Who writes the equations? When we hear of the destuction wrought by hurricane, tornado, earthquake, mudslide and flood we rush to help. Individuals pour hundreds of millions of dollars toward the survivors. We mourn the dead.
Why don't we act the same way toward the innocent victims of Iraq?
The torrent of horror falling in Iraq today has its roots in the American consciousness. Our invasion and occupation unleashed a time of horror unequaled in modern American history, and be not fooled: the history of Iraq is written deeply into the history of Iraq.
What enabled our nation's people to fall so readily in line behind an administrations lies; lies which were put forth by the Bushmen, obscured by the media, and absorbed by a nation wounded by an unprecidented attack.
On our soil! On our innocent civilians!
We displayed an inability to step back and view the carnage of 9/11 in a broad context of political history, social influence, and international relations. Instead we reacted with a short-sighted vigor that unleashed the mighty power of the U.S. military at any convenient target.
Having released our anger we spent the rest of these long 9 years justifying our actions; weapons of mass destruction, association with AlQaeda, insurgents, saving women from oppression...the logic of the arguments did not matter. All that counted was that we could keep up a steady stream of excuses. These excuses allowed us to view the slaughter of innocents as collateral damage.
The technial nature of modern weaponry allows us to view the deaths as part of an elaborate computer game, devoid of compassion. Even the language, i.e. surgical strikes, allows us to hide the horror.
The otherness of the Iraqi, and now Afghan, peoples puts them in a category for which death and destruction is allowed, even supported as part of the cost of war. Nevermind that the deaths of hundreds of thousands of innocents has spawned the rise of an anti-American backlash new to modern times.
Instead of looking at how a person can become a suicide bomber or why Muslims are attacking Muslims we should be looking at how Americans came to kill with such fervor. What is it within our society that puts us on such a coldhearted path? What fears and paranoia are driving us to such acts?
Baghdad: #1: Two civilians were wounded Monday in a sticky bomb explosion in southeastern Baghdad, according to a security source. “The bomb, stuck to a civilian car, exploded on Monday afternoon (Sept. 27) in a garage in southeastern Baghdad, injuring two passing civilians,” the source told Aswat al-Iraq news agency.
#2: An improvised explosive device went off on Monday near an army vehicle patrol in northern Baghdad, eyewitnesses said. “The bomb exploded in al-Safina region, northern Baghdad, with no word on damage or casualties,” the witnesses told Aswat al-Iraq news agency.
#3: An officer of the Iraqi Interior Ministry was wounded on Tuesday when a sticky bomb attached to his car went off in eastern Baghdad. “The blast occurred today in the al-Baladiyat neighborhood, eastern Baghdad,” a local security source told Aswat al-Iraq news agency.
#4: Clashes have erupted on Tuesday between unknown gunmen and security forces in the al-Neayria area, eastern Baghdad. “Police forces sealed off the area,” a local security source told Aswat al-Iraq news agency.
Amarra: #1: One U.S. soldier was wounded on Monday by a sniper in central Amara, a security source said. “The soldier was wounded while conducting a joint operation with Iraqi army forces in al-Askari neighborhood in central Amara,” the source told Aswat al-Iraq news agency. “The soldier, who was wounded on his leg, was carried to a nearby hospital for treatment and he is in a stable condition,” the source added.
Nassiriya: #1: A car bomb was defused on Monday in a rural area in eastern Nassiriya, according to a security source. “Acting on a tip-off, policemen managed on Monday (Sept. 27) to defuse a booby-trapped car in al-Kariedi region in Said Dakhiel region, northeastern Nassiriya,” the source, who preferred to remain anonymous, told Aswat al-Iraq news agency. “The car contains amounts of TNT, C4 and two Katyusha rockets,” he added.
Kirkuk: #1: Gunmen in a speeding car shot dead a civilian in southeastern Kirkuk, 250 km (155 miles) north of Baghdad, police said.
Mosul: #1: A young man was killed on Monday in a random shooting in western Mosul, a police source said. “The man was killed as a result of a random shooting in al-Harmat region, western Mosul,” the source told Aswat al-Iraq news agency, pointing out that the 16-year-old victim got a bullet in his head, killing him on the spot.
#2: A roadside bomb targeting an Iraqi army foot patrol wounded two soldiers in western Mosul, 390 km (240 miles) north of Baghdad, police said.
There's a new store in Inwood Heights, at 117 Nagle, at the corner of Sickles. There's an Iraqi family getting a new start. You made it possible!!! Your contributions gave this family the head start they needed.
This is the current expression of a tale with a long history; a tale of woe, a tale of hope, a tale of perseverance, and a tale of living in the present with an eye to the future. A family of 6 innocent civilians caught in the political violence around them.
When they were in Baghdad Mom was and engineer. Dad was an entrepreneur who built a small applicance business into a multi-store enterprise. The kids were in school and all was well with the world. Until, well, you know, until the invasion; until the occupation; until the militias took control of the streets; until the criminals became the rulers of neighhborhoods; until the madness of 'the war on terror' became the war on innocent civilians.
When M was first threatened he did not take it seriously, but as he became more and more aware of the executions of people who resisted demands for protection money he became more and more concious of his responsibility to his family. The decision to leave was not easy. To put everything behind...your family, your friends, your business, your schools and doctors, the things that fill your house...this is painful.
But it had to be done. Otherwise there would be death, like the deaths of so many around them who did not cooperate with the gangs that made demands. So, it was off to Amman. Luckily this move was made before Jordan closed its borders to Iraqis (another story in itself).
Things were hard in Jordan. Dad found work, but it was a comedown from being the boss. The Jordanians, long before 'invaded' by Palestinians, had little resources and less patience for these newcomers. The younger kids were tormented at school. Rents and food prices rose in response to the sudden demand of about a million Iraqis who fled the madness next door. But the family 'started over.' "What else could we do?" said mom. They sold what they could in Baghdad, planted roots in Amman and soon the older sons were in college, the younger children studiously following their parents' instructions to do well at school, and making a life for themselves.
It wasn't long afterward that the Baghdad stores were looted, and then burned. This cut their supplemental income and made their staying in Amman a time of hardship. They decided to emigrate to America where they had heard of others making a decent life for themselves. "To the land of the occupier?" Strange, but true.
Soon an application was made to the International Rescue Committee and a year later the family was granted permission to come to the U.S. as refugees. Where to settle? Texas was offered, but the family had heard bad things about the American South and West and they were afraid to settle there. They knew one family in New York City and asked them for sponsorship. Once that was granted they were on their way to the city that never sleeps. But not quite. The two oldest boys were in college and a decision was made to leave them in Jordan to finish school while the rest of the family came to New York.
What a hard place! The government offered 3 months of rent assistance for the familly of four. The cash allowance barely covered food, let alone buying clothing for the coming winter. At $1450/month the IRC found them a small apartment in a roach-infested, dirty building in the Bronx. But all was not lost. The kids made friends and dad found part-time work with an Iraqi-American who has been here for some 15 years. Mom found an unpaid teaching job in a Muslim school, but she thought the experience would be good as she looked for better work.
And then you came to help. Our summer appeal generated an amazing outpouring of generosity. It garnered thousands and thousands of dollars. More than we expected. They opened a corner store. It is part deli (hot and cold dishes) with table service as well as take-out; part ice-cream shop with lots of flavors; part grocery with the basics one might pick up every day in lieu of a trip to the super market.The family got a head start, from your generous donations, and dad used the money wisely. He found a partner and used the money for licenses, fees, rent, stock, beginning salaries, etc.
(And then M went and found them a new apartment; larger, cheaper, cleaner...on his own initiative. This guy has what it takes. And the children have already made new friends.)
We went to break fast there one evening in Ramadan. Sitting in the back we got to see the store in action as locals came and went for a sandwich, a meal, or just some ice cream. It didn't seem like a new store. It seemed already part of the scene.
Mom had a moment of tears. "I am so tired of this...this starting over. Each time we move we start over. And I miss my boys (still in Jordan), and I worry about them."
We didn't say anything. After a while she continued, "But you know, A and R (the youngest children)are in good schools; we have this good business. All things will be good for us. Inshallah."
M said, "Without this help we could not do it. You people are very generous. And they did not even know us."
And the store is clean. And it's bright. And it's open 24 hours a day. And it's already doing a good business as the predominantly Dominican neighborhood gets to know these newcomers. They are a welcoming group, pleased to have such a bright light on their corner.
"Why food?" I asked. "You were an appliance dealer, a store owner. Why did you pick food?"
"What I know is all people of America like to eat."
And so, with a little help from friends like you, a new start is made a little easier.
La Salle 117 Nagle Avenue Manhattan NY 10040-1402 (212) 567-2390
P.S. 121Contact was able to find a full time teaching job for Mom. It's far from their home, but mom is so happy to have it.
Many have allowed the Park51 project debate to be steered by the most radical opponents into issues surrounding the patriotism/terrorism associated with American Muslims Others have solidly grounded their support in terms of tolerance and the rule of law.
Few have stepped back far enough from their initial emotional responses and dared to ask the increasingly obvious questions.
What is it in the American psyche that fosters such bigotry in a substantial number of its citizens?
Until we face the truth we will forever be entangled in the tit-for-tat 'my facts are truer that your facts', 'my viewpoint is more valid than yours', and 'how can you not see the truth' battles that continue to roil the waters of reason.
The opponents of Park51 have catapulted us into a constant present in which the debated issues are of the moment. The does not allow us the perspective of stepping back to observe ourselves, our attitudes, and our emotions carefully. We allow ourselves to be tricked into reacting instantaneously, in Facebook-tweet-time. This serves to obscure, even prevent us from looking at, the sociopolitical history in which we exist. This is exactly the non-thoughtfulness the bigots thrive on.
The bigots and their hatred are the issue; not Park51 and American Muslims.
[Many thanks to Butler, Oliver, and the new writers of the post-modern age of thought and feeling and philosophy that are beginning to free me from my own cocoon.]
Today a lot of people gathered in the Dawood Mosque. Different people, different sects, different religions; just like our world that contains all nationalities, all religions on earth.
I wanted to speak at the microphone, but I was hesitant. I regret not saying anything, so I decided to write these words instead.
I am from Iraq and a lot of people have no idea about the Iraqi woman. They are strong and dignified. And I consider myself one of them. For this reason I wanted the people to hear me today. And because I love my country I have to enlighten some people who have already closed their minds. They satisfy themselves by accepting the shell; not thinking deeply.
As a Muslim what is going on these days against the Muslims really hurts me. In such a country as the USA where freedom and equality are proclaimed, lately voices are rising against building an Islamic center in Manhattan. An innocent young man, who wants to live in peace, was stabbed because he is a Muslim. And lastly-the intention to burn copies of the holy Quran. It really hurts me. Especially in this country.
And I am surprised. The one who wants to burn the Quran claims to be a religious person, which means he knows God. But he still insists upon burning the Quran...It's a shame. Unfortunately a lot of people are going to applaud and hail his actions. But they don't know a very important thing...
Normally there is a reaction for any action. So it is natural for the Muslim to be hurt by such an action. But I want to tell these people, who intend to burn the Quran, that one of the principles about Muslims is not to be weak, and not to bow to any except Allah. What they have to know is that Muslims are very courageous, and brave when it comes to their dignity.
Unfortunately, as Muslims, we cannot do the same actions. We cannot burn the bible. We cannot destroy the Torah, or any other holy book. Not because we are too weak, but the Quran forbids us. One of the conditions to be a Muslim is to believe in 'the holy books,' and to believe in all the prophets and messengers that are in them. So we respect all religions and we believe in them.
What I want to tell that priest is even if he burns millions of copies of the Quran, he is only burning books with words. The Koran is an idea and a belief. His fire cannot burn the heart of Islam.
Not a joke, but an evening filled with jokes, good humor, good prayer, and good food. Lots of it.
The Dawood Mosque, aka The Islamic Mission of America, on State Street in Brooklyn
Heights, was founded in 1939 making it one of
the first mosques in New York City. Its open door policy was highlighted in tonight's multi-faith iftar, the fast breaking meal of the evening. One of the Dawood Mosque’s leading members, Dr. Ahmad Jaber, was
recently elected president of the Brooklyn Heights Clergy Association.The mosque is a strong supporter of the annual Children of Abraham Peace Walk.
A rabbi, a priest, and an imam spoke; a few rabbis, actually. We heard Ramadan explained to us by 2 teenager girls. An Iraqi woman, here in the U.S. only 3 months, spoke of her awakening, contrary to her fears, to the openness of New Yorkers; of their friendliness, and their generosity. "They did not even know me, but they helped so much," she said.
Sheik Abdalla Allam, the mosque's leader, is no stranger to such interfaith activities. This mosque has been hosting these events for a long time, and the community has responded with interfaith activities in many of Brooklyn Heights' religious institutions. Neighbors of the mosque spoke of the good of having this house of worship and fellowship in the neighborhood.
One wonders why the media doesn't put such stories of love and friendship on the front pages, instead of the hate focused stories that crowd the news.
And then we remember: the media benefits from discord. Dissension sells, and media is, like so much of American life, a cash based enterprise; not a moral, justice oriented endeavor. Such is life in this great land.
Ramadan mubarak, brothers and sisters. Keep your hearts alive with the compassion that fills our world with love.
The Lockdown of Iraqi Refugees --
Sep. 6, 2010
While more than seven years have passed since the U.S.-led coalition took over Baghdad, more than two million Iraqi refugees are living with fear and homesickness – a largely unseen symptom of the war’s aftermath.
In a report issued earlier this year by the International Rescue Committee (IRC), “A Tough Road Home: Uprooted Iraqis in Jordan, Syria and Iraq,” the IRC says while some Iraqi refugees have returned home in the past years from neighboring Jordan and Syria, the vast majority remain uprooted in a vulnerable situation that is growing worse.
In August I visited my family in Syria and Jordan, where they have been residing since they fled Iraq in 2007 after a series of threats and losses.
Most Iraqi refugees still carry the scars and traumas suffered in their homeland, and are now often suffering extreme stress and psychological pressure in their host countries, particularly single Iraqi women.
In my last weekend in Syria, a group of young Iraqi guys suggested to take me to a party in a strip on the outskirts of Damascus. As we were approaching the location, we could see the flashing lights and hear the loud live music.
One of the guys turned to me and said, “Here you’ll find the most beautiful Iraqi refugee women…and they are very affordable.” As we walked in, it was like a scene from a different part of the world. There was a big stage in the middle packed with women wearing heavy make-up and revealing clothes. An Iraqi singer was performing live and the surrounding tables were occupied mostly by Arab men from the wealthy Gulf States and surrounding countries. Alcohol was being served and smoking was permitted.
A couple of hours into the night, the singer stepped aside and men from the crowd started joining the women on stage.
Two women approached our table asking if they could join us. From their accents, we could tell they were Iraqi. Once they realized we were Iraqi too, they started talking about Iraq, the war, Bush, Iran, al-Qaeda and their lives in Syria.
The two women were cousins; Ananas, a 34 year-old pharmacist, and her cousin Dunya, a 28 year-old poetess. Ananas first came to Syria in 2006 after her brother and father were shot dead by a US military convoy while driving during curfew hours, “They were all I had. Once they were gone, my uncles were forcing me to marry my cousin. He was 21 years older than me and already married. I escaped two days before the wedding date, got on a bus and came to Syria.”
As for Dunya, she got married at the age of 16, “My husband was killed by armed militiamen in our front yard. I saw it…I was looking from the kitchen window. They stormed into our house after and raped me. I didn’t try to resist because I didn’t want them to go upstairs and find my daughter and hurt her. She was only 9 at the time.” Dunya then fled to Syria with her daughter in 2007 and united with her cousin Ananas who had already found her way into the sex industry.
When I asked about Dunya’s daughter, she said, “Her name is Tamara. She is doing alright now…Oh, she is right there in fact,” as she started waving at a young girl, 11 now, wearing wavy hair and heavy make-up. Tamara was on the stage dancing as she is occasionally joined by men to talk or dance with her. When I asked Dunya whether she is worried over Tamara losing her innocence, her reply was, “Innocence?! That is not something for our children. It may be for the children in America or Europe but not us. Tamara is going to grow up in a society that judges her, restricts her and takes advantage of her. Being innocent is only going to make it worse and turn her life harder.”
Displaced Iraqi women soon became easy prey for the sex industry once they were removed from their traditional support system in their homeland, which was shattered by war and sectarian violence. Home, tribe, community and extended family is what provided that support system to these women, now they find themselves alone facing the ultimate challenges of survival.
Dunya said that she is willing to marry Tamara to a man who would look after her. For financial survival, forced marriages of young daughters are now common within the Iraqi refugee population.
Few days after meeting Ananas and Dunya, I drove to Amman, Jordan, the host country of the second largest Iraqi refugee population, after Syria. During my two weeks in Amman, it was very clear there was a class division within the Iraqi community.
Jordan, just like neighboring Syria, admitted Iraqis as “guests” or “tourists” and did not grant them refugee status, as neither one of these countries ratified the 1951 UN convention on refugees.
Jordan however, has set up a system in which Iraqis are granted residency once they deposit $100,000 in special government accounts.
So while Jordan can be a safe haven for investors and businessmen, the high cost of living and lack of access to legal work have imposed serious financial challenges on the hundreds of thousands of Iraqi refugees living there today.
By the time I was leaving back to the US, it was clear that the Iraqi refugee population varies dramatically. There are two groups of Iraqi refugees, those who lost everything and have nothing left to return to Iraq for, and others who fear losing everything in case they return.
While US President Obama has just recently declared an end to combat mission in Iraq, for the hundreds of thousands of Iraqi families in Jordan and Syria, their fight and uncertainty of the future are far from over.
We are so habitually critical of the NYTimes that it comes as a mild surprise to agree with today's editorial, "Mistrust and the Mosque." We note, also, their willingness to use the M word instead of the cloaking 'Park51' that has taken over much of the defensive narrative. Times reports the polls that show most NYers against the current Park51 plan.
"It has always been a myth that New York City...is a utopia of humanistic harmony. The city has a bloody history of ethnic and class strife." [NYTimes] And so, too, this great nation of ours.
'Great?" Only if we continue to question ourselves, and not get locked into the narrative being spun by those in power. Polling NYers about the location of a proposed mosque skirts the real issue--by about a million miles.
Let's look at the mood of paranoia that pervades the American psyche these days. Let's look at the unresolved trauma born of 9/11. Let's look at the politicians who have conceptualized security as power projected violently in distant places.
When we understand more about the reasons that our leaders enjoy the constant state of fear, and tacitly support the fear mongers, the question of where a mosque should, would, could be built will seem trivial.
The point is not Park51. What is the point?The point is that we have to stop, look, and listen. 9/11 has thrust us into a reactive mode that finds us clinging to a tenuous 'present', unable to look backward (rekindling pain), and unable to look forward (generating more anxiety).
This loss of the sense of security and ability to calmly give thought to our situation is gleefully exploited by those who gain from our dislocation of self. They will continue to control our thoughts unless we take the step, a step backwards from the 'instant life', and begin/continue/persist the process of asking the right questions.
Not: Where should the planned Islamic Cultural Center and Mosque, aka Park51, be located?
Rather: How do we regain our sense of security? Who profits from continued feelings of paranoia?
These and other questions focused on a broader temporal reality (not more bullets, bigotry, and other knee-jerk reactions to paranoia) will lead us to more peaceful tomorrows. Inshallah.
We’ve been hearing about how tolerance is a basic element in American culture. 121Contact has done its own share of talking about this, but we’ve stepped back a bit now, and taken a harder look at the American psyche.
Actually, intolerance has been part of America ever since, and before, there was an America. A very brief list will remind us of America’s intolerant past:
The Massachusetts Bay Colony’s guiding principle and religious authority overrides civil authority, refusing to tolerate any beliefs or practices in civil society that conflicted with Cotton Mather’s idea of religion.
Colonial women were largely viewed as the property of their husbands or fathers
After the revolution, the colonies
In most of the thirteen colonies, Catholics and Jews were considered persona non grata.
Weekly church attendance mandatory: In more egalitarian Virginia, an offender missing three consecutive Sundays in church could be put to death in the early days of the colony.
anti-Catholic Ku Klux Klan propaganda
mob attacks on Mormons
lynching of blacks
kidnapping of "cult" members
bombing of abortion clinics
and now a new manifestation:
anti-Muslim actions around Mosque building, and individual hate crimes against Muslims
So let us not posit false foundations, based upon ignoring the truth, for our arguments against intolerance. We should admit our failings, as well as the deep roots of intolerance in America. Acceptance is the first step toward building more compassionate and peaceful tomorrows.