As many of you probably already know, Marla Ruzicka, a young American woman known for her tireless efforts to document civilian casualties in Iraq and obtain US compensation for them, was killed by a suicide bomber while traveling near a convoy along the dangerous Baghdad airport road.
Ruzicka was truly inspiring in her willingness to take incomprehensible risks to assist some of the victims of the US invasions of Iraq and Afghanistan. It must be said, however, that her political approach to the war in Iraq was fundamentally misguided, either because, as suggested within this very informative David Corn article, she acquiesced in the inevitability of the occupation, or actually came around to supporting the Occupation Authority against the resistance.
One need only visit the website of the organization that Ruzicka created, CIVIC Worldwide, to recognize the problem. CIVIC, you see, stands for "The Campaign for Innocent Civilians in Conflict." Accordingly, it promotes the pernicious distinction between "innocent" Iraqis, Iraqis who decline to violently resist the occupation, and other, "guilty" Iraqis who do not. Such a perspective, coming from an American organization, is morally myopic, if not morally offensive, given that it condemns Iraqis for violently resisting their own personal and economic victimization by the Occupation Authority. It is indistinguishable from the one continually advanced by the US military.
Of course, this shouldn't be surprising as it is the inevitable consequence of Ruzicka's decision after the start of the war to sever her association with Global Exchange, a non-profit that organized against the war and now condemns the occupation, because she believed that she could subsequently accomplish more by working with the US rather than against it. It is tempting to dismiss the significance of her politics as the result of her political naiveté. After all, according to Corn, she reportedly told a friend, "My long-term goal is to get a desk at the State Department that looks at civilian casualties."
Perhaps I am subjecting Ruzicka's decision to excessive scrutiny. It is crucial to understand, however, that her implicit belief, and by extension, the founding principle of CIVIC, that one can most effectively assist the Iraqi people by remaining silent about the self-serving justifications for the war and the brutality of the occupation, so that one can obtain the assistance of the Occupation Authority, is not only false, but as pernicious as CIVIC's separation of dead Iraqis into "innocent" and "guilty" ones.
In fact, others have been quite effective in Iraq without compromising their willingness to speak the truth about what is happening there. Last fall, Simona Toretta, a young Italian women nearly the same age as Ruzicka, was kidnapped and then subsequently released. She worked for A Bridge to Baghdad, an organization known for its outspoken condemnation of the sanctions, the war and the occupation, and she strongly shared these views. Upon her release, she supported the right of Iraqis to violently resist the occupation. Despite her bluntness, she reached many Iraqis through her humanitarian efforts, efforts that were arguably more effective than Ruzicka's.
Likewise, Global Exchange, her previous organization, has effectively delivered aid to Iraq even as it continues to criticize the occupation from within the US. Ruzicka could not have escaped awareness of these obvious alternatives. Corn quotes a friend as saying, "Marla had no patience for people who demonstrated against the war, and did nothing else," and the remark strikes the ear as more defensive rationalization than sincere indignation.
Could it be that Ruzicka succumbed to the psychologically reassuring feeling that she was more secure in Iraq when working with the occupation, despite all the evidence? If so, her inability to overcome a natural, instinctive tendency to feel more secure among one's own may have ultimately killed her, as the resistance monitors and targets people who work with the US. One cannot avoid the tragic irony: Her alter ego, Toretta, refused to accept the constricting boundaries of pragmatism, spoke her mind and refused to compromise, thereby harmonizing her political and humanitarian goals, and still lives. Ruzicka made a Faustian bargain with the Occupation Authority, and tragically died.
NOTE: Thanks to Eli Stephens for provoking a dialogue about Ruzicka and CIVIC, and providing some essential links that have been utilized in this article.
Richard Estes lives in Northern California, and co-hosts a radio program, with an emphasis on peace, civil rights, labor and environmental issues, on 90.3 FM in Davis, CA. This article was originally published by the American Leftist.
Other Articles by Richard Estes