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Another Point Of View re: Baghdad

"I do not approve the extermination of the enemy. The policy of exterminating or, as it is barbarously said, liquidating enemies, is one of the most alarming developments of modern war and peace, from the point of view of those who desire the survival ...." - T.S Eliot

"He's a real Nowhere Man, / Sitting in his Nowhere Land, / Making all his nowhere plans for nobody. / Doesn't have a point of view, / Knows not where he's going to, / Isn't he a bit like you and me?" - John Lennon

I was doing some surfing the other day, and came across the following entry in a blog called Baghdad Burning. It is the journal of a girl living in Baghdad. Her insights and point of view from "that side" of the conflict are, at the same time, funny, tragic, compelling and so completely difficult to grasp as anyone's reality. It makes everything more than a 30-second news clip. Her ability to grasp the essence and reality of her world in simple, stark and profound language gives her whole story an extra edge that is incredibly powerful.

She recently told the story of a friend who had a small shop selling scarves, clothing, etc. When a relative of the shop-owner in Canada sent him a large Brazilian flag for the World Cup, and he displayed it in his store window, he was visited by the authorities and "encouraged" to take it down. Here's what she wrote:

"So this is democracy. This is one of the great minds of Bush’s democratic Iraq.

Sadr’s militia control parts of Iraq now. Just a couple of days ago, his militia, with the help of Badr, were keeping women from visiting the market in the southern city of Karbala. Women weren’t allowed in the marketplace and shop owners were complaining that their businesses were suffering. Welcome to the new Iraq.

It’s darkly funny to see what we’ve turned into, and it is also anguishing. Muqtada Al-Sadr is a measure of how much we’ve regressed these last three years. Even during the Iran-Iraq war and the sanctions, people turned to sports to keep their mind off of day-to-day living. After the occupation, we won a football match against someone or another and we’d console ourselves with “Well we lose wars- but we win football!” From a country that once celebrated sports- football (soccer) especially- to a country that worries if the male football players are wearing long enough shorts or whether all sports fans will face eternal damnation… That’s what we’ve become."


A few days later, on June 6th, she wrote the following devastating entry:

"There’s an ethnic cleansing in progress and it’s impossible to deny. People are being killed according to their ID card. Extremists on both sides are making life impossible. Some of them work for ‘Zarqawi’, and the others work for the Iraqi Ministry of Interior. We hear about Shia being killed in the ‘Sunni triangle’ and corpses of Sunnis named ‘Omar’ (a Sunni name) arriving by the dozen at the Baghdad morgue. I never thought I’d actually miss the car bombs. At least a car bomb is indiscriminate. It doesn’t seek you out because you’re Sunni or Shia."


Even as a form of the blackest of humour, I can't conceive of someone conceding something like "I never thought I’d actually miss the car bombs." That has desperation, despair and futility written all over it.

The entry that attracted me to her site in the first place was this one that she wrote on the 4th anniversary of the 9-11 attack in New York. From our innoucuous, depersonalized exposure to the coverage of "the war", it's so easy to think of "them" as being some inhuman form of life species, easily disposable and not worthy of "our" privileged existence. Bullshit.

“R.- come in here! You have to see this!” It was September 11, 2001 and I was in the kitchen rinsing some dishes from lunch. I paused at the urgency in my brothers voice but continued rinsing, thinking there was some vaguely important news item on Iraq’s state controlled channel.

“I’m coming- a moment.” I called back. The phone began to ring and I stopped to answer it on my way out of the kitchen.

R: “Alloo?” I answered.
L: “Are you watching tv???” L., my best friend, cried out with no preliminaries.
R: “Uh… no- but…”
L: “GO WATCH TV!”

The line went dead and I put down the phone, my heart beating wildly. I made my way to the living room, curious and nervous, wondering what it could be. Had someone died? Were they going to bomb us again? That was always a possibility. It never surprised anyone when the US decided on an air strike. I wondered if, this time around, Bush had been caught with a presidential aide in the Oval Office.

I walked into the living room and E. was standing in the middle of it- eyes glued to the television, mouth slightly open, remote control clutched in his hand, and directed towards the television set.

“What is it?” I asked, looking at the screen. The images were chaotic. It was a big city, there was smoke or dust and people running across the screen, some screaming, others crying and the rest with astounded looks on their faces. They looked slightly like E., my brother, as he stood staring at the television, gaping. There was someone speaking in the background- in English- and there was a voiceover in Arabic. I can’t remember what was being said; the images on the tv screen are all I remember. Confusion. Havoc.

And then they showed it again. The Twin Towers- New York… a small something came flying out of the side of the screen and it crashed into one of them. I gasped audibly and E. just shook his head, “That’s nothing… wait…” I made my way towards the couch while keeping my eyes locked on the television. There was some more chaos, shocked expressions, another plane and the towers- they began to crumble. They began to fall. They disappeared into an enormous fog of smoke and dust.

I sucked in my breath and I couldn’t exhale that moment. I just sat there- paralyzed- watching the screen. A part of me was saying, “It’s a joke. It’s Hollywood.” But it was just too real. The fear was too genuine. The incoherent voices in the background were too tinged with confusion and terror.

The silence in the living room was broken with the clatter of the remote control on the floor. It had slipped out of E.’s fingers and I jumped nervously, watching the batteries from the remote roll away on the ground.

“But… who? How? What was it? A plane? How???”

E. shook his head and looked at me in awe. We continued watching the television, looking for answers to dozens of questions. Within the hour we had learned that it wasn’t some horrid mistake or miscalculation. It was intentional. It was a major act of terror.

Al-Qaeda was just a vague name back then. Iraqis were concerned with their own problems and fears. We were coping with the sanctions and the fact that life seemed to stand still every few years for an American air raid. We didn’t have the problem of Muslim fundamentalists- that was a concern for neighbors like Saudi Arabia and Iran.

I remember almost immediately, Western media began conjecturing on which Islamic group it could have been. I remember hoping it wasn’t Muslims or Arabs. I remember feeling that way not just because of the thousands of victims, but because I sensed that we’d suffer in Iraq. We’d be made to suffer for something we weren’t responsible for.

E. looked at me wide-eyed that day and asked the inevitable question, “How long do you think before they bomb us?”

“But it wasn’t us. It can’t be us…” I rationalized.

“It doesn’t matter. It’s all they need.”

And it was true. It began with Afghanistan and then it was Iraq. We began preparing for it almost immediately. The price of the dollar rose as people began stocking up on flour, rice, sugar and other commodities.

For several weeks it was all anyone could talk about. We discussed it in schools and universities. We talked about it in work places and restaurants. The attitudes differed. There was never joy or happiness, but in several cases there was a sort of grim satisfaction. Some Iraqis believed that America had brought this upon itself. This is what you get when you meddle in world affairs. This is what you get when starve populations. This is what you get when you give unabashed support to occupying countries like Israel, and corrupt tyrants like the Saudi royals.

Most Iraqis, though, felt pity. The images for the next weeks of Americans running in terror, of the frantic searches under the rubble for relatives and friends left us shaking our heads in empathy. The destruction was all too familiar. The reports of Americans fearing the sound of airplanes had us nodding our heads with understanding and a sort of familiarity- you’d want to reach out to one of them and say, “It’s ok- the fear eventually subsides. We know how it is- your government does this every few years.”

It has been four years today. How does it feel four years later?

For the 3,000 victims in America, more than 100,000 have died in Iraq. Tens of thousands of others are being detained for interrogation and torture. Our homes have been raided, our cities are constantly being bombed and Iraq has fallen back decades, and for several years to come we will suffer under the influence of the extremism we didn't know prior to the war.

As I write this, Tel Afar, a small place north of Mosul, is being bombed. Dozens of people are going to be buried under their homes in the dead of the night. Their water and electricity have been cut off for days. It doesn’t seem to matter much though because they don’t live in a wonderful skyscraper in a glamorous city. They are, quite simply, farmers and herders not worth a second thought.

Four years later and the War on Terror (or is it the War of Terror?) has been won:

Score:
Al-Qaeda – 3,000
America – 100,000+

Congratulations.


As a Canadian, I'm certainly not anti-American, although I am unabashedly anti-Bush foreign policy. I'm in good international company on that one, and I hope and pray each day that some workable way can be found to end this disaster as soon as possible. I support the concepts of open and free democracies, human rights and dignity for all. I value human life, but accept that it is a temporary state for all of us. I acknowledge that we exist at our personal level of pain and pleasure, our intricate and intertwined social levels similarly, and our esoteric national and international level, which is pretty much "imposed" on us in some ephemeral way of self-generation.

But after reading this anonymous woman's diaries, I feel like I've had a glimpse into a modern-day Anne Frank. I am much more resolved than ever before in committing myself to the belief in the goodness, dignity and humanity of all individuals, recognizing that it will forever be challenged, undermined and thwarted by misguided, self-serving beasts. The irony, of course, is that these beasts (and I include Bush amongst them) are also humans. The big difference is that they are corrupt humans who have been allowed by an inattentive society to gain positions of influence without appropriate checks and balances. Bush should have been impeached long ago. There's still time, except that would make Cheney president. The system, wonderful as it is, and worth defending as it is, is flawed.

So is ours.

So, Mr. John Lennon. Do I have a point of view? Yes. Is it popular? I don't care...that's not the criteria I use for taking a position on moral issues. I have been devastatingly distressed at some sites I have visited that are pure, vindictive, outright bile and hatred. The venom that spews forth from these sites could easily be prosecuted as criminal hate crimes if the comments were directed against the "politically protected" social groupings such as blacks, Jews or gays instead of mid-Eastern races. I have chosen not to leave comments on those sites, on the grounds that they will be ineffective, and only serve to invoke another "screw off, towel head lover" kind of retort.

Call me a naive, bleeding heart, head stuck in the sand, idealistic commie-loving liberal. Call me whatever you want to. So be it. I just don't have the intellectual capacity to grasp how such hatred towards a generic group of people is born, nurtured and encouraged. I just don't get it. I'm not a Mary Poppins myself. I harbour biases and prejudices, but not to the point of the pure jaundiced hatred that I see elsewhere. Not even close. In my attempts to try to understand the "other point of view", I acknowledge complete failure in being able to empathize or sympathize with a militaristic, kill or be killed, hateful, dominating, superior, holier-than-thou attitude.

I hope and trust that opposition to this bizarre and escalating world order we're creating for ourselves will continue to increase. I hope and trust that there is still enough character left in the "free" world to once more change the narrow-minded path of history our so-called leaders would blindly lead us down. I hope and trust that there are enough people left from the Viet nam era to recognize that resistance tactics not only work, but sometimes are a prerequisite for a democracy to show that it works. Otherwise, like the citizens of Iraq, represented through this ladies eyes, we have yielded our value, and deserve our collective fate.

That will be a tragic state to leave the world in for our children. Some days I thank God that I never had kids. They deserve better than this.

PEACE.



I'm so glad you posted this. Every single word of it.

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  • I'm Evydense
  • From Edmonton, Alberta, Canada
  • And I'm tired of living in the shadow of narrow-mindedness and ignorance. So here's the fax, Jack! "The Bible contains six admonishments to homosexuals and three hundred and sixty-two admonishments to heterosexuals. That doesn't mean that God doesn't love heterosexuals. It's just that they need more supervision." - Lynne Lavner*** I'm confused; curious; satisfied; realistically resigned to being a frustrated idealist; usually at peace with myself, but not always. Amazed at how little I know, and wondering how much I need to understand.
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