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'Purple Thumbs Up': Reflections on the Election in Iraq and Our Choices Here at Home

By Deacon Keith Fournier
© Third Millennium, LLC

How wonderful, on this early Sunday morning, to see all these good Iraqi people, who have hungered to be able to choose who will represent them in government, rejoice over this historic election! Their contagious smiles filled me with hope and should bring great joy to all those who hunger for the triumph of authentic human freedom around the world.

Today, the process toward freedom has begun in Iraq. I have prayed, worried, and hoped that this Election Day in Iraq would go well. So have millions throughout the world. However, I am numbered among those who opposed the initial foray into Iraq as not having met the criteria of a “just war” under the classical Christian analysis. In my opinion, “pre-emptive” military actions simply cannot be viewed as “just.” The decision to engage in this "pre-emptive war" with Iraq failed to meet the test of clear conditions, commonly referred to as the "Just War" theory, set forth in the Catechism of the Catholic Church (§2309.

The very notion of a "preventive war" is antithetical to this analysis. The determination as to whether any war can be "just"-ified is first rooted in the broader understanding of "self defense." Preventive action is not self-defense. The entry of the United States into Iraq was not, in my opinion, an act of "self defense." I did not hold the same opinion of American actions in Afghanistan, which did meet those classical criteria.

However, the question of our initial entry into Iraq became increasingly moot as the war in Iraq progressed. As a patriotic American, a Christian and as a fellow human being, I have supported our troops, prayed for our President and prayed that this Election Day would arrive for the good Iraqi people who suffered for so many years under the tyrants boot. I rejoice today at the numbers of people who went to the polls.

Like most Americans, I have desired, above all else, to see the progress of freedom in Iraq and an end to the bloodshed. When I heard President Bush give his Inaugural Address on January 20, 2005, which focused almost entirely on freedom, I was inspired and filled with hope. These words from that speech will claim a place in American history:

“There is only one force of history that can break the reign of hatred and resentment, and expose the pretensions of tyrants, and reward the hopes of the decent and tolerant, and that is the force of human freedom…. Freedom, by its nature, must be chosen, and defended by citizens, and sustained by the rule of law and the protection of minorities. And when the soul of a nation finally speaks, the institutions that arise may reflect customs and traditions very different from our own. America will not impose our own style of government on the unwilling. Our goal instead is to help others find their own voice, attain their own freedom, and make their own way….

We go forward with complete confidence in the eventual triumph of freedom. Not because history runs on the wheels of inevitability; it is human choices that move events. Not because we consider ourselves a chosen nation; God moves and chooses as He wills. We have confidence because freedom is the permanent hope of mankind, the hunger in dark places, the longing of the soul.”

However, though I was moved, I was also concerned. I wrote two reflections on this extraordinary speech. In the second one I stated: “By its very nature freedom cannot be forced on anyone. Freedom is not muscular. It invites. It draws. It attracts. It persuades. It does not coerce.”

Today, the purple fingers in Iraq - and around the world on the hands of Iraqis who have been exiled- are a sign and symbol of what freedom can be, for those who respond to its invitation. I watched one smiling Iraqi American on one television report who had intentionally asked the poll workers to place his thumb in the ink so that, after he voted, he could proudly hold that thumb up and give what he called a “thumbs up for freedom.” We should all join with him in giving a “thumbs up” for freedom in Iraq and around the world today.

Now the real work begins in Iraq. We must pray for the continuing work of freedom. We need to pray that the Iraqi people choose what is right and true and good. That is their choice now. How they choose will determine what kind of Nation they become.

Freedom is a good of the person. It must be exercised in accordance with the truth. To reap the fruits of authentic freedom, one must choose the good. In the very choosing of the good, not only can we change the environment around us, but we change ourselves. This is what philosophers and theologians refer to as the reflexive nature of human choice. Freedom is not simply about being able to choose but also about what it is that is chosen.

This is a month for Americans to reflect on the ...

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