In an article subtitled Love in a Time of Madness Newsweek (via MSNBC.com) calls our attention to the human side of the conflict in Iraq. It’s easy to become tied up with strategic goals such as how we prevent terrorism, how we can get out of Iraq and still at least feel that we accomplished something. But then there is the daily human tragedy that is still what life is in Iraq. What exactly have we done?
This story brought some personal history to mind. My family were missionaries and we lived in southern Mexico when I was a child. There I saw the conflict that could erupt between family members who were of different Christian denominations. In Guyana, South America, we arrived only a few years after a conflict between races. Guyanese of African ancestry and East Indian ancestry had come to blows, and there were mixed families, and children who were of mixed race. When the violence started where would those couples, those children go to be safe? We had numerous friends who would recount their stories of fear because they didn’t really belong anywhere. South Africa, during apartheid made a special category for people of mixed race. People who have not experienced such a thing may have difficulty understanding what that does to one’s identity.
I mention the personal history because this story reminded me of those things. But most importantly, it reminded me of how human this story actually is. It’s easy for us here in America to distance ourselves from the human tragedy involved. After all, most of us, myself included, couldn’t give a reasonable resume of the differences between the Shia and Sunni branches of Islam. Those things are silly differences between other people in other places. But as I read about the one couple’s argument over cleansing the feet, I had to think, “That’s a little bit like our Christian arguments over what form of baptism is right, or what kind of music is legitimate church music, or just how the order of service is arranged.” All of those things have produced arguments between Christian couples. And it hasn’t been all that many years since such arguments amongst Christians have resulted in violence.
It’s very much a part of the common human condition. Stress most any of us sufficiently, and you’ll find conflict erupting, and often doing so over the most trivial of issues–trivial, that is, to those who are not involved. It’s not one of the good things about us as human beings, but it is a reality we have to live with and deal with. And when we undertake to alter another society, it’s a reality that’s likely to come back to haunt us.
Before the invasion of Iraq, I wrote an essay entitled Revenge!. In it, I commented that Saddam Hussein had certainly provided a good reason for someone to use violence against him. In that sense, action would be justified, but what would happen afterward? I asked:
But I believe there is a second part to the justification of violence. How can things be better when its done? In this case that includes the question of who will rule Iraq following an invasion. Will there be a power vacuum left in its place?
You see, no matter how bad a government is, there is a possibility for something worse.
I’d compare the justification for violence I was discussing in that article to a personal justification for violence. If someone is robbing my house, do I have the right to resist? Certainly. But if I resist ineffectively, I could simply make the problem worse. I could turn robbery into assault, and assault into murder.
At this point, I’m still left to ask the same question about Iraq. I still don’t know how one makes a better situation overall come out of the troubled and violent situation there. But maybe we can start by simply realizing, as a nation, that these people are like us in many ways, that their problems are not other people’s problems, and that we have made ourselves part of an ongoing tragedy. No, I don’t think we caused it all. The situation was bad before we went there.
Perhaps we need to quit thinking of Iraqis as “people over there” with odd beliefs and incomprehensible conflicts. They are, in many ways, just like us, with similar hopes and dreams, similar angers and hatreds, and a similar desire for peace and security. It’s just much harder to accomplish those goals in their circumstances.
As Christians, we are admonished to love our neighbors as ourselves. Could it just be that Jesus would regard the Iraqis as our neighbors?