Tuesday, April 03, 2007

Against Forgetting

[posted by Callimachus]

From the list of Americans in Iraq, living and dead, I've vowed to see that a few names are not forgotten. Nor will I see them swallowed up into the lumpen mass of "dimwitted victims of military recruiters/sadistic babykillers/cynical mercenary profiteers" that seems to be the antiwar left's view of every American who went to the Middle East.

Some of them I wrote about on my old blog, the one I published under my own name and had to give up under threat of termination from my media job. Fern Holland was one of those. Peace Corps volunteer, Oklahoma sorority girl, environmental lawyer, tireless worker for the rights and respect of women everywhere in the world -- she was in post-Saddam Iraq before the gun barrels had cooled, and she pitched in for freedom and equality with her whole heart.

She criss-crossed the liberated land, "opening women's centers and championing women's representation in the national assembly." Until March 9, 2004, when she died, age 33, gunned down in Iraq with two colleagues after paying a regular visit to a women's center she'd helped open in Karbala.

Leading feminists from the National Organization for Women, the Feminist Majority Foundation and the National Council of Women's Organizations issued statements praising Holland's work.

Residents of a refugee camp in Guinea renamed the legal clinic she started there the Fern Holland Legal Aid Clinic of Nzerekore. The city council in Miami, where she grew up and graduated from high school, observed a moment of silence and then discussed a memorial to honor her.

As one friend said, "She literally laid her life on the line for what she believed in, which was basic human rights and the rule of law." She worked for the Coalition Provisional Authority (as a women's rights specialist). She worked with the U.S. military. She confronted both entities fearlessly, and they respected her -- in part for doing just that. She made them better by her challenge.

"I love the work," she wrote home, "and if I die, know that I'm doing precisely what I want to be doing - working to organize and educate human rights activists and women's groups."

She also had written: "I don't want to be a martyr. I want to come home one day and be with family and friends, but I can't sit in my room and hope it takes care of itself."

After her death, Radwan A. Masmoudi, founder and president of the Center for the Study of Islam & Democracy, wrote this:

Should the United States and other democratic nations, spend costly resources and even make sacrifices to help the people of Iraq develop democracy, the rule of law, and respect for human rights? Fern Holland believed so, and she gave her life for this belief.

... She was passionate in her determination that Iraq can and will become a society devoted to democracy and human rights. She was always urging and inspiring me and my colleagues to help the Iraqi people stand up with dignity, and build a modern, democratic and progressive state that can protect their rights and inspire Arabs and Muslims around the world.

... Almighty God, the Merciful, the Compassionate, will embrace this noble woman whose love for long-suffering Muslim victims of tyranny and terror was greater than her love for her own life. She was fervent in her belief and commitment that Iraqis are capable, and desirous, of becoming the first real democracy in the Arab world, and she gave her life to make it happen.

Americans and all civilized nations must persevere to make sure that the seeds that Fern Holland planted bear fruit. The goal of freedom, democracy, and human rights in Iraq and throughout the Muslim world is, as Fern Holland understood, attainable. This cause, that she loved so bravely, will triumph if good men and women, and their governments, invest time, toil, and persistence.

I think the Cherokee Nation (she was a member) said it best in a post-mortem resolution: She was "a warrior."

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