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Issue Date:  August 12, 2005

The Passion of Dilawar of Yakubi


Watching Mel Gibson’s “The Passion of the Christ,” you wonder if this is really what Jesus of Nazareth suffered. Here on film an actor affects pain, agony and a brutal death by crucifixion. It does not seem that anyone could suffer so much. It does not seem that the barbaric sadism of the Roman interrogators and prison guards could be surpassed. It does not seem that the human heart could deliver such cruelty. Surely a Christian would not do so.

And yet now comes the passion of Dilawar of Yakubi, a man like Jesus of Nazareth, innocent, and supposed by his interrogators to be innocent. Yet unlike Jesus of Nazareth, Dilawar of Yakubi was executed by crucifixion without the benefit of even a trial in the Sanhedrin or an audience with the local procurator, Gen. Daniel K. McNeill. Unlike Pontius Pilate, Gen. McNeill denied what his subordinates and we Americans do. “We are not chaining people to the ceilings,” he lied on Feb. 7, 2003.

Two months before this lie, just before Christmas 2002, Dilawar of Yuakubi, a small village in Afghanistan not unlike Nazareth in Palestine where Jesus grew up, died by crucifixion. Dilawar of Yakubi was chained to the ceiling of his cell, suspended there for three days compared to Jesus of Nazareth’s three hours. His arms dislocated from their sockets. They flapped like a bird’s broken wings when he was taken down for interrogation, as Jesus’ arms may have done had he been taken down from the cross before three hours.

While he was chained to the ceiling, Dilawar of Yakubi’s legs were beaten to a pulp. “Pulpified” is the coroner’s description. “I’ve seen similar injuries in an individual run over by a bus,” reports coroner Lt. Col. Elizabeth Rouse.

In Mel Gibson’s portrayal, Jesus was a marvelously healthy specimen, muscular, unblemished and beautiful to behold. He stood about 6 feet 2 inches at about 195 pounds. Dilawar of Yakubi was a frail 122 pounds standing at 5 feet 9 inches. His hands died first. When brought in for interrogation, his arms waved about, a common effect of crucifixion. Dilawar of Yakubi could neither stand nor sit, his legs now pulpified. By all accounts, Jesus of Nazareth’s legs were not broken until after he died.

By all accounts, Jesus of Nazareth cried out upon death in a loud voice. Dilawar of Yakubi cried out, “Allah! Allah! Allah!” repeatedly during the final 24 hours of his crucifixion.

The guards hearing Jesus of Nazareth scream out “Eli, Eli,” supposed he was calling for Elias, not clearly understanding his native tongue. They decided to see if Elias would come to rescue him and took sadistic delight that Elias did not come to save him. Similarly, American guards returned often during the final 24 hours of Dilawar of Yakubi’s crucifixion to beat his dangling legs with pulpifying blows. “I would think it was about 100 strikes,” said the First Platoon’s Specialist Corey E. Jones. “Everybody heard him cry out and thought it was funny.”

“Allah! Allah! Allah!” cried out Dilawar of Yakubi and gave up his spirit.

There is nothing else to say in this Year of Our Lord 2005 except his blood is on our hands and on the hands of our children. He was a poor, innocent taxi driver in a remote place. The three customers he had picked up for that fatal fare were released after 15 months of interrogation at Guantánamo as “posing no threat.”

Oh, and one more thing: 22-year-old Dilawar of Yakubi, unlike 33-year-old Jesus of Nazareth, leaves behind a daughter, Bibi Rashida, age 3. You can look at the picture of this beautiful girl on Page A13 of The New York Times for May 20. You might want to put it on your wall, as I did, next to your crucifix.

David Townsend is a tutor at St. John’s College in Annapolis, Md., and senior adviser for seminars at the Aspen Institute.

National Catholic Reporter, August 12, 2005

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