From here in Iraq, the presidential debate rang hollow
I write from Basra today, in the company of Iraqis committed to peace and nonviolence despite having suffered years of war and occupation.
When I made the choice to file as a conscientious objector to the war in Vietnam, in 1969, I chose to do my alternative service in Beirut, where I had already spent a year doing undergraduate studies. It was a fortuitous choice: while living in Lebanon I both met my wife and effectively defined myself as a lifelong peace activist. Then in 1974, Mary and I spent our Easter break in Iraq, traveling from Basra to Ninevah — truly garden spots of the world, often associated with Eden in those days, but more often with Hades today.
On Monday night, we heard President Obama and Governor Romney each profess their love of militarism.
The president boasted, “We spend more on our military than the next 10 countries combined; China, Russia, France, the United Kingdom, you name it.” Then his opponent called for increasing the military budget even more! It was the president who called the United States the “one indispensible nation,” but both candidates showed their love of U.S. exceptionalism and exhibited paternalistic worldviews.
That is not the way I see our relationship with our sisters and brothers across the globe.
It is in places like Iraq that the Fellowship of Reconciliation has stood for a century — building people-to-people relationships, when our government has stigmatized and stoked fears about “the other.”
FOR delegation to IraqWhen I joined the Fellowship of Reconciliation as executive director, in 2007, FOR’s delegations to Iraq — to protest the devastating economic sanctions and prospects of war — were still recent memory. (Photo at left from an FOR Iraq delegation.) Some might consider these anti-war efforts a failure, although we all recognize that amidst geopolitical conflicts — in the face of a combustible mix of political deceptions and the global fight for oil domination — the practices of reconciliation are difficult to advance.
But we needed then, and now, to make clear to Iraqis and the world our commitment to “refuse to participate in any war or to sanction military preparations” and to continue to “work to abolish war and promote good will among races, nations and classes,” as we profess in our Statement of Purpose.
This is who we are and what we do.
It is why several FOR members were in Pakistan earlier this month, calling for an end to the use of militarized drones. It is why FOR activists from several countries met in Colombia last week and wrote a letter from NGOs to the leaders of Latin American nations that calls for demilitarizing the hemisphere. It is why six FOR members are in Palestine and Israel right now, helping lead a delegation of civil rights leaders to the region. Another world is possible, and we are helping to build it.
Mark Johnson presents the FOR Pfeffer
International Peace Prize to La’Onf’s Abdulsattar Essmat YounusThese steadfast commitments are the reason that I am here today. Three years ago this month, FOR awarded its annual prize for international peacemaking to La’Onf (Arabic for nonviolence), an Iraqi nationwide network of nonviolent activists. This week I have been privileged to attend La’Onf’s second national summit in Basra to celebrate their successes and help support their plans for the future. I have written a series of reflections on my time here in Iraq, which you are invited to read.
Thank you and peace from Iraq.
If you’d like to learn more about La’Onf, you can read our profile of them from 2010. Then, please make a tax-deductible donation to FOR so we can continue supporting nonviolent activists like La’Onf!