What is behind the mask?
Heart like rock?". This is the caption, my new friend, Huzaifa Hamid in Iraq tells me, for this photo above, taken by his brother at the protests this past week in Sulaymaniyeh. I visited this city last year, a city with a population about the size of Seattle, meeting with youth leaders there. The photo is startling to me for a couple reasons. First, it is of a young woman activist taking this brave, bold action, in a city where 4 young people were killed last week by soldiers. Most of the photos and videos we have seen so far from protests in most Middle East countries this week have been of young men. Second, it immediately reminded me of another famous image from our own anti-war and civil rights protests.
More protests are planned for next week, calling for not so much an overthrow of the regime in Northern Iraq, but more focused on weeding out corruption in government, and an improved economy.
I was most struck by Huzaifa's empathy for the soldier. He writes;
"I think the soldiers themselves are very good persons and they do not wanna do violence but they take order from their boss from KDP or PUK (the ruling parties) that's why they are doing violence, and if they reject the order,they must quit their job and can not get money to keep their family a life."
To me this is most remarkable, this empathy for those with whom we often see as our enemy. Yet, this can be the most powerful part of non-violent resistance, this ability to keep one's own humanity in tact by remembering the humanity in others. When 4 people have just been slaughtered, this can seem to be an unimaginable, even abhorrent task.
Heart like a rock? My friend tells me the soldier is being challenged here to make a difficult choice. Accept the flower or risk a hardening heart.
Gandhi, Martin Luther King, Nelson Mandela all helped us to seek non-violent change, fueled by this ability to be our strongest by remembering the humanity in us all. It tests us on both sides of the gun.
Maybe it is too much to ask the soldiers to put down their guns at this moment. But I wonder if they could be asked to pull off their masks?
Greg Tuke teaches and travels internationally, working with university faculty in India, Indonesia and the MIddle East, sharing strategies for implementing international collaborations within course work. This blog chronicles key experiences and insights about those experiences. All opinions expressed are mine, and represent no other institutional affiliation.