The Taize community in France has an interesting history of hospitality. They are a Christian community founded on worship, prayer and reconciliation. As Nazi armies advanced in the 1940s occupying France, this community, on the free side of the line of demarcation, became a refuge for Jews and others fleeing the Germans. After the war they became a voice for mercy for war criminals, caring for German prisoners of war interred in a prison camp nearby, drawing the ire of many French who suffered under Nazi occupation.
Love is often offensive. It’s one thing to love the unlovely when everybody around you sees your acts of love as courageous and noble. But to love someone and to seek their welfare when a cloud of suspicion or hatred hangs over them, to love people whom others are ready to exact vengeance upon is quite another thing.
There is an Iranian community living in a camp in Iraq in need of love and advocacy – a community facing the real possibility of vengeance. The People’s Mujahedin (also known as the MEK or PMOI) stand in the awkward space between their historic opposition to the Iranian regime and their past alliance with the former dictator, Saddam Hussein. 3,400 men, women and children face what looks to be a dire fate in three week’s time—pinched between the jaws of an Iraqi population who hates them for standing with Saddam and an Iranian administration who wants them eliminated for opposing them.
The camp which has provided refuge for them since 1986 will be dismantled on December 31st and the Iraqi soldiers that come to evict them may be permitted to do a little pillaging in the process (Iraqi soldiers violently attacked the camp this past April with impunity). Those who survive may be forced to return to Iran where they will be treated as traitors and insurrectionists.
One reason some may be reticent to speak out for this group might be the terrorist-cult label they carry. Google “Camp Ashraf” and you will find a good deal of controversy swirling about this group. The New York Times, the BBC, and other media outlets have begun to publicize their plight while at the same time outlining their checkered terrorist past and their fringe-like religious practices. This 2007 BBC Newsnight feature paints a picture of why one might be less than excited to advocate for them.
While the group vehemently insists they have abandoned their terrorists roots, that they have been offered refugee status by the UNHCR, that residents of Camp Ashraf have relinquished all weapons to the US Army and that they are staunch advocates of democracy, there is no evading the challenging history of violence and the odd religious beliefs attached to them.
Thankfully, those facing oppression do not require the status of sainthood before we stand in the gap on their behalf. As the woman caught in adultery stood before Jesus (John 8) he did not ask, “Is she guilty? If so, then fire away. If not, then lay down your stones.” While he does call the woman to “sin no more” it is not a prerequisite to his intervention. It is actually after she is rescued from execution that he invites her to live righteously.
The release of Barrabas, a terrorist, in place of the execution of Christ is a sign of the Kingdom of God come to earth. It is both an encouragement and an offense—encouragement that Christ is in the business of taking the rap for the guilty, and offensive that the guilty don’t have to pay with their blood.
Let us display the offensive love of God by standing in the gap for a people who, to some degree, suffer the consequence of their past violence and their present religious deception. Promote this Human Rights Watch page on the plight of Camp Ashraf and visit the Camp Ashraf website for other advocacy opportunities.
No matter the reputation of a person or a group, each of us stands condemned for our own acts of hatred, violence and delusion. We can therefore stand as brothers and sisters alongside all who face retribution.