Nurses are digging graves in front of the Al Mansour
Hospital. Baghdad University is a smoking ruin.
Other disasters loom, as the Red Cross warns that
Baghdad's medical system is in complete collapse, and
the millions of Iraqis dependent on the old
Oil-for-Food program wait for rations that are no
longer being delivered . "Water first, and then
freedom," said one Iraqi man on a BBC report this
Two musicians, Majid Al-Ghazali and Hisham Sharaf,
came to our Hotel four days ago, hoping to call
relatives outside Iraq on a satellite phone. Hisham's
home was badly damaged during the war. "One month
ago, I was the director of the Baghdad Symphony
Orchestra," Hisham said with an ironic smile. "Now,
what am I?"
We joked that he could direct the telephone exchange
as he tinkered with our satellite phone's solar
powered battery. I told Majid we had some sheet music
and a guitar for him. "What are notes?" he said, "We
don't even remember."
Majid had a particularly rough experience. During the
first week of bombing, a neighbor called the secret
police and turned him in for visiting with foreigners.
He was jailed the next day. After the "fall" of
Baghdad, the same neighbor claimed he was actually
part of the secret police. Majid is terrified now.
"I think they want my house," he said. "No place is
safe." He put his head in his hands.
Majid Al-Ghazali - April 13, 2003
I met Hisham at the Baghdad School of Folk Music and
Ballet, in January 2002. Hisham and Majid, both
graduates of the school, taught there in the daytime
and then rehearsed with the orchestra at night.
Knowing how busy Hisham was, I felt presumptuous about suggesting a project for him and his students. I told him how meaningful the song "O Finlandia" has been to many people in the US. At least 150 families who lost loved ones on 9/11 had used this peace anthem as part of memorial services. Sibelius composed the melody in the late 19th century. Following World War I, lyrics were created emphasizing the common aspirations and dreams shared by all humanity.
Hisham chuckled and couldn't resist pointing out the
irony that someone from the US wanted to teach his
students a peace song. "O.K.," said he, "Sing it for
me. We can do this." Within two days, an entire
class was singing an Arabic transliteration of the
Saying goodbye to Majid and Hisham, that morning, I
felt a wave of sadness, wondering if the hopeful,
idealistic verses might embitter them now.
The next morning they returned, shaken and distraught.
They had approached US soldiers the previous evening
asking for help to protect their school. The soldiers
said it was not their job and ordered Hisham and Majid
to go away. They went to the entrance of the school
hoping they could somehow protect it alone. Five
armed men arrived. Majid, Hisham and Hisham's brother
pled with them not to attack the school. The looters
argued, "We are simple people. Poor people. Soon
there will be no food, no money, and we have no jobs.
You are rich people."
"Please," Majid said, "we will give you the
instruments, give you the furniture, but don't destroy
the music, the records, the history." "No," the armed
men said. "Baghdad is finished." They ransacked the
school, broke many instruments, burnt the music and
Why do desperate people commit deplorable acts of
mindless destruction? I don't know. But some truths
help offer perspective. Every day, we who enjoy
superfluous, inordinate wealth and comforts, while
others live in abject poverty, are ransacking the
precious and irreplaceable resources of our planet. We
hurtle toward burning up all the available fossil
fuels that were created over 4 billion years of the
planet's history. Our obscene obsession with creating
weapons has cost trillions of dollars that should have
been spent to meet human needs.
Through decades of warfare and sanctions, powerful
elites in Iraq, the US and the UK ignored millions of
Iraq's impoverished people. Hundreds of thousands of
children bore excruciating punishment and then died.
Very few people cared.
"Here," Hisham said, "listen to this. This is all we
have left." He handed me headphones borrowed from a
Norwegian television correspondent. The orchestra was
playing "O Finlandia." Listening to the children
craft their music, I softly sang the words: "This is
my song, O God of all the nations. A song of peace
for lands afar and mine. This is my home, the country
where my heart is. Here are my dreams, my hopes, my
holy shrine. But other hearts in other lands are
beating, with hopes and dreams as deep and true as
mine." Then I stopped. Hisham had begun to cry.
Kathy Kelly is co-coordinator of Voices in the
Wilderness and the Iraq Peace Team . She has lived continuously in Iraq since January 2003. The Iraq Peace Team can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org