Thursday, April 30, 2009
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Thursday, April 23, 2009
War Kids Relief
War Kids Relief was founded in 2005 by Capt. Jonathan Powers, former artillery platoon leader in the Army's 1st Armored Division, as a way to help Iraqi children deal with the adverse effects of the war. Now an in-house program of Children's Culture Connection, War Kids Relief is harnessing the creative potential of children in both Iraq and the US to promote peace, tolerance and respect for different cultures through their newfound friendships with one another.
With donor support we will replicate this program all across the U.S. and Iraq in a sustainable, long term program.
Young Ambassadors Pilot Program
In 2009, War Kids Relief will be launching the first Young Ambassadors Program to promote peace, tolerance and respect for different cultures among Iraqi and US youth.
The Need in Iraq:
Iraqi youth lack exposure to other cultures. Many have negative impressions and ideas about Americans. On a daily basis, Iraqi youth are negatively influenced through magazines and books that contain extreme ideas encouraging violence. Rarely are young people exposed to alternative viewpoints. These disengaged Iraqi youth are more vulnerable to military recruitment, depression, alcoholism, drug abuse, and radicalization. Many have lost their families and homes in the current war and have no constructive outlets to express their pain, fear and frustration.
The Need in the US:
In America, young people have little knowledge of the realities of life for young people in war-affected areas. Many have an inaccurate understanding of the current war in Iraq, believing that all Iraqis are the enemy, and leading to negative stereotyping, fear and distrust of people of Arab descent. Many American children have also lost their own parents, relatives and loved ones in the war. Currently there are almost no channels of communication open between Iraqi and American youth. This lack of communication and misunderstanding, left unaddressed, will lead to a future generation of tension among these two groups, and the price paid could be extremely high.
War Kids Relief, in partnership with the Iraqi NGO, the Darstan Group, is changing that. Together we will be conducting a program that will:
-Create a friendship bridge between the Iraqi and USA children by pairing middle school students in the US with their peers in Iraq through a creative cultural exchange.
-Expand the cross-cultural understanding and tolerance of the US/Iraqi youth to help them understand and appreciate one another's cultures.
-Promote tolerance, peace and the principles of human rights among the selected Iraqi youth to enable them to work for social changes among their families and communities by acting as focal points for peace education.
-Educate US youth about the Iraqi cultures and people, and build compassion towards their peers living in war-affected areas, with a realistic view of how they can help.
Tuesday, April 21, 2009
My friend, children of America,
I’m your friend from Iraq. I love you and love all the children of the world. My people love to live in peace. I want to play and grow up looking to the sun of freedom. Please I don’t want war. Let us be friends. Let our both people be friends loving each other.
Your friend, Hind, age 10, Karbala, Iraq
Dear Iraqi brother,
I really wish this war would be over. I dream of a day when there is no war or killing. I want peace throughout the world. I am 12 and in seventh grade. I hope that one day you can play freely.
Love, your brother, Wilson K., St Paul, MN, USA
Letters for Peace - first sparked by letters written by Iraqi teens to their peers in the US, the Letters for Peace program has generated approximately 800 letters back and forth from US schoolchildren to their Iraqi counterparts. Iraqi letters are translated into English; American letters into Arabic and all are distributed to age-appropriate schools in each country and placed on a website for mutual viewing. The need for translators has brought spouses of Arab students at a local college in MN into the project; as an extra dividend, these volunteers get to read heartfelt desires for peace emanating from US schoolchildren.
Water for Peace – a project initiated by Vets for Peace in response to the deteriorating water sanitation problems, Water for Peace is a service-learning project that raises funds to provide Iraqi schools with potable water. Available to US schools, clubs, and religious institutions, this project links a US organization with a recipient school. Photos of the installation process and the resulting happy, healthier children help to build bridges across our cultures that have been torn apart by war.
These projects are sponsored by the Iraqi & American Reconciliation Project (IARP) of MN whose mission is to promote reconciliation between the people of the United States and Iraq in response to the devastation affecting Iraqi families, society and culture.
IARP’s projects offer simple means to enable the people of both countries to shed layers of immobilizing fear, to see beyond the notion of “enemy” when they consider each other. IARP works in tandem with the Muslim Peacemaker Teams (MPT) of Najaf, Iraq. The Najaf MPT chapter is directed by Sami Rasouli a US citizen for 26 years, who returned to his homeland after the US invasion of Iraq to help his people pull together to survive the chaos of occupation. Mr Rasouli, with strong roots in both cultures, serves as a bridge-builder, helping to explain the peoples of each country to each other.
For a brighter future for children everywhere, as one step to move nations beyond war, please join us in writing letters and / or providing clean drinking water to the youth of Iraq. Let your teacher friends know about this project, too. Meet us at www.mpt-iraq.org/teachers.html
Saturday, April 18, 2009
Minneapolis artist Heba Amin was recently featured in a Star Tribune article about her work illustrating a book on female Muslim heroes (some of her illustrations are above). Amin says, “I’m very aware of cultural stereotypes. The image of Muslim women in the United States is of veiled, oppressed people who have no voice. But in fact, Muslim women have a long history of remarkable achievements.” A little-known but very true fact.
The book, “Extraordinary Women from the Muslim World,” was awarded a National Best Books 2008 Award and a Moonbeam Peacemaker Award. More info on the book can be found here.
On a (kind of) related note, EngageMN.com recently published an article on Muslim feminism and Muslim women in Minnesota: "For Muslim Women in Minnesota, Complex Identities".
Tuesday, April 14, 2009
The Shape of Change is an expanded sculpture project, investigating Iraqi and American concepts of political change, independence and civic agency. People across both countries are answering questions ranging from the meaning of democracy to the importance of national identity. Answers will be collected in an open source data base and interpreted in several ways: as online data visualizations, physical sculptures, and a series of dialogues between paired Iraqi and American cities. Data will be publicly available for collaborations between Iraqi and American artists. As content evolves in response to political events, artistic renderings of the data will function as evolving representations of change.
The theme of change was ubiquitous throughout the US presidential campaign, and now that a new American president and many new regional Iraqi leaders have been elected, the need to discuss what political change actually means is imperative. The piece will explore if/how these concepts differ across cultures, and how desire for them is manifested or displaced.
If you are interested in the project, you can read more information here and fill out the questionnaire here. Pass the request along to people in as many different locations with as many different view points as you can.
Shape of Change Questions
- In the current US elections, both political parties and voters across the country have cited the need for change, but people are seldom specific about what they feel change means. How do you define political change?
- What do you feel would constitute meaningful change in your country? Do you feel this is possible?
- What changes do you feel are required to improve the relationship between Iraq and the United States?
- What do you feel constitutes true independence?
- What do you feel needs to happen for Iraq and the United States to be fully independent of each other and when will you know that this has been achieved?
- What do you feel constitutes true individual freedom? Do you feel this is possible in a democratic society?
- Are you free to exercise choice in your life? Do you feel you have the ability to choose between meaningfully different political options in your country? If not, how might this situation be improved?
- Do individuals have a political voice in your country? Do you enjoy freedom of expression? Do you feel that expression should ever be curtailed by government?
- What is the potential for individuals to affect political change where you are?
- Is national identity important and/or necessary? How would you describe your nation’s identity? Is it defined in relation to other countries?
- What do you feel is the meaning of the word democracy?
- What country and what part of that country are you from?
Monday, April 13, 2009
As Lynch writes, some believe that,
"narrow, sectarian perspectives in Baghdad are winning out over the Iraqi national interest with potentially devastating consequences... Most Arab writers (for example, the Kuwaiti Shamlan Issa in al-Ittihad yesterday) point the finger at the continuing lack of progress on political accomodation and national unity -- which for them, generally means the accommodation of Sunni interests and the integration of the Awakenings. The "resistance camp" paper al-Quds al-Arabi has been covering the "coup against the Awakenings" as closely as have the Saudi-owned media (though with a bit more schadenfreude). Many of them are reading the crackdown on the Awakenings through as unmasking the 'true Shia sectarianism' of Maliki's government -- reinforcing their pre-existing, deep skepticism about the new Iraq...
I've been warning about the potential for trouble with the Awakenings project for a long time, and it would be easy to say that those predictions are now coming due. But I think it's way too early for that -- there is still time for these troubles to demonstrate the costs of political failure and to become the spur to the needed political action.
That's why it's really important that the United States not now begin to hedge on its commitment to the drawdown of its forces in the face of this uptick in violence. It is in moments like this that the credibility of commitments is made or broken. Thus far, the signals have been very good -- consistent, clear, and tightly linked to continuing pressure on political progress. President Obama reportedly pushed hard on the political accommodation front during his stopover in Baghdad last week, and General Odierno did very well to emphasize on CNN yesterday that the U.S. is firmly committed to removing its troops by the end of 2011. Maliki and everyone need to take a deep breath and strike power sharing deals before things go south, and understand that they will pay consequences if they don't."
I agree that things are still far from beyond repair, but I'm less sanguine than Lynch appears to be about Maliki's intentions. In the back of my mind, in the part focused on Middle East politics, I can't help but suspect the centralizing actions of Maliki over the last few years might point to a deeper ambition for power. For example, cracking down on militias and establishing two security forces (the Baghdad Brigade and the Counterterrorism Task Force) reporting directly to the prime minister have perhaps improved security, but they have also strengthened significantly Maliki's position. Improving security remains a priority concern for Iraqis (according to a Pentagon report, security is now the number 2 concern for Iraqis, having been passed in January, 2009 by the need for improved basic services), but security enforced by a strong central state is a double-edged sword. In the Middle East and North Africa, there are too many authoritarian leaders adept at ruling through the various tools of co-option and coercion. As Lynch says, "Maliki's government sees very clearly how fragmented, mutually mistrustful and competitive the Awakenings are." I think that can fairly be extended to the political parties and sectarian groups in Iraq.
With a divided political scene and civil society, it's all too possible for Maliki to play one group off the other and emerge as the final arbiter of political bargaining, granting patronage to some and punishing others who challenge him. This possibility is still only a possibility and Maliki has a ways to go before he has that kind of power, but after looking at Morocco, Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Algeria, Tunisia, Syria, etc., it would be a good idea, I think, for people to pay more attention to Iraq's possible return to authoritarianism (albeit likely a kinder version with the cosmetic trappings of democracy). Maliki is not yet "one of the guys" in the club of rulers in the region (a large reason why is that Maliki is Shia and nearly all of the Arab leaders are Sunni and suspect Maliki of a sectarian agenda), but he seems to be trying.
Friday, April 10, 2009
Muslim Peacemaker Teams, IARP's partner in Iraq, also recently hosted an art show for Iraqi artist Shaima'a Saad at the Youth & Sport Najaf Center. Below are some images from the show, which over 500 people attended. This is a good example, I think, of an Iraqi artist empowered by a peace-building non-profit organization and then helping to change others' perceptions and ideas through art.
Wednesday, April 8, 2009
Saving Antiquities For Everyone is holding a Candlelight Vigil for the Iraq Museum this April 10-12, 2009. Click here to see how you can participate. In Minnesota, there is a Candlelight Vigil on April 10 at 6:00PM at Macalester College. Details can be found here.
Tuesday, April 7, 2009
Thanks to the Center for Excellence in Disaster Management and Humanitarian Assistance.
"The dramatic fall in global oil prices has already cancelled around US$600 million in electricity contracts and will now force Iraq to cut spending on basic services that its war-weary citizens need, such as sewage treatment and power supply. Last summer, oil prices were at US$147 per barrel, and have decreased to under US$50, resulting in the Iraqi government slashing its 2009 spending plans twice. Parliament then decided to slash more money, leaving the government US$58.6 billion to spend on rebuilding the war-torn nation. The parliament’s version of the budget has yet to be approved by the council of ministers. Meanwhile, Iraq’s plans to build and renovate infrastructure have been neglected. Initially, US$5 billion had been allocated for Iraqi municipalities for development, but 60 percent has been chopped off. They will get around US$340 million. (Reuters, March-31)"
Wednesday, April 1, 2009
I'll admit, I had no idea that Minneapolis currently has EIGHT Sister Cities (only two are Scandinavian). However, establishing such a formal relationship with an Iraqi city would have a large impact, I think, for a few reasons. Many people, myself included, feel strongly about the past, present and future U.S. relationship with Iraq; beginning a Sister City relationship would be a mutual statement of friendship and cooperation between the people of Najaf and Minneapolis. Looking at how damaged the U.S.-Iraq relationship currently is, the importance of making this statement official and "legitimate" should not be underestimated. It would be a big boost toward our large goal of reconciliation.
People on both "sides" who have doubts about the other would be exposed to exchange programs and events, in the media if not in person. While media coverage can play a large role in building support FOR war and vilifying the "enemy," it can also be effective in countering such attitudes. And those who actually participate in exchanges will experience Iraqi culture, and some will develop long-lasting friendships.
Currently IARP and its partner in Najaf, the Muslim Peacemaker Teams (MPT), run or are affiliated with a number of exchange programs that make the two cities de facto Sister Cities. These include Letters for Peace, Water for Peace, the Iraqi Art Project, and exchanges between the University of Minnesota and the University of Kufa. This fall, Sami Rasouli, an Iraqi-American who resides in both Minneapolis and Najaf and is Director of MPT, will lead a delegation from Najaf to Minneapolis. The Sister City relationship would highlight these current opportunities for people to connect with their neighbors in Iraq.
Also, importantly, having these programs already in place means that the official relationship would cost Minneapolis very little money (paramount on City Council Members' minds).
If you're interested in helping promote the Sister City relationship and are a Minneapolis resident, you can phone or email your Minneapolis City Council representative and ask him or her to join Council Member Betsy Hodges as a co-sponsor of the initiative to establish a Sister City relationship between Minneapolis and Najaf. You can find your Council Member's email address and phone number here.