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Go and do likewise

by
02 August 2013

Simon Ross Valentine reads an inspiring story from Iraq

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The Gospel of Rutba: War, peace and the Good Samaritan story in Iraq
Greg Barrett
Orbis Books £16.99
(978-1-57075-951-2)
Church Times Bookshop £15.30 

NINE days into the Gulf War of 2003, three American peacemakers believed that they were as good as dead after their taxi was wrecked on a desolate stretch of Iraqi road. Injured and forlorn, they depended for their survival on the reaction of the people in the neighbouring town of Rutba, a hotbed of Baathist activists and Iraq's Fedayeen fighters, recently bombed by US forces. The men received, instead of torture and possible death, medical treatment and hospitality, and were sent back home with only the request that "the Americans use this lesson of shared humanity to seed more of it".

Fifteen days into 2010, the same three Americans returned to Rutba with a peace-movement representative, soldiers who devastated the area during the war, a documentary filmmaker, and the author. The hospital and other buildings were rebuilt, and friendships were formed. This book, fully referenced and with several black-and-white photographs, tells this remarkable story of reconciliation and hope.

The style of the book is quirky, consisting of a series of parallel events occurring in a desert outpost in 2003 and 2010. The chapters are staggered between those two years: odd-numbered chapters based in 2003; even-numbered in 2010. It is written at a colloquial, down-to-earth, almost street-talk level, which gives the book appeal and warmth.

Throughout, the book is an apologia for the contemporary peace movement, with vignettes of different activists. It emphasises the words of St Paul, "Do not be conformed to this world," and, in the context of war, considers the question: how are we to reconcile the duty to obey those in authority with the dictate to love one another?

The Gospel of Rutba has important lessons for us all. Despite our different backgrounds, ideologies, and beliefs, it reminds us of "our shared, inherent goodness", and that all of us "possess the seed of the divine". This book is an interesting read, and highly recommended.

Dr Simon Ross Valentine is a specialist in Islamic Studies presently working in Saudi Arabia.

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