Nonviolence in Iraq

"Wars are poor chisels for carving out peaceful tomorrows," Martin Luther
King, Jr. once said. In the days after September 11, 2001, some relatives of
those who died in the attacks took King's words to heart. They formed "September
11th Families for Peaceful Tomorrows," an organization which promotes peace and
nonviolence instead of revenge and retaliation. Since then, they've traveled the
world to stood with victims of U.S. terrorism. One of them, Terry Rockefeller,
just returned from Iraq where she attended the first national meeting of a new
network of creative nonviolence. Her report offers good news of peace and hope
in a dark time.
I recently spoke with Terry from her home in Boston. Terry lost her sister
Laura on September 11th. Laura was an actress who had a part-time day job. That
morning, she was running a seminar on "information technologies" at a breakfast
meeting on the top of the World Trade Center.
For six months Terry grieved, then joined September 11th Families. In 2003,
she went to Iraq with my friend Colleen Kelly, who had lost her brother in the
towers. Since then, Terry has spoken out, marched, and organized events, doing
everything she can to help end the U.S. war and occupation of

But Terry wanted more. She was interested not just in ending
war, but promoting peace. Recently she learned about a network of peace
activists throughout Iraq who have formed a new national organization to promote
nonviolence. These Iraqis call their group, "LaOnf," which means in English, "No
Violence!" So with Adele Welty, another
member of Peaceful Tomorrows, Terry flew to Iraq in August to attend the first
national meeting of LaOnf.

LaOnf had its start at the 2005 World
Social Forum when an Iraqi activist met other Iraqis and posed the question:
"Can nonviolence be a tool for change in the midst of occupation, violence and
suffering?" They were interested in using the techniques of Gandhi and King
within Iraq with their own people.
The LaOnf movement began in Baghdad in 2006, with their first nonviolence
training. In 2007, they spread out to seven states with regional meetings,
trainings, and public actions. For example, they displayed posters with the
words "No to Violence!" throughout Baghdad--in police stations, Iraqi and U.S.
army bases, shops and mosques. Emboldened by their action, the activists went
further, and organized their first national week of nonviolence.
In one beautiful, life-saving gesture, they gave away soccer balls to
children who turned in their toy guns. U.S. soldiers have fired on and killed
many children who at a distance with their toys appear armed.

2007, there were 800 applications for nonviolence training. So they started to
train trainers, who would then fan out to teach nonviolence to groups all over
Iraq. LaOnf now operates in all of Iraq's 18 governorates. Nearly 200
organizations have joined LaOnf so far.
Of course, it's dangerous to promote nonviolence in Iraq. If you speak of
resistance, you are accused of supporting terrorists and advocating violence;
but if you speak about nonviolence, you are accused of supporting the unjust
U.S. military occupation. LaOnf is trying to promote a "third way," to use
nonviolence to resist occupation, terrorism and corruption to build a new
nonviolent culture of peace.

Terry attended the first national
meeting of LaOnf coordinators, in Erbil, Iraq, during the last week of August.
They reported on their local work and spent most of their time planning their
third national week of nonviolence, set to begin this October 10th. This year's
week will focus on promoting nonviolence around future Iraqi

During the session, Terry apologized to the Iraqis for
the U.S. government's war and occupation, and told them that many Americans were
doing what they could to stop the U.S. war. For most, Terry and Adele were the
first Americans they ever met. By the end of the intense meetings, they had
begun to relax and befriend the Americans. One coordinator, in particular, was
insistent on explaining to Terry that Islam has its own tradition of creative

"I felt so privileged to have been welcomed by these
people who could have hated me," Terry told me. "They are doing the work of
Peaceful Tomorrows but under much more difficult circumstances. They have many
more reasons to give up, but they keep at it. I was so inspired. It was a gift
to be there."

"We Americans are so undereducated and misinformed
about the nature of most Iraqi people," she continued. "We are misguided by the
media to see all Iraqis as violent, as people who can't run their own country. I
think we need to understand the extraordinary quality of the people of Iraq,
exemplified by the members of LaOnf."

"It is such an injustice to
militarize their society," Terry said. "We need to end the tragic presence of
the U.S. military personnel in Iraq, to respect the quality of the people and to
support their vision of what they want their life to be like. They have an
historical memory, about being the crossroads of civilization. They have a far
richer vision of peace than anything we Americans could ever offer them, because
they have a deep commitment to their tradition, their history. I am no longer
discouraged after meeting these Iraqis and seeing what they are doing. They are
working for a new culture of peace; we have to do the same."
The development of LaOnf and promotion of nonviolence by Iraqis within Iraq
is a great sign of hope that deserves all our support and blessings. For
information about LaOnf, visit their excellent website at:
Our work is licensed under Creative Commons (CC BY-NC-ND 3.0). Feel free to republish and share widely.