Not In My Name

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Days of rage. Days of dullness, brown leaves flickering against the grey sky of a sepia-toned west coast autumn. And worse, days of feeling helpless, as the machinery of war grinds its cogs and wheels in a sickening, quickening rhythm.

As always, I squint to see real bodies on the TV screen. There was so much proximity to the bombing of New York — close-ups of faces, intimate stories broadcast directly to my living room, tales passed on, hand to hand, e-mail by e-mail, ear to ear.

The bombing of Afghanistan is all about distance, grainy images shot from planes flying at high altitude; secret meetings by world leaders; numbers of casualties kept from us: we are children and the truth is a dangerous toy.

The headlines in the news boxes flash at me like black-and-white film frames: America Under Attack. America At War. My rage, like that of so many others, feels so muted. We are poets, activists, teachers, students, artists. Our words and images are all we have to fight this war conducted in our names. We’re having conversations in cafes, on the Internet, in the classroom, late at night over a meal, we’re talking deep and long. There are not enough of these discussions; my hunger for them is endless.

It seems there will never be enough of this muted chorus to drown out the marching bands, the clarion calls, the clipped voices, the national anthems, the drawling of words and ideas so hollow and inadequate: good versus evil, them against us, dead or alive. Not in my name.

Like any daughter or son of refugees, there are one or two things I know about war. There are the casualties you see and the ones you don’t: the ones that travel, ghost-like, across the barriers of memory and time. Certainly there are the deaths, and the generations to come that will count and re-count the absences.

There are the empty places at the table — on holy days and every day — signifying the grandmothers and uncles abandoned to mass graves, the children named after them with their burdens of hope and un-belonging. The ceaseless naming, the naming of scars, of refugee camps and labour camps, of food eaten there, of long and winding routes taken away from home, and then the teaching of those names to the children so that they recite them in their sleep, so that trauma is something they live with too, a phantom limb.

The images of a bombed New York looked, to so many of us, like Beirut, or like London, or like Managua, or Berlin. It was so hard to mourn, harder not to. The ghosts of our dead watched with us, through us. I thought I heard bitter laughter, a sharp cry of recognition — or maybe it was just the wind, snapping at hemlock branches.

My father, in response to some minor childhood scrape of mine, so many years ago: When I was your age, I had already been through a war. My great aunt Olena, 94-years-old, who does not give in to my barrage of questions about the two world wars she’s lived through. What is there to say, it was awful, all of it, she mutters, and looks away.

Like anyone who came of age in the 1980s, I’ve seen one or two wars myself: Chile, Nicaragua, Guatemala, Sudan, Rwanda, Serbia, the Persian Gulf. I’ve marched for peace with a million people through the streets of New York. I’ve stood alongside Chileans and Salvadorians in front of the American Embassy in Toronto as we named the names of their dead, shouting “Presente!” after each one.

I’ve demonstrated in the bitter cold of a Montreal winter against Canada’s involvement in the Gulf War (... As though they were short on bombs over there! scoffed an Arab Canadian woman of my acquaintance).

I’m trudging to peace vigils in front of the art gallery, trying to wage peace in the classroom, or in the nocturnal glow of the computer screen. Not in my name.Every war has its own shape and culture, its songs and narratives. Every war is doubled: the war over there, the war at home. My students tell me stories.

One is a mother, a woman of colour, whose son endures racist harassment on the bus, days after the bombings. Another is white, and tells me about complaining loudly at the airport about a cancelled flight: she is escorted away by police.

A South Asian colleague of mine gives a speech denouncing war and U.S. foreign policy (as so many of us have, on the radio, over dinner or on the net). She gets death threats, is defamed in the media again and again.

On the bus I take to and from work, the war is ongoing: a driver bullies a man who doesn’t have a ticket (even after someone else pays his fare); frail bodies weave and huddle along the sidewalk at the corner of Hastings and Main. The war at home: the money that will somehow be found for missiles, stolen from the poor.

Rain pounds the sidewalk, drenches a young homeless woman panhandling on Granville Street. TV voices recite the reasons for war like a rosary. A holy war indeed, if oil and financial markets and the illusion of safety are holy. Ghost voices from every country and time chant with me, thinly disguised by the rattle of leaves, the whisper of wind: not in our name.

Marusya Bociurkiw is an artist, activist and scholar based in Vancouver. She is author of the poetry collection Halfway to the East (Lazara Press) and director of several films, including the recently released docudrama Unspoken Territory. A version of this piece appeared in The Georgia Strait.

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