In Tribute to Activist, a Call to Forgive
Sunday, April 23, 2006
Tom Fox lived for peace but died a violent death, shot multiple times, his body dumped in a trash-strewn Baghdad neighborhood after he was kidnapped.
Yet colleagues of the Virginia peace activist suggested absolution for his killers yesterday at a memorial service that celebrated his life. Titled "Reflections on Compassion and Forgiveness," the service featured a black banner in Fox's memory: "To those who held Tom we declare: God has forgiven you."
It was the message of Christian Peacemaker Teams, the Toronto- and Chicago-based peace group that Fox served in Iraq after he quit his job running a grocery store in Springfield. The Rev. Carol Rose, the organization's co-director, told more than 200 of Fox's friends and colleagues that the banner was hung in Baghdad after his body was discovered last month.
"What is forgiveness?" she asked at the service at Foundry United Methodist Church in Northwest Washington. And then she answered: "Forgiveness is refusing to be bound by the evil that has been done to us or to anyone else. Forgiveness does not mean it was okay to kill Tom . . . but it means I won't hold those who did that wrong in a position of wrongdoing."
Fox, 54, was kidnapped in November with three other members of the peace group. After vigils throughout Northern Virginia and worldwide expressions of support, Fox's body was found last month along railroad tracks in a middle-class Baghdad neighborhood.
A shadowy group, the Swords of Righteousness Brigade, claimed responsibility for the kidnappings and had threatened to kill the captives. Two weeks after Fox's body was found, British and U.S. troops rescued the other peace activists: Norman Kember, 74, of London, and James Loney, 41, and Harmeet Singh Sooden, 32, both of Canada.
Although Christian Peacemaker Teams is strongly opposed to the Iraq war, the people who quietly filed into the church yesterday waved no signs. Speakers instead focused on the life of Fox, a longtime resident of Springfield who moved to Clear Brook, near Winchester, Va. A divorced father of two college-age children, Fox was a Quaker who played the clarinet in the U.S. Marine Corps Band for 20 years and until two years ago worked as an assistant manager at Whole Foods Market in Springfield.
The political subtext of the gathering, however, was clear. After the service, Fox's friends and colleagues marched in a silent procession down 16th Street NW to the White House. They carried the black banner, along with another honoring an Iraqi man whose body had lain next to Fox's on the U.S. military plane that flew Fox home. Rose said the Iraqi was a detainee who died in U.S. custody.
Inside the church, there were a few tears but more smiles as speakers recalled Fox's courage and commitment. They remembered him as kind and quiet, a man who rarely raised his voice but had a yell that sounded like Kermit the Frog when he did. Fox's license plate and e-mail address, they said, contained the words "inner light."
Emily Smith, a representative of the Council on American-Islamic Relations, said Fox's work reflected the close ties between Muslims and the Christian peacekeeping community. "All of us, people of many faiths, have been touched by Tom's life and death," she said.
Greg Rollins, a member of Fox's team in Iraq, said Fox befriended shopkeepers and other ordinary citizens. "Iraqis often described how Tom had a pure heart, a big heart," Rollins said. "They said that not because he was putting his life on the line, but because he cared."
What he remembers most about his friend, Rollins said, is Fox's smile. "His whole face lit up," he recalled. "He had a smile that said, 'Don't worry, everything is going to be all right.' "
As Rollins spoke, a picture of Fox rested on an easel below him. Fox was looking down -- and smiling.