Rainbow Rant: More war in the Middle East?

Joy Ellison
Coffins of Gen. Qassem Soleimani and his comrades, who were killed in Iraq by a U.S. drone strike, are carried on a truck surrounded by mourners during a funeral procession in the city of Mashhad, Iran, on Sunday, Jan. 5. Soleimani's death Friday in Iraq further heightens tensions between Tehran and Washington after months of trading attacks and threats that put the wider Middle East on edge.

As the Trump regime tries to persuade the American public to go to war with Iran, I’m thinking about something that happened to me about 10 years ago.

I was sitting in a bus in Damascus, Syria. It was my last day in the country after two months of studying Arabic, and I thought I’d do some sightseeing before leaving. I was zoning out, like a good tourist, waiting for the bus to fill up.

Suddenly, I heard a commotion in the seat behind me. An older woman said, “He doesn't speak Arabic.” I turned to see what was going on.

A young man was bleeding from a gash across his forehead. He had slit it open on some exposed metal when he climbed into the bus. The people sitting next to him were trying to figure out how to help him but couldn’t communicate. I groaned inwardly, since I really wanted to spend the day relaxing, but I knew what I had to do.

I asked the wounded man if he spoke English. He did. I offered to translate from Arabic for him. Pretty soon, I took off with an Iraqi guy named Mohamed to take the young man to the hospital.

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Mohamed got directions to the hospital and I explained to our new friend what was happening. We learned he was from South Korea. Mohamed told me he was a refugee, escaping the destruction caused by the U.S. invasion of Iraq.

As we walked with our new South Korean friend’s arms around our shoulders, we laughed at the three of us: an Iraqi, an American and a Korean, stumbling through the streets of Syria.

A couple of hours later, I stood with Mohamed in a hospital room, our international gathering growing steadily bigger. The nurse was from Lebanon. The South Korean man called a Chinese friend who spoke Arabic and Korean to join us. The doctor laughed at us all, asking if there wasn't a single Syrian who was willing to help. “You!” I said, smiling.

The doctor stitched up the South Korean man’s forehead, while I, at the request of the patient, filmed the procedure on his camera. I tried to keep my hand steady, but it was hard not to laugh at the absurd beauty of the situation.

Then came the part that always comes, that’s never far away: the politics. The Syrian police, a terrifying arm of Assad’s government, questioned us all. Mohamed didn't have his refugee card on him. He had told me how nervous he was. He took a risk helping a stranger, but he never acted hesitant.

The police separated Mohamed from the rest of us. Over and over, the police asked the Korean man, “Are you from the good Korea or the bad Korea?” I felt embarrassed translating their rudeness. Shouldn’t they know, better than most, that whatever a government might do, the people of every country are much more than good or bad?

The police held us for only 15 minutes or so. I worried Mohamed wouldn’t be there when they let us go, but he was. I shook his hand and told him that I hoped I'd see him in the United States someday.

The young man from South Korea thanked me. Then he paused as though he were trying to figure out how to say something.

He said, “I love you.”

I smiled and said, “I know what you mean. I love you, too.”

I tell this story because this is a moment when we have to choose what world we want to join. We can support politicians who want war. We can visit further destruction on the people of the Middle East, turning more families into refugees, like Mohamed, in another ill-advised gambit. Or, we can join an improbable group of people from all over the world who just want to stop the bleeding, to help, to work for peace. We can be a part of a community of people who love each other.

Whatever world you want to be a part of, this is a moment when you must decide.