Sophia's Peace Work

Friday, June 27, 2008

Recently, we had some girl/boy trouble in our office and I was telling my father about it and he wrote:

You should mention the ancient Greek play by Aristophanes called "Lysistrata" in which the gals didn't like the war that boys were fond of fighting and withheld any sexual contact until they until they would cease going off to war. Of course, it was a comedy, and we all know that the Muslims have no humor. Come to think of it, I wonder if it would still work - send a letter to Ms. Bush with this sort of suggestion.

Leaving off my father's opinions concerning Muslims and their ability to take a joke (my Dad is a typical American when it comes to his opinions about Muslims despite the fact that he doesn't know any personally that I am aware of), I doubt this would be a useful example here for afterall, the problem is likely caused by the complete estrangement between young men and young women already. With so many sexual taboos and the facts that a) muslim ladies withhold sex until marriage and b) young muslim boys, atleast here in Iraq, are too poor to be able to propose marriage, you have a situation that isn't so conducive of peace. In fact you have a situation where they all behave like sex-starved idiots.

Fortunately most of them are just silly kids with good hearts, but occasionally, as this girl in question seems to have found, you run across one that has a mean streak. And the girl responds foolishly only to make matters worse. Unfortunately, the girls in these situations, either subtly or overtly, always seem to be the ones that lose out the most in the end. The supervisors have taken matters into their hands and made decisions about our young lady without consulting her (they defend these actions and I do not doubt that they think they have the best intentions, but to me you don't make such decisions about a women here without talking to her first otherwise your action comes off looking paternalistic). And already the blame game is started. Another women from our office came up to her and told her, "Look, he's a nice boy, afterall. Everyone likes him and maybe you are wrong about him and you shouldn't make trouble for him." It being clearly implied that, 'you're just a woman, you can't win, so you should just put up and shut up' .... Good Lord! Men do not need women to act as their apologists!

I don't necessarily know what the best course of action is and I would hesitate to say I could judge accurately (my boss seems to think he knows the full story but I know things about it as well that I highly doubt he could possibly be aware of) ... it doesn't really matter who did what to whom and who should take more of the blame; both made mistakes and in the end, the managers cannot sit in judgement of the fault. No physical harm was done by one towards the other and the damage was purely psychological and emotional. But it affected the work and so management must take an action. I just think it is critical that both people in the equation be treated in the exact same way. If one is to be given a leave, both should be given a leave. If one is to be reprimanded both should be reprimanded. This way there can be no comparison made between them by the rest of the staff and the people in question can not say, "I was badly punished, while the other was just slapped on the wrist."


By the way "Lysistrata" loosely translated means "she who disbands armies"

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Honor Killings

Last night I had the opportunity to meet an American film team that is doing a documentary film on so-called "Honor Killings" - the killing of women to protect the families honor. I was able to see some of their recent footage and it was powerful stuff.

They followed a local Kurdish women's rights group around as they followed the story of one such killing. A body of a young woman was found outside of Sulaimani killed by two gunshot, one at close range. The young woman is lying on her back with one arm thrown above her head. She is dressed in a modern way with jeans and heeled shoes. No one comes to claim her body and it take some time to identify her. These are the hallmarks of a typical honor killing.

As the story unfolds it turns out that the woman was an Iranian Kurdish refugee living in a town further north. Her family is poor and her father sold her into marriage to an Iraqi Kurd living with his parents near Sulaimani. She had three children from the marriage. Approximately six months before her husband died and there was trouble with the family. She was kicked out of the house of her husband's parents (though they kept her three children).

The head of the women's right group is followed as she interviews the police, the doctors, the city officials and the woman's in-laws, and even one of the children of the dead woman.

It is gripping to watch the mother-in-law try and defend what her family had done. They claim the dead woman was a bad and immoral person but they say they have no idea who would have killed her. But the worst is when they speak to the son. He's only seven or eight by the look of him and he's already been taught to hate his mother and be glad that she is dead. He openly says that he thinks his uncle killed her.

It used to be there Iraqi law supported the killing of women to restore honor but the law was changed to make it a crime. Though this is a step in the right direction, the practice continues on and enforcement of the law is weak. One city official stated, "It's a tribal society. Things are changing but you can't change things over night." Yet in the government is complicite in the issue. Often, I was told, when there are problems between two families, the authorities step in and attempt to solve it by suggesting that the families simply "trade women."

The filmmakers told me that they started the project a year ago (this was when the footage they showed me was taken) and since they have come back, they found that the authorities who insisted they were working on the problem had done nothing. Yes things don't change over night but they won't change any faster if we tolerate these problems and simply say, "these people are tribal and simply ignorant."

Monday, June 16, 2008

A recent email from a close friend who is a peace worker based out of New York City

About two months ago I had the opportunity to speak with a 6th grade class at a school in Brooklyn. Never having spoken with a group so young, I was very mindful of how impressionable I was myself at that age. How to bring the reality of Iraqi children to them? I asked myself. I passed pictures of children their age around, Iraqi children living in Iraq as well as Iraqi children living in Syria and Jordan. I carry an ID piece of a cluster bomb around with me in my change purse which reads "MADE IN THE USA." As I was speaking it occurred to me to take it out to show the children. This particular cluster bomb exploded in the air on the afternoon of March 31, 2003 during the "Shock and Awe" bombing campaign. It hit 7 homes and killed three boys aged 18, 13 and 7 years of age. I visited the bombing site the next day and, as I walked through the homes of the modest residential area holding ugly twisted metal parts in my hand and speaking with some of the wounded, I had to listen to the keening and wailing of grieving family members. The sound of their mourning stayed with me for months and months.

When I returned home from the school I heard on the radio news that in a neighborhood of Baghdad where I had lived under the occupation, two suicide bombs had gone off killing 68 persons and wounding over 100. Equally tragic, but unknown to many, is the fact that more Iraqis are killed on a daily basis by U.S. air strikes than by suicide bombs and mortar attacks. A close Iraqi woman friend here in the city—but whose family is in Baghdad--recently asked me with tear filled eyes "Why are they bombing us?" Her 13 year old daughter followed up on her mother's question, "And is it true they are using planes [drones] that have no pilots!"

A couple of days after my visit to the Brooklyn school class the 6th grade teacher, a friend of ours, brought me letters written by her students. Here are a couple of excerpts from those letters which moved me deeply.

"Since the war has been going on for years, I have kind of forgotten about it. It just didn't seem that important anymore until you came. I had no idea how bad it is and I wish I can do something about it. It seems so unfair."

"Most interesting fact that you told us was the bomb that let out little pieces that said 'Made in the U.S.A.' I find that very interesting because it shows that we too can be the bad people or maybe in Iraqis' eyes a terrorist, not only the people we are against."

"I think the war should end. We are fighting for a silly reason. We don't need to kill people and their friends and family."

"I was sad when you said 3 boys died of a bomb that was made in the United States….Another scary picture was where the girl was walking from school and there was blood all over the steps."

"Something that I found pretty overwhelming is when you were passing around the piece of the bomb. It was hard for me to comprehend that this had cut short 3 boys lives, that it had caused great sadness to 3 families…3 innocent families. Another thing that's hard for me to think about is what growing up there must be like. Especially for a child that was born at or during the war. This would mean that violence would be all they have ever known, they've never known peace. My younger sister is 5 years old. The war has been going on for 5 years. This makes me realize how different her life would be if we lived there."

This morning I read a recent interview of Fr. Daniel Berrigan by Chris Hedges. (The Nation, May 21,2008) In the article Dan says "This is the worst time of my long life. I have never had such meager expectations of the system. I find those expectations verified in the paucity and shallowness every day I live." Dan goes on to say, Hedges relates, that all empires rise and fall. It is the religious and moral values of compassion, simplicity and justice that endure and alone demand fealty. "…the tragedy across the globe is that we are pulling down so many others. We are not falling gracefully. Many, many people are paying with their lives for this. The fall of the towers [on 9/11] was symbolic as well as actual. We are bringing ourselves down by a willful blindness that is astonishing."

Dan argues, says Hedges, that those who seek a just society, who seek to defy war and violence, who decry the assault of globalization and degradation of the environment, who care about the plight of the poor, should stop worrying about the practical, short-term effects of their resistance.

"The good," Dan says, "is to be done because it is good, not because it goes somewhere. I believe if it is done in that spirit it will go somewhere, but I don't know where. I don't think the Bible grants us to know where goodness goes, what direction, what force. I have never been seriously interested in the outcome. I was interested in trying to do it humanly and carefully and nonviolently and let it go." I take comfort from these words, and it is in this spirit that I write to you, dear friends, who have supported me throughout the last dark years of war.

Thursday, June 12, 2008

Fed up with Iraqi Men

Our girls are having problems again with the boys. We have two women from Baghdad working with us here (away from their families) and the boys seem to not understand how to relate to them in this non-traditional situation. They are either being pursued or vilified. They themselves probably don't respond to this treatment in a mature way. Instead of being strong in the face of it and demanding their rights, they act the victim.

I say, "Kick ass, girl!" but they respond by gossiping and seeking advice that they don't seem to know how to act upon. The boys for their part do things like try to control them, tell them what to do, get upset if they talk to any outsiders, make inappropriate advances and/or comments, say bad things about them behind their backs (which in this office always gets back to them), ignore them or give them the cold treatment, etc. etc. etc.

After the last situation, I had one supervisor tell me that the girls would have to go back to Baghdad (as if they had done something bad) and then when I arrived to hear the girls story I found that the boys bear atleast equal responsibility for what happened. I raised the issue with another supervisor of doing some training for the staff to try and educate them about what is and is not appropriate behavior. To my surprise this got a lukewarm response.

I feel that the supervisors need to send a clear message and be very specific, "If you make comments about the personal appearance of any staff member, this can be considered harrassment and will receive a warning. If it continues it can lead to suspension and/or dismissal."

His response was to say, I don't want to pull the sword just yet. He told me a story that had just happened recently in Basrah where a young girl was strangled by her father while the rest of her family looked on. All because she was seen talking to a foreign soldier. Everyone praised the "father" for taking this action ... but the mother, unable to live with the man who had so coldly murdered his own daughter left him and went to stay with relatives and friends. This woman was then hunted down and killed herself by her husband. My supervisor, an Iraqi by birth, said, "You see how serious this can get. What we are dealing with in this trash society?"

He asked me to let him handle the situation and I will but I'm somewhat disturbed by what he said. If things are really as bad as that even with our own staff (which I doubt), then I think pulling the sword is a more appropriate response ... anything less does not convince them of the gravity of what they are doing and a lack of strong action risks the supervisors become a part of the problem ... because they allow this behavior to simmer and fester on.

For myself, I'm somewhat sick of the kind of relationships a woman (atleast a western woman) can have with Iraqi men. The lack of maturity is one obvious problem. The self-centered behavior is another. The double standard of what is allowable for them and for you. How they will protest that they are different from other men but, of course they are just the same. I know it is not across the board but it's been a common theme to one degree or another of pretty much every relationship I've had with the men around here ... arab or kurd.