After the start of the war in Iraq I was invited to provide faith-based commentary on the war for my KQED FM, my local NPR affiliate. The essay below is commentary I submitted. The piece was never used on air, and is published for the first time here.
“The Prayers of Doha Siel”
A Perspective by Ben Daniel
Since the early days of this war I have been haunted by the image of Doha Siel lying in a Baghdad hospital with a piece of shrapnel embedded in her spine. She was among the first to be wounded in the war, and she’s not a soldier, not a politico, not a terrorist, not even an adult who may have earned some bad karma. Doha Siel is a five-year-old girl who was unlucky enough to be caught near an exploding American bomb.
In an Associated Press photograph, Doha is looking at the camera with beautiful eyes and curly hair, her hands folded as if in prayer. And I hope she is praying. I hope she’s praying for her country and for ours. I hope she’s praying for the world. And I hope she’s praying for you and for me, for our loved ones and for our children who must live among a people who seem to have lost the ability to be instructed by memory.
Somehow we’ve forgotten the lessons we were meant to have learned in places like Dresden and Nagasaki, Viet Nam and Ground Zero, Manhattan: we’ve forgotten that harming innocent people, especially children, causes unbearable pain and irreparable sadness not only for the victims and their loved ones but also for the purveyors and perpetrators of violence. And somehow we’ve lost track of the ancient wisdom that for centuries has sought to remind us that no matter how noble the cause, any war is unjust if civilians are harmed.
From the safety of Washington briefing rooms, harm to innocent bystanders euphemistically is called “collateral damage,” and it’s accepted as a necessary if, perhaps unfortunate, cost of war. But to me Doha Siel is not “collateral damage.” She is a little girl, with tears in her eyes, eyes that are the same color as my own daughter’s eyes.
I doubt our President will ever hear the sound of Doha crying. I suspect that even some of the peace protesters are shouting too loudly to give heed to the tears of an Iraqi child. So I hope Doha is praying, because if she is praying, I am confident that she will be heard by the Almighty, and heaven knows our world could use the prayers of a little girl.