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Letter From Kathy Breen, June 7 2010

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Damascus Syria
June 7, 2010

Dear Friends,

Sometimes I play solitaire on the computer. Perhaps it is escapism, but I look on it as helpful therapy. In my family growing up, “a card laid was a card played.” There was no second chance unless my siblings or parents were in a merciful mood. One had better think things through. On the computer however, I discovered that if I click on something that says “undo,” I can change a card played too hastily. I actually get a second chance.

Oh how different life would be if we could undo some of our mistakes.

Many unexpected doors have opened on this trip. I have been able to see several Iraqis whom we haven’t seen since before the war or under the occupation. What should be a joyful occasion, that of seeing one another again, of sharing memories and catching up on friends and events, is also indescribably painful. The passing of time has not eased their pain and suffering. The situation in Iraq remains unstable and volatile, with no end in sight of the chaos and violence. The passing of time… over seven years now…only serves to accentuate a feeling of helpless desperation.

I become, not a bearer of good news and forthcoming relief, but merely someone who, with them, sits together and bears witness to the card ill laid. I remember quoting C.S. Lewis some years back, I believe it was in a letter from Baghdad. He wrote in the preface of The Great Divorce:

I do not think that all who choose wrong roads perish; but their rescue consists in being put back on the right road. A sum can be put right; but only by going back till you find the error and working it afresh from that point, never by simply going on. Evil can be undone, but it cannot ‘develop’ into good. Time does not heal it.

Just a half an hour ago I got an email from a doctor friend in Baghdad whom I wrote just last night asking about their well-being. ” …we are always thinking that being not alone is a grace. We are passing hard times….the hot summer is not hotter than the fire inside our hearts from the chaos we are living and the tragic stories we are witnessing everyday.”

On June 2nd, Kathy Kelly and Joshua Broiler write from Pakistan, quoting a young man from North Waziristan. “Our situation is like a football match. The superpower countries are the players, and we are just the ball to be kicked about.” Kathy and Josh report that this sentiment “has been echoed throughout many of our conversations with ordinary people here in Pakistan and in Afghanistan.”

Further on in the article we read “One doesn’t have to spend much time in South Asia to find many people who feel that the tactics like the U.S. offensive in Kandahar, torture and indefinite detention at Bagram, and the drone strikes in Pakistan are fanning the flames of resistance and increasing the ranks of violent groups that manipulate Islam for their own purposes.”

Perhaps a first step in being put back on the right road is the withdrawal of troops, something which, Kathy and Joshua point out, does not require the U.S. abandon Afghanistan, [Pakistan or Iraq]. “There are models for securing development efforts, in conflict zones, that do not require hundreds of thousands of troops, networks of military bases, and the overwhelming force of aerial surveillance and bombing.”

Yes, evil can be undone, as C.S. Lewis says. But it cannot develop into good. And the passing of time, as we see so clearly in the case of Iraq, does not heal it.