..The doctors we speak to,
Nowhere is the slow dying
From the shoeshine boys who
|edited from the National Catholic Reporter, May 21, 1999:
Iraq: for the children, sanctions are deadlier than the bombs
By TOM ROBERTS
Baghdad and Basra, Iraq
His voice rising, he said through an interpreter, "Each of these women has lost a husband, a son, a brother in the war or children to the sanctions. So you can see how they hate America."
The pause that followed seemed to last forever, a deep silence begging some response, a defense, an explanation, something. Everyone, it seemed, was straining for what was to come next. Chicagoan Kathy Kelly quietly asked the imam through the translator if she could say something.
"Certainly," he motioned her to come forward and engage in the discussion.
She moved forward and knelt, filling a small opening in the circle of women. "Like all Iraqi women," she said softly, waiting for the translation, "you have taught us." Then, touching the arm of the woman next to her, she said, "And we are sorry." The gesture brought tears to those in the circle and some of the onlookers. The imam was silent. The woman leading the teaching, the servant of the Quran, walked across the circle with a cloth for Kelly to dry her eyes, and she, in turn, dried the eyes of the woman next to her.
As if on cue, the call to evening prayer sounded from the main part of the mosque. Time for the men to leave the women's section. Kelly dared one more request of the imam as the group was leaving. "May we," she said, motioning to include the other American women who had joined the kneeling circle, "stay and pray?"
"Of course," he said.
The moment disarmed, the discussion had gone where Kelly always wants it to go, person to person, beneath the hardened lines of battle. It is one of the guiding motives of the group she leads, Voices in the Wilderness, a campaign to end the economic sanctions against the people of Iraq. Kelly, more than most, knows that the geopolitical conflict that has reached down into these women's lives is terribly complex and that Iraq's President Saddam Hussein bears a measure of responsibility for aggravating it. Yet she also knows those subtleties mean little to a mother who has watched a child starve to death or die of a disease that Iraqi doctors could have treated if there were no sanctions.
The scene incorporated the extravagant Arab hospitality for which this region of the world is known and Kelly's absolute conviction that pacifism is the world's only hope. In this case a moment was transformed. Perhaps it takes a dreamer to press on, for in the case of Iraq and the United States, there is an ocean of moments in need of transformation.