Sophia's Peace Work

Monday, September 19, 2005

Sorry for the long delay in posting but when I got back to Jordan, I had to hit the ground running to catch up with everything I'd left undone for a month. I just gave a presentation on the environmental work of my organization in the Mesopotamian Marshlands at a conference on Environmental Health in Iraq that is being held here in Amman. (Seemed to go ok, a friend came up and said, "you were the best presentation!" ... always a nice thing to hear). Maybe when I have time I'll post the presentation. I also have a bunch of Iraqi Environmental NGO's here who are staying on a few days longer to attend a workshop I am organizing for them. My biggest worry is making sure that the money balances out in the end ... it's a UN contract, so I'm a little nervous about it.

Anyway, I'll close with a very interesting reflection from my friends at CPT in Iraq.

In Iraq Without A Gun
By William Van Wagenen, Christian Peacemaker Team - September 14th, 2005

This last week we had several meetings in Najaf and Karbala. Both are holy cities for Shiites and have shrines dedicated to the Imam Ali and to the Imam Hussein, who was assassinated in Karbala in the seventh century. Because of these shrines, both Najaf and Karbala are flooded with religious pilgrims each year.

A year ago last summer, Moqtada Al-Sadr's private militia, the Mehdi Army, battled U.S. forces during an uprising in Najaf, Sadr City, and Basra. Cindy Sheehan's son Casey was killed by Mehdi Army fighters during this period in Sadr City. Much of the fighting in Najaf took place in a huge graveyard that is almost as big as the
city itself. The Shrine of the Imam Ali is at the end of the graveyard and many Mehdi Army fighters ended up seeking refuge in the shrine. There is now an area of the graveyard where 250 Mehdi Army fighters who were killed in those battles are buried.

We took some time to visit the site of their graves. Many of the tombstones are adorned with Iraqi flags and pictures of the dead, who were mostly young men, probably in their twenties. While we were there, some of the young men who were around noticed we were foreigners and asked who we were and what we were doing. They began telling us how they had all fought against the Americans in those
battles last year as well. One guy finally asked where I was from. I told him I was from America. I was a bit nervous about how he would respond, but he immediately said, "Welcome!" and had a huge smile on his face. After we chatted for awhile I took a few pictures with him and the other young men who were hanging around.

By telling this I'm not trying endorse the Mehdi Army, or say that it is good for Iraqis to fight U.S. soldiers. But it was interesting to note that even though these men had fought and killed American soldiers, and had had friends killed by American soldiers, they were still friendly and welcoming to me, an American. That act of kindness illustrated to me the difference between entering other
countries as an occupier, bringing guns, tanks, and hummers, and entering as an unarmed guest. If we Americans show Muslims respect and are peaceful to them, they will show us respect and will be peaceful to us. Though such a concept seems at times obvious, it is something we Americans seem to have difficulty understanding.

Friday, September 02, 2005


I've been on the road for the past month with no time to post. I left Jordan on August 6th for Montreal, Canada and the INTECOL conference ... a big shindig on ecology. I traveled with twelve Iraqi researchers and professors from various Universities in central and southern Iraq. All of them with expertise in different aspects of the Mesopotamian marshlands (fish, phytoplankton, macrophytes, zooplankton, birds, etc). After the conference we went on a study tour of different Marshes in Canada and ended up at a University where the knives came out.

You see the Iraqis were offered funding to conduct research in the marshes. Everything was fine on the surface but there as an intense undercurrent among the Iraqis as they appeared to jockey for position to get the best research grants. Essentially they were being offered more money than they has seen in years to do their work ... it was only natural that there was a bit of a feeding frenzy. It was for the most part going on in Arabic ... so their hosts did not see the full effect of it.

Once I left the Iraqis behind, I traveled to the U.S. to spend time with friends and family ... and get some significant work done. I have some heavy duty meetings and trainings when I get back to Amman ... It's not as fun as I would have wished to be back home. I spend much of my time trying to find a good internet connection! Not much of a vacation! But one more week and I'll be back in the saddle.