By Bob Holmes
I want to begin, and end, with words from Tom written in Baghdad in a reflection entitled Fight or Flight?
“When I allow myself to become angry, I disconnect from God and connect with the evil force that empowers fighting. When I allow myself to become fearful, I disconnect from God and connect with the evil force that encourages flight… If I am not to fight or flee in the face of armed aggression, be it the overt aggression of the army or the subversive aggression of the terrorist, then what am I to do? ‘Stand firm against evil’ seems to be the guidance of Jesus and Gandhi in order to stay connected with God.”
Who was Tom Fox? And what does it mean to ‘stand firm’ in Baghdad?
I was privileged to work on team with Tom in Baghdad last September and October and can tell you a little about this calm, centred Quaker who began each day before dawn on the roof of our apartment building doing yoga and meditating.
I can bear witness to his standing firm, giving in to neither anger nor fear, as he stood shoulder to shoulder with ordinary Iraqi citizens never knowing if they would be coming home each evening given the daily danger of bombing, kidnapping, arrest and detention.
I was in awe of his peacemaking work with Iraqi Human Rights groups, especially the Muslim Peacemaker Team, and Tom’s stories of Shias and Sunnis, Muslims and Christians, Iraqis and Americans all working together in war devastated Falluja to create space for peace and a more just society.
I want to share one story with you which means much to me.
Pastoral support being my specific role in CPT, I helped the Baghdad team plan a retreat last October. The only safe place in Iraq for a stress free time of prayer, reflection and renewal was in the north, and the only safe way to get there was by air – costly but absolutely necessary for this highly stressed team. We would go Monday to Thursday.
On Saturday we received a call from the Palestinian refugee camp in Baghdad – 6000 Palestinians many born in Iraq of parents who sought refuge there as far back as 1948 and today are without Iraqi citizenship or passports, unable to travel or own property, employment and income meager at best. In the present lawless Iraq, these foreigners are often targeted by Iraqi police and army and fear for their lives.
A group had decided to attempt an exodus to Syria. Would CPT accompany them and help them through the ubiquitous police and army checkpoints along the way? They were leaving Tuesday.
Back home, late Saturday night, we anticipated a long, difficult consensus process to decide between a very much needed retreat in the north or an accompaniment of this beleaguered group to Syria?
Tom was beautiful. He suggested that if we took a little time to search our hearts in silence and listened carefully to the Spirit we might discover that the decision was not so difficult.
He was right. After our silent prayer together, it took only 10 minutes to come to consensus.
I didn’t know that I was saying goodbye to Tom for the last time as he and Sheila and Beth boarded the pre-dawn bus in the refugee camp on Tuesday morning.
They made it to the border of Syria. Tom and the other CPTers spent 3 weeks camped there with the fleeing refugees before coming back to Baghdad and continuing their peacemaking. The Palestinians were finally received, six weeks later, into UN camps north of Damascus.
Listen to Tom once again. We’ll give him the last word.
“If Jesus and Gandhi are right… I am to stand firm against the kidnapper as I am against the soldier. Does this mean I walk into a raging battle to confront soldiers? Does this mean I walk the streets with a sign saying ‘American for the taking?’ No to both counts. But if Jesus and Gandhi are right, then I am to risk my life, and if I lose it, to be as forgiving as they were when murdered by the forces of [evil].
Standing firm is a struggle, but I am willing to keep working at it.”
In Memoriam: Tom Fox
By Doug Pritchard
I first met Tom Fox at his Christian Peacemaker Teams training in Chicago in the summer of 2004. He was a tall, quiet, self-effacing man, who took the steps along his life’s journey carefully and prayerfully. At the training, Tom reflected on his Christian faith and his daily life. He said that his spiritual turning point came during a Quaker meeting for worship 20 years earlier when an elderly Friend gave a one-sentence message. She said, “I feel that in all things we need to keep to Jesus.” This message went deep into Tom’s heart and he said that he relived the moment of receiving that message every week. “I feel that in all things we need to keep to Jesus.”
The genesis of Tom’s interest in Christian Peacemaker Teams was Sept. 11, 2001. When he saw the devastation from that attack, he saw in his mind the vision that Quaker leader George Fox had of a sea of darkness and flowing over it a sea of light. Tom said, “While I knew very little about CPT, at the time I had a clear sense that I wanted very much to find some way to pull us out of the darkness and move the world (even if it was the movement of one human being) towards the light.” That one human being has moved towards the light, and the world has moved with him.
At the end of his training, Tom said he was ready to go full-time with CPT and he wanted to go to Iraq. He felt that his experience in the Marine Corps band could help us in our dealings with soldiers. That was a very dark time in our work in Iraq. For several months, since the Multinational Forces began to bomb the Iraqi city of Falluja, groups had been kidnapping foreign contractors. Some were brutally killed. Then, just after Tom’s CPT training, two French journalists and two Italian aid workers were kidnapped. Now the danger of kidnapping was coming much closer to us too. CPT reduced the size and profile of its team in Iraq, and was considering withdrawing completely. Yet Tom still felt led to go. And he did.
The last time I saw Tom was in Baghdad, in November 2005. He had been in Iraq for 14 months and was showing signs of the strain. It was hard to get the food he needed. It was hard to get the exercise he needed. The threat of kidnapping or being blown up was constant. During my visit, the whole team took a day to discuss again the question, Why Are We Here? We named the costs. We named the benefits. At the end of the session, each team member insisted that the benefits outweighed the costs, and they wanted to stay.
In reflecting on that session two weeks later, the day before he was kidnapped, Tom wrote, “If I understand the message of God, his response to the question [Why are we here] is that we are to take part in the creation of the Peaceable Realm of God….We are here to root out all aspects of dehumanization that exist within us….We are here to stop people, including ourselves, from dehumanizing any of God’s children, no matter how much they dehumanize their own souls.” That’s why we are here.
Jesus said, “Unless a grain of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains only a single seed. But if it dies, it produces many seeds” (John 12:24). Tom has died. Yet his death has produced many seeds already. We have no idea how big this harvest is going to be.
As Tom’s mentor said, “In all things we need to keep to Jesus.” Rest in peace, Tom. The harvest is ripe.