Why Violence Is a Virus (We Can Stop the Spread)
What if the very skills we’re all learning to stop the spread of coronavirus could help us stop the spread of violence? In fact, what if what we’re experiencing now could lead us to end war?
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What if the very skills we’re all learning to stop the spread of coronavirus could help us stop the spread of violence? In fact, what if what we’re experiencing now could lead us to end war?
In this episode:
- Hear how late last year, before the coronavirus started it’s deadly spread across the world, Preemptive Love founder Jeremy Courtney was noticing striking parallels between the process for stopping the spread of infectious disease and stopping the spread of violence.
- Travel back in time to 2016 with host Erin Wilson, when she met two Iraqi doctors in a displacement camp she’d never forget. In raw audio from her time there, hear how Dr. Qudama and Dr. Mustafa decided to create a health clinic from scratch in one of the toughest places you can imagine, learning along the way that trust is essential to healing.
In this episode, Jeremy shares a three-step effort as we work together to stop the spread of violence and work to end war:
- We listen and show up fast so we can address felt needs as quickly as possible.
- We create jobs to protect the vulnerable.
- We foster community where diverse people can truly hear each other, discover common joys and fears, and maybe even change our ideas that lead to war.
Quotes from this episode:
- “In 2014, showing up fast meant bringing food, shelter, and medical care to families fleeing ISIS. Today, it looks like the emergency food distributions we’ve reintroduced, happening now to provide essential nutrition to vulnerable people in Iraq, Syria, Mexico, and Venezuela whose lives were first torn apart by violence, and are now crushed by COVID-19.” Erin Wilson
- “If we heal the past and change some of the ideas that got us into this mess, might we be able to rise above it and avert the next war from starting at all? We call it relief, jobs, community. That’s our three-step, comprehensive effort that we are engaged in as we work together to end war.” Jeremy Courtney
- “We try to give help that lasts by protecting vulnerable people so they don’t get infected by the violence. We’ve learned to do this through economic development. So we do jobs, we make jobs. And one of the reasons we do that is because the research and the data show that if you want to protect people from getting recruited into violence… one of the best ways to do it is to create a strong jobs force a strong workforce. Our jobs program is one of the best ways that we can protect people from getting infected by violence. Making sure young men have jobs, making sure widows have jobs, making sure entire nations are full of work opportunities is one of the best things that we can do to inoculate against the spread of violence and war.” Jeremy Courtney
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Above, watch a video featuring the colorful tent turned medical clinic that Erin talks about in this episode.
Love Anyway is a podcast by Preemptive Love. It’s written and produced by Erin Wilson, Kayla Craig, and Ben Irwin. Sean Gabrielson is our audio editor. Skip Matheny is Preemptive Love’s director of digital. Executive producers are Jeremy Courtney, Jessica Courtney, and JR Pershall. Special thanks to Dr. Qudama and Dr. Mustafa. Our theme music is by Roman Candle.
Jeremy: Having lived through the rise of ISIS, having lived through the military effort to drive ISIS out and defeat ISIS, I started seeing a pattern and it looked a little bit like the lessons we learned in the ICU, that the way we stop the spread of disease in the ICU has parallels to what we were doing out there in the wider world, in the Anbar desert, and then eventually in Syria and beyond.
Erin: In 2016, as the war with ISIS continued to rage across large swaths of Iraq and Syria, two young, Iraqi doctors made the choice to practice medicine in one of the toughest places you can imagine. Drs. Qudama and Mustafa, they created a health clinic from scratch in an unofficial displacement camp—built it with their own hands, and along the way, learned that trust is essential in changing behaviors, which lead to healing.
At the top, we heard Jeremy Courtney. Late last year, before the coronavirus started it’s deadly spread across the world, Jeremy was noticing striking parallels between the process for stopping the spread of infectious disease, and stopping the spread of violence.
Erin: This is Love Anyway, a podcast by Preemptive Love. You can find the show notes for all the Love Anyway podcast episodes at preemptivelove.org/podcast. We’re “preemptive love” on Instagram, Twitter, and Facebook. I’m your host, Erin Wilson, Preemptive Love senior field editor based out of our office in Iraq.
What if things don’t always have to be the way they are now? What if the very skills we’re all learning to stop the spread of the coronavirus, could help us stop the spread of violence. In fact, what if what we’re experiencing now could lead us to end war?
MUSICErin: Hey guys. So it’s about 1:30 in the afternoon. We’re gonna go grab some water, grab some lunch, maybe.
So after filming at the clinic this morning, we followed the doctors to one of the homes. An elderly guy who can’t..he’s recovering from surgery and he can’t get out himself to the clinic. So the doctors have been coming to see him at home, which is a very special kind of care. Like most doctors here aren’t doing that…
You guys can be really, really proud of the work that’s happening here. Okay, love you guys.
Erin: That was me, back in 2017. My colleague Ihsan and I were visiting a medical clinic that Preemptive Love donors made possible, in an unfinished housing development, about two hours north of Baghdad. What you heard was a voice message sent back to our team when we took a break to get some water.
Ihsan and I visited this clinic in July. It was 52°C (that’s 125°F for our US-based listeners). It was so hot that the drone we sent up to try to get some aerial footage of the clinic melted. The audio we collected that day, well…you’ll hear for yourself, it’s a little rough. The heat was unbearable, and when there was electricity, we couldn’t bring ourselves to turn off the air cooler.
The constant dust of the construction site-turned displacement camp, it clung to our sweat. It was easy to feel miserable there.
Except…except for something really extraordinary that was happening in a colorful tent in the center of that site.
Dr. Mustafa: I am Mustafa. I am an Iraqi doctor from Mosul.
Erin: I asked Dr. Mustafa if he ever imagined working in the middle of a displacement camp.
Dr. Mustafa: That’s…that’s…I never imagined that. Never, never. I would not imagine that in like, million years. Because first of all, I didn’t expect such thing to happen and there will be IDPs, and I didn’t expect from myself to make such a success in here. I imagined myself maybe I’ll have a practice, a small practice at the hospital, maybe. And in the future a private clinic. But now, this tent, this clinic took my life from me, because I love it. I just, I love…I love to come here every day, more than going to the hospital. I say this is every one of us want to be loved. And the love we get in here is unimaginable. You cannot imagine such thing.
You see this tent? We built it right from the start, all the crew, and Dr. Qudama and me, we built this with our own hands.
Erin: You did?
Dr. Mustafa: Yes, with our own…this ground, this tent we fixed it with our own hands. And this makes this tent great. We love it. We love it, just because we started it from…dust. It just was dust when we chose the site, and we start to build. It took step by step. We love it.
Erin: Dr. Mustafa isn’t exaggerating here. He, Dr. Qudama, and a small handful of volunteers–displaced people living in this camp–they built the clinic from the ground up. From choosing the best spot in the midst of what was a construction site before ISIS, to mixing and pouring the concrete base pad, erecting a large canvas tent, and purchasing the equipment and supplies, they did it all! And while they built the clinic, the families in the camp had the perfect vantage point to see how they were investing themselves in their unlikely, temporary community.
Erin: So it sounds like you’re a doctor who’s not interested in disease, you’re a doctor who’s interested in the person.
Dr. Qudama: Yeah.
Erin: Is that right?
Dr. Qudama: Yeah. We in a strong connection with the patient. It’s always about get in touch to them and get attached. Getting attached to that person is not is not wrong. It is for a certain period of time. This helps me a lot to do my job better than previously when you have just a doctor relationship. A routine relationship is not working. Yeah. Yeah.
Erin: That’s Dr. Qudama.
Erin: So how do you build trust with patients?
Dr. Qudama: Yeah. Once you could give people enough space to talk, you will have the chance. And even so that that is not enough, and you have the provide a good service with that.
Erin: Yeah. So you said that some of these patients, you’ve been seeing some of the same patients since the clinic first started?
Dr. Qudama: Yeah. Yeah, there are many regular visitors to the clinic. And they came to us as weekly. Some of them daily.
Erin: So do they come because they’re sick or do they come because they want to talk?
Dr. Qudama: Yeah. I hear from many people that they came to talk. Yeah, “I want to just to see your face” or something like that. Yeah.
Erin: Hey guys, it’s Erin. Ihsan and I have spent this morning at the Peace Zone medical clinic, in the Dream City camp, in Tikrit. One of the really lovely things that we’ve seen here is just how loved these doctors are here. Dr. Qudama was telling me that when his patients see his parents in the bazaar, they always stop them to tell them what a good doctor their son is.
And I mean that must make them feel incredibly proud. They’re doing amazing work here. Dr. Mustafa told us that the supporting staff here, there’s four of them, a nurse and some folks that manage the patient load and take care of the clinic, they’ve all been offered much higher wages to work elsewhere and they’ve all refused.
They believe in the way that they’re doing healthcare here. They believe in caring for the whole patient and really taking care of the patient and not just treating diseases. And it’s just really lovely to see the way they care for each other.
Dr. Qudama: It’s always about being kind to people, I imagine the people as my close relatives. Like I think, what if the patient was my mother or my father, my brother? I have to care about, and I always put myself and instead of the patient’s relative, so we have to excuse them. Yeah. Some someone might say they have too many requests. We should understand the patient and we should put ourselves instead of them and imagine what we will do, we will do the same or worse. Yeah.
Erin: So your time spent here at the clinic? Yeah. Has it changed your thinking about medicine or what the medical community should be like in Iraq?
Dr. Qudama: Yeah. This changed me a lot.
Erin: Investing time with people. Listening. Building trust. Putting ourselves in each other’s shoes. Creating the space for empathy…it’s almost as if the some of things that help to heal people who are sick, might just help to heal our communities, too.
Jeremy: Preemptive Love, from the earliest days, we were talking about ending war. I just don’t think we had the guts to say so.
Erin: When Jeremy Courtney, co-founder of Preemptive Love, talks about the earliest days of Preemptive Love, he’s talking about more than a decade ago.
Jeremy: In those early days of the Iraq War, the height of sectarian violence, it just felt, too. too bold, too naive, too risky to say that that’s what we’re trying to do in this world. But now having lived through these cycles of violence in Iraq and Syria, in the US, and Mexico, having worked through these, there are patterns that you can identify. We’ve seen our communities be at peace. And then we’ve seen us, give our peace away and go to war. We’ve seen our communities be at peace, and we’ve seen other people come in and rip our peace away and go to war. And then we’ve seen us all somehow through various means and methodologies, stop fighting. And it’s kind of led us to the conclusion that if men and women can start war, then men and women can stop it.
Jeremy: Our work began by providing life-saving heart surgeries to Iraqi children. It was such an important fundamental part of our foundation, our formation as a team and an organization. And one of the things that we would encounter in the operating room and in the ICU in particular, is the spread of disease, we would have three or four, seven kids in the ICU post-op. And every once in a while, an infection would break out across the ICU. And then while working and serving that one child you risk spreading it to another child and it was just a regular feature of work in difficult developing countries where you’re dealing with very, very vulnerable people whose literal hearts are laid bare before you. Now pause that for a minute. And fast forward to the rise of ISIS across Iraq in 2013 and 2014.
Having lived through the rise of ISIS, having lived through the military effort to drive ISIS out and defeat ISIS, I started seeing a pattern and it looked a little bit like the lessons we learned in the ICU, that the way we stop, the spread of disease in the ICU has parallels to what we were doing out there in the wider world.
Erin: Those of us who normally work out of Preemptive Love’s Iraq office have been quarantined at home for several weeks now. We’re not working in ICUs today, but everything about practicing coronavirus quarantines well is reminding us of those days.
Jeremy: If you want to stop the spread of disease, the World Health Organization gives three very simple steps that you can think about: One, you’ve got to respond fast to patient zero or ground zero. Number two, you’ve got to protect the vulnerable from getting infected. And then number three, you’ve got to change the behavior. And to change behavior, you have to change the ideas that lead to the spread of disease. And those very three simple steps from the World Health Organization seemed to have great correlation to what we were doing as our work had evolved.
Number one, we were showing up fast on the front lines of violence with emergency relief for those who needed it, because whoever shows up first with food, water, medicine has a profound impact on the ideas and the spirit of those people who are emerging out of violence.
Erin: In 2014, showing up fast meant bringing food, shelter, and medical care to families fleeing ISIS. Today, it looks like the emergency food distributions we’ve reintroduced, happening now to provide essential nutrition to vulnerable people in Iraq, Syria, Mexico and Venezuela whose lives were first torn apart by violence, and are now crushed by COVID-19.
Jeremy: We try to give help that lasts by protecting vulnerable people so they don’t get infected by the violence. We’ve learned to do this through economic development. So we do jobs, we make jobs. And one of the reasons we do that is because the research and the data shows that if you want to protect people from getting recruited into violence, if you want to protect entire nations from descending into violence, one of the best ways to do it is to create a strong jobs force a strong workforce and so our jobs program is one of the best ways that we can protect people from getting infected by violence. Making sure young men have jobs, making sure widows have jobs, making sure entire nations are full of work opportunities is one of the best things that we can do to inoculate against the spread of violence and war.
Erin: Number one—listening and showing up fast, so we can address felt needs as quickly as possible. Number two—creating jobs, to protect the vulnerable. Which leads number three—creating community where diverse people can truly hear each other, discover common joys and fears, and maybe even change our ideas that lead to war.
Jeremy: I think that is one of the biggest, hardest tasks is to, to define what we agree upon. I think this has been part of what has been revealed in the last few years. And it’s causing so many of us dismay, is we thought we had agreed upon ideas and standards and goals and visions…things like Islam.
Maybe Muslims thought they agreed on what Islam should be. And then ISIS rises up out of seemingly nowhere, and says, ‘No, we do not agree on what Islam is or should be or should be doing in the world’.
Next seemed to come white evangelical Christianity in America. And suddenly there’s a huge debate about what it means to be Christian. There seemed to many to be this global vision for what this agreed upon vision for what Europe or the union of European nations would, would mean and that’s under attack.
And I mean, you see it almost everywhere: blackness, whiteness, faith, politics, geography, it all seems somewhat up for negotiation. So I think—don’t get me wrong, that’s part of the task before us, is to try and lay out compelling vision for the things that we can agree on: what part of our disagreements can we suspend, what part of our disagreements can we pause or set aside for a moment, and what are the common agreed upon things that we can keep reaching for together? I think one of the things that, in principle we can all agree on is we would like to see an end to war. We want to quit tearing each other apart. At least we want the other side to quit tearing our side apart.
Jeremy: I think this is an invitation to say. I think there’s room at the table in this Coalition for people who bring different visions of militarism versus pacifism, different visions of theology and philosophy. What I want us to focus on is our collective desire to end war. And as we work together, we can negotiate and debate the various forms and methodologies that might need to be applied to it. We’ve seen it done. We have those historical records. And I think we have to apply ourselves. I think we can apply ourselves with all the tools and the scalability of ideas and technology that we have before us. I’m convinced that if we don’t set our minds on this, if we don’t set our purposes toward this, we will continue to hurdle irrevocably it will feel like into more and more war, but I don’t think we have to.
That third piece, changing the ideas that lead to war, that’s what you might just call our peacemaking ethic or our reconciliation work. We call it community. Our community work is about trying to heal the past we inspect how we got here, what were the ideas that we used to have? What are the ideas and the baggage that we’re carrying with us? And what of that might we need to hold more humbly? What of that could be renegotiated and if we heal the past and change some of the ideas that got us into this mess, might we be able to rise above it and avert the next war from starting at all, so we call it relief, jobs, community. That’s our three-step, comprehensive effort that we are engaged in as we work together to end war.
Erin: Having a plan, forged over a decade of building relationships in peacetime and at war, and seeing the positive impact it has, especially in difficult circumstances…that’s helped to drive our efforts forward. But it doesn’t mean we’re never discouraged.
Jeremy: I certainly can have those moments where I feel a lack of hope or a lack of agency, but I have really taken a lot of solace, a lot of heart and encouragement in this global community of peacemakers that we are as Preemptive Love donors, online supporters, on the ground doers, staff members, volunteers, when all of us come together and we are aligned as the Preemptive Love Coalition. It’s really heartening. It gives me courage to face the year and the decade ahead when I realize how big we actually are as a global community and what agency we therefore have, if we set our minds as we set our minds on, on some agreed upon the things that we want to see happen in this world.
If you’re not following us on Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, those places, certainly that would be one of the easiest ways to stay up to date on a day to day basis. If you want to cut straight to the chase, you can go to our website, preemptivelove.org/toendwar. And that’ll get you straight into this conversation with us.
This isn’t meant to just be a short term thing. We’re not just doing relief as a one-off thing to help fill bellies today. Now relief is step one, in an effort to end war, we’re not just providing jobs so that people can put food on the table. Now jobs is a step to have an integrated whole so that we create robust economies so that we can end war. And we just don’t gather together in groups or talk nice about each other. It’s part of a comprehensive effort to change the very ideas that lead to war so that we can stop the next war before it starts.
Erin: That’s it for today. As Jeremy said, you can find us at preemptivelove.org. Show notes for this episode, including photos of the doctors you heard at the beginning of this episode, are at preemptivelove.org/podcast.
Join us as we work to end war, by stopping the spread of violence. Until next week, I’m Erin Wilson, and this is Love Anyway, a podcast by Preemptive Love.
END THEME MUSIC
Kayla: Love Anyway is a podcast by Preemptive Love. It’s written and produced by Erin Wilson, Kayla Craig, and Ben Irwin. Sean Gabrielson is our audio editor. Skip Matheny is Preemptive Love’s director of digital. Executive producers are Jeremy Courtney, Jessica Courtney, and JR Pershall. Special thanks to Drs. Qudama and Mustafa for hosting us so well in difficult circumstances. Our theme music is by Roman Candle.