Published on Sunday, October 5, 2008 by YES! Magazine
Building Peace in
A Careful Reordering of our Priorities and Assumptions
Recently I had the opportunity to spend two weeks in the state of
I'd read the poem in public many times before, and my main purpose was to share Suad's experience and perspective. Her hope:
My dreams for my children are simple dreams, the same as other mothers. To live in safety and security in a country where they can be educated...
And her fears:
Of course I'm afraid for my children. Their future is uncertain now. I'm afraid they will be kidnapped, or maybe they will die from a bomb... It's everyday. Everyday we see killing. What did we do?
The poem suggests that Suad's words are jagged and sharp enough to lacerate the paper and cause it to bleed, and that that blood will mark the hands of everyone who reads this book. During an open comment and question period after the presentation, a college student referenced the poem and asked if I thought we all had Suad's blood on our hands. I responded that my point in using the image was different: I wanted to signify that encounters with Iraqis, with their stories, words, and perspectives, would mark us and could, if we were open to them, transform and inspire us. He wasn't, however, willing to let me off the hook so easily. "Don't you think our consumptive lifestyle-especially our enormous energy use-drives this kind of war?" he asked. "Don't you think it makes us partners in crime?"
I'll leave the question there, unanswered, and I'll reframe and ask it in a different form: Five and a half years into this festering invasion and occupation, what is our responsibility to
Every day in the
Two years later, under the auspices of an international NGO,
These kinds of medical social work considerations and the tasks they engender may not be glamorous or newsworthy, but they are an essential component of peace-work among Iraqis displaced by violence, an essential part of helping people maintain intact lives. This, after all, is the goal: how to support people so that they can participate in building
Battlefield Without Borders Kathy Kelly and David Smith-Ferri read from Battlefield without Borders and Kathy Kelly shares thoughts about continuing to help victims of the Iraq War in spite our feelings of despair at the way things have been going. "We can borrow courage from the Iraqis themselves," she says. SEE ROBERT SHETTERLEY'S PORTRAIT OF KATHY KELLY 
Let's return to the question of responsibility that the
This does not mean we must relocate to the
Being "in relationship with Iraqis," may also mean a careful reordering of our assumptions. It means learning to trust that Iraqis are the best source for information about their own experiences. It means shedding the notion that the
If we want to support Iraqis in building peace, we can start by genuinely facing the same difficult questions they are facing: what is my responsibility to Iraqis? How can I live it out? My own effort in this respect has lead me to conclude that Americans are best cast in a supportive role. The question for us as individuals and as organizations is the same question that our government should be weighing: who are the wisest Iraqis? What are the best plans and efforts among Iraqis, and how can we support them?
The Iraqis we've met through DAI want us to listen and to care. They want us to care enough to look closely at our lives, and yes, as the
Here's a slightly different angle on it. The Iraqis we've met through DAI don't want charity. They want justice. These aren't people who have been injured and displaced by a natural disaster, but by war-by human folly, greed, violence, and criminality. They want actions that will help restore their capacity to build a productive future. For Americans who also want justice, the question becomes: what are we willing to risk, change, sacrifice in order to be a part of this restoration?
David Smith-Ferri (smithferri [@] pacific.net ) is author of Battlefield without Borders (www.battlefieldwithoutborders.org ), and a member of Direct Aid
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"The master class has always declared the wars; the subject class has always fought the battles. The master class has had all to gain and nothing to lose, while the subject class has had nothing to gain and everything to lose--especially their lives." Eugene Victor Debs