IRAQ: Are We Dupes?

CPTnet
December 18, 2002
IRAQ: Are We Dupes?

by Peggy Gish

[Editor's Note: Peggy Gish has been with CPT in
Baghdad for the past two months. She is a 59-year-old
mother from Athens, Ohio. She has spent many years
teaching and working with nonviolent experiments.
Peggy is a member of New Fellowship Community, a
Church of the Brethren congregation.]

"How do you know you aren't just being dupes of the
Iraqi government?" several Americans have asked us.
This question implies that Iraqis or the Iraqi
government could use or manipulate those of us coming
on such a peace mission, would mainly feed us
propaganda, or even possibly take us hostage. Many
back home assume the Iraqi government tightly controls
what we see, who we talk to, and what we hear.

We are quick to share that our purpose in coming to
Iraq is not to support either U.S. or Iraqi government
policies, but to understand what the Iraqi people have
experienced since the Gulf War: the 12 years of
devastating sanctions and, now, the possibility of a
new assault. We also hope to report our experiences
and to dispel the image of the Iraqi people as our
"enemies." But we also need to say that yes, we don't
have full control over what we do while here or how it
could be interpreted. These are risks we take--the same
risks we take when holding an unpopular viewpoint or
working for peace and justice in our own country.

We must keep in mind that we are not only foreigners,
but also citizens of a country that has systematically
devastated Iraq over the past twelve years and is
threatening war and assassination of the country's
leader. Given this, it is not surprising we are
watched and under suspicion. It's been obvious at
times that Iraqis we meet with feel inhibited or just
repeat a "party line," but that is fairly easy to
spot.

It's actually surprising how much freedom we have been
allowed. A government representative usually
accompanies us when we visit institutions or when we
travel to other cities. Yet we often visit families,
daily walk the streets of Baghdad, visit shops and
meet people at random, and meet with U.N. agency
representatives on our own. Our group has initiated
most of our contacts and appointments. We feel we've
witnessed a pretty fair view of living conditions and
varying perspectives among the Iraqi people.

In truth, it seems there are many ways power
structures in our own society "dupe" us. These
structures daily feed us lies and half-truths and
one-sided and distorted facts. Fair and balanced
stories that challenge our administration's positions
rarely make it into our mainstream media. Do we take
the trouble to find alternative news sources? (How
many people understand how the sanctions have been a
weapon of mass destruction, killing hundreds of
thousands of Iraqis, most children?) We have been
programmed into identifying with the wealthy, the
powerful, the elite, and into excusing or downplaying
the crass sin, injustice, power plays, mass murder,
and exploitation our government and corporate elite
are engaged in. We are taught to be suspicious of or
hate certain groups of people. Is this not being
duped?

Yes, we cannot know for certain that others won't
distort us or our efforts or that Iraq or the U.S.
government won't slander or imprison us, but that is a
risk I am willing to take. Either we can risk seeking
to do what is right or we can hold back out of fear of
making mistakes or being taken advantage of. Maybe
that is why, whenever we step out in faith, it is
important to also seek humility, humor, child-like
faith and vision, openness, and the ability to not
take ourselves too seriously. And, most of all, it is
important to be grounded in a faith that God is caring
for us, is ultimately in charge, and is the One
bringing about any change.

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