Sophia's Peace Work

Monday, April 19, 2004

Wiping Fallujah off the Map

The scene is a small garden and pool surrounded by high walls and the incessant whine of a generator. The night is clear and even a little cool.

“They should just wipe Fallujah off the map,” the man said.

I am with several friends including N, my translator A and a woman named Donna Mulhearn who recently traveled into Fallujah to provide aid during the some of the worst fighting between the Coalition Forces and the Mujahadin. Donna was an eye-witness to the methods that the Coalition Forces are using to “wipe Fallujah off the map.”

“They are awful people!” the man continues, “I’m sorry, but I have no sympathy for them. They would take us back to the 13th Century. They would not allow us to sit in this garden together. They would force the women to wear veils.”

He pointed to my translator who is wearing pants and a t-shirt, her head uncovered, and said, “These fundamentalists would never allow you to dress this way or talk with men. They have no respect for the rights of women. These people are animals. Look what they did to those four Americans! Those people that they killed and burned and then mutilated and hung from a bridge! They would kill you. They would kill me. And these are the same people who were in charge under Saddam. Baathists who tortured and murdered people. No, I have no sympathy for Fallujahans. We should get rid of them forever.”

In the face of this stunning tirade, we were silent for a moment. What can you say to such statements?

Earlier I had pulled out my laptop to show everyone pictures from Donna’s trip to Fallujah. Pictures of the victims: the men, women and children with bloody faces being brought into the clinic in Fallujah (because the hospitals had been bombed or were impossible to get to because of U.S. snipers). This man had been uninterested in looking at them. He didn’t care to see what it actually means to wipe someone off the map. He didn’t want to see how messy it is. And of course he’ll never have to dirty his hands to do the job.

There is a certain amount of truth to the things he says. Fallujah is a small city, surrounded by farmlands. It is populated my mostly Sunni Arabs and there are probably former Baathist that are part of the resistance. Many of the people fighting are also religiously conservative, even fundamentalists. If these elements gain control in Iraq, life will be made very difficult for many people, especially for women and for anyone who is considered more moderate. All of this is true.

“But,” I asked him, “Do you really think that the methods that the U.S. Military are using will solve anything? Do you think a collective punishment for the death of four American security guards, which leads to the death of over 600 people and the wounding of over 1000 more is going to stop the rise of fundamentalism in Iraq?”

N pointed out that if the Americans really wanted to show people that democracy is better, then they should have allowed the Iraqi justice system to play out in the case of the four Americans who died. To find the culprits and put them on trial. “But they didn’t,” he said, “They responded militarily with retribution.”

“These people are defending their city from attack,” Donna said, “That is why they are fighting.”

As with all such discussions, I come up with my best arguments after the fact. As I lie in bed thinking about it all I understand that this man is completely caught up in the cycle of Violence. He sees violence and he wants to respond with violence. But to talk of wiping Fallujah off the map is foolish and the only harvest that the Americans will reap there is continued violence.”

Last night, the man scoffed, “What would you have the Americans do? Bomb them with flowers? Eau de Cologne?”

At the time, we laughed but now all I think is that it would be a vast improvement over current U.S. policy.


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