Archive for Iraq

stereotypes n’ truths

ive been meaning to blog about this incident for some time but never really got around to it. i meet a lot of interesting people in the area where i work and some of them leave impressions on me, although i would never blog about any of our clients. recently, a photojournalist for a well known New York newspaper came by and started discussing his work with me while he was waiting (i repeat, not a client). he showed me pictures he’s taken in the middle east, mainly of children living in slum conditions. i asked him about the places he’s been to and he mentioned Iraq.

he developed enough of a rapport with me to discuss his own beliefs but he was still nervous enough to punctuate his speech a few times with the statement “between you and me…”

“between you and me” in this particular context meaning he was privileging me with his insight and trusting me with his thoughts…

he began to talk about encounters he’s had with Saddam Hussein’s personnel and how he had the honor once of meeting the man himself, and he thought him a great leader who had the courage to stand up to the U.S. government and Israel. i interrupted at some point to ask what he thought of those who consider him a brutal dictator, and what about the experiences of persecuted minorities like the Shia. he dismissed it as American propaganda and said that Saddam in fact never went after women and children, unlike our government…and how he was forced to be a firm leader because of people who threatened his rule…nevermind the historical inaccuracies of his views which i’m not about to get into.

there was one particular incident he remembered fondly, when he got to see Saddam in person…although he didn’t get to actually talk to the man, he got to watch him swim…yea, the degree to which this guy idolized Saddam did border on creepy homoeroticism…

and if his views on saddam weren’t enough, he then thought it would be a good idea to let me in on his views on the jew. the jew, a singular thing used by bigots to describe an abstract, conspiring multi-headed monster. the jew, according to the photojournalist, is cursed by God and forever marked, hence the crooked nose. the jewish bankers and politicians are why we’re in a recession, why the economy tanked, probably the reason for every bad thing to ever occur to him since birth. and then there was his theory, although technically it isn’t a theory because according to him its been foretold in the bible…of course…that there will be another great depression, even worse than the first, and the jew will assassinate Obama in order to incite a race war that will distract people from the economic situation.

ok. so i know there are lots of crazies out there running around with their crazy beliefs…but this is still kind of surprising (and slightly horrifying) because the dude works for the popular press…and although i know the world’s kooks aren’t limted to insane asylums and the east village, this encounter still bothered me mainly because of his assumptions and the reasons behind them. he thought he could expose me to his bigoted, ignorant beliefs because by virtue of my background, i could only serve to validate them…because i guess all muslims hate jews and love saddam? what i think is even more disturbing though are the reasons for his assumptions…and there is definitely a reason for why he felt he could share his warped beliefs with this particular muslim, whom he had just met. i’m not a real person to him in the sense that he knows nothing about me personally, so his openness wasn’t due to some genuine bond or trust between us. im just another arab face he’s stereotyped and he wanted me to join him in his hate fest, to nod my head in approval, to validate every word…and he’s no doubt talked to other arabs who’ve done just that. he’s talked with enough of “us” to come to the conclusion that these are the standard views of arabs/muslims, and so it wouldn’t be presumptive and just plain wrong on his part to think he could approach any one of us and expect an affirmation of his hateful views. and that’s what made this encounter especially sad.

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Dahlak Braithwaite

I heard this today on the radio and wanted to share. It’s a spoken word piece performed by Dahlak Brathwaite on the Tavis Smiley show. Brathwaite is also a member of the Hip Hop group “Ill-Literacy”:

In the age of empty words—where millions log in to comment on videos of iguanas skateboarding, where entire television series’ are based on who can blurt out the most grotesque diss on someone’s mother, where there exists such a thing as cell phones for babies, it seems everyone has something to say. But who’s really listening?

Enter iLL-Literacy—a collective of poets, emcees, and all-around fresh individuals—with a mission that seems simple enough: to have something to say, and for people not only listen, but want to listen.

In the segment called Youth Commentary, Brathwaite “reflects, in verse, on how the Iraq war has impacted his family and overall artistic vision for America”:


I received my letter of acceptance into UC Davis the day the war was declared. I was 17. All I knew is that it had something to do with September 11, or Bin Laden, or the Taliban or Afghanistan. By the time we were invading Iraq, I as well as the rest of my peers were completely lost. The question that seemed to reside in the back of our heads was “Why are we fighting?”

I thought this was a testament to our ignorance. Little did I know that millions of Americans, informed or not, were asking the same question. I am 22 now. One month away from receiving a UC Davis diploma, and that same question is still at the base of all my thoughts concerning the war. Now however the motive behind it is different. The possibility of John McCain’s 100 hundred year war, the looming threat of Iran and North Korea, economic recession, etc. But mostly the question comes from a more personal place. That is seeing my brother’s best friend, a goofy and lovable human being, become somewhat hardened by his tour through Iraq. I could feel his hurt when he explains the grim realities of the country, the loss of fellow soldiers, and most of all his experience of taking someone’s life. He told me that when he killed a man who was attacking his tank, he felt happy. But then as he saw the family gather around him, mourning their loss, he realized something very simple but most commonly overlooked: That was a real person. These are real people dying. Mothers, fathers, brothers, sisters, cousins, sons, daughters, friends. And I believe at that moment he was asking himself the same question. Why are we fighting? Why are we killing? Why are we dying?

The poem I want to share is about this very friend:

This war started about 4 months ago for me
I swear not a single soldier died until Brandon started packing to go overseas
I see now what a blissful, sheltered ignorance we live in
Apathy is affordable for us, the egocentric, the privileged
Believing it is all written but our nature is so selfish,
Caring that we are the main characters in our book and rarely do we read anyone else’s
I think I need to work on my empathy,
More than ever, I’m finding it so tragic that no camera could capture the catalyst cause of my compassion
In the age of reality shows, I’m so numb from feeling sadness or feeling fright
I can’t separate The Real World from the real world,
And they both look like a surreal life,
But it is realized real suffering
We do not care for them
Just watching American idol while most of this world just idolizes Americans
The arrogant parody songs of tsunami victims’ suffering, played on New York’s Hot 97
How funny
But I don’t think New Yorkers were smiling on the days following 9-11
It’s only when it hits home that it’s real

And it hits home watching Brandon picking at his lasagna like it’s his last meal
My mom cooked a goodbye dinner served with comments like “Stay in good health,” “You’ll be fine,” “I’ll see you next year.”
Sounds like we were trying to convince ourselves
But I was scared, saddened, Brandon, my brother’s best friend, family to me
I’ve known him for more years than I haven’t,
And man, I needed to be mad at someone for causing his pain
And as usual, an angry hate-Bush poem seemed to suffice for the blame
But this ain’t never been about Bush,
Not even the war ‘cause I never cared enough to write about it before
It’s only when it hits home that it’s real

And it hits home as I sit still watching my AOL Instant Message newsflash read three soldiers have been killed
And selfishly I wish it’s not Brandon, I’m hoping he’s fine, I’m praying it’s someone else’s loss
Until I realize that certain someone else is hoping it’s mine
They are seen as just soldiers
But every soldier is someone’s Brandon
And every Brandon has someone like me
Here in a land safe and shielded, torn between nonchalance and utter fear
This war still ain’t real
Still a hot topic discussion like some type of entertainment
Most of us have the luxury of viewing the situation in Iraq during commercial breaks of Everybody Loves Raymond
We ain’t got that choice
And I’m not gonna front,
My level of consciousness is at a loss for politics and government subjects
I don’t know enough about the war to intelligently say anything but forget it
But I know Brandon, and I know the way he moves his whole body when he’s laughing
Or the way he screams ridiculously loud when he’s beating you playing Halo or Mario Tennis or Madden
I know tears of my mother, the tight hugs of my dad
I know their pain saying goodbye to the third son they never had, and it’s sad
But I know there’s more soldiers like him, more families like us
How casually we call them casualties and never actually think how many lives those lives touched
But it does or will,
From big to small,
Too much or just a little
I used to think this war was just a fight in the almighty name of Bush
Until I was forced to look closer
And saw us in the middle


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Putting the cart before the horse

Fear, fear is always there,” says 30-year-old Safana, an artist and university professor. “We don’t know who to be afraid of. Maybe it’s a friend or a student you teach. There is no break, no security. I don’t know who to be afraid of.”

Often Muslims and Arabs, including myself, are offended when Westerners imply that the people of the Middle East are not capable of forming and maintaining democratic institutions. However, when I hear stories like the above, I begin to wonder and doubt in the ability of Muslim societies to sustain themselves without some kind of major, sweeping reform taking place. I think a constant sense of victimization causes many of us to think in reactionary and defensive terms, and to our own detriment, we become dismissive of Muslim faults and sweep them under the rug. This attitude only gets in the way of progress by preventing any serious dialogue from emerging within our communities. Before Muslims can hope to usher in democracy to their lands, there must be a critical and objective assessment of how sharia (Islamic law) is being practiced in these regions. There must be a willingness to confront and address those out-dated, oppressive cultural values that prevent so many from reaching their full potential as human beings and ultimately, as citizens of their nations. Unfortunately, such willingness and needed determination will probably not appear any time soon.

Between soldiers of the West and soldiers of God, there are too many soldiers running around the Muslim world trying to impose their destructive ideologies and doing the greatest harm to the most vulnerable and helpless populations. It is incredibly shameful and sad that Muslim women have not only their occupiers to fear, but their own ilk too. That Muslim communities are reluctant to address their treatment of women out of fear, shame, and pride does not change the reality that there exists great trepidation, distrust, and disrespect between male and female in many Muslim communities, including right here in the United States. <>

“And their Lord hath accepted of them, and answered them: “Never will I suffer to be lost the work of any of you, be he male or female: Ye are members, one of another…” (3:195)

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Hope is just another four-letter word

In his recent trip to the Middle East, Bush reassured his Kuwaiti audience that hope is returning to Iraq. This came as no surprise as the Iraqi parliament passed a groundbreaking measure that echoes Bush’s speech: the redesign of the Iraqi flag and removal of the three stars that represent the Baath party slogan of “unity, freedom, and socialism” — threeelements that have been completely eradicated from Iraqi life.

This bill was hailed by BBC’s Jonny Dymond as “another sign that the Iraqi parliament is moving forward on difficult issues.”

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