"Whoever amongst you sees anything objectionable, let him change it with his hand, if he is not able, then with his tongue, and if he is not even able to do so, then with his heart, and the latter is the weakest form of faith."
– Narrated Saying of the Prophet Muhammad, peace be upon him.
Wednesday morning, I am angry and frustrated and mournful. It is a beautiful sunlit day in March, I hear Missouri birds chirp and I see a well-maintained neighborhood outside my window, the comfort of which the majority of the world will never experience.
Today marks the tenth year since we invaded Iraq.
I am an outrageously privileged Muslim American woman grappling with how the country I love created a decade of war destroying the lives of millions of Muslims, Christians, siblings, artists, humans.
I remember watching the White House press conference while at my aunt’s house. George W. Bush announced an ultimatum to Saddam Hussein: surrender or face U.S. Forces. I didn’t understand the conversation of the adults around me. As a middle school student, I didn’t think we would actually invade a second country in two years.
The war is mostly hidden from us. Body bags of dead American soldiers were not shown on nightly news. Journalists embedded with army units told us what the soldiers faced, rarely the civilians. I personally am unaffected, as I’ve never had to face a draft or ration any of my resources.
Across the sea, hundreds of thousands of people are killed, displaced and wounded. Unless reminded, I generally forget the whole thing is happening.
My generation has spent 12 years living with wars that most barely notice.
The beginning of the war coincided with my history class unit on the Vietnam war. For my classmates and I, there was nothing more nonsensical than the U.S. presence in Vietnam and Korea, and the bombing of Southeast Asia to stop the encroachment of communism. Our current wars strike me as an even more absurd catastrophe. And where were the objections from the Americans that spent their youth protesting the war in Vietnam? Didn’t they see the connections?
To this moment, I am stunned we act as if we’ve learned nothing from our history.
I’ve learned five lessons from my generation’s quagmire.
There are no “just” wars
We justify our wars by demonizing those we attack. But how could our country, where the majority of American citizens have never met an Iraqi, a middle easterner or a Muslim, agree to an occupation of a country with 25 million people? We sent 18-year-olds who had never left their towns into a land foreign to them in every way imaginable. We wished to find “terrorists”; our actions created them with instability and by instilling desire for revenge in the people we have wronged. The atrocities committed since the invasion far outweigh those that happened under Saddam, if only by magnitude. People who still think the symbolic removal of one individual was worth the suffering of millions are beyond the reach of reason.
War in the name of women
After it became clear the war predicated lies, there was retroactive justification of Iraq and Afghanistan’s invasion based on the “liberation” of Muslim women. In the 1980s, before the sanctions and invasion, Iraqi women had 6 months of paid maternity leave and the region’s highest literacy rates. Those proud of the “progress” in Iraq should acknowledge cases like the Mahmudiya murder, in which a 14-year-old was gang raped and murdered by American soldiers. This is just one example showing how an environment of gender violence is perpetuated in times of war. We live in a twisted world where people claim women’s rights are achieved through missile blasts.
We trust that our leaders’ access to classified information allows them to make calculated decisions on our behalf. With the intelligence they had, the public was presented with false stories of yellow cake and WMDs. Today Condoleezza Rice, Donald Rumsfeld, Dick Cheney, Paul Bremer, Tony Blair all continue to defend their push for the invasion. I question their true motives, which were never officially stated to the U.S. or global public. To this day, there is no U.S. congressional approval for formal war in Iraq.
Popular uprisings like those in Egypt, Tunisia and Algeria have shown there is a possibility for citizens to fight for democracy without the need for bloody foreign invasion. What if we demanded support for on-the-ground democracy activists the way we demand support for our troops? Instead, we spent the 1990s imposing restrictive sanctions on Iraq that is estimated to have starved one million Iraqis to death, half being children. According to the Lancet, the death count from the Iraq war 2003 to 2006 alone was above 500,000. I have never heard a happy story result from the war, whether from the psychologically and physically wounded veteran, or the cousin of a man killed at Abu Ghraib. What if it all could have been avoided?
A war started, never ends
George W. Bush proclaimed "mission accomplished" in 2003. And 2012 was the official American withdrawal, since the Iraqi legislature no longer guaranteed legal immunity to US troops. Thousands of contractors, including private military forces, will remain in Iraq. The special inspector general for reconstruction in Iraq shows that $10 billion was wasted of the $2.2 trillion spent on the war. Iraq is unstable and the infrastructure destroyed. No amount of money will bring back the dead.
Ten years later, polls still show American support for invasions into countries like Iran, population 75 million, and Pakistan, population 176 million. The CIA uses special operations without oversight in dozens of countries across the world, and the victims are mostly innocent civilians. It appears the last casualty of this war has been our own belief in peace without the use of military force.
Today I am angry and frustrated and mournful. I have little hope that people have learned the painful lessons from the past 10 years, if even they chose to notice. But I have no choice but to remain steadfast in objecting to war, past, present and future, and in finding those in my generation that will dedicate themselves to the same goal.