Letters from Iraq- Dec. 18. Jonah and a Whale of a Lie- Back in the Belly of the Beast

Jonah and a Whale of a Lie- Back in the Belly of the Beast. 12/18/02

I have returned from Baghdad. As I get re-acclimated to the US after my 2+ week sojourn, an uneasy feeling creeps back. With all the talk, all the bombast and threatening of going to war to rid the world of Saddam Hussein, there is usually one thing missing. Iraq has 23 million other people living, some barely surviving, in what has been identified as “the cradle of civilization”.

While Europe was in the midst of what has been referred to as “the Dark Ages”, intellectual though and the treasured writings of the Greeks were kept alive and flourished in Baghdad. As our world struggles to define the minimum parameters of what it means to be human, we can trace some of the beginnings of social structure to the law codes of Hammarabi. Again, culture springing from the Fertile Crescent between the Tigris and Euphrates Rivers.

We have been told a lie- that we can go to war with Saddam and somehow, mystically, it will remain a war with one person, not killing thousands, if not millions, of innocent Iraqis. Somehow, we can target Saddam Hussein without jeopardizing Achmed, Abdul, Abeer, Ali, Amal, Amil, Amira, Amal, Dhuha, Fatima, Hebe, Karima, Mahmoud, Mohammed, Mustafa, Nassim, Omar, Sattar, Whalid, Yassir, and …, all real, fresh-and-blood Iraqis I was privileged to meet. They are not my enemy. I pray that I do not become theirs.

When I despair of the crushing violence of an empire bent on domination of a world, I can, once again, re-visit the story of the prophet, Jonah, who finally, reluctantly, took his message of repentance to the heart of his contemporary empire, Assyria’s capitol, the great city of Nineveh. That city, now known as Mosul, is in the Kurdish section of northern Iraq, in the middle of what today’s empire has unilaterally declared (with the help and acquiescence of Great Britain) to be a “no-fly zone”. It isn’t really a no-fly zone – US and British warplanes regularly fly there, bombing, on average, every third or fourth day.

Nineveh, the scriptures tell us, listened to the message from God, delivered through Jonah, and repented. Jonah, however, had his heart set on the anticipated destruction of his enemy, and went into a funk over Nineveh’s change of heart. Today, even though we want to identify ourselves as “God’s chosen people”, we are the empire; and even though what has been identified as “our enemy” has agreed to allow UN inspection of their proclaimed disarmament, our President continues to call for war. He would do well to re-learn the message of that feisty, Minor Prophet of the Hebrew scriptures: God wants to have mercy on the great city because of the lives of the innocent people living there.

I have returned from Iraq, the land that now holds the burial site of the reluctant prophet, Jonah. Like Jonah, I find myself in the belly of a great beast, and I cry out to a God who desires mercy and compassion. Let us hear the call of God for our own repentance and not wreak the havoc and destruction we threaten on a people who have already experiences the terrors and costs of war and continue under a war of economic sanctions.

The people of Nineveh (Mosul), Baghdad, Basrah, and Babylon are like you and me. We can see in their faces the same joys and sorrows. They, too, want their children to grow up in a world safe from threats. They, too, want to be able to drink clean water and not live in the fear of an earth contaminated by radioactive waste. It would cost a fraction of what we spend on armaments and munitions for this empire to insure clean water, adequate nutrition, and to allow Iraq to rebuild itself with its own revenues from the sale of oil.

Let us work together in this great land to repent of the evil we have planned under the guise of ridding the world of evil. Instead, let us strive to be #1 in compassion, healing, and reconciliation. What better way to once again to prepare our hearts for the coming of “the Prince of Peace”?

-Steve Clemens
Iraq Peace Team member

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