“Mayhem (and Murder) in the Middle East: The Search for Reconciliation in a Mad, Mad World”

Mark Johnson

This statement was presented as one of six at an event hosted by the Imam Al-Khoei Foundation on Saturday, July 26, 2014 to draw attention to the unacceptable use of violence and mayhem between groups claiming to act in the name of their faith around the world.

In the English cliché it may not be an accident that we use the two words together, murder and mayhem. Sadly it is becoming equally the case that we think of them and hear them so often in terms of the Middle East.

As this Iftar brings us to the feasting at the end of Ramadan, we can for one more evening lift up the fast, not as an avoidance or denial of sustenance, of the necessities of life, but the letting go and rejection of that which denies and destroys life. This is the fast that is required: a fasting from hunger, from thirst, from homelessness, from prison, from blindness, from hatred and from violence.  A fasting from murder and mayhem is the fast we are called to; reconciliation in the feast of love and delight, in life and one another.

Just in the course of the last moon’s travels through its ever repeating cycle of darkness and light we have seen the lives of three boys murdered in the hills of Hebron, Eyal Yifrah, Gilad Shaar and Naftali Fraenkel, the cruel murder of one precious young man burned to death in the forests of Jerusalem, Muhammed Abu Khdeir and another boy who will bear the mayhem of beatings by Israeli Security Forces for his whole life, Tariq Khdeir.

And we here are witness to hundreds of lives brutally ended in bombings in barracks and at checkpoints, in markets and bases, in schools and hospitals, at home in urban neighborhoods, in cars exploding and airplanes shot down from the sky, all the while murderers defile the true names of God by calling out these murders as victories for Judaism, Christianity, Islam, Hinduism, Buddhism, Marxism, Capitalism. On their very face these murders are clearly evil, defying and defiling the teachings of each of these traditions and must be rejected. They would so wound the messengers who brought us the lessons of love and redemption that the streets would fill with tears if they were here, and thus we shed our own tears, tears from our eyes and prayers from our lips; cries for forgiveness and for guidance. Today Murder and Mayhem are spelled Gaza, Israel, Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Sudan, Somalia, The United States of America, Ukraine, Honduras, Guatemala…

These are murders, this is mayhem, so out in the open as to be unavoidable. But at the same time there is a complicity in murder and mayhem that is largely hidden, often beyond our condemnation and rejection because we know little or nothing of its practice. These are murders, this is mayhem committed by governments and agents of violent intolerance which the press does not report, perhaps to avoid inflaming others, pressed by claims of risks for the captives and oppressed, but too often to obscure the fact that these are acts of our own agents, that we are complicit in this way in them.

And at the same time we are also often hidden from courageous and inspiring acts of forgiveness and reconciliation. Those who resist such violence, those who organize to oppose the use of violence through nonviolent means are forbidden to speak, forbidden to appear in public and organize and demonstrate. They are jailed and silenced. People like Mary Anne Grady Flores and her fellow protestors of drone training and use from the Hancock Air Base in Syracuse, New York. Those organized under the banner of La ‘Onf in Iraq, now silenced and barred from public resistance. The many groups like Wi’am and the human rights organizations in Bi’ilin and throughout the West Bank whose homes are raided and destroyed and whose followers are imprisoned without charges. Those like B’TSelem in Israel, forbidden to read the names of the dead.  In recent memory we know that Badshah Khan, Mohandas Gandhi, Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., and Dorothy Day were often jailed or beaten and silenced, suffered mayhem or were murdered in the name of nonviolent reconciliation. But there are hundreds of others, Muslim, Christian, Jew, Hindu, Buddhist even today; those who refuse to fight and those who refuse to leave.

This history reminds us that we can not and should not depend on State actors to protect our interests. No matter the rootedness, ideally, of their inspiration and traditions in Holy Scripture or community values, in today’s world their interests are corrupted by the distribution of power and the contest for hegemony; or by the biases of bigotry. Our hope rests in the conscience invested with Belief of individuals and organizations that will resist violence and practice peace, and there are many like, and allied with, the Fellowship of Reconciliation which celebrates 100 years of such work this year, and which I had the privilege to serve for over six of those 100 years.