Book Launch: “Ordinary Courage” by Donna Mulhearn

Brisbane launch - Flyer for Donna Mulhearn 24 March 2010 (2)

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This is one woman’s account of finding the ordinary courage to fulfil her purpose, no matter what the odds.
At the age of thirty-four, Donna Mulhearn had become disillusioned by her career as a journalist and political adviser and set off on a journey of self-discovery.

Then one day she heard something radical, a call to action that would change her life forever. A man on the radio was appealing for human shields in Iraq – volunteers to deter the ‘Coalition of the Willing’ from attacking Baghdad.
Donna was already against the war – she was a firm believer in the power of nonviolent action, and like many people she mistrusted Bush and Co’s motives for entering Iraq. She knew immediately what she had to do.

Donna Mulhearn is a former journalist and political adviser. After becoming a human shield in 2003, she returned to Iraq as a humanitarian aid worker to set up a shelter for street kids and support refugee families.

She now works with young people as part of the Edmund Rice Network in Sydney and is an independent writer and speaker on non-violence, spirituality and politics.

Donna Mulhearn returned to the Gaza Strip for the Gaza Freedom March from 27-31st December 2009.

Time & Date: Wednesday 24 March 2010 from 6.00pm to 7.45pm
Venue: Conference room, Oceania Support Centre
70 Kate Street Indooroopilly
RSVP: Carolyn Doherty on cmdoherty@edmundrice.org or 3327 2205
By Thursday 18 March 2010
Cost: Gold coin donation
Books will be available for purchase on the night

Also

Avid Reader in West End is also holding an event on Tuesday 23rd March at 6pm.

For more details click here

3 responses to “Book Launch: “Ordinary Courage” by Donna Mulhearn

  1. Unified Committee: today the seventh anniversary of the first battle of Fallujah posted April 7, 2011 — iraqibeacon April 7, 2011 – iraqibeacon

    (WBT Editor’s note: Please excuse the poor translation from the arabic – it is not the fault of IB).

    تمر علينا اليوم الذكرى السابعة لـ (معركة الفلوجة الأولى) والتي سطر فيها المجاهدون الأبطال أروع صور الشجاعة والثبات ضد أعتى جيش في تأريخنا المعاصر وهزيمته هزيمة نكراء، لتذهب عنا حزن ذكرى الإحتلال في 9/4/2003 م، ولنجعلها إكمالا لطريقنا في تحرير بلدنا من براثن المحتل وإفشال مخططاته ومشاريعه كلها.ه

    We celebrate today the seventh anniversary for (the battle of Fallujah, the first).

    We remember the Mujahideen heroes, the finest images of courage and fortitude against the mightiest army in modern history.

    We remember defeat and our sadness at the occupation in 9/4/2003.

    We see this remembrance as another way of liberating our country from clutches of the occupier and to thwart its plans and projects as a whole.

    اللجنة الموحدة لفصائل التخويل
    Authorized by Unified Committee of factions

    3 جمادي الأولى 1432 هـ 3 Jumada I 1432 AH

    7 / 4 / 2011 م 04/07/2011

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  2. “Now, the fellah, the unemployed man, the starving native, do not lay claim to the truth; they do not say they represent the truth, for they are the truth” — Franz Fanon ‘The Wretched of the Earth’

    Before the 2003 invasion of Iraq, Donna Mulhearn felt called to join a group of Westerners in Baghdad who became known as “Human Shields”. They placed themselves at potential civilian targets after notifying the US of their positions. Although they could not stop the war, none of the places they were protecting were bombed while they were there. (At least one place was bombed immediately after Human Shields left).

    Donna Mulhearn is an ordinary person. She went to Iraq responding to a call by US war veteran, Ken O’Keefe, on ABC Radio Double J. Donna had not been to Iraq and knew little of Iraqis but she was skeptical of the American people’s response to the bombing of the twin towers of the world trade centre in New York on 9/11/2001. She found Americans too gullible, too nationalistic and uncritical of the US war machine and they were too easily whipped into a frenzy of national outrage.

    Donna had finished journalism at University and was in the US by the time Australia, Britain and the US embarked on the first gulf war in 1991. Donna does not discuss in her book any detail of the experiences of ‘the peace camp’ — human shields who went to the 1991 war. Australians and others went to Iraq and Saudi Arabia to act as human shields when ‘Desert Storm’ began. They were evacuated and sent home by the Iraqi military. Just prior to the ‘shock and awe’ in 2003 it came as a surprise to Donna that the ‘leader’ of the human shields, O’Keefe, was deported along with others by the Iraqi government. She was not aware at the time that British human shields had reported O’Keefe to the Iraqi authorities. O’Keefe has a tear drop tattooed beneath his eye. Does this mean that he has killed people in war, I do not know? Donna was unaware of the documentary that detailed the dysfunctional attempts by the ‘peace camp’ and the human shields in the previous war in 1991.

    Yet Donna was sceptical of the Iraqi authorities. She referred to them as ‘peace and lurve’. She understood that there was manipulation of the human shields by the Iraqi authorities. She was also critical of the lack of thought that many ‘peace tourists’ had given to their coming to Baghdad to act as shields. It seems that people are writing PhD theses on ‘revolutionary tourism’ and human shields are defined as an example of this. [See thesis on Revolutionary tourism — Zapatista’s by Tristan Epstein]. Either way Donna used ‘peace tourist’ in a derogatory sense.

    Donna put up with the manipulation by the regime, tolerated the opportunism and lack of understanding by the media and even some of her confreres. She stayed the course as Bush would have put it. With a few other sturdy souls she attempted to protect a water treatment plant by camping there during the ‘shock and awe’ bombing that lasted several days before the ground invasion. She reports that none of the sites occupied by human shields were bombed during ‘shock and awe’. Nevertheless, no human shields were positioned in the south of Iraq and we know that, at the time, many Iraqis were deprived of power and clean water as a result of the bombing of essential services by the ‘coalition-of-the-willing’.

    During public question time at the book launch I asked Donna why she kept up her membership of the Australian Labor Party knowing that Labor had supported the first Gulf War against Iraq in 1991. She replied that she is working class woman who believes that the labor Party is her party and why should she leave it, it is the warmongers in the Labor party who should get out. She added that recently she decided not to renew her ALP membership and that the ALP took the money out of her bank account by direct debit anyway.

    You often hear the same explanation given by union members that Donna gave for her continuing to support a party that does not serve their interests. In this sense the book ‘Ordinary Courage’ is not a political book it does not set out to or pretend to find political solutions to Australia’s committment to the US war machine. Donna does not analyse if Iraq was justified to invade Kuwait during the first gulf war or if they were conducting a holy war of national liberation to ignite the Arab masses in opposition to the US and in support of the Palestinian Arabs. She does not analyse the famine, unemployment and inequality but she sees it and describes it firsthand. She is particularly concerned with the fate of the children who have suffered from the economic blockade and the use of depleted uranium in the first gulf war.

    Saddam Hussein said that he was about holy war and national liberation. The fact is that the Hussein regime went into Kuwait and later made a pre-emptive strike against Iran in order to expand its political and military base. Hussein probably even thought he had American backing for those cruel adventures. Even though Donna seems to accept most of the western view of Saddam, the evil dictator, she rejects the demonisation of the Iraqi people by western media and governments. ‘Ordinary Courage’ is more a spiritual book without being moralistic or overly judgmental. It gives insight into what an ordinary person can learn and achieve by following her gut feeling of what is right. Donna and the Catholic Worker movement have faith that their example will encourage others to oppose violence and war. Donna sees herself as a pilgrim for those that could not go to Iraq and stand with the Iraqi people during the horrible weeks of bombing and invasion.

    The peace movement has many different perspectives. Donna’s is informed by Ghandi and Martin Luther King, in the spiritual sense not really the political. For example, Donna explains Gandhi’s theory of non-violence but does not talk of the million lives that were lost when Gandhi, worn down and weary from fasting, capitulated to political pressure from the British, from Jenna (for an Islamic Pakistan) and from Nehru (the Congress Party) for India to be partitioned along religious lines – Hindus to remain in India and Muslims to go to Pakistan. These political consequences of Gandhi’s theories do not feature in Donna’s book or in her speeches. Dave Andrews who launched the book at the Edmund Rice Centre at Nudgee Junior College Indooroopilly in Brisbane saw the book as an attempt ‘to find the truth’ when we are surrounded by ‘a conspiracy against the truth’.

    Truth may be the first casualty of war but its loss is the inspiration that stirs us into action.

    Donna Sean Jim Adele
    Donna, Sean, Jim, Bryan and Adele – Pine Gap 6 (Jessica is not in the photo)

    For Donna this book is not just about the war in Iraq but about the ‘human shield experiment’. Donna explains that this was a personal journey, not a brave or noble one, one that acknowledges fear and seeks courage to overcome it. Donna said that there are many forces in our lives to make us feel unimportant – she gave examples of consumerism – how we are valued in society by the car we drive, and women are judged by their clothes so that they need the clothes to know who they are. Courage is needed to reject these values of society.

    Donna was inspired by St Augustine and his own personal brand of faith. Donna read out this quote:

    “Too late loved I Thee, O Thou Beauty of ancient days, yet ever new! Too late I loved Thee! And behold, Thou wert within, and I abroad, and there I searched for Thee; deformed I, plunging amid those fair forms which Thou hadst made. Thou wert with me, but I was not with Thee. Things held me far from Thee, which, unless they were in Thee, were not at all. Thou calledst, and shoutedst, and burstest my deafness. Thou flashedst, shonest, and scatteredst my blindness. Thou breathedst odours, and I drew in breath and panted for Thee. I tasted, and hunger and thirst. Thou touchedst me, and I burned for Thy peace.”

    This faith leads to a non-violent passive resistance.

    However J M in ‘War Oil Intifada’ published by LeftPress in 1991 states:

    ‘passive resistance advocated by many in the peace movement is a strategy limited by its adherence to the system. What if the system itself is the cause of the violence? It requires more than passive resistance to achieve a life free from suffering and injustice. Life in the hereafter or some idealistic future’.

    — – –
    Since her time under the shock and awe bombing Donna has gone to Iraq twice more. After the invasion Donna returned home to Australia, in November 2003 she went back to Baghdad to help the numerous street children made homeless by the war. She started a home for some of them called “My Home Iraq”, and later a school designed to help children with trauma. The book does not cover this part nor the bombing of Fallujah that Donna experienced firsthand. Donna was one of the Pine Gap Six who invaded the US spy base near Alice Springs that helps target the US cruise missiles used against Iraqis and Afghanis in the War on Terror (sic). Donna has also been to Gaza to witness to horrible effects of Israel’s bombing and killing of Palestinian people.

    Donna has mapped the journey followed by the modern peace movement.

    ‘War is more than overt violence. It springs from the hidden violence of inequality and domination. Some benefit from this and they will not give up its privileges. It is necessary to actively confront the causes or war and its supporters…’ — ‘War, Oil, Intifada’ by Joseph Monsour

    But we must use effect tactics.

    Is the tactic of human shields effective? Donna is critical but seems to think it is. Personally I have had my doubts about this. A friend returned from Iraq during the ‘first gulf war’ in 1991. He was a human shield. But very few ‘shields’ with him had thought through the consequences of their actions and the burden they placed on the people they were there to save.

    In that war the shields ended up being sent out by the Iraqi regime perhaps for their own safety but also because of their limited deterrent effect. My friend contracted a brain tumour after spending that time in Southern Iraq with all the depleted Uranium used by the Americans to puncture holes in iraqi tanks. Saddam ran down his army in his war against Iran. Having done so he made Iraqi people suseptible to invasion and conquest. And this made the 2003 invasion by the coalition of the willing more feasible and less likely to meet staunch resistance. This is how it turned out with the coalition overrunning a depleted and demoralised Iraqi army.

    As Fanon recognised: “For the colonise people the most essential value, because it is the most concrete, is first and foremost the land: the land that will bring them bread and, above all, dignity. But this dignity has nothing to do with dignity of the human individual; for the human individual has never heard tell of it. All the native has seen is her country is that they freely arrest her, beat her, starve her: and no professor of ethics, no priest has ever come to be beaten in her place, nor to share their bread with her” — The Wretched of the Earth by Frantz Fanon (Penguin Books 1967) p 34.

    I recommend that people read Donna’s book and think about a new direction for the peace movement.

    Ian Curr
    April 2010

    References:
    ‘War, Oil, Intifada’ by JM in The Left Directory (LeftPress 1992)
    “The Wretched of the Earth” by Frantz Fanon (Penguin Books 1967)
    “Liberating Pine Gap” by Jim Dowling (ed.)
    “Revolutionary tourism by Zapatista’s” by Tristan Epstein

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  3. Tony Robertson

    The Brisbane Launch of Donna’s book was a night of inspiration and challenge.

    The inspiration came from Donna’s story and the introduction by Dave Andrews.

    The challenge came in Donna’s refrain to find your purpose. I have started reading “Ordinary Courage” as my text for this Holy Week in the Christian Calendar.

    The book is more than a diary of courage. It is a pilgrim’s journal that challenges the dominant cultural values of my Aussie heritage as a white male.

    Donna writes with the keen eye of a journalist tempered by the compassion of a heart formed in disciplined meditation. Ordinary Courage is not an easy read. It brings tears and anger as much as joy and hope in the unfolding of the dreadful days leading up to the Invasion of Iraq. I haven’t finished reading yet.

    However, I know that the end of the book will be an invitation to my own exploring of my ability to live with “Ordinary Courage” in my sphere of influence among family friends and neighbours.

    See http://cultureboy.blogspot.com

    Images of the Brisbane Launch of Ordinary Courage can be viewed at http://www.facebook.com/album.php?aid=199261&id=652752032&l=937d95ae76

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