The city of Amman, Jordan, is
awash with numerous colorful signs that proclaim independence, "Istiklal." The word is found on posters and placards in
store windows. It names a major thoroughfare, a hospital, and a shopping
center. Appreciation for independence is
palpable, and this could be said for numerous cities and towns throughout the
region, including Iraq,
where past struggles for independence are commemorated by naming buildings and
streets "Istiklal." It reflects the love
of independence and the longing for it.
But independence is elusive in a region suffering multiple
wars and occupations. Particularly in Iraq, it's hard to imagine an independent
society growing up amid the violent wreckage of economic sanctions, U.S.
bombardment and staggering corruption.
A struggle to seek independence from war and violence, in Iraq, using
nonviolent means, may seem even less viable, but that's the mission of a sturdy
network, called "La Onf," (the Arabic translation for the word nonviolence). The group now has chapters at work in all but
two of Iraq's
thirteen governorates. Each chapter
chooses its own focus, and then explores how they might develop nonviolent
problem solving. Last month, I had a
chance to be part of a meeting between workers in the Amman office of the
organization and representatives of Peaceful Tomorrows, a network of family
members of 9/11 victims, determined by their horror and loss to pursue
alternatives everywhere to the violence that claimed the lives of their loved
ones. At the end of our meetings, the La Onf organization celebrated a
modest yet solid accomplishment: one of the chapters, working in the south of Iraq, convinced
governing authorities in the Muthanna province to issue a law banning the
import and sale of war toys and fireworks throughout the governorate.
Proponents of the ruling believe
young Iraqis have seen enough guns. But more than this; the La Onf
workers believe their children are themselves seen by too many American soldiers
for it to be safe for them to have toy guns - children have been shot often
enough, in Iraq, for looking too dangerous to soldiers - and the La Onf workers
can tell you the stories of festive family gatherings turned to scenes of
bloody havoc when U.S. military personnel have mistaken celebratory fireworks
for threatening attacks. The real guns, the real explosives, of the
invaders - our guns and explosives – have proven to Iraqis that war is no game.
"We are too often self-censoring," says my friend Ciaron
O'Reilly, reflecting on our responsibility to ban weapons. "We think we can't do much, so we do nothing
at all." Ciaron was speaking at a May 13th
, 2008 celebration following the acquittal of 9 Irish activists who entered a
Raytheon weapon manufacturing plant in Derry,
damaged the corporation's computers. Ciaron
and four companions had set a precedent for this kind of action when, in 2003,
shortly before the then-imminent US attack against Iraq, they entered a hangar
in Shannon airport and, using mallets, did 2.5 million dollars worth of damage
to a US Navy warplane. A Dublin
jury, in 2006, acquitted him and his fellow "Pitstop Ploughshares" because, as
they noted, they were taking steps to prevent a crime and save lives.
Like the Pitstop Ploughshares, The Raytheon defendants, in Derry, insisted, throughout their trial, that they had
acted to prevent the commission of war crimes.
They knew that the Israeli Defense Forces had used Raytheon's bunker
buster bomb to attack civilians living in the village
of Qana, Lebanon, during the summer of 2006.
As part of preparation for their trial, they traveled to Lebanon and met
with the families whose loved ones were killed by Raytheon's bunker
In a statement following the trial,
they dedicated their victory to the Shaloub and Hasheem families of Qana, who lost 28 of their closest relatives on the
30th of July, 2006, all sheltering in a building they knew normal
bombardment wouldn't bring down.
It happened that I and several
Voices members were in Qana two weeks after the attack, once a ceasefire had,
with agonizing delay, been signed. We had heard of the massacre in Qana,
and we felt it was essential to document. And so we went, and we sat with
those Shaloub and Hasheem families during their funeral commemorations for
their lost children. From my notes for that day:
Umm Zaynab asked a child to bring the stack of
newspapers and magazines. "Here," she said, carefully sorting through the
pile, "This is Zaynab." Zaynab is a little girl. Photo after photo
shows Zaynab held aloft, lifeless, by a strong, helmeted relief worker who is
seen shouting to heaven his shock and terrible awe.
Next to her, in the shelter, was her friend,
Zahara. The girls show few outward signs of injury or mutilation: the
force of the explosion seems to have destroyed their internal organs, with
little outward trauma, as they slept in each other's arms. They never
Next she placed in our hands a framed picture of
Zaynab, a curly headed little girl with huge dark eyes posing seriously for the
camera. One can only imagine what her smile would look like. "Who are the
terrorists?" whispered Umm Zayneb to me, showing me the photographs of her
daughter. Her eyes held mine as she answered her own question. I
heard her say, "Bush," before Farah translated, "She is saying that
Zayneb and the children aren't the terrorists. She says the real
terrorists are the ones who kill children."
defendants, along with the jury which acquitted them, seem to have agreed, as
"The jury has accepted that we were reasonable in our belief that the
Israel Defense Forces were guilty of war crimes in Lebanon in the summer of
2006; that the Raytheon company, including its facility in Derry, was aiding
and abetting the commission of these crimes; and that the action we took was
intended to have, and did have, the effect of hampering or delaying the
commission of war crimes. We have been vindicated.…We believe that
one day the world will look back on the arms trade as we look back today on the
slave trade, and wonder how it came about that such evil could abound in
respectable society. If we have advanced, by a mere moment, the day when the
arms trade is put beyond the law, what we have done will have been worthwhile."
The arms trade is, as the slave
trade was, a crime against independence: the weapons are used to coerce, to
enslave, to terrorize. Terror and death, death of innocents, death of
children, are the obvious staple of both trades for this very reason. And
Americans pride themselves as defenders of freedom, and opponents of slavery.
On July 4th, in cities and towns
across the U.S., people will gather to watch fireworks and remember "The
rockets' red glare" and celebrate Independence Day with pantomime
explosions, and the deafening, mounting concussions of the like that in Amman
and in Iraq and, in a myriad places around our globe, people need no help remembering.
And a friend reminds me that 150 years ago, 150 years exactly to the day come
this coming September 11th, President Lincoln publicly asked, "What
constitutes the bulwark of our own liberty and independence?"
"… It is not our frowning battlements, our
bristling sea coasts, the guns of our war steamers, or the strength of our
gallant and disciplined army. These are not our reliance against a resumption
of tyranny in our fair land: all of them may be turned against our liberties,
without making us stronger or weaker for the struggle. Our reliance is in the love
of liberty which God has planted in our bosoms: our defense is in the
preservation of the spirit which prizes liberty as the heritage of all men,
in all lands, every where. Destroy this spirit, and you have planted
the seeds of despotism around your own doors."
Of course our weapons destroy this
spirit. If we think about it, if we think of how they are used time and
time again, we realize that's simply what they're for. Imagine if, on
this Independence Day, we could
celebrate the spirit of independence, that love of liberty which becomes its
opposite if we only love our own: we must celebrate and yearn for everyone's
independence: We must call for it: call for Istiklal. We may
do so quietly, privately to ourselves if among those who would not understand,
or publicly and insistently if we wish, in doing so, to stand for independence
and our own right not to kill.
In independence' name we must ask,
when is that day "the world will look back on the arms trade as we
look back today on the slave trade," the day when the arms trade is
put beyond the law. When is the day when we and the leaders who act
in our name will allow Istiklal and independence in every other language of
this world to flourish? When is the day when "they shall beat their
swords into ploughshares and their spears into pruning hooks, and nation shall
not rise up against nation, neither shall they study war any more?"
This July 4th ,we must
all ask: when, at long last, is Independence Day?
Kathy Kelly (firstname.lastname@example.org)
is a co-coordinator of Voices for Creative Nonviolence (www.vcnv.org).
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