‘I Wanted to Know What Brought Them to Commit Murder’
Virginia and Larry Foley in Jordan in 2001. Photo courtesy of Virginia Foley.
Terrorism Survivor Virginia Foley:
With speeches of appreciation and affection, a group hug, and more than one tear, STAR (Strategies for Trauma Awareness and Resilience) came to a close. Participants from Uganda, Rwanda, Bosnia, Zimbabwe, Ecuador, Cambodia, and the United States gathered up pens and notebooks, group photos, and keys to their residence hall at Eastern Mennonite University, preparing to go home. Seven days of stories of trauma and lessons for healing were over June 20, 2006. After telling my own story and listening to others, I was tired. I was also sorry that this remarkable experience was now behind me.
My life as a U.S. Foreign Service spouse ended when shots rang out in Jordan on Oct. 28, 2002, and the killer of my husband ran around the corner of our house. I had no preparation for giving up Larry – my best friend, partner for 34 years, and the father of our three children. While on assignments for the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) in South America, Africa and the Middle East, we never saw ourselves as potential targets for terrorism. We thought of ourselves as symbols of America’s desire to improve the quality of others’ lives. After Larry’s death, I was unprepared for the onslaught of trauma I was about to receive at every level. My journey from Amman, Jordan, to STAR in Harrisonburg, Virginia, had been a long one.
Our family is one of several American families identified as victims of assassins recruited and paid for by Abu Musab Al Zarqawi, a name which means father of Musab from the town of Zarka, Jordan. “Why don’t you hate us?” some Jordanians asked. My answer is that Jordanians are victims too; they shared my grief, as did all who worked with Larry or who knew him. “We are all connected,” teaches Dr. Howard Zehr, frequently referred to as grandfather of the field of restorative justice. “Communities are impacted by crime, and in many cases should be considered stakeholders and secondary victims,” Zehr writes in his Little Book of Restorative Justice. Under restorative justice, both the needs of the victims and offenders must be considered and addressed.
My 35-year-old daughter Megan and I wrote to His Majesty King Abdullah of Jordan, asking that the men who killed Larry not be executed. We did so not wanting to contribute to the cycle of violence that led to his murder. “When personal trauma is not healed,” STAR teaches, “aggression and increased violence may be the result.” This is true of societies as well as individuals. We heard this message in the stories told by Rwandan and Northern Ugandan participants in STAR. We have seen it in societies and cultures where violence seems to have no end. Unhealed trauma commonly leads to “justified aggression” and “dehumanization” of whomever/whatever is seen as the enemy. Yet there was another reason I didn’t want this killer, and his co-conspirators, executed. I wanted them to know that our family is not a plastic symbol for American policies, but real people. I also wanted to know who they were as real people and what happened in their lives that brought them to commit murder.
They were executed despite our appeals. We were prevented from partaking in the healing from a restorative justice process.
Criminal justice focuses on punishing the offender. Zarqawi is now dead, along with many of his recruits. His perpetuation of violence has ended on one level. So too has ended any opportunity for restitution or accountability, for victim participation in the justice process, for understanding why this man named Father of Musab made the choices he did. I am left with an overwhelming sadness. Restorative justice asks: Who has been hurt? What are their needs? Who has an obligation to address these needs? Transformational justice asks: What circumstances and structures permitted this behavior and what measures can be taken to correct, prevent, or reduce future occurrences?
During the days after my husband brought me a cup of coffee and left for work – that day when the almost-innocent pop, pop, pop outside my window turned out to be the sounds of a gun – I was hardly prepared to think about restorative justice. Today I feel fortunate to have learned that the concept exists and is actually being practiced in New Zealand, Canada and even parts of the United States – in victim/offender meetings made possible upon the request of the victim and in circles where community and stakeholders can talk about “making things right.” If vengeance can’t heal our trauma, perhaps accountability can.
The support of family, of friends from all over the world and loved ones, of USAID and the U.S. State Department, of His Majesty King Abdullah and Her Majesty Queen Rania and other spokespersons for the Jordanian people, has given me strength to search for a perspective for my tragedy that might be helpful to others. STAR and restorative justice have provided a context for that perspective.
Reflection by Virginia Foley