Sophia's Peace Work

Thursday, May 06, 2004

Hangin' at the Girls' Dorm

I had a series of visitations last night by the Girls from the dorm. First it was a four person delegation from the Iraqi Student Union. They wanted to know who I was, what I was doing living in the dorms and what aid or assistance I could provide. I explained that I was with a group called Voices in the Wilderness but that I was doing independent work on a variety of issues related to radiation problems and environmental issues, squatter camps and, of course, teaching English at Baghdad University. They seems satisfied but there was this sticking point of what direct help I can provide. As westerners we get this all the time. I spoke to a British friend earlier who had come to Iraq to participate in a circus troupe called Circus 2 Iraq, which was touring schools, shelters, and refugee camps throughout Iraq until April.

"At the squatter camp there was a woman who needed some kind of operation," she told me, "And she kept asking for my help and saying that her life was in my hands." She shook her head and cried out, "I'm a clown, for God's sake! What on earth can I do?"

I asked the representative from the Student Union (through a student from the School for Computer Science who acted as the translator) who she was looking for help for. It was a child from Fallujah with a serious congenital heart problem, which the doctors here say that they can't treat. Since I've gone through the process of seeking medical attention for Ahmed, the young man with MS, I outlined the process, as I understood it, for seeking special medical attention. I told them that in Ahmed's case, he was able to get treatment inside the country (though I'm still trying to determine the nature and quality of his treatment). But I just don't know whether it would be easy to follow the process through to the conclusion of getting treatment outside the country.

During this whole discussions, some girls left and other girls came. Most just wanted to have a look at me. Some participated in the discussion which ranged from the topic of aid for this young child, to the recent fighting in Fallujah, to the role of Western Human Rights workers in Iraq (building trust being the key issue). Sometime after 10 p.m. the girls left and I had a few minutes reprieve before the next contingent arrived at my door. This time it was two Engineering students, Ibtihal from Ramadi (a Sunni who spoke no English) and Areeg from Diwaniyah near Najaf (a Shia who spoke English quite well). They were best friends and after the first pleasantries were past, Areeg lit into a tirade about how the Jews were controlling the U.S. and would soon try and take over Iraq and more of the Arab world.

I listened respectfully and quietly voiced a different opinion. I knew that I would not get very far with Areeg as she continued to insist the the Jews were the masterminds behind pretty much every bad thing that had happened to Iraq. I asked her if she had ever met a Jew before and she said, "Oh, they used to be in Iraq before they were forced out."

After Areeg and Ibtihal left, I was reminded of a previous conversation I had had with one of the students about Native Americans. A friend had given me a Native American Medicine pouch with a crystal in it and I had shown it to her.

She wrinkled her nose in disgust and said, "Oh, but they are savages." I was a little taken aback by this as our understanding of Native Americans has advanced a bit further than this. After a few questions, I realized that her information about Native Americans comes from U.S. Cowboy and Indian movies. This woman had never met a Native American in her life but she still presumed to pass judgment on them based on something as flimsy as the racism of antiquated films that don't even originate out of her own culture.

Areeg believes that the Jews have pulled the wool over America's eyes and pull all the strings, but in essence she is expressing the same kind of view that Americans do when they think of Arab's as being all about Jihad and Terrorism.

When cultures exist in such isolation from one another this type of foolishness is bound to be the end result. It seems to me that this is often the crux of all our problems. We sit behind our national borders (these are simply lines drawn in the sand) and we don't want to grant any kind of humanity to the people on the other side.


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