Sunday, June 29, 2008

Oh the Irony! Disabled Iraqis to Dominate Paralympics

“God willing, I will win a medal for Iraq,” said Rasul Kadhim,
a weight lifter with a paralyzed leg, as he trained for the Paralympics.

I saw this in the New York Times daily email:
"Athletes Disabled by Wars Lead Iraqi Team in World Games By ANDREW E. KRAMER War and hardship have not destroyed all of Iraq’s dreams for international competition. The country, which has been in three wars in two decades, has a robust Paralympic team."

From the article:“Iraqis love sports. Anyone who doubts it should consider the rat-a-tat of automatic weapons fired after every Iraqi soccer victory. Yet after five years of war, Iraq’s chances of fielding a competitive Olympic team are vanishingly small. . . . The country, which has been in three wars in two decades, has a robust Paralympic team. 'As a country that participated in many wars since 1980, we have many disabled people,' said Ahmed Abid Hassan, a wheelchair fencing coach. 'Our Paralympic team is better than our Olympic team.'”

Only one Iraqi qualified for the Olympics, but 20 for the Paralympics. They have faced many challenges in preparing for competition this year. The coach of the wheelchair basketball team who stood 6'6” (not in a chair himself) was shot in the head, because when nearby firefight started, the wall he was standing behind wasn't high enough. “A blind athlete, Qasim Muttar, who was a promising player of goalball — soccer played with a ball that contains bells — died after being run over by an American convoy while crossing a street.” These are two small, but poignant examples of the challenges that Iraqis face in their daily lives . . . while training for the Paralympics.

This all speaks to the great humanity of the Iraqi people. When I came back from Iraq, and people asked me what the Iraqi people were like, this was my best explanation: “They are people like any other in the world, with hopes and dreams and fear and love. Like all people, they are to a large extent products of their circumstance and experience. They are affected by a distinctly challenging history and it shows. When in Iraq, we would accuse them of lack of foresight, but why would you start saving money for your kids college tuition when you can't afford to eat, and you don't know if the college will still be standing when your kid grows up anyway?”

I hope that the Iraqi Paralympic team can be a powerful testament to the humanity of the people of Iraq, all the people of the world, and especially those disadvantaged by circumstance whose character we would be tempted to disparage. And I hope they kick some fucking ass!