121Contact: Bringing Baghdad and Brooklyn
Youth Together: One Email at a Time
By Bruce Wallace
On September 11, 2001, my nephew, Mitch Wallace,
was murdered by terrorists in the World Trade Center. I chose to respond
to this loss by working
for more peaceful tomorrows. 121Contact connects high school students
and teachers in the U.S. with their peers in Iraq. The goal is simple:
encourage children to get to know each other and they will be less inclined
to create war with each other.
The results? We are becoming friends. Children in Baghdad now understand that
not all Americans hate Iraqis. Children in America now see Iraqi students as
human beings, suffering in the chaos of war, but strong of spirit and hope. We
are learning a lot about each other and our respective cultures. When we hear
about bombs and bullets on the streets of Iraqi cities, we can no longer change
the channel. We are now deeply involved because we have friends there.
In March 2004, Ulema, a 13 year-old Baghdad student, asked us, “Why do
you hate us so? How can you hate people you never even met?” It was not
an easy email for our students to reply to, but they did, admirably.
Much of the email is light in tone, with students asking about each other’s
schools, foods and favorite music. They (and we) are, after all, just people.
Our lives have been changed forever, we have all moved closer toward more peaceful
Sometimes, buried in the words of the letters, we get pictures of what everyday
life is like, and sometimes it is not what we expect. Sometimes strong opinions
flow out of Iraq in these emails. Whether or not we agree with what we read,
we now know how some people over there are feeling about our soldiers and the
Here are some of the words that flowed between Brooklyn and Baghdad. Though the
following correspondence is not in any particular order, you can see that the
political opinions vary, but the center has revealed an overall deep concern
As a side note, as of today, November 15th, we have received no email from our
Iraqi friends in over 11 days, and we worry.
Last Wednesday I was almost killed. It was an attempt to assassinate the minister
of justice on the highway near my house...It was a moment of nothingness...a
group of young men were spread on one side of the highway on which I was standing
waiting for a taxi at 8:55 a.m...Suddenly shooting was started here and there,
at first I did not know what is going on there? Where these shooting came from?
Then the American troops started to shoot randomly...a car was burned full of
its family, a young man was killed while he was driving...he bent on the steering
wheel just like a sleeping baby and died...I did not know what to do and how
to think...there was no time to think or at least to move...I saw myself with
a man that I don’t know...sitting in his car looking and wondering what
is going on just like an idiot, then I noticed that the old man was yelling at
me and accusing me of being crazy to stop there and watch just like that...(“Do
you want to die? Are you insane? Can’t you see what is going on?”)...then
I recognized what is going on later...I don’t believe I am alive!!!
I am not responding to your messages because the bad circumstances here, a daily
combat broke out in my district and as a punishment we have an hour of electricity
each ten hours (because of the Constitution).
My name is J D and I’m 17 years old. I’m attending John Dewey High
School in Brooklyn, NY. I know things are very difficult over there, sometimes
I don’t know how to deal with what I know. Or what I think I know. Everyday
my first class of the day begins with the war. Lately we’ve been arguing
about what the president should do. To tell you the truth, I have mixed feelings
about this war. First I am opposed to it greatly, yet I know we can’t back
out now. How do you feel?
I watched TV yesterday...Mr. Bush was so confused about what had happened…and
he talked about ‘the American will’ that no one can twist. Ok...no
one wants that, but what about breaking peoples’ will in the name of Democracy?
He destroyed every thing in Iraq...tens of children are dying of the poisoned
water everyday because they can not afford the money to buy clear water...hundred
of houses float in stagnant water.
Since March, 2003 no progress at all...no electricity...homeless kids...idle
people...no freedom at all but the freedom in killing.
Yesterday I saw Bush’s speech [in] California, he reminded me of Saddam
Hussein when he used to go and visit the soldiers...encouraging them to fight
severely...making them believe that they are great warrior of a great nation
and the word (heroes) fits them only...yachhhhhhhh lies...lies every where and
so many people who believe so!!!
Hi my name is J. I am writing to you to see how you feel about what is going
on in your country. I am terribly sorry to hear on the news “There has
been another bomb in Iraq” and things like that. This really upsets me
because what if this were America. I remember when we had a terrorist attack
in our country and it hurt us very deeply, but these things are happening to
your country everyday, I feel that is very wrong and I wish that I could do more
than just write emails to you.
I do miss you all. I am so sorry for the delay, It was not my fault believe me...the
last days were horrible...no connection...no electricity...no water, curfew was
announced here in my district, we were home prisoners. As I told you I live near
the highway which leads to Falluja and for this reason my district were surrounded
by the [Coalition Forces], daily bombs, soldiers and tanks were every where,
daily attacks on the CF make children cry and frightened from any loud voice...poor
children, they are the victims after all.
The whole city of Falluja was punished for killing two U.S. contractors...tens
of houses were devastated…the children... mothers...old men and women...hundreds
of people were killed… Those soldiers are terrorists...they blocked streets
with guns everyday aiming at peaceful people going to school...going to their
jobs...or supermarkets...or anywhere they want…terrifying every body…children,
women even old people...shouting at every body like dogs, never hesitat[ing]
shooting people as if they were holding toys not machine guns.
Muslims in my country did not go and cross seas to invade other countries killing
people haphazardly like your armies who came here in the name of freedom (till
now we did not see anything but killing and devastating and I think nothing gonna
change this) so who is killing who?
I learned from my gifted teacher that as long as there is one candle burning,
all is not darkness...it is only when my country goes into war that I experience
these things on the larger scale and I mourn for the people whom I have never
met...As a very a-political individual, my reactions are solely on a human level,
so that when I heard the president of the United States declare war on your country,
I was in disbelief and ashamed. I know that many Americans felt the same disbelief
and outrage and helplessness...in a small (but significant) way, the candle burned
and still burns. I will be writing to you again.
Very Sincerely Yours,
Life here is full of fear; I hear thousands of [the] same advice from mom & dad
every day. Abduction for ransom is widely spread in my country nowadays in addition
to the continuous explosions which make me feel panic.
There is no hatred in my heart towards the American people because I know that
most of them are kind, just like my people, but I don’t like those
soldiers who never hesitate of killing the Iraqis in the name of Freedom & Terrorism.
I wish you good luck.
My heart goes out to you and your family. After reading your letter I was struck
with such hatred for my government and the people that support it. When I think
of your poor family and how terrifying it must be for you and others, I can’t
help but wonder when this war will end. I wonder everyday if our troops will
come home soon, and if your family and others like you will ever be at peace.
I try to believe that the world will not always be like this...I wish you safety
and love and hope you and your family will find comfort and peace soon.
Bruce Wallace is a high school teacher in Brooklyn and a member of September
11th Families for Peaceful Tomorrows (www.peacefultomorrows.org). For more information
on 121Contact please visit: 121contact.typepad.com.