FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

Who Calls Anyone Civilized?

Naomi Shihab Nye is a poet and professor of Creative Writing at Texas State.  Her father was Palestinian and a refugee journalist. In one of her poems after 9/11, entitled “Blood,” she writes:

I call my father, we talk around the news.
It is too much for him,
neither of his two languages can reach it.
I drive into the country to find sheep, cows,
to plead with the air:
Who calls anyone civilized?
Where can the crying heart graze?
What does a true Arab do now?

I myself tried to write something for the 15 year “commemoration” of the US war against Iraq, but wasn’t able to complete it.  It was too much for me. A couple of months ago I was invited to go to the Northwest to speak about “Fifteen Years After the War.”  It was too much for me emotionally, and somewhat shamefully I had to decline.

As I write, I have the phone next to me.  I am texting a young Iraqi boy who is alone in Turkey.  About ten months ago he was kidnapped in Iraq.   Through a chain of events, he ended up in Syria.  About two months ago his father was contacted and was able to get his son smuggled across the border into Turkey.  Last month his son turned 18 years of age and was eligible to register as a refugee with UNHCR.  But he will not get an interview for many months to come.

Traumatized, missing family and without friends, he tells his family he wants to come home.  But it is much too dangerous for him to return.  Trying to draw him out of his boredom, I ask him to tell me how his day was.  What did he eat?  Did he get outside? What is the weather like?  I ask him what words he has learned in Turkish.  I tell him what I ate, about the soup I cooked or the rainy weather. By the length of time between our messages, I suspect that he is looking up some of the English words.  Sometimes we speak by phone and get to see each other.

For some reason I find our simple conversation today so tender.  His family in Baghdad is grateful that we are in contact.  They have another son who was also kidnapped.  They do not know whether he is alive or not.  The boys were separated after the kidnapping.  The grief of this family seems to have no end.  And this is just one family.

I was in Iraq for the month of October last year.  One of the hardest things for me on that trip was the feeling I heard expressed that the country has become invisible.  A doctor friend in Baghdad, his hurt palpable, told me he felt as though Iraq has been completely forgotten by the global community.

A friend from Baghdad sent me photos a couple of weeks ago, photos that he took from a bus window of the destruction in Mosel, and it was the side of the city that had suffered only “minimally.”

Building in Mosul decimated by bombing, March 2018. Photo: Abu Mohammed

Shop remains open in area of Mosul decimated by bombing, March, 2018. Photo: Abu Mohammed.

That same week Hunar Ahmed, writing for Kurdish media network “Rudaw News,” reported (“Bodies of Mosul Civilians Contaminate Water and Threaten Epidemic,” 3/17/18): “Heaps of bodies are being uncovered amongst the rubble of Mosul and in its river, threatening contamination and a public health emergency.  Human remains are almost indistinguishable from the debris of ruined buildings.”

More than 2 million Iraqis have been displaced by the war against the Islamic State.  According to a February, 2018 Reuters report about interviews with refugee aid groups, “Iraqi authorities are forcing thousands of displaced people to return to their home areas too soon despite the risks….In two of the five camps the aid groups collectively oversee, 84 percent of displaced Iraqis said they felt safer in the camp than in their area of origin.  More than half said their houses were damaged or totally destroyed and only 1 percent said they knew for sure their houses were available for return.”

War rages on in Iraq.  Naomi Shihab Nye’s words should help bring us back to ourselves, fifteen years after the onset of the 2003 US-led war against Iraq.  “Who alls anyone civilized?”

More articles by:

Cathy Breen is a member of the New York Catholic Worker community and a co-coordinator of Voices for Creative Nonviolence.

April 24, 2018
Carl Boggs
Russia and the War Party
William A. Cohn
Carnage Unleashed: the Pentagon and the AUMF
Nathan Kalman-Lamb
The Racist Culture of Canadian Hockey
María Julia Bertomeu
On Angers, Disgusts and Nauseas
Nick Pemberton
How To Buy A Seat In Congress 101
Ron Jacobs
Resisting the Military-Now More Than Ever
Paul Bentley
A Velvet Revolution Turns Bloody? Ten Dead in Toronto
Sonali Kolhatkar
The Left, Syria and Fake News
Manuel E. Yepe
The Confirmation of Democracy in Cuba
Peter Montgomery
Christian Nationalism: Good for Politicians, Bad for America and the World
Ted Rall
Bad Drones
Jill Richardson
The Latest Attack on Food Stamps
Andrew Stewart
What Kind of Unionism is This?
Ellen Brown
Fox in the Hen House: Why Interest Rates Are Rising
April 23, 2018
Patrick Cockburn
In Middle East Wars It Pays to be Skeptical
Thomas Knapp
Just When You Thought “Russiagate” Couldn’t Get Any Sillier …
Gregory Barrett
The Moral Mask
Robert Hunziker
Chemical Madness!
David Swanson
Senator Tim Kaine’s Brief Run-In With the Law
Dave Lindorff
Starbucks Has a Racism Problem
Uri Avnery
The Great Day
Nyla Ali Khan
Girls Reduced to Being Repositories of Communal and Religious Identities in Kashmir
Ted Rall
Stop Letting Trump Distract You From Your Wants and Needs
Steve Klinger
The Cautionary Tale of Donald J. Trump
Kevin Zeese - Margaret Flowers
Conflict Over the Future of the Planet
Cesar Chelala
Gideon Levy: A Voice of Sanity from Israel
Weekend Edition
April 20, 2018
Friday - Sunday
Paul Street
Ruling Class Operatives Say the Darndest Things: On Devils Known and Not
Conn Hallinan
The Great Game Comes to Syria
Jeffrey St. Clair
Roaming Charges: Mother of War
Andrew Levine
“How Come?” Questions
Doug Noble
A Tale of Two Atrocities: Douma and Gaza
Kenneth Surin
The Blight of Ukania
Howard Lisnoff
How James Comey Became the Strange New Hero of the Liberals
William Blum
Anti-Empire Report: Unseen Persons
Lawrence Davidson
Missiles Over Damascus
Patrick Cockburn
The Plight of the Yazidi of Afrin
Pete Dolack
Fooled Again? Trump Trade Policy Elevates Corporate Power
Stan Cox
For Climate Mobilization, Look to 1960s Vietnam Before Turning to 1940s America
William Hawes
Global Weirding
Dan Glazebrook
World War is Still in the Cards
Nick Pemberton
In Defense of Cardi B: Beyond Bourgeois PC Culture
Ishmael Reed
Hollywood’s Last Days?
Peter Certo
There Was Nothing Humanitarian About Our Strikes on Syria
Dean Baker
China’s “Currency Devaluation Game”
Ann Garrison
Why Don’t We All Vote to Commit International Crimes?
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail