Friday, August 30, 2013

#MennoNerdsOnSyria: A personal connection

Mohammed & I; April 2012
See other MennoNerd reflections on the escalating situation in Syria.

In the spring of last year I sat on the lawn of Eastern Mennonite University and participated in the university graduation ceremony. Clustered by program and by the order of our last names, I was happily seated next to a friend from my days at EMU's Center for Justice and Peacebuilding, Mohammed.

Mohammed is from Syria, and shortly after he began his graduate work at the CJP, the civil war in his home country broke out. I remember seeing him in those early days of the conflict deeply troubled, and mentioning in class his distressing phone conversations with family back home. (I blogged about this two years ago.) The conflict became the intense focus of his peacebuilding education (of course it likely was even  before the conflict). After graduation, Mohammed began working in DC, advocating foreign policy with regard to Syria to US lawmakers.

I offered him my prayers then, just as I continue to offer prayers for Mohammed and his country now, in these dark days of a tragedy of vast humanitarian and environmental proportions. And with his permission, I'd like to offer a few remarks on where I sit with respect to the conflict...

First off, Mohammed is not a pacifist. It might come as a surprise to some that not all who go through EMU's graduate program in peacebuilding are committed pacifists, but it's true. Indeed, even some of the faculty are peacebuilders who hold to the just war tradition.

Mohammed has been very active on Facebook in recent months, posting a stream of updates on his work and the situation in Syria. In the past week, in the wake of the chemical attacks that Assad seems to have carried out on his own people, and as the US has begun signaling that it will indeed militarily intervene in the conflict, Mohammed has become joyous, even exuberant, at the news of this military intervention.

So on the one hand, I have Christian friends both pacifist and otherwise saying, basically, "This is not a good idea." On the other I have my friend, Mohammed, whose first-hand witnessing to the conditions on the ground in Syria, his home country that he loves, saying this military intervention will be a good thing and it won't be like US interventions in recent years: Limited in scope, targets already communicated, no "shock and awe," etc.

I hold to my Christian pacifist convictions in this or any other situation, yet my empathy for and friendship with Mohammed and his longing for justice in his ravaged country I also hold in my heart and mind.

My only meaningful response is this: Kyrie eleison. Lord have mercy. Grant grace and peace to those who suffer in Syria; and patience, humility, and wisdom for those with their hands on the levers of world power. Kyrie eleison.

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