The body of Tom Fox, one of the four peace activists kidnapped in Iraq last November, was discovered Thursday. The 54-year-old father of two, a member of the Chicago-based Christian Peacemaker Teams, had been tortured with electric cables before being shot in the head.

Fox, a Quaker, was a dedicated activist who spent the last two years of his life in Iraq, working with Iraqi human rights groups to foster peace and seeking a richer understanding of Islamic culture. As a peacemaker he found his inspiration in Jesus and Gandhi, who taught him to stand firmly, nonviolently, against evil. Writing to his fellow activists in October, Fox asked them to remember the Mahatma’s words: “A person who has known God will be incapable of harboring anger or fear within him, no matter how overpowering the cause for that anger or fear may be.”

The day before his abduction, Fox shared another short reflection titled “Why are we here?” Here is an excerpt:

I have read that the word in the Greek Bible that is translated as “love” is the word “agape.” Again, I have read that this word is best expressed as a profound respect for all human beings simply for the fact that they are all God’s children. I would state that idea in a somewhat different way, as “never thinking or doing anything that would dehumanize one of my fellow human beings.”

As I survey the landscape here in Iraq, dehumanization seems to be the operative means of relating to each other. U.S. forces in their quest to hunt down and kill “terrorists” are, as a result of this dehumanizing word, not only killing “terrorists,” but also killing innocent Iraqis: men, women and children in the various towns and villages.

It seems as if the first step down the road to violence is taken when I dehumanize a person. That violence might stay within my thoughts or find its way into the outer world and become expressed verbally, psychologically, structurally or physically. As soon as I rob a fellow human being of his or her humanity by sticking a dehumanizing label on them, I begin the process that can have, as an end result, torture, injury and death.

“Why are we here?” We are here to root out all aspects of dehumanization that exist within us. We are here to stand with those being dehumanized by oppressors and stand firm against that dehumanization. We are here to stop people, including ourselves, from dehumanizing any of God’s children, no matter how much they dehumanize their own souls.

His hopeful words then sting us now with a painful irony. This is all the more true of the “statement of conviction” that Fox and his fellow sojourners signed last March, in which they acknowledged the dangers of their work in Iraq — and yet insisted its importance outweighed the risks. “We hope that in loving both friends and enemies and by intervening non-violently to aid those who are systematically oppressed, we can contribute in some small way to transforming this volatile situation,” the statement read.

Even if the love they showed to their enemies was not enough, there could be no hatred in their hearts, the statement went on to say. In the event of hostage-taking, “We will try to understand the motives for these actions, and to articulate them, while maintaining a firm stance that such actions are wrong…. [We] reject violence to punish anyone who harms us…. We forgive those who consider us their enemies.”

We will never know for certain what thoughts went through Tom Fox’s head in the moments before his death. But if the words and deeds he offered over the course of his life are any indication, he faced his murderers without fear, or anger.

Acknowledging the humanity that they had forsaken.

Forgiving them, for they knew not what they did.

Victor Tan Chen

Victor Tan Chen is In The Fray‘s editor in chief and the author of Cut Loose: Jobless and Hopeless in an Unfair Economy. Site: | Facebook | Twitter: @victortanchen

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