FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

The Most Precious Gift

by Kathy Kelly

It is ironic that my most treasured Christmas moments have come in a largely Muslim country.

It is December 1998 and after an intense and illegal bombing campaign at the very beginning of Ramadan, we have spent a week with children in Baghdad learning to sing “We Shall Overcome” in Arabic. The sweet voices of those children sustain me to this day.

It is December 1999, and in a particularly run-down area of Basra, a little boy pulls a milk crate by a frayed rope. Inside the crate, bundled in a muddied, ragged blanket, an obviously malnourished baby gazes calmly at me, undisturbed by the flies that surround him. This is a nativity under siege. That child’s innocent, suffering gaze, drives me to this day.

Each Sunday in the Christian season of Advent, church goers anticipate arrival of the innocent one, born into impossible poverty, who will bring forth justice for the poor, liberty for captives, sight for the blind. “O come, O come, Emmanuel” is sung in churches worldwide. I hear the tune now and feel haunted.

A modern-day Herod, deadly, vengeful and reckless, pursues the children of Iraq. Hundreds of thousands of innocent people have already been slaughtered in 11 long years of the most devastating siege in modern history. Instead of confronting the failures of this policy, the US seems to be gearing up to compound them with the greatest failure of all: war.

In hospitals, schools, mosques, churches and homes, people here ask us why the American people want to punish them even more. For 11 years they’ve been told that sanctions were a more “peaceful” alternative to open warfare. Now they’re being told that war is the solution to the suffering caused by sanctions. It would seem that the message from the US to the Iraqi people is in a twisted way at least consistent; and that is to please remember that they’re being killed with the very best of intentions.

But the truth is that war is not peace. We must not allow ourselves to be governed by a cruel and merciless world order that relies on siege and warfare to accomplish goals that violate human rights and international law. Around the world, people of conscience must begin to non-violently resist and challenge the movement towards intensified warfare with actions commensurate to the crimes being committed and threatened.

The barriers to peace may seem overwhelming, yet hope springs forth from the most surprising of places. Hope lives in the forgiveness shown by Umm Hassan, a young Iraqi mother I met last year. Moments after her child died for lack of an antibiotic, she murmured: “I pray this will never happen to a mother in your country.” Hope lives in Amber Amudson, a young American mother whose husband, Craig, was killed in the attack on the Pentagon on Sept. 11. Amber helped lead a walk for peace from Washington DC to New York City earlier this month, and she wrote to President Bush: “If you choose to respond to this incomprehensible brutality by perpetuating violence against other innocent human beings, you may not do so in the name of justice for my husband…. find the courage to respond to this incomprehensible tragedy by breaking the cycle of violence.”

It is Christmas 2001, and we are in Basra again, visiting the families we came to love when we lived with them two summers ago. Then, we tried to understand the effect of sanctions by learning what it was like to live without electricity for 14 hours per day in 49-degree heat, to share meals made from meagre rations, and to be cut off from communication with the rest of the world. Today, we’re cherishing the hope of peace and pledging to defy the call to war.

Four days ago, we visited Mar Yusuf Church in Mosul, which was hit by a US bomb in 1991, killing four guests at the church and severely burning one of the priests. The damage has long since been repaired, and inside stands the most beautiful of Christmas trees.

Riad Hamza dresses up as Father Christmas every year to pass presents out to the children. He made the tree for them as well – fashioning the ornaments from cigarette and matchboxes wrapped in brightly coloured paper and ribbons. He made the tree branches from shredded rice bags dyed a deep green. “Here in Iraq,” Riad told me, “we make something from nothing – especially the peace.” And isn’t that the most precious gift of all?

Kathy Kelly is director of Voices in the Wilderness, the first US grassroots organisation to bring activists into Iraq to witness the effect of sanctions, to violate the sanctions by bringing medicine and toys into Iraq, and to educate the US public upon their return.

More articles by:

KATHY KELLY co-coordinates Voices for Creative Nonviolence and has worked closely with the Afghan Youth Peace Volunteers. She is the author of Other Lands Have Dreams published by CounterPunch / AK Press. She can be reached at: Kathy@vcnv.org 

CounterPunch Magazine

minimag-edit

bernie-the-sandernistas-cover-344x550

zen economics

Weekend Edition
July 21, 2017
Friday - Sunday
Jeffrey St. Clair
Red State, Blue State; Green State, Deep State
Paul Street
“Inclusive Capitalism,” Nancy Pelosi, and the Dying Planet
Kevin Zeese
Green Party Growing Pains; Our Own Crisis of Democracy
Anthony DiMaggio
Higher Education Fallacies: What’s Behind Rising Conservative Distrust of Learning?
Andrew Levine
Why Republicans Won’t Dump Trump Anytime Soon
Michael Colby
Ben & Jerry’s Has No Clothes
Bruce Dixon
White Liberal Guilt, Black Opportunism and the Green Party
Edward Hunt
Killing Civilians in Iraq and Syria
Matthew Kovac
Is the Flint Water Crisis a Crime Against Humanity?
Mark Harris
The Revolutionary Imagination: Rosa for Our Times
David Rosen
America’s Five Sex Panics
Robert Fisk
Saudi Arabia: the Kingdom Whose Name We Dare Not Speak At All
Jack Heyman
Class War on the Waterfront: Longshore Workers Under Attack
Kim C. Domenico
Marginalize This:  Turning the Tables on Neoliberal Triumphalism
Brian Cloughley
Trying to Negotiate With the United States
John Laforge
Activists Challenge US Nukes in Germany; Occupy Bunker Deep Inside Nuclear Weapons Base
Jonathan Latham
The Biotech Industry is Taking Over the Regulation of GMOs From the Inside
Russell Mokhiber
DC Disciplinary Counsel Hamilton Fox Won’t Let Whistleblower Lawyer Lynne Bernabei Go
Ramzy Baroud
The Story Behind the Jerusalem Attack: How Trump and Netanyahu Pushed Palestinians to A Corner
Farzana Versey
The Murder of Muslims
Kathy Kelly
At Every Door
David W. Pear
Venezuela Under Siege by U.S. Empire
Maria Paez Victor
Venezuelan Opposition Now Opposes the People
Uri Avnery
Soros’ Sorrows
Joseph Natoli
The Mythos Meme of Choice
Clark T. Scott
High Confidence and Low Methods
Missy Comley Beattie
Glioblastoma As Metaphor
Ann Garrison
Organizing Pennsylvania’s 197: Cheri Honkala on Frontline Communities
Ted Rall
What Happened When I Represented Myself as My Own Lawyer
Colin Todhunter
Codex Alimentarius and Monsanto’s Toxic Relations
Graham Peebles
Europe’s Shameful Refugee Policy
Louis Proyect
Reversals of Imperial Fortune: From the Comanche to Vietnam
Stephen Cooper
Gov. Kasich: “Amazing Grace” Starts With You! 
Jeffrey Wilson
Demolish! The Story of One Detroit Resident’s Home
REZA FIYOUZAT
Billionaire In Panic Over Dems’ Self-Destruct
David Penner
The Barbarism of Privatized Health Care
Yves Engler
Canada in Zambia
Ludwig Watzal
What Israel is Really All About
Randy Shields
Matters of National Insecurity
Vacy Vlanza
The Ministry of Utmost Happiness: Through Eyes of an Activist for Palestine
Cesar Chelala
Dr. Schweitzer’s Lost Message
Masturah Alatas
Becoming Italian
Martin Billheimer
Lessons Paid in Full
Charles R. Larson
Review: James Q. Whitman’s “Hitler’s American Model”
David Yearsley
The Brilliance of Velasquez
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail