This Present Moment
Living in Baghdad on the Eve of War
by Ramzi Kysia
"The present moment is the only moment available to us, and it is the
door to all moments." - Thich Nhat Hanh
I am in Baghdad with the Iraq Peace Team, and we will stay here
throughout any war. We will share the risks of the millions who live
here, and do our best to be a voice for them to the world. Our risks
are uncertain. Thousands here will surely die. But most Iraqis will
survive, and so too, I hope, will I.
A banner the government put up a few blocks from where we stay reads
simply, "Baghdad: Where the World Comes for Peace."
It's meant as propaganda, I'm sure, flattering Saddam Hussein. But
without knowing it, it states a simple truth: that the world must be
present for peace. We must be present in Baghdad as in America - in
Kashmir or Chechnya, the Great Lakes, Palestine and Colombia - where
there is war, and rumors of war, we must be present to build peace.
We are present.
My country may arrest me as a traitor, or kill me during saturation
bombing, or shoot me during an invasion. The Iraqis may arrest me as a
spy, or cause or use my death for propaganda. Civil unrest and mob
violence may claim me. I may be maimed. I may be killed.
I am nervous. I am scared. I am hopeful. I am joyous, and I joyously
delight in the wonder that is my life.
I love being alive. I love the splendor of our world, the beauty of
our bodies, and the miracle of our minds. I bless the world for making
me, and I bless the world for taking me. I feed myself on the
fellowship we inspirit, in standing one with another in this, this
present moment, each moment unfolding to its own best time.
Different things move different members of our team, but all of us are
here out of deep concern for the suffering of our brothers and sisters
in Iraq. 20 years of almost constant war, and 12 years of brutal
sanctions, have killed hundreds of thousands of innocents in Iraq.
We are here, today, because most of the world refused to be present,
then. What more right do I as an American have to leave then all the
people I've come to love in Iraq? An accident of birth that gives me a
free pass throughout the world?
All of us are here out of a deep commitment to nonviolence. Peace is
not an abstract value that we should just quietly express a hope for.
It takes work. It takes courage. It takes joy.
Peace takes risks.
War is catastrophe. It is terrorism on a truly, massive scale. It is
the physical, political and spiritual devastation of entire peoples.
War is the imposition of such massive, deadly violence so as to force
the political solutions of one nation upon another. War is the
antithesis of democracy and freedom. War is the most bloody,
undemocratic, and violently repressive of all human institutions.
War is catastrophe. Why choose catastrophe?
Even the threat of war is devastating. On March 11th, when we visited
a maternity hospital run by the Dominican sisters here in Baghdad, we
found that eight, new mothers that day had demanded to have their
babies by Caesarean section - they didn't want to give birth during
the war. Six others spontaneously aborted the same day. Is this spirit
Don't ask me where I find the courage to be present in Iraq on the eve
of war. 5 million people call Baghdad home. 24 million human beings
live in Iraq. Instead, ask the politicians - on every side - where
they find the nerve to put so many human beings at such terrible risk.
We're here for these people, as we're here for the American people.
The violence George Bush starts in Iraq will not stop in Iraq. The
senseless brutality of this war signals future crimes of still greater
inhumanity. If we risk nothing to prevent this, it will happen. If we
would have peace, we must work as hard, and risk as much, as the
warmakers do for destruction.
Pacifism isn't passive. It's a radical challenge to all aspects of
worldly power. Nonviolence can prevent catastrophe. Nonviolence
multiplies opportunities a thousand-fold, until seemingly
insignificant events converge to tumble the tyranny of fears that
violence plants within our hearts. Where violence denies freedom,
destroys community, restricts choices - we must be present:
cultivating our love, our active love, for our entire family of humanity.
We are daily visiting with families here in Iraq. We are daily
visiting hospitals here in Iraq, and doing arts and crafts with the
children. We are visiting elementary schools, and high schools. We are
fostering community. We are furthering connections. We are creating
space for peace.
We are not "human shields." We are not here simply in opposition to
war. We are a dynamic, living presence - our own, small affirmation of
the joy of being alive. Slowly stumbling, joyous and triumphant, full
of all the doubts and failings all people hold in common - our
presence here is a thundering, gentle call, to Americans as to Iraqis,
of the affirmation of life.
We must not concede war to the killers. War is not liberation. It is
not peace. War is devastation and death.
Thuraya, a brilliant, young girl whom I've come to love, recently
wrote in her diary:
"We don't know what is going to happen. We might die, and maybe we are
living our last days in life. I hope that everyone who reads my diary
remember me and know that there was an Iraqi girl who had many dreams
in her life..."
Dream with us of a world where we do not let violence rule our lives.
Work with us for a world where violence does not rule our lives. Peace
is not an abstract concept. We are a concrete, tangible reality. We
the peoples of our common world, through the relationships we build
with each other, and the risks we take for one another - we are peace.
Our team here doesn't know what is going to happen any more than does
Thuraya. We too may die. But in her name, in this moment, at the
intersection of all our lives, we send you this simple message: We are
peace, and we are present.
Ramzi Kysia is a Arab American peace activist and writer. He is
currently in Iraq with the Voices in the Wilderness' (www.vitw.org)
Iraq Peace Team (www.iraqpeaceteam.org), a project to keep
international peaceworkers to Iraq prior to, during, and after any
future U.S. attack, in order to be a voice for the Iraqi people. The
Iraq Peace Team can be reached through info@...
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