Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Sister City Project

For quite a while now, IARP volunteers have been working to establish Minneapolis and Najaf as Sister Cities. What does that mean? A Sister City relationship is a formal agreement signed by the governing bodies of each city committing to long term sharing of cultural, educational, and citizen resources.

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.

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