Denfeld News

Jan. 19, 2009
Duluth News Tribune

Group hopes to build ties with Iraqis

A group of area residents met Sunday to make plans to travel to Iraq in May.
They haven’t taken a position on the conflicts within Iraq. They’re not making a statement regarding the United States’ policy there. It’s not a missionary trip.
It’s simply a trip to promote world citizenship through person-to-person contact.

“I think that is invaluable because you really don’t understand people until you get to know them,’’ said Marv Heikkinen, a retired Duluth Denfeld High School teacher, who is working with the group’s organizers. “Here’s an opportunity for Americans to understand Kurds and Islam and vice versa, and to have them come to the United States and see that the images they see on television is not the real person, the real lifestyle here. I think this is a step in the right direction.’’

Organizers met Sunday afternoon at Peace United Church of Christ.

Longtime peace activist and retired Lutheran minister Brooks Anderson said the Duluth-to-Rania Friendship Exchange Project plans to send an intergenerational group of about eight or 10 people ages 19 to 75 to Rania, in the Kurdish region of northern Iraq, for about 10 days in mid-May.

“I think what we’re saying is that connecting with them is a huge part of the global reality that we call Islam or the Middle East, and doing that would be a very good thing for us and a very good thing for our country,’’ Anderson said.

Anderson stopped short of calling it a “sister city’’ relationship. “Our long-term goal is to build a base of people here who will carry on this relationship,’’ he said. “We avoid the term ‘sister city’ because we can’t get to that place until we have a really solid base of people ready to support this.’’

Tom Morgan, associate professor of Russian and the director of the Center for the Study of Peace and Justice at the College of St. Scholastica, said planning for the trip reminds him of the efforts some Duluthians made to establish a relationship with Russia in the early 1980s that led to a fruitful sister city arrangement.

“I’m hoping this can have a similar impact in the sense that it expands the vision of the people of Duluth to that part of the world so that we can have a better understanding of what they’re all about,’’ Morgan said. “You understand people through people-to-people contacts in ways you don’t understand them by reading books and newspapers.’’

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