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Calvin January Series kicks off with doctor who works in Iraq

January 3, 2013

The 2013 Calvin January Series began today and we plan to report on some of them over the next few weeks.

The first speaker in this years’ January Series at Calvin College was Dr. Jeremy Courtney, Executive Director of Preemptive Love Coalition.PreemptiveLovelogo-620x332

Courtney began his talk by sharing a story about Dr. Muhammand, an Iraqi physician whom he had met and had witness the destruction of the hospital he worked at in Baghdad.

US soldiers told Dr. Muhammad that they would build him a new hospital, better than the one he worked at under the Saddam Hussein regime, but the rebuilding never came.

Dr. Muhammad and his fellow doctors decided they would have to rebuild the hospital themselves, but they did not have financial resources. They were able to raise enough money to get some supplies and equipment necessary to perform some procedures, but were unable to perform more complicated surgeries, such as heart operations on children.

Dr. Muhammad had to turn away numerous Iraqi families that sought medical treatment for their children, which caused him great anguish. Dr. Muhammad then saw US doctors doing some of the same work, but these US doctors were sending Iraqi Muslims children to Israel to for medical care.

The Doctor then wrote an angry letter to one of the more extreme religious groups in the country and asked, is it permissible to send Iraqi children to Israeli doctors? He also asked, where are our Arab brothers and sisters in this time of need?

The religious group proclaimed a fatwa, saying that these US doctors should be killed for fear that the Iraqi children might “love their enemies,” according to the speaker. However, Jeremy found that more and more families were saying they supported their kids going to Israel for medical attention.

Jeremy and his team were confronted with what to do, save themselves or stay and continue to provide medical care to Iraqis? He saw a well-known sheik who he became friends with and was one day invite to speak with the Sheik and several other religious leaders.

When Courtney told people that he took the kids to Israel, the room erupted with anger. He responded by saying, what is the greater sin, to work with your enemy to save the lives of your children or sit on your hands and let your kids die?

Courtney then told how his group then shifted their work to partner with local Iraqi doctors to provide services and training in country and that this is now the bulk of their work. The speaker showed pictures and a short video that profiled some of the children they worked with.cat_117-1161

At one level, there was something very humane and moving about what the speaker at to say, but what puzzled me throughout the talk was the lack of context for why his organization was in Iraq in the first place. Courtney had only mentioned the US invasion/occupation, but said nothing about the amount of damage the occupation caused Iraqis, both in terms of devastation to civil society and the amount of human suffering incurred.

Jeremy wrapped up his comments by talking about what he continued to refer to as preemptive love, which was just another way of naming the kind of love that he and his fellow christians should employee when seeing suffering in the world. He talked about applying preemptive love to immigrants, to gender and racial equity. At one point he even quoted Orwell and Einstein in their criticism of nationalism. But something still seemed to be lacking from his presentation, which at times was moving, but lacked any depth or analysis.

In his concluding remarks he made it clear that he supported US intervention in Iraq and Afghanistan in order to do good. However, he acknowledged that the US military operations turned into something else that, “has not been good for our country.” The unfortunate outcome what is happening in Syria, Iran and Israel/Palestine. Again, some of this made sense, but didn’t satisfy the demand for a more substantive analysis of long-term US policy in those countries.

My concern was further revealed in the Q & A portion where someone asked him why so many Iraqi children had serious heart problems. Courtney responded by saying that there are three main reasons given.

First, he noted use of chemical weapons by Saddam Hussein against the Kurds in Iraq and against the Iranians during the 1900s. Courtney failed to mention that much of the technology for the use of such chemical weapons were provided by the US government, with no objection when they were used. Courtney spoke about Saddam’s use of chemical weapons in a very matter of fact manner, suggesting this was not in question.

The second reason he gave “may” be due to the depleted uranium used in US weapons in both the 1991 Gulf War and the 2003 invasion/occupation of Iraq. Courtney said the use of depleted uranium is inconclusive.

The third reason that Dr. Courtney gave was because of the serious malnutrition Iraqi children faced, particularly during the years that United Nations/US sanctions were being imposed on that country. This was an understatement, based on what former UN representative in Iraq during the sanction year, Denis Halliday, had to say about the consequence of the sanctions, particularly on children. Halliday has referred to the sanctions as a form of genocide, since it is widely known that half a million Iraqi children died as a direct result of the sanctions.

The serious loss of life and long-term consequences of the sanction on Iraqi children was something that the US government admitted to. US Secretary of State Madeline Albright at the time acknowledged what had happened to Iraqi children as a result of the sanctions. Albright was the guest of a 60 Minutes show where she was asked if the death of half-a million Iraqi children was worth it. Her response was, “I think this is a very hard choice, but the price–we think the price is worth it.” Here is a video of that intereaction.

In the end, Dr. Jeremy Courtney’s talk left me feel as if he was just promoting the White Savior Complex, where people in the US can feel good about helping others abroad, without taking any ownership of what the US government/military has done that creates the conditions for them religious and charity groups to do what they do.

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