I saw Joan Chittister on Meet This Press this Easter. When the transcript of that show is ready, I will replace this entry with quotes from what she said. She was the first intelligent voice on stem cell research, abortion -- in fact, all the questions about life -- that I have heard from any member of any religion. So I Googled her. I found that she has a column, FROM WHERE I STAND, in the National Catholic Reporter. I have reprinted her most recent column here. If you are a liberal female, no matter what your religious persuasion, Sister Joan rocks.
‘Our childhood is killed in Iraq. It is killed’
By Joan Chittister, OSB
[Program Note: Erie
Benedictine Sr. Joan Chittister has accepted an invitation to be a
panel member on the special Easter Sunday edition of NBC’s “Meet the
Press” public affairs television program. The program will air Sunday,
April 16 at 10 a.m. (eastern time). The “Meet the Press” Web site,
www.msnbc.msn.com/id/3032608, carries a video and written transcript of
each program soon after airing.]
The question to the group of women delegates from Iraq was “What would you like to see come out of this meeting?”
I was not prepared either for
the answer or for its explanation: “What we need now,” one of the Iraqi
woman said, “is the end of the blood-letting. Women are very necessary
to this operation. Fifty-five to 60 percent of Iraqis are women. The
minority is ruling ... Women must interfere in the affairs of men. We
should take over.”
It was hardly a statement I expected to hear in this place from these women. But I couldn’t forget it.
“The minority is ruling.” Right. And not too well, it seems, either here or there.
When men sit down to
negotiate peace treaties -- when there’s even someone to negotiate
with, which, given al-Qaeda, is not a luxury we seem to have anymore --
they disband armies and guard borders and hold military tribunals and
form new governments and punish old ones. But they put no faces on the
When they tote up the cost of
the war, they do not include the number of women raped, the number of
families displaced, the number of schools bombed, or the number of
babies without milk.
The victors take their
spoils, monitor the guns, forget the defenseless and leave the people
to clean up the rubble. War becomes the daily dirge of the anonymous
But when you bring women
together to discuss the effects of war, the things that need to be
changed, the real problems of a war-torn society, the conversation
takes a sudden turn.
At the first Iraqi-American
dialogue convened by the Women’s Global Peace Initiative in New York on
March 29, the differences were plain. The women’s first agenda did not
concentrate on who did what or who profited or lost by the doing of it.
“Take the oil. We don’t care about the oil,” one woman called across
the room. “We never got any value from it anyway,” she went on. “Never
mind yesterday,” another woman said in answer to the Sunni- Shi’ite
tensions. “Forget who did what to whom. We must turn the page now. We
must rebuild the country.”
“And what is the first thing
that must be done to rebuild the country?” we asked them. I sat with my
hands over the keyboard, sure that the list would be long and varied. I
was wrong. To a woman, the call was clear: “Take care of our children.”
It was a sobering moment.
Take care of our children. “Oh, them,” I thought. “The tiny, the
forgotten, targets of this war.”
Take care of the ones who now
carry within themselves the sour taste of fear that came as bombs
dropped through the dark sky shaking their houses, destroying their
streets. Take care of the children, the ones who went cold as stone at
the lossof brothers and fathers and dead playmates.
Take care of the ones who
felt the sweat of terror when the doors of the homes in which they were
sure they were safe broke down in the middle of the night or the lights
went out or their mothers wrapped their shawls around their heads and
cried. Take care of the ones who went into psychic paralysis at the
sight of blood and bodies. Take care of the ones who woke up one
morning to find their lives completely disrupted for no apparent reason.
Take care of the ones to whom
then Secretary of State Colin Powell was apparently referring when a
reporter asked him how many Iraqis had been killed or injured at that
point in the war and his answer was, “That is a number in which I have
absolutely no interest whatsoever.”
But maybe he and we should
all rethink that answer. Because these children do not feel “liberated”
by this war; in these children the seeds of the next war have already
The Iraqi women were very
clear: the most injured of all in this war are the children of Iraq.
“The war has made deep wounds that have become part of our souls,”
another woman said. “They can never be forgotten. The living
conditions, the lack of security is affecting everything the children
do. They cannot even deliver newspapers anymore.”
Their schooling has been
interrupted. Even if the school buildings still stand, there are no
supplies for them. And there are few people in them anyway. Teachers
are dead. Classmates are gone from the area -- refugees somewhere or
dead themselves. Most of all, their parents are afraid to send them out
of the house even if the schools are undamaged.
“Our childhood is killed in Iraq,” a woman said. “It is killed.”
The small jobs children once held
to help with family expenses are gone now. No one buys flowers on the
street now. No one drives a car whose windows they can wash.
Drugs are flooding the streets now and drugs are the best and quickest way to ease the pain.
The number of street children
-- children whose parents are dead, whose extended families are
fractured -- have multiplied beyond anything modern Iraq has ever known.
Orphans are a commodity now
in Iraq but orphanages are not. “We are taking care of the orphans,
trying to give them love,” the woman said. “But they are traumatized.
They don’t speak.”
Recreational programs are a thing of the past, so children are restless or rebellious or simply bored with life.
“Fifty percent of the bodies
in the hospital are women and children,” the doctor said. “We are
afraid that a large number of children will be affected by the
depression of their mothers and the loss of their fathers and the
poverty of their families.”
The future of Iraq is at
stake. But it is not the banking system the women are concerned about.
It is the treasure of the nation that is being squandered, they know.
It is their future. It is their children.
The U.S. budget for fiscal
year 2007, according to The National Priorities Project, earmarks 51
percent of all discretionary spending for military use. “Spending on
the Iraq War in fiscal year 2006 alone will reach $96 billion,” the
Project reports. (www.nationalpriorities.org)
The Bush budget calls for the
elimination or reduction of 141 domestic programs. Among other things,
we cut the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants
and Children by $200 million and the department of education by 9
percent and eliminate vocational education. “Level funding” is provided
for other domestic programs.
The overall cost of the war
in Iraq for the United States is already being estimated at at least a
trillion dollars. But so far not a penny of it is specified for the
children. Neither theirs nor ours.
“We see the prisoners’ rights,” another delegate said sadly, “but where are the rights of the children.”
From where I stand, I can’t
help but wonder that if we sold some of our weapons and used the money
to buy crayons, food, houses and schools for Iraqi children, we could
stop worrying about being terrorized ourselves. Indeed, the minority is
ruling. Maybe the Iraqi woman’s idea about what to do about it wouldn’t
be a bad one after all.