2007 Peaceseeker Award to Anita David & Beth Pyles

PPF honors David and Pyles for Serving in Iraq with Christian Peacemaker Teams

Each year the Peace Fellowship recognizes Presbyterians on the front lines of peacemaking with the Peaceseeker Award. Anita David and Beth Pyles served on the Christian Peacemaker Team in Baghdad, maintaining a nonviolent presence in the midst of spiraling violence and civil war. Their work ranged from documenting torture in the Abu Ghraib prison to training a Muslim Peace Team in nonviolence. During this time, four CPT members were kidnapped; Quaker Tom Fox was found murdered and the three others were released. David belongs to Chicago’s Lake View Presbyterian Church. Pyles is a Presbyterian pastor in W. Virginia. Briefly visits here with David and Pyles about the Iraq war, responsibility, guilt, nonviolence and the Presbyterian Church.

Briefly: How did you decide to accompany the Iraqi people during the invasion of their country?

Pyles: I was a student at Princeton Seminary in September 2001. Lots of people who lived in the town were in the Towers. In this very privileged, safe place, even a seminary, I saw that fear and ugliness were bleeding into things. As a pacifist, I knew what our US response would be---heart-breaking, but predictable. I became part of a Princeton Seminary peace group and we spoke about "standing in the way of violence" and learned about Christian Peacemaker Teams. I felt a sense of call to go to Iraq. I must say that receiving this award is humbling, because Anita and I both know how small our contribution to the peace of the world is. The bravery that you see in millions of Iraqis who have never picked up a weapon ---staying with those people was a privilege for us.

David: I was ready to work with our team in Palestine. I got a call asking me to go to Iraq. I said no. The call came again and again until I said yes. This was the right thing. We each do what we have the power to do. I’m a believer in the power of answering yes. You can shock yourself by what you can achieve beginning with a yes.

Briefly: Was there ever a possible nonviolent response to 9/11?

Pyles: My vision of a nonviolent response to 9/11 is this: we might have given ourselves time and space to mourn. Acute shock is the worst time to decide or act. Second, we might have realized that the literal people who did this were already dead--beyond any human action. Next, we might have had a national conversion as adults. We might have called ourselves to our highest, best selves, not our worst, most base selves. Like the Am-ish when the schoolgirls were murdered, perhaps we might have spoken of forgiveness. Perhaps we might have tried to reach across the divide for understanding. Eventually we might have challenged ourselves to see our own part in it---not to justify or excuse it, but like the Alcoholics Anonymous Program Step “to conduct a fearless moral inventory of yourself.” Maybe we could have talked about sharing economic prosperity a little better.

Briefly: What is the best step for the US in Iraq now?

Pyles: We must not abandon them economically. They are in economic ruin. The Red Cross reports that every day is worse---the infrastructure, food, education, medical care. We need to bleed money into Iraq and to be generous. We have created a fairly predictable monster. Presbyterians will need to be generous.

David: I wrote to my friends in Baghdad to ask whether they want the US to just leave Iraq now. Most said “No, you can’t just leave us. You owe us.” One said, “Yes, just get out, you are the cause of the disaster, terrorism, murder of innocent people, ethnic distinction and crimes of all types. Iraq is getting worse.” Another said, “The existence of U.S. troops is very, very significant at the time being. If they pull back from Iraq: an endless civil war and then one will forget about a country called Iraq; Al-Qaida will emerge in a new form.”

Still others hope that the U.S. will fix its mistakes in Iraq. For the immediate present, we will just go on ripping bodies apart, theirs and ours. Until that oil bill of privatization is signed, George Bush will never leave Iraq.

Briefly: Who will control the oil?
Pyles: As a condition of its withdrawal of troops, the US has insisted that the Iraqi Parliament pass laws allowing for privatization/foreign investment in Iraq’s oil reserves. The US argues that foreign investment is needed in order to rebuild Iraq’s economy. There are many historical examples of foreign/private investment in the rich resources of an otherwise poor nation which prove that the people of that nation seldom profit.

David: Iraqis have told me that Iraq is happy to sell its oil to the US. The Iraqis are smart about oil. They have been in the oil business for a long time. Iraqis believe the oil belongs to them and so the majority of the revenue derived from their oil should, likewise, go to Iraq. Under the regulations imposed by the International Monetary Fund, debt forgiveness required privatization of Iraq’s oil. The US Congress voted to withhold promised US reconstruction funds if the Iraqi Parliament refuses to pass privatization legislation. Privatization legislation, if approved, means production share agreements, PSAs, which are usually given where there is risk that oil will not be found. However, Iraq’s oil is the cheapest to extract in the world and is high quality. PSAs, which are favored by the multinational oil companies in the US., allow multinationals control of energy resources and extremely high profit margins. They have up to 40 year terms and stabilization clauses that protect the corporations from future legislative changes. Iraq’s oil was nationalized 35 years ago. No other Middle Eastern nation has privatized its oil. Neighboring states have constitutions that specifically prohibit foreign control over their energy reserves.

Briefly: So what will happen in this situation?

David: Iraqis are not going to give up their oil. Both Sunni and Shi’a parties in the Iraqi Parliament are opposed to PSAs and foreign control of their oil fields. The Iraqi government is not trusted by Iraqis. In the broadest sense, the Iraqi people do not believe that their government is there to do right by them. The Iraqi Parliament recently voted that only the Parliament can approve the continued presence of the Multinational Force. Prime Minister Maliki can no longer act independently to retain the US presence. The vote will come in January 2008.

Briefly: So it’s possible that they may vote for us to leave. What position does that put the US in?

I don't know how Mr. Cheney and Mr. Bush will react to not getting Iraq’s oil. However, remember that we are building the world’s largest Embassy. It will have the largest information gathering network outside of Washington D.C. and Pres. Bush recently announced his plans to keep US troops in Iraq as is the case in South Korea, for over 50 years. I believe that the interests of the America and the financial interests of Mr. Bush and Mr. Cheney diverge. They win if the oil bill goes their way, even if the US loses the war.

Briefly: What do we as a nation need to learn from the Iraq war?

David: You can’t fix other states. Also, there will be peace when peace becomes more profitable than war--- but there's no reason to believe that justice will follow. What's left to learn? We have already learned it---a com-pletely failed US policy and a ruined country, both Iraq and the US. The nation already knows that we made a terrible mistake, we just haven't corrected it.

There is a perception that we are “losing” in Iraq, so there is a lot of blame-shifting going on. I would compare it to blaming an abused wife --- as if it is the fault of the Iraqi people that the war is failing.

David: We are going to be buried by this guilt. As Americans we are going to understand that all of this devastation happened because of lies. The lives of Iraqis will remain changed for the rest of their lives, because of what we did. The Iraqi people are decent people. The wordsIraqi, Arab, Islam, Muslim have been demonized. Take 27 million people and assume that one million will have died in this mess. About 2.5 million have left the country. And another 1.5 million are refugees within their own country. A total of 4 million Iraqis are refugees because of what we did. I don’t know the estimated number of Iraqis participating in the insurgency, but that leaves nearly 22 million Iraqis who have never picked up a gun. They have been vilified by the administration and by the press.

Pyles: Of the friends I made in Baghdad, none are still there. They are dead, detained, disappeared or have fled.

There is another consequence of this war, the Patriot Act and the Military Commissions Act of 2006. We need to restore habeas corpus, stop illegal spying, ban torture, and ban secret evidence. George Bush has made himself King and this new Congress has done nothing about restoring our rights under the Bill of Rights or meeting the minimum under the Third Geneva Convention. They have not gone back to Bush with a bill to get out of Iraq. I want to tell people to snap out of it. There is no intention to do good in Iraq and what good intention can be found in trivializing our Bill of Rights? Our government officials legalize torture and we as a nation stand by and let it happen. Nobody walks away from this.

One thing we need to learn is to be better students of our own history, so that we won’t always just ask, “Why do they hate us?” When you kill someone’s children, even accidentally, they remember. The ignorance we have displayed in Iraq is staggering. In September of 2005 I was in a taxi in Iraq and the driver spoke to me through the translator about Hurricane Katrina. He knew all about it and was expressing condolence. We would do better to be less self-obsessed and pay more attention to the larger world.

My indictment of myself and my country is that we are a people who worship success, we equate wealth with goodness. It’s an idolatrous, counter-Christ assumption for a Christian to make. It’s simplistic to say that the in-vasion was all about oil, but if there was no oil in Iraq, we would not have cared. As Christians, we should be down on our knees, seeking forgiveness and transformation from a “prosperity gospel” that we believe whether we think so or not. In Dt. 8, God warns Israel about the promised land----“You will prosper and forget me.”

On a practical level about Iraq, what should we learn? Mainline Protestants need to stop being so quiet in public. Aren’t we tired of Pat Robertson and others being the Christian voice in the world? Just yesterday a Muslim friend still in Iraq asked me on-line “what is the Christian Broadcasting Network?” The voices of the Pat Robertsons of the US are heard world-wide and are being understood as representative of what it means to be a Christian. It’s little wonder that others fear us so.

Briefly: Christian Peacemaker Teams served in Iraq from 2002 through Feb. 2007. What’s next?

We have just put together a proposal for a team to return to Iraq in the near future. It’s pending.

Briefly: Accompaniment is becoming a new model for mission among Christians who are willing to take risks on behalf of nonviolence. What would you say to those considering Accompaniment?

Pyles: I am a 51 year old white, middle-class woman from West Virginia who has never been in a fistfight. I’m not brave. I’m not creative. I am extraordinarily ordinary. If I can do something, you can do something too. It’s all in God, who is extraordinary. Some are called as full-time accompaniers. My call is to be part of both accom-paniment and in a local church. What matters is being there, in the midst of violence to try to transform violence to peace in that moment--- and for someone to bring back from the places of violence an eye-witness, to tell the stories of the people there who are suffering. It is being a witness in the Biblical sense of speaking the truth.

Briefly: How do you view the Presbyterian Church (PCUSA)?

Pyles: I love being a Presbyterian. We are blessed by such a rich tradition and by so many of wisdom and courage who have come before us. We Presbyterians are awfully worried about numbers in the pews and that’s important. But if we lose our prophetic way of being in the world, it doesn’t really matter how many of us are in the pews. Every day when I see how kind and giving Presbyterians are, I am humbled. We need to give ourselves more credit as a denomination.

We belong to a denomination that believes in peacemaking and has for a long time—day in, day out. Presbyterians engage these issues. One member of my church, Laurie Empen, serves on the Chicago Presbytery Middle East Task Force, which has existedfor over 30 years . Lake View Presbyterian Church in Chicago is the church where I was baptized as a child and to which I returned as an adult. I learned about CPT from members of my church who went to Palestine for CPT. The Social Justice Committee there is amazing—and on a huge range of issues, from affordable housing and Fair Trade to making sure gay and lesbian people can serve in the church to education and senior nutrition. We’ve sent 2 teams to New Orleans to help rebuild homes. Our pastor, Joyce Douglas Strome, aids and abets all those who wish to make their voices heard. This is a welcoming church and it is growing. Each time I come back from Iraq, the number of new people stuns me. This church supports its members to act. It has provided me financial and spiritual support for two and one half years in Iraq. When I say yes, my church says yes to me. It’s the biggest gift in the world to hear that yes.

For background on Iraq Oil Privatization, see short, ground-breaking article by Col. Ann Wright (retired US Army, US Army Reserves and US Dept of State) at www.truthout.org/docs_2006/052607Z.shtml