When the War Never Ends

27Oct12

President Obama repeatedly claims that he has ended the war in Iraq and most of the American people believe him because we have withdrawn almost all our troops. Also what happens in Iraq is no longer front page news in mainstream media. Therefore the war must be over. At least to us. Our wars start and stop with a presidential order. But for Iraqis the reality is something else entirely. Thousands of Iraqis are still dying every year. On Friday, the first day of eid al-adha, attacks across Iraq left at least 18 dead, including children. One day last July a series of coordinated bombings left more than 100 people dead. The Guardian newspaper reported this news, but only 32 people felt the story was worth sharing on facebook. Would this be the case if 100 people died tomorrow in an attack in Lebanon or Syria?

In 2010 Wafaa Bilal, an Iraqi-American artist, physically embodied the invisibility of the Iraqi dead in a performance piece called “…and Counting”:

Wafaa Bilal’s brother Haji was killed by a missile at a checkpoint in their hometown of Kufa, Iraq in 2004. Bilal feels the pain of both American and Iraqi families who’ve lost loved ones in the war, but the deaths of Iraqis like his brother are largely invisible to the American public.

…and Counting addresses this double standard as Bilal turns his own body — in a 24-hour live performance — into a canvas, his back tattooed with a borderless map of Iraq covered with one dot for each Iraqi and American casualty near the cities where they fell. The 5,000 dead American soldiers are represented by red dots (permanent visible ink), and the 100,000 Iraqi casualties are represented by dots of green UV ink, seemingly invisible unless under black light. During the performance people from all walks of life read off the names of the dead.

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