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Reader Opinion: Our Iraqi experience

We have just returned from volunteering in Najaf, Iraq. We went at the invitation of Sami Rasouli, an Iraqi-American who spent 25 years living in Minneapolis, then returned to Iraq in 2004 as a peacemaker to restore healing to his people and to b...

We have just returned from volunteering in Najaf, Iraq. We went at the invitation of Sami Rasouli, an Iraqi-American who spent 25 years living in Minneapolis, then returned to Iraq in 2004 as a peacemaker to restore healing to his people and to build bridges between the people of Iraq and America. Sami started an "English for Reconciliation" school to help young Iraqi adults improve their English and to foster reconciliation between Americans and Iraqis by learning more about one another through sharing stories of lifestyle, culture and mutual desire for peace.

Admittedly, we had no idea what to expect. Given negative national coverage of war torn Iraq, of United States history of repeated invasions and destruction of major cities, of a people who resent American presence in their daily lives and holy places, we wondered why we would be welcomed in Najaf.

The most difficult part of our volunteer time in Iraq was leaving the people we came to love. We were repeatedly welcomed and showered with generosity and love.

We observed a culture steeped in tradition, family loyalty, and the Muslim faith. We met women who long for more opportunities, men and women who want the freedom to travel and explore other countries, and parents who want their children to grow up free from the fear of war. Iraqis pleaded with us to tell our friends, neighbors, our country, that the Iraqi people are a loving, compassionate people. They respected differences in our faith traditions and focused on the common core beliefs of respecting and loving one another.

We are often led to believe that Muslims are to be feared, that their faith promotes dominance and violence. We are grateful that we had the opportunity to meet devout Muslims who live and teach non-violence and love.

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Charles and Mary Benson

Brainerd

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