By Eileen Jevis/ SUN staff writer
SUN photo(s) Paul Finch
Local activist shares her story about life in Iraq
Peace activist Cynthia Banas shared some of her recent experiences in Iraq when she spoke at Le Moyne College on Feb. 10. She brought home stories of human suffering and the constant fear felt by the Iraqis who try to go about their everyday lives in an environment of ruin, military presence, deplorable living conditions and random jail convictions.
Banas, who was a librarian in New York State for over 35 years, has spent a total of one year in Iraq since May 2001 as a member of Voices in the Wilderness. She has also toured the war-torn areas of Baghdad and Guatemala. Banas became a peace activist at the age of 40 while watching the Vietnam War on television. Banas said she gave money to an organization protesting the Vietnam War and has been involved ever since. She also became a volunteer of UNICEF and learned of the atrocities people suffer from economic sanctions. “In 1996, according to UNICEF, more than 4,000 children in Iraq were dying from polluted water,” said Banas. “The water was polluted because of sanctions.” Banas explained that because trade sanctions were in place, there were no exports or imports of goods and thus, no chlorine available to purify the water. “Those sanctions lasted 13 years,” said Banas. “A half a million people died due to those sanctions and most of them were children.”
During her presentation, Banas stated, “Jesus came to teach us how to act toward each other. The Holy Spirit gives us the strength to do just that. We are one human family on earth.” She went on to explain that the Iraqi people are not our enemy and have never been our enemy. “This is a lawless war that we are engaged in,” said Banas. Banas feels strongly that the U.S. media are shirking theirduties to report accurately what is taking place in Iraq. In comparing international journalists with American journalists, Banas said that the American press has utterly failed. She gave the example of the recent deaths of 35 servicemen. “There were Spanish and Italians and Americans killed in that skirmish. The press in all the other countries reported this human sacrifice. They aired the ceremonies that took place when their servicemen and women were brought home. There was no ceremony when the U.S. bodies came home,” she said.
During the buildup for the war of Iraq, Banas said that the Iraqi people did not actually think they would be bombed. “They are a poor and sick nation,” Banas explained. “They were still suffering from the trauma of the Gulf War.” Banas spoke to many of the Iraqi people during her visits to the country. She talked about their storing up rice and gas and digging wells in their front yards for water. She also talked about the mothers’ fears of not knowing if their children would be alive in the morning. Banas spoke out about what she referred to as “lies” President Bush tells the U.S. about casualty statistics. “Besides the 500 American soldiers killed, there are 11,000 young people with no legs, arms, sight or who suffer from mental illness. Our president is wrong. He reported that there were 3,000 casualties.” Banas also said that there are many other service people who fight for the U.S. but are not counted as casualties of war. Banas explained that non-citizens living in the U.S. were offered citizenship if they joined the service. “There are Latin American people and others who joined the army,” she said. “However, if they die for they U.S. and are not a citizen, they are not counted as a casualty.”
Banas also educated the audience about the fact that there are more than 1,000 Iraqi people in prison, living in horrible conditions who have no charges against them and have committed no crime. “They have said to me, ‘We used to be under the heel of Sadam, now we are under the heel of George Bush.’” The objective of the Voices in the Wilderness peace team was to observe and talk to the Iraqi people and report to the peace teams via e-mail or radio and TV interviews what they saw in Iraq. The peace teams attended press conferences, visited hospitals, orphanages and met with ministers of the United Nations.
When Banas was asked by a member of the audience how Americans were perceived by the Iraqi people, she replied, “I don’t know about those who speak Arabic, but those who speak English have told me that Bush is no good, but they like the Americans. Theirs is a culture that welcomes strangers,” said Banas.