"Thanks and thanks again to Him who offers to the man whom the sorrows of life have assaulted and left naked–offers to him the fig leaf of the Word with which he can cover his wretchedness." -Søren Kierkegaard

CROSS-POSTED: “Murdered Neighbors, Heroic Doctors, And Hope For Iraq’s Future—An Expat’s Take On Living In Iraq”

Posted in Cross-Posted, Day-To-Day by matt on Monday, March 25, 2013

The following is a piece I’ve adapted and cross-posted from an article I recently wrote for Niqash, my favorite Iraq-specific news source:

A photo of a grandfather waiting with his grandson for a heart screening.

Recently, a group of men with automatic rifles entered the street where I live in Iraq.

My wife was alone at our house when she heard the gunfire a few houses over. In addition to their target, the three men killed several nearby construction workers and a security guard. A friend later explained that this group had waited thirty years to avenge their dead family members in a blood feud, and they finally retaliated.

Perhaps the saddest part of the story was how calm the rest of my neighbors were about the assassination. The profane patience required to wait three decades for revenge gave me chills, but my neighbors in Iraq and my friends in America didn’t seem all that surprised. They expect stories like these.

Admittedly, some of the experiences from my years of living and working throughout Iraq have been difficult, but vengeance and hardship aren’t the the stories I let define my time here.

Traveling from Basra to Dohuk and most major cities in-between, I’ve seen first-hand how many Iraqis are patient, kind-hearted people who just want to live at peace with their neighbors and to care for their families.

Even more than that, many of the Iraqi doctors and nurses I work with have chosen to absorb pain, to forgive, and to move on rather than to perpetuate violence. Rather than revenge, some have waited thirty years for a chance to become lifesaving heart surgeons and have even chosen to love former enemies at the risk of their own reputation and safety.

A photo of Hussain, a sweet little boy from Najaf, Iraq.

Mustafa, a taxi driver from Fallujah, heard that a team of Christian and Shia doctors in southern Iraq might be able to save his daughter’s life; to correct her complex heart defect. At the time, Mustafa’s neighbors in Anbar thought he was crazy to take his daughter to their southern ‘enemy,’ but it was their only hope.

For many families in Fallujah, going to southern Iraq for medical treatment would only be a last resort, but Mustafa surprised us all by preferring to go south. After his daughter’s successful heart operation—before going back to Fallujah—Mustafa told us,

“We must take this wall of fear that has built up between us and tear it down, because Iraq is one and we are all brothers and sisters!”

Mustafa brought his healthy little girl back to his neighbors and showed them what the ‘enemy’ had done to save his daughter’s life, the pink scar on her chest as proof.

And Mustafa is just one of many stories; I’ve seen Kurdish cardiologists treat Arab children from Kirkuk; I’ve seen Jews, Muslims, and Christians collaborate to provide medical care; and I, a Christian, have been welcomed into Fallujah and Tikrit by Muslims who suffered greatly at the hands of my country.

I am convinced that simple, kind acts like this can create a new story for Iraq—they bring about desperately-needed healing.

As we approach the Iraq War’s 10th anniversary this month, I am sure there will be negative headlines around the world questioning the war, Iraq’s current status, and how to move forward.

While those are important, I am choosing to tell stories of extraordinary people who defy stereotypes and extend an olive branch to their enemies. I am not so naive as to think Iraq is problem-free, but my stories represent what I believe Iraq is becoming—what God is making of Iraq. And these Iraqi friends are people I want to hold up to represent this beautiful country.

But the question is, what kinds of stories will Iraqis choose over the next 10 years?

Will they continue to be known for violence and strife, or will they become famous for forgiveness? Who will be considered ‘normal:’ the revenge-driven murderers on my street, or the enemy-loving doctors?

Call me naive, but I’m believing in the latter.

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