Sophia's Peace Work

Monday, May 03, 2004

Every time I think I’ve gotten over some crisis with my students the Americans go off and do something stupid again … like torture Iraqi prisoners.

I moved into the women’s dorm room at the University of Baghdad’s Jadriya campus about the same time that the pictures were released showing Americans torturing Iraqis at Abu Ghraib prison. For the first night, I crept around the empty hall (I’m the only one living on the first floor of the building) hoping that no one would notice me, but I knew that every girl in the complex of dorm buildings was bursting at the seams with curiosity (and, in my imagination, animosity) about me. I skipped out early the next day but I knew I would have to face them eventually. The second night of my stay came a sharp knock at my window. With a sigh (I’ll have to face the music sometime, I thought), I pulled the blinds aside and opened the window on a crowd of at least 30 girls.

I knew they were excited to see me. For over a decade or more, Iraqis were too afraid to talk to foreigners for fear of getting into serious trouble with their government. But now, here was one living in their midst. As one girl would tell me later, “Iraqis are very, very curious people.”

That’s all well and good, but with the revelation that Americans have been torturing Iraqis in Saddam’s most notorious prison of torture, I wondered if they might also want take out their anger and frustration on me. I needn’t have worried. Once that they were assured that I wasn’t an American spy or soldier, I was quickly taken into their hearts, compared in beauty to Julia Roberts and Kate Winslet (a gross overstatement if there ever was one) and offered any form of assistance to make my stay pleasant.

The girls asked me the usual questions, “Was I married and did I have any children? Where did I live? How old was I?” And they asked me some not so usual questions, “Did I hate Saddam?” “What did I think about the behavior of the American soldiers?”
“How could the Americans torture Iraqis like that?”

“I hate the American soldiers,” said one of the girls vehemently and then seconds later she tried to assure me that she didn’t blame me and hoped that I didn’t take her comments personally. I asked the students if they thought the Americans should leave Iraq as soon as possible. Before, when I have heard Iraqis criticize the Americans, they usually hesitate over this question and say “No, the Americans should stay.” Tonight, there is no hesitation. “Yes, the Americans should go.”

One young girl held up a small picture of Saddam Hussain and said, “I love Saddam.”

So it seems we’ve made Iraq a free country and now they can choose whether they want to love Saddam or not. I don’t bother to say, “But Saddam tortured people.” Coming from an American these days, that doesn’t mean very much.

I teach at the University on Wednesday. I’m supposed to cover Past Tense verbs, but there is already talk of fighting in Najaf. We haven't even gotten past Abu Ghraib yet and now my students and I will have to deal with death and destruction on the holiest city of the Shia.

A few additional pictures:

A burning military tanker on the way to Fallujah

Sophia at the Fallujah Refugee camp

A Fallujah Family at the camp


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