Washing Cars in Wartime – A Guest Post

Just two days ago ISIS released a horrific video of the death of Jordanian pilot Lt Moaz al-Kasasbeh. While ISIS is known to be brutal, this death showed a new level of cruelty, of inhumanity. If man is indeed made in the image of God then those who commit these acts are wounding their creator and I have no doubt, he weeps. The pilot was actually killed January 3rd – a full month before the video was released; a month where negotiations were going on between ISIS and Jordan for his release. The duplicity is nauseating. My friend Laura lived in and loves Jordan and it is through her that I have followed much of this news.

Today’s post is by Laura. It is not about Jordan or the pilot, but it is about war, about violence, about dignity — and human dignity is what I want to think about in the midst of this. Dignity of the innocent, the dignity God gives us in drawing us to himself, in calling us his children. Thank you Laura for this beautiful piece. 



Washing Cars in Wartime
“Syrian rebels attacked army roadblocks in Midan district in the heart of Damascus on Thursday to relieve pressure on outlying rebel strongholds being pounded by air strikes and artillery, opposition activists said.
“Assad’s forces responded by bombarding the densely populated commercial and residential district, situated just outside the Old City walls, killing a woman pedestrian and a worker in a car wash, they said.”
– Reuters, 8 November 2012


In the morning, he rubs his palms through his
hair and swings his legs over the edge of the bed.
At the door, like sentries, stand two pale blue rubber
boots. Knee-heighted waders, he puts them on.

In the morning, he makes his tea and, sipping, walks to
punch in the numbers for the punishing measure.
The tea is hot. Tit for tat, tit for tat, tit for
tat, tit for tat—the numbness is
learned, drummed into minds by
years, obedient generations, of slavish fear.

He marches in his boots to his post,
puddles and soap. The cars roll in.
Astonishing that cars must be washed
during war, bodies of metal,
gleam and polish.
The rain of weaponry makes nothing clean.
Cars must be washed.

Next he marches down the hall to report to the next
goon up. Breathtaking the fruitful efficiency of war
and its stillborn child, death.
Rolling like a wave over the weeping face of
the earth, deracinating life from its soil.
Life scrubbed lifeless.

The soapy water runs red into
the gutter drain. Down in the valley, the cracked
earth drinks the blood of patriots and villains
in equal measure. A green patch of grass,
a bold rebuke that life will not finally succumb and
bow to the instruments of death.
The emptied rubber boots in melted pieces
held more personified dignity in one car washer than a thousand
sorry soles of the regime.


LauraAbout the author: Laura Merzig Fabrycky is a freelance writer and editor, and serves as editor of Missio, a blog of The Washington Institute for Faith, Vocation, and Culture. Her writing has been published in Books & CultureThe Review of Faith and International Affairs, the Foreign Service Journal, and Good Housekeeping Middle East; and her poetry has appeared in Glass, her church newsletter, and family Christmas cards. A diplomatic trailing spouse and mother to three young children, Laura has lived in Doha, Qatar; Amman, Jordan; and currently resides in the fever swamps of the Washington, D.C. area

Just One Click

I see the village in my mind’s eye: There is an open courtyard with a common sitting area where low charpais, covered with beautiful and colorful quilts, are filled with women and children. Women rule this courtyard! They are in charge and everyone knows it.

Off to the side is the pump, surrounded by a low wall for a measure of privacy. Children and moms surround the pump and laughter and talk are loud.  They are speaking village – what’s the price of onions, whose husband has gone to Peshawar for work, why Sadia’s curry isn’t as good as Fatima’s, who’s pregnant, who wants to be pregnant, who’s engaged. Talking village – village stories and village life.  There is the smell of curry, onions, and hot spices permeating the village air. There are cow pies on the outside mud walls; there is smoke from the wood fire; there are chapattis baking, and small silver dishes at the ready for food.

The men are nearby in their own gathering space. A space close by and for men alone but who cares? It’s the women’s area that is alive with activity, with life, with color.

Just one click – and chaos ensues. The baby that was toddling around with a naked bottom, a tawees (amulet) with verses of the Koran around his neck, is suddenly screaming and a mom is rushing to pick him up while yelling to her other children to gather. The curry and chapattis are forgotten – who cares about food when you’ve tasted fear and just the taste has filled you to suffocation.

The chaos comes from an attack drone targeted specifically to this area in Pakistan that borders Afghanistan. The controls sit in a sterile room, far removed from faces and places. The target shows up on a computer screen, much like a video game. All it takes is one click.

Just one click to obliterate life.

Just one click to show who’s the boss.

Just one click to be declared the winner.

Just one click and then a coffee break.

Just one click….

Although it is the men’s area that is hit, shrapnel flies as does mortar, brick, death, anger, and sorrow. What doesn’t fly is the terror and what it feels like to grab your children and run. That sits deep in the psyche and affects all of life for years to come.

In a decade of drone use, 95% of all drone attacks have occurred in Pakistan. 95% of 300 drone attacks. They have killed over 2000 militants and we don’t have a number of civilians. Just one click. No numbers. No accountability. That means that 95% of the unknown number of civilians were from Pakistan.  It’s elementary school math.

Attack drones in the future will be “cheaper, smaller, faster, stealthier, more lethal, and more autonomous, it is harder to imagine what they won’t do than what they will. Whatever limits drones face will be imposed by us humans — not technology.” Micah Zenko from Foreign Policy Magazine Mar/April 2012.

Any country has a right to defend itself from terror attacks. But it must do so with care, with research into minimizing the so-called “collateral damage” factor. It must also do so with accountability and understanding that collateral damage can lead to future, angry aggression.

The question is this: Does the use of attack drones really make the U.S. safer? 

I fear that our love for technology and unmanned aerial vehicles will overlook the obvious (and not so obvious) problems from this type of warfare. Are these drones really “surgically precise” as the narrative would have us believe?

An independent research study “Living Under Drones”  produced by International Human Rights and Conflict Resolution Clinic of Stanford Law School (Stanford Clinic) and the Global Justice Clinic at New York University School of Law (NYU Clinic) says this: “Counterproductive’ drone war “terrorizes” civilians in Pakistan. The drone war has given rise to “anxiety and psychological trauma among civilian communities”

This is the first report of this type that I am aware of and there is a need for more independent reports, reports based on neither bias nor drama. With reports comes greater knowledge around the where, how, and why of attack drones. Theoretically taxpayers can ask for that kind of accountability.

Is it that we don’t think about accountability because it’s “just Pakistan”. Do people honestly care about this small and often struggling country? I come from a tribe of people who care – but we are unusual in our backgrounds and have had the privilege of experiencing Pakistan as our adopted home.

Stories like that of Malala Yousafzai help give a human face to Pakistan, but we are a long way from seeing Pakistan as a place that has a face worth protecting. Are we willing to commit to understanding more about attack drone use, and speaking out on this subject as we learn more?

As someone who sees all life as precious, not just American lives, I write this post and ask these questions. What do you think?  

Choosing to Remember -Remembrance Day 11.11.12

poppies, remembrance dayNovember 11th is Remembrance Day Sunday in Canada (and Great Britain and in several other European nations and throughout the Commonwealth). This is the day Canadians remember those who have died in conflict: in the Boer War, in the Great War and in World War 2, with US forces in Vietnam, under the United Nations in Korea, in Afghanistan, in Iraq, and in various peacekeeping missions around the world. Americans similarly commemorate Veterans Day. Poppies take the place of profile pictures as we remember and say thank you.

There are other ongoing conflicts around the world where hatred and violence seemingly prevail. And as I approach Remembrance Day, I have to ask aloud: Who’s remembering the victims of those conflicts? Who are the peacemakers? Who speaks out for the innocent? For those who have no voice? For those the world has forgotten?

The persecuted church remains largely undefended and forgotten.

Because of God’s grace, my dad is the survivor of one such forgotten moment of conflict. What lasted only a few minutes has changed the 75 people in attendance forever. The moment was short, but the effects continue, even up until the present.  On November 11th I ask you to join me in remembering. Let this be a token event that calls to mind countless other events happening all around the world. Let us remember.

My parents served as missionaries to Pakistan from 1979 until 2003. They lived out their lives in the tiny desert town of Layyah in the heart of the Punjab. There they raised their two children, my brother, Neil, and me. As a family we grew to love Pakistan: her culture, her food, her people. Pakistanis in return loved us. They accepted us. They welcomed us. We attended hundreds of weddings, funerals, festivals, ceremonies. We celebrated Christmas and Easter with dear Pakistani brothers and sisters, Aunts and Uncles. Even now when Neil and I go home for Christmas with our spouses and our children we sing Urdu Christmas Carols and enjoy Chicken Curry and Mutton Pulau together. Pakistan has become a part of who we are.

In March 2002 my dad was in Islamabad with a Pakistani friend, Rashid. They were there to welcome some new American colleagues who would be flying into the Islamabad International Airport. Dad and Uncle Rashid arrived in the capital city a few days early to run some errands and to take care of some business. While they were there they decided, at the last moment, to attend church on March 17th at the Protestant International Church in Islamabad. The church was located near the diplomatic enclave. It was a safe area of the city. They had no second thoughts about attending.

Midway through the service, after the children had been dismissed to attend children’s church in the basement of the church, two gunmen entered through the back of the building. They began to lob grenades into the congregation. All was suddenly chaotic and smoky. The bombs that went off were loud and horrific. There were screams and scramblings. Instinctively my dad knew to hit the ground. An undetonated grenade had landed right by his feet. Uncle Rashid, didn’t immediately fall to the ground. In the end the shrapnel from his own eyeglasses penetrated his eyes and his vision was lost.

That was a day our family will never forget. Five people died that day. Many more were injured. The nightmare still plays itself out most nights when my dad sleeps. He will likely forever suffer from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder. He lost both his eardrums that day. Since then he only hears, and even then not completely, when he’s wearing hearing aids. He will always remember.

I will also always remember the story of Mahmood. Mahmood was my dad’s friend. One day he sincerely wanted a Bible to read. He took it to heart. Soon afterwards he came to visit my dad. He had begun to believe in Jesus. He was changed and full of joy and enthusiasm. It was a thrilling transformation.

Less than two months later my parents received word that Mahmood had been murdered. He was driving his vehicle and he drove over the bank and into the canal. It was later revealed that his brakes had been tampered with. His brothers and his father were most likely involved. There was too much at stake for them to have a brother and a son betray his faith. For them it seemed that if Mahmood chose Jesus he was rejecting them, their families, their faith, their traditions. They couldn’t handle the shame. They killed him.

Today I choose to remember.

I remember Mahmood, who died for his new-found faith. I remember the others like him who are persecuted and martyred for simply believing in Jesus. I remember those who died in the Protestant International Church on that fateful day in March 2002. I remember the injured.

On this Remembrance Day will you please join me in remembering those others have forgotten? There are silent victims of persecution that no one remembers. There are conflicts where the victims die quietly, buried in graves without markers. There is no bestseller written about them, often there is not even and article or obituary.

Every day there are those who die for their faith and for their convictions. Let us be the ones who remember. Let us begin today. Let us thank God for their lives. And let us remember their families who yet grieve.

Healing in the Midst of War

A month ago a 71-year old surgeon from France left his City of Lights and went to Homs, Syria. There in a makeshift operating room in a house that had been abandoned, with sporadic electricity and none of the fine surgical equipment that allows him and his patients to flourish in France, he operated on 89 people, 80 of whom survived. It is an amazing story.

I’ve stayed away from the topic of Syria – not because I want to, or because I think it’s right to avoid, but because every time I think about it I feel physically sick and a paralysis sets in. In a world where we are hesitant to use the word sin, preferring instead the less damaging words of “dysfunction”, “addiction”, or  “self-defeating behavior” are we not confronted by sin, by pure evil as we look at what is happening in Syria? Would we not be foolish to surmise that Bashar Al-Assad, president of Syria, is doing what he is doing to his own citizens because he is “emotionally impaired”?

But today we have a story of redemption and sacrifice. I am struck by real-life heroes that do their part, those that carry out acts that reflect a God who heals and redeems, as well as the real-life heroes that are survivors and victims of the atrocities. I am specifically drawn to the story of  this man.

The surgeon is a Dr. Jacques Bérès, one of the founders of Doctors Without Borders in the early seventies, and then another organization, Doctors of the World, in 1980. He is familiar with war zones, having spent much of his career helping from Saigon to Sierra Leone. In his picture he has the look of a benign grandfather, but the story belies that and you are left with a picture of compassion and courage; a man with a sense of purpose who doesn’t shy away from fulfilling that purpose. The worst of conditions awaited him in Syria. He was smuggled in through the Lebanese border with medical equipment, stopping on the way in another city to aid a Syrian physician.  When he finally reached Homs and set up the temporary hospital, he treated war wounds of all kinds, some that will haunt him forever. Men, women, and children, the future of Syria, were treated from damage caused by war wounds – I think we call this “civilian casualties”, a nice, sanitary name.

In a radio interview in Paris on return from Syria he says this: “I was sad… I saw useless suffering, cruelty, meanness, the suffering of children, of families.” He used this sadness to energize a gift, to be a person who brought healing in the midst of war. A person whose countenance of “quiet energy and purpose” affected all those who were working with him.

I’ve heard it said that character during crisis doesn’t suddenly emerge, but is a product of daily decision-making when there is no crisis. If so then that is my challenge – to daily make choices that count. To have it said that in a crisis I worked with a “quiet energy and purpose” is the height of compliments; to be a healer in the midst of war like Dr. Bérès.

We all have stories of hope in the midst of tragedy, healing in the midst of war. Would love to hear some of yours through the comments!