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There Goes the Neighborhood

This afternoon I went to see Karima and her children. They recently weathered near catastrophe following an eviction notice from the hovel they’d lived in since I first met them in 1996. With help from friends, they’ve managed to rent a new apartment, not far from where they had lived, and even to furnish it with a set of couches. Last week, Karima invited neighboring women to her home and I felt glad, meeting each of them, to know that she and the family were fitting into new surroundings. Karima was away, when I arrived today. The eleven year old twins, Duha and Hibbe, told me that tonight or tomorrow Mr. Bush would hit Iraq. Then they launched into a cascade of eager analysis as to why Mr. Bush would want to bomb them. He is greedy, he wants our oil, he wants to kill Iraqi children. Later I realized that their teachers had recited this list for them, but they seemed fully ready to appropriate the explanation. The twins, as animated as they are gorgeous, seem to have only one gear, that of utter charm. But later, after Karima arrived, I noticed them gazing intently at the adults, their carefree spirits subdued. Karima began to cry as she told us that all but two of her new neighbors had packed up provisions and left the city. Karima says she has no one upon whom to rely. Her best option, once bombing begins, is to grab blankets, water and some food and move the family to the first floor of a building under construction, near the river. “Near the river?” I asked Mohammed, her second oldest son. “Is that wise?” I worry that they’ll be harmed or killed by bombs aimed at likely targets on the other side of the river. “Yes,” said Mohammed somberly. “Better than here.”

Karima’s eldest son, Ali, has been on a brief vacation from military service, but must return to Mosul where he is stationed. Mohammed says he wants to join some kind of military group, even though he’s too young to be conscripted.

None of it makes any sense. Forty six percent of Iraqi people are under sixteen years of age. The average age of the US troops is 21. People around the world long for a time when old men won’t be able to decide how young soldiers and innocent children will die. But still the immoral minority making decisions in the US can defy the UN and pursue a go it alone policy.

The best hope for Karima and her family lies in the initiative of people far away who assemble peaceably for redress of a terrible and catastrophic grievance, protesting a slaughter that will pull all of us into violence that begets violence.

Persistent Generosity

Here, amid a dearth of justice, human kindness is overflowing. Martin Edwards, who recently joined our team, quickly recognized that our emergency preparations hadn’t included procuring equipment to dig ourselves or others out of rubble. Setting out on a shopping expediton, Martin reached a sidestreet lined with hardware stores. The shopkeepers were shutting down and had already moved many of their wares into storage areas, lest looting break out if war begins. Martin tried to explain what he was looking for, then gave them a copy of our document that describes why we are here. Within minutes, several merchants dispatched runners to fetch items they thought Martin would need. After loading him up with crow bars, pliers, a shovel, plastic safety construction helmets, and buckets, they insisted “No, Mister, no need to pay money.” He couldn’t convince them to accept a single dinar for their help.

Dialogue Declines

I felt a bit guilty for not setting my alarm to wake up and hear President Bush’s speech, but I knew that Neville Watson, a barrister and Uniting Church minister from Perth, Australia, would tune in. Neville awakens to begin daily meditation at 3:30 a.m. every morning. Last night, he received 12 phone calls from Australian news agencies, eager to know what he thought about the President’s speech. Neville nearly always chooses his words carefully, and he has a distinguished but completely engaging way of expressing himself. But his response to the President’s speech was summed up in one word. After listening to a few minutes of predictable clich?s, he merely groaned, “Ah, shaddup.”

A jovial hotel worker who heard a summary of the speech had a similarly laconic response. ‘Mr. Bush, shit,’ he muttered.

KATHY KELLY is co-coordinator of Voices in the Wilderness and the Iraq Peace Team, a group of international peaceworkers pledging to remain in Iraq through a US bombing and invasion, in order to be a voice for the Iraqi people in the West. The Iraq Peace Team can be reached at info@vitw.org