Tom Fox will probably die within the next few days. He was abducted by the “Swords of Truth Brigade” in Iraq on November 26 and threatened with death unless certain demands are met that will almost certainly not be met. He went to Iraq more than two years ago as a member of Christian Peacemaker Teams (CPT), a pacifist group dedicated to helping the Iraqi people in the wake and midst of the terrible violence and suffering ravaging that godforsaken country. One of the ways this group has helped is to reconnect and reunite Iraqis detained by US and Iraqi forces with their families. In fact, many reporters responsible for exposing the abuses at Abu Ghraib and other such hellholes credit CPT as one of the primary sources documenting and calling this story to their attention in the first place. In fact, Tom and other members of the CPT have done so much selfless good for the people of Iraq that key Iraqi Muslim organizations have appealed to Tom’s abductors to let him and the others go. But they have received no response, and, in all likelihood, they won’t. At least not the kind of response any compassionate and reasonable person would hope for.
Not that all seem compassionate and reasonable. Rush Limbaugh has characteristically said: “Well, here's why I like it. I like any time a bunch of leftist feel-good hand-wringers are shown reality,” and a lot of his listeners and others no doubt share his sentiments to some degree. Beyond feeling disdain toward those whose politics or religious convictions we don’t agree with or whose idealism strikes us as so stupidly naïve that it deserves the consequences it reaps for its holder, it is distressingly easy to get so caught up in vindictive hatred and anger toward the abductors and suicide bombers and their grotesque distortions of religion that we lose sight of the elemental fact that Tom suffers gravely, his family and friends suffer gravely, thousands if not millions of people inside and outside Iraq suffer gravely without the rhyme or reason of anything approaching justification. Human beings who are fathers and mothers, sons and daughters, idealists and cynics are suffering and dying needlessly because too many of us dismiss their humanity and worth out of contempt and hatred, and too many of the rest of us do nothing about it.
Tom Fox tried to do something about it. He knew he was walking into a hornet’s nest, but he did it because he believed that God wanted him to, and he found the courage to follow his convictions through the Valley of Death even when fiery rage and hatred threatened to consume him or icy indifference threatened to defensively numb his soul to the overwhelming carnage and misery around him. As he wrote in his blog:
“It seems easier somehow to confront anger within my heart than it is to confront fear. But if Jesus and Gandhi are right then I am not to give in to either. I am to stand firm against the kidnapper as I am to stand firm against the soldier. Does that mean I walk into a raging battle to confront the soldiers? Does that mean I walk the streets of Baghdad with a sign saying 'American for the Taking'? No to both counts. But if Jesus and Gandhi are right, then I am asked to risk my life and if I lose it to be as forgiving as they were when murdered by the forces of Satan. I struggle to stand firm but I'm willing to keep working at it.”
I could not do what Tom has done and risk my life in a place like Iraq. But neither will I join the chorus of those who say, “He should have known better.” He DID know better, and yet he placed selfless principle over self-interest, unconditional love over apathy or hatred. How much more like heaven and less like hell might this world be if more of us were willing and able to do as Tom Fox and others like him have done and are doing in Iraq and countless other places where humans suffer and cry out for help? Even those of us who remain ensconced within the comforts of family and relatively safe surroundings can still refuse to join the legions of naysayers such as Limbaugh or the vindictive haters of “Islamic fanatics.” We can applaud Tom Fox as a genuine hero and labor to hold empathy, love, and compassion in our hearts for EVERY human being and eschew the use of dehumanizing labels for anyone. In Tom’s inspiring and divinely eloquent words:
“It seems as if the first step down the road to violence is taken when I dehumanize a person. That violence might stay within my thoughts or find its way into the outer world and become expressed verbally, psychologically, structurally or physically. As soon as I rob a fellow human being of his or her humanity by sticking a dehumanizing label on them, I begin the process that can have, as an end result, torture, injury and death.
"Why are we here?" We are here to root out all aspects of dehumanization that exists within us. We are here to stand with those being dehumanized by oppressors and stand firm against that dehumanization. We are here to stop people, including ourselves, from dehumanizing any of God's children, no matter how much they dehumanize their own souls.”