I have observed some parallels between Vaclav Havel in Czechoslovakia and Dr. Rafil Dhafir here in the United States. I believe the similarities I perceive warrant examination and I invite others to consider them. Both were speaking out against their governments and both were arrested in major operations. The Czechoslovak State Security police arrested Vaclav Havel early in the morning of May 29, 1979. Federal Agents of the United States of America arrested Dr. Dhafir of Manlius, New York, early on the morning of February 26, 2003.

The excerpt below is from the introduction of a book of letters from Vaclav Havel to his wife Olga during his time of imprisonment, it gives a brief summary of the circumstances of Havel’s arrest. The book is called: Letters to Olga: June 1979-September 1982 (Alfred A. Knopf, 1988). Havel was released from prison in January 1983 in very poor health after international pressure was put on the government. In December of 1989 he was elected President of Czechoslovakia. Vaclav Havel and Nelson Mandela have been a glimmer of light for me in a world that can feel very dark at times.

Introduction to Letters From Olga:

At five o’clock in the morning of May 29, 1979, the Czechoslovak State Security police began arresting members of the Committee to Defend the Unjustly Prosecuted, otherwise known by the Czech acronym, VONS. Fifteen people were rounded up and ten of these, including Vaclav Havel, were detained in Ruzyne prison and later indicted under article 98 of the Criminal Code for “subversion,” a crime against the state that carries a maximum sentence of 10 years.

VONS had been formed earlier as a direct outgrowth of Charter 77, the Czechoslovak human rights movement, and its purpose was, in the words of its first official document, “to monitor the cases of people who have been indicted or imprisoned for expressing their beliefs, or who are victims of abuses by the police and the courts.” The members of VONS gathered information and circulated typewritten reports of their findings both to official institutions, and to the public. By the time of the arrests, 155 of these reports had been issued. They comprised the only hard evidence in the state’s case against VONS. (p.1)

This introduction to “Letters to Olga” made me think of Dr. Dhafir and a video that was shown in court on Monday, November 22nd, 2004. I was not able to keep up with Dr. Dhafir’s speech, so what is below is not verbatim, it is the facts of his presentation as best I was able to record them.

The video was of a fundraising event for Help The Needy held in Manlius, New York in October 2002. Even though the event was open to the public, the government had an undercover agent present posing as a caretaker. The video was approximately 35-40 minutes long and after a short introduction from Iman Jarwan, Dr. Dhafir spoke about the situation in Iraq.

Here is some of the information that Dr. Dhafir gave in that video:

The result of the 1991 Gulf War was total devastation for Iraq.

According to the Pentagon, more bombs were dropped on Iraq in a six-week period than all parties together in World War II.

If you put all these bombs together it is at least 6 to 7 times more powerful than two atomic bombs.

Smart bombs-no such thing.

Total and intentional destruction, no way it could be anything else.

Not a single bridge left in Iraq.

No communication between government and people.

Target to be hit was the water purification system and the U.N. has not allowed it to be repaired. As a result, twelve years of sewage has piled up.

Streets are inaccessible.

Schools were not spared. Until 1990 Iraq had the best educational system in the area. There was compulsory, free education through higher education. There was zero illiteracy in Iraq. Many people from other countries in the region went to Iraq to get a good education.

The war destroyed all that. It destroyed the essential structure of the country and created extreme poverty as a result of the sanctions.

In the classrooms there were no desks.

The health system prior to 1990 was the best in the region and many neighboring countries would send people to be treated in Iraq. Now the hospitals are nothing more than morgues. Operations are done now without anesthetics.

200,000,00 people died during the six weeks of the war. After the war was over it was even worse because of the U.S. imposed sanctions. The number of people who died during the twelve year period of sanctions is one and a half million, half a million of them children under five-the future of the country.

UNICEF reported in 1998 that 6,500 children under the age of five were dying a month. Now it is much worse. If you add in adults, 10,000 people are dying a month from malnutrition and simple illnesses.

Then there was the issue that during the six weeks of the war, all types of weapons were used: chemical weapons, biological weapons and atomic-depleted uranium weapons. Depleted uranium is the waste left over from nuclear plants and is used in making bombs. Iraq needs 4,500 million years in order to be clean from the pollution of depleted uranium. Agriculture is polluted and cancer is a major problem. Because of the pollution, many pregnant women deliver at six, seven or eight months. Many children are born with terrible deformities.

The sanctions were not like Libya or Cuba, nothing was allowed to go in or out including, books, papers and textbooks. The rate of illiteracy went from zero to 25%. Because the Iraqi currency had crashed 6,000 percent, everybody in the family needed to work to scratch a meager living. The government of Iraq and the elite were not suffering. The U.N. website says that after the Oil for Food program went into place, the situation got worse. The UNICEF report of 1997 says that after the Oil for Food program was put in place, the share of food for children one to one and a half years old dropped by 26%.

Four to five billion dollars of Iraq’s revenue is supposed to go:

Kuwait, as reparations for the invasion, 35-45%
Oil companies, 10-15%
Compensation for US and UK bombs, 5-10%

Early on we felt the sanctions were only a matter of a few weeks and wondered how we could help out. What people needed mainly was food. We have been able to feed millions of people over 10 years. This is not an African poor country; this is not a natural disaster. We felt it was our obligation and duty to help people.

Before the 1991 Gulf War the Iraqi dinar was one dinar to three dollars, after the war it was one dollar for 2,000 dinars. An income of 800 dinars a month went from being worth $2,400, to being worth less than fifty cents. An entire family might have three, four or five dollars a month to live on. Everybody needs to work in order to try to get enough to eat, as a result many children do not go to school.

The Iraqi government food issue to the people of rice, flower, sugar and tea was only sufficient for half of the month.

A kilo of meat was 5-7,000 dinars
A can of baby formula was 1-2,000 dinars
Thirty eggs were 800-1,000 dinar.

We adopted children and families to support them.

(Dr. Dhafir then showed pictures of Iraqi children with deformations and told of diseases that would not be found in any medical book.)

From the time we started dinner until now six children have died. We believe the political situation will be the best solution, but the political situation will be tomorrow. The need is today.

The video ended.

Each government official who was asked about the effects of the sanctions on the people of Iraq testified that they had no knowledge of the effects of sanctions over the course of the twelve years they were in effect. Susan Hutner, a government agent who helped draft the U.S. sanctions in 1991, testified that she had no knowledge in her professional or private life of the effects of the U.S. imposed sanctions on the adults or children of Iraq.

For more information on the effect of U.S. imposed Iraqi sanctions, go to: Voices in the Wilderness

I would also like to share these words of Vaclav Havel given after long years in prison as a political dissident that speak to my own sense of hope:

“I am not an optimist because I am not sure everything ends well. Nor am I a pessimist because I am not sure everything ends badly. I just carry hope in my heart. Hope is the feeling that life and work have meaning. And you can have it regardless of the state of the world that surrounds you. Life without hope is empty, boring and useless. I could not imagine that I could strive for something if I did not carry hope in me. It is as big a gift as life itself.”