Friday, March 20, 2015
Twelve years ago, on March 20, 2003, the U.S-led invasion of Iraq began.
Anniversaries always have a way of sending you down memory lane. A lot can happen in twelve years.
I remember the person I was that day — an undergrad at the University of Miami, an idealist that believed people were ultimately good. You just had to love hard enough. You just had to let your truest self shine. You just had to speak truth from the heart, and people would get it. I also remember needing to sit with a few friends and pray against a Leviathan unleashed—as if somehow our prayers could mitigate the consequences.
Three years later, I completed my first pilgrimage in Mecca. Sitting on the mosque steps, I overheard many things, including a woman ask if it was true — if in fact Saddam Hussein was hung. I didn’t have a smart phone to check. I hoped that somehow, when I returned to Chicago, I would hear about the end of the war.
Five years later, I met a strangely daft middle-aged American woman watching her husband play tennis at a club along the Nile in Cairo. She probably had enough Botox in her face to lift a dozen breasts. I was excited to meet another American anyway – until she told me how wildly successful her husband had been in the private sector…selling tanks all over the Middle East. And wasn’t it just grand that here she could afford servants to do her groceries because lord knows she hasn’t picked up any Arabic living in Egypt for over two years…
Six years later, after the Fort Hood shootings, a physician I knew organized an interfaith event at a local library. I remember listening to a young Iraqi woman speak about escaping the war with her family and later becoming a nurse in the U.S. She primarily treated American soldiers with PTSD. She spoke about her own episodes and how she could relate to her patients. I remember sitting next to an older Catholic priest who sobbed and sobbed as he listened. I offered my hand, and he expressed his outrage and deep shame that in spite of all of his activism and prayers, he couldn’t stop our country from pursuing this path.
Nine years later, my husband and I strolled through Old Montreal and found an inconspicuous building housing a temporary art exhibit. On the second floor, I learned that hymen reconstructive surgery was a thing in Miami. On the top floor, I watched a short film about drone operators experiencing PTSD while sitting in offices in Las Vegas. Before walking out, I walked into a room dedicated to a 14-year old Iraqi girl named Abeer Qassim Hamza al-Janabi. There was a sign cautioning visitors of the graphic content on display. I remember feeling ashamed I did not know her story until that day.
Ten years later, I would study for months in the cold Butler library stacks going through my reading lists. When I was just beginning to finally enjoy the hilariously cocky poetic of al-Mutanabbi and understand why there were volumes devoted to hating and loving him, I noticed a new art installation entitled “Mutanabbi Street Starts Here” being prepared near the circulation desk. As the days went by, I examined the pieces added and learned about the historic bookstore center of Baghdad, named after the tenth-century poet I was only getting to know, that was bombed in 2007 leaving 26 dead, bookstore owners without their books, and librarians devastated.
During the twelve years, we learned with certainty this war fought in our name and paid by our taxes was based on lies — making us complicit in horrors we don’t like to talk about because it’s. just. not. us. Abu Ghraib. Torture. Rape. Uranium depletion that will result in birth defects for generations.
Twelve years later, there are young Iraqis who have lived most of their lives under occupation.
Twelve years later, there are young Americans now in college who have lived most of their lives while their country has been at war. Even as images from our own backyard in Ferguson eerily look indistinguishable from images of international war zones; even as we witness growing homeless communities to which so many veterans suffering from PTSD belong — for many — it’s not even a part of their consciousness.
After twelve years, every single American over the age of 12 should at least be able to locate Iraq on a map.
After twelve years, enough memories can be gathered to haunt a person for a lifetime.