Friday, July 27, 2007

A depressing press conference

I usually don't mention much about my work on this blog - I try to keep things lighthearted but I attended a press conference Wednesday that was one of the most depressing I've ever been to. It was about the ongoing slaughter of Christians and other religious minorities in Iraq and how the U.S. military is doing nothing to stop it. Some 2.2 million Iraqis, half of whom are not Muslim, have fled the country and are languishing in Jordan and Syria, thanks to our horrific immigration policy, which has let only a trickle of these people into the country.
I have included of a photo of Canon Andrew White, the Anglican priest whose testimony led the hearing in the Senate Russell building.
One of the worst testimonies, which I didn't have room to include in my article, came from Donny George, chairman of Iraq's state board of antiquities and director of the country's museums. He said:
"At my parents' place in Dora (a Christian neighborhood in Baghdad), we started hearing the Muslim extremists will do to the Christians exactly what they did to the Jews in 1948. This meant complete cleansing of people from the country. We receive a letter in an envelope together with a bullet of a Kalashnikov. The letter threatened my younger son, Martin, accusing him of cursing Islam and teasing Muslim girls. They mentioned that they suspect his father, myself, works with the Americans, so he was ordered to write a letter of apology to them (the Brigades of the martyr Zarqawi) with a fine of $1,000 to be put in an envelope and dropped in a certain place in Dora, otherwise the next day he will be kidnapped and beheaded immediately.
"When I heard that, I asked my elder son to get my mother, my two sisters and Martin and bring them to our flat in another part of Baghdad and in the afternoon I arranged for the letter and the money to be dropped for them, so they will not come after my son. In the coming few days, I heard the same thing had happened to 12 Christian families in the same area of Dora...they all paid and left the ara, leaving eerything behind, houses and properties. Now Dora is completely empty of any Christian Assyrians and almost all the churches there had been bombed or burnt."
Listening to this, I felt lightheaded. What if someone gave me one afternoon to pack up and leave my home in Virginia? What would I do? Fortunately this man managed to get his family into the States, thanks to the State University of New York, where he was given a visiting professorship. But most people in his position - who managed to make it out of Iraq alive, are not allowed to hold jobs nor educate their children while they rot away in refugee camps.
"I think the future is very bleak," said Pascale Warda, Iraq's former minister for migration and deplacement. "My people said to me the other Saturday, 'We've never had it so bad since the Mongols.' "
For those of you unfamiliar with Central Asian history, she's referring back to 1258, the year the Mongols sacked Baghdad. Tamerlane came in 1401 and razed the city again, creating even more massacres. These folks have long memories.
All the people who testified Wednesday kept on saying the word "genocide." And that's what it is.
Here is my article:

Iraq's perils dire for minority faiths

By Julia Duin
July 26, 2007

Iraq's outnumbered Christians and other religious minority groups are targets of a terror campaign and are facing a dire situation where killings and rapes have become the norm, a panel of witnesses testified yesterday on Capitol Hill.

In a hearing convened by the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom, Canon Andrew White, vicar of St. George's Anglican Church in Baghdad, and four other panelists unfolded tales of horrors overtaking Christians, Yezidis (angel worshippers) and Mandaeans, members of a pacifist faith that follows the teachings of John the Baptist.

"The situation is more than desperate," said Mr. White, who described how Christians in Baghdad have been told to convert to Islam or be killed. Hundreds of those who could not afford to flee the country are living in churches without adequate food or water, he said.

"In the past month, 36 members of my own congregation have been kidnapped," he said. "To date, only one has been returned."

Iraq's eight remaining Jews, now hiding in Baghdad, are "the oldest Jewish community in the world," he said, referring to the 597 B.C. Babylonian conquest of ancient Judah that brought the Jews to the region as captives.

"The international community has done nothing to help these people," Mr. White said, explaining that the group is trying to emigrate to an Iraqi Jewish enclave in the Netherlands, which won't admit them.

Michael Youash, director of the Iraq Sustainable Democracy Project, called the situation "soft ethnic cleansing." The "de-Christianization of Iraq" is not far off, he predicted, saying that Washington has refused to help Iraqi Christians, whose common faith with many Americans has made them loathed by Muslim radicals.

"The State Department just dismisses this as part of an overall conflict," he said. "But Christians are being disproportionately targeted. The attacks are purely vindictive and vicious. They are meant to give a message."

Religious minorities have no militias to protect them, Mr. Youash said. "If someone attacks a Shi'ite, there are consequences. If someone attacks a Yezidi or a Mandaean, there are none."

Pascale Warda, president of the Iraqi Women's Center in Baghdad, said more than 30 churches have been destroyed; priests have been fatally shot, kidnapped and beheaded; a 14-year-old boy was crucified in Basra; and Baghdad's once-famous Christian neighborhoods have been emptied of thousands of residents.

"That's because of fatwas issued by Islamic fundamentalists who give them three choices," she said. "Convert to Islam, pay the jizya [a tax imposed on non-Muslims] or leave with no personal possessions."

Suhaib Nashi, general secretary of the Mandaean Associations Union, said that in the past week alone, several Mandaean families in Baghdad were given one hour to leave their homes or be killed.

On Feb. 26, Rena Al-Zuhairy, a 20-year-old Mandaean student, went to school merely to pick up her college degree. "The last voice her mother heard was her crying over the cell phone to save her," Mr. Nashi said. "The police force is corrupt, often helps attackers and has little to no role in protecting minorities."

Several panelists criticized Kurdish militias in northern Iraq for joining the persecution.

"Christians flee one dictatorship only to arrive to another dictatorship," Mr. Youash said. During the January 2005 elections, Kurdish soldiers stole many ballot boxes from areas populated by Christians and Yezidis, he added, but the U.S. government did not respond.

"Minorities learned that standing up for their right to vote only exposed them to greater persecution," he said.

Monday, July 23, 2007

Typical mornings

Yes, it's been awhile since yours truly blogged, but we were retooling out web site and we're still working out the kinks. Pictured here is Miss Veeka at the beach - that is, North Beach, which is a charming spot on Chesapeake Bay I'm guessing about 20 miles south of Annapolis. It was a lovely spot and I met with a number of women from my local Single Moms by Choice group there on Sunday afternoon. Our Little Charmer of course adored the water, the sand, you-name-it.
This Wednesday we will be going in for Our First Haircut, a seminal event. Today started slowly; sometimes I think motherhood is like one of those nightmare dreams when you are trying so hard to get somewhere and you constantly get delayed. Trying to have breakfast and then get dressed and get out of the house is like that. I no sooner change Veeka's diaper and put her in her nice daytime clothes when she has a diaper explosion. So it's back on the changing table.
Or she spills breakfast all over herself. Then the cat throws up. One morning, I was getting towels to wipe all that up when I got upstairs only to discover Veeka had walked THROUGH the mess and had tracked the gook all over the carpet.
Also, this morning, I was rushing to leave when I could not find Veeka's sandals. She had been parading them about, wanting me to put them on and I had refused, as I don't like to put her shoes on til just before we go. So she hid them. More than 12 hours later, I still have no idea where they are. When I say, WHERE ARE YOUR SANDALS? she just giggles.
Then tonight I had worked so hard to make this wonderful beef-and-cheese-and-taco stack dinner with yummy tomato sauce. Veeka would have none of it. It was about to be tossed on the floor when I grabbed her plate. Ditto for the nutritious chicken-and-asparagus dinner I fixed the other day. Nope. She wants those French fries. Then there was the other Friday night when I didn't want to cook, so I took Veeka to a nice Korean restaurant, as the daycare is in Korea town, as they call it. I had no sooner dug into the main dish when Our Princess decided she was bored and wanted to wander about the place. No more kimchee for her, although she did like the anchovies. Well, I could not let her terrorize the other customers. Then she began to shriek. I was about ready to walk away from the meal when a very nice waitress presented Veeka with a lollipop. That bought me about 10 minutes.
A friend of mine told me last night that she gained weight when her kids were toddlers cuz the only restaurants she could take them to were fast food places. I can see why. Veeka does like MacDonalds, btw. She's cottoning onto Starbucks because of that yummy chocolate milk I buy her there. And I'm teaching her to appreciate sushi.
In case any of you wondered, she has grown taller, heavier and her feet have moved onto the next shoe size. And my back is aching, yes.

Thursday, July 5, 2007

Likes and dislikes

Well, it's now July and as I write, Veeka is rocking herself to sleep. Well, that's what they do in orphanages and she's kept up the habit here. Included are some photos shot of her one recent Sunday at a church playground. Last weekend, she and I drove to southern Maryland and just tootled around some of the historic sites there plus the big state park - Pt. Lookout - at the end of St. Mary's County peninsula. Southern Maryland is where a lot of the post-Jamestown 17th century colonists ended up. It took nearly a century for folks to get as far east as the Shenandoah Valley that bisects Virginia. For several decades, they pretty much hugged the coastline.
Veeka is a pretty easy-to-please girl. Her likes: French fries, vegetables that are colorful and have interesting shapes (plum tomatoes, green beans), Trader Joe low-fat kitty cookies, ANY book or photo that shows a kitty in it, cheese, sausage, applesauce, tapioca (big yum-yum there), granola, rice, kiddie books, music with a beat to it, chips and salsa, baths (I have to fight her to get her to drain the water); in fact pools and lakes too, crayons, simple wooden puzzles and any playground. She likes going into Whole Foods and eating all the cheese samples.
Dislikes: Eggs, honeydew and water melon doesn't go over well. She's not much into dolls and she ignores TV (a good thing) but which means I have to entertain her more. She also doesn't like it when people try to speak Russian to her. Hmmmm. She also doesn't like missing her 1 p.m. nap time.
Her mom is busy producing articles in this slow Fourth of July week. Today I interviewed Sri Sri Ravi Shankar, a Hindu spiritual leader who told me all truth is relative depending on your point of view. I pointed out there are some absolutes; ie the white robe he wore was white, not any other color. And you've all heard the bromide about folks not believing in absolutes until they're asked to jump off a clif. Anyway, July is busy work-wise which is why I do my best to collapse on the weekends. Can't say I've found the time to read a book since I got back to the States, tho.