On Armistice Day, remember those who gave their lives for freedom; remember too those who devote their lives to reconciliation
As many of you will know, on the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month 1918, Armistice was signed on the Great War; the war that was to have ended all wars.
However since then, over 100 million people have died in armed conflict around the world, or by disease and famine brought about directly by the privations of war.
At 11am today, many of us will take a pause from our usual busyness to remember with gratitude those who gave their lives for the freedoms we now enjoy. The terrible reality is that most of those 100 million souls did not give their lives for noble freedom, but for myriad other reasons; largely the folly and greed of their fellow man.
We have seen over-eager military intervention for political gain. Conversely, we have seen a deplorable lack of intervention when prompt, decisive action could have headed tragedy off at the pass. But most of all, we have seen rhetoric ramping up violence in place of dialogue that would have defused tension.
In Baghdad, where we work, a good month is one in which merely 150 civilians lose their lives to sectarian violence. A year ago on October 31, five militiamen stormed the Syrian Catholic church during the Sunday service, terrorised them in unimaginable ways for four hours, before detonating their suicide vests, leaving 48 worshipers dead.
In the months that followed we witnessed a marked increase in violence against the Christian minority in Iraq. Pipe bombs were planted outside front doors. Sticky bombs were placed under their cars. Sameh was head of security at St George’s church. He is a Muslim but was targeted because his job is to protect our church. He survived the car bomb, but his leg was blown off above the knee.
At least 120 Christians died in those two months, for no other reason than for their faith.
Blessed are the peacemakers
But then it all changed. Working with the most senior religious leaders in Iraq, we convened a three day dialogue in Copenhagen which resulted in a joint Sunni/Shia declaration, which was then read out in mosques across Iraq. Through our work, a declaration that: “The Christian community is the root of Iraq” was heard.
The result of this declaration? Violence against the Christian minority stopped that very day. With a few sad exceptions, the agreement holds
Now, we at the Foundation for Relief and Reconciliation in the Middle East make no claim to possess a panacea for all the world’s ills. But it is our experience that carefully mediated dialogue can make the world of difference in de-escalating conflict.
We also know this; the only way to make a difference in these seemingly intractable conflicts is by being as committed to peace as the suicide bombers are to their cause. What a difference it would make if the international community were to devote the resources currently spent on waging war to building peace.
So as you pause at the 11th hour on Friday, spare a prayer for the peacemakers. At the going down of the sun, and in the morning, we will remember them.
– With every blessing, Peter Marsden FRRME Director
Taken from FRRME newsletter for Armistice Day.