Let Suffering Stop Here

I’ve recently read an article in the New York Times detailing the Bush administration’s plans to launch an attack on Saddam Hussein and the Iraqi people ("U.S. Envisions Blueprint on Iraq Including Big Invasion Next Year," April 28, 2002, pp. 1 and 18). Perhaps emboldened by the dancing citizens in the streets of Kabul after our military removed the Taliban from power in Afghanistan, our current administration seems to view itself as a liberating force bearing down on Iraq, one that will be welcomed once the devastation we are planning has been finished. Given our appalling record of sanctions and prevention of humanitarian aid from reaching even Iraqi children, it seems likely that more suffering can only harden hearts against the U.S. It’s unlikely that Iraqis, not long ago one of the most educated and culturally advanced nations in the region, would regard their suffering as emanating solely from the acts of their belligerent leader, whom many may admire for his willingness to defy the unbridled hubris of the United States.

In Afghanistan we neither eliminated the enemy leader nor have we ended the resistance of enraged and determined fighters who are driven by their own particular vision of justice and freedom, antithetical to our own as that may be. It may be that before our administration is done with its self-proclaimed mission, backed by approval ratings born out of deep mourning, anger, and fear, the entire Muslim world—embracing many of the world’s ancient cultures—will be mobilized to view the U.S.

as its spiritual and worldly demonic enemy. It is very sobering to hear seasoned Quaker peace workers expressing deep concern that we’ve never been in a more dangerous situation.

As I reflect upon this troubling prospect, two articles in this issue offer some insights. In "Reclaiming Baptism" (p.12) Paul Buckley reminds us that originally baptism was the symbolic recognition of a preexisting transformation in an individual: "Baptism was an act of symbolic purification, and the person being baptized acknowledged the need for cleansing and purification." In facing the days to come, I believe that just such an inner conversion and turning from our personal and collective destructive practices will be necessary. Few will be exempt from the need for this conversion. Some may not find this transformation in the context of religious faith, but until our hearts are purified, and our motives become generous and loving towards our neighbors at home and abroad, a world without real fear of monstrous harm will not be possible.

Hector Black, in "What Can Love Do?" (p.6), movingly writes directly from such a transformed heart in response to the fate of the man who viciously raped and murdered his daughter. Amanda Hoffman, who sent Hector’s remarkable words to us, wrote, "I share with you the heartbreaking and inspiring story . . . to give testimony that all things do work together for good for those who love God. Let this be a story we tell to our children, that they may know that heroes are living people who struggle."

In a world that long has grappled with the evil, pain, and suffering that humans can inflict on each other, we are called to nothing less than an inner transformation and conversion to radical love. Without transformed hearts, our political strategies will falter and our courage may fail. If we hope to offer something of lasting value to our suffering world, we must follow the example of Hector Black and refuse to return hatred for hatred, refuse the impulse to retaliate, but extend forgiveness even when to do so is excruciatingly painful. When we are able to let the pain stop on our doorstep—and to let others see that this is our choice—then genuine transformation becomes possible.