December 8, 2009 | 4:49 pm
Posted by Rabbi Shmuley Boteach
Visiting Zimbabwe can be a heart-wrenching experience. It is a beautiful land of warm and soft-spoken people. But hovering over the landscape at all times is the specter of extreme poverty and political oppression. The poverty is merely tragic. But the political oppression is brutal, murderous, and criminal. Most of the people I met went quiet with fear on the subject of Robert Mugabe, afraid that a stranger may be a government agent and any criticism can make you the next target of his thugs.
One innocent victim was Ben Freeth, a sunny Christian farmer who, after publishing an article in the Western press about the illegal and murderous farm seizures being carried out by Mugabe’s Zanu (PF) party, was savagely beaten and later watched as his farm was burnt to the ground. When I met Freeth in Harare last week he described to me and my friends from the Christian relief organization ROCK of Africa who were hosting us how, in the midst of the assault that fractured his skull, he suddenly reached out and touched the feet of his assailants and said, “Bless you, bless you.” My Christian counterparts were deeply moved by this quintessential story of Christian love for one’s enemy. I, however, was aghast.
Ben is a hero who, at the risk of his life continues to serve as a spokesman for the thousands of white families who have been brutally dispossessed of their land and many of whom have been killed. But I could not help but challenge this aspect of the story. “Every ounce of blessing we have in our hearts has to be reserved for the all the AIDS orphans that I saw dotting this once-proud land. These wretched thugs deserve not our blessing but our contempt, not our love but out hatred.” A debate broke out in the room. I alone maintained my position. My dear friend Glen Megill, a saint who founded ROCK of Africa, said, “Shmuley, Jesus told us to love our enemies.” Yes, I said. But your enemy is the guy who steals your parking space. G-d’s enemies are those who murder His children. And Jesus never said to love G-d’s enemies. To the contrary, the book of Proverbs is clear, “The fear of the Lord is to hate evil.” Psalms reinforces the point. “Those who love G-d hate evil.”
This is something that has always puzzled me. My Christian colleagues at ROCK of Africa are angels. In ten days we distributed corn seed to the poorest villages, gave out mosquito nets, hugged and prayed with AIDS victims, and put on large feasts for hundreds of hungry villagers and children who dwell in mud huts. We colored pictures with orphans in Harare and gave them toys and presents. The hearts of evangelical Christians are enormous repositories of loving-kindness. But why must the heart be so wide as to extend to Mugabe’s killer henchmen? What place have murderers earned in our hearts? The same is true of my many Christian brothers who have told me that their faith commands them to love Osama bin Laden.
My fear is that such distortions of Christian teaching undermine our resolve to confront evil regimes. When Jesus enjoined to ‘Turn the other cheek,’ he meant to petty slights and humiliations. Does any sane person really imagine that he meant to ignore and overlook mass murder?
Mugabe has brought a reign of terror to Zimbabwe, making its name synonymous with wholesale slaughter, political intimidation, brutalization of opposition elements, and illegal land grabs. The country is now the poorest nation on earth, with an annual per capita GDP of just $200. Donor agencies estimate that more than 5 million Zimbabweans, representing almost half the population, currently rely on food handouts. The stores are half empty and last year they were completely empty. The ATMs often have no cash. Many of the gas stations have run out for the day. Even Victoria Falls is nearly bereft of tourists.
The black population is noble, extremely welcoming, and exhibit the nobility of spirit of those who have suffered much but complain little. A white population of approximately 4000, down from about 250,000, still remains. They seem to love Zimbabwe, consider it their home, and insist on staying.
They are, of course, hopeful signs, especially the new unity government which has brought Morgan Tsvangirai and Arthur Mutambara into shared power with Mugabe. I interviewed Mutambara, a 43-year-old former Rhodes scholar whom I knew from Oxford and is now the country’s deputy Prime Minister (the full interview is available on my website). A compelling man of vision, eloquence, and academic brilliance, he is convinced that within two years Zimbabwe will be completely ready for free and fair elections. I hope he is right.
But farm confiscations continue and Mugabe’s gangsters still terrorize political opponents. And the only hope for Mugabe to be completely and utterly marginalized is if the international community comes together to push him off the scene. This will not come if the man does not chill our bones. We must not bless but curse his rule.
I don’t do well with tyranny. I have undisguised contempt for tyrants and knowing that I was staying just a few miles from Mugabe’s house spooked me throughout my stay in Harare. As you drive by his home you are told that you are not allowed to look for fear of attracting suspicion and being arrested. Highly-educated locals told me there is a law that says that you cannot stare at his motorcade either and that his guards have been known to fire on those who do. Is this a man whom my Christian friends tell me I must love?
No, I refuse. I will go further. Anyone who loves the wicked is complicit in their wickedness. Anyone who blesses the cruel is an accomplice to their cruelty.
I choose to bless the courageous people of Zimbabwe rather than the tyrant who has slaughtered and impoverished them. I choose to bless a country like America which fights to liberate the weak in Iraq and the oppressed in Afghanistan rather than the Saddams and the Taliban who have brutalized them. Most of all, I choose to bless people like Ben Freeth that one day the long arm of justice will catch up to his tormentors and they will discover that while G-d is indeed a long-suffering G-d, for those who continue to slaughter innocents He is also a G-d of justice.
Rabbi Shmuley Boteach, founder of This World: The Values Network was on a relief mission to Zimbabwe with Rock of Africa. To read his blogs and see videos of the visit, go to www.shmuley.com.
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