American Christian in Iraq Works to Save Lives
From the Abu Ghraib tortures to the more than 100,000 civilian casualties, solemn and sickening headlines have told of the true cost of the Iraq conflict. Finally, we're hearing some good news about a different kind of American intervention. His name is Jeremy Courtney, and he is executive director of Preemptive Love Coalition (PLC), an international development organization based in Iraq that provides lifesaving heart surgeries to Iraqi children and training for local healthcare professionals. The storied Middle Eastern nation has experienced a spike in birth defects as a result of sanctions and exposure to chemical weapons or depleted uranium. One out of seven children in Iraq are born with a physical defect, and the cancer rates are higher than Hiroshima.
Living in Iraq with his wife and two children has been fraught with difficulty. At one point, a fatwa calling for his death was issued by Muslim authorities. But he has stayed and his work has made incredible strides toward creating peace between communities at odds. His new book, Preemptive Love: Pursuing Peace One Heart at a Time, tells the harrowing tale of his experiences there. Here, we talk about his experience living in Iraq, the struggles his family has faced, and what he thinks of American tensions in both Syria and Iran.
JM: You and your family were in Iraq during the war. Did you think the war was unjust?
JC: No, I did not think the war was unjust. Or, perhaps more accurately, I did not think about it. Looking back now, I can see that many people were tapped into the conversation, but none of the people in my life (and I was in seminary at the time!) were questioning the legal justifications, potential outcomes, unintended consequences, authority, or threat potentialities that were being used to lead us into war.
It was not until my wife and I moved to Iraq as unarmed civilians and befriended the very people who were most affected by Saddam Hussein's dictatorship, the U.N.'s violent and oppressive sanctions regime, and various U.S. interventions that we began to see the entire conversation through more nuanced perspectives.
JM: I imagine that an American Christian embedded in the Middle East—even a well-intentioned one--might cause some Iraqis concern. How were you and your team received? Any animosity toward you?