Madinat al-Muslimeen Islamic Message Board
|one sisters experience in Iraq..|
|05/22/01 at 22:23:23|
an email I received recently...
this is my report of my experience in Iraq...it's kinda long so forgive
me. insha'Allah it'll shed some light on what it is really like in
i'm sorry i couldn't send it as an attachment to the entire list but
if you'd like me to send it to you personally as an attachment email
Bismallah ar-Rahman ar-Raheem
“Khalah, give me a pen khalah.” Words that continually echo in my head
every day and every night. Every time I see a child now, I am reminded
of those children running by the side of our suburbans, plastering
their faces on the windows of our cars asking for one simple thing…a pen.
It has been almost a month since I left Iraq, as part of a Muslim/Arab
delegation. The goal of the delegation; assess the current situation
in Iraq and report back to your respective organizations. So with
butterflies in my stomach I did just that. Fervently trying to prepare
myself for what I was about to see, I read as much as I could about the
stats and the percentages, the never-ending resolutions and policies of
the UN, the daily crimes committed by the US, and most importantly, of
the kids who every minute are paying the price for the greed of the
“international community.” Yet these words could never prepare me for what
I was about to see. A people and a country isolated from the rest of
the world because of nothing more than their possession of oil.
After a 15-hour drive from Amman to Iraq, I thought I was ready. Ask
me about Resolution 687, I could tell you all about it. How about
Resolution 661, no problem, piece of cake. But upon entering the borders of
Baghdad at 4 a.m., my eyes spoke differently than my intellect. Where
I had expected to see a demolished city, with sewage spilling into the
streets, I saw quite the contrary. Baghdad actually looked really
really nice and clean!?! I was confused. Yet the initial confusion
wouldn’t last very long.
As we entered the Palestine Hotel, previously a four-star hotel, I
began to understand. The hotel had a weird odor to it and as the orange
blinds indicated, it seemed as if it had been untouched by renovations or
improvements since the 70’s. The pool and the tennis courts were
abandoned and the gardens were empty. It was a bit humid because there was
no fans or air-conditioning, and the one or two “fashionable” styles
displayed on the mini-store fronts within the hotel were clothes that we
would wear to 80’s parties, not clothes that we would display in one of
the best hotels in the country. The employees of the hotel, with shoes
falling apart and saddened reserved looks welcomed us and carried out
their duties as if the hotel was in full-gear. It didn’t matter that
half of them didn’t really have anything to do but had to maintain their
spot as the doorman or the bellhop just in case someone was to come in.
It didn’t matter that the janitor spent an hour cleaning an alr!
eady impeccably clean spot. It didn’t matter that it was 4:30 in the
morning and they had been working since 5:00 in the afternoon and would
not be off for another three or four hours, only to get seven hours of
free time before their seventeen and eighteen hour shifts would begin
again. It didn’t matter that their objective in life was merely to make
it through the day just to be able to put food on the table, because
one missed day would mean one day of hunger.
Entering the hotel, I felt like I had entered the twilight zone, a what
had previously been (for lack of a better word) jumpin’ institution way
back when was now frozen in time, quietly crumbling at the seams. If
this hotel represented one of the best places in Baghdad and probably
all of Iraq, what silenced tales did the hospitals, schools, and towns
speak of. It didn’t take too long before my question was answered.
The next day, our stay in the country that poses one of the largest
threats to the US officially began. Driving through the streets, we saw
that the demons we have been brain-washed to believe inhabit Iraq are no
more than bare-footed children selling pieces of bread for less than 15
cents a roll and men with Ph.D. degrees driving their 15- year old cars
as taxi drivers for a living. Our first destination was the
al-Amariyya shelter. In order to get to the shelter, we drove through street
after street of homes; needless to say the area surrounding the shelter
was completely residential. The al-Amariyya shelter was built before the
Gulf War. It was state of the art, composed of extremely thick walls
made of layers of pure cement and steel with 5-ton steel doors that
sealed it from the potential threat of the outside world. This shelter was
what the Iraqi women and children needed to protect them from the
radiation of nuclear bombs. But instead of being a safe haven for t!
he women and children it housed, it became a mass grave.
The woman leading the tour of the shelter had indubitably told the
story of the shelter hundreds of times in both English and Arabic. Yet as
we began our tour, she told it as if it was the first time, her eyes
glistening with the moisture of tears.
It was February 12, 1991, 4 a.m. The US was playing its role as the
“protector” of the free world by bombing Iraq out of existence during the
Gulf War. Once again planes flew overhead as 1000 women and children
slept in the al-Amariyya shelter through the perpetual sirens warning
the country of the continual bombing. Yet this time it was their turn to
pay for the cost of the one-sided war. Two smart bombs (the same smart
bombs that hit hospitals, schools, villages, food factories, and
homes…just about as smart as Columbus when he thought he had landed in India)
targeted the shelter and blasted through the walls of cement and steel
to greet the dreaming women and children with a message of death. The
electricity automatically turned off causing the 5-ton doors to shut
close. The heat and pressure from the bombs and the destroyed
ventilation system resulted in the temperature rising to over 450*C and all the
inhabitants that were only a few moments ago sleeping were incine!
rated, becoming nothing more than ashes and a collage of shadows on the
walls of the shelter. After it was bombed, the shelter remained
untouched and was turned into a museum with pictures of the victims and their
stories of sorrow and remorse displayed on the walls. Even the burnt
hands of the kids that were stuck to the ceiling from the pressure of
the bombs are still there for generation upon generation to wonder at
what crime these children ever did to deserve such a fate. Walking
through the shelter, I wondered the same thing. What did the Iraqis do to
deserve such a fate?
As we got back on the bus, I could smell the jasmine growing outside of
the shelter, flowers mourning the lost Ali’s and Maryam’s. It was
eerily quiet as we drove away from the shelter. Another silenced tale that
the world denies. While the al-Amariyya shelter spoke of dead children
and women, the streets spoke of the living ones, zombies living their
lives day-in and day-out wondering when their misery will end. Many of
the stores that we passed by were closed indicating the shattered
economy and non-existent markets of the country. What do you expect when a
schoolteacher makes approximately $3 a month, the cost of 4 eggs. How
about the engineer and the doctor that make no more than $25 a month, a
salary reduced by almost 1000% within a ten year period. If these
professionals can’t afford to buy a pair of shoes or a school uniform for
their kids unless they sum up their savings for months on end, then who
is going to maintain the economy and keep it rolling? As we con!
tinued to drive through Baghdad we could see makeshift stores in the
form of large mats with people’s possessions spread all over them. For
those who couldn’t afford to have a store, they sold their used clothes
or personal belongings on the sidewalk, only to make a few extra dinars
a day to buy the bare minimum to keep their bodies ticking. And the
children that stood outside of the mosques and the hotels and the
restaurants, begging for whatever a passer-by could spare. Children, who if
had only been living a decade earlier would have been playing with their
toys care-free and eating their three meals a day without a worry in
the world. But instead of their lives being defined by imaginative
super-heroes and princesses, they were stained by the reality of hunger,
poverty, and fear. Wherever we drove, these kids faces would stare at our
bus in complete awe and wonderment probably wondering what it is like
to be us or to be more exact, what it is like to have food and mon!
On the second day of the delegation we went to al-Mansour Hospital. No
place in Iraq speaks of the sorrows of the sanctions more than the
hospitals. The tales are many, yet those who hear them are few.
Al-Mansour Hospital is the best hospital in Baghdad, if not the best in the
country. When we walked in we were met by Dr. Sa’id, a young doctor whose
eyes spoke of the grief and misery within the hospital wards. The
smell of gas was apparent and extremely disturbing as we walked through the
hospital, and as Dr. Sa’id explained, gas was used to sterilize the
metallic equipment because all other means of sterilizing the equipment
was sanctioned. The use of gas as a sterilizing tool reminded me of an
old lady I had met at the Abu Hanifa Mosque. She was a grandmother
taking care of her three grandchildren, whose mother had also died in a
hospital much like al-Mansour when she was having her third and last
child. Due to the lack of sterile equipment used during her operation !
and the shortage of antibiotics as a result of the sanctions, the
woman’s blood was infected and she died shortly after giving her final gift
to the world, her daughter.
The smell of the gas was giving me a bit of a headache. Wherever we
walked in the hospital, we could see the effects of the sanctions.
Barely any lights were working, medicines were not available, beds were torn
and old, blood and urine stained the floor, and the sound of children
crying was non-stop. The hospital rooms were old and rickety. Each
room had six beds with six children lying on them and six moms watching
their child anxiously. These children came in all shapes and sizes, as
did their diseases. I had read about malnourishment and deformation as
a result of the depleted uranium. Yet there they were in front of me.
Infants born prematurely with their intestines on the wrong side of
their body. A stunted girl whose skin and bones showed her lack of
sustenance. A baby dying from nothing more than diarrhea because of the
contaminated water. And a, oh my gosh…subhan’Allah. We had walked into
another room but I wasn’t prepared to see what I just saw. Ok one tw!
o three…go back in. He was a boy…I think. He didn’t look like
anything human. Bulging out of his mouth was a big black bloody ball. I was
feeling really nauseous now. I had to leave again. Outside most of
the members of the delegation stood with looks of utter horror and teary
eyes. They couldn’t go back in but I needed to know what, how, why?
His name was Abbas Adnan and in a few months he’d be four, yet you’d
never guess from his size. Then again I don’t think I ever got over the
bulging ball coming out of his mouth to really consider how old he
looked. Abbas, much like Frankenstein, was the result of people’s desire to
toil with human life and tweak it to their liking. Where Frankenstein
was the actual product of one man’s desire to create another live
being, Abbas was the product of a superpower nation’s desire to destroy
another nation no matter what the cost may be, Abbas or no Abbas. In a
“war” (more like a one-sided bombing campaign) that lasted less than a!
month, the US dropped 88,500 tons of bombs, the equivalent of seven
and a half atomic bombs of the size that fell upon Hiroshima during WWII.
And all the depleted uranium and radiation from those bombs resulted in
Abbas and many others much like him to look the way they do. His
diagnosis; the invasion of a malignant disease upon his body causing his
mucous membranes to bulge. Nice big words to hide the reality of Abbas’
real “disease,” his disease as a lesser human being, as an Iraqi, a
nobody whose life and pain and quiet suffering wouldn’t be worth a fraction
of a penny for the oil that his hospital bed rested upon. Isn’t that
reason enough to not even acknowledge Abbas’ existence as a victim of
the war and a victim of the sanctions, while the whole time pointing
one’s finger at one single man to justify a nation’s silent demise.
As his mom explained Abbas’ reality to us, I looked away in utter
shame. What do you say to her, what do you say to all the moms standing
around their dying children. We walk in and out of their lives with our
cameras and tape recorders and notepads. They hold their babies so we
can capture them in their misery and they thank us for coming. Oh by
the way, they ask, why did you come? How are you different than the
hundreds of other delegations that came before you? Are you here to help
my kid, look that’s him dying in that bed over there. The doctors say
he’s lucky if he’ll last a week. So is that why you’re here, to help my
son? No book could have ever prepared me for the feeling of ultimate
disgust and utter disgrace. What do I say…I’m sorry, may Allah
strengthen you, you are always in my du’as. They smile and look away, probably
wondering since when did their son or daughter become part of a circus
act. Come one, come all and see the baby with a tumor growing out!
of his back…
We left the hospital, away from the cries of the babies, and the smell
of gas and urine, away from the baby that died seconds before we
entered the room, and the crying mothers, and away from Abbas who would never
know what it is like to breath normally and have air rush through your
lungs with the utmost ease. As we walked away from the hospital we
passed by the only ambulance car in all of Baghdad. I couldn’t help but
wonder what this ambulance car was rushing the patients to…another place
to die? Like al-Mansour, the Basra Hospital for Children and Births
was another place to die. Yet in the Basra Hospital patients don’t even
bother going because they’d much rather die at home amongst people they
Basra, a town in Southern Iraq was an experience all its own. We flew
from Baghdad to Basra early in the morning because only one plane left
each day. Walking through the airport, I was amazed at how nice it
was. If I hadn’t known that I was in Iraq, I would have thought I was in
some European or American airport. But how could I forget, this was
Iraq, the target of international damnation. All the airport terminals
were closed except for Iraqi Airlines, the fountains were turned off,
and the orange and yellow seats once again made me think I was stuck in
some twilight zone episode where I was frozen in time. We were given
our $6 tickets to fly the hour flight through the no-fly zone. We went
through three security terminals and our bags were checked like we were
entering some top security prison where even the batteries in our
cameras were confiscated. We were finally ready. We boarded the empty
plane and much like the employees in the hotel, the stewardesses carried!
out their duties as if the plane was filled to the brink with
passengers. I read my prayers over and over again, not knowing if this was the
last day I’d be alive. Man, I’m a convict. I’m flying in the no-fly
zone and if a UN plane wishes to bomb our plane they have complete
rights to do so in the eyes of the “international community.” In the hour
flight we were served orange colored sugar water and sweet bread. The
stewardesses also whisked by with a cart that displayed three or four
items to be sold, not even looking at the passengers, knowing that nobody
was really going to buy the bright red lipstick or the florescent green
eye-shadow that they were selling…form without function.
And so we landed, on one of the worst hit areas in all of Iraq, Basra.
Not only was it the location of the eight year Iraq-Iran War back in
the 80’s, not only did it “host” the Kurdish rebellion in the 90’s, not
only was it the center stage for the Gulf War, but it is also presently
the target of more than a decade of ongoing sanctions. And ironically
after the more than twenty years of direct physical aggression,
everyone we asked in Basra agreed that the worst thing to have hit them was
the sanctions. Unlike Baghdad that externally looked very nice, Basra
didn’t even have that initial appeal. It was dirty, it was barren, it
was empty and overwhelmingly depressing, it was, I am convinced T.S.
Elliot’s inspiration for writing “The Wasteland.” A city with cars parked
every five feet fanning out their overheated engines, a city with sky
the color of soot due to the extremely high levels of pollution, a city
with sewage spilling into the streets, a city with garbage dumps ra!
ther than gardens, a city with a 70% unemployment rate, a city with
three times the normal atmospheric radiation level and ironically a city
with an ocean of oil right beneath the dirt surface, enough oil that if
Iraq was to start pumping 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, the oil would
be able to maintain the world for 50 years no problem. Basra is
probably the richest wasteland in the world.
Leaving the airport we came across about a hundred girls sitting near
the exit of the airport. Today they were on a fieldtrip, the aim of the
fieldtrip, not even the teacher knew. Maybe they just ran out of
things to teach, maybe they realized that there is no point in teaching
because a degree would be of more use helping to light a fire than being
framed on a wall. The girls looked at us in awe as they took turns
taking pictures with us. What is it like to live in Basra? Oh, the usual,
they bomb us almost every other day but we’re used to it.
Alhamdulillah…by the way can we get a copy of that picture? A psychologist would
have a field day with these girls, their realities defined by
deprivation and war.
Like I said, Basra was an experience all its own. In the Basra
Hospital, a research hospital mind you, we walked into complete chaos. Women
were on top of each other fighting to get their prescription from the
hospital pharmacy before the medicine ran out. The second we walked in
three women came up to me and showed me their babies and pleaded for me
to get them medicine. They had been waiting and fighting for two
hours. But I’m not a doctor, I told them. They looked at me in disbelief;
surely I was lying. Why else would I be in the hospital, with nice
shoes on my feet and no sign of sickness unless I was a doctor? No, I’m
part of a delegation I explained. They turned away and left, she’s not
a doctor they kept telling whoever asked.
Next stop was a primary and secondary school. It was completely
surrounded by palm trees and if the driver didn’t stop I would have guessed
it was some abandoned shack. But it wasn’t, about 200 boys came in two
shifts every school day, one shift in the morning and one shift in the
afternoon. The school was empty; apparently the boys were on a field
trip, maybe they too had also gone to the airport. It was hot (over
90*F) and the school had no air conditioning, not even a fan. The windows
were broken and doors and walls were falling apart. The playground was
dirt with one pole in the middle. The only sign of life was a nicely
framed picture of Saddam Hussein reading a book on top of the chalkboard
in each classroom. No books, no shelves, no posters, no decoration, no
nothing. In fact, we were told this school was lucky because they had
some desks that looked like they were installed during the stone ages.
But there was no time to sit and wonder at the state of the school. We
had to keep on moving. And so we did, straight into the heart of
darkness itself, a small village where no words could describe the
deprivation of these kids. There were hundreds of them. Infants, toddlers,
teenagers, wherever you looked they were staring at you. Bare-foot,
dirty, and skinny, these kids used the three or four words of English they
knew to amuse us. Thank you, please, bicycle. I loved them, I couldn’t
help it. I just wanted to give them something to make them smile and
that was my fatal flaw. Another brother on the delegation began to give
out pens but when he was almost trampled, he stopped. It didn’t
register in my head. I just wanted to make them smile, bring some joy into
their lives. I took out my bag of lollipops but before I could open it,
kids came out of nowhere and began grabbing at the bag, grabbing at my
jilbab, and grabbing at my arms. Lollipops, what were lollipops!
, what were pens, yet anything and everything was like gold when you’ve
lived a life as poor as dirt. I couldn’t handle the kids anymore, I
felt like they were going to tear the clothes off my back. One of the
Iraqi men that went everywhere we went began hitting the kids and yelling
at them to back off. He told me to get in the car and as I got in the
car the kids kept following me. “Khalah, give us a pen khalah,” they
begged as we drove away. They’d follow our cars and plaster their faces
to the windows every time we stopped, “Khalah one pen please, just one
pen.” I looked down in shame. I had about ten pens in my bag but all
I could say is I’m sorry…I don’t have any. The kids kept running after
the cars even though every time they got near the cars, they were beat
by that man. They were not only paying for the price of my stupidity
in thinking I could fix their lives by giving them lollipops, but they
were also paying the price for the world’s apathy and disregard f!
or the true victims of the sanctions.
This is the price of the sanctions that will soon “celebrate” its
eleventh anniversary. It is neither Saddam Hussein nor the Iraqi government
that the US is hurting. To them the sanctions are another political
game, with the Iraqi citizens playing their part as the pawns. No, those
who are paying the price are the children and the youth. It is
three-year old Abbas who was born and who will die in the hospital, his only
means of nourishment are the tubes that are permanently glued to his
arms. It is eleven year old Isra’ who was walking home from school with
her three friends when a smart bomb fell upon them, killing her friends
and resulting in her arm being amputated and her body being permanently
scarred. It is 22-year old Hala, who is an architect student at the
University of Baghdad, whose life is meaningless because her education
and degree will mean nothing, getting married is a lost luxury where only
the rich can afford it, having children is the object of her nig!
htmares for God only knows what deformed beast will come out of her
stomach, and remaining hopeful is a daily battle that more often than not
she loses. These are the victims of the sanctions and the war against
Iraq. But to say that the world does not know of the price these kids
are paying is to forget Madeline Albright’s infamous words, “It’s a
difficult choice to make, but we think the price is worth it.”
Like I said it, has been almost a month since I’ve left Iraq. While
my stay in Iraq lasted about eight days, those eight days taught me what
nineteen years had not. Reflecting upon those eight days, I have seen
many of my faults and shortcomings magnified. Where I had previously
spoken about wanting to change the world, I had quite often forgotten
that all change comes from Allah subhana wa ta’ala. Where I had wanted
to revolutionize the state of the ummah, I had never bothered
revolutionizing the state of myself. Yet now when I look back upon those eight
days and the images of what I saw flash through my head, I cannot help
but reflect upon the importance of that Qur’anic ayah, “Surely Allah
will not change the conditions of a people until they change the condition
of themselves.” (13:11). Our struggle to end the sanctions and uplift
the Iraqis from their state of oppression will not be successful no
matter how many rallies we do or how much money we fundraise or how m!
any people we educate. We are not the ones who will end the sanctions,
only Allah can do so. And only when we realize this and begin to
change ourselves as Islam guides us to do so, live our lives like the
Prophet (may the peace and blessings be showered upon him) did and have
complete faith and reliance upon Allah, will Allah answer our prayers
insha’Allah and bless our actions whether it is in ending the sanctions in
Iraq or helping to free our brothers and sisters in Occupied Palestine or
in any other place that the Muslims are being oppressed. So often we
secularize Islam, separating activism from spirituality, but only when
our activism is an extension of our spirituality will our activism mean
anything insha’Allah. May Allah purify our hearts and our intentions
and help us change the condition of ourselves so that He can change the
condition of our ummah. May He increase us in our iman and taqwah and
may He allow us to exemplify our lives after that of the Prophet (!
pbuh). May He guide and bless the Muslims in Iraq and may He uplift
them from their state of oppression and may He never let them fall into a
state of despair. May He enter each and everyone of those who die as a
result of the sanctions and the war into al-firdos and may He allow us
to continue in the struggle to fight for our Muslim brothers and
sisters who are dying around the world…amin.
|Re: one sisters experience in Iraq..|
|05/23/01 at 04:25:51|
|Assalamu alaikum Warahmatulahi wbarakatuh|
Can you please send the full e-mail as an attachment to us...there seems to be a few typos in the message above.
Wasalamu alaikum Warahmatulahi wbarakatuh
|Re: one sisters experience in Iraq..|
|05/30/01 at 22:35:14|
|Wow! What an experience! I totally agree with your summation. |
Allah (swt)alone can change the Muslim situation in the world today and like you
quoted from the Quran it won't happen until we change what is within us.
Inshallah the seed on Iman will grow in all the hearts of the believers so that we do
change ourselves and are worthy of Allah(swt) help. Jazaku Allahu Khairun
sister and don't ever stop sharing your experience....they do inspire!
|Re: one sisters experience in Iraq..|
|05/31/01 at 14:09:35|
like hanan said please dont stop the stories because they do inspire,
thats really frightening, children having to live like that and the man and woman suffering .....
|Re: one sisters experience in Iraq..|
|05/31/01 at 23:46:45|
|as salam o alaikum|
why not do a program in your community highlighting what is going on in iraq..it is amazing how ignorant the muslim community is about it (especially the indo-pak) ...go here it good resource if one wishes to do this www.msa-natl.org/iraq sis reem is part of this coalition as well..
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