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Tom Fox And Quaker Courage

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Earlier today I was informed that American peace activist Tom Fox was abducted in Baghdad. At first I was told not to disclose his name, but I’m now seeing his name show up in media.

I met Tom Fox in 2002. He and my parents were both on the planning committee for YouthQuake, a national gathering of Quaker youth. One night the planning committee went to eat at Ed’s Cantina, and everyone chatted with each other.

He struck me as a very nice man. He had spent several years playing clarinet for the Marine Band; that’s the band that plays for the presidents. He said that Bill Clinton hung out with the band more than Ronald Reagan or George H.W.Bush did. At the 2003 YouthQuake conference, Fox was one of the leaders. I was struck by how deep a thinker he is. He never dismissed any viewpoint.

I lost track of him after YQ was over, but recently I found his personal weblog. He started it in 2004, and in his very first entry he wrote about what he would do if he were kidnapped.

“If an attacker inspires anger or fear in my heart, it means that I have not purged myself of violence. To realize nonviolence means to feel within you its strength – soul force – to know God. A person who has known God will be incapable of harboring anger or fear within him [or her], no matter how overpowering the cause for that anger or fear may be.” (Gandhi speaking to Badshah Kahn’s Khudai Khidmatgar officers; A Man to Match His Mountains by Eknath Easwaran, pg. 157.)

..

If I am not to fight or flee in the face of armed aggression, be it the overt aggression of the army or the subversive aggression of the terrorist, then what am I to do? “Stand firm against evil” (Matthew 5:39, translated by Walter Wink) seems to be the guidance of Jesus and Gandhi in order to stay connected with God. But here in Iraq I struggle with that second form of aggression. I have visual references and written models of Christian Peacemaker Team (CPT) members standing firm against the overt aggression of an army, be it regular or paramilitary. But how do you stand firm against a car-bomber or a kidnapper? Clearly, the soldier being disconnected from God needs to have me fight. Just as clearly, the terrorist being disconnected from God needs to have me flee. Both are willing to kill me using different means to achieve the same end. That end being to increase the parasitic power of Satan within God’s good creation.

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.

In his next post, he talks about why he does not carry a gun, although guns are ubiquitous in Baghdad.

How do I stay with the pain and suffering and not be overwhelmed? How do I resist the welling up of rage towards the perpetrators of violence? How do I keep from disconnecting from or becoming numb to the pain?

After eight months with CPT, I am no clearer than when I began. In fact, I have to struggle harder and harder each day against my desire to move away or become numb. Simply staying with the pain of others doesn’t seem to create any healing or transformation. Yet there seems to be no other first step into the realm of compassion than to not step away.

Needless to say, Tom Fox is not a spy pretending to be a peace activist. He is a Quaker and has been all his life.

There is courage in the physical fighting that our men and women in Iraq engage in every day, but there is courage too in the spiritual battle that Tom Fox and the other members of CPT have been put through.

Our weapons are spiritual, and not carnal, yet mighty through God, to the pulling down of the strongholds of sin and Satan, who is the author of wars, fighting, murder, and plots. Our swords are broken into ploughshares, and spears into pruning-hooks, as prophesied of in Micah iv. Therefore we cannot learn war any more, neither rise up against nation or kingdom with outward weapons, though you have numbered us amongst the transgressors and plotters. The Lord knows our innocency herein, and will plead our cause with all people upon earth, at the day of their judgment, when all men shall have a reward according to their works.

-From the Quaker Testimony of Peace presented to King Charles II.

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  • http://gratefuldread.net Natalie Davis

    Mr. Jack, I fully believe Jesus and Gandhi are correct. My prayers go out to Mr. Fox and his loved ones.

  • http://pogblog.blogharbor.com pogblog

    Thanks for this touching and inspiring piece, Mr. Jack. To stand without weapons in a whirlwind of firepower is a courage few of us have to summon to “do no harm.” I hope Mr. Fox is spared. I hope all in that torn land are spared.

    I am a militant pacifist by which I mean that I don’t give a fig about violent words or violent video games or violent movies, though none of those might be my taste. I militantly care about not mangling these poor fragile people, civilians and soldiers, on either side. That we could still be ‘mutilating for peace’ in 2005 was not in my imagination a lifetime ago in my idealistic twenties. (I remain obdurately optimistic in the long run. It seems rocky in the short run.)

    Though I don’t happen to be Christian or any other indoor Religion, I was interested in your phrase, “parasitic power of Satan.” I’m studying the idea that the separation of Being into God & Satan is probably a false idea. In so far as I can examine myself, I find both impulses woven in my consciousness and conscience and am working on the alchemy to be more harmless which seems the course of the universe, perhaps? I don’t see a Pure God and a Pure Satan. That puts us outside the struggle. I think we are intimate facets of the very struggle of AllBeing to sort out Impulses and Desires into something sustainable and sane. (Which is why, by the way, that I think we need to include some pretty not-pretty stuff for catharsis. My kindest, most harmless 30-something friend loves GTA[Grand Theft Auto]. He will never hurt any animate thing.)

    Thanks again for this piece into which you poured so much heart and thought.

  • http://gratefuldread.net Natalie Davis

    Interesting, Mr. Pogblog. I too am a militant pacifist. I am also a huge football fan. Some see this as contradictory; I don’t.

    Here’s another wish that all are spared, that no more soldiers die, that all of this comes to an end. And thanks, Mr. Jack. Indeed, this piece touched me deeply.

  • http://leoniceno.journalspace.com Sam Jack

    Hey, thanks for the wonderful comments, Natalie and Pogblog.

    I’d like to note that ‘parasitic powers of Satan’ wasn’t my phrase; it was a quote of Mr. Fox. I tend to think of Satan in a symbolic sense, and I doubt that Mr. Fox thinks in terms of the guy with the horns. Again, thanks for the comments.

    -Sam

  • http://pogblog.blogharbor.com pogblog

    Since the Johnny Unitas days, I have been a huge football fan too. I was lucky enough to get onto the 49ers in the Ronnie Lott glory years. Ye gods, what gloating fun. (We might debate about a lot, but Ronnie Lott is the greatest football player who ever lived, period. A genius. And sweet as a kitten off the field. No bluster.)

    Whatever consenting adults get up to is pretty much ok with me. Even if it means get coldcocked by a lineman as big as a house. I just don’t want people dead or maimed in wars.

    By the way, I have the very first tshirt saying Militant Pacifist (They made it for me & they sell it now. I feel cool I must say. However, more importantly, people ask me about it & I get to talk about the strength of pacifism.)

    I dunno, Sam — in certain lights and angles, I have noticed horns on Mr. Cheney . . .

  • http://alienboysworld.blogspot.com Christopher Rose

    pogblog’s comment #2 was chosen as “Comment of the Day” yesterday.

  • http://plaininthecity.blogspot.com/ Lorcan Otway

    Please pass this along, if any can translate the following into Arabic, please do me the honor of so doing. I am placing this letter into many hands, in hope it will reach those for whom it is intended.

    An Open Letter to our Brothers holding Tom Fox and other CPT members in Iraq:

    Dear Brothers in the one God:

    It is early morning in America. I am a Quaker and I am trying to find words to stay your hand. I can only say that hatred is blind and love is unconditional.

    Many people from our nation have come to your nation in blind hatred and killed innocent people. Tom Fox is not one of these people. He came to your nation with all his human fears, because his love was unconditional. He came to ask his own people not to kill you. He came not to judge you, innocent or guilty, but to say live together in peace and find a better way. He did not come to change your government, but to change our own people’s hearts towards you.

    He came to your country in the same light that Rachel Corrie went to Palestine to stand in the way of Israeli tractors destroying Palestinian homes. To spare Tom Fox and his companions is to show the Israeli people that it was wrong take the young life of Rachael Corrie.

    I ask you to stay your hand, because we will still love you, no less or no more, if you break our hearts by taking the life of these good people who love you.

    I ask you to stay your hand because you can. When you stand before your God, next to the American who wore an army uniform, next to the one who drove the tractor that killed Rachael Corrie, and our God asks each of you, why have you taken the lives of innocents, what difference will there be in your answer? When, some day, and I pray after a long life of loving works, Tom stands before our God and is asked why he placed his life in your hands, I think you know his answer. Because hatred is blind and love is unconditional.

    “Whoever has saved a life, it will be as if he has saved the life of all mankind” (Quran 5:32)

    Gods love and mercy to thee

    In unmovable Friendship

    Lorcan Otway

    A member of the committee of Ministry and Counsel for the New York Quarterly Meeting
    of the Religious Society of Friends
    also known as Quakers.

  • Larry Sherwood

    This is just a note of appreciation to Sam for publicizing Tom Fox’s situation. Anyone who knows Tom, as this poster does casually, would realize his abductor’s claim that he is a spy is simply ludicrous beyond words; his captors are clearly people who consider truth optional. Probably the best that can be hoped for is that with personal contact, his captors will realize the error of their claim and release Tom and his compatriots; I think if anyone could effect that transformation, Tom could.

    I’d like to think that Tom was able to accomplish some of what he set out to do when he ventured to Iraq, but I fear that few in Baghdad could appreciate what he must of hoped he could offer. And I wonder, would his efforts have been better invested elsewhere?

  • Larry Sherwood

    I find Lorcan Otway’s comment, at least in part, to be highly odious. There is no logical connection between Rachel Corrie’s death and the situation in which Tom Fox finds himself. I can only wonder at Lorcan’s motivation for attempting to draw some parallel between these disparate situations. As the following link makes clear, Corrie’s death was accidental, while Fox’s abduction and possible murder are clearly intentional.

    Lorcan engages in Newspeak- and does an considerable disservice to truth- when he claims the Israelis “took” Rachel’s life. There is every reason to believe the bulldozer operator could not see her. Furthermore, she ignored repeated warnings to keep a safe distance. I’m sorry Lorcan, but if someone ignores prudent warnings in a highly charged situation like that, my sympathy for him or her is muted. Oh, and why didn’t the driver get off the bulldozer to survey the area? Perhaps it had something to do with the the possiblity that Corrie’s friends might shoot him: I have it on the authority of someone who has been in similar situations in the Israeli occupied territories that that is a well-founded fear. Somehow I suspect Lorcan would have been much less solicitous in his concern over a death had the ‘dozer operator gotten out of the cab for a better look, only to be shot while doing so.

    Moreover, I don’t believe there is an essential equivalence between Tom Fox’s and Rachael Corrie’s missions. While I did not discuss anything in person with either party, I suspect Tom put himself in harms way in an effort to sow seeds of peace; Rachael Corrie was engaged in a protest against Israeli policies. From what I can gather, Rachael Corrie bore a considerable animus toward Israelis: as I knew him, Tom Fox bore animus toward none.

    But Lorcan’s comment is revealing of his mindset in at least one way: no matter what the situation, a way can always be found to blame the Jews.

  • http://www.diablog.us Dave Nalle

    What impresses me about this look at Tom Fox’s thinking is how well he expresses the idea that you can be a pacifist while still recognizing evil and choosing not to give in to it.

    So many of those today who pursue peace are willing to buy it by accepting or turning a blind eye to evil that they give pacifism a bad name. This wasn’t the route chosen by Ghandi or King or apparently by Tom Fox, and that’s truly admirable.

    It is as valid a response to evil to confront and reject it empty handed as it is to meet violence with violence. In fact, I think that when those who seek to do good are in a position to confront evil they should always look to the example of people like Fox who resist the lure to meet violence with violence, and temper their response with the realization that while violence may inevitably be needed it isn’t necessarily the first or most desirable response.

    Dave

  • http://www.diablog.us Dave Nalle

    On reading over Lorcan Otway’s letter I think that he included Rachel Corrie essentially as a way of sucking up to the hostage takers, which is exactly the kind of weak pandering which Tom Fox seems not to have succumbed to. That said, I do find his letter pretty odious as well. His suggestion that the US came to Iraq in ‘blind hatred’ shows that he has done exactly what Tom Fox warned against – he has dehumanized the American soldiers and reduced them to figures of evil. How can he be a pacifist when he is so full of hate?

    BTW, I posted a link to this article over at my blog.

    Dave

  • http://alienboysworld.blogspot.com/ Christopher Rose

    DAVE: I’m confused by you (again). How does Mr Otway’s suggestion that, in his words, “the US came to Iraq in ‘blind hatred'” equate to your interpretation of it as “he has dehumanized the American soldiers and reduced them to figures of evil”.

    I thought the first bit was an opinion on the motives for the US President’s executive action in Iraq; the second seems a different type of characterisation altogether.

    The guy is just trying to do something to save someone’s life. I don’t think he deserves this kind of clumsy analysis and attack for that. Give him a break, will you?

    You know, Dave, it occurs to me that you come in for an awful lot of stick across this site for being negative, some of it deserved, much of it not.

    I believe you do indeed try to keep the record straight about many vital contemporary political issues. However, you seem to spend more time critique-ing opponents of the current Government rather than the actual policies and people in power, which might be thought of as more important.

    Have you given any serious thought to writing one or more articles comprehensively setting out your positive vision for global, regional and national politics?

    You seem to have quite a clear set of views and are certainly capable of writing such material if you choose. I think it would be a useful contribution to the concepts and standards of contemporary political debate, both here within BlogCritics and the wider world without…

  • http://www.elitistpig.com Dave Nalle

    Christopher, my response to Otway is specifically in the context of Tom Fox’s writings on the subject of pacifism. I made my comments after reading Fox’s blog and some of his other writings. He makes a very strong presentation for a form of pacifism which I – as someone who is more of a realist – can genuinely respect. In this context I think that Otway’s letter – which has been picked up by Al Jazeera, btw – does exactly what Fox argued against. It resorts to hate and appeasment rather than answering violence with strength and unqualified love. Based on my reading I don’t think Tom Fox would approve, in fact he wrote an article right before he was kidnapped which specifically advised against this sort of response. Frankly, I think Otway is being opportunistic to advance his own causes on the platform of someone else’s tragedy.

    DAVE: I’m confused by you (again). How does Mr Otway’s suggestion that, in his words, “the US came to Iraq in ‘blind hatred'” equate to your interpretation of it as “he has dehumanized the American soldiers and reduced them to figures of evil”.

    Christopher, I think you’re pretty perceptive. I bet you can see how that statement applies to americans as a whole, not just the administration. And I know you are smart enough to realize that the US certainly didn’t come to Iraq in blind hatred. The invasion was calculated and had purpose. Hatred had very little to do with it. He’s letting his personal hatred color his perception of others, and that’s a big step in the wrong direction.

    You know, Dave, it occurs to me that you come in for an awful lot of stick across this site for being negative, some of it deserved, much of it not.

    Negative? I’m a bouncing bundle of positivism.

    I believe you do indeed try to keep the record straight about many vital contemporary political issues. However, you seem to spend more time critique-ing opponents of the current Government rather than the actual policies and people in power, which might be thought of as more important.

    There are plenty of people critiquing the government. They don’t need my help. Plus I find the left inherently more repugnant than the right. The administration may be doing a hell of a lot of things wrong, but they at least occasionally have doing the right thing somewhere on their agenda. The left almost never has the best interests of the people in mind, no matter how much lip service they pay to doing good.

    Have you given any serious thought to writing one or more articles comprehensively setting out your positive vision for global, regional and national politics?

    I’ve actually written several pieces along those lines. I posted one to BC about a year ago. But the truth is that I haven’t published essays of that sort because I’m afraid they come off as egotistical and self-centered.

    You seem to have quite a clear set of views and are certainly capable of writing such material if you choose. I think it would be a useful contribution to the concepts and standards of contemporary political debate, both here within BlogCritics and the wider world without…

    I’ll probably eventually post a couple of pieces like that, but they’re a lot harder to write and do well than you might imagine.

    Dave

  • http://alienboysworld.blogspot.com Christopher Rose

    DAVE:
    Intro: Oh, OK
    1st: don’t see it that way in the first part, I’m still unclear as to why invade so all opinions are interesting.
    2nd: LOL
    3rd: That is most assuredly a very shoddy and palpably false prejudice. I can accept bias but not prejudice.
    4th: a year is a very long time in politics.
    5th: If you can’t let go of your 3, you’ll not find it very easy at all.

    You have previously nailed your colours to the mast of the impartial fact oriented approach and I for one remain confident that you will remain loyal to that approach.

  • http://www.elitistpig.com Dave Nalle

    As for #3, I admit to it being a prejudice, but it’s one born of experience. When the left consistently pursues policies which I think are directly counter to the best interests of me, my family and just about everyone else, I can’t see cutting them a lot of slack.

    Dave

  • Sanaa

    Hi,
    I am a Sufi from Morocco. I was very saddened by the kidnapping of Brother Tom. I did not know him personally but my heart goes for him and all the brothers and sisters kidnapped, bombed, killed in Irak.
    May God All Mighty help them .
    I am very sad about all this violence.
    Sanaa