Wednesday, May 26, 2004

Is This Liberation?

Excerpts from an address delivered at a Conference at Karbala University, Iraq, on Imam Hussein and his relevance today;

...The truth is that politicians, tyrants and military chiefs all use the language of liberation very easily and for their own purposes. But liberation for a people is a deeper process that involves much more than the relief of the removal of tyranny. It is both material and spiritual. It requires not just being rid of a tyrant but truth telling; it requires not so much 'reconstruction' as healing. It requires the building of trust and the possibility of real hope and it needs to arise from the people themselves.

The language of liberation is something that is prevalent in our religious traditions. I come from the Christian tradition and I read that tradition as one that speaks and offers liberation. In the story of Jesus Christ, in his ministry, death and resurrection we believe that we are shown a God who is with the poor and marginalised. We are shown a God who in the crucifixion faces the worst of human violence and responds not with wrath and destruction, but with love: in the resurrection we believe Christ offers us God's love again. We are called to embrace that love and live it in the world. We are called to seek the crucified of today - the victims of injustice and violence and to respond to the complexities of the violence and pain of our world with love and compassion, to identify with those who are marginalised and from that place to seek resurrection in real healing, reconciliation and hope. For me Christianity is a spirituality that struggles with the realities of our world. It is not a retreat into an other- worldly piety but a spirituality that is rooted in the real violence, exploitation, hatred and confusion of our world and offers a way of redeeming it through meeting God in our active identification with the marginalised and in our refusal to use violence...

...But in retelling the atrocities of the recent past and in looking for hope in the future we must also be awake to the realities of the present. I think of Imam Hussein and of his father Ali, both men of principle who sought to act with justice and to use power wisely and for the good of all, seeking not to oppress others. And then I think of Iraq today, under the rule of the occupation forces. The 18,000 people in detention some because their relatives are suspected of crimes even though they themselves have done nothing. I think of the 234 people who were arrested at the village of Abu Hisma last November - the water was cut off by the US military and has not been reconnected for several months. The wife of the local school teacher was shot dead going to the village's one water supply after curfew. A bomb was dropped on the house of a suspect - Hebron style and the village citrus grove destroyed. People are prisoners in their own homes. The village is surrounded by barbed wire and a 5pm curfew is in operation so no one can enter or leave the village after dark. Similar things are happening in other villages like Abu Siffa. I wonder how Hussein would have reacted to the injustice of criminalising whole villages and oppressing their people.

I ask you - is this liberation?

My friends, I hope and I pray that you the Iraqi people -- a warm, welcoming, hospitable and generous people - - will be helped by the international community to together heal yourselves of the wounds of tyranny, imperialism and war -- drawing on the best of all the religious traditions in this great land -- the cradle of civilisation. And I will do my best to campaign for this in my own country.

Liberation is not something that is brought by invaders or by the removal of one form of tyranny -- it is something that people experience and achieve for themselves, utilising their own spiritual, political, emotional and cultural resources. I pray to God the Merciful and Compassionate One, that there may be a process of healing, truth telling, justice and reconciliation in this land that is informed by the light of the story of Imam Hussein.

- Is This Liberation?
by Ray Gaston, February 28, 2004.
Ray Gaston is Vicar of All Hallows Church in Leeds (UK).


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