Women of Iraq tour

By
November 20, 2003

Mills College Weekly

Mills students and members of the surrounding community filled
every seat in the Student Union last Wednesday night, listening
intently as two Iraqi women described the effect America’s “War in
Iraq” has had on their country.

Nermin Al-Mufti and Amal Al-Khedairy, Iraqi women traveling
across America as part of the “Women of Iraq” tour, shared their
first-hand accounts in hopes of spreading awareness about the
consequences of American occupation for Iraqi people and culture.
Scholars of art, archeology, culture and civil affairs, they offer
Americans an Iraqi perspective on a war that is depicted, for many
in our society, only by America’s mass media.

“Every yesterday is better than tomorrow,” Nermin Al-Mufti told
the audience. “For 23 years, every tomorrow brings something more
painful.”

Al-Mufti, an internationally recognized Iraqi journalist and a
single mother, has a son in Iraq who is 20 years old. “I’m doing
this for the sake of my son,” she said.

She used her turn at the microphone to address the civil and
monetary issues plaguing Iraq, and to briefly illustrate the
devastation American occupation has caused in her country. She
touched on kidnappings and rapes, billions of dollars in debt, and
explained that revenue from her country’s resources is being stolen
by the greed of large American conglomerates.

“Americans entered Iraq knowing nothing about our great
civilization… their fingers are on the triggers always,” Al-Mufti
said.

“Bush said his troops were sent to ‘liberate’ us, to give us
democracy,” Al-Khedairy told the crowd when it was her turn at the
podium. “Well the first day of liberation I opened my front door,
and there was a tank outside.”

In 1988, Al-Khedairy founded the Al-Beit Al-Iraqi, the “Iraqi
House,” in her home. Throughout the 90s this was the only
intellectual center for culture and arts in Baghdad, in a time when
many of these types of institutions were forced to close.

During America’s bombing campaign last spring, her house,
Baghdad’s cultural center, was destroyed. The windows were blown
out and rubble covered the floors.

In a video clip shown to the audience, Al-Khedairy wanders
through the destroyed building and angrily addresses the camera.
“Iraq is not Saddam!” she says. “This Iraq, it’s not one man, it’s
generations. It’s history. Why are you destroying history?”

The destruction of the Al-Beit Al-Iraqi, she said when the film
was through, “is a symbol of what happened in all of Iraq.”

Both Al-Mufti and Al-Khedairy said that, having visited this
country, they are surprised to find Americans so kind and
hospitable, and are astonished at how this contrasts with the
actions of the Americans in their home.

“This is a beautiful country, with beautiful people,”
Al-Khedairy said.

“Then why,” she asked, “Are you sending your boys to be
killed?”

Al-Mufti explained this inconsistency by referencing a theory
she read in a book titled “The Cultural Cold War.” “They wash the
brains of Americans,” she said. “They make them selfish, and
neglect others…”

Al-Khedairy said that Americans don’t fully understand the
situation in Iraq because information is not made available. “I
don’t see any of it on your television. You don’t know anything
about it!”

“Why send your sons?” She answered her own question. “For
petrol? To negotiate petrol?”

“You shouldn’t have everything. You have petrol here. You have
everything here, in this beautiful country. I’m surprised [at] this
hospitality. How did you [allow] that?” “Mr. Bush,” she said,
neglecting the title of Pres., “dares to stand and say this is
democracy.”

As Al-Mufti closed, she implored the audience: “Help us to ask
America,” she stops, and corrects herself, “the American
administration, to put out forces in my country. To save my
son.”

During the period set aside for audience questions a student
rose, and after thanking the speakers for the opportunity to “hear
real human beings from Iraq,” asked about the number of American
casualties reported in mass media. She commented that it might be
grossly misrepresented, a ploy to bolster public support, that
perhaps American citizens are led to underestimate the devastation
that the American side must also endure.

Medea Benjamin of the Global Exchange, a sponsor of the “Women
of Iraq” tour, stood and related a story about a delegation of
American military families that will be traveling to Iraq. Benjamin
told the crowd that she had asked one of these people why they want
to go there amid the violence and destruction. This mother, whose
daughter is a soldier in Iraq, told her, “The last time we talked,
the last thing she said to me was ‘Mom, I want to kill
myself.'”

As Benjamin said this, behind her Al-Khedairy shook her head in
sympathy.

A woman in the back of the room stood to express her own
sentiments about the occupation of Iraq. “There are two countries,”
she said. “Bush, and then [Americans] like us, just as Saddam does
not represent the people of Iraq. In the spirit of solidarity, you
are the second Iraqis, talking to the second Americans.”

As the night ended, the audience was asked to ponder two
questions: “What now are our political and moral responsibilities?
Because we can’t say anymore that we don’t know.”

And the second: “When is war, aggression, over?”

The crowd rose for a standing ovation, some stomped their feet
in support, and a line formed next to the two guests as people
waited to meet Al-Khedairy and Al-Mufti.

“They are amazing women,” said student Lynn Burns. “I enjoyed
the opportunity to have a face to face dialogue.” She said that she
attended the event with a friend who is pro-war, and was afraid her
friend was offended by some of Al-Khedairy’ and Al-Mufti’s
accusatory statements.

“It fell short in my mind,” said student Traci Bue, who thought
the event, especially the question and answer section, was not well
organized. “It wasn’t very scholarly. It seemed like [Al-Khedairy
and Al-Mufti] were just voicing their opinions… I thought it
would be more of their real experiences,” she said.

Both said they appreciated that these women came to speak at
Mills, and respected them for their strength.

Funds raised on the “Women of Iraq” tour will be used to create
a feature length documentary with the working title, “Why I Love My
Country,” which will bring Al-Khedairy’ and Al-Mufti’s stories to a
wider audience. Their visit to Mills College was sponsored by the
Women’s Leadership Institute.


Women of Iraq tour was published on November 20, 2003 in News

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