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[casi] From Baghdad: Other Hearts

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Published on Tuesday, April 15, 2003 by

>From Baghdad: Other Hearts

by Kathy Kelly

Nurses are digging graves in front of the Al Mansour Hospital. Baghdad
University is a smoking ruin. Other disasters loom, as the Red Cross warns
that Baghdad's medical system is in complete collapse, and the millions of
Iraqis dependent on the old Oil-for-Food program wait for rations that are no
longer being delivered . "Water first, and then freedom," said one Iraqi man
on a BBC report this morning.

Two musicians, Majid Al-Ghazali and Hisham Sharaf, came to our Hotel four
days ago, hoping to call relatives outside Iraq on a satellite phone.
Hisham's home was badly damaged during the war. "One month ago, I was the
director of the Baghdad Symphony Orchestra," Hisham said with an ironic
smile. "Now, what am I?" We joked that he could direct the telephone exchange
as he tinkered with our satellite phone's solar powered battery. I told Majid
we had some sheet music and a guitar for him. "What are notes?" he said, "We
don't even remember."

Majid had a particularly rough experience. During the first week of bombing,
a neighbor called the secret police and turned him in for visiting with
foreigners. He was jailed the next day. After the "fall" of Baghdad, the same
neighbor claimed he was actually part of the secret police. Majid is
terrified now. "I think they want my house," he said. "No place is safe." He
put his head in his hands.

I met Hisham at the Baghdad School of Folk Music and Ballet, in January 2002.
Hisham and Majid, both graduates of the school, taught there in the daytime
and then rehearsed with the orchestra at night. Knowing how busy Hisham was,
I felt presumptuous about suggesting a project for him and his students. I
told him how meaningful the song "O Finlandia" has been to many people in the
US. At least 150 families who lost loved ones on 9/11 had used this peace
anthem as part of memorial services. Sibelius composed the melody in the late
19th century. Following World War I, lyrics were created emphasizing the
common aspirations and dreams shared by all humanity. Hisham chuckled and
couldn't resist pointing out the irony that someone from the US wanted to
teach his students a peace song. "O.K.," said he, "Sing it for me. We can do
this." Within two days, an entire class was singing an Arabic transliteration
of the song.

Saying goodbye to Majid and Hisham, that morning, I felt a wave of sadness,
wondering if the hopeful, idealistic verses might embitter them now. The next
morning they returned, shaken and distraught. They had approached US soldiers
the previous evening asking for help to protect their school. The soldiers
said it was not their job and ordered Hisham and Majid to go away. They went
to the entrance of the school hoping they could somehow protect it alone.
Five armed men arrived. Majid, Hisham and Hisham's brother pled with them not
to attack the school. The looters argued, "We are simple people. Poor people.
Soon there will be no food, no money, and we have no jobs. You are rich
people." "Please," Majid said, "we will give you the instruments, give you
the furniture, but don't destroy the music, the records, the history." "No,"
the armed men said. "Baghdad is finished." They ransacked the school, broke
many instruments, burnt the music and the records.

Why do desperate people commit deplorable acts of mindless destruction? I
don't know. But some truths help offer perspective. Every day, we who enjoy
superfluous, inordinate wealth and comforts, while others live in abject
poverty, are ransacking the precious and irreplaceable resources of our
planet. We hurtle toward burning up all the available fossil fuels that were
created over 4 billion years of the planet's history. Our obscene obsession
with creating weapons has cost trillions of dollars that should have been
spent to meet human needs. Through decades of warfare and sanctions, powerful
elites in Iraq, the US and the UK ignored millions of Iraq's impoverished
people. Hundreds of thousands of children bore excruciating punishment and
then died. Very few people cared.

"Here," Hisham said, "listen to this. This is all we have left." He handed me
headphones borrowed from a Norwegian television correspondent. The orchestra
was playing "O Finlandia." Listening to the children craft their music, I
softly sang the words: "This is my song, O God of all the nations. A song of
peace for lands afar and mine. This is my home, the country where my heart
is. Here are my dreams, my hopes, my holy shrine. But other hearts in other
lands are beating, with hopes and dreams as deep and true as mine." Then I
stopped. Hisham had begun to cry.

Kathy Kelly is co-coordinator of Voices in the Wilderness and the Iraq Peace
Team . She has lived continuously in Iraq since January 2003. The Iraq Peace
Team can be reached at: <A HREF=""></A>

Roger Stroope
Austin College
Sherman Texas, USA

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