I can’t really begin to describe the events of the last couple of days. I think the press has been reporting, accurately and inaccurately, that the country is on the verge of civil war. I can say that the amount of civil unrest has increased, but it’s not in our immediate area. The people here are tense and cautious, but seem to be in generally good spirits.
There is a church in one of the districts near our area. It’s a small, brownish building, about three stories high, that sits on a busy street corner. It isn’t surrounded by walls or fences; it has large windows with broken glass, but no bars. If you walk across the street, there is a small store, where a vendor sells chips and soda to the people as they leave the church. 5 times a day, he told me, people come to the mosque to pray, and 5 times a day, he sells things to make a living. The minaret to the church isn’t really a minaret. It looks sort of like a steeple you would see on top of a church in Kansas or Kentucky. There is no bell, but there is a loudspeaker, where the Imam of the church, who I had met, has his younger leaders call to prayer, because he can’t sing the call anymore. The mosque itself is quite clean. The trash is nowhere is sight, and there is an air of reverence surrounding the mosque. In the small courtyard, where the Imam greets his attendees every day, there is a small garden, maybe 5 feet by 5 feet, and from it he grows onions and potatoes that he gives to the local people, as well as for himself. He tells me he eats the food from the garden every day, because to be one with the earth is to be one with god. He tells me that he has been the leader of this church for 25 years, and that his father was the leader before him, and his father before him. Its interesting to talk to him, he is wise and insightful in his own way. At moments, he even appears somewhat regal and dignified, as if he were some kind of monarch, although I do not think this is intentional. He is quiet and small, yet he commands the respect of his followers, and when somebody says something he does not like, he seems to straighten up and gives them a look that could crush rocks, and the unlucky object of his ire seems to melt.
The mosque I am talking about, this little place of solitude and reverence was burned to the ground two days ago. It was 800 years old.
I have not seen the Imam since the fire that claimed his home. I haven’t seen any of his younger acolytes, and only a few of his faithful come by the remains. I am afraid that he was killed inside the mosque, or else he was captured and will be found in a few days, handcuffed and shot on the side of the road. I can not even begin to imagine the age and history of some of the items that were inside the church as it burned. Our nation is only 200+ years old, and this building was here. Most of the nations on this planet did not exist, yet this church was here. Entire civilizations have come and gone, yet people came to this building to pray.
Today, as we moved by and stopped to survey the damage, I noticed the trash was everywhere. The vendor across the street is gone now; apparently he left since there were no more people. The garden, so meticulously maintained, was uprooted and stomped. It was covered with oil and grease, to make sure that it was never used again. I never knew if this mosque was Shia or Sunni, and to be honest, it didn’t matter to me. What matters to me is that there are people in this country that would resort to this kind of destruction at all. We are called infidels and hated for what we believe, yet these people who are supposedly so close to god, have no concern for the house of the very god they believe in. I am becoming more convinced that all these people know is violence and hatred, and they will always be that way, no matter what “civilized” people try to teach them. In their eyes, death and violence is the way life is. Just like the desert, the reality of this country is that you either survive, or you don’t. You hurt people to get what you want, or you get hurt. If a thousand years of history teaches them anything, it’s that there will always be killing and destruction.