Remembering Tom Fox
Fayetteville NC - Last Thursday, we had a meeting at Quaker House to finalize the subjects and speakers for our annual peace march and rally here on March 18. That night, Tom Fox was not on the list.
Twenty-four hours later, he was.
Much of the peace rally's program will recall the many who have fallen in the Iraq war US troops, civilians, and innocent Iraqis. Tom Fox is not the only civilian on that brutally long roster. But he is the first fallen American who went to Baghdad as an unarmed peacemaker.
Tom's path to Iraq and an ignominious death was straightforward. He and I talked about it last August, when I saw him for the final time.
It was at our Quaker yearly meeting in Virginia. Tom was between tours in Iraq, and we shared a meal and did some catching up.
We talked first about kids, as older dads will do. We both have a daughter and son the same age, and all four grew up in Langley Hill Friends Meeting, near Washington DC. They're in their twenties now, scattered across the continent, but still in touch. A few years back, our sons started a Quaker Hip Hop group called the Friendly Gangstaz Committee. The band caused quite a stir in our small Quaker world with startling, shouted renditions of well-worn hymns like "Simple Gifts." Tom and I chuckled ruefully about that.
We also talked about work. From that same faith community, Tom and I had traveled somewhat parallel paths, trying to be true to the meaning of texts like, "Blessed are the peacemakers," (Matthew 5:9) and "seek peace and pursue it." (Proverbs 34:14)
How do you "pursue peace" in a violent world? My own seeking led, after a series of conventional jobs, to Fayetteville and Quaker House. Tom did twenty years in the Marine band, then was a baker at a growing health food supermarket. He was good at it, and his bosses wanted him to join management.
But Tom heard a "different drummer," especially after September 11, 2001. With a war on, he felt called to "pursue peace" in a concrete way. After much prayer and reflection, he joined the Christian Peacemaker Teams (CPT).
CPT sets out to bring the "weapons of the spirit" into the front lines of conflict, places where death and life are but a hair's breadth apart. Tom's first assignment took him to the Occupied Territories of Palestine. [Ed: Tom's visit to Palestine actually came at the end of his first tour in Iraq.]
This was dangerous work, amid a conflict which seems hopelessly intractable. Tom stuck with it. Then, when the Iraq occupation shifted from the foolish illusion of "mission accomplished" to the grinding facts of guerilla and civil war, he headed there.
After Tom was kidnapped, Rush Limbaugh sneered that "part of me likes this," because, "I like any time a bunch of leftist feel-good hand-wringers are shown reality."
What's striking in this comment is not only the mean-spiritedness, but also the ignorance. Tom knew the reality of Baghdad's dangers firsthand. He talked frankly about them over that last August supper. Tom was calm but clear about it: kidnapping, torture, murder were on all sides there.
It was a CPT team, after all, that brought the first reports about the abuses at Abu Ghraib prison to reporter Seymour Hersh. They had seen other humanitarian workers kidnapped and some killed.
But there's more to it than that. The Christian Peacemaker Teams take their identity seriously. Their namesake, after all, was another unarmed troublemaker in an occupied country, who was also tortured and then suffered an ignominious public execution. One other phrase that comes to mind is Matthew 10:24: "The disciple is not above his master, nor the servant above his lord."
So Tom has met his fate, and we mourn the loss. But at the peace rally this Saturday we will remember his witness. We will also remember that in the founding saga from which his team took its marching orders, death was a tragedy, but not the end of the story.
Quaker House will be hosting a public memorial for Tom Fox on Saturday March, 18 in Fayetteville. Another memorial has been planned for Wednesday, March 15 in Harrisonburg, Virginia by Eastern Mennonite University. Friends and supporters of Tom's work can share their memories and reflections here.