Among the dozens of e-mail messages I get every day, one caught my attention. The message read the “Mid-Missouri Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom (WILPF) has arranged to hold a silent candlelight vigil on the sidewalk surrounding the mosque in Columbia in the event of either a US bombing or invasion of Iraq. If the invasion or the bombing occur, and we all pray that they do not, the vigil will be held on the second day after the beginning of such events, we have planned to begin at 6:30 pm, close to dusk, and stand in silent solidarity with the Iraqi people for 45 minutes”.
Lighting candles is a time-honored gesture used by people to express their sorrow, sadness, and solidarity.
For some, war against Iraq is a necessary step that the US must undertake as part of its war against terror and the “axis of evil,” no matter how many innocent lives are lost.
Others believe that this war is not justified and, if it were to take place, would be an act of collective punishment of the Iraqi people who can do nothing to change the ruling regime. Ironically, Iraq is a nation that, deep in its heart, is fed up with the tyranny of Saddam Hussein and would want to see him removed from power.
If the US, Britain, and other countries are bent on pursuing terror and Saddam Hussein, then they will find it very difficult for to remove him from power peacefully, without a comprehensive offensive that will result in the death of many innocent Iraqis and, potentially, many Americans.
If the war drags on, which is most likely, the Iraqi people will need candles not to break the darkness of their nights but to mourn their loved ones who will die. And, above them, the dark night will, no doubt, be lit with the flames of bombing, a scene that many still remember from the first Gulf War in 1991.
As someone who lived under the almost daily Israeli bombardment of my West Bank city of Ramallah, I recall the many nights my wife, my six-year old daughter, and I had to spend in the darkness, sheltering in our home or fleeing to the safety of other houses where we huddled with people we never met before. I still remember the countless times my daughter went to sleep peacefully in her bed and woke up the next day in someone else’s bed.
Therefore, I can imagine the fear that Iraqi children, women, and men will feel if war breaks out. I can also imagine the long, cold, dark nights they will have to endure. I can hear them cursing the darkness while waiting for the first light of the dawn to herald a temporary reprieve from fear.
Only the small candles I used to light during the Israeli incursions and bombardments gave security to my family. Lighting a candle for the Iraqi people will not break the darkness of their long nights during war, but it is, at least, a prayer to save the innocent people from the war that we all curse.