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Subject: Kathy Kelly's Farewell - Voices in the Wilderness
Date: Tue, 06 Apr 2004 02:38:33
Six years ago, in February 1998, I traveled to Iraq with a British Voices in the Wilderness team. The US was threatening another massive bombardment. We decided to go to Fallujah in hopes of better understanding the perspective of people whose marketplace had been bombed, in 1991, by a smart bomb that went astray. The blast instantly killed 150 people and wounded hundreds. By the time of our visit, many more had suffered and died during nearly eight years of brutally punitive economic sanctions. At Fallujah's main market, we began distributing a leaflet about why we were violating the economic sanctions. Throngs of people pressed toward each of us, eager for leaflets. Separated from my companions and surrounded by people shouting at me as they grabbed leaflets, I began to wonder if this could turn into an ugly scene. One man who spoke English stood in front of me, his eyes blazing. "You Americans! You Europeans!" he shouted. "You come to my home. I show you water
you not even give your animals to drink and this is all what we have. And now you want again to kill our children. You cannot kill my son. My son, he was killed in al harb Bush (the first Bush war)." "I'm sorry," I murmured, "I'm so very sorry." Then his demeanour suddenly changed. "Ah, Madame," he said, his tone softening, "You are too tired. You come with me, I get you tea." He helped me maneuver through the crowd until we reached a falafel stand where he served me tea, insisting that I find my friends and bring them to his home for a meal. Gracious hospitality characterized nearly every encounter I and other Voices travelers to Iraq experienced, for years.
In 1999, I returned to the Fallujah marketplace, this time with our friend Ahmed, a US citizen, born in the Sinai, who translated for us as we encountered a very similar scene. I spotted a child staring pensively at me. He seemed about 11 years of age, quite poor, extremely intense. "Ahmed, please," I asked, "ask this young man what he is thinking." The young boy squared his shoulders and said, "I am a scholar of the faith." Ahmed posed my question again. This time the answer was direct. "Tell her that I am thinking about how I will become a fighter pilot when I grow up," said the boy, whose gaze never swerved from mine, "so that I can bomb the United States." We smiled forlornly. Then Ahmed said, "Kathy, look, pay attention to this man," pointing to an elderly, balding fellow with huge jowls and white whiskers. The man had observed my encounter with the youngster. Large tears rolled down his cheeks.
Peacemaking communities throughout the world have refused to regard Iraqi brothers and sisters as enemies. Efforts to empathize with Iraqis of different ages, ethnicities, religions, classes and stations in life have broadened the antiwar movement. Now our compassion for people in Iraq must encompass non-Iraqis, including Americans, many of them young, tense, and homesick. As I write, we at Voices are anxious, very anxious. Since late March, we've read about aggressive military efforts to pacify Fallujah. What does pacification mean, in Iraq, in Fallujah, during this frightening and tragic episode? For the past several days, I've been asking friends to help me understand the term "pacify." No explanation seemed satisfactory until one friend bluntly said, "Look, it means you want to win the peace. So you eliminate anyone who might disturb your peace. You suppress them, or terrify them, or remove them, or kill them."
I'll have plenty of time over the next four months (in prison) to ruminate about why it took me days to understand such a forthright concept. I suspect it has to do with a level of denial.
Here in the US, we can continue to disturb "the peace" whenever it belies acquiescence to unjust and cruel methods designed to insure maintenance of a way of life, which, compared to the rest of the world, is inordinately comfortable. "To whom much has been given, much is required" has been a good mantra for Voices in the Wilderness.
The Wheels of Justice bus tour rolls on, the calendar for speaking engagements fills up each month, and reports from Iraq reach many people through websites and newsletters. Since our campaign began, hundreds of individuals and groups have welcomed me to visit their communities. During the next four months, I hope that all of you will readily rely, as I do, on the speakers, writers and activists available through Voices in the Wilderness to continue outreach and education in your locale.
We remain quite grateful for all of your concern and support.