Honouring the Prophets: Donna Mulhearn

Reprinted from The Common Good, No 35, Advent 2005

To meet Donna Mulhearn is no big deal. She used to be a civil servant in the Carr Government in Sydney, working on policy and other associated matters. She was a Christian pacifist living at times with an ecumenical community in Sydney. She always thought peacemaking made sense if one called oneself Christian, because Jesus taught his followers to be peacemakers.

Then she had a call. Not a fall-off-your-horse dramatic call like St Paul. More the sort that comes with a clear insight, inserted right within the soul. This war which was brewing in Iraq was wrong. Western powers should not be there. The preparations for war being made by the coalition forces including Australia, Britain and the US were wrong, wrong, wrong. It was an insight that changed her life.

As a Christian, she had already developed a deep belief in non-violence and the power of non-violence to change peoples’ lives. No amount of military might, she believed, can ever overcome the power of the Spirit within people to effectively change their lives through non-violence. She believes that violence is the antithesis of the Gospel.

Within a fortnight of seeing the clarity of her call, she was on her way to Iraq as a ‘human shield’, joining others in placing their bodies between the bombs and the installations that they presumed would be targeted by the bombers. That was in February 2003 and involved the first wave of bombings in this second Gulf war. She had a deep conviction that the ‘human shields’ were important, and she also needed to be with others in solidarity in their suffering, to bear witness as a journalist to what she was seeing and to report back to the governmental powers at home and to the wider public.

As British and American bombers targeted strategic positions, Donna and other ‘human shields’ maintained positions at key installations like electricity plants, sewerage outlets, hospitals and the like. None of the targets were hit. No ‘human shield’ was killed during this time. She describes it as a miracle of grace.

Back in Sydney, at a huge peace rally on Palm Sunday 2003, she called for a withdrawal of Australian troops from the conflict. There had been no weapons of mass destruction found. The reasons for the war were false. But the lies and propaganda of Howard, Blair and Bush was all pervasive. The war machine was still in the ascendancy. It was Vietnam all over again. Lies, lies, and more lies. It was a tactic which won each leader re-election in subsequent polls.

Months later and well into the war, she again headed to Iraq. She had been uncertain as to when she should return but upon finding that there was a need for places of refuge for orphaned street kids, she returned to join others in founding a centre for some of these young people in Baghdad. Her second tour of duty as a peacekeeper was more dangerous than the first. The mood of the people had hardened against the occupying forces. No longer was she always welcomed as a ‘friendly Aussie’. The risks were so much greater. But still she continued with her work for some months. Many times the bombs would be falling in the street outside her windows. Often she huddled on the floor with her street kids, staying away from falling shrapnel. It was, she says, a time of great trauma. She says that Iraq is a country where a large portion of the population has been severely traumatised. Given that 46 percent of the population is under 16, most of these are its youth.

It was here she had the scariest day of her life when she was kidnapped by a Muslim group and held for 24 hours. She was driven to their insurgent HQ and questioned. They thought she and her friends were spies. Once she had convinced them that she was in no way related to coalition forces and after answering many questions about why Australia was so hostile to Iraq, she was given passage to her flat in Baghdad ‘because there are dangerous people out there and we want you to be safe’.

She also became clearer as to why western troops were in Iraq. While getting Saddam Hussein was the projected target, along with spinning out the WMD issues, the aim of the coalition was the securing of oil pipelines, the installation of a puppet government and the deep embedment of US military forces in Iraq for the foreseeable future. ‘It is about controlling their resources. Of this I am convinced’. It is an opinion that has not changed with time.

After a break back home, she again returned to Iraq. She was one of the few non-military westerners in Fallujah when it was attacked for the second time. The city was cut off and basically closed down. Thousands were rounded up and placed in camps nearer Baghdad. She says this once thriving city of 250 000 is now a shell of its former self. ‘So much for liberation,’ is her dry comment. Most of the people fled from ‘the liberators’.

Donna finished her third trip by deciding to take a break in Palestine. It turned out to be a four-month stint. Here she discovered a fresh insight. She said that whatever the problems Iraq faces, they are not as bad as those suffered by Palestinians. She felt the whole of Palestine has been locked into a giant prison and while the Gaza is now regarded as free, in effect it is still very much under the control of the Israelis. ‘The Gaza action by Ariel Sharon is a smokescreen for the further entrenchment of Israeli power in Palestinian lands.’ The West Bank is so bad that she said ‘it is not just messy. It is state sanctioned brutality.’

Donna Mulhearn is a modern prophet bearing witness by her life to what her faith calls her to. Her last three years have been dramatic if nothing else. She has born witness to non-violent love in the face of some of the most violent situations that the military might of empire can throw at her. She has maintained her equilibrium and her sanity when so many around her have lost their way. Her faith is a guiding light to others to see that nothing can break the spirit of the love of Christ in those who are being transformed by him. May God continue to keep her safe. Kia kaha, Donna.

Comments are closed.