Friday, October 21, 2011. Chaos and violence continue, Barack holds a press conference, few reporters listen to what he actually says, they then miss another press conference, the Iraq War continues, the Iraqi refugee problem continues, and more.
This afternoon Al Jazeera and the Christian Science Monitor's Jane Arraf Tweeted:
janearrafObama: "After nearly nine years, America's war in #Iraq will be over" raising the question 'What about Iraq's war?' Goodbye and good luck.
Today in DC, US President Barack Obama held a press conference to announce . . .
Well, let's look at how it's being reported. The best reporting? How about Mark Landler's "U.S. Troops to Leave Iraq by Year's End, Obama Says" (New York Times)? The journalists didn't write the headlines. We're not holding them responsiblve for them. We will, however, hold them reponsible for their content. Mark Landler didn't sleep through the press conference and it shows. Not among the worst but probably somewhere above the middle is Yochi J. Dreazen's piece for National Journal which opens: "President Obama's speech formally declaring that the last 43,000 U.S. troops will leave Iraq by the end of the year was designed to mask an unpleasant truth: the troops aren't being withdrawn because the U.S. wants them out. They're leaving because the Iraqi government refused to let them stay."
The biggest flaw for that? Remember the ones that will remain with the embassies in Iraq (under the State Dept) for a moment? Yochi didn't and didn't realize that in addition to those, there will be others. CNN notes that approximately 150 "will remain to assist in arms sales." Julian E. Barnes, Carol Lee and Siobhan Hughes (Wall St. Journal) remembered the ones assigned to the State Dept and also report on the ones who will remain for "arms sales." It's a toss up between the Los Angeles Times and AP on who has the worst report. Both are pretty ridiculous. But Reuters was probably the worst report until Ben Feller (Christian Science Monitor) elected to file. Normally, we don't link to Wired but a friend called in a favor so we'll note Spencer Ackerman (Wired) observes, "But the fact is America's military efforts in Iraq aren't coming to an end. They are instead entering a new phase. On January 1, 2012, the State Department will command a hired army of about 5,500 security contractors, all to protect the largest U.S. diplomatic presence anywhere overseas." Ackerman also notes there will be a CIA presence. It's a strong report. Eli Lake (Daily Beast) notes:
But the end of the war does not mean the end of the U.S. presence in Iraq. Indeed, speaking after the president's brief announcement, Deputy National Security Adviser Denis McDonough acknowledged that the United States would continue to train Iraq's military in the new weaponry that Obama has agreed to sell the government that emerged after U.S. troops toppled the regime of Saddam Hussein in 2003. Just this year, the Pentagon approved a sale of F-16s to Iraq's air force.
Also remaining in Iraq will be military contractors who currently protect American diplomatic missions in Iraq, such as the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad and the consulate in Irbil.
I spoke to many people today. The news media sure is compliant -- not the ones praised above or below. I was told by friends at State that we were correct about negotiations and bluffing (see earlier this week). (That's their term, I call it the power of no and note you can't bluff the power of no. You have to be prepared to walk away if you don't get what you need.) From the Vice President's office, no, it's not time (in reply to whether I should announce here that the site would be going dark shortly -- and please note, this from a friend who is not only unhappy with the way Barack comes off here but also that I critique Joe when I feel it's needed). So I'm really not understanding why there's so much hoopla. Between what was said especially. As a friend at State pointed out, Barack specifically spoke of discussions being ongoing for "trainers" and the White House has never considered "trainers" to be soldiers. My friend at the Pentagon suggested I think of a scene we both quote to one another from Black Widow.(starring Debra Winger as Alex and Theresa Russell as Catherine) written by Ronald Bass, directed by Bob Rafelson)
Probably few. But credit to Brian Montopoli (CBS News -- link has text and video) who gets it right from the opening sentence: "President Obama announced Friday that the United States will withdraw nearly all troops from Iraq by the end of the year, effectively bringing the long and polarizing war in Iraq to an end." And Brian Montopoli also grasps what many others didn't hear -- he quotes Barack stating at the press conference, "As I told Prime Minister Maliki, we will continue discussions on how we might help Iraq train and equip its forces, again just as we offer training and assistance to countries around the world." Mark Landler also notes that statement and points out, "Mr. Obama appeared to leave open the possibility of further negotiations on the question of military trainers".
New York Times' Tim Arango Tweeted, (if only he'd been drunk):
"If only he'd been drunk"? It would excuse his not grasping what Mark Landler -- who works for the New York Times as well -- had reported. It's nice of Tim to credit Lara Jakes and Rebecca Santana of AP but it's not really over yet and he might need to read his own paper to discover that. In addition, the sources that spoke to AP for that article were incorrect. Listen to the press conference by Barack and then the one that followed. (We'll get to the one that followed in a moment.)
What Barack announced was not anything to cheer. There is the continued negotiations (I'm told Joe Biden will still be going to Iraq shortly to press on "trainers") for post-2011. David Swanson points out that what Barack announced today and what he promised on the campaign trail were two different things. There's also the issue of the remaining soldiers -- for 'arms sales' and for the US Embassy staff -- and there's the issue of contractors. Iraq Veterans Against the War posted a stupid, stupid statement which opened with: "IVAW is excited to hear President Obama's announcement this afternoon about a total troop withdrawal from Iraq by the end of 2011. We are happy to know troops will be home with their families soon. However, there will be many issues to resolve in the aftermath of this disastrous war and occupation." When a lot of us were supporting to IVAW, the people in charge were aware of issues like 'security' contractors. But it doesn't seem to matter at all to IVAW today.
But that's IVAW. They've repeatedly embarrassed themselves over Barack Obama and it goes to the split that has led some to leave the organization. For whatever reasons, certain elements of IVAW got behind in 2007 and they've really whored for him and turned the organization into, as one former member likes to put it, "a bunch of __s" (p-word for vagina). And that's how they're seen now because in 2008 they went partisan and they never got their intelligence back. The same former member likes to point out that he can't take one of the faces of IVAW seriously because (quoted with permission) he's an "extreme 9-11 Truther, extreme, heavy, and he's also a member of that whole Cult of [St.] Barack you talk about. In other words, George W. Bush, all by himself, planned 9-11 and Barack is peaches and cream and puppy dog tails -- or maybe puppy god tales, I have no idea. But it's one foolish extreme or the other, where someone's the supreme goodness or else the supreme badness." And in each 'belief' there is naivete.
Then again, as another former IVAW points out, maybe it wasn't a good idea to make someone executive director of Iraq Veterans Against the War when the person never served in Iraq or Afghanistan. It's a puzzler.
Now they're gearing up to talk "reparations." The US doesn't owe the puppet government reparations. Those exiles lobbied the US government to invade Iraq. If anything, they should be paying the US. The Iraqi people, I believe, deserve reparations. But I don't believe you turn that over to the Iraqi government. Not when so many Iraqis continue to live in poverty while the Iraqi government officials not only steal freely (and proudly) but also waste money like crazy. Dar Addustour reports the Iraqi government is spending $150 million to buy three deluxe planes -- one of which will be for the Iraqi president, another for the prime minister. $150 million. While people struggle in poverty. And someone thinks it's a good idea to give the government of Iraq more money?
If IVAW had anything to offer, they would have issued a statement today noting that Barack stressed negotations were still ongoing. They would have called out the contracters as well as the US soldiers who are going to be remaining on the ground in Iraq not to mention those who will be stationed in Kuwait. But that would have required leadership and IVAW turned themselves into a get-out-the-vote organization. For those who've forgotten, IVAW got punked big time at the Democratic Party's convention in Colorado. We were there, Ava and myself, reporting on it for Third and IVAW had the Democratic officials running scared. They were making demands, they were going to have a protest. People in the press that we knew were asking Ava and I about it and the excitement was building and IVAW was geared to get more publicity than they'd ever had in their lives. Then they got stage managed right out of their press moment. They were all happy and thrilled and Barack was going to meet with them and blah, blah, blah. The clock had already been running out. They got punked. The party shut down their protest and shut them up and then ignored them.
The big split in IVAW, that it's never recovered from, was not, as some want to reduce it, about whether or not a political statement was being made with a US flag or whether the flag was being disrespected. That was the eruption point and it was issues like the refusal to be the independent organization that was going to hold all politicians accountable. IVAW was not a Democratic Party organization but that's what it became in 2008 and they have made clear today that they have chosen to remain that. That's a priority but being a veteran of the Iraq War or even the Afghanistan War, not so much. Despite being named Iraq Veterans Against the War.
If that hurts, I really don't give a damn today. We don't link to Wired and I dislike Spencer Ackerman. While a favor called in got Wired it's link, I didn't have to give kind words to Ackerman. I did it because he did a good job reporting on what's really going down. I don't care for David Swanson and usually see him as the most extreme Barack apologist but he didn't try to spin it or lie today and he got a link. He earned his link, good job, David Swanson.
By the same token, I didn't intend to write about IVAW today. Except for a few passing sentences about the shameful 2008 behavior, I've not criticized the organization. But this snapshot was ready an hour ago when Kat tugged on my shoulder and whispered (as I was finishing dictating in my cell phone), "You have to take this call." And I said "Hold the snapshot, I'm going to have to change something I know" and took the other cell phone and it was two former members of IVAW telling me about the IVAW statement -- which I hadn't even read yet -- and expressing their extreme anger.
I don't blame them. The fact that they're not IVAW now doesn't matter -- and doesn't matter to them. They worked to build up that organization and IVAW had core beliefs about the Iraq War. Those beliefs got shoved aside to promote Barack today. They're outraged and I think they're right to be. If it was just their opinion and I didn't agree with it, I'd present as "two former IVAW's feel . . ." and leave it alone. But they are right and IVAW really needs to take a look what they believe in what they started and the mutant child they've become.
Today was interesting. It wasn't what much of the press portrays but it was interesting. Like this statement, after Barack's press conference, by Deputy National Security Advisor Denis McDonough, "You know, Matt, I think it's important to point out that we have a capacity to maintain trainers. In fact, the Office of Security Cooperation in Iraq will have a capacity to train Iraqis on the new kinds of weapons and weapons systems that the Iraqis are going to buy, including, importantly, like the F-16s that they just purchased just about a month ago. So we will have a training capacity there. We'll have the kind of normal training relationship that we have with countries all over the world. You'll see, for example, Central Command looking for opportunities to have increased naval cooperation. You'll see opportunities in naval exercises; opportunities to have increased air force training and exercise opportunities. So we're going to have the kind of robust security cooperation with the Iraqis that we have with important allies all around the world. So the suggestion of your question that somehow there is not going to be training is just not accurate."
Did those doing their shine-on-the-glory write-ups bother to pay attention to that press conference? Apparently not. We'll probably go into that one on Monday (including the admission that ups the numbers -- probably by about 45, I'm guessing -- of US troops that will remain in Iraq).
AFP's Prashant Rao Tweeted some thoughts on Iraq:
prashantraoPolitics in #Iraq remain deadlocked to a large degree - after elections in March 2010, still no permanent minister of defence or interior
The Turkish military continues to assault northern Iraq. Roy Gutman, Ipek Yezdani and Sahar Issa (McClatchy Newspapers) report that while various Kurdistan Regional Government officials have condemned PKK attacks, they have not joined in the assault on the PKK. That's not at all surprising. The PKK assaults, as the press portrays the story, leads to the Turkish military response. That's not true. Not only is not where the story begins -- the starting point is the continued disenfranchisement of Kurds in Turkey -- there is no logical relationship between 'I condemn the PKK attack on a checkpoint' and 'I support the carpet bombing of the northern Iraq mountains.' The press has created a false narrative (I'm not referring to McClatchy who -- in this story and in Sahar Issa's report earlier this week) have pretty mcuh played it by the facts). They'e turned it into a high speed chase, tossing in everything but a white Bronco, when nothing could be more false. There was no high speech chase -- though yesterday afternoon the New York Times was pimping that hard in an early draft -- but pretending that there was allows people to pretend that the only one who might die are the evil doers that we can see up ahead and have had our eye on all along. Again, that's a lie.
From the article: "We have no intention of sending any reinforcements to the site of the conflict on the border," said Jabbar Yawar, spokesman for the Kurdish peshmerga defense force, adding that this was "because force is not the answer."
AP reports that Turkey and Iran are stating they will work together on the issue of Kurdish rebels. Iran recently worked out some form of an understanding with PJAK, the Kurdish rebels that attack Iranian security targets. So whether this is a real partnership or just an effort to strengthen its relationship with Turkey by offering public statements of support remains to be seen. In related news, Alsumaria TV reports, "Iraq's Ahrar bloc affiliated to Sadrist Movement criticized, on Tuesday, head of White Iraqiya Party Hassan Al Alawi's statements which called to unify the two main Kurdish parties in Kurdistan 'in preparation to declare the independent Kurdish state.' These statements reflect the failure of Alawi's overstated ambitions, Al Ahrar argued confirming that Kurds are an integral component of Iraq's community."
This morning, the Iraqi press was reporting on the ongoing negotiations regarding a US military presence in Iraq beyond 2011. Al Mada notes Nouri's statements to the press that the number of trainers will be no more than one thousand. In a separate report, Al Mada notes that US Vice President Joe Biden is due in Iraq shortly to discuss the issue of 'trainers' and immunity and that Biden will be citing US laws and the US Constitution as the need for immunity. In addition to meeting with Nouri, he will also meet with Massoud Barzani, KRG President and with Amar al-Hakim (Supreme Islamic Council of Iraq leader).
In other news, the Iraqi press has been full of articles this week (such as this one at Al Rafidayn) about calls for certain professors to lose their jobs or be demoted on charges that they are Ba'athists. Alsumaria TV notes, "Iraqi Minister of Higher Education Ali Al Adib accused on Wednesday his predecessor Abd Diab Al Ujaili of having run the ministry upon Baathist Party's directions. The 140 staff members that were sent away from the University of Tikrit were subject to the Justice and Accountability Law, Adib pointed up. The University's president reported their names to the ministry, he added." Aswat al-Iraq reports, "Deputy Premier Saleh al-Mutlaq rejected what he called 'demotion' of a number of professors from Mosul and Tikrit universities, pointing out that these procedures are 'disappointing and depressive' to the coming political stability and uprising of scientific and economic situations. In a field visit done by Mutlaq to Salah al-Din province, he met the governor, university teachers and tribal sheikhs." Presumably crying "Ba'athist" every five seconds allows many to refuse to focus on real issues such as Dar Addustour's report on new data which finds that the number of Iraqi widows and orphans continues to rise.
Al Mada offers a lengthy report on the state of press freedoms in Iraq and notes the crackdown on journalists when "government agents" started arresting those who dared to cover the Friday protests, how their cameras and laptops were confiscated, how security teams beat demonstrators, used tear gas, water cannons and bullets on the protesters, how journalists were arrested, etc. Hadi al-Mahdi, the Iraqi journalist and activist, was arrested February 25th, the article notes, after covering the protest. He and two other journalists were eating lunch when Iraqi forces rushed up and began beating them with sticks and the butts of the rifles. The paper notes the assassination of Hadi al-Mahdi and how friends believe the murder was part of the government crackdown. That's just the first part of the article.
Now we turn to targets and refugees. Starting with Iraqi Christians. Last week The NewsHour (PBS) examined Christianity in the Middle East and we'll note the question and answer section on Iraq:
How did the Christians benefit from Saddam Hussein?
"There was a kind of a social contract in Iraq," between minorities and Hussein, says Adeed Dawisha, a professor at the University of Miami in Ohio. "Under Saddam, it was understood that if you don't interfere in politics, then you are provided with a good life."
"If the Christians supported Saddam, not because they loved what he was doing, it was the fear of the alternative," Dawisha says. As a result of turning their focus elsewhere, Christians prospered economically. They were businessmen, doctors, lawyers, and engineers. A select few were part of the political elite, like Tariq Aziz who served as foreign minister and deputy prime minister under Hussein. According to Katulis, that created a "network of protection that existed through some of the leaders [in] Saddam's inner circle ... trickled on down through community."
What did Hussein get out of it?
Hussein, by being intolerant of all sectarian violence, ensured that his minority-rule regime was safe from uprisings. The regime was equally intolerant of any sectarian-led violence, says Dawisha. However, Christans were not a "favored community" under Hussein's rule, Dawisha explains, "they were simply left alone." As a result, these minorities did not rebel against him.
What happened after Hussein left?
Nothing good. Once the regime fell, animosity between all religious communities exploded. The smallest minorities suffered the most. Before 2003, there were about 800,000 Christians in Iraq. Currently, Dawisha says, there is less than half that number.
Sister Rosemarie Milazzo (Maryknoll Sisters) is in Iraq and writes today of an Iraqi Civil Socieity Soldiarity Initiative conference in Erbil last weekend, "The Iraqis I met there are on fire with passion for justice and peace and have been demonstrating, marching, etc. They came from all over Iraq for this meeting. Presentations from trade unions, women empowerment groups, environmental groups, etc. I met lots of courageous young activists. One was a young woman who shared her story of torture and beatings in Baghdad recently." Phil Lawler (Catholic Culture) wonders, "How is it that after more than two decades of US involvement in Iraq, Christians there face a steadily deteriorating situation?" Because, among other reasons, the US government wasn't interested in the Iraqi people, they were interested in thugs who could terrorize and distract the Iraqi people while various US government desires were imposed. Thugs, generally speaking, don't have a high regard for any anyone but fellow thugs. Which is how you get the waves of attacks on Iraqi Christians and on Iraq's LGBT community, on Iraq's religious minorities (which include more than just Christians) and ethnic minorities, attacks on Iraqi women, etc. The Witchita Eagle's editorial board notes, "More than half of Iraqi Christians have fled the country since the U.S. invasion, according to a State Department report last year. And the persecution and attacks on Christians have increased in recent years." Alex Murashko (Christian Post) reported yesterday, "Ongoing violence against Christians in Iraq has produced an accelerated exodus of believers recently and numbering in the hundreds of thousands over the last 10 years, said Open Doors USA officials." Dennis Sadowski (Catholic News Service) reported earlier this month on Bishop Gerlad Kicanas (Tucson) and Bishop George Murry (Youngstown) visiting Iraq (October 2nd through 5th) where they saw that security was still an issue that needed to be addressed and quotes Bishop Kicanas on a church scarred by a machine gun attack (the physical structure still scarred and the congregation still scared), "You still see vivid remains of the attack. This was a defining moment for Christians relizing they weren't safe in their own homes or their own churches." Sadowski notes, "The number of Christians in Iraq has declined from about 1.5 million in 2000 to less than 500,000 in 2010, according to Iraqi Christians in Need, a British charity established to address the exodus of Christians from the country. The agency cited long-imposed economic sanctions, continuing violence and the U.S.-led invasion in 2003 as reasons for the mass migration of Christians from the country."
Last week Vatican Radio (link is text and audio) noted a lower estimate of the remaining Christians in Iraq (150,000) and noted that while safety issues continue to force many to flee "their homes and even the country," Ankawa in the Kurdistan Regional Government has seen an increase in a little over two decades from 8,000 Christians to 25,000 due to Christians moving there in an attempt to find safety. It was nearly a year ago, October 31st, that Our Lady of Salvation Church in Baghdad was attacked. Church goers were held hostage, over 50 people were killed, many more injured. A woman in the church explained to Jim Muir (BBC News -- link is text and video), "Gunmen entered the church and started to beat people. Some of the people were released but others were wounded and some died and one of the priests was killed." Police officer Hussain Nahidh told John Leland (New York Times), "It's a horrible scene. More than 58 people were killed. The suicide vests were filled with ball bearings to kill as many people as possible. You can see human flesh everywhere. Flesh was stuck to the top roof of the hall. Many people went to hospitals without legs and hands." John Pontifex (Scottish Catholic Observer) reported earlier this month on the increase in Ankawa's Christian population noting that "1500 have arrived within the last year alone" and that "Christians arriving in Ankawa have fled not only from the Iraqi capital but from all across the country -- Mosul in the north, Kirkuk in the north-east, and even Basra, hundreds of miles away in the extreme south." Rob Kerby (Belief Net) notes that the Kurdistan Regional Government is offering Iraqi Christians "plots of land as well as $10,000 per family to settle in the village of Se Ganian, whose population was murdered by poison gas during Saddam's campaign against the Kurds." Joni B. Hannigan (Florida Baptist Witness via Asia News) adds, "The Grace Baptist Cultural Center in Dohuk [Province, in the Kurdistan Regional Government] -- a partnership between Iraqi, Jordan, Brazilian, American and Lebanese Baptists -- is being built with the blessing of Iraqi Kurdistan's Regional Government, who donated the $2 million properly. The land is in the same village, Simele, where in 1933 an estimated 6,000 Assyrians and Chaldeans were slaughtered by the Iraqi government following the withdrawal of British troops from the region after a treaty granting Iraq's independence in 1930."
Throughout the last 10 years, these sisters kept us in a different loop of information as their country fell futher into chaos. One comment we heard was "order under a dictatorship was better than anarchy," which followed the collapse of the government.
The religious tolernace that had existed had disappeared. The Christian Church existing in Iraq since the days of the Apostles ironically is disappearing as Christians from the West despoil their country.
[. . .]
What might the world be like if instead of weapons we had invaded Iraq and Afghanistan with bread and roses, medicine and education, electricity and roads? What if we had acknowledged our responsibilities for the anguish and anxiety of these people existent decades before 9/11?
The Iraq War created the largest refugee crisis in the MidEast since 1948. Steve Beaven (Oregonian) reports on Baher Butti who left in 2006 and who is part of Jim Lommasson's photo exhibit at the Launch Pad Gallery through Saturday, October 29th entitled "What We Carried: Fragments from the Cradle of Civilization" which features photographs and also the paintings of Iraqis Farooq Hassan and Samir Khurshid, both of whom "now live in Portland." Beaven notes that Baher Butti and his wife (Balsam) and "their daughter and two sons [. . .] live in a house in Cedar Hills. Butti is a case manager and counselor for refugees at Lutheran Community Services in Southeast Portland. Balsam hopes to get her medical license here, their daughter goes to Sunset High School, and their sons are Portland State University students." The Launch Pad Gallery describes the exhibit:
What We Carried: Fragments from the Cradle of Civilization is about leaving one's homeland. Portland Photographer/Writer Jim Lommasson is currently photographing and interviewing Iraqi refugees and immigrants who have fled to the U.S. since 1990. This project dovetails with Lommasson's visual and oral history of returning American soldiers from the Iraq and Afghanistan Wars called Exit Wounds. Lommasson feels that there is another side of the story that needs to be told, about those who have left their homeland and are now resettling around the world. Lommasson is photographing those few important personal items that have survived the long journey from Iraq to the U.S. The journey may take months, sometime even years, and includes refugee camps, piles of documents and possibly a few bribes. After photographing the objects, Lommasson asks the participants to write about the significance of their objects on the finished photographs.
Trudy Rubin (Philadelphia Inquirer via the Modesto Bee) remembers Barack stating in 2007, "One tragic outcome of this war is that the Iraqis who stood with America -- the interpreters, embassy workers, and subcontractors -- are being targeted for assassination. . . . And yet our doors are shut. That is not how we treat our friends. That is not who we are as Americans." He felt that way before he got in the White House. Trudy notes, "I've received dozens of e-mails from desperate Iraqi interpreters (some with glowing recommendations from senior U.S. military officers) who have all received death threats. Some interpreters are getting kicked off U.S. bases where they've lived for safety's sake, because those bases are closing." Pacific News Center notes that Guam-Senator Judi Guthertz has proposed that Guam be used as a asylum location for Iraqi refugees. The refugees include many groupings. Iraq's gay and lesbian community has been targeted repeatedly. Paul Canning (Care2Care) reports:
Iraqi gay refugees may be almost forgotten, but one man has photographic proof that they exist. Back in June, the Center for Human Rights and Global Justice (CHRGJ) at NYU School of Lawpublished the report 'A Decade Lost: Locating Gender in U.S. Counter-Terrorism,' the first account of how U.S. counter-terrorism efforts have undermined the rights of women and sexual minorities.
The report includes the 'collateral damage' from the Iraq war, the hundreds of LGBT people hunted down and killed in Iraq, including some by state actors, and the probably thousands (no one knows) who have fled. The group Iraqi LGBT has been almost solely responsible for documenting the murders.
After being left for dead by militia men in Iraq for photographing a story about the treatment of gay men, Nasser fled to Damascus, Syria, barely alive. 18 months later he is robbed in Damascus, everything he had stolen by a boyfriend. He was feeling betrayed and impatient, and tired of waiting to hear of news of resettlement to another country through the United Nations. Nasser wanted to go to Bulgaria, smuggling himself into the European Union illegally. Instead he went back to Iraq to get new documents, risking his life doing so.
Arriving back in Iraq Nasser was kidnapped and has dissapeared. His whereabouts, his survival; unknown. I just had a phone call from someone in Iraq telling me that Nasser had been taken away, and that his friends are worried he might have been killed for real this time. In the search to make a new start, Nasser; a very brave, quiet and confident man may have lost his life and become another number added to the countless others killed because of their sexuality in Iraq. Sexual genocide continues. He may be alive, held somewhere. If he's alive, his courage will allow him to break out, escape, and start the new life he has been wishing for.
"Grandmothers Against the War; Getting Off Our Fannies and Standing Up for Peace" (Citadel Press)
Culture seekers streaming through Lincoln Center Tuesday evening, Oct. 18, were undoubtedly surprised to see a tableau not usually seen at the arts complex. Approximately 100 members of the Granny Peace Brigade and their followers formed a semi-circle around the fountain located in the midst of the plaza surrounded by the Koch Theatre (home of the New York City Ballet); the Metropolitan Opera House, and Avery Fisher Hall.
The mostly elderly women, interspersed with a few men, stood silently from 7 p.m. to 8 p.m. wearing placards with messages such as "AGAINST WARS, INVASIONS, OCCUPATIONS" and "AGAINST U.S. MILITARFY BASES ABROAD." The main purpose of the action was to challenge the rules forbidding private public spaces being used to advance political agendas, in essence preventing freedom of speech. And, as always, the grannies meant to convey their anti-war, anti-militarization message. They chose the date to celebrate the six years since 18 of them were arrested and jailed on Oct. 18, 2005, when they tried to enlist to replace America's grandchildren in harm's way in an illegal and immoral war in Iraq.
The grannies believe that because of the national and international crises currently prevailing, which sorely demand resolution, it is essential that there be opportunities to rally, to vigil, to demonstrate on behalf of peace and social justice wherever people congregate.
After about 20 minutes, an official from Lincoln Center came over to the group and said that they would have to disperse, and, if not, the police would be called. The peace people stood their ground. No police came, though they were at a nearby location ready to pounce. More time passed, and again the woman from Lincoln Center warned the grannies to leave the premises or the police would be called. The grannies continued standing silently, and again there was a notable absence of the men in blue to carry out the threat.
Promptly at 8 p.m., the grannies broke ranks and, as cameras flashed and the watching crowd burst into applause, spoke happily about their feelings of having accomplished their mission. They had, after all, held their vigil without interference.
One wondered why the police backed off from removing and presumably arresting the vigilers. Was it because they retain vestiges of their childhood respect and fear of their elders -- they were psychologically unable to clamp handcuffs on old women like their grannies?
Or was it because they've been getting a bad rap lately as stories have circulated about young women being pepper sprayed while peacefully marching with the Occupy Wall Street people, and for randomly brutally mistreating OWS persons on Brooklyn Bridge, in Citibank? If so, it was a wise decision. YouTube videos circulating throughout the world showing cops dragging white-haired old ladies into paddy wagons would not exactly enhance the reputation of New York's Finest!
So, have the grandmothers created a new precedent paving the way for future vigils and rallies to take place in public private spaces (or is it private public spaces)? Was this a unique event resulting from intimidated police confronted with their elders? Or if it's a younger assemblage next time, will the police revert to their old aggressive tactics?
Time will tell. One hopes, however, that a new chapter is beginning, allowing for more freedom to peaceably assemble in order to alert the public to the perilous circumstances confronting us all.