Crying for Jill Carroll

I was checking out the Christian Science Monitor’s remarkable series of intimate photographs of Jill Carroll’s reunion with her parents, hugging her father, falling over in her mother’s lap, when I felt the tears falling on my keyboard. http://www.csmonitor.com/slideshows/2006/homecoming2/index.html

Why so stirring? Well, you wouldn’t know it from the mainstream media, but Jill Carroll has become a kind of symbol over the last few weeks of a different American response to the world. Carroll went to the Mid East in 2002, in the wake of the 9/11 attacks, to try and understand that part of the world. She worked for the Jordan Times (which called her “Our Jill” after she was kidnaped), and she started learning Arabic.

To Jill Carroll, these people weren’t Other. It’s interesting to consider that if neoconservatism and the idea of a clash of civilizations have the greatest hold on the minds of graying men, young women are most immune to that kind of talk. Jill Carroll’s not alone. Marla Ruzicka, the human rights worker killed by an IED in Iraq; Rachel Corrie, the protester killed by Israelis in Gaza in 2003; and my wife’s cousin Betsy O’Neil, who teaches in Damascus—right there you have four young American women called to that part of the world in a spirit of outreach. They are trying to heal the western-Arab divide.

Jill Carroll’s work had that character: she was trying to soften the talk about a clash of civilizations by making that world more understandable to us. (Yes, I do think there’s a clash of civilizations, but that topic can wait). And this is what so many Iraqis and Muslims said when she was kidnaped, in appealing for her release. Or said in thousands of emails to the Monitor. Her release is thus a vindication of that principle, that different cultures can come to an understanding. And therefore joyful to so many of us, when every other answer people come up with in Iraq is brutalized.

It seems to me a sign of the spiritual evolution of the Carroll family, and the Monitor, that they made as much of Jill Carroll’s reunion public as they did in the remarkable series of photos. The family (and paper) were indicating through this open act that the gift of Carroll’s return was one to be shared with everyone who is looking for a better solution to the clash of civilizations than occupation and indiscriminate violence.