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Normal

by Sheila Provencher
21 November 2005
Christian Peacemaker Teams

I saw a headline on the Internet the other day. It read, “Iraqis seek normalcy in the midst of chaos.” I did not read the article, but I guessed that it might describe some of the ordinary activities of an Iraqi day – going to and from work, shopping for groceries, playing with one’s children, watching T.V. All of these “normal” things, in the midst of war and chaos.

But the truth is, chaos IS normal in Iraq, and people live with it as best as they can. Here are some examples of what has become “normal” in Baghdad:

When I went to visit my young friend Amal last week, I found her in a state of anger and grief. She fought back tears as she told me that her neighbor was killed in the suicide bomb that shook the area a few days ago. “He had two little children, twins,” she said. “and a baby on the way. Why? Why do they kill us?”

She answered her own question: “The terrorists came because they wanted to kill Americans. But now all the people who die in the explosions are Iraqi!” Then this playful sixteen-year-old, who loves music videos and dancing, shocked me speechless with her words: “All of this is from Bush! He has a black heart, he has no fear of God, he loves war. If I could, I would stab him in the heart and drink his blood. By God, I would!”

It may seem strange to Westerners that Amal does not just blame the suicide bombers. But more and more, people’s grief over the unrelenting state of chaos is turning to anger and blame of the Western military powers, which they recognize have provoked the influx of terrorists to Iraq. This is normal.

My room had perfect ventilation the other day. It got a nice breeze, because a mortar probably aimed at the Green Zone landed on our roof instead and broke about half the windows in the apartment. It shattered four water tanks and spewed shrapnel through the railing. Thank God, none of us was on the roof at the time. But I think of all the families in this country who have not been so lucky, whose little ones were caught in the crossfire. This, sadly, is also normal.

How easily I get used to this state of “normal.” I have to remember that this new “normal” is just that – new. Before, Iraqis experienced the chaos of economic sanctions, a repressive government, the 1991 war, and the Iran-Iraq war. The chaos of terrorist bombs is a new chaos. On the other hand, the state- sponsored commando units, blanket detentions, and extra-judicial torture and killings are both old and new.

People in North America always ask me what is the solution. The constitution? The elections? Withdrawing the U.S. troops? While I believe that some of these things (such as removing the U.S. troops) would be steps in the right direction, I do not believe that any of the above will provide a final solution. The only lasting solution is to promote nonviolent change in the human heart. As long as we rely on might of arms and weapons for “security,” Iraq and the rest of the world will never be secure.

Both the oppressors and the oppressed – all of us — need to transform our hearts from easy violence to courageous nonviolence, from hatred and blame to compassion, from greed and oppression to justice. And when we do change – then maybe peace will be normal.


Christian Peacemaker Teams is an ecumenical violence-reduction program with roots in the historic peace churches. Teams of trained peace workers live in areas of lethal conflict around the world. CPT has been present in Iraq since October, 2002.