Rodney Dinner will soon be a human shield. A couple of weeks ago, he was sitting on a streetcar, on his way to the University of Toronto where he’s studying to be a teacher. He picked up a copy of a transit newspaper and read an article about the Human Shields. Now, he’s on his way to Baghdad for a three-week tour of duty.

An American living in Toronto, Dinner has studied Spanish and Arabic, was on the university’s rowing team and works summers as a forest-fire-fighter.

With a war against Iraq just around the corner, hundreds of people from across the globe are making their way to Baghdad to use their bodies as literal and symbolic barriers between the U.S military and the people of Iraq in the hopes that their presence will act as a deterrent, or at least a comfort. The tactic of using human shields to prevent war was the brainchild of Ken O’Keefe, a U.S. Gulf war veteran who has devoted his life to peace.

The shield campaign is a relatively new one, but it has been picking up steam fast. A convoy of volunteers travelled across Europe, picking up new recruits along the way, before arriving in Amman, Jordon, yesterday, their last stop before entering Baghdad.

Dinner is even braver than you think. Its currently illegal for American citizens to travel to Iraq without prior permission. He faces up to twelve years in prison or a million-dollar fine upon his return from Baghdad. “Rodney Dinner” is a pseudonym used at Dinner’s request.

Why become a human shield?

It’s a global, co-ordinated effort; that a mass migration of Westerners to Iraq would cause a crisis in the U.S. and Britain’s attempt to use violence against Iraq. We don’t want to be implicated in Western violence, that the state commits in our name. If you have the strength to resist this war in some meaningful way, you should do so. Human shields, mass mobilizations, petitions, all show the people of Iraq that there are Westerners who disagree with that their governments are doing.

Human shields are just one piece in a larger matrix of resistance that has to take place.

What’s the logic behind this tactic?

Technically, acting as a human shield is a form of direct action. It’s similar to the International Solidarity Movement (ISM) in Palestine where international activists converge in the Occupied Territories as a solidarity action. With the ISM and the Human Shields and other groups with a similar mandate, I hope my participation will help build a global movement of direct action.

What will your role be once you reach Baghdad?

To start, I’m not going to pretend that a group of a few hundred Westerners are going to change U.S. foreign policy. So I think the importance or success to what we’re doing shouldn’t be judged in that way. Sure, it might be possible, once the war begins, to have a hundred people pack a building and prevent it from being bombed, but beyond saying we’re not going to let this happen, I consider this more as a process of building an international movement against war and human rights abuses, etc, and hope this will stimulate other actions abroad.

What do you intend to do once you’re there?

It’s important, not just to show up, but to be there to work in solidarity with the people of Iraq, make connections with the different communities of activists there. Which I assume will be quite difficult considering the situation we’re entering into and the language barrier some of us will face.

I know I hope to volunteer at a hospital because of my EMS training (Emergency Medical Service). I also want to participate in other kinds of direct action, to intervene in the violence that is about to happen.

I’d like to hold a protest of all the internationals there, laying down on a street draped in the flags of our respective countries, to make an international statement against the war. And maybe there’ll be someone riding the TTC [Toronto transit], reading an article about it, and they’ll know that people just like them can resist. I hope our actions will provide a source of inspiration, to counter this Western fatalism that there is nothing that we can do to stop the war.

But considering the risks that you are taking . . . ?

The purpose of this action, again, is what we will do before the bombs even drop. I don’t believe in martyrdom. Activists don’t achieve anything if they die.

For me, the drive to do something like this, it’s the complexity of risk, the way the government tries to control people by creating a sense of threat — twelve years in prison, one million dollars in fines, the fact that you might die.

If you stand in front of a tank, you take a risk that you’ll be run over. And people will ask you if you’re willing to die, yes or no? And for me, the answer would be no, but if you ask me if I’m willing to take that risk to stand there and face that question, take that chance, then that’s a risk in itself that I’m willing to take, to resist.

Krystalline Kraus

krystalline kraus is an intrepid explorer and reporter from Toronto, Canada. A veteran activist and journalist for, she needs no aviator goggles, gas mask or red cape but proceeds fearlessly...