Civilization

I read this article from The Daily Beast today. (http://thebea.st/SUnUNQ ) It was published in June when Mosul, Iraq, was overrun by ISIS, the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria. It was written by a U.S. serviceman who was there for a year as part of the surge. These are his words, not mine:

“That’s the Tigris,” I said to my gunner as we drove along its banks, “the Cradle of Civilization.” “Well, that’s a lot of bull,” said my gunner. We laughed. We’d come to civilize the cradle of civilization. To us, it looked like a backward dump. Because, you see, the joke is, civilization had nothing to do with Mosul. Civilization was a strip mall in Wisconsin.  Mosul, logically, had no civilization, for if they knew how to act civilized, we wouldn’t have been there at all. Civilized cities don’t have wars in them. This assumption, by and large, was a fair one, justified by our particular experience. Civilized cities don’t need to be stabilized. They don’t need American soldiers training former prisoners how to fire rifles. They don’t need curfews. They don’t need a big rich country like ours to help them. Civilized countries have their act together. I doubted many things my superiors told me, but I believed this: someone had to get Mosul back on its feet, put it on the path to civilization. So we set to work. We busted into houses with shotguns, cleaned up decapitated bodies, harangued local authorities. Another evening, the kind with all those beautiful stars war poets wax nostalgic about in memoirs, we dragged an older couple into their overgrown courtyard and demanded they tell us secrets about their neighborhood. To my surprise, they spoke English. “We have no secrets,” they said, “we are doctors, not terrorists.” “You are liars,” I said. Doctors would not let the Cradle of Civilization come to this.

And in my anger I fired off an email to my friend who wanted me to see it because she knew the reaction I would have as it disturbed us both. (These are my words. You can tell I was upset.) “And this is what I think is the problem with what we have taught our young people who fight our wars. This young man has no idea that the cradle of civilization was just that: the place where civilization was born and raised. We teach them that it started in 1776 on this side of the ocean and by gosh it was because God gave us the right to own guns. That is in the Bible, right? Sorry for my outburst. Civilization begins where we recognize the humanity in the person across from us: across the table, across the sanctuary, across the border, across the ocean. God’s presence in each one. Our neighbors. I will pray for this young man, damaged by our civilized society.” How is it we can claim to be so educated, so smart, so knowledgeable about the world and still have people who think this way? I can’t take back my thoughts. I have been to Iraq and experienced something far different from what he did. He said, “Doctors would not let the Cradle of Civilization come to this.” Doctors didn’t. We did with our misguided and immoral war. How does he not know that?! But then someone else sent me another story from Mosul, that reminded me that the story of the good Samaritan is a story that crosses faith boundaries, and it comes from the same place this one did. From the vaticaninsider.com today by Giorgio Bernardelli:

He refused to keep silent about the violence against Mosul’s Christians who are forced to choose between converting to the Muslim faith, paying the jizyah (the Islamic tax for non-Muslims) or fleeing. Professor Mahmoud Al ‘Asali, a law professor who lectures on pedagogy at the University of Mosul, had the courage to make a stand against this brutal duress which he believes go against the Muslim commandments. But he paid for this gesture with his life: he was killed by ISIS militants in Mosul yesterday.’

My faith is in God, who said the greatest commandment is to worship him with all my mind, soul and strength, and the second is much like it – to love my neighbor as myself. Today for me, I have heard the story of this being modeled in Mosul by a Muslim law professor speaking up for his Christian neighbors and paying for it with his life. And I praise God for the life of Mahmoud Al ‘Asali, who was my neighbor and yours and a member of a civilized society which has been destroyed by those claiming to be. Lord have mercy.

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