“The present moment is the only moment available to us, and it is the door to all moments.” – Thich Nhat Hanh
I am in Baghdad with the Iraq Peace Team, and we will stay here throughout any war. We will share the risks of the millions who live here, and do our best to be a voice for them to the world. Our risks are uncertain. Thousands here will surely die. But most Iraqis will survive, and so too, I hope, will I.
A banner the government put up a few blocks from where we stay reads simply, “Baghdad: Where the World Comes for Peace.”
It’s meant as propaganda, I’m sure, flattering Saddam Hussein. But without knowing it, it states a simple truth: that the world must be present for peace. We must be present in Baghdad as in America – in Kashmir or Chechnya, the Great Lakes, Palestine and Colombia – where there is war, and rumors of war, we must be present to build peace.
We are present. My country may arrest me as a traitor, or kill me during saturation bombing, or shoot me during an invasion. The Iraqis may arrest me as a spy, or cause or use my death for propaganda. Civil unrest and mob violence may claim me. I may be maimed. I may be killed.
I am nervous. I am scared. I am hopeful. I am joyous, and I joyously delight in the wonder that is my life. I love being alive. I love the splendor of our world, the beauty of our bodies, and the miracle of our minds. I bless the world for making me, and I bless the world for taking me. I feed myself on the fellowship we inspirit, in standing one with another in this, this present moment, each moment unfolding to its own best time.
Different things move different members of our team, but all of us are here out of deep concern for the suffering of our brothers and sisters in Iraq. 20 years of almost constant war, and 12 years of brutal sanctions, have killed hundreds of thousands of innocents in Iraq. We are here, today, because most of the world refused to be present, then. What more right do I as an American have to leave than all the people I’ve come to love in Iraq? An accident of birth that gives me a free pass throughout the world?
All of us are here out of a deep commitment to nonviolence. Peace is not an abstract value that we should just quietly express a hope for. It takes work. It takes courage. It takes joy.
Peace takes risks.
War is catastrophe. It is terrorism on a truly, massive scale. It is the physical, political and spiritual devastation of entire peoples. War is the imposition of such massive, deadly violence so as to force the political solutions of one nation upon another. War is the antithesis of democracy and freedom. War is the most bloody, undemocratic, and violently repressive of all human institutions.
War is catastrophe. Why choose catastrophe?
Even the threat of war is devastating. On March 11th, when we visited a maternity hospital run by the Dominican sisters here in Baghdad, we found that eight new mothers that day had demanded to have their babies by Caesarean section – they didn’t want to give birth during the war. Six others spontaneously aborted the same day. Is this spirit of liberation?
Don’t ask me where I find the courage to be present in Iraq on the eve of war. 5 million people call Baghdad home. 24 million human beings live in Iraq. Instead, ask the politicians – on every side – where they find the nerve to put so many human beings at such terrible risk.
We’re here for these people, as we’re here for the American people. The violence George Bush starts in Iraq will not stop in Iraq. The senseless brutality of this war signals future crimes of still greater inhumanity. If we risk nothing to prevent this, it will happen. If we would have peace, we must work as hard, and risk as much, as the warmakers do for destruction.
Pacifism isn’t passive. It’s a radical challenge to all aspects of worldly power. Nonviolence can prevent catastrophe. Nonviolence multiplies opportunities a thousand-fold, until seemingly insignificant events converge to tumble the tyranny of fears that violence plants within our hearts. Where violence denies freedom, destroys community, restricts choices – we must be present: cultivating our love, our active love, for our entire family of humanity.
We are daily visiting with families here in Iraq. We are daily visiting hospitals here in Iraq, and doing arts and crafts with the children. We are visiting elementary schools, and high schools. We are fostering community. We are furthering connections. We are creating space for peace.
We are not “human shields.” We are not here simply in opposition to war. We are a dynamic, living presence – our own, small affirmation of the joy of being alive. Slowly stumbling, joyous and triumphant, full of all the doubts and failings all people hold in common – our presence here is a thundering, gentle call, to Americans as to Iraqis, of the affirmation of life.
We must not concede war to the killers. War is not liberation. It is not peace. War is devastation and death.
Thuraya, a brilliant, young girl whom I’ve come to love, recently wrote in her diary:
“We don’t know what is going to happen. We might die, and maybe we are living our last days in life. I hope that everyone who reads my diary remembers me and knows that there was an Iraqi girl who had many dreams in her life…”
Dream with us of a world where we do not let violence rule our lives. Work with us for a world where violence does not rule our lives. Peace is not an abstract concept. We are a concrete, tangible reality. We the peoples of our common world, through the relationships we build with each other, and the risks we take for one another – we are peace.
Our team here doesn’t know what is going to happen any more than does Thuraya. We too may die. But in her name, in this moment, at the intersection of all our lives, we send you this simple message: We are peace, and we are present.
Ramzi Kysia is a Arab American peace activist and writer. He is currently in Iraq with the Voices in the Wilderness’ (www.vitw.org) Iraq Peace Team (www.iraqpeaceteam.org), a project to keep international peaceworkers to Iraq prior to, during, and after any future U.S. attack, in order to be a voice for the Iraqi people. The Iraq Peace Team can be reached through [email protected]