Making Sense of the Iraqi War with Boricua Eyes

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War. The US has reported approximately 4,000 deaths and
30,000 wounded. In Iraq, the staggering loss is estimated
to be over 1,000,000 deaths, by direct or indirect consequences
of US military occupation. The objective of this
war—the bloody disruption of a sovereign state—has
clearly been met. This was a nation-state that for almost 30
years functioned in concert with US offensives in the Middle
East. But when it squared off, right or wrong, against
U.S. interests, the former ally, now “evil” and unworthy of
governing itself, had to be invaded and policed, until its
return to compliance with US foreign interests.
As a Boricua woman, indugenous to Purto Rico, who
has lived 56 years colonized, it is
painful and disturbing, in the wake
of such bloodshed, to make sense of
this war. State violence and its
impact upon my family and my
country has been my bedfellow since
I was born. The “escape” to the
mainland did not leave behind the
scars of our impoverishment or the
neglected psychic wounds of our
oppression. Instead, these were reinscribed
daily, through the wholesale
enactment of class privilege and the
brutality of racialized patriarchy.
When you grow up “not white,”
poor, and female in America, you are
forced to constantly live under the
shadow of inferiority. This shadow
walks with you to school, corrects
your pronunciation, berates you for
your clothing, mocks you in the mirror,
reminds you of the doors into
which you cannot enter without permission,
warns you against the danger
lurking behind class crossing,
gender crossing, racial crossing, sexual
crossing. Borders and fences and walls and glass ceilings
are commonplace. The gatekeepers are always waiting
to slap your hand, shut you up, or hit you upside the head,
if you dare walk into a room or sit at a table, as if you fully
belong. In short, we are dispossessed of our humanity.
In assessing what has transpired in Iraq over the last five
years, it seems that little has shifted in US foreign policy. As
long as the majority of the people dying are poor, dark
haired, and dark-skinned, the political ire and fury of the
US mainstream remains well contained, notwithstanding
scattered pacifist efforts, the posting of non-violent slogans,
or occasional protests in the name of war victims. In fact,
for some anti-war protesters, all violence, irrespective of
intent, is judged the cause of war that must be stamped out.
Yet, for those who have been forced to fight back against
physical or psychological assaults that could cost one’s life
or sanity, the essential notion that all violence is wrong,
seems to ring hollow. Why? Because it has been exactly
this capacity to fight back—in ways that pacifists might
define as violent—that has allowed us to survive.
Hence, perhaps the issue is not whether all violence is
wrong, but rather under what conditions and toward what
ends is violence, and hence war, an acceptable solution?
Might there not be political horrors that make war a just
alternative? And might there be times when it may be the
only solution for our emancipation from oppression? History
would prove us wrong to think that there exist no
conditions of tyranny far more unjust than waging war.
Why did over one million Iraqis die? Why were they
swallowed up in the military fervor of “enduring freedom?”
What protections did this afford us? This was the killing of
human beings that, for all intents and purposes, were as
unaware of Al Qaeda’s machinations as most of us. But the
difference is that their land is rich with the resources the
West has long coveted. Moreover, they are a people deemed
backward, extremist and dangerous, just as the island people
of my country have been deemed ignorant, violent, and
over-sexed. How convenient it has been for the wealthy
and powerful to create mythologies of good and evil, of
inferiority and superiority, where the
meritorious nature of their goodness
is beyond reproach, where the military
rape of women in Iraq or the
state sterilization of women of color,
could be rationalized and justified.
In the midst of all the fictitious double-
speak—“just war,” “feminist
war,” “enduring freedom“—we must
challenge mythologies that justify
this unjust war. In so doing, the limits
of nationalism and patriotic zeal
can be exposed; while patriarchal
myths of the “brave soldier,” “the
good mother,” or “loyal wife” can be
shattered, revealing household
assumptions that justify poverty,
racism, misogyny, and homophobia.
Shattering such distortions unveils
the fact that, from the beginning of
time, women have sought relationships
of equality with men. Though
the risk to such public assertion has
often been great and its practice different
across cultures, classes, castes, and societies, women
like all human beings have been sparked by the impetus to
speak, move, be, and feel, in concert with our own hearts,
minds, bodies, and spirits.
To believe in mythologies where women gladly or
meekly acquiesce to their oppressive male counterparts,
without resenting, resisting and reconstructing alternative
strategies of survival to equalize power, is simply shortsighted,
demeaning, and just plain foolish. That on the
surface, oppressed human beings are forced to physically
acquiesce or enact submission, fails to recognize that
tyranny, no matter how great, remains forever incomplete.
However, it benefits the US to uphold a mythology in
which middle class white women are considered the most
liberated on earth—despite the fact that they are still
expected to function dutifully to men and children. While
in contrast, women of color around the world are depicted
as abject, backward, and powerless, oppressed by barbaric
men of our societies. Absent is any serious engagement
with the history of European and US colonialism and its
disruption to the cultural and social fabric of indigenous
populations. Ignored is the impact of such disruption upon
recalcitrant forms of patriarchal rule within most societies.
Yet, nevertheless, women exercise powerful social
agency, ferocious will, and tremendous wit. As such, they
often masterfully survive some of the most frightening and
appalling human conditions. Daily, countless women all
over the world suffer the traumas of war. They are often
separated from loved ones and become victims of rape, torture,
and intimidation. Most are civilians caught in the
crossfire, who show astonishing resourcefulness and
resilience, despite the disintegration of families, the
destruction of homes, and the disorganization of their lives.
Despite such formidable adeptness, women who have
endured the ravages of racism and poverty seldom share
the table with those who decide military actions or make
policy decisions. But neither are we often found with those
who strategize against the war. Myth, in this instance,
clearly overrides reality. Yet who better to include in the
struggle for peace and justice, than those whose lives have
literally depended upon their ability to navigate unjust
violence and brutal repression? Should not the inclusion
of those who have been dispossessed be absolutely central
to any political project that claims as its objective the end
of war and human suffering?
The hidden truth is that without our decisive voices
and participation, even solutions for peace and justice
unwittingly reinscribe the hegemony of class, racism, and
patriarchy—the very ideologies that authorize invasion
and justify an unjust war.

About Antonia Darder

Antonia Darder is a professor at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign. She is a longtime Puerto Rican activist-scholar involved in issue's relating to education, language, immigrant workers, and women's rights.
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