by Kit Kimberly
Hashmeya Muhsin Hussein is a small woman. A full headscarf frames her pale oval face, which might get lost amongst the people surrounding her—until she smiles. Her smile is full of warmth and compassion and gratitude for “the US people” whom, she and the Iraqi people know, mean them no harm. “It is not your fault,” she tells us at Tuesday night’s potluck dinner at the Pink House. Desiree, Medea and others immediately tear up. As Hashmeya explains through her translator that she and her compatriots understand that it is the government of the US, not the people, who attack, invade and occupy her country, we cast covert glances at each other. When Hashmeya finishes, Medea thanks her for her graciousness, then says, “But if we know what is happening to the Iraqi people, if we know and we do nothing, then we are responsible.” Everyone in the room nods. We feel complicit. Just by living in this rich country, this international bully, with our luxuries of multi-million dollar political campaigns that begin two years before the actual elections; and corruption from local to national levels that not only ignores the suffering of 2/3rds of the world, but also does nothing to alleviate the violence, poverty and fear in our own country, we are complicit. That’s why we’re at Code Pink.
But our evening with Hasmeya, her translator, friend, and Denice Lombard of US Labor Against the War, is neither gloomy nor depressing. Under the backyard umbrella in the warm summer evening, she tells us her story and answers our questions. We learn of the factions in Iraq—the corruption in government; whom Hashmeya trusts and whom she does not; what Iraqi government officials do to protest corruption and bring about a fair and democratic society; her heroes, the people who work for justice, like Jamal al-Din, an Imam who is in parliament, a religious man who nevertheless is working hard for a separation of “mosque and state”, as it is translated for our benefit. It is intense—at one point her translator asks Hashmeya a question in English, answers us in Arabic but we all laugh and he shrugs: “It’s been a long day.”
Indeed it has—a long day, a long war. Hashmeya is at the beginning of a month-long tour of Iraqi labor leaders who have come to meet with US union leaders. Guests of US Labor Against the War, Hashmeya and her colleague Faleh Abood Umara have come to the US to speak to people about US government pressure for a new Iraqi Oil law that will turn more than 70% of the profits from Iraqi oil over to private multinational oil companies and contractors. (for more information, see http://www.uslaboragainstwar.org/article.php?list=type&type=103)
Hashmeya is the first woman to be elected a national union leader in Iraq. Head of the Women Workers’ Bureau and a member of the Iraqi Women’s Association, she and her 7-year old son receive death threats. Her simple, gentle sincerity are clear indications of why her people trust her: “I am a Muslim. I care for the poor. I fear God. I work for justice. This is what Islam means to me,” she says to us, a group of 15 US people with hardly any idea of what her life is like. Yet her trust in us is extraordinary; I am humbled by it. Having spoken on the steps of Bearing Point (the company chosen by USAID to rewrite the Iraqi Oil Law) at 5 pm, marched to the White House, and come to the Pink House to answer a barrage of questions and meet dozens of new people—all through translators, done in a language she doesn’t speak—she should be exhausted. But it is she who has the strength for our pitiable state, our guilt, our lack of faith, our despair. As she leaves the house, after dark, it is she who offers the comfort of warm hand-grasps and multiple cheek kisses. Though we are part of the “superpower”, and she from the underdog nation, yet it is she who gives us strength to continue our struggle for justice, both in Iraq and at home.