Sophia's Peace Work

Friday, September 24, 2004

What a fine birthday that was …

Yesterday was my birthday (you’ll have to guess how old I am. I’m not telling) and my first opportunity to see directly how things have changed in Baghdad in the two months I’ve been away. I had a relatively full day of meetings and errands on my second day in town. I made my own birthday meal for the members of the Christian Peacemaker Team in Iraq with whom I’m staying for a few days and I studied a little bit of Arabic before going to bed.

Just before midnight, we heard gunfire and shouting. In the past this would normally have been a distant sound but on this night it was right on our street. A few isolated shots and then some sustained bursts. Some of it sounded like it was right outside our apartment building. I jumped out of bed … not sure if we were being targeted or not … and in the dark made my way to a window overlooking the street. People were rushing back and forth in front of the apartment building. Some carrying guns. A body was carried away and put into a van … unconscious or killed, I wasn’t sure. We still don’t know the full story.

There are guard outposts on either side of us … one is related to the Communist Party office on Abu Nuwas street around the corner from us. Much of the gunfire could have been straight up into the air to scare off what or whoever was causing trouble in the neighborhood. Later on there was some more distant gunfire and Matthew told me in the morning that a U.S. Humvee patrol drove down our street at one point in the night.

Having just related this story, I think I need to clarify a few things about exactly what I am doing in Iraq. I plan on being here for only a few weeks. My work is to focus primarily on assisting the Iraqi Environmental NGOs (Non-Governmental Organizations aka Non-profits) that I was working with before and try and identify others. One group in particular, the Iraqi National Association for Human Rights, has a strong environmental focus and I am working with them on a project to do environmental education on the Tigris River and water quality issues. In additional I hope to learn for myself, and report to others, what is currently going on in Iraq.

Because I have worked with Christian Peacemaker Team in Hebron and have always had a strong connection with them here in Iraq, I am abiding for the most part by their Statement of Conviction, which I’ve included below.

CPT Iraq Statement of Conviction

We, members of Christian Peacemaker Teams (CPT) in Iraq, are aware of the many concerned inquires from our families members, friends, and other CPT supporters, asking whether our team should pull out of Iraq for our own safety.

We are aware of the risks both Iraqis and internationals face at this time. However, we are convinced that these risks are not disproportionate to our purposes in remaining, nor greater than those faced on other CPT projects.

Iraqi friends and human rights workers welcome us as a nonviolent, independent presence. They ask us to tell their stories, since they cannot easily be heard, nor can more flee to a safer country. They need us to be the eyes and ears recording the abuses of the occupation, and a voice challenging these also, especially when other international monitoring bodies have pulled out.

As a peacemaking team we need to cross boundaries, help soldiers be humane, and invite them to refuse unjust orders. We need to help preserve what is human in all of us and so offer glimpses of hope in a dark time.

We reject kidnapping and hostage-taking wholesale. If any of us are taken hostage, absolutely no ransom will be paid. In such an event, CPT will attempt to communicate with the hostage-takers or their sponsors and work against the media’s inclination to vilify and demonize the offenders. We will try to understand the motives for these actions, and to articulate them, while maintaining a firm stance that such actions are wrong. If appropriate CPT will work with diplomatic officials from our representative governments to avoid a violent outcome.

We reject the use of violent force to save our lives should we be kidnapped, held hostage, or caught in the middle of a violent conflict situation. We also reject violence to punish anyone who harms us. We ask for equal justice in the arrest and trial of anyone, soldier or civilian, who commits an act of violence, and we ask that there be no retaliation on their relatives or property. We forgive those who consider us their enemy. Therefore, any penalty should be in the form of restraint and rehabilitation, rather than in the spirit of revenge.

We hope that in loving both friends and enemies and by intervening nonviolently to aid those who are systematically oppressed, we can contribute in some small way to transforming this volatile situation.


I recently wrote to a friend who is working in the Green Zone (the protected headquarters in the center of Baghdad for the Multi-National Forces in Iraq and the location of the new American Embassy in Iraq - amazingly located in the Iraqi Presidential Palace). I told him of the CPT Statement of Conviction and that I would want “no retribution, no ransom and no violence” to take place on my behalf, should I be killed, captured or kidnapped here in Iraq.

He wrote me back and I grant there is a lot of truth to what he wrote me, so I’m reprinting it here:

“I appreciate what you have written, but this looks like a last desperate gesture. But for what and for whom? I do not see how you could translate your act into a last political counter-statement, which would be broadcasted on Al Jazeera television. I do not like to see that you use yourself as an American martyr and let yourself get butchered in front of the cameras, while whispering something to the world, erroneously subtitled as curses to the Arabs for their wrong-doings. I tell you again: The situation is worse than a month ago and no one is safe and especially young U.S. women. They make a lot of money for the bounty hunters, who look for literally soft targets like you … Here in Baghdad, as there are few other good business opportunities, the hostage business is doing well and is very lucrative.”

I have thought a lot about his words over the course of the past week and especially last night. It doesn’t change my commitment to the Statement of Conviction. People may misunderstand it and may put whatever spin they want on the things we do and say. That is not my concern. I can’t control that. God forbid, I be put into a kidnapping situation, my last words will have nothing to do with political beliefs and grandstanding for martyrdom status. I’ll have more important things to think about – friends, family and loved ones.

And though I’m not particularly religious (despite my recent association with CPT), I’ll probably be praying my little heart out!

I made my political statement when I signing on to the Statement of Conviction … the rest is just abiding by the consequences of my decision. I personally do not want anyone to take any risks or suffer on my behalf (hence no violence and no retribution). I don’t want my kidnapping to contribute to the kidnapping of others (hence no ransom). It’s pretty simple.

Having said all that, it’s not like I’m going to go blithely about my business in the same way I did before. “Low Profile” will be my middle name. The hijab (headscarf) my best friend (even though I hate wearing it and I feel like I’m a kid playing dress up when I put it). No more taxis … only drivers that I know. Staying indoors as much as possible and only going to specific location inside Baghdad (no trips to Fallujah for me).


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