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The War in Iraq and how it led to resilience in my faith
Twenty years ago, the invasion of Iraq was popular in the U.S. across the political spectrum. Opposition to it was seeing an un-American and anti-Christian. My faith survived it.
Twenty years ago this week, the U.S. invaded Iraq as part of its Global War on Terror. The War in Iraq shaped me and my faith more than any other event in history. These days, almost everyone, even supporters of the war condemn it as the quagmire and mistake it was. History hasn’t been kind to the expensive, devastating, and essentially pointless war (even if it has exonerated George W. Bush—on the anniversary of the invasion, the New York Times ran a piece telling us how great Bush was). The brazen evil and self-interest of the war, which was apparent to many of us at the time, has become the way that history views the conflict.
But at the time, Congress overwhelmingly voted to authorize the war. Furthermore, among Americans, the War in Iraq was immensely popular. It was loudly and proudly defended even in the liberal media. At the start of the war, 63 percent o Americans supported the war, and two months into it, the number grew to 79 percent. Over a year later, the majority of Americans still thought it was the right thing to do, so much so that in November of that year, 51 percent of them voted to re-elect George W. Bush. I grew up in the midst of this hysteria.
I was a brown teenager, an Arab-American, during the jingoism and xenophobia of post-9/11 America. The attack on the U.S. made the population bloodthirsty, and the victims of their rage were people, children even, that looked like me. While I didn’t realize it at the time, my opposition to this conflict, and the formative experience of growing up brown after 9/11 made a mark on me that taught me to hold strongly to my instincts, even when the majority disagree. I say this because I am not rebellious by nature; I generally don’t want to upset the status quo. As an immigrant, in fact, we survive by assimilation and accommodating. I have to resist that very urge now in me, especially when my body is on the line.
As the war went on, support dwindled. But what troubled me was the enthusiastic support from Christians. The Evangelical Christians I grew up with strongly supported the war. And that was a confusing thing for me: I suspected that the war was motivated by things other that Saddam Hussein’s human rights violations, but at the time, I bought into the war propaganda. I believed the Bush Administration’s lies about Saddam’s weapons of mass destruction. The propaganda was everywhere, and heard to resist. Over the next few months, after observing the conflict, listening to peers and elders (and admittedly anti-war punk rock music), and actually internalizing the teachings on peace of Jesus, I grew to believe the war was wrong and I haven’t waivered since. I finally could admit that brown folks didn’t need to be victims of U.S military might and conquest. I could both oppose Saddam Hussein and his wicked administration, as well as the poorly executed and devastating invasion of the U.S.
I entered my freshmen year in firm opposition to the war. My convictions against it made me question my faith. The Evangelical Christians I grew up with, who formed my faith, were ardent supporters of the conflict. I had no idea if I could still follow Jesus and be opposed to war. It seems to me that the Prince of Peace would oppose the military conflict, but why were so many of his followers in support of it? This is the sort of existential crisis my opposition to the Iraq War created for me. And I don’t think it is uncommon for people to lose faith when their convictions contradict their faith, even when it is through their faith they come by those convictions. I can say, for certain, that it is because of Jesus and the Bible that I oppose war, oppose the degradation of creation, affirm queer people, and fight against racism – as it turns, out, the plurality of Christians disagree with me about all of those.
It is hard to hold on to your faith alone. Thus, I was so grateful to move to Philadelphia and find people that were firmly opposed to the war in Iraq. My old pastor and friend, Joshua Grace was one of those people. He led a congregation in Fishtown (which I had the honor of serving for the last five years) and led them to oppose the war. Joshua was arrested for the war. His congregation proudly displayed their opposition. And because of their demonstration in word and deed, I was able to hold on to my faith. I could continue following Jesus, in community, because of that.
Not only was I able to find Christians who shared my conviction, I learned there was a whole tradition of peace-loving Christians out there called Anabaptists. Amazingly, even in my Central PA upbringing, I wasn’t aware that I could be a peace lover and peacemaker and follow Jesus. But following my heart and my God-given convictions helped me to hold on to my faith and it galvanized it against the war-mongering opposition. For that reason, I can forever know that Christ had made a claim on me. I held on to my convictions despite harassment from other Christians who claimed I wasn’t faithful because I found a body of believers who helped me see the truth. It is important for all of us to find our people. And I am glad I did among Anabaptist Christians. We are hardly without their flaws, but their love of peace created a home for me, and helped me hold onto my faith even when many Christians are telling me I am wrong. Because of their faithfulness, I can stand in my own faith, be confident in it, and even challenge others without wavering.
As a final word, and I mean this, I could have easily lost my faith. If I didn’t grow up with it, I’m not sure how I’d ever have found Jesus. His followers are the hardest thing about being a Christian. Today, I don’t know if I could become a Christian, in this environment. Christians are too often responsible for the worst things (like the war in Iraq). So if you need to step away, and let go, I totally understand that. But if you want to hold on to your faith, if you feel moved to, you don’t need to let the worst Christians push you out. The warmongers that supported Bush’s invasion of Iraq tried to do that to me, but they failed. We don’t have to let the Christians in charge, the ones writing history, take our faith from us. The warmongers, homophobes, sexists, racists, and nationalists don’t have a monopoly on our faith. There’s room for you at the table. I understand if you can’t take the step, though. I will work to make it easier for to take a step of faith and to hold on it. But if you don’t, God’s love will still endure. For all the people who lost faith because of Bush’s invasion of Iraq, or any number of our misdeeds branded as Christian, God’s grace will prevail. And for those architects of war who became destroyers of faith, there will be hell to pay.