The End of an Era: No More Hospitable Hostage-Takers
Some sad news. Nearly the very beginning of my blogging was of my trip to Yemen two years ago. A big part of my enjoyment of that trip was to the fabled Shibam, a city of ancient skyscrapers made of mud in the middle of the desert. I just learned that al Qa'ida terrorists killed three, two tourists and a Yemeni, there as they left the town of al Hajreen to head to Shibam, in the middle of Wadi Hadremowt (Hadramawt).
The valley translates rather ironically as "The Valley of Death", so called because of the great heat and desolation in the middle of the desert. It's inverted mountains, a vast plateau with great rips and fissures in the Earth, where the people live down below where there is some semblance of water and shade. When on the plateau above, you can drive for kilometers without realizing that there is an entire world thousands of meters below you- until you come right up to the edge of the cliff.
This is the second time now that I've been in a place of later terrorism. I've been in this valley. Like the Hebrew metaphor, it is desert, and a lonely place. I drove with a couple Europeans and my taxi driver for hours and hours, and sometimes just me and my taxi driver (for I could find no one else to join us), through stifling heat, in the relative cool of the seasonal riverbed wadi, and above on the sun-baked empty earth of the plateau. There are many police checks as you travel, where they make sure you have the papers to be traveling to this area, in order to protect tourists, and ensure general order. It is very easy to lay the kind of trap the al Qa'ida operatives did. I can easily imagine the cars approaching the broken-down pickup by the dusty road, the passengers excited to be in a foreign country but tired from the heat, and suddenly their worlds change forever.
Yemen used to be the place where it was safe to be a hostage. I'm serious. It is like the old Wild West in some ways, with lawless tribes who enact concessions from the government by regularly kidnapping Westerners. The government will have promised them a school or a road, and not followed through, so the tribe will kidnap someone, and then treat them as an honored guest, following tribal code, for the next month- until the government comes and promises again to actually follow through this time. And the man would then be released, unharmed, with quite a story to tell. Talk about a captive audience!
But not more. There now have been a string of al Qa'ida attacks and murders of tourists in Yemen, beginning with the attack on Mary Quin in 1998. (They also attacked the USS Cole, but that was a military target.) The terrorists are now making their mark, even in this land of tradition and beauty. And sadly, the poorest country of the Middle East will lose the much-needed tourist dollars because of this- though it is still far safer than a place like New York City, as indeed every where in the Middle East is, with the exception of Israel-Palestine and Iraq, where there's ongoing wars and US involvement.
Even sadder is the loss of these women to the world, and all they had to offer. They had dreams like all of us, they had accomplishments, they had relationships. I would encourage prayers for these unnamed women, for their families, for comfort for them, and hope, and that they would see God meet them. And yes, also for their attackers, for the al Qa'ida militants who cowardly and visciously murdered these women. For they also are made in the image of God. I would ask you to pray that these men, right now, where ever they are in the desert, gathered around some tea, or chewing some qat, would stop what they are doing, and realize the enormity of what they have done. That they would suddenly understand, perhaps for the first time, that what they've done is in no way laudable. They would break down and weep to realize that they have taken life, that they have ended life, that they have usurped the authority of God by claiming that they have authority over the life of another. Let them realize that they have destroyed an Image-Bearer- someone, like them, who is designed to be the very seat of the Spirit of God.
And then, let them repent. Let this be the day, the moment, that these operatives begin a new life- a life dedicated to perpetuating life. And as my prophet counseled, I pray for blessing on these murderers. That they would know life, and know it abundantly. That they would be filled with all joy, and all peace. That they would know all good, and rejoice at the good that God has brought them.