Friday, August 24

Lamentations for Iraq

A fragment from an ancient Mesopotamian lamentation:

"Dead men, not potsherds
littered the way.
In the wide streets
where the crowds once gathered and cheered,
the corpses lay scattered.
In the fields where the dancers once danced
the dead were heaped up in piles......."

Iraq has been in dreadful places before, it has recovered and it will recover.

Thursday, June 14

UK Iraq Commission

The Foreign Policy Centre (a Labour Party think tank) and Channel 4 are currently running the UK Iraq Commission - described as a British version of the US Iraq Study Group, but with the difference that the hearings are broadcast and the timescale is much shorter, just 6 weeks so as to produce a final report soon after Gordon Brown becomes Prime Minister. There are some very interesting witnesses and submissions, quite a few from my friends, so I highly recommend watch and reading some of them. I was planning on making an submission, but have been preocuppied with work on Gaza the last few weeks and so haven't managed to do so.

Wednesday, May 16

Change of identity

To those who've been redirected here from my old site, and to anyone who has just stumbled upon this page, Ahlan wa sahlan, blogi blogkum (a warm welcome, please consider my blog as your blog) - okay that greeting doesn't work so well for virtual rather than physical guests! I'm kinds busy at the moment with multiple reports, projects and campaigns on the go, so won't probably won't write anything for a few weeks, but you know where to find me now!

My old blog title didn't make as much sense as it used to. Back in 2003 when there was some hope of the Occupation ending quickly and a peaceful and prosperous Iraq emerging, that slightly tongue in cheek title was intended to emphasis how much I value Iraq and Iraqis - I'd actually like to be one of them! Honestly I imagined living out in Baghdad for much of my life, firstly supporting the rebuilding of the country (which I feel a responsibility to be involved in, as a result of the damage caused in part by Britain over the last century and particularly the Sanctions and wars during my lifetime) and secondly enjoying the richness of culture and the warmth of the people in the cradle of civilisation. After four long years of bloodshed that seems so unrealistic that the title now sounds very strange and might even seem to be sarcastic. Hence I've changed it.

Monday, April 16

"Misunderstanding Islam" broadcasts

An old school friend, Rich Ward, has recorded a radio mini-series for BBC Radio Oxford challenging some of the misrepresentation of Muslims in the media. Its available online for the next week here.

Monday, March 19

Marking the 4th anniversary of the invasion

Together with friends from Voices in the Wilderness, Catholic Worker and Fellowship for Reconciliation I helped plant 186 crosses in Parliament Square to remember those killed in Iraq. Each cross had the name of a known victim and together they represented the 186,000 estimated to have been directly killed by Coalition forces (estimated from a survey published in the Lancet in October 2006 which estimated a total death toll of 655,000). My close friend Salih, and Iraqi doctor from Basra, mournfully participated and updated me on the latest horror stories from his friends and family in Iraq - the hospital were he trained in Basra is nearly empty as most doctors have been killed or have fled. The crosses in the picture looked battered because there was strong wind and hail while we were errecting them - the ragged look is perhaps more suited to Iraq's devestation than tidy military-style rows of gravestones. A photo of the crosses appeared in the Metro this morning, and the event is written up by Ekklesia and Indymedia.

Monday, February 26

Identity in Christ

When I began to get acquainted with Jesus in my mid-teens, I was in a pretty miserable state. I had a very low self esteem because I didn't match up at all to the sporty, trendy and confident standard expected at my boarding school. I had been quite heavily bullied and felt no one valued me, and consequently was fairly self-absorbed. One of the amazing things I discovered as I began to get to know some Christians was how precious and unique I was to God. For example Jesus illustrates the Father's deep love for us by saying that he even counts the number of hairs on our heads, he calls us children and friends rather than servants. And the Bible contained phenomenal statements about how differently God saw me (compared to the negative way other people might) and promises about how he was transforming me to become more like Jesus.

Back in my school days I gathered together a page of my favourite quotations from the Bible related to the new identity I'd come to embrace as someone loved by God. It's clear from the context that many of the verses in the Bible, for example things Jesus says to his little band of disciples, are intended not just for the immediate audience but also apply to us today. This is not always the case of course, and I have no intention of building a giant wooden Ark because I've read that Noah was once asked to do this! Anyhow, for those verses which were clearly universalisable, I look the liberty of replacing pronouns like "you" with my own name as a reminder that amazingly these truths and promises really were meant for me as well (and you too)! I wrote as an introduction that: "God treats us as individuals, He knows everything about us, yet He loves us and has made it possible for us to come into relationship with Him." I sometimes made similar sheets for friends, and they were generally well appreciated.

When I first put together a website, almost a decade ago, this sheet was one of the first pages I posted up on it. I'm mentioning it now because I just got an email from a guy in the US who stumbled upon this page via Google. He has transformed it into an online form which will generate a list of those personalised verses which can be viewed on a webpage and/or sent by email. It's a great idea, so thanks Jacob!

Sunday, February 11

My letter about Islam in the Daily Mail

I was just (vainly) doing a search for my name online and I discovered that a letter I wrote to the Daily Mail last month was published (in a somewhat edited form) under the title "Peaceful Majority". As I didn't get a response from them, and don't read that newspaper, I hadn't realised it was actually published!

It was written after the excellent Arab Media Watch sent an alert about a column of his that said: "The chairman of the U.S. House Intelligence Committee was forced recently to admit he didn't know the difference between Sunni and Shia... So, for the benefit of Mail readers in the same boat, here is a simple cut-out-and-keep guide to the two dominant branches of Islam: Sunnis are the peace-loving, Saudi-backed wing who brought you Al Qaeda. Shias are the peace-loving, Iranian-backed strain behind Hamas and Hezbollah. I hope that helps."

My letter said: "I was shocked to read Richard Littlejohn's characterisation of the two main branches of Islam, implying that neither is 'peace-loving'. One might as well describe Christians as being 'behind the IRA and Ku Klux Klan'. Muslims who commit violent acts are not at all representative of the vast majority of the 1.3 billion Muslims worldwide - almost a quarter of humanity. And Hamas isn't a Shia organisation: it is composed entirely of Sunni Muslims."

One line that was unfortunately cut from the published letter was: "I have worked in Palestine and Iraq with outstanding Muslims of both sects whose faith inspires them to risk their lives non-violently in the cause of peace and reconciliation."

Sunday, January 28

New Iraq blogs

I've started two new blogs related to projects I'm working on. One is an initiative to evacuate the Palestinian community from Baghdad and the other is a campaign against rip-off privatisation of Iraq's oil fields.

Thursday, January 18

Public Meeting on Iraq in Parliament

I'm speaking at a Public Meeting on Iraq in the UK Parliament next Tuesday (23rd Jan, 6-7.30pm, Committee Room 16). It's been organised by Iraq Occupation Focus to brief MPs prior to an adjournment debate on Iraq in the House of Commons on the following day. The others on the panel are Haifa Zangana (an Iraqi writer), Greg Muttitt (author of 'Crude Designs: The Rip-off of Iraq's Oil') and Glen Rangwala (co-author of 'Iraq in Fragments: The Occupation and Its Legacy').

Saturday, December 30

Eid Mubarak

I wish all my Muslim friends and readers God's blessings on Eid al-Adha (The Festival of Sacrifice)!

It's an important festival which I think Christians should also celebrate. It remembers the day that Abraham did not sacrifice his son (Issac or Ishmael, depending on you preference). The focus is often on the obedience and faith of Abraham in his willingness to give to God that which he cared about the most. This is certainly an important part of the story, but I think another perspective on it is even more significant. People often wonder why God should ask Abraham to prepare to do such a horrible thing (building the altar, tying his son to it, raising his dagger to kill...) even if he granted a last minute reprieve? I think this question reveals the great truth behind of Eid al-Adha. Abraham lived in a time when human sacrifice, including child sacrifice, was central to most of the religions of the day. God was giving Abraham a very clear lesson: He was not that kind of deity. He is the God who creates, and life is precious to him.

How ironic then, that in a day that we remember a life being spared, in Iraq a life was taken. I was no fan of Saddam. I know many people who suffered directly and indirectly because of his harsh rule and, but for his regime (and the reaction of other countries to it), Iraq might today be a wealthy and peaceful country, the cradle of civilization. However executing him does not undo the damage. In fact in the long term it may inhibit the healing process for Iraqis, who will now not have the chance to have the wrongs done to them because of Saddam heard in court. Saddam is of course not the first person to be executed. There are of course many serious crimes such as murder and kidnapping being committed daily in Iraq, and the Iraqi courts are handing out the death penalty frequently and often on a tiny fraction of the evidence and judicial process that existed for Saddam. I have lost many friends in Iraq in recent years, and I can relate to the desire for punishment and revenge. But sadly I doubt this will set the foundation for the peaceful Iraq, respectful of human rights, that the long-suffering Iraqis deserve.

I would have preferred the punishment for Saddam that Norman Kember has suggested: for him to be dressed in an orange jumpsuit and put to work on a building site, ending his life repairing in a small way a tiny part of the destruction he brought upon his country. And we could think of a few other leaders closer to home who might justly be expected to join him in laying those bricks.