I, too, have been feeling a lot of grief over the tragic death of Kayla Mueller. My heart goes out to her family and friends. I can deeply feel the pain—as someone who has taken similar risks over the past years to walk with those suffering the horrendous violence in Iraq, much of which has been exacerbated by the actions of my own country. This summer and fall I lived and worked in northern Iraq and near the borders with Syria and Turkey, listening to the horrendous stories of the people who had fled the Islamic State (ISIS.) and seeing how much pain and suffering U.S. anti-terrorism policies has meant for them. I was more fortunate than Kayla, as I have, so far, returned home from my work.
The cruelty of ISIS is real and horrible. It isn’t something that we want spread and to cause more suffering. Nevertheless, I oppose President Obama’s proposal that would give the president a blank check to expand the U.S.-led military intervention against ISIS and “associated persons or forces.” The resolution not only contains a lot of vague language that gives no geographic limits and could be expanded to justify an ongoing, even endless war in any area of the world. It could include Lebanon, Libya, or Yemen, or even beyond the Middle East to the Somalia or the Philippines. It would firm up and legitimize the horrendous acts of violence the U.S. perpetrates in the world in our name, which also includes incinerating people—with our air-strikes.
Increased military actions against ISIS will not deal with the underlying problems of those regions, but will add more fuel to the fire. The social and political breakdown in Iraq and Syria, that has allowed ISIS to gain support and control, is the fruit of the U.S. invasion and violent occupation of Iraq and of U.S. support for a sectarian and brutal Iraqi government that has angered and alienated millions of Sunni Muslim Iraqis. It’s also a product of the devastating civil war in Syria and funding of several Syrian rebel groups by the U.S. and its allies. The role the U.S. has played in the region has only increased the anger toward the U.S. and its allies and drawn more fighters to ISIS’s cause.
So now our country is preparing to expand our destructive policies and actions even more. I am sad for the people whose lives will be torn apart. I am sad that U.S. leaders will be using Kayla’s death to stir up fear and hatred to gain support for endless war. I’m sure Kayla would want nothing of this. And I would like to think that most Americans, deep inside, if they really understood what the war on terror really means for the people on the ground, would put the well being of the common people of those areas ahead of the financial gain of corporate America, that steers our foreign policy.
The farther our country moves in this direction, the harder it is to turn around and change course, but it is imperative that we do so. More immediately, this would mean working with other nations in the region and using diplomatic efforts to secure a ceasefire and power-sharing agreement in Syria, as well as diplomatic efforts to resolve the conflicts with Iran and in Ukraine. It means a regional cutting off the supply of weapons and funds to ISIS. None of this would be easy.
But beyond these and other immediate actions, I am calling for a more radical shift from military and violent covert actions that destabilize societies and prepare the way for western multinational corporations to exploit local resources, to one of supporting genuine democratic movements that help build civil society and provide equal rights and opportunities for those with less power. It means radically changing international monetary programs so that they no longer exploit the poor but reduce the gap between the rich and the poor. It means providing humanitarian assistance and development that support local grassroots efforts and works to eradicate disease and poverty.
This would reflect the kind of love and compassion for the people of the world that members of the major religions of the world as well as humanitarians could together espouse. And this would reflect the kind of love and compassion that Kayla lived out in her life and gave her life for.
by Peggy Faw Gish
Books by Peggy Faw Gish:
Walking Through Fire: Iraqis’ Struggle for Justice and Reconciliation (Cascade Books, 2013)
Iraq: A Journey of Hope and Peace (Herald Press, 2004)