For the past six years, news of the Iraq War has flooded the airwaves: the body count — more than 100,000 civilians and more than 4,500 soldiers; the cost — $700 billion; and the uncertainty about when the conflict will end and what the final outcome will be.
But one aspect of the tragic situation that does not garner as much attention is that of those Iraqis who have been forced to flee their homes, heading to a dubious future in an unfamiliar land.
A performance on Tuesday will highlight the escalating humanitarian crisis of refugees seeking some semblance of safety in nearby countries such as Syria, Lebanon and Jordan. Millions of Iraqis have been displaced because of the war, and the situation remains dire for many of them.
“Still Waiting, Still Suffering,” which will be performed by the D.C.-based CityDance Ensemble, highlights the refugees’ plight in a personal and dramatic way. The event is being sponsored by the Helsinki Commission, which is headed by Sen. Benjamin Cardin (D-Md.) and Rep. Alcee Hastings (D-Fla.). The hope is that the event will alert people to the often forgotten suffering of Iraqis, as well as educate people about the ethical and security implications of the crisis.
“We’re trying to give people in the audience a sense of what these people have lived through,” said Paul Emerson, co-founder and artistic director of CityDance. “It’s trying to say, ‘This is something we shouldn’t forget about.’”
Hastings said it is imperative that the U.S. take a more active role in addressing the refugee crisis, as it is only likely to worsen with plans for a surge in Afghanistan.
“If we as a nation and our allies who participated in causing the displacement of these people” don’t take action, “we can only imagine what our detractors will do to recruit people.”
The large numbers of refugees migrating to Lebanon, Syria, Jordan and Egypt take a severe toll on the economies of those countries and strain their educational and health care systems as well, Hastings said.
As refugees come under increasing duress, they become ripe for the propagandizing by terrorist groups such as Hezbollah and al-Qaida.
“When people don’t have any hope, they turn to whatever they can,” Hastings said.
Neil Simon, communications director for the Helsinki Commission, said the performance could have more of an effect than a floor speech or lecture might because of the “emotional information” presented through the dance.
“Perhaps they’ll build up a different sort of empathy for the cause,” Simon said.
In order to prepare for the “Still Waiting, Still Suffering” performance, Emerson and the dancers traveled to Lebanon, Syria and Jordan to meet with Iraqi refugees there. Most did not want to be identified but shared their stories of exile and distress after leaving their homeland, Emerson said. Those experiences were then translated into “Still Waiting, Still Suffering.”
The piece will consist mostly of dance performances, but video, animation and spoken-word elements will also be incorporated.
Emerson said he hopes the event will demonstrate the way in which art can be a conduit to talking about politics and policy. But more importantly than that, the dance is meant to give at least some representation to the millions who are suffering because of the Iraq War.
“The main message is to not forget these people who are waiting for international action,” Simon said.
The free performance will take place Tuesday at the Capitol Visitor Center from 4 to 5:30 p.m.
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Sen. Cardin (left) with Rep. Alcee L. Hastings at the Helsinki Commission Mediterranean Seminar in July 2009