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 Joan Chittister:  From Where I Stand

July 8, 2004
   Vol. 2, No. 13

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"The spirit we have, not the work we do, is what makes us important to the people around us."

A Benedictine Sister of Erie, Sister Joan is a best-selling author and well-known international lecturer.  She is founder and executive director of Benetvision: A Resource and Research Center for Contemporary Spirituality, and past president of the Conference of American Benedictine Prioresses and the Leadership Conference of Women Religious.  Sister Joan has been recognized by universities and national organizations for her work for justice, peace and equality for women in the Church and society.  She is an active member of the International Peace Council.

* The Web link to Benedictine Sisters of Erie, PA, is provided as a service to our readers.

Insurgency and the Fourth of July

By Joan Chittister, OSB

There's a document being acclaimed in Iraq these days which, I'm afraid, only promises to make more trouble for us if people begin to take it seriously. It contains a set of grievances which, it argues, justify insurrection.

The grievances are trumped up, I'm sure -- a clear case of media hype and propaganda -- but unsettling, nevertheless. After all, the country has been liberated, democracy is in place and a dictator is about to face a public trial.

And all at our expense. While the oil lines go on burning and they have less electricity in Iraq now, CNN reports, than they had before the war, and order can only be guaranteed by the presence of thousands and thousands of U.S. soldiers, it's U.S. tax money that is paying for this overhaul. For them.

You'd think they'd be grateful.

But no, the document is clear: These people have complaints.

They argue that "sovereignty" is not really sovereignty as long as foreign forces remain in the land.

But we have to stay there to make sure that the laws they pass are
kept -- and that they don't pass any laws we don't approve of.
After all, democracy is democracy and we need to see that
they get it, whether they want it or not.

They argue that their own leaders have been suppressed in favor of expatriate appointees of their absentee rulers -- us.

But who else can we trust to do it our way?

They argue that "freedom of movement" both in and out of the country has been restricted.

But we're only trying to protect them from terrorists.

They argue that "judges have been appointed" rather than elected by them.

But how else were we going to get the ones who will do it right?

They argue that "a multitude of new offices" have been created that they never wanted, never asked for and don't recognize as having any authority.

But they don't realize that democracy and bureaucracy go together.

They argue that "a standing army is being kept" in Iraq, despite the fact that the war has been declared over.

But we did finally reconstitute the army they had, the army we went
there to subdue in the first place.

They argue that our military "is independent of and superior to the civil power."

But we obviously can't trust their new civil power even though we
have to allow it so it looks like democracy -- even if it's not.

They argue that they are being "subjected to a jurisdiction foreign to their constitution."

Just because we're telling them what to do doesn't mean that it's
not the right thing to do.

They argue that the foreign militia is being protected "from punishment for any murders which they might commit on the inhabitants" of Iraq.

But we're definitely not going to subject our military to their
courts as we are subjecting theirs to ours.

They argue that we have "taken away their charters, abolished their most valuable laws and altered fundamentally the form of their government."

And they simply will not accept the fact that they're lucky we did
because we've given them a far better system -- ours.

They argue that we "waged war against them burnt their towns and destroyed the lives of their peoples."

But we're not sure of that because we don't keep body counts, and
anyway our bombs are precision bombs. At least 7 percent
of them were. And, our own scientists tell us, at least
2-4 percent of those worked. Maybe.

They argue that we have "transported large armies of foreign mercenaries to complete the works of death, desolation and tyranny scarcely paralleled in the most barbarous ages, and totally unworthy of the head of a civilized nation."

Not really. Our army there isn't nearly as large as it could have
been. Our "Shock and Awe" strategy -- our "non-nuclear
equivalent of Hiroshima" or 1,500 bombs and missiles in
two days -- made that unnecessary. Almost.

They argue that we have constrained their fellow citizens "to bear arms against their country, to become the executioners of their friends and brethren."

And, the nerve of them, they are not cooperating.

Those are serious charges.

And yes, we did them, but only for their own good.

The problem seems to be that we did them whether they wanted them or not.

And we've lost almost 900 young U.S. soldiers in the doing of it. So far.

True, and confirm that at least 9,500 Iraqi civilians and 8,000 Iraqi military died in the course of it, but what else could we do? It's their fault. They simply would not surrender.

Whether or not those figures include the number of the upstart insurgents, terrorists, and rebels that we've been routing out remains unclear. But then, everything over there is unclear.

The bottom line, of course, is that they're free, whatever the cost. At the same time, the reason Iraqis are protesting in the streets over the new tribunal is a little clearer, too, when you read a document like this one.

Why we never got those flowers they promised us when we drove triumphantly through Baghdad and toppled the statue of Hussein in the public square becomes more plain when you begin to understand what's bothering them.

Maybe that's why they are even contemplating amnesty for Iraqis who have killed U.S. soldiers.

So should we allow this kind of statement to circulate? It incites to riot. It stirs up rebellion. It feeds insurgency.

The very last paragraph of the thing, in fact, demands that the world recognize their right to do it.

Where did I get the document? Well, actually, I got it off the Web. It's on The New York Times Web site, as part of its audio archives of famous documents read by famous people.

It's called The Declaration of Independence, and it was recorded in 1952 by the then young Sen. John F. Kennedy. It reads: "When a long train of abuses and usurpations evinces a design to reduce a people under absolute despotism, it is their right, it is their duty, to throw off such government and to provide new guards for their future security." Read it sometime. The minute I heard the audio archive recording I knew that the Iraqis aren't saying anything much different to us now than what we said to the British 200 years ago.

From where I stand, it looks to me that if we aren't careful, the sentiments, the conditions, the grievances cited in this very document could be our undoing, not only in Iraq but in the rest of the world.

The Declaration of Independence may be coming home to roost. In that case, we won't be waging many more "preemptive" wars. Or at the very least, we ought not be expecting to "win" them. It sounds as if our Founding Fathers might understand why we go on having trouble in Iraq -- even if we ourselves don't understand it at all.

Happy Fourth of July.

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