At my Unitarian church this morning, our speaker was Dahlia Wasfi, M.D., a peace activist with an Iraqi father and an Ashkenazi Jewish mother. Using a mix of personal photographs and depressing statistics, she spoke strongly for immediate and unconditional withdrawal of the United States from Iraq. Immediately following her talk, I sang with the choir John Lennon’s song “Imagine,” a beautiful and appropriate song with powerful lyrics such as “Imagine all the people living life in peace.” At the end I felt compassion and a strong agreement that the United States has no business being in Iraq and should get out.
I was therefore deeply disturbed by the reactions of other people. I heard several people say that they thought her talk was “over the top,” that she had an “edge,” and that leaving Iraq was “complicated.” I even heard indications that some people were questioning the truth of the statistics and claims in her talk. Many of these same people do not think we should have invaded Iraq in the first place, and yet now that we are there they seem unwilling to admit the extent of damage that our military presence there has and is continuing to cause. I am disappointed that this is the reaction from individuals in a liberal community.
Yes, her talk was strongly worded, and perhaps that was just not the right technique to get through to these people. I agree that I would have liked more of a focus on the personal impact, but the pictures said more than enough to evoke my compassion: some of the most striking were a contrast of herself as a happy 4-year-old in Basrah with a 3-year-old whose parents were killed by American troops last summer, a photo of a hospital destroyed by American bombs, and a photo of an American soldier giving a thumbs up and a grin over the body of an Iraqi she helped torture to death.
No, all violence is not going to magically stop when American troops leave Iraqi, but I can guarantee it won’t stop as long as we are there. I don’t want to hear excuses for why getting out is “complicated.” I don’t care what the latest reason for staying is. The simple fact of the matter is that the Iraqis see us as invaders, not liberators, and they want us to leave. And if they see us as invaders then that’s what we are. It is unacceptable to have invaded a country, to kill civilians (or anyone, for that matter), to destroy hopitals, to cause thousands of people to become refugees, and then to insist that getting out is complicated. Leaving Iraq may be “complicated” from an intellectual, strategical, or economic point of view, but that does not change the fact that it is the compassionate and right thing to do.
If all of us, every day, based our actions on compassion for other human beings, we would have peace. I challenge each of you to make an effort every day to live as a compassionate person, with awareness of everyone’s shared humanity, and to base your decisions in that compassion.