[Please welcome Dr. Todenhofer and Host Siun – bev]
Why Do You Kill? is the most important book I’ve read on our occupation of Iraq. Written by Dr. Jürgen Todenhöfer, this book finally provides a voice to the people of Iraq, a voice we never hear in the Western media, a voice our government silences rather than engages.
Sweeping aside the usual political debates on Iraq and the paternalistic views of even so many on the progressive side of the debate, Dr. Todenhöfer takes us along on his 2007 trip to Ramadi and allows us to hear what Iraqis say – about the occupation and about why they fight against it.
This is a very human book. From celebrations of the victories of the Iraqi soccer team to the sorrows so many of his hosts speak about, we see life as it is lived in the midst of occupation – and we have a chance to see that occupation from the perspective of the Iraqis who fight against it, fighting for freedom and the security of their communities and their families. We meet families and young men who had no desire to become insurgents as well as leaders of that insurgency and even one member of Al Qaeda.
The stories shared in Why Do You Kill are devastating. The suffering of these families, the brutality of the occupation and the grinding conditions of daily life in a destroyed Iraq are told simply, in the words of the people Dr. Todenhöfer met. This is not a book of polemic, but a book of meals shared and hearts opened. For all that they have suffered, the Iraqis’ voices still reach out to us, asking us to see how very wrong our actions have been – and how much those actions harm us all.
During his time in Ramadi, Dr. Todenhöfer spends time with a 21 year old Iraqi resistance fighter named Zaid and it is his story, told over several days, that speaks to us most directly:
Zaid talks very slowly and deliberately today. He is clearly trying to keep his emotions under control. He often breathes deeply, pauses, purses his lips.
Zaid is the oldest of three brothers. Haroun is one year younger, and Karim two. In July 2006, Haroun spends a few nights at his uncle’s house in the center of Ramadi. He is 19 at the time and studying engineering. It is summer break, and he is trying to enjoy it as best he can, given a war is underway.
Like his two brothers, he has little to do with the resistance. Though like all the youngsters in Ramadi, he helps the resistance fighters when they are looking for a hideout or need information. But Haroun does not play an active part.
On July 14, 2006, Haroun sets off early in the morning, before it gets too hot, from his uncle’s house to go back to his family in Al-Sufia. He turns into the narrow street where his family lives just after seven. He is dribbling a ball he found on the way.
In his right hand he is carrying a white bush rose which he picked for his mother at sunrise. He sees a young neighbor, Jarir, coming the other way, and calls out to greet him, salam – peace.
Just as he utters the word salam, a shot rings out. Haroun touches the back of his head in disbelief, sinks to his knees in what seems like slow-motion, and falls forwards with his face in the dust.
His lifeless body lies there in the dirt, the small white rose for his mother in his right hand.
As we learn the rest of Zaid’s story, as we see the war as Dr. Todenhöfer writes “through a Muslim’s eyes,” we begin to see the real horror of our actions in Iraq.
When Dr. Todenhöfer was leaving Iraq, Moussa who drove him back to Syria, summed it up in this message to us all:
“Tell your American friends that they have not only destroyed our country but also broken our hearts.”
Following the account of his trip to Ramadi, Dr. Todenhöfer presents Ten Theses, which he also published as 3 ads in the New York Times in March 2008. Developed from both his reading and his experiences traveling in Algeria, Afghanistan and Iraq, these point to a way for us to enter into a genuine dialogue with the Muslim world. They are a critical corrective to the western perspective and deserve our attention and discussion. (The Theses and a full .discussion of each can be read at Dr. Todenhofer’s website)
As he did with his previous bestselling books, Dr. Todenhöfer will donate the royalties from Why Do You Kill? to finance medical aid for Iraqi refugee children and an Israeli-Palestinian reconciliation project in the Middle East.
Dr. Todenhöfer writes “Our horizon is not the end of the world.” Why Do You Kill invites us to move beyond our limited horizon and meet the world with open hearts and with respect. The next step is up to us.