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!” [see: www.laonf.net] 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.
By 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.
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 elections.
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 nonviolence.
“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.”