I stayed up until 2am last night finishing Baghdad Burning. I really just wanted to get something done on Friday so I feel more accomplished going into another busy week. However, looking back on the decision, I do not think that staying up late to read about the terrible war in Iraq before trying to sleep was a good idea. My mind was and still is spinning from everything I read. And now I have an assignment to write a "2-3 page reaction paper to what this blog reveals about the nature of the war in Iraq; American goals in Iraq, humanitarian issues, etc." SInce this book was a blog and a way to learn about the country I am going to this week (!!!), I decided that the best way for me to write this reflection is with my own blog. (Mary, I hope that this is okay for your assignment; it should end up being the same length as a regular paper.)
The first thing that struck me about the book and the reason why I am so affected by the book is that Riverbend (the pseudonym used to keep her identity safe) made the situation a reality for me. The war began when I was only twelve years old and at that time, it did not seem real. I remember being angry at Bush for going to war, but I never thought of the war as something people were actually living through. The numbers of deaths and casualties were just numbers. Riverbend's blogs made me for the first time begin to understand the hell people in Iraq have had to live in since the U.S. declared war. Riverbend herself now seems like someone I personally know and if we would meet we would probably be friends. She is intelligent, brave, and passionate about her country and all human rights. Reading her story was like reading a friend's blog, and it truly broke my heart.
The main reason that the U.S. entered the war in Iraq was because Bush believed there were Weapons of Mass Destruction, although all the reports told otherwise. Even the United Nations told the U.S. not to invade Iraq. Riverbend included in her post from November 30, 2003 how the Associated Press and scoop.co.nz posted that the nuclear program in Iraq ended in 1991 and the weapons that had existed then had been secretly destroyed. Another reason that Riverbend discusses in her blog posts that the United States justified was trying to make connections between Iraq and 9/11. In reality, there are no connections between 9/11 and Iraq and the US government knows this. However, polls have shown that Americans do not know this and the US government has not tried to break these misconceptions. Seeing how the US government used these excuses to destroy a country makes me so mad. I joined Riverbend in her hatred of President Bush when I read these words and here especially is when I felt a deep shame of being American.
I found it very interesting that Riverbend never does blame Americans or expresses her hate of Americans. She is able to separate the government and soldier's actions from all citizens. She does express her hate of Bush and Donald Rumsfeld and talks about her hatred of being occupied by a foreign army, but she is always careful to include that she does not hate America and recognizes some of the good people and universities that have come from America. I think that this was one reason that I was able to easily identify with her, because I could share her hatred.
Another outrageous aspect of the war, which I had not realized before was how the US occupation (or "liberation" as President Bush declared it) brought out the extremists and sent the country back in terms of women's rights and other human rights issues. Before the war, Riverbend discusses how Iraq was the most civilized country in the Middle East in terms of women's rights. Women made up over half the workforce and universities in Iraq before the war. They were educated and could for the most part act and dress in any way they wanted (within a conservative culture). However, without a working government, extremists were allowed to enter the country and most women were forced to stop working and could not go outside without a male escort or even a headscarf. For women, like Riverbend who had worked as a computer programer/network administrator, this is a huge step backward and violation of human rights.
Speaking of human rights abuses, the most haunting images that caused a lack of sleep last night came from the images of US and British soldiers in Abu Graib. I remember this scandal, but since I had been so young, I had never learned all of the scandal. Riverbend talked about her hate so strongly and I feel that same hatred coursing through my blood as I think about it. I cannot believe those soldiers were not disciplined more. Although, I believe in restorative justice, in this case I have to admit that I wish those soldiers would just rot in prison for what they did. I think that I need to use this anger to be able to speak passionately against the war, but also work to make sure my anger does not violate other people's dignity. As much as I hate to admit, those soldiers also have dignity that I need to respect.
Reading this book has really taught me so much about a war that I have never understood. I also believe that it has also given my trip new meaning. I am not sure what this meaning is.... I am confused about how I feel about being a privileged white American heading into a place that is still filled with pain from a mess that the U.S. caused. However, I am excited to meet people like Riverbend and try to truly understand their situation and find ways that I can help bring peace to an area that has needed it for so long. Think of me and pray that I will be able to hear these stories and not drown in my own pain and shame, but find ways to listen and bring healing. I end this reflection with a prayer of Saint Francis, which has become the prayer of my life recently;
- Where there is hatred, let me sow love.
- Where there is injury, pardon.
- Where there is doubt, faith.
- Where there is despair, hope.
- Where there is darkness, light.
- Where there is sadness, joy.
- O Divine Master,
- grant that I may not so much seek to be consoled, as to console;
- to be understood, as to understand;
- to be loved, as to love.
- For it is in giving that we receive.
- It is in pardoning that we are pardoned,
- and it is in dying that we are born to Eternal Life.
For those interested in reading Riverbend's thoughts, her blog is http://riverbendblog.blogspot.com. Her blog ends abruptly in 2007 causing some to believe that she did not survive the war.