in Baghdad, a story of hope
Put together five things:
1. Modern technology, in this case aeroplanes, e-mail,
phones and Internet
2. The recognition that every human being can be a
3. The idea of dialogue between civilisations and
4. Art in general and music in particular
5. Add a dose of creativity, or vision
- and here is an example of what you get!
and Baghdad & the UN and music & Buddhism and
During TFF's mission to Iraq last month, Christian
Harleman and I met the Resident Representative of the
United Nations Development Program, UNDP, Mr. Francis
Dubois. We knew from an earlier visit that UNDP - like so
many UN organisations in Iraq - do a fantastic job for
(and with) Iraqi citizens. We knew that this mission like
so many other UN missions around the world is the real
UN, not New York.
We quickly recognised that Francis is a man who takes
a keen interest in Iraqi culture and arts. The moment you
meet him, you know he is special - curious, humble,
learned and very, very kind. (See UNDP
in general and use the roll-down menu to see
what UNDP does in
Iraq. And here is an article from BBC about Baghdad's
flourishing arts scene in which Francis is also
A few days later I happened to be giving a guest
lecture on Iraq at the
Buddhist Soka University in Hachioji outside
There I met my old friend Olivier
Urbain, a Belgian PhD in literature and a member of
TRANSCEND, A Peace
and Development Network headed by Johan
Galtung, a TFF Associate. Olivier is deeply devoted
to art and peace, to exploring how art in a broad sense
can contribute to peace and how you can do online courses
to promote it; he does this through the Transcend
Art & Peace Network. (See also this).
Olivier Urbain asked whether I knew any Iraqi cultural
workers. I said no, but gave him Francis' e-mail. The two
of them began to communicate by e-mail and phone.
So, there were Swedish, Danish, French and Belgian
people co-ordinating across the world, trying to link up
Buddhism, Muslim, Catholic and Protestant people. But
there is more to it.
A musician for
peace, from the historically war-torn Okinawa, requests
weapons from Iraq to create peace monuments!
The global anti-war protest day, February 15, was
approaching. A friend of Olivier, Shoukichi Kina from
Okinawa, wanted to contribute to peace in Iraq through
Okinawa? Few know about it, but Okinawa was the centre
of and "hosted" the largest land-sea-air battle in
history. Over 200,000 were killed in the "Tennozan"
during three spring months of 1945. The civilian tragedy
exceeded that of Hiroshima. I had been there and felt
that hardly anyone could bring a stronger message for
peace than Mr. Kina from that island. So, we connected
the history of war with contemporary war planning, the
suffering of innocent victims on one continent with those
on another. What a learning opportunity!
Here is Mr.
Kina's website. And this is his basic message:
"The main mission of the NGO, "All Weapons
into Musical Instrument" shall be to request weapons
from the Iraqi Government as well as other countries
and dismantle them to construct peace monuments.
The door of peace can be opened by the wisdom and
courage of understanding and dialogue.
Judaism, Christianity and Islam is the main cause
of the Mid-East problem. Ironically, they share the
same ancestor - Abraham. Ur (Iraq) is the place where
Abraham, the person after Canaan, was born. There
should have been a hint of harmony there.
Celebration or war? What you vote shall be a
test of our peace-making event.
All weapons into musical instruments!
All the military bases into flower gardens!
Blooming flowers in the hearts of
At some point Francis Dubois wrote to me:
"Friday afternoon, while some musicians were
rehearsing in my house, Mr Urbain called me from
Tokyo! Our world has become a village: we should
manage it as such, with respect for all!
Mr. Kina and his delegation visited the United
Nations Office and took this opportunity to bring a
letter to Mr. Kofi Annan, our Secretary General, on
behalf of "All Weapons into the Musical Instruments.
Peace-makers Network". The group was accompanied by
the Director- General of the (Iraqi) Ministry of
Culture and many journalists."
So, a message of peace was brought from Okinawa to
Baghdad and further on to the UN in New York.
The concert in
Then the program started in Baghdad, co-ordinated with
all the marches around the world. Francis Dubois
"In the evening, in the crowded Rasheed
Theatre in the centre of Baghdad, Mr. Kina and his
group delighted his audience with a spectacular
concert for Peace in Iraq, in the region and in the
world. The audience, from Ambassadors to teenagers,
enjoyed it thoroughly.
May Peace prevail on earth and may all weapons be
transformed into musical instruments!"
Do you understand what this meant for citizens of
Baghdad? I myself had fond memories of the evening in
early January when a couple from Sweden, he an Iraqi
Swede and she a Swedish Swede, were dancing modern ballet
and were met with roaring applause from an enthusiastic
audience, all walks of life.
The Iraqis yearn for cultural experiences and
international visitors who respect them, work with them
and bring art and peace. In solidarity and humanity.
The Peace Ceremony
in Baghdad, the City of Peace
A few days later, Francis wrote to me:
"On 16 February 2003, a peace ceremony was
held in the garden of the United Nations Development
Programme Office (UNDP) in Baghdad. There were
participants and peace activists from the Iraq
Peace Team and Christian
Peacemaker Teams from USA, the Bridge
to Baghdad group from Italy and other countries,
joined by diplomats, UN agencies and NGOs'
representatives, and children from the Baghdad
International School, besides reporters from national
and international media and press.
The ceremony started with excerpts, read by the
UNDP Resident Representative, from the 8 February
speech of Mr. Kofi Annan, the UN Secretary General,
referring to the UN preamble and the determination to
save the peoples of the world from the scourge of
American peace activist Ms Manna Jo Greene, from
the Hudson Valley, New York, read an excerpt from a
speech by Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., preaching for
non-violence and peace. Ms Greene was followed by a
colleague who quoted Mahatma Gandhi's statement on
anti violence and peace. Later Mrs. Kathy Kelly,
founder of Voices
in the Wilderness, sang together with Iraqi
children a song for peace.
An eight -foot wooden Pillar of Peace was brought
all the way from the Hudson River Valley, NY to be
installed in Baghdad. The rectangular pillar had the
banner 'May Peace
Prevail on Earth' written on each side of it in
English, Arabic, French and in Japanese. After a
procession lead by two young Iraqi girls, it was
settled in its base at the UNDP garden.
The Pillar of Peace was standing there in the nice
green UNDP garden, while the small flags of all UN
country members fluttered in the breeze under the
bright sun of Baghdad, also called Dar Al-Salaam,
meaning the city of peace."
So, here the action was connected further: Iraq,
Japan/Okinawa and Sweden, with the US and Europe; the
international community with Baghdad, the UN and
representatives of governments with non-governmental
organisations. Gandhi and Martin Luther King were
connected with contemporary work in their spirit. Men and
women, young and old came together - a nucleus of
At about the same time we marched for peace in Lund,
Sweden, where TFF is situated. Lund is a small university
town of about 100,000 inhabitants. We were 3,500
marchers. It's exactly 30 years ago an equal number
marched, against the war in Vietnam. But on Saturday the
15th of February, 2003, we marched before a war. The
world has changed. The speed with which information
travels and people can connect has made wars and war
propaganda much more difficult.
After the march, 400 of the peace people of Lund
gathered in the Town Hall where I had been asked to talk
about the situation in Iraq and what we can all do to
solve the conflict without war. I started out with the
amazing story of how we at TFF had played a small role in
connecting people around the world to meet that day in
Baghdad and sending a message from there to the United
Nations in New York. And that very same Peace Pillar
stands in the garden of TFF. It felt like one spirit,
peace nodes around the world lightening up,
People are coming together for peace and democracy -
against governments operating on outdated illusions about
war and authoritarianism. It's a story of how each little
peace movement, each of us, can link up with other peace
movements: Francis, Olivier, Kina, Voices, Christians,
ambassadors and teenagers and, of course, Iraqi citizens
who proudly refuse to be deterred.
There is hope! Our energies must multiply now! Then we
will win the battle for peace. We will appeal to and
convert the hearts of the warlords; they are human beings
too. And we will save Iraq's children and other innocent
citizens from the holocaust a new war will create. So,
May peace prevail on earth!
All weapons into musical instruments!
All the military bases into flower gardens!
Blooming flowers in the hearts of all!
© TFF 2003
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