Sophia's Peace Work

Thursday, December 25, 2003

Occasionally I'll bump into folks ... usually strangers, but friends and acquaintances also ... who tell me, "I think you are incredibly brave and I really want to thank you for what you are doing!" I usually mumble some words of thanks in reply ... nothing very memorable. I mean, you don't get this every day. What can you say to that?

The other day though ... I swear, it just popped out of my mouth ... I replied, "Oh, thanks, no problem. Any time!"

I think I was on auto-pilot or something.

On yet another note:
We had one of the lowest tides of winter here last night ... a minus 3.3 around 10 pm. So, armed with flashlights and boots, we went out to see what we could find. No Octopi lurking but lots of nudibranchs (Ringed Dorids and a Red Nudi!), stars, clams, anemones, crabs, snails and, of course, a whole slew of worms! It was sweet.

Tuesday, December 23, 2003

L, my travel partner to Iraq sent me a letter written to her by a relative who was less than supportive of her decision to return to Iraq. Buried in the letter was a statement that struck me,

"Since the left in this country seem to be hoping for a bad economy and high casualties in the Iraq war just so Bush looks bad, it seems they comprise a cadre that is hoping for downfall or destruction."

I sometimes think there is an odd kind of truth to this. Is it true that the people who opposed the war feel a certain amount of vindication when they hear how badly things are going in Iraq? It is what I and many people on the left predicted would happen and, sadly, there is a certain amount of satisfaction in knowing you were right ... but then you have to stop and remember that real people are being hurt, U.S. soldiers and Iraqis alike, and feeling smug about being right doesn't help them at all.

On another note:
Just had my car window smashed out last night … some kid, I guess … nothing stolen … there was nothing to steal! It's just another expense I'm going to have to deal with, which gets harder and harder to do when you can see your last paycheck coming at you like a freight train!

And today, I just purchased my ticket to Jordan for the beginning of February! Ack!

Friday, December 19, 2003

Last night our local peace community sponsored a showing of Uncovered: The Whole Truth about the Iraq War which is being sponsored by Move On. Whether you supported the war or not, you have to be amazed at the number of government insiders they came up with for this film. What is also interesting is to see the evolution in the rhetoric that was used to justify the war both before and after ... the film reminded me about the "smoking gun turning into a mushroom cloud" comment, which I had almost forgotten (at the time I rolled my eyes at the remark ... to hear it now, it's downright embarrassing).

Now it appears that the only nuclear threat in Iraq is to Iraqis themselves. The Tuwaitha Nuclear Research Facility southeast of Baghdad, where uranium was secured by the UN Inspectors, was looted after the war and radioactivity in the surrounding community has reached as high as 10,000 times above background levels (UNEP Report, 20 Oct 2003).

On another note:
The same day as the film, I learned that there were three separate individuals that would be doing benefits to raise money for my upcoming trip to Iraq: Massage for Peace at the local Coop, a Dance benefit, and a benefit featuring local musicians and a demo by my most beloved Tai Chi Chaun Instructor. I continue to be amazed by the level of support this community has offered me over the past year.

Juan Cole , in noting the bombing of the headquarters of the paramilitary Badr Brigade in Baghdad, the militia of the Shiite Supreme Council for Islamic Revolution in Iraq, had this to say this morning …

The American-appointed Interim Governing Council recently announced that a special "counter-terrorism" unit will be created that will draw for personnel on private militias like the Badr Corps.

Since the militias are overwhelmingly Shiite and Kurd, and the resistance is largely Sunni Arab, this was an announcement that the former were going to be used to hunt down the resisters among the latter.

I can see how enticing this might be to the U.S. Military folk in Iraq … let the different factions fight each other and maybe will lose fewer of 'our boys.' But in the long run, does this solve the problem of creating a functioning, democratic Iraq all chummy with the U.S.? That is what they went in there to do, right (now that we've conveniently forgotten all this silly weapons of mass destruction stuff)? Doesn't this sound more like the perfect recipe to further destabilize the country and create conditions for civil war?

Tuesday, December 16, 2003

I woke up to NPR on my radio Sunday Morning with the news of Hussein's capture. 'Now this should be an interesting turn of events,' I thought, 'I wonder what he'll have to say for himself.' I heard that someone told Hussein that the people of Iraq where celebrating his capture and he dismissed them as 'the mob' and that someone else asked him about the mass graves and he said they were just 'thieves.' I suppose to Hussein that is what they were. You'd have to believe such things about your enemies … it's the only way that allows you to commit such crimes and still think well of yourself. This is the central lesson that I think so many people overlook.

Still I’m curious to hear what he’ll say. Here are some other perspectives on the capture of Hussein.

Salam writes:
I want a fully functioning Saddam who will sit on a chair in front of a TV camera for 10 hours everyday and tells us what exactly happened the last 30 years. I do not care about the fair trial thing Amnesty Int. is worried about and I don't really care much about the fact that the Iraqi judges might not be fully qualified, we all know he should rot in hell. But what I do care about is that he gets a public trial because I want to hear all the untold stories.

Juan Cole Informed Comment writes:
The capture of Saddam is probably more important for US politics than for the Iraqis. The Baath Party and the Saddam cult of personality were spent forces by the end of the Gulf War, which was why Saddam was forced to rule by sheer terror. You don't have to put thousands of people in mass graves if you have a large popular mandate. So when Saddam fell, and when the Republican Guard tanks corps disintegrated last April, it was over with. Saddam could never have come back. His actual capture is just a footnote in Iraq. Of course, there are still Baathists, and some of the violence has come from them (as I have repeatedly suggested), but they are a small minority that knows how to rig bombs, not a mass movement.

In Letter from Gotham we have:
I think that most of the exultation is from people who want to do to Saddam what he did to so many others. They are entitled, but include me out. If we did this the right way, Saddam would have been removed with a scalpel, and not with a bludgeon. So the end is good, but not the means. And the entire context is so infected with lies and manipulation; I'm not dancing a jig.

And finally this from Robert Fisk of the Independent
I was amid the slums of Sadr City - once Saddam City - when a cascade of rifle fire swept the streets. I was sitting on the concrete floor of a Shia cleric who had been run down and killed by an American tank, amid Iraqis with no love for the Americans, and the gunfire grew louder. A boy walked from the room and ran back with news that Iraqi radio was announcing the capture of Saddam. And faces that had been dark with mourning - that had not smiled for a week - beamed with pleasure.

The gunfire grew louder, until clusters of bullets swarmed into the air amid grenade bursts. In the main street, cars crashed into each other in the chaos.
But this was momentary joy, not jubilation. There were no massive crowds on the boulevards of Baghdad, no street parties, no expressions of joy from the ordinary people of the capital city.

For Saddam has bequeathed to his country and to its would-be "liberators" something uniquely terrible: continued war. And there was one conclusion upon which every Iraqi I spoke to yesterday agreed.

This bedraggled, pathetic man with his matted, dirty hair, living in a hole in the ground with three guns and cash as his cave-companions - this man was not leading the Iraqi insurgency against the Americans. Indeed, more and more Iraqis were saying before Saddam's capture that the one reason they would not join the resistance to US occupation was the fear that - if the Americans withdrew - Saddam would return to power. Now that fear has been taken away. So the nightmare is over - and the nightmare is about to begin. For both the Iraqis and for us.

Sunday, December 14, 2003

I've added a "Comments" section to my posts. Feel free to use and abuse!

Friday, December 12, 2003

Famous Reactions

What would your friends and loved ones say to you upon hearing the news that you are going to drop everything and go into a conflict zone to do peace work? Here are a few famous reactions …

This one from M:
"I should tell you about the letter I got from my sister before I went to Iraq last year, re: how I wasn't on the (and I'm not kidding you) 'saved list' of people in our family, and wasn't it time I got right with Jesus and .....blah blah fucking blah."

This from D:
"I told my 83 year old father over the phone last fall that I was going to Iraq in January. His immediate response was, 'The Hell you are!' There was a short, pregnant silence; historically he was an authoritarian figure, so I wasn't sure where this was going to go. Then he finished his statement with, 'Good for you!' He was and is profoundly disgusted with the dishonesty and brutality of the US invasion of Iraq and is proud his children have enough courage to stand up for human decency."

From my own experience my parents appear to be deeply cynical that my going would make any difference. I recall an email message from my Dad that went roughly, "The best you can hope for is to become completely unemployable in the U.S. and have to seek asylum in Canada." … to which I replied, "Well, at least I’ll have health care!"

By far the most sincere comes from my friend J who spent several months in Iraq both before and after the war:
"The best one I can think of, from personal experience, came from my 7-year-old. He said, 'Dad, I know you're going there to try to help the people, but I just don't want, while you're there helping them, for you to get killed.' Then he burst into tears."

Tuesday, December 09, 2003

I'm sure I don't look quite my age, but at the ISM training this past weekend, I said to myself, 'Oh Lordy, I must be at least 15 years older than most of these folks.' Once again that little voice of responsibility, let's call him Bob, was jabbering away at my ear.

Bob: "Look at these kids … these are the kind of folks who should be going to Israel to volunteer with the ISM. You should have a lucrative 9 to 5 and be saving for your retirement!"

Sophia: (grinding teeth sound)

Bob: "These kids have their whole lives ahead of them to make up for this mistake … they've got parents and student loans to bail them out. What do you have?"

Sophia: "Listen here Bob, I've got a calling!"

Bob: "Calling, schmalling! That won't help you when you come back penniless, as well as mentally & physically shit-canned!"

Sophia: "Always looking on the bright side aren’t you, Bob?"

Bob: "Hey I’m the voice of reason, responsibility and practicality. It’s my job."

Thursday, December 04, 2003


Is there any value in an American going over to Iraq or to Israel/Palestine to do "peace work"? Right now I am struggling with the question. After all, I am trying to fundraise and gain support for my trip. Questions of effectiveness and purpose always come up when a single individual throws their life into something that is so much larger and deeper than themselves.

I don't know if anyone can really answer these questions. Is there value in an American soldier going over to Iraq to do "peace work"? I guess it depends on your definition of "peace work" and how they go about doing it. Can peace come at the end of a gun? I am not asking this question because I presume to know the answer. I know that there might be some who would say flatly, 'No!' And there are others who would defend the use of force to overcome injustice and oppression. My feelings are not at all clear about it.

I do know that history is riddled with the use of violence to oppose violence. Open any history book and the blood will, metaphorically perhaps, pour out. We've been down this road again, and again, and again. One could make a case that almost every war that was ever fought had its source somewhere in the war that came before it.

From friends and family, I often get the response, "Why should you go? As an American, you’ll be a target. Why should you take the risk?"

Oddly enough, I am confused by this. Shouldn't someone go? Isn’t there value in going? And if there is some value in it, why should I not go? I am single and un-attached. I don't have much to lose and think of what I have to gain! I don't delude myself with notions that I can solve problems that continue to stump the best and brightest. But if there is any value in "peace work," … in being an advocate for peace, in whatever small way I can do that … then there has to be value in my choice to go. Not only value, but honor and, I hope deep humility.

So I wish people would say to me, "You’re going to do peace work in Iraq? In Israel/Palestine? That is fantastic! Good luck to you. Do good work!" ... oh and, "How can I help?"