April 2 —
Jim Douglass, an American in Baghdad, rose as the sun flooded the
city with the first orange light. He shuffled through the soft grass
to his favorite spot for reflection, and began to pray.
"I trust you always, though I may seem to be lost and in the
shadow of death ..."
The first bomb hit in mid-prayer, Douglass recalled, shaking the
ground beneath him. Within seconds, the muezzin of a nearby mosque
took to his loudspeaker, blaring over the rooftops of cowering
Baghdadis, "God is great!"
Explosions thundered on through the dawn, and the gray-haired
Douglass carried on, "I will not fear, for you are ever with me, and
you will never leave me to face my perils alone."
The prayer-caller carried on, too "Thanks be to God!" as flames
and black smoke leaped over the central city.
It was an indelible moment. "He's chanting his prayer from the
Quran. I'm reciting my Thomas Merton prayer," Douglass said. "It was
a harmony of prayer from two faiths, in response to an
overwhelmingly powerful attack."
For Roman Catholic author James Douglass, a veteran crusader for
nonviolence, how was it to be in a Baghdad under bombardment by his
own nation? Did he "fear"?
"There were times," he said in his quiet, priest-like manner,
"when I was inspired."
Douglass, 65, of Birmingham, Ala., spoke with a reporter
Wednesday in the Jordanian capital of Amman after emerging with a
dozen other activists who recently spent anywhere between one week
and several months in Iraq to show support, they said, for the Iraqi
He and others left because Baghdad authorities, finding too many
Americans in their midst, pressured the Christian-based Iraq Peace
Team to reduce its numbers to a manageable core of 14. Some other
foreigners are also in Baghdad as "human shields," supposed
deterrents to bombing stationed at power plants and other civilian
Douglass, who has visited Iraq five times since 1991, is a former
University of Notre Dame professor who has published four books on
religion and nonviolence and long been active in the Catholic
Workers Movement. He and his wife, Shelley, run a Birmingham
After driving to Baghdad from Jordan last week, Douglass and
fellow activists found the city's skies an ominous blood-red from a
huge sandstorm, mixing with the hellish black of oil fires set as a
Then, at night, U.S. missiles and bombs struck government
buildings and other targets, mostly across the Tigris River, rocking
the Americans' little hotel so much they thought it might
Douglass, observing Iraqis finger their prayer beads,
occasionally slip away for prayer time and hear the muezzins' call
across the city, decided his hosts had found some inner peace.
"Their faith has strengthened them as a people and the Iraqi
Christians, too in response to this attack," he said.
He disavows Iraq's authoritarian, violent government, but seems
to hope the war can be stopped some diplomatic solution found before
a devastating final offensive on Baghdad. He places his ultimate
faith in the head of his church.
"The miracle I had hoped for was that Pope John Paul II would go
to Baghdad," he said regretfully. "Now I hope he goes to the U.N.
General Assembly and appeals for an end to the war."
|An ambulance races to the scene
of an explosion during air raids over Baghdad Wednesday April
2, 2003. (AP Photo/Jerome
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