Greg BARRETT. The Gospel of Rutba: War, Peace, and the Good Samaritan Story in Iraq. Maryknoll, NY: Orbis Books, 2012. pp. 240. $25.00 hardcover. ISBN 978-57075-951-2. Reviewed by Arthur J. Kubick, Providence, RI.
“Just go and tell the world about Rutba.”
This simple request from an Iraqi doctor moved Greg Barrett, a freelance journalist, to make known this act of compassion in the midst of a devastating war. The story is at once simple and straightforward, but complex and profound. The timeframe: March 2003 and January 2010. The activists: members of the Iraq Peace Team, many of them also Christian Peacemaker Team members. The healers: the people of Rutba, Iraq, especially the medical personnel of the Health Care Center in Rutba. The setting: the early days of the U.S. “Shock and Awe” invasion of Iraq--and its aftermath.
In its simple and straightforward form the story is this: A small group of (mostly) U.S. peacemakers in Baghdad to accompany the Iraqi people (“We are here to work for peace and to stand as brothers and sisters with Iraqis in this time of war”) are expelled from Iraq for photographing the destruction caused by U.S. bombing. On their way to Amman, Jordan, one of the cars carrying three peacemakers crashes into a ditch and several are seriously injured. Three Americans find themselves alone in “enemy” territory while their country carries out devastating bombing raids throughout Iraq. They are picked up by several Iraqis, brought to the only health care center in nearby Rutba (the Rutba General Hospital had been bombed by U.S. planes), received with hospitality and cared for with compassion and expertise. Once healed they continue their journey to Amman. In January 2010 the peacemakers, accompanied by the author and a filmmaker, return to Rutba to thank their rescuers and healers--and to call attention to this act of hospitality and kindness, a modern Good Samaritan story.
While this story certainly has theological roots--the participants are Christians and Muslims acting out of their own faith traditions--it is for the most part told as a deeply human encounter, a welcoming of the stranger as a simple and ordinary act of kindness. The narration is bookended by Archbishop Desmonf Tutu’s Foreword and an Afterword by Shane Claiborne, one of the Christian Peacemakers cared for in Rutba. These two pieces provide important reflections on the deepest meanings of the event, placing it within the broader context of our human struggle between warmaking and peacemaking. Archbishop Tutu: “The story of The Gospel of Rutba illuminates universal truth. In its pages you will stare into the soulful eyes of a foe and recognize a friend. Keep looking and you will see that the friend is, in fact, family. Look deeper still and a reflection will stop you. / It’s you, after all.” Shane Claiborne: “Now we are the ones who see that story [of the Good Samaritan] from the ditch. We are the ones who were left to die but were surprised by grace.”
Greg Barrett writes in an engaging journalistic style, bringing the reader along into the chaos, danger, and humanity that is war-time Iraq. His own opposition to the Iraq war is evident from the very beginning of the book; he does not pretend that this is an “objective” reporting of events. It is clear that he stands with the peacemakers as he brings the reader into the lives and backgrounds of each of them, showing us what it is that has brought them to stand nonviolently by the side of ordinary Iraqi citizens. This is developed even more in the extensive and in-depth notes that make up sixty-seven pages of the book. Much more than a basic citing of sources, they continue Barrett’s thoughts on everything from just war theory to pacifism to listings of weapons ordnance used by the U.S. in Iraq. All are essential to a full appreciation of the book and the importance of Rutba for our world.
Ten years later the question of one of the doctors from Rutba’s destroyed general hospital remains: “Why bomb? For what? This is for a country that has lost its imagination.... What has become of America?” In the face of this, how does one welcome the stranger? Perhaps this is the essential challenge of Rutba. In the words of Dr. Farouq Al-Dulaimi from that same hospital, “You are safe in Rutba. You are our brothers and we will take care of you. We take care of everyone--Christian, Muslim, Iraqi, American. It doesn’t matter. We are all human beings. We are all sisters and brothers.” Even in the midst of “Shock and Awe” destruction. Such is the story, the good news of Rutba to our world. Go, then, and do likewise.