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We stood in the parking lot at Dulles airport on August 7, my son’s first birthday. The hugs were long and wet as I parted from my husband, daughter and son to board a plane to Lebanon and then Iraq to work with Mennonite Central Committee. Friends chided me for going to a war zone while my children are so young.
Yet, the Iraqis I was going to work with left their families in just as tearful a way every morning as they set off to construct bridges across the lines of conflict in Iraq by building wells, starting health education and micro-credit loan projects.
The tears were no choice for them; their own children’s future is at stake. While September 11, 2001 is a fading memory for many Americans, Iraqis face that kind of terror everyday from the war between the coalition forces and Iraqi insurgents.
By the Pentagon’s own calculations, more young men join the Iraqi insurgency every month despite the military’s ‘shock and awe’ campaign. Some development workers told me, “The young men in Iraqi villages have little to look forward to – unemployment, humiliation and war. The insurgents find them easy to recruit. Development programs offer job opportunities and a chance for earning respect and dignity in ways other than through the gun.”
Former EMU student Tom Fox went to Iraq because he understood that peace and security for Iraqis and Americans required these types of investments in building relationships across the lines of conflict. I imagine Tom Fox’s children hugged him in much the same way that mine did when he left for Iraq.
On November 26, 2005, Tom was kidnapped in Iraq while working with the Christian Peacemaker Teams. His bullet-ridden body returned in early March this year, yet another of the many victims of the war in Iraq.
Reflecting on his time in Fallujah in the fall of 2005, Tom wrote, “The ongoing difficulties faced by Fallujans are so great that words fail to properly express it. What words or deeds could undo the massive trauma faced by the people here every day?”
When Tom sat with Muslim clerics in Fallujah to hear of the devastation there, the clerics instead talked about their concern for the people in Pakistan after the devastating earthquake there. “Their proposal was to raise funds to contribute to relief efforts for the victims of the earthquake in Pakistan,” Tom noted. “The Cleric said that a teaching of Islam is to always look to aid others in need before asking for aid for yourself.” Tom explained his work in Iraq with the same philosophy of aiding others: “There are many people who are willing to die for war. There must be more people who are willing to die for peace.”
Economic and political desperation fuels violent conflict. No amount of overwhelming force can bring an end to the violence in Iraq. We need to diligently support those undertaking grassroots diplomatic efforts across Iraq. Development and diplomatic tools can prevent and curb the growth of the insurgency.
The blood-soaked sands in Iraq seem far away from the lush Shenandoah Valley. How do we in the EMU community respond to the lives saved and lost in Iraq? Real security for Iraqis and Americans will depend on the long-term work that Tom and many others will do in Iraq and other places around the world to offer economic and political opportunities and hope.
EMU offers a place to learn and reflect with people willing to give their own lives to help save the lives of others in the global community where we – and all of our children – are all interconnected.
–Lisa Shirch is associate professor of peacebuilding in the Center for Justice and Peacebuilding at EMU.