iraqi citizens also have been killed and nearly 3 million have been displaced.

These figures cannot be ignored. And they are the results of war.