In the end, peace is the only op­tion

We work for peace and rec­on­cil­i­a­tion be­cause it’s in our very DNA

The Hamilton Spectator - - Comment - THOMAS FROESE www.thomas­

Once I stopped rid­ing my bike to work be­cause I feared I’d be shot dead. It was an old blue Norco. I’d pedal it to the news­room of the Ye­men Times, in Sana’a, Ye­men’s cap­i­tal.

This wasn’t long af­ter the Twin Tow­ers fell on 9/11. More so, it was just af­ter three Amer­i­can med­i­cal mis­sion­ar­ies, friends, were mur­dered in a hos­pi­tal by an Is­lamic ex­trem­ist. My wife, work­ing with needy Ye­meni women, nar­rowly es­caped be­ing there.

A lead­ing Ye­meni politi­cian was also shot dead. Ap­par­ently a hit-list re­mained that in­cluded jour­nal­ists. So I stopped rid­ing my bike to the Times, a fiercely in­de­pen­dent English pa­per.

There, at the news­pa­per’s gate, a guard with his old semi-au­to­matic would al­ways greet me with a smile and kind Ara­bic words. But even when I rolled in with a car, my fears con­tin­ued. I imag­ined the car blow­ing up.

It was, rel­a­tively, a golden time of peace in Ye­men, with north and south united. Even so, I car­ried my fears around. This, un­til a few years later, when my fam­ily left for other over­seas work and I could live with new fears.

Now, Ye­men is iden­ti­fied as the worst place on Earth to be a child. About 10,000 Ye­me­nis have per­ished in Ye­men’s civil war since 2015. Mil­lions more feel aban­doned by a world more in­ter­ested in pol­i­tics and profit.

The Saudi Ara­bian al­liance — backed by the U.S, the U.K. and, im­plic­itly, Canada (re­mem­ber we sell the Saudis ar­moured ve­hi­cles and buy about $10 mil­lion of Saudi oil daily) — has been ruth­less in try­ing to purge Houthi rebels from Ye­men. Imag­ine 18,000 Saudi airstrikes with enough bombs hit­ting peace­ful wed­dings and funer­als and schools and hospi­tals and homes.

In these dy­ing days of 2018, this is what comes to mind: dead Ye­meni chil­dren and bi­cy­cle rides and a se­cu­rity guard whose name I for­got long ago. The Ye­men Times, by the way, af­ter 23 years, let ev­ery­one go and closed its doors in 2014. It had re­ceived cer­tain threats.

Its for­mer pub­lisher, Walid alSaqaf, is now a se­nior pro­fes­sor in Swe­den. We re­cently talked about it all, in­clud­ing the er­rant Saudi bomb that killed two in his fam­ily. And we talked of bet­ter days and friend­ship, that sea­son in Sana’a that we’d shared.

“Ahmed,” he then told me. “The name of the guard you re­mem­ber is Ahmed Mur­shid.” Yes. Of course. Thank you. We talked more. And I could hear Walid’s heart break­ing anew.

Two days later, at the Hamilton Con­ven­tion Cen­tre, I saw sev­eral hun­dred com­mu­nity lead­ers and peace ac­tivists and young peo­ple, lots of young peo­ple, gather to re­flect on peace. Our hu­man and deep, God­given long­ing for peace. Our shared be­lief that food, shel­ter and se­cu­rity is a ba­sic hu­man right for any­one. Any­where.

Which is to say that this event, the an­nual Peace Medal Break­fast of the YMCA of Hamilton / Burling­ton / Brant­ford, isn’t so re­moved from a seem­ingly far-flung place like Ye­men. The world isn’t that big. This gath­er­ing is a pow­er­ful re­minder of this. The event is vi­tal. In a way, it’s beau­ti­ful. Or­ga­niz­ers and spon­sors — you know who you are — can be ap­plauded.

Hamil­to­ni­ans mak­ing a dif­fer­ence lo­cally were hon­oured. Peace, af­ter all, starts with any­one, with you, or any­one else who will let their heart be bro­ken and then act for rec­on­cil­i­a­tion.

Of course, rec­on­cil­i­a­tion in Canada is some­what in vogue these days. “It’s sexy,” is how Max FineDay, from the Sweet­grass First Na­tion in Saskatchewan, put it. He spoke at the event about both progress made and work still needed in Canada’s re­la­tion­ship with its Indige­nous peo­ple.

But we don’t work for peace be­cause it’s in style. We work for peace be­cause there’s no other op­tion. We have one life to live, af­ter all. There are no dress re­hearsals. And, made in the im­age of a lov­ing God, we work for peace and rec­on­cil­i­a­tion be­cause it’s in our very DNA.

That doesn’t mean you have to run (or ride your bike) into a burn­ing theatre when ev­ery­one else is run­ning out. But take a step. Check out #Ye­men­cant­wait. Tell your mem­ber of Par­lia­ment and Ot­tawa that the world’s vul­ner­a­ble chil­dren de­serve bet­ter. Or walk down some needy street in Hamilton and see if your heart won’t break.


For­mer Ye­men Times se­cu­rity guard Ahmed Mur­shid is pic­tured in 2004. He would al­ways greet Thomas Froese with a smile and kind Ara­bic words.

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