A the reunion between Muslim Good Samaritans and Christian peacemakers at the rebuilt Rutba General Hospital, January 2010. Photo by Jamie Moffett.
Go and tell the world ...
A story of grassroots community trumping global conflict
In March 2003, three U.S. Christian peacemakers survived the first days of "Shock and Awe" in downtown Baghdad only to be injured (two of them critically) in a car accident as they left Iraq. Bleeding, stranded and in a desert ditch, Philadelphia's Shane Claiborne (of Irresistible Revolution fame), Seattle's Cliff Kindy and Christian Peacemakers Team veteran Cliff Kindy of rural Indiana, were rescued by Iraqi Muslims and taken to an unlikely haven: the heavily bombed Sunni town of Rutba, a remote Syrian Desert hub for Saddam Hussein's Ba'athist regime. The town and the surrounding western Anbar region were being heavily bombed by the U.S. military. Three days earlier a team of U.S. Special Forces from Fort Campbell, Kentucky-Tennessee had mistakenly destroyed Rutba General Hospital, the only public hospital within 200 miles.
"Why, why, WHY? Why is your government bombing us?" an Iraqi doctor named Farouq Al-Dulaimi demanded angrily in English, seeing the Americans at a small medical clinic being used in place of Rutba General. Seeing the worry and pain on Caucasian faces his voice immediately softened. "You are safe in Rutba. We will take care of you. We take care of everyone. ... It doesn't matter if you are Iraqi or American, Christian or Muslim, you are our brothers and we will take care of you."
Hours later, when Shane attempted to pay for the life-saving care provided to Cliff and Weldon, Dr. Farouq refused the offer. "We don't want your money. ... We helped you because you are our brothers."
He had only one request of the Americans: Go and tell the world about Rutba.
In an attempt to fulfill that pledge the peacemakers returned to Rutba in January 2010 with a journalist and a filmmaker. Ignoring warnings from the militaries and embassies of Jordan and the United States, they traveled unannounced and unarmed back into Iraq's western Anbar desert and found most of the medical staff that had protected and saved them.
I'm Greg Barrett, a print journalist who reported from the streets of Baghdad and Basra in the weeks before the 2003 invasion of Iraq (see some of the wire reports HERE), and the nonfiction author who returned to Rutba with the peacemakers in 2010. Along with Shane, Cliff, Weldon, and a few others, including Sami Rasouli, founder of the Muslim Peacemakers Team, I am attempting to seed the wisdom and Good News (Gospel) of Rutba. As Sami likes to say, "The truth needs a tongue to speak."
So what IS the Good News?
Reporting from some of the world's cordoned-off corners one truth resonates with me from Asia to Africa and through the Middle East: When everyday folk step outside the fear and prejudice generated by politics and religion we discover powerful common ground.
This truth doesn't recognize Iraqi, American, Iranian, Israeli, Palestinian, whomever, whatever. It doesn't distinguish between Islam, Judaism, Christianity, Hinduism, Buddhism, atheism, agnosticism. From this perspective we can see two enduring qualities shared by most of humanity: a profound love for family and friends; a selfless concern for children. That's to say, humanity is intimately connected by love and concern.
But before we can improve upon our shared space and future we have to evolve beyond the divisive, blinding influences of, say, Washington and Wall Street. Fear and greed are our ultimate Weapons of Mass Destruction. As one of my favorite musicians, Michael Franti, sings, "Love just one nation and the whole world we divide. ... We can chase down all our enemies, bring them to their knees. We can bomb the world to pieces, but we can't bomb it into peace."
So, the Good News? Rutba is anecdotal proof of humanity's all-powerful, divine potential. Of Truth. God aka Allah is love. Love is omnipotent. It's why at a time when a Christian-majority nation rained bombs on Rutba (less than 72 hours after its hospital and children's ward had burned, killing an Iraqi son and father) the Muslims of a war-torn Ba'athist town empathized with the pain of American Christians. They brought blankets and water to the medical clinic; they offered the refuge of their homes; they carried, stitched and bandaged the most injured. They looked into American eyes and saw family.
That's chicken-skin stuff. The truth is all-powerful. Right equals might— Washington and Wall Street have it backward.
Iraqi children play on the damaged rooftop of a building adjacent to the rebuilt Rutba General Hospital, January 2010.
'Enough! You had me with Sami's quote. What can I do to help?'
We have so much raw documentary footage that if it were reel we could unspool it from Washington to Baghdad. Filmmakers (e.g., Santino Stoner of Dot&Cross) estimate it will cost $120,000 to supplement, edit and polish it into a feature-length film. A short documentary costing much less is a more reasonable goal. But neither of those pursuits are the direct purpose of this Indiegogo campaign. Indirectly, yes. Let me explain.
Before we attempt to take Rutba to the big screen we need to roll it out old school. Telling the story face-to-face and nationwide will hopefully inspire the people and funding needed to put the Good News to film. If you tell it they will come (think Field of Dreams). Right? So we want to tell it, discuss it, relive it in the very setting we're attempting to energize. Community. To start we will take the story across the continental United States to towns large and small, in churches, synagogues, mosques, public libraries, college classrooms, coffee houses, living rooms, barns, wherever. To date it has been told piecemeal at some spiritual/peace festivals and events, and in some churches, but with The Gospel of Rutba releasing in paperback on Feb. 1, 2013, it's time for a broader effort.
However, one voice — or two (Shane joins me for the tour's final event in Washington, D.C., on March 19, 2013, the tenth anniversary of Shock and Awe) is a whimper compared to a media chorus. We need radio, TV, magazines, newspapers and wire to help spread the story.
Specifically, we need Allen Media Strategies, a go-to media, marketing and publicity firm working from inside the belly of the beast, aka Washington, D.C.
'Okay, THERE it is— how much $ are we talking about?'
The project's expenses and fees break down like this:
- $2,500 per month for Allen Media to chum the media waters January to March = $7,500.
- $720 in potential fees paid to Indiegogo, Visa, American Express, MasterCard and/or Paypal.
Total = $8,220
We're not directly selling books at events. We're encouraging venues to contract with local indie bookstores, e.g., Malaprops in Asheville, NC., Powell's Books in Portland, OR, etc. Most venues are helping with the tour's expenses; those that cannot afford to help will still be included whenever possible.
If the Indiegogo campaign raises more than its goal all excess funds will go toward covering the expenses of venues that cannot contribute (e.g., some coffee houses, smaller churches, etc.), and toward extending the tour in North America. Additional funds will go toward financing Rutba's short or feature-length film. If this campaign fails to raise its goal the tour will go on, but Allen Media will have to bow out sooner than expected.
'If I donate what's in the goodie bag?'
Seriously? Did you really just ask that? We're discussing heavy stuff here — war, peace, the future of your kids — and you want to know what's in it for you? Nah, I'm joking. I always peruse the perks too. Go ahead, check them out. I'll wait here.
However, there are ways to contribute other than (or in addition to) the financial donation: For example, you could:
- follow, like and repost the book's Facebook updates from HERE.
- follow and retweet mine and/or the book's Twitters HERE and HERE.
- follow the author's and the tour's blogs HERE and on The Huffington Post HERE.
- write a review and/or "like" the book on Amazon HERE.
- like and follow the author on Facebook HERE.
- blog about Rutba on your own website and link to the book's site HERE.
- host a Gospel of Rutba talk by contacting scheduling coordinator Tracy Pine Trecartin HERE.
Any and all support — blogging, buying, donating, friending, liking, reviewing, hosting, praying — seeds the effort. Anything and everything contributes.
We can do this, inshallah.