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Words in the wind

It is 12 January 2003 and US president Bush has rallied his troops for what he calls “The first war of the 21st century”. What is your view of this crisis, where, briefly, do you stand? This is the question we are putting to people around the world, especially those with their own public reputation and following. Our aim, to help create a truly global debate all can identify with.
Meena Alexander
12 January 2003

A cold day, the temperatures have dipped below normal. I see the black lattice work of winter trees, glisten of light on the street. Lines come to mind, by the poet Huda Naamani who wrote in Beirut in a season of war:

We will write our bodies with snow, the soul

remains a horizon

I imagine a woman in Baghdad. She waits for the bombs to fall. What is it like to live, waiting for bombs to fall?

She wakes in the morning light. She washes herself, combs her hair, touches her throat. She hears again the voice she heard in dreams. It is her own voice, torn from her body.

Here come back. It’s not safe out there. She is calling to her children. I gave birth to you and now you must come back.

But they do not hear her. When she wakes she sees the wall, the street. She understands you can’t turn time back.

I live far away from her, in the country that is sending thousands of young people to attack Iraq. Other means of change are possible, and may well be within arm’s reach. Why this massive military build-up? For oil? For a ghostly empire?

‘No blood for oil’ is the chant of thousands of antiwar demonstrators in cities across the United States and all over the world. It is a cry that needs to be heard.

If fire rains down on the heads of innocent people, if soldiers start fighting and people start dying as they will, how shall we continue our ordinary lives?

What will become of our so-called normalcy?

How will we cross the street, bring our children home from school, approach our lovers, bury our dead?

Steel from the twin towers was melted down, used to make a battleship. Is this what the new world brings?

Rather than the first war of a new century, we should make an effort to stitch together peace, a difficult and necessary peace. A harvest of light.

Somewhere on a city street a woman surrenders her scarves.

They are black. The wind blows them back.

Originally published as part of a debate on 12 January 2003 Writers, artists and civic leaders on the War: Pt. 1.

See also Writers, artists and civic leaders on the War: Pt. II

 

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Emily Bell Leonard Tow Professor of Journalism and director, Tow Center for Digital Journalism, Columbia Journalism School

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