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Mother's view: We need to set the record straight
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Three years have passed since Bush landed on an aircraft carrier and proclaimed "Mission accomplished." We are now entering into our fourth year of war in Iraq and here at home the war of words and platitudes that justify this war continues for our consumption. What role can someone like me, a mother currently staying home to care for a small infant, do to end this war?


The other day I had the opportunity to go to an event (sponsored by a multi-faith peace and justice group) that included a contingent of Iraqi women who are currently touring the U.S. presenting an alternative view on the war in Iraq from the one that dominates in the mainstream media. I wanted to hear an alternative view on this war— why not from an Iraqi woman?


This was one of my first "adult" events since the birth of my daughter, and as my childcare fell through at the last minute, I decided to bring her along. Taking my baby along to an event like this was a bit stressful, and although I am blessed with an easy-going child I situated myself in the back row of the audience, ready to slip into the lobby if she cried. When the contingent of Iraqi women entered the church where the event was held, I noticed one of them pushing a stroller with a small baby.


When it was time for the woman representing the group to speak, Faiza Al-Araji (who writes a blog called " HYPERLINK "http://afamilyinbaghdad.blogspot.com" \t "_new" A Family in Baghdad" ), my baby started to fuss and I dashed into the lobby, listening to Ms. Al-Araji through the speaker system. She began by speaking about how bewildering it is to be in the U.S. and realize that most Americans have dangerous misconceptions about the country they are supposedly "liberating." In addition, she stated that most Americans have their facts just plain wrong concerning Iraqi culture and Iraqi women. She described how Iraq has always been held-up as an example of having the most number of university-educated people, including women, in the entire Arab world. It is not the norm for women in Iraq to go out into public completely covered, and (just as it is in the West) it was very common to find women working in professions such as engineers, physicians, and lawyers before the Americans invaded. She herself is a civil engineer with a university degree. Here in the U.S. she has consistently encountered stereotypes of Iraqi people as being a very backwards people in need of "liberation."


At this point I heard a small cry, and to my left the Iraqi woman I had seen earlier with the baby entered the lobby. I felt compelled to go up to her and we had a whispered conversation discussing the vital details that women with small infants speak of when they congregate, no matter where they are in the world. Her daughter's name was Zohra; she was six pounds at birth. She asked me if my daughter was sleeping through the night and wanted to know if I had help at home to take care of her. Zohra was a beautiful baby with bright brown eyes, only two months-old.


At a certain point our attentions returned to the speaker and I listened as Ms. Al-Araji spoke about the nightmare that is the everyday reality for the people of Iraq. As the violence in Iraq escalates on a daily basis, more and more families become casualties or become permanently traumatized by this war. "What is it like to wake-up and try to live-out a normal life taking care of your family, your children?" she asks. "It is hell", she says. "Children are dying, the old are dying. Bombs are going off constantly. There are death squads that come into the neighborhoods at night and they will target anyone. No one is safe. Everyone is afraid and no one knows what to do, they cannot protect their families, their children." At this she pauses, and for a second my heart races and I feel the terror she is describing, I feel the animal fear she is talking about and I hold my baby tighter.


"Why don't the American people think of us as humans?" She asks. "Why don't they care what happens to us? Why don't they care what happens to us?" She repeats. "We want them to leave. We want them to get out of Iraq. We do not need their 'liberation,' we want them to go home! They do not care about us and drop bombs on our homes. Their soldiers hear that an insurgent may be in one of our houses, and the entire block is bombed. Our blood is spilled everywhere. I am very disgusted by what I've seen here in the U.S. Most people do not know what is going on in Iraq . Their country is at war and they do not care, they know nothing of Iraq." At this I look over at Zohra's mother and she questions me with her eyes as she holds my gaze. I feel myself freeze, and I feel ashamed. I know she is watching me and I read a look of sympathy on her face as she watches my discomfort. I think to myself "Oh my God, by some sheer stroke of fate, I am the American and she is the Iraqi, but it could be the other way around and this could be happening to me . . ."


After Faiza Al-Araji's speech, there are other speakers but I am barely able to listen. Her questions repeat in my head, and I find myself desperate to understand how we have let our society degrade into this. Aren't we the cowboys that ride in and save the day? Aren't we always there to help the less fortunate? We are the ones providing the "aid" to those who need it, aren't we? We're the good guys, right? For a moment my world is turned upside-down. And then I begin to register what is going on. This mythology that we are "the good guys," this is what we need to give-up. This is what we refuse to give-up. This is the part of our collective identity that we cling to and we are wrong. This is what our young men and women believe as they go off to war, and this is what allows them to commit these atrocities. We are all horribly, terribly wrong and we need to get over it.


The last thing that our fellow citizens of the world need is our "help," the kind of help we are dishing out in Iraq. We need to dispose of this myth and start dealing with the reality of our situation. Get the criminals out of office and start rebuilding the moral character of our nation. I find myself thinking about where this myth comes from, World War II and beyond, and how it is the source of our citizenry's participation in many unscrupulous interventions throughout the last century.


Recently I heard that our military budget for this year is now up to almost a trillion dollars. This figure is truly astounding, and it boggles the mind to consider how much of our precious resources both in manpower and raw materials this represents for us as a nation. What is even more astounding is that more than two-thirds of Americans do not support this war and cannot come-up with a good reason for why we are in it in the first place. To continue like this seems outrageous and absurd, but there does not seem to be an end in sight.


Since the military is the biggest spending item in our budget (far out-spending education or other important expenditures), it is also a reflection of our collective values. We are a nation where war is more important than anything else. It is our highest priority, where we sacrifice our money, energy, and even our young men and women. Doesn't it make sense for us as individuals to stop and question if this is what we really want, or do we let this machine continue?


On my way home with my daughter asleep in the car, I think about what I haven't done to end this war, and I think about working to end this war in a new and very personal way. I think that having a child allows you to connect with other women in a very deep way and this connection can be utilized to motivate people to work for peace. This inertia that women can create together has been seen many times in human history all the way back to ancient Greece and the "Trojan Women" to more recently in Argentina with the "Mothers of the Disappeared." I realize that in the last couple of months that I have been going to a mother's group that not once has the war in Iraq been brought up. I vow to myself that I will bring it up, and in addition to brainstorming to help each other with problems such as how to get our children to sleep through the night, we will discuss how to end this terrible war. We need to get together and try to address this problem with the amazing loving energy that manifests itself when women get together to help each other with their problems. We need to show the Iraqi women we care, about their children, about our children.


Barbara Villela is a free-lance photographer (and closet writer), who now resides in the San Francisco Bay Area.





© 2006 Commondreams.org.



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