Sep 29, 2011

The Color of Loss in Iraq

The Color of Loss in Iraq

 Beth's blog:

During a recent visit to NYC with friends, we walked past a startling visual display along the fence line of Marble  Collegiate Church.  I had a pretty good idea the ribbons signified something about desires for peace amidst our conflict involvement around the globe.  There was a sign that explained:  It's a visual prayer for peace commemorating those who have died in our war against the people of Iraq.  (NOTE:  The peace sentiment is theirs; the characterization of our war is mine).

Having spent time in Iraq with Christian Peacemaker Teams (CPT) engaged in efforts towards peace, I was immediately saddened by the visual.

You see, the yellow ribbons represent, by name, all of the American service personnel who have died in Iraq. Each individual has a ribbon with their name, rank and age affixed to their ribbon.  The blue ribbons, on the other hand, represent "prayers for the families and friends of the tens of thousands of Iraqis who have lost their lives, and for all who have been wounded . . ."  Marble Church Prayers for Peace Fence

Here's the problem:  the Church has grasped the importance of individual loss in commemorating the American dead one by one, name by name.  But the Iraqi dead, number not in the tens of thousands, as their web site says, but in the hundreds of thousands, if not millions.  Iraqi Dead

The visual impact of the ribbons conveys the message that American dead outnumber Iraqi dead by a margin of something like 1,000 to one, when in fact, the truth is the absolute reverse, particularly if the wounded and displaced are included in the calculus.

Why should this matter?  Isn't it important that the faithful of Marble Church are praying for peace?  Of course it is.  Aren't the ribbons a good thing, in that they remind passers by to do the same thing?  I'm not so sure, especially when the visual message is that our suffering, as Americans, is so much bigger, and thus so much more important, than the suffering of the Iraqi people, whose land was invaded and remains occupied, whose lives were upended in ways we cannot begin to imagine unless we've seen with our own eyes, and who, to this day, struggle to find ways for we Americans to understand that their land is not ours, that their suffering is not ours, that their way to peace is for them, and not for us, to determine.

If we would convert our prayers for peace from self-interest to mutual interest or even better, other interest, we must begin by telling the story as it actually is:  for all we have suffered; they have suffered thousands of times more.  With such an understanding, maybe we in these United States can move from generic prayers for peace in our public spaces to prayers of repentance and guidance that will make the pathway to our part of the peace solutions and grant space for others to make their own pathways as we make our own.

When you see the ribbons at the Marble Church, remember that the yellow ones are lost in a sea of black, for black is the color of loss in Iraq.

Sep 25, 2011

Violence attracts violence.

by Stefan Warner

I recently attended a funeral for a Kurdish family killed by the Turkish military while it was conducting air strikes in Northern Iraq. It launched a rocket that hit the family's truck, killing seven people, including a six-month-old girl.

I do not understand Kurdish, which gave me time to contemplate as I sat there. Why did this family die? Why will this six-month-old baby not grow old, be loved, and love others, like I will? Why did the Turkish military send warplanes into Iraq that killed this family?

The Turkish military would say that the PKK (an armed Kurdish group fighting for an autonomous Kurdish region in Turkey) claimed responsibility for an ambush that left fourteen Turkish soldiers dead. So some might say that if only the PKK would stop the violence against the Turkish state, then Turkey would not retaliate and innocent people wouldn't die. Possibly. But before condemning an oppressed group for using violent tactics, we need to understand the conditions that lead up to this behavior.

Starting in the 1930s, the Turkish government started a policy of assimilation and "turkification." Thousands of Kurdish people died as a result, usually during forced resettlement. Well into the 1980s, Human Rights Watch documented numerous examples of the Turkish military forcibly evacuating villages and destroying homes to prevent the return their Kurdish inhabitants. Earlier this year, Turkey's electoral board barred prominent Kurdish candidates from running in elections, and to this day the Turkish government refuses to recognize the Kurdish people as a distinct minority.

I do not support the violence done by PKK and I mourn the deaths of Turkish military personnel. But what can be expected when a nation-state oppresses an ethnic group for eighty years? I think Archbishop Hélder Câmara sums it up in his tract, The Spiral of Violence: “ Violence attracts Violence. Let us repeat fearlessly and ceaselessly: injustices bring revolt, either from the oppressed or from the young, determined to fight for a more human world."

Archbishop Câmara explains that there are three levels of violence. Number one is some injustice such as slavery. Number two is revolt. Number three is repression. In U.S. history, one can look at the Nat Turner uprising as an example. Nat Turner was born an enslaved man of African descent in Virginia and eventually led a slave rebellion, which, when put down, was followed by even more brutal treatment of enslaved people in the south. The violence of Nat Turner and his followers was not senseless. It was the result of intense violence and oppression done to him and his people by white slave masters, who I believe bear the ultimate blame for the violence of the revolt.

I'm still a pacifist. I am still a follower of Jesus and I hope his example of non-violence can lead us all out of oppression and domination. However, I hope we who are proponents of love and non-violence will fight the temptation to condemn the oppressed, and look past the layers of violence, to see where the original violence started.