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Najaf, Iraq

January 3, 2017

Najaf, Iraq

“ ISIS is not just with guns, but with ideas inside our minds”

I almost feel as if this trip has been a set up.  Set up to give me needed hope in times that seem so hopeless.

Last night Yasser came by with another friend from Moja, Maythem.   Moja, which means wave in Arabic, is a volunteer organization of young people, mostly students, who want to bring about change in Iraq.  A wave of change.

Among the things they spoke of was the Christmas event that Moja held this year on one of the main streets in Najaf. “It is one of the most important initiatives of Moja,” explained Yasser, his enthusiasm contagious.  “It is a big challenge for Najaf who have never celebrated this feast.”  This was third year that Moja set up a tree in the street and invited internally displaced Christians to join them around the tree, to celebrate Christmas with them.

Not surprisingly, this action has been met with strong opposition from the religious sector, with a few exceptions.  The first year, an important cleric made a religious statement urging the people to fight back.  They called the members of Moja traitors and insurgents who were threatening the sacred city and religious tenets of Najaf.  Moja had to close its office for two weeks due to threats.  Two years ago a journalist of an important cleric made a campaign on face book telling people to stop Moja, asking the government to put them in jail.

Moja has 47,000 followers on face book.  There was a rousing reaction from Baghdad, Egypt, Lebanon, etc. in support of Moja’s efforts.

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One of the internally displaced Christians

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“The social dialogue is very important.  We represent a new generation.  Is it OK or not to celebrate Christmas with Christians?  It is not about converting to Christianity, we just want to live together.  We are tired of war issues.  We want to live together peacefully under one sky.”

“ ISIS is not just with guns, but with ideas inside our minds.  The extremists think we are against religion.  This is not true.  We want to meet with each other, to teach people to accept others, to be open to other perspectives. We want to fight for freedom of speech in the universities and freedom of choice, for instance, to wear the head covering or not.”

As we sat together over tea, we acknowledged how frightening such thoughts are in a conservative setting like Najaf, and how natural it is to be fearful to open this door even a crack.  At the gathering for Christmas, Moja distributed a pamphlet that explained why they were coming together.  Their interviews with the press were thoughtful and clear, peaceful yet passionate.

Yes, I think this trip has definitely been a set up, but a set up in the best sense of the word.

I am happy to be able to send New Year’s greetings off to you in such a fashion! May these young people inspire us to be as courageous and joyful in our own endeavors for reconciliation and peace in the coming year.

Moja is a volunteer organization comprised mostly of students who have no income.  I know they would welcome any assistance, especially towards their projects with the internally displaced children.  I would be happy to be a liaison or put folks directly in contact with them.  In some small way it could be considered reparations.

“The social dialogue is very important.  We represent a new generation.  Is it OK or not to celebrate Christmas with Christians?  It is not about converting to Christianity, we just want to live together.  We are tired of war issues.  We want to live together peacefully under one sky.”

Moja is a volunteer organization comprised mostly of students who have no income.  I know they would welcome any assistance, especially towards their projects with the internally displaced children.  I would be happy to be a liaison or put folks directly in contact with them.  In some small way it could be considered reparations.

Cathy Breen (newsfromcathy@yahoo.com) helps coordinate Voices for Creative Nonviolence (www.vcnv.org)