Iraqis ask religious delegation: why war?
3/11/2003 News media contact: Linda Bloom · (646) 369-3759 · New York
YORK (UMNS) - When the Rev. James Fitzgerald, a United Methodist
pastor, visited Iraq in early March, the people were friendly, but many
asked the same question: "Why does the United States want war with us?"
he was chatting with a Baghdad taxi driver with three children in the
Iraqi Army or listening to a Syrian Catholic archbishop urging his flock
to wait for the "salvation of God," Fitzgerald found the Iraqis to be
resilient but resigned and - at a deeper level - in a panic about the
threatened U.S. military attack on their country.
that not many people are leaving (Baghdad)," he told United Methodist
News Service. "Of course, where can you run? People are just feeling
Fitzgerald, who serves as the minister for mission
and social justice at Riverside Church in New York, was part of a
multiracial, multifaith group that made a "Prayer Pilgrimage for Peace"
to Iraq. Goals included carrying the message that all parties involved
in the conflict must do everything possible to avert war and seeing,
firsthand, the effects of long-term sanctions against the Iraqi people.
March 1-7 trip was preceded by meetings with the Iraqi ambassador to
the United Nations and U.N. and U.S. State Department officials, as well
as prayer vigils in Washington. The Rev. Traci West, a United Methodist
pastor and professor of Christian ethics and African-American studies
at the church-related Drew University School of Theology in Madison,
N.J., also was a member of the delegation.
Fitzgerald said he was
most surprised by the "normalcy of life" that continues in Baghdad,
despite the ever-darkening threat of war. He also found that people did
not hold him, as an American, responsible for that threat but instead
"were polite, respectful and cordial."
But whether direct or
implied, West said, the question always came: "What did we do to you to
deserve the sanctions and now the bombing?"
"There just was no
answer," she added. Instead, she felt powerlessness and deep pain "at
knowing my tax dollars are going to pay for this bombing."
African American, West said she felt "tremendous solidarity" with the
Iraqi people "whose lives are being disregarded as we plan this attack."
Just as their suffering is being met with indifference by Iraqi, U.S.
and U.N. officials, she pointed out, so has the economic suffering of
African Americans been historically ignored by U.S. policy-makers.
human cost of the longtime sanctions and the possibility of imminent
bombing seem to portend not so much a war as a massacre to West. She
said she couldn't forget the throngs of hungry, impoverished people who
fill the streets of Baghdad and would be affected by any military
Fitzgerald said he was haunted by the fact that some of
the people he talked with could be dead in a month or two. That feeling
was reinforced by the group's visit to the Al-Admiryya Shelter Memorial
in suburban Baghdad, where the outlines of human shapes can still be
seen against the walls of the shelter, struck by two U.S. smart bombs on
Feb. 13, 1991.
Fallout from the 1991 war also was visible when
the group visited the Saddam Pediatric and Maternity Hospital, where
patients lack basic medicines prohibited by the sanctions. Doctors told
the delegation that patients are more prone to incidents of childhood
leukemia and skin cancer because of exposure to depleted uranium from
warhead tips stuck in the desert sand.
West said she does find
hope in the preparations being made by the Middle East Council of
Churches and other religious organizations to provide relief "and stand
with the people after all the bombs have fallen."
delegation members were the Rev. Herbert Daughtry, national presiding
minister, House of the Lord Pentecostal Churches, Brooklyn; the Rev.
Walter Fauntroy, president, National Black Leadership Roundtable, and
pastor, New Bethel Baptist Church, Washington; Imam Shaker Elsayed,
secretary general, Muslim American Society, Washington; the Rev. John
Mendez, representative, Progressive National Baptist Convention, and
pastor, Emmanuel Baptist Church, Winston-Salem, N.C.; Imam Faiz Khan,
M.D., board of directors, ASTHMA Society for Islamic Culture and the
Arts, New York; and the Rev. Edgar Nkosi White, Cathedral of St. John
the Divine, New York.
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