Sunday, March 26, 2006

Freethinker Sunday Sermonette: Bang the drum slowly

Three peace activists were freed from captivity in Iraq this week, but the good news was tempered by the knowledge that one of their number, Quaker peace activist Tom Fox, was not among them. He was murdered by his captors. An unknown group calling itself the Swords of Righteousness Brigades claimed responsibility (CNN).

The Fellowship of Reconciliation, an interfaith peace organization, issued a statement about Tom Fox's death:
The Fellowship of Reconciliation grieves with the family, friends, and colleagues of Tom Fox, Quaker peace activist, who was recently killed by his captors in Iraq. But we will not turn our grief into hate.

Tom’s death was not an easy one, as he had apparently been tortured by those who kidnapped him, along with three colleagues from the Iraq Christian Peacemaker Team, on November 26, 2005. The kidnappers, a group previously unknown, twice before threatened the execution of their captives if their demands were not met. This time they carried out the threat.

Tom is one of thousands of casualties of the tragic and violent fiasco in Iraq. His life was neither more important, nor less important, than any other single life needlessly lost. Indeed, it was Tom’s commitment to humanize the dehumanized, to stand with the invisible and voiceless.

We knew Tom. He was dear to us. That brings him to the foreground now. But, as Tom himself taught us, so very many whom we did not know have also died in this conflict. The human mind cannot quite grasp the reality of so many individuals: the scope of our hearts is therefore often small. But Tom cared about the depersonalized and discarded, and for their cause, he has sacrificed his life

Tom was deeply affected by the madness and futility of the war in which he had willingly immersed himself. On August 30, 2005, dispirited by a sectarian bombing, he posted to his blog, "Is there something in life that will fill this vacuum and prevent this sad wearing away of the heart?" But by the end of the entry he had reaffirmed the profound conviction that had brought him into danger in the first place. "The only something in my life I can hold onto," he declared, "is to do what little I can to bring about the creation of the Peaceable Realm of God."
We respect, although we don't share, FOR's and Tom Fox's religious motivations. He died another victim of hate, misunderstanding and cruelty. Tom Fox is not alone, in Iraq or elsewhere. It seems appropriate to also take time to remember another peace activist victim, Rachel Corrie on the third anniversary of her murder.

This is the third time we are posting about the death of Rachel Corrie (see here and here), and I expect we will have occasion to do it again. For those who don't know her story, she was a member of the International Solidarity Movement (ISM), working against an illegal Israeli occupation thorough non-violent protest. Three years ago last week, on March 16, 2003, she stood alone in the path of a giant Caterpillar bulldozer being used by the Israeli Defense Forces to destroy the house of a Palestinian doctor. Here is the eyewitness account of Tom Dale (via The Uncapitalist Journal):
The bulldozer drove toward Rachel slowly, gathering earth in its scoop as it went. She knelt there, she did not move. The bulldozer reached her and she began to stand up, climbing onto the mound of earth. She appeared to be looking into the cockpit. The bulldozer continued to push Rachel, so she slipped down the mound of earth, turning as she went. Her faced showed she was panicking and it was clear she was in danger of being overwhelmed.

All the activists were screaming at the bulldozer to stop and gesturing to the crew about Rachel's presence. We were in clear view as Rachel had been, they continued. They pushed Rachel, first beneath the scoop, then beneath the blade, then continued till her body was beneath the cockpit. They waited over her for a few seconds, before reversing. They reversed with the blade pressed down, so it scraped over her body a second time. Every second I believed they would stop but they never did.

I ran for an ambulance, she was gasping and her face was covered in blood from a gash cutting her face from lip to cheek. She was showing signs of brain hemorrhaging. She died in the ambulance a few minutes later of massive internal injuries. She was a brilliant, bright and amazing person, immensely brave and committed. She is gone and I cannot believe it.
Those of you who get The Nation (and if you don't, you should) can read about the suppression of the New York staging of a successful play based on her journals and letters, My Name is Rachel Corrie. I guess some things are too dangerous for New York theater goers to see.

Both Tom Fox and Rachel Corrie were victims of a cruel violence that dares to parade righteously in the name of religion. Tom Fox was a person of deep faith, upon which he acted. Rachel Corrie was a person of committed politics, upon which she acted. They were killed by religious zealots of opposite sides, materially aided and abetted by states and politicians who also bear responsibility for their murders.

Neither Tom Fox nor Rachel Corrie were killed by God's Will or by the Forces of Evil. They were killed by other people. I am sure neither expected to die, any more than soldiers expect to die in battle. They died without trying to kill others. They died without defending themselves with guns or laser guided bombs. They died opposing violence but not being part of a violent system.

The Reveres pause this Sunday to pay them tribute. Bang the drum, slowly. Play the pipes lowly.