Where Now, America?
by Ramzi Kysia
April 12, 2003
There are no words to describe this disaster. When I close my eyes, an apocalypse rolls on in rough flashes: the as-Sheb marketplace bombing, the Karadat Miryam neighborhood bombing, Nahrawaan Farm, an-Naser marketplace, Palestine Street. Scores of human beings killed, scores more injured, a wealth of human misery deposited at al-Kindi and al-Yarmouk - Baghdad's two, major trauma hospitals. Across all of Iraq, thousands murdered, at least ten-thousands maimed.
The scenes flicker faster: Baghdad's skyline filled with collapsed buildings bellowing plumes of dirty smoke. Massive looting in Umm Qasr, in Nassirya, in Basra. The Damascus-line bus bombings. The Hilla City cluster bombing. Revenge killings. Suicide bombings. U.S. soldiers executing entire families out of fear. Al-Jazeera's offices bombed. Abu Dhabi TV's offices bombed. Reuters bombed. The Red Cross announcing that Baghdad's hospitals are overrun with more than 100 casualties arriving every hour. Over 1 million people in Basra without water for a week, then for two weeks, then...
A dog and pony show in Paradise Park briefly interrupts the panorama: flanked by American tanks and soldiers, surrounded by absolutely empty streets, in a city of five million, two or three hundred Iraqis dance and cheer as Americans pull down a statue of Saddam: Baghdad is liberated! The tanks quickly move to guard the Ministry of Oil, as all other government buildings are looted and destroyed. UN buildings are looted, Red Cross headquarters looted, stores looted, schools looted, museums looted - al-Kindi hospital stripped bare.
Liberation has a sting to it.
This is not an accident. It is not a mistake. War is a deliberate thing, carefully crafted and intentionally executed. And there is a word missing from our lexicon of liberation: Responsibility.
America, we bombed the civilian infrastructure in Iraq in 1991, and blockaded its repair for twelve long years. We forcibly impoverished an entire nation. Hundreds of thousands of human beings died as a result. We started another war on March 20th for no other reason than to further U.S. supremacy over the world. Thousands were killed. We are now occupying a devastated nation, and moving to collect the spoils that to "victors" always go. Iraq will spend a hundred years paying off odious debt incurred by Saddam Hussein and much multiplied by our sanctions. How many more will die? How much further impoverishment will we impose? As we privatize Iraq's former, spirit-crushing bureaucracy, will free public education through University be erased as well? Will the free, universal health care Iraqis formerly enjoyed be denied?
I am frustrated, I am angry, and I don't know what to do.
I was in Iraq for the first two weeks of the war before being expelled, along with 8 other members of the Iraq Peace Team. I broke a curfew, and spent too much time with journalists at the Palestine hotel. Paranoia raged. The Iraqi secret police were suspicious of everyone and everything, and the block-long walk from our hotel to the Palestine became an impassible excursion.
I think of my time in Palestine/Israel last year, and how huge a country Palestine seemed to be, with countless miles between every town. But the eight-hour journey between Ramallah and Jenin is but 50 miles on our poor maps that show only the distance laid upon the land by God, and not by men.
Today, the Palestine hotel is a "secure" facility, and our team in Baghdad are still prevented from approaching the media - this time by American soldiers, and their fears.
I think of the violence of September 11th, the loss of life, and the loss of our liberties imposed by a security-obsessed government, wielding the massive power of panic and paranoia. I think of the fear Arab- and Muslim-Americans today feel, that they will be summarily persecuted, arrested, expelled, or even killed. I think of the fear "White" America feels, wrapping their homes in ridiculous plastic sheeting against the possibility of terrorist attacks, wrapping their hearts against the misery their fears have wrecked upon Afghanistan, upon Iraq.
Where now, America?
When will realize that we are not the only real people on this planet, and that our security cannot depend on the insecurity of everyone else?
It is unsafe for our team still in Baghdad to visit our Iraqi friends, the families we've come to love. Where Iraqi government paranoia confined us during the last days of the war, street violence confines the team today. A short walk is now a death-defying expedition. People have been shot short yards from our team's hotel. Violence has strained the ties we've worked so hard to maintain. Beyond its physical misery, the loss of those you love, the destruction of community is violence's most devastating consequence.
I think of streets incredibly full of cars, during "shock and awe's" day and night bombings: marketplaces still open, soccer games still being played. It's frightening how quickly incredible levels of violence become normalized within our lives. But it's also quite beautiful - the heartfelt attempt to continue community in the middle of war.
Iraq is not a war-zone. Baghdad is not a war-zone. Baghdad is a city of shops and restaurants, homes, hospitals, museums, schools, parks and playgrounds - Iraq is a place of human devotions. War is a thing that was brought to Iraq, imposed by amoral and irresponsible governments, in our names. In our names.
Iraqis are not our enemies. Iraqis are our allies against the destruction of our common lives, the devastation of our common world. They are our common allies against the violence resident in every human heart.
This has not been a short war. It has been storming since Aug. 6th, 1990, the day we first imposed sanctions on the Iraqi people. Hundreds of thousands are already dead. Millions are already devastated.
This will not be a short war. The Six-Day War in 1967 became a 36-year war. It brought Israel military supremacy over the West Bank and Gaza, and ruined both nations, both peoples. It rages on today.
Saddam Hussein devastated Iraq. But Saddam is gone now. America devastated Iraq as well - and now we remain.
The peace movement must not constrain itself to what happens in Iraq. We must advocate for the absolute right of Iraqis to create and inculcate their own destiny, as they define it for themselves, without interference, intimidation, or control. But we must do more than talk. We must take Iraq with us, as an example, as a call. We must work as hard as the war makers do.
If there is any hope at all, then we ourselves must overcome the institutions within our own society which further violence. We must overcome our own militarism, and the materialism that drives it. We must stop paying taxes, we must risk arrest, we must shut down a government in Washington D.C. that is illegitimate and absolutely out-of-control.
And we must overcome our anger at the mass killers of the world, the Saddam Husseins and George Bushes, even as we overcome their tyrannies. That anger is playing itself out today in the streets of Iraq - further wrecking lives already crushed by violence.
Please God, we must learn how to heal ourselves of all our delusions.
Where now, America? As the jubilations over the downfall of one tyrant are replaced by bitterness toward another, as thousands of modern-day carpetbaggers - good- and ill-willed foreigners alike - descend on Iraq to impose their versions of reality, as the corporatization of Iraq maintains the impoverishment of sanctions, as U.S. occupation increasingly becomes governed by fear and resentment -- where now? Where now? Where now?
Ramzi Kysia is an Arab-American peace activist and writer. Ramzi was recently in Iraq with Voices in the Wilderness' (www.vitw.org) Iraq Peace Team (www.iraqpeaceteam.org). He is now in Amman, Jordan with expelled members of the IPT. The Iraq Peace Team can be reached at email@example.com