Atwar Bahjat, In Memoriam
I did not know the name of Atwar Bahjat until this afternoon. She was an Iraqi journalist, apparently a famous one. One known for advocating unity, justice, and harmony for Iraq. One known for her dedication to her country, which she proudly displayed by wearing a locket in the shape of Iraq during her broadcasts. One who was also known as a devout Muslim woman.
She was tortured and murdered, brutally, by other Muslims. (If you care to have your stomach turned, you can read the full account here.
The account appears in a British newspaper, but it is nonetheless extremely graphic and disturbing.)
When I am confronted with evil such as this, I cannot help but feel overwhelmed by impotence and helplessness. How can I prevent such horrible things from happening?
How can I ensure that journalists are free to report the news without fearing for their lives? What can I do to promote freedom of the press, and immunity for reporters? I can send contributions to Reporters without Borders, but that hardly seems adequate. I can write articles in American newspapers, calling for the protection of journalists, but who's reading? Certainly not the people who would carry out such a murder. I can call my senators, and my UN reprsentative, demanding protections and pressure, demanding resolutions and international laws, but will they pass legislation? And if they do, will people inclined to kill reporters obey such laws? I doubt it.
How can I convince fellow Muslims that torture and murder are completely and totally against Islamic teachings? I can write and write and write about the horror of it, the shock of Muslims killing other Muslims, and the hypocracy of doing so while howling over non-Muslims killing Muslims, but the ones who murder and torture are not reading the papers I write for; we don't even speak the same language, so how can I possibly reach them? I can give to Muslim organizations that preach peace, harmony, and tolerance, but can they reach these people? Do they have any more influence than I do? I'm afraid these killers listen only to others who believe as they believe, who preach hatred and violence.
How can I keep my government from starting wars that lead to the kind of civil strife that leads to this sort of horrific violence in the first place. I marched in DC with the hundreds of thousands of other anti-war protestors. I took my kids
to march in DC. Bush didn't want to listen to us. Too many people were out for blood, eager to punish whoever was responsible for 9-11, including Iraq despite the fact that it was in no way responsible for 9-11. Too many people were consumed with fear and hatred of the other, of foreigners, of Muslims, of Arabs, and willing to accept patently false claims that Iraq had, or was developing, weapons of mass destruction, and that mere possession of said weapons was sufficient grounds to go to war. If they were willing to ignore the largest peaceful protests ever, how can I convince my government that war is not the solution to our oil dependency, or to Israel's security concerns? How can I convince people that it is stupid to hate other people just because they have different beliefs, different customs, different languages or skin color?
How can I protect women from being targets of warfare? How can I prevent rape, murder, or torture of women from being a tool that one group of men uses against another group of men? How can I help improve the lives of women living overseas, in other countries where literacy rates are nominal, and no one speaks English anyway? I can join organizations working in those countries and send money to them. But in the end, it's only dollars, and my resources are limited. I wish I were as rich as Bill Gates, or Donald Trump. Then I could give to my heart's content. As it is, I can only send my twenties, my fifties to a select few, and each group I send to means I don't send to some other group. I feel like a heartless miser, turning down the Fraternal Order of Police, or the Make a Wish Foundation, but when people's lives are at stake, hard choices have to be made.
There are days when I feel like a heartless miser just for living -- a middle class existence in suburban Indianapolis seems far too luxurious, far too comfortable, to be justifiable in face of what other people around the world have to live with. And then I think this angst is simply self-indulgence. So I feel impotent or helpless, what is that to complain about? I am not sufferring-- I don't feel the pangs of hunger day in an day out; no militias are threatening my life or the lives of my children; I do not have to worry about my country being invaded. Worse, I am not prepared to give up this life, to subject my children to those dangers and hardships. I'm not willing to give up music lessons or karate for them, or, even, to forgo coffee at my favorite coffee shop, so as to have a few more dollars to give. Am I then heartless? I don't think so, but what good is feeling guilty, feeling sad, or overwhelmed, if it does not spur you to greater action, if it doesn't create enough anguish to cause you to sacrifice somethings?
And then I think, what would be the point? It's like trying to hold back the sea with a shovelfull of sand. Even if I gave up everything I owned, it would like dropping a penny in a fountain, when we need billions of pennies.
There is so much evil happening in this world. So much injustice. I can't understand how people can dehumanize another person to the extent that they can torture and kill that person. How can they listen to a woman's cries, and continue to rape her? What is the glory in that? Where is the satisfaction? What has been so warped in that person's heart and intellect that they can do such a thing?
And me... I wish I could curse them. I wish I could ask God to strike them with hellfire. But I can't even do that. I can't wish eternal damnation and sufferring on anyone, even a murderer, even a murderer who tortures and then kills. How could I possibly want that person to suffer for eternity for a deed that lasted perhaps half an hour, or even extended over days or months? That, too, would be an injustice.
There are days when I believe no one will stay in Hell forever. But that doesn't seem fair either -- those who never harmed a single soul side by side with murderers in Heaven. There are days when I think there will be no Heaven and Hell, that both are merely tools -- God holding out a carrot and a stick so that we'll behave here on Earth, but not real, because neither one seems fair. If that's the case, they are, evidently, woefully inadequate.
There are days I know God is good, and days when I think, He must be cruel indeed, or merely indifferent. I always wondered how people decided God was perfect. The Perfect is not among the 99 names of Allah. And while it would be nice to think God is perfect, and perfectly loving, there are times when I feel this world cannot be the reflection of a perfectly loving God. There can be freedom of choice, without there having to be such thoroughly horrific choices. I've always told my children, it is ok to be angry, and when you are angry you may hit a pillow, or stomp your feet, or go for a walk, or lock yourself in your room, or even yell, but you may not hit a person, or stomp on their feet, or walk all over their feelings. So God could have said, you may hurt another person, but I will not allow you to torture them or to kill them wantonly. Evil didn't have to be sooo evil.
Truly, when I start thinking of these things -- of the injustice of an eternal Hell, of the extent of evil a human is capable of -- the pull of atheism is strong in my heart. There would be so many fewer questions if the world just was, without moral value at all. That's when I need to take a stroll in the cool night air, and look up into the stars, to recall God to my heart. When I need to think of the Prophet, and his life, to remind me of why I started believing in the first place.