“All I know is that you have participated directly or indirectly in the crime.”
Why is Half of Iraq in Absolute Poverty? By: Layla Anwar
This is a line from an article written by an Iraqi woman named Layla Anwar. The crime she is referring to is, of course, the U.S. occupation of Iraq. She talks about the crimes of apathy and arrogance on the part of Westerners who want to ‘save’ the ‘those people’. This is arrogance is a part of all of our foreign policy – especially in international aid to the supposed ‘third world’, or the global south including the Americas, Africa, and Southern Asia. She talks about the lack of direct action on the part U.S. citizens to stop war before it began. Of course, she talks about the ramifications of our ‘democracy building’ in Iraq – of how many are starving, are displace, are scarred for life. I found myself torn between my occupation advancing peace ideologies and my education in international development. My life is focused on all the things she condemns and yet I feel my work is important.
Then I remember what drove me to be a part of the peace movement in the first place. I was in Kosovo (Kosova for those in the know) and I worked with a local group, the Kosova Womens Network, deeply entrenched in the feminist movement during the Serbian occupation and today. In my work there I came into contact with the Women in Black from Serbia. They told me their stories of standing in front the Belgrade government buildings asking “how can we talk about democracy in our country while we squash it abroad.” These stories affected me in so many ways. Regardless of the imminent danger they were in; regardless of the stigma and harassment they faced – they stood in solidarity against violence meted out in their names. That is why I joined the peace movement.
And yet, in my inbox today was a recently released study on the ‘progress’ we’ve made in Iraq. According to this study by the University of Michigan, Iraqis are becoming more nationalistic and secular in their government. Is this a good thing? Is this a bad thing? Is it my place to say one way or another? Certainly it is not my place to make judgments on what is good or bad for Iraq.
It is only my place to emphatically say it is our job as U.S. citizens to expose the crimes of our government. It is my duty to be uncomfortable in acknowledging that the lifestyle I lead is directly related to this war. The same is true for you who are reading this. Every time we turn on our AC, drive the children to work, eat fresh citrus from Mexico, and drink water out of bottles we contribute to the deaths of millions across the world through our modern imperialism.
We live in a system, a globalized system, created hundreds of years ago when the first colonialists boarded their ships to explore and dominate for gold, God, and glory. We perpetuate this system with ‘development programs’, ‘international aid’, and ‘democracy building’. War is not the only way we destroy the culture and infrastructure of other states. The only way to uproot this system is to challenge our idea of what is ‘progress’, ‘democracy’, ‘wealth’, ‘education’, and ‘power’. I challenge you, as peacemongers, to do so in your daily lives. I promise you to take that challenge with you. I bid you peace to do the good work I know you want to do.