IT IS ironic that my most treasured
Christmas moments have come in a largely Muslim country.
is December 1998 and after an intense and illegal bombing
campaign at the very beginning of Ramadan, we have spent
a week with children in Baghdad learning to sing We
Shall Overcome in Arabic. The sweet voices of those
children sustain me to this day.
It is December 1999, and in a particularly run-down
area of Basra, a little boy pulls a milk crate by a
frayed rope. Inside the crate, bundled in a muddied,
ragged blanket, an obviously malnourished baby gazes
calmly at me, undisturbed by the flies that surround him.
This is a nativity under siege. That child's innocent,
suffering gaze, drives me to this day.
Each Sunday in the Christian season of Advent, church
goers anticipate arrival of the innocent one, born into
impossible poverty, who will bring forth justice for the
poor, liberty for captives, sight for the blind. O
come, O come, Emmanuel is sung in churches
worldwide. I hear the tune now and feel haunted.
A modern-day Herod, deadly, vengeful and reckless,
pursues the children of Iraq. Hundreds of thousands of
innocent people have already been slaughtered in 11 long
years of the most devastating siege in modern history.
Instead of confronting the failures of this policy, the
US seems to be gearing up to compound them with the
greatest failure of all: war.
In hospitals, schools, mosques, churches and homes,
people here ask us why the American people want to punish
them even more. For 11 years they've been told that
sanctions were a more peaceful alternative to
open warfare. Now they're being told that war is the
solution to the suffering caused by sanctions. It would
seem that the message from the US to the Iraqi people is
in a twisted way at least consistent; and that is to
please remember that they're being killed with the very
best of intentions.
But the truth is that war is not peace. We must not
allow ourselves to be governed by a cruel and merciless
world order that relies on siege and warfare to
accomplish goals that violate human rights and
international law. Around the world, people of conscience
must begin to non-violently resist and challenge the
movement towards intensified warfare with actions
commensurate to the crimes being committed and
The barriers to peace may seem overwhelming, yet hope
springs forth from the most surprising of places. Hope
lives in the forgiveness shown by Umm Hassan, a young
Iraqi mother I met last year. Moments after her child
died for lack of an antibiotic, she murmured: I
pray this will never happen to a mother in your
country. Hope lives in Amber Amudson, a young
American mother whose husband, Craig, was killed in the
attack on the Pentagon on Sept. 11. Amber helped lead a
walk for peace from Washington DC to New York City
earlier this month, and she wrote to President Bush:
If you choose to respond to this incomprehensible
brutality by perpetuating violence against other innocent
human beings, you may not do so in the name of justice
for my husband.... find the courage to respond to this
incomprehensible tragedy by breaking the cycle of
It is Christmas 2001, and we are in Basra again,
visiting the families we came to love when we lived with
them two summers ago. Then, we tried to understand the
effect of sanctions by learning what it was like to live
without electricity for 14 hours per day in 49-degree
heat, to share meals made from meagre rations, and to be
cut off from communication with the rest of the world.
Today, we're cherishing the hope of peace and pledging to
defy the call to war.
Four days ago, we visited Mar Yusuf Church in Mosul,
which was hit by a US bomb in 1991, killing four guests
at the church and severely burning one of the priests.
The damage has long since been repaired, and inside
stands the most beautiful of Christmas trees.
Riad Hamza dresses up as Father Christmas every year
to pass presents out to the children. He made the tree
for them as well fashioning the ornaments from
cigarette and matchboxes wrapped in brightly coloured
paper and ribbons. He made the tree branches from
shredded rice bags dyed a deep green. Here in
Iraq, Riad told me, we make something from
nothing especially the peace. And isn't that
the most precious gift of all?
The writer is director of Voices in the Wilderness
), the first US grassroots organisation to bring
activists into Iraq to witness the effect of sanctions,
to violate the sanctions by bringing medicine and toys
into Iraq, and to educate the US public upon their
return. She contributed this article to The Jordan