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Violating Sanctions

An American Woman’s Listening Tour Through the Axis of Evil

“No Way Are We Leaving Iraq”

The Author By Kelly Hayes-Raitt | July 14th, 2008 | Comments 3 Comments »

“There’s an undercurrent of desperation,” says an articulate Ben Bascom, words spilling out faster than I can write. “As soon as [Iraqi refugees] learn I speak a little Arabic, they ask, ‘Can you sponsor me?’ ‘Can you find someone for me to marry?’ They’re not beggars, they’re not used to feeling this way. They’re just like you and me. How can they not ask?

“Every person, it breaks my heart.”
The 23-year-old linguistics major’s expressive eyes widen, reflecting his convictions. “The guy who’s cooking our food. I want to help him. He can’t afford to put food on his own family’s table, but he’s cooking all this food for us.

“I want to help these people.”

He fingers the prayer beads he was given 2 weeks ago for his birthday, celebrated with an international group of activists in Damascus for the summer to assist Iraqi refugees, study Arabic and immerse themselves in Syrian culture.

“One thing I learned,” he says of his month with the Middle East Fellowship (, “[I had been] opposed to the war in Iraq, but I’d started buying into the media line that America was losing the war.

“But, we’ve won. No way are we leaving Iraq. We’ve invested too much. We control it economically. We’ve made a big investment, and it breaks my heart.
“Every [refugee I’ve met] wants to go to America. In spite of everything, that’s where they want to go. All their resources [will] go to the US and to support the US economy. There’s no other option or way out. They will end up supporting the US economy, and that’s how we’ve won.”
Ben speaks 5 languages – English, Spanish, French, Arabic, Hebrew – and a smattering of Aramaic, as we learned during a recent excursion to Maalula, the sole remaining place where the language of Jesus Christ is spoken. But, he’s most fluent in compassion.

“It’s not [one refugee] story that kills you, it’s all the stories – inside, emotionally. It’s powerful, it builds. It’s cumulative.

“I want to go to every public place and raise money to help these people.”

[For more information about the Middle East Fellowship’s Damascus Summer Encounter, visit For fun blogs on this year’s Encounter, visit]

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3 Responses to ““No Way Are We Leaving Iraq””

  1. Joel Honsberger Says:

    Hi Kelly, Reeallyy good to hear from you . On the eve that my daughter is leaving for SoCal I am tense but , your message ,that the U.S. is winning is appreciated greatly. Thinking back on your own story, thus the basis of my song,of a girl leaving western NY for SoCal, I want you to know I am behind you!!!100% let me know what I can do. My prayers are with you and bear further discussion at another time. Peace and Love Joel.

  2. Pauline Field Says:

    I just caught up with your last several posts and it sounds like they are a very interesting and dedicated group that has come from the U.S.

    I also was very moved that many of the women refugees were professionals and now cannot find work. Tragic.

    Thanks for shining this light on Syria - we surely don’t get this kind of information from the mainstream press.

  3. Janet Bridgers Says:

    Thank you for distributing love and compassion yourself, Kelly. One of my loving now-deceased friends said that that we must remember that love evokes a response, as does violence and hatred. We just don’t hear about it as much.

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