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Issue Date:  September 22, 2006

From the Editor's Desk

The force of love over violence

My only experience of accompanying a delegation of peacemakers into a place that the United States had in its sights was Iraq in 1999. I accompanied a group sponsored by Voices in the Wilderness, now called Voices for Creative Nonviolence. I was curious about what the group members did, how they got there, what they saw when they got there and what Iraq looked like at the time.

I wasn’t then and am not now an Iraq expert, and 10 days in the country served to raise more questions than were answered. But my research and visit proved valuable. While there, I was able to talk with Western journalists who had been in Iraq for years and with U.N. personnel who had been there before the 1991 war and before the sanctions destroyed what the bombs didn’t. It was apparent that the economic conditions Iraqis were living in were far worse than the spin coming out of the Clinton administration at the time. That reality warp became more pronounced and bizarre with the Bush administration’s invasion of Iraq and the disintegration of society that has followed.

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Earlier this year we made arrangements for Margot Patterson, opinion and arts editor, who often writes about Middle East issues, to make a trip to Iran with the Fellowship of Reconciliation for much the same reason -- to see the country and try to match up some of the reality on the ground with what we increasingly hear about it.

For a host of reasons, many of which will never be clear, she was unable to obtain a visa in time, so missed the opportunity to see things for herself.

So we’re glad that Ellen Francis Poisson, a Farsi speaker who has prior experience in Iran, was able to provide some personal impressions and reflections as a member of that delegation (see story).

Personal diplomacy certainly does not hold the immediate answer to solving the tensions in the air as Iran moves down the nuclear path. And one person’s impressions are, de facto, a limited view. The value, however, can be significant in understanding that Iran is more than its president and that its population today is more diverse than our impressions of angry students who took hostages 27 years ago. Iran’s relationship with the United States, with other Middle East countries and with the rest of the world via its oil wealth is far more complex than can ever be contained in President Bush’s simplistic characterization of it as part of an axis of evil.

It is easy to make light of the efforts of groups like Voices in the Wilderness or Fellowship of Reconciliation. What can anyone expect of a handful of people here and there insinuating themselves amid the quarrels and animosities of competing nations?

What answer can we come up with except that we are people of a promise that is ludicrous on its face. We are adherers to a view of the world that, in the mouths of popes and modern prophets, would pit the force of love against the force of arms. Even in the most formal contexts from the highest church authorities, the words can come across as a preposterous reduction: Exercise the force of love over violence. That’s what we say we believe. Few are willing to place their lives in service of that belief. It’s tough to make the case above all the bellicose clamor. There’s more on the matter of Iran on the back page.

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There was a glitch last week that caused the Last Words that appeared on the editorial page to quote from a piece that actually appears in this week’s issue. You’ll be able to find the quote, “We are all in this thing called humanity together. Everyone here today deserves to be alive tomorrow,” spoken by Kari Olk, columnist Kris Berggren’s 14-year-old daughter, and quoted by Kris in her column ( see story). Great wisdom, economically stated.

-- Tom Roberts

National Catholic Reporter, September 22, 2006

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