Sophia's Peace Work

Monday, December 26, 2005

Butt Cold in Jordan: A little personal Christmas news

I'm at my desk on the day after Christmas, all bundled up with the Soba (propane heater) near me for warmth (but it is low on fuel and not putting out much heat). I know it must be colder back at home ... but atleast there the buildings are built for such cold ... in the winter these stone buildings here in Amman are like dank, teeth-chattering caves.

My arabic teacher just told me that the weather is much better in Aqaba and that there is a travel agency that sells special trips there from Amman for only 10 JD (14 USD). Sign me up!!!

I had a good arabic class today with my teacher ... she is very sweet and an excellant teacher but I don't know how long I can afford to take lessons at 12 JD an hour ($17 USD ... that's alot on a not-for-profit Iraqi NGO salary)! But she is methodical, explains things logically and is very, very patient. I remember when my Iraqi friends have tried to teach me sometimes they get impatient with me (one of my old housemates used to spend alot of time yelling at me ... I told him if he was going to yell at me, he should atleast do it in Arabic!). But I still need to study and try to speak more.

The other day I was taking a cab home and I forgot the words for telling the driver to stop ... my brain just froze up or something ... I made alot of sputtering noises trying to remember what to say and the driver finally figured out what I wanted. Argh, Arabic is sooooo hard for me some times.

Christmas has been pretty quiet around here ... but I am getting alot of Christmas greetings from my Iraqi friends and I can always find some cheesy Christmas music should I want it (but why on earth would I???) at the big hotels in Amman. An good friend from my home in the Northwest sent me a package of fine chocolates ... he mailed it on Nov 22nd and it arrived just in time for Christmas ... the chocolates look like they have been to Hell and back ... at some point they must have been in some warm place (Hell?) because it looks like they partially melted and then resolidified ... but thank the Lord, they still taste great! I think my mom might be is sending me some Christmas Stollen (a German fruit bread) ... I hope by the time it arrives it isn't covered with mold!

Well that's it for the Christmas news from Beit Anna. I hope everyone is happy and safe and warmer than I am! And let's all hope and pray for the same plus a speedy release for our Christian Peacemaker Team friends held captive in Iraq (as well as the new Jordanian guy and anyone else who has been kidnapped there).

Peace to all!

Saturday, December 24, 2005

No news on CPT is starting to sound like bad news ...

We had thought that maybe after the elections, the CPTers might be released but there is no word as yet. It could be that there are negotiations going on for their release and as such, CPT would not be saying anything about that. They are likely to take some time, if that is the case, because CPT has a long-stated policy that they will not pay ransoms (it's all part of this stopping the cycle of violence thangy ... you know, if you pay the ransom, you are just encouraging people to kidnap someone else down the line).

As far as election results in Iraq go ... well, there were some glitches here in Jordan but nothing like in Iraq. One of my former students in Iraq wrote to tell me about the demonstration held by Sunnis, some Shia and the secular Shiite parties in the Yarmouk district of baghdad right outside the Iraqi Islamic Party Headquarters (one of the parties that wanted more Sunni involvement).

Note: I made some slight corrections to his English!

"It was a very big one about thousands of people gathered to contest against the false results of the elections and contest against the integrity of IECI (the Independent Electoral Commission of Iraq) who standing by 555 (United Iraqi Alliance, the winning religious shia party) side.

The demonstration [was] attended by Adnan Al-Dulaimi, chief of Iraqi people conference; Tariq Al-Hashimi, secretary-general of Iraqi Islamic Party, and Dr. Alaa Maki, spokesman of the Islamic Party. They run a speech and Dr. Alaa read a final statement issued by the Iraqi Consensus Front (I think he means List 618, the Iraqi Accordance Front of which the IIP is part) which contested about the false results and they asked for investigation by UN in areas which whitnessed big violations and to stop the terror directed by the government."

I don't know, but I doubt if the UN will do anything but shake its head and frown a bit about all this. They don't really have much power to do more. I've no doubt that cheating occurred but I have alot of friends who did vote for list 555. They tell me there are some good people in this party, and perhaps they are right and all this doom and gloom everyone is forecasting for Iraq is not accurate.

Anyway regardless of the cheating that took place, I think that the religious shia party still would have won. As my journalist friend pointed out from a recent poll, most Iraqis just want a strong dictator again (though you would think they had gotten THAT out of their system by now ... but then again, its all they've ever known) and after a strong dictator, the next thing they want is a religous dictator. So what do you expect?

So much for bringing democracy to Iraq "the easy way."

Friday, December 16, 2005

Observing the Iraqi Elections from Jordan

As an election observer, I was at three polling centers, one in a well-to-do part of town (Swefieh), one at a police training academy outside of the city where there were 3000 new Iraqi police trainees voting ... but I spent the most time at the Jabel Al Hussain center which is closed to the downtown area and also to where I live. My impression was that the Iraqis who came to this station were of, perhaps, more modest means.

Today I just finished with observing the counting. After almost a two hour delay in which, out of boredom, the election workers started decorating their stations with the ribbon that they had been provided with to keep observers back from the counting table, the counting finally started. It seemed to go well, as did the voting of the previous days ... atleast in my stations. There was one altercation with an observer from a political party who was asked to leave the station because he was being too loud on his cell phone, afterwhich there was alot of pushing and shoving and raising of voices. Otherwise people were pretty much behaving themselves but you could see that emotions were running high.

Ayad Allawi's party (and the personal favorite of the Americans) won in my station, followed by 555 (the ruling religious party) and then 618 (Iraqi Accordance Front ... the Sunni group). In other stations 555 was ahead, but 731 (Allawi) was always pretty close behind and 618 always seemed to be third.

The real fireworks started at the end of the counting. I was, I think, the only independent observer at my polling station, the rest were party observers and at the end they made a big stink about the decision to reject or accept ballots.

In my station, if a voter checked a box but the end of their mark went into another box, the supervisor would reject the ballot. Upstairs in the other stations (there were 10 stations at my polling center), they were accepting these ballots. It apparently is up to the supervisor and their team and they just need to be consistant about it. But because of the difference on this issue between stations, the party observers went crazy about it. There certainly was alot of screaming and yelling, but in the end it was really only a handful of ballots.

One thing I didn't see (because I was inside at the time) but my journalist friend saw when he came to the station during the voting was that the Jordanians were detaining a bunch of young Iraqi men. When he tried to find out what they were doing, the Jordanians tried to shoo him away and just said that they were trying to vote twice. David thought it more likely that the Jordanians were using the voting as a way to screen Iraqis who had overstayed their visas in the country.

Hmmm, do you suppose that whoever is holding our friends, the CPTers, will release them once the elections are over? It's nerve-wracking that there has been no news.

Anyway, here are some photos from the Police training center and the Sweifieh Polling Center (my camera battery ran out on me after that).

"Yeah, we're voting!" ... well words to that effect. The woman is holding a signed that says "Iraq" in English & Arabic.

Sweifieh Polling Center

Police Training Center

Tuesday, December 13, 2005

Still No News ... but the election has started

I've signed up as an election observer for the Iraqi Election here in Jordan. Today was the first day. I have alot of time on my hands because the election is going slowly. Today I was at the secondary school for Girls in Swefieh and in the evening I went to the Police Training Institute where there are 3000 Iraqi Police trainees who will be voting. I have focused on just four of the 10 stations or rooms where they are voting in the girls school. They've cleared out the classrooms of desks and chairs and have left only a few.

One person at the door checks to see if they've voted before (purple fingers), the next checks the IDs. After that they register. Then they move to the table where they get the 4-page ballot, then they go behind the flimsy cardboard barrier set up to provide a bit of privacy and they vote. As you only select one of the 180 or so odd parties on the ballot, you end up throwing three pages of the ballot away and put the remaining page, carefully folded, in the ballot box. Once they ink your finger ... you are done ... Khallis, Hadha Kullshi!

The 10 stations (except for one on the ground floor) are on the 1st floor (what we call the 2nd floor in the U.S.)overlooking a courtyard where the media have set up. There are occasional political arguments down there and once a bit of singing and chanting for the behalf of the TV cameras there ... the translation was roughly ("Yeah, we are voting!" "Yeah, Iraq is great!" ... well something like that). It really brightened up a tedious day as election observing is more boring than playing golf!

My job is to just watch, take down notes and do an evaluation at the end. I can't make any official complaint, but I can talk to the Station Supervisor if I see something that doesn't look right.

So far I haven't seen any real problems. Everyone is very professional and serious. Security is tight though the turnout is small so far. Some of the poll workers say it is less than the January election ... but it is only the first of three days of voting and the final day should be the most active.

And boring as it is, atleast I get to work on my arabic a bit ... especially at the school where the walls are covered with simple pictures and signs in basic arabic. Then when I finish reading all the signs (honestly, I am watching the election process too, I swear!!!), I start doodling ... hmmm, maybe it's something about being back in a school.

Anyway, the Police Station was sort of interesting ... the poll workers are all Iraqis ... most of them educated people who have been living in Jordan for awhile. But the police trainees, according to one poll workers, were primarily from poor backgrounds. Anyway, everyone was very nice and very focused on doing a good job.

I hope the same is true in all of the other polling sites!

Saturday, December 10, 2005

No News ...

We still hold our breathes about friends with CPT ... there is no word though today is the deadline.

Today I went down to the Independent Electoral Commission of Iraq and signed up as in International Election Observer. It was pretty easy ... though I don't know if they will give me lots of instruction on what to expect. There is a big press conference tomorrow.

I've heard from two sources that electoral fraud will be occurring in a big way and that the ruling religious party (List 555) has placed people in the electoral commission to control the outcome. One person told me that 555 winning would be a "done deal" because of this fraud. I have an Iraqi friend here who was working for the electoral commission and she told me that she was fired when they found out that she was an Allawi supporter ... but then I found that she has been rehired by the Commission. So I'm not sure what to believe now.

I went into the Commission today with David Enders, he is a freelance journalist for Mother Jones and the Nation, who was there to get his press pass. We asked them about this issue and were told that anyone who was seen as being visibly partisan for one party (i.e. appearing on TV ads for that party, handing out party flyers) was let go from the Commission.

Anyway, this should be a learning experience for me. The Election runs from Dec 13th to the 15th. I would imagine that most of the work of an election observe is pretty boring ... watching hundreds of people come and go, dropping a piece of paper in a box ... and then the count, which is probably where the shinanigans would take place if there are any shinanigans.

Thursday, December 08, 2005

New Deadline

I had some CPTers over last night and the tension they were feeling left me with a physical foreboding. There has been new footage ... CPTers in jumpsuits and handcuffs. And new calls for their release ... and then late last night the revised deadline was issued. Saturday. It lightened the pressure a little ... but how long can this go on?

Tuesday, December 06, 2005

Hateful Man

I don't usually like to repeat such things ... but this is like roadkill you go back to look at ...

Limbaugh on kidnapping of peace activists in Iraq: “I’m telling you, folks, there’s a part of me that likes this”

On November 29, nationally syndicated radio host Rush Limbaugh read an Associated Press report about the apparent kidnapping of four Christian Peacemaker Teams (CPT) activists by an Iraqi insurgent group. Limbaugh announced that “part of me likes this.” He explained: “Well, here’s why I like it. I like any time a bunch of leftist feel-good hand-wringers are shown reality.”

After suggesting that the story “could all be BS … could all be a stunt,” Limbaugh said, “We’ll take it face value at first.” Addressing the kidnapped CPT activists, Limbaugh said, ”[Y]ou’ve met the bad guys, and you tried your technique on them, and now you’re blindfolded in a room with guns pointed at you and knives at your throat. I don’t like that.” He then added, “But any time a bunch of people that walk around with the head in the sand practicing a bunch of irresponsible, idiotic theory confront reality, I’m kind of happy about it, because I’m eager for people to see reality, change their minds, if necessary, and have things sized up.”

I pulled the above off a friend's blog (Brains by the pool)... it was on the comments section of a recent entry along with this one below ...

"I wish Rush Limbaugh would go to Iraq.”

Yes… I’d like to see a video of Rush going through abrupt oral narcotic withdrawal in the hands of Iraqi captors. I’m sure they’d love cleaning up his vomit.

Here! Here!

Monday, December 05, 2005

"I don't think we should leave. I think we should get kicked out!
- a quote by a relative who shall remain namesless in the U.S.

With all this "Should we stay or Should we go" talk happening in the U.S., I couldn't help but throw that in.

No news is good news they say. CPT has been doing many interviews in the local and international press. They have a person here in Jordan (a woman who was scheduled to join the team) who is doing press interviews. I've heard alot of different theories about who the kidnappers are ... not common criminals or they would have just asked for money, but Sunni Jihadists? Foreign Wahhabist. Even groups related to the Iraqi Police.

CPT has started to document cases of wrongful imprisonment and torture in Iraqi jails (people in Fallujah are now saying they would welcome being thrown into American prisons over Iraqi ones any day). Perhaps CPT was targetted by a group affiliated with the police or Ministry of Interior to encourage them to leave. The images on T.V., which are somewhat sophisticated (hey, they superimposed the symbol of the group over the images of the four CPTers!) could indicate that this is a media-savvy organizations. Such a group would use the trappings and imagery of jihadi fundamentalists to lay the blame elsewhere. Hmmmm, well ... it's one theory among many.

Saturday, December 03, 2005

The following reflection was written by Tom Fox the day before he was abducted.

Why are We Here?
By Tom Fox
December 3, 2005

The Christian Peacemaker Teams (CPT) Iraq team went through a discernment process, seeking to identify aspects of our work here in Iraq that are compelling enough to continue the project and comparing them with the costs (financial, psychological, physical) that are also aspects of the project. It was a healthy exercise, but it led me to a somewhat larger question: Why are we here?

If I understand the message of God, his response to that question is that we are to take part in the creation of the Peaceable Realm of God. Again, if I understand the message of God, how we take part in the creation of this realm is to love God with all our heart, our
mind and our strength and to love our neighbors and enemies as we love God and ourselves. In its essential form, different aspects of love bring about the creation of the realm.

I have read that the word in the Greek Bible that is translated as "love" in the word "agape". Again, I have read that this word is best expressed as a profound respect for all human beings simply for the fact that they are all God's children. I would state that idea in a somewhat different way, as "never thinking or doing anything that would dehumanize one of my fellow human beings."

As I survey the landscape here in Iraq, dehumanization seems to be the operative means of relating to each other. U.S. forces in their quest to hunt down and kill "terrorists" are as a result of this dehumanizing word, not only killing "terrorist", but also killing
innocent Iraqis: men, women and children in the various towns and villages.

It seems as if the first step down the road to violence is taken when I dehumanize a person. That violence might stay within my thoughts or find its way into the outer world and become expressed verbally, psychologically, structurally or physically. As soon as I
rob a fellow human being of his or her humanity by sticking a dehumanizing label on them, I begin the process that can have, as an end result, torture, injury and death.

"Why are we here?" We are here to root out all aspects of dehumanization that exists within us. We are here to stand with those being dehumanized by oppressors and stand firm against that dehumanization. We are here to stop people, including ourselves,
from dehumanizing any of God's children, no matter how much they dehumanize their own souls.

Thursday, December 01, 2005

AMS statement and Mufti Ikreme Sabri (Ramallah)

A group of influential Sunni clerics called Wednesday for the release of five Westerners taken hostage last week in a wave of kidnappings, saying they should be granted their freedom as a humanitarian gesture. The Association of Muslim Scholars, believed to have contacts with some Sunni insurgent groups, has helped mediate the release of other Western captives in Iraq. The Association of Muslim Scholars said the release of the Christian aid workers would recognize their ``good efforts in helping those in need.'' (The AP article also includes a long statement by AMS calling for the release of the German woman)

In Ramallah, in the West Bank, Mufti Ikrema Sabri, the Palestinians' top Muslim clergyman, also called for their release. ``These aid workers have stood beside (the) Palestinian people and it's our duty now to stand beside them ,'' he said. Palestinians in several towns said they had worked with the activists and asked Sabri to issue the appeal.,1280,-5447973,00.html (original report AP article release about 9pm Baghdad time)