Getting in the way in Iraq

On April 4, 1967 Martin Luther King, Jr. stood in the Riverside Church of New York City and pleaded passionately with his fellow countrymen and women. "We can no longer afford to worship the god of hate or bow before the altar of retaliation," he began. "If we do not act (nonviolently), we shall surely be dragged down the long, dark, and shameful corridors of time reserved for those who possess power without compassion, might without morality, and strength without sight."

Dr. King titled this speech "Beyond Vietnam" and in it he offered specific solutions to the escalating war while offering a vision of an America where, "pursuit of peace will take precedence over the pursuit of war."

In that tradition, millions of Americans continue to work towards ending the current madness of the War Against Iraq.

One group that has been traveling regularly on peace missions to Iraq is the Christian Peacemaker Teams (CPT). For many years CPT has sent delegations of conscientious volunteers to conflict zones throughout the world in an effort to better understand the conflict and find opportunities to work for peace. CPT's motto, "Getting in the Way," is fashioned from Jesus' revolutionary call for active justice and enemy-loving. And, so it is regarding Iraq.

I traveled to Iraq as part of a CPT delegation in January and learned what a small group of thoughtful, committed people can accomplish to change the world, to paraphrase Margaret Mead.

While there we met with religious leaders to learn how people of different faiths - Muslim and Christian - interact with one another in this part of the Middle East. We saw how their secularized society afforded many protections of religious freedoms that we thought only existed in "democratized" countries.

Hospitals and schools were also on our agenda and we saw the catastrophe caused by twenty years of wars and sanctions. What had clearly once been a prosperous nation could now offer little of the former life to its citizens.

We traveled throughout the country and visited with countless families, teachers, doctors, and individuals from all walks of life who were happy to share their opinions with us. They were anxious to rejoin the nations of the world but terrified that war might come again.

Peace activities and actions were also central to our visit. On New Year's Day we vigiled in the cold outside of the United Nations headquarters to encourage support for the ongoing weapons inspection program. Later that month we celebrated MLK Day with a news conference and reading of the "Riverside Speech" along the banks of the Euphrates River in the heart of Baghdad.

We confronted the issue of the brutalities of Saddam Hussein, the greed and corruption of most of his administration, and his penchant for war. One participant Peggy Gish, a farmer and activist from Ohio, summed up the experience quite well. "The longer I'm here, the more I see behind the outward picture of normalcy, the more I feel the heaviness that the people carry as they go through the day," she observed.

Our CPT delegation also met with peace groups and aid organizations from around the world to plan for the eventuality of war.

What did I accomplish during my first visit to Iraq?

President Bush often speaks about "winning the hearts and minds" of the Iraqi people. As a member of the CPT delegation and as a representative of Texans for Peace, I was able to continue to oppose the blood-feud policies of the Administration while at the same time showing the "better" face of Texas. By our presence we gave hope to the hopeless, constructive solutions to those working towards peace, and succor to the so-called "enemy".

I will return to Iraq on November 20 with another CPT delegation in order to follow up with some commitments that I made earlier and to assess the current situation. In addition to seeing how my new Iraqi friends have been faring I will also be taking greetings to servicemen and women stationed there. And, I will bring updates back to those in Texas who still have interest in peacemaking.

Martin Luther King taught us, "Peace is not merely a distant goal that we seek, but a means by which we arrive at that goal."

I hope that this new trip will be one way that I can help move towards that objective. In the mean time, I will do my best to continue to "get in the way.

Peace, Charlie

Charlie Jackson, is a sixth-generation Texas bid'nessman and founder of Texans for Peace www.texansforpeace.org


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