observations and analysis on everything under the Iraqi sun, by Ayad Rahim (ayadrahim@hotmail.com), host of The Ayad Rahim Show, a program about the war we're in, exploring the Arab world, Islam, terrorism and Iraq, with insiders who are honest about their world and outsiders with special insight: http://wjcu.org/media

Friday, April 30, 2004

The Massgraves web-site came from a happier source, called "9 Neesan" (April 9), which the host calls "the happiest day of my life." It bills itself as a directory of Iraqi web-sites.
So that we never forget: one web-site about The Massgraves.
My reply to a friend, about my "date," this afternoon:
Date: 4/30/2004 10:28:59 AM Eastern Daylight Time

Hi, Sandy,

It was fine -- it was more of a family get-together, with my uncle, his wife, his sister there. I played with Layla's son -- he showed me how he could jump very high with his shoes -- slippers, actually -- did a cartwheel for me. First, we picked more gardenias. They've got a huge gardenia bush/tree -- actually, two -- and she -- and he -- had picked a bunch of gardenias -- a whole pail-full -- and put them all over the house, including two baskets-full in the bathroom. There were baskets, bowls of gardenias everywhere -- in the main room, by the dinner table, all over. I didn't get a chance to talk with Layla much. Later, her son took out the heavy weaponry -- water machine-gun, and we washed the cars with it, then shot it up onto the roof. Then he took out a BB gun or something. Finally, he went to the roof. He kept wanting me to sit with him, to watch TV with him -- cartoons. Pulled me and his mom to the TV room, as often as he could.

I did get something done, from Layla's house -- got in touch with a friend in the government, about gun licenses for a relative, who needs to go back and forth to work, in a convoy of two cars -- getting scared, with the kidnappings.

Thanks for asking -- now, I've got something else to post, on the blog. How are you doing?

Two days ago, I was one of three jurors for an essay contest for graduate students from the political science department of Baghdad University. The students presented their papers for us at the university's Center for International Studies. I reported that one of my fellow jurors, law professor Dr. Mishkat El-Moumin, noticed about six framed portraits of prisoner number 00000001 propped up, behind the flip-chart stand next to the dais. The flip-chart, I think, had a notice about our event -- I could only read the top couple of lines, from my seat, and forgot to look at it, again, after the event. Well, not only were the pictures a sign that they might be waiting for the prisoner's reemergence, but on our way out, a professor came out of one of the offices and handed us each a copy of a newspaper, Al-Wifaq al-Dimuqraati (The Democratic Accord). Under the paper's name it says the head of its executive council and editor-in-chief is Salah Omar al-Ali. Ali was one of Saddam's superiors in 1963, during the Ba'ath Party's nine-month reign, during which time he was one of three people in charge of the acid baths that took the lives of at least 10,000, and possibly tens of thousands of lives. Ali split off from another wifaq, Al-Wifaq al-Watani (The National Accord), which is also made up of former high-ranking Ba'ath apparatchiks and army officers. The latter's head, Ayad Allawi, is a member of the interim Iraqi Governing Council, which is about to go out of business/be expanded, June 30. Allawi's Wifaq found a home in Syria, which militated against the Iraqi Ba'ath. Ali found a home in Saudia, and it is he, purportedly, who promised the Saudis in 1991, and, in turn, the Bush administration, that his cousin, then-head of Saddam's helicopter units, would organize a coup to topple Saddam. This, in part, or in whole, caused the Saudis, and/or the Americans, to back away from the spontaneous rebellions that spread like wildfire from the day after Iraqi soldiers returned from Kuwait, engulfing 14 of Iraq's 18 provinces. Fascim lives.

On page two of the newspaper we were handed, is a report by William Hamilton (he's only identified as, "from Washington") about Bob Woodward's new book, Plan of Attack, "which reveals awesome secrets," the headline announces. The book has been excerpted in other papers, and people are very interested in it. People are always looking for a conspiracy -- dark secrets, plans behind the curtains, to be exposed. In addition to the newspaper, we were also handed copies of the center's quarterly Journal for International Studies, and I just noticed that one of the five members of the journal's editorial board, Dr. Dhaari Rasheed al-Yaseen, has an article in the newspaper we got. He's identified in the article as the head of the American Studies Department at Baghdad University. Great! It must have been he who handed us the paper. His newspaper article is titled "The Iraqi reality, and Bush's electoral future." I haven't read either article, and I don't intend to. I wish I had the time to read everything -- although fascist propaganda is not at the top of my list -- I hear enough of it -- and, as comedian Richard Wright says, "What if you had everything? Where would you put it?"
A back-and-forth between my friend Doug, in Peoria, Illinois, and me, with a cameo appearance from Doug's wife:
Date: 4/29/2004 6:34:27 AM Eastern Daylight Time

hey my friend,
I asked Patti if she thought she could help by perhaps bringing some of her violence prevention programs to Iraq. She said that when she's sure that they're working here, she might consider it. (I hate to say it, but she didn't sound very convincing:-)


* * *
Date: 4/29/2004 9:40:11 AM Eastern Daylight Time

Good to see your smile, Doug, and your wit, too. Oh, boy -- with some people, it's pretty hopeless -- nothing would work. Actually, today Dr. Moumin was telling me about a survey she conducted in one of her master's classes, and most of the students said it's necessary to use force with Iraqis, to get results. She'd asked 'em about yelling at subordinates.

See you, Doug.

* * *
Date: 4/29/2004 8:17:49 PM Eastern Daylight Time

Not sure it's absolutely "necessary" with anybody, but it sure seems to work a lot faster when you don't have limitless time to get the job done:-)

* * *
Date: 4/30/2004 8:48:22 AM Eastern Daylight Time

Yeah -- you get their attention right away -- first time, second time around -- but it wears off pretty quickly. And, I'll tell you, watching families, and the way they bring up their children, the children don't learn anything -- they don't learn to discipline themselves, don't learn to do anything for themselves.
An e-mail from Rania, a best friend's daughter, in England:
Date: 4/28/2004 3:07:33 PM Eastern Daylight Time

hi ayad

i won't ask how you are, because i think i know pretty well!! i've been an avid reader of your blog, so you can add another one to your daily readers' list! its great reading about everything and anything - anecdotes, history, politics, cultural norms, jokes, and your possible future wife!! nice one!

by the way i wanted to know what you personally thought of the new flag? i really don't like the design, you'd think after holding a competition and everything they'd be able to come up with something interesting...but apart from that i can understand why people are averse to the whole idea of changing the flag wholesale, its one of the few things that hasn't changed in iraq over the past year and they're holding on to it, maybe it reminds them that it still is the same country, same place...maybe... that's what i think...i think it should be changed, and made more representative but not right now, as it seems like the perfect time to act as a provocation to those who want to believe that iraq's identity will be defined by america from now on...

so, i hope you're keeping out of trouble...here in cambridge its exam term so everyone is on the verge on mental breakdown...im playing it safe, im keeping away from everyone...trying to get to grips with arabic grammar - an impossible task!! i prefer hindi, so much nicer to the language student!! and also it gives me a great excuse to watch all those hindi films...actually i have to do a presentation next week, for my middle-eastern history class, about the ba'ath constitution and how it expresses arab identity and nationalism. im wondering whether i'll be able to remain impartial enough, ill let you know...

well, hope you're enjoying yourself as much as you can, and staying safe!! i try to update my dad when i speak to him, i've directed him towards your blog but i think its difficult for him to find time to sit down and read it regularly. he also says hi and hopes you're doing well.

take care,

My second, and third, responses, to Rania -- I don't know what happened to the first response -- must've not been anything there, worth posting, here:
Date: 4/30/2004 8:28:47 AM Eastern Daylight Time

Hi, Rania,

I'm sorry, I don't have an answer, a response, to your comments about the flag. My brain is just dead -- I'm working too much, having very little fun -- that is, a break from work -- and my brain is dead -- can't think right now. Maybe it's this strange dating thing. I just got back from the "date," which turned out to be a family get-together. She's very nice -- too nice, really -- but...we'll see. Maybe, nothing there -- I don't know.

We'll see -- and I'll see you, too.

Subj: about the flag
Date: 4/30/2004 8:41:51 AM Eastern Daylight Time

Hi, Rania,

I just posted what you wrote me -- onto my blog -- and, again, if you don't want it posted, I'll take it off. As I re-read it, I realized, I didn't answer your question. Yeah -- I'm not thrilled about it -- doesn't excite -- but, as somebody said, maybe it's because we're not used to it, there isn't any attachment, sense of identification with it. However, I don't think there was much of a contest. As I wrote
[in the blog, on Tuesday], I think it was farmed out by this Governing Council member, to his brother, to rush something through, in time for the Olympics, and the transfer of sovereignty -- June 30. So, I think there'll be another flag, and, hopefully, a more open process, with actual competition, and give-and-take, including the public, at large.

See you, Rania.
On an insider note, have you noticed my new blogging features? Pretty snazzy, huh? Well, I have the browser (?) Mozilla (at Mozilla.org) instead of Internet Explorer, to thank for the italics, links, bold type and better spelling, and Graham, from Blogger.com's support-staff, to thank for leading me there, and much more. Ta2, Graham.
I'm to be picked up, in about a half-hour, to go on my second (third?) date -- this, a family affair, with chaperones and escorts and all. We -- my uncle, his wife, and his sister -- are going to Layla's home -- her parents' home, to be precise -- with her father and son -- and her. Oh, boy -- crazy! It feels like a dress rehearsal for the proposal -- when "the family" -- my male elders -- asks her family -- her father -- for her hand in marriage. A few days ago, when Layla was supposed to pick me up, to drop me off at work, it turns out, she didn't show up at all. She initially told me she couldn't make it -- busy, overslept, etc. Later, she said she was too embarrassed to show up (at my uncle's home), that she was, earlier, too embarrassed to tell me she didn't show up because she was embarrassed. Cute, huh? Oh, well. C'est la vie -- here.
I made a mistake here, a couple of days ago. In recounting the security search we went through, to enter the main university campus that day, I shared that, last October, a bomb was discovered at the library of a teacher-training center, where our Dr. Moumin was taking a class. The bomb was not discovered half an-hour after her class let out, but later that day, and was supposed to go off, 15-30 minutes after her class let out. She arrived at the center the next day, to an intensive Iraqi police presence.

While on the subject of education, English-language standards have really deteriorated in the past 10-20 years. It used to be, English was taught as a second language, from elementary school, and pretty rigorously at that. Such that, by the end of high school, almost all Iraqis could speak, read and write English adequately. You could also easily find many people, in all parts of the country, who excelled at English. Now, it's rare to find an Iraqi who speaks English well.

Education, as a whole, is a disaster. Children, at all levels, are still taught by rote. The law graduates tell me that they are given two or three books per semester, and they're to memorize them for the final exam. In the exam, they are asked to answer questions by regurgitating from the texts, word for word, with commas and all. They are discouraged from improvising -- that is, describing the concept, in their own words -- strongly discouraged to do so, at the risk of failure. Come the next year, they've forgotten everything -- absorbed nothing from the previous year -- no concepts, no ideas -- as they have to "empty" their brains, for a new batch of information, from the next year's texts, to be memorized.

This is the case in elementary, secondary and college levels. No thinking, just straight-out memorization.

Nevertheless, they find outlets for their creativity and resourcefulness. A former employee at the communications ministry told me, in passing the other day, that the people there were very proficient at hacking into computer systems, able to gain access to information and steal computer programs at will. I'll certainly ask more, about this.

* * *

I also learned, from one of the law graduates here, who went to Libya with her husband for work a few years ago, that Mu'ammar al-Qadhafi banned the English langauge from Libya, or, at least, its schools, for 10 years, upon taking power. Another Qadhafi story, related the other day: he wrote, in his Green Book, that instead of 22 people running around a soccer field, watched by millions, what they ought to do is have the millions running on the field, watched by 22 people in the stands. Well, maybe he's got a point -- but....
No news this morning -- which, of course, is good news.

A force of 1200 Iraqi soldiers, from the new army, entered Falluja, led by a former general in Saddam's army -- a liwaa' rukun, which, I believe, is the head of a division. I don't have more information on him. The American army has withdrawn, to five, six kilometers from the city.

Speaking of which, the defense minister, Ali Abdul-Amir Allawi, spoke to a group of 400-500 former Iraqi army officers -- must have been yesterday. He told them that the new army will defend the country's borders, obey its constitution and not be politicized -- no affiliations or leanings to any party, as was done in Saddam's time. No more, nothing more. One of the attendees stood up, and said, We are all professionals and well-trained, and don't want to be under the aegis of the Pentagon.

More on this -- I'm sure.

Today is Friday, the sabbath. I'm the only one in the office -- except the guards. Friday's prayer day, which means the largest number of worshippers at mosques. So, there will probably be some activity, as people leave the mosques, after noon, especially from those with preachers, such as Sadir and extremist Sunni imams, who want to stir up trouble.

Thursday, April 29, 2004

Follow-up from Alaa, in Holland:
Date: 4/29/2004 9:07:50 AM Eastern Daylight Time
From: "Al-dhahir, A. (Alaaddin)"

It is not a question of disobeying. I too take risks and not listen to anyone but my head! It is however this: we think and live differently. Yesterday, I was watching a CNN report from al-Rashid Street. I could not relate to any Iraqi who appeared in the report. They were talking total rubbish. You or I could easily get in trouble with them. My family keeps me away from such people.

Liesbeth looks at the anti-Americanism and repeats a Dutch saying "Stank voor Dank", which translates "a stink instead of being grateful."

Maybe that's good news, though -- that there's nothing else going on, to report on -- that it's relatively quiet. It's been two fairly quiet days. The woman who came into the office from out of town said that Jaysh il-Mahdi -- that's Sadir's gang -- were passing out leaflets today. Another person expressed dismay at the lack of activity -- in the market, economic situation -- with so many foreign companies dissuaded from coming here, or leaving. That's gonna be a tough hurdle to climb -- it'll take a while to reinterest them -- to show them it's safe to come back here. That one's a big one.

Otherwise, we've got a three-day weekend -- Friday, regular day off; Saturday, May First, for Worker's Day; and Sunday, for the Prophet's birthday.
More feedback. God, I hope this isn't getting to be all, friends and folks, worried about me.
Date: 4/29/2004 4:31:07 AM Eastern Daylight Time
From: "Al-dhahir, A. (Alaaddin)"

Your relatives may be over-protective but they are in a better position to assess the security situation. Don't take unnecessary risks. Take good care of yourself.

Today was my departure date but the trip is still on hold until the situation calms down a bit.


* * *
Date: 4/29/2004 8:58:36 AM Eastern Daylight Time

Hello, Alaa,

Yeah -- you're right -- about my relatives. I'm trying -- not to disobey them -- too much -- or, not at all. Actually, I remembered you, yesterday morning, as I was waiting for my uncle to give me a ride. He and his sister kept telling family stories, and I kept waiting -- wanting to get going, and so, not interested in the stories. I remembered your saying that you wanted to have a car, so you wouldn't be dependent on the relatives.

By the way, this uncle met with Qasim -- I think, in '59. He's got a few stories about Qasim, although you've probably heard 'em.

All right -- see you. Let me know, when you decide to make it here, although, as in my case, the relatives probably have a lot to say, about that.
My uncle picked me up at the office, mid-afternoon, and took me to the barber, so I can look presentable for my date tomorrow, with Layla's father and my uncle and aunts -- and Layla, and her son -- one big happy family. At the barber's, he had on the American television station Al-Hurra (The Free One), and sandwiching the news report were a biography of Goldie Hawn and the latest Hollywood news. Hmmm.

No choice of styles, at the barber. You just plop your body on the seat, and he does his thing. That's all there is to it. This is the barber my uncle's been going to for 15 years, as did former president Abdul-Rahman Arif ('66-'68), after he returned from exile in Turkey. I asked him for something lighter than the guy before me got, but...well, there's not much to work with, in my case.
Another concerned friend, from England:
Date: 4/28/2004 3:53:28 PM Eastern Daylight Time
From: "Teresa"

Hi Ayad

I get the picture from your blog that you are living a fairly restricted life, going from your uncle and aunt's home to your office and back again, and that you find their injunctions not to go out alone frustrating. I can imagine how you feel, especially when you want to travel about and ask questions and see and understand as much of what is going on as possible. However, I do feel you should follow their advice, even if you feel they are giving you orders. They know the situation much better than you possibly can, as they have been there for years. They are clearly worried about you and feel you are, as we suspected, conspicuous - even without opening your mouth. I don't know whether you ever read
An Evil Cradling, Brian Keenan's book about his five years as a hostage in Lebanon. He came out alive, but some of his friends didn't. It was the most utterly gruelling experience imaginable. I found it difficult to read, although I made myself, right to the end. At risk of irritating you, I would ask you to exercise your imagination to its full capacity and go through in your mind what it might be like, if you took a risk and some group or other decided to kidnap you. I'm saying all this because I love you and couldn't bear it if anything happened to you. Neither could an awful lot of other people who love you.

By the way, you wanted feedback on the blog. A lot of it is fascinating. Personally I'd like more about what Iraqis you meet feel about the situation and less about your date... But that's just me. You write very well.
A poster of Shi'a firebrand cleric Muqtada Sadir can be found throughout the city, and southern Iraq and Falluja, too, probably. In the one picture of him, his face is framed in black -- hair, below and in the middle; turban, above. He glares out, his forefinger and middle finger, held out, in front of his face. The image reminds young people here of a Japanese cartoon character that was popular in the eighties. Sasoki was a four, five-year-old boy who initiated his magical powers by putting one forefinger above the other. Sasoki's also become an adjective, to describe something stupendous, akin to "awesome," in America. Many also say that Sadir is called King of the Playstation, for his abilities in the video game.
When my cousin's wife enthused about her husband, that he treats her well, that usually means one or more of the following: that he doesn't hit her, doesn't get drunk, doesn't sleep around -- although if that happens, it's often forgiven -- that he lets her know where he's going, where he is, and that he doesn't yelusuallyer. However, it usally doesn't include abusive or humiliating treatment, or treating her like a demeaned child.
An activist in a business group called Construction Ladies in Iraq received a death threat, calling her group a Jewish front, as it did not identify itself as Muslim or Christian.
A lot of people complain that the security situation is bad, that it's not safe to go out, that kidnapping is rampant. Crime, however, is nothing new. To begin with, people never felt safe in Saddam times, always fearing a knock on the door in the middle of the night. A woman here for a course at the Iraq Foundation just told me that her best friend's husband disappeared a year and a half ago (November 2002), when he went to a government office to check on why he'd been refused a passport. He hasn't been heard from, since. The husband wasn't involved in any political activity or a business venture with a regime insider -- nothing that might elicit suspicion or jealousy. A worker here related that her sister, while working with an NGO abroad, told her mother in Baghdad by phone that she'd sent them a letter with "somebody from the group." Their mother was so terrified, she couldn't sleep for two nights. The letter didn't make it. The fear is so pervasive, still, that a person I interviewed recalled that his wife recently came across an article on the internet in their bedroom computer about Qusay, Saddam's second son, and immediately shut down the computer. In 1974, there was a brutal serial killer on the loose. He was nicknamed Abu Tubar (the hatchet guy). Most people suspected it was a regime scheme, to terrorize people. Documents and the word of former regime agents confirmed this.

After the 1991 Kuwait war, kidnappings, carjackings, car thefts, stealing of tires off parked cars, house burglaries, killings in homes, people hiring security to protect them and their homes, carrying a gun on their persons, in their stores or in their cars, all became widespread, and persisted, for years -- until the Memorandum of Understanding with the U.N. in the oil-for-food program brought money into the country. In addition, the loot from a Kuwait stripped bare became objects of prey and a source for a nouveau riche and further plunder.
From the update department:

I wrote, more than two weeks ago, about a billboard in the middle of a roundabout at a major intersection nearby. On one side of the billboard, was a list of instructions, guidelines, for proper behavior with the police -- still haven't read those instructions. On the other side, above a policeman pointing at the onlooker, are the words "I put my life at risk every day to help rebuild my country, and establish safety and security for the citizens of Baghdad." Below, he asks citizens to search for what they can do for their country. Both sides of the billboard had black paint splashed all over them. A few days ago, when I was kidnapped by Layla, we passed that roundabout, and the billboard had been replaced, with a new, clean version of the same advertisements.
About seven years ago, when a grandson was born to my uncle, the baby's father told his dad, an hour after the birth, that he'd send his boy to the U.K., to avoid military service in another of Saddam's wars.
Corrections department
My uncle's friend, with whom he played a slave in "The Ten Commandments," was Sadiq al-Aadili. Aadili's father, Abdul-Amir, did not own a moviehouse, as I wrote earlier, but sold nuts next to downtown Baghdad's summer Hamra Cinema. Aadili, who wanted to be an actor, looked like Cornel Wilde, and sometimes stood in for him in horse-riding scenes. He's now a businessman in the Los Angeles area -- Aadili, that is; Wilde is dead.
Next, a few brief thoughts -- I'm cleaning up some old notes, putting 'em to bed.

Cell phones, which started here last summer, and have become widespread in the last three months, offer a pretty bad service. An Egyptian company, Orascom (possibly named after the Egyptian god Horace), has a monopoly for the first year. Many suspect a kickback to one of the Governing Council members, Ahmad Chalabi, who is vilified and scapegoated for most everything.

First, you get the phone -- prices range from $50-500+, and are sold all sorts of stores. To start the service, you buy a "sim cardubiquitous of Orascom ubiquotous agents, Iraquna (Our Iraq); the sim-card system is used around the world. The sim card costs $69, and is inserted into the phone, yielding a phone number. You then have to buy a card, with scratch-out numbers, to make calls. Ten dollars a month from a card goes for the service, and the rest, for minutes used; most people buy $30 cards. If a card's minutes aren't used up in a month, the service could expire, requiring a new sim card -- another $69. Most people believe incoming calls are free, but some say that changes are made to prices and service at the whim of the company. The cards, too, which can be bought most anywhere, are often scams -- witrapidlys evaporating rapidily -- and no recourse, yet, for the buyers.
For those just tuning in, I've been doing a top-ten list. I've brought them together, for your listening pleasure.

Top-ten list
from our home office in Baghdad

(as they came to me)
As I was reading in The Sporting News' pre-season issue, I came up with this top-ten list.

You know youve been in the Arab world too long, when:

You misread "infields," as "infidels." [Get those infidels out of the infield!]

You know you've been in the Arab world too long, when:

You can't wear a baseball cap that says "We got him."

You know you've been in the Arab world too long, when:

The pre-dawn call to prayer starts disrupting your sleep.

You know you've been in the Arab world too long, when:

Somebody walking into your room while you're in bed doesn't bother you.

You know you've been in the Arab world too long, when:

You're told you're being too nice to street peddlers.

A colleague's nomination:

You know you've been in the Arab world too long, when:

The traffic chaos doesn't bother you anymore.

Back to me:

You know you've been in the Arab world too long, when:

You become really interested in Arab history and Shi'a history. You're forced to, it becomes necessary, takes on some HEAVY weight, it's part of people's lives, their very essence and being.

You know you've been in the Arab world too long, when:

You don't think twice about not recycling a recyclable [which is especially hard, for an obsessive recycler like me].

You know you've been in the Arab world too long, when:

Having supper late at night (nine, ten, eleven o'clock) is nothing out of the ordinary.

You know you've been in the Arab world too long, when:

You start involuntarily saying "in-shaa-lah" (God willing) for an appointment or something that's supposed to happen or you wish to happen, and "il-Hamdu-lil-laah" (Praise be to God) for something good that's happened.

You know you've been in the Arab world too long, when:

You start involuntarily putting an honorific (Mr., Miss, Dr.) in front of a person's first name.

You know you've been in the Arab world too long, when:

You think, Yeah, it's all right going to sleep really early and waking up before even the pre-dawn call to prayer. [For Chrissake, would you -- for just one time -- put a lid on it! About which, I learned that a relative who lived abroad, used to rent a place in a more-Christian part of town on visits, to avoid the pre-dawn call to prayer. Mosques have multiplied dramatically in the past few years.]

You know you've been in the Arab world too long, when:

It's easy to compliment a girl's looks and smell -- and it's easy to call her a girl.

You know you've been in the Arab world too long, when:

You sleep through the pre-dawn call to prayer, or it doesn't bother you anymore.

You know you've been in the Arab world too long, when:

You start involuntarily saying, "Wallah" (By God), for the exclamation "really."

Wednesday, April 28, 2004

Another friend’s reaction to my blog, this from Steve Hassan, who helped bring my sister out of a dark place, twelve years ago, for which, I will be eternally grateful:
Date: 4/28/2004 11:37:55 AM Eastern Daylight Time
From: Steven Alan Hassan


I can’t say I read every day’s entries, but I’ve been trying to do some. I printed out the long one from yesterday and gave it to misia to read.

The bottom line: we want to put in a vote for you to come home soon. Every day we read the news -- I don’t want to lose you, my friend. I am sorry if this appears to be “unsupportive” -- we are selfish and don’t want to lose a friend, or have a friend lose a leg or arm or eye.

I do pray for you, if that is of any comfort.

Your friends,

Steve and Misia

Steven Alan Hassan M.Ed. LMHC, NCC
Freedom of Mind Resource Center Inc. http://www.freedomofmind.com
"I know but one freedom & that is the freedom of the mind"
-- Antoine de Saint Exupery
My response:
Date: 4/28/2004 12:07:57 PM Eastern Daylight Time

Thanks, Steve -- I appreciate that. I'm not getting into any trouble -- nowhere near it. The "news" is a lot worse than the reality. It's sort of like a bomb goes off in New York City somewhere, or just a killing -- you know how many of those happen in each American city each day. But, I am being very careful, and it helps me to hear your concern, your worry. I've got pictures of Danya and my sister's little boy on my desk, as reminders. And I've got a picture on my computer screen of Ahmed and his two little ones -- another reminder. And, throughout, I'm trying to keep my mouth shut -- that's the biggest obstacle -- the biggest risk I face.

But do keep me in mind -- keep me on the straight and narrow. I mean, so far, so good -- so far, it's fine -- no trouble -- no matter how much the news may show it otherwise.

All right -- I'm about to get picked up by my uncle, his wife and sister -- hittin' the town, for some carrot juice and ice cream -- and, I hope, some dinner, before that. So, we don't have dinner at ten o'clock or something like that.

See you, and my love to Misia.

Oh, Steve -- I wanna post what you wrote me. If there's any objection, let me know. I won't put in your e-mail address, or your full name, if you don't want. It's the content, that's important.

All right, buddy -- thanks for keeping up with me, and for being such a good friend.

You have talked with Ahmed, I gather -- coz he can tell you what it's like, too -- although he didn't want me to make the trip, either -- even though he's been here, three times over the past year.

All right -- gotta go. See you -- and keep writing me. Bye. And it's good to hear from you -- always -- notes from home -- good feelings, there.
Next, my old friend Laine, in Cleveland:
Date: 4/28/2004 12:12:57 PM Eastern Daylight Time
From: Laine

Oh you have more than a book. Your dating stories alone could be some Arabic sitcom or reality show. You are brave working there. I give you a lot of credit. It sounds more like "democrazy" than democracy there. Americans are in such a privileged position to be able to voice our opinion. It's a shame we waste it on crap such as voting for American Idol.

I'm applying for full-time teaching jobs. The job market here very tight. Perhaps I could get a better job in Iraq. Don't get me started. I'm not a Bush fan as you know.

See you soon, Love Laine

* * *
Date: 4/28/2004 11:45:19 AM Eastern Daylight Time

That was funny -- "democrazy" -- good one. We actually had a panel discussion today, and one of the jurors -- well, it wasn't a panel discussion, but I was on the panel -- a plank of the panel -- one of the judges of these papers that graduate political science students wrote. So, one of the jurors said that he has more freedom here, in Iraq, than he does in America -- that he can drive a car without a license, can own a car without registering it, can drive on the wrong side of the street without getting into trouble. This was in response to the student who came up with a quote, based on his readings of Alexis de Tocqueville -- "no freedom without democracy, and no democracy without freedom." My fellow juror -- on Iraqi Idol -- wanted this student to spin out the tale a bit -- how to balance freedom and democracy. In his response, he talked about a mother, refereeing between her feuding children. So, I butted in, and asked him what role the children play, in determining the limits to their feedom, in deciding the democratic rules at play, being part of creating the balance between freedom and democracy.

Well -- there's lots of stuff -- like that -- at my end.

Good luck at your end, Laine.
I'll share some e-mails here, now that I've caught up with some personal correspondence. First up, my friend Alaaddin Al-Dhahir, who wrote a book about Abdul-Karim al-Qasim, the Iraqi republic's first leader. The book, though, perished in a fire at his university building, in Holland.
Subj: Flag"gy" issues
Date: 4/28/2004 7:49:17 AM Eastern Daylight Time
From: "Al-dhahir, A. (Alaaddin)"

What I do not understand is this: why didn't they restore the 1958 flag as well? It had the red, the green, the black, the white and the yellow (for kurds). Wide stripes in green, white, black, and a red star with a yellow round base in the middle. The 3-star "Iraqi" flag is not Iraqi at all. It was adopted in 1963 from the 2-star flag of the United Arab Republic (the union between Egypt and Syria) with the 3rd star for Iraq. So tell your friends the 1958 is the only REAL Iraqi flag. The monarchy flag is also derived from an old Syrian (Arab revolt) flag.

The 1958 seal has a Kurdish dagger and an Arab sword, a reference to the farmers as well as workers. You only need to take a careful look at it and you will distingiush all of these things. Further, the sun-like shape is a reference to Sumerians. Needless to say, I am in favor of this seal.

Another friend's reaction to my blog, this one from my friend Alaaddin, in Holland:
Date: 4/28/2004 6:44:50 AM Eastern Daylight Time

I do appreciate the info you sent but my preference will be to describe Baghdad, the streets, the people and the security situation.
And my reply:
Date: 4/28/2004 11:23:34 AM Eastern Daylight Time

Thanks, Alaa, for your feedback. Well, I'm writing everything I see and hear, and no more, no less. I can't make stuff up, and I can't force the outings -- although I could go out more. Little by little. I sort of feel that I'm slowly peeling this onion - this onion called Iraq. I'm getting inside it, bit by bit.

See you.

Hey -- what are your latest plans?
Alaa is supposed to drive from Holland to Baghdad, in the next few weeks, but...getting advised against it, from family, loved ones and friends -- told to postpone it.
A few days ago, my mother, in Cleveland, complained that my blog was getting boring -- too much repitition and all that stuff about my uncle and aunt. So, I asked a few friends who I know have been keeping up with it. Here's one reply, from a person who met President Bush in Cleveland:
Date: 4/27/2004 12:58:50 PM Eastern Daylight Time

Hello Ayad-

The picture is of me shaking hands with the President. It's also signed by him!! It's a real signature - no stamp. I feel very lucky.....

I spent the morning catching up on the blog. Very, very interesting!! I'm glad to hear you've managed to date a little. Sounds very different from the USA! My goodness, talk of marriage before the first date! It's hard for a western woman to relate! I've lived by myself for 10 years. Sounds like my lifestyle would not be permitted over there.... I can't imagine requiring an escort. Holy cow.

As I said before, I don't think the blog is boring at all. We enjoy the intimate view. Are your family members all aware of your blogging? If so, please pass along the fact that we are enjoying hearing about them and wish them the best - Freedom, Happiness, and Peace - all in a hurry!

Be careful-

* * *

Thanks, Karen, for sending the picture, again. I don't think it was the format -- I think it was my browser, or whatever it's called.

Yeah -- it is strange, this "dating." I don't know if I'm cut out for it, either. And, yes, women have to be escorted -- a lot -- to most places.

As for family, yes, my parents, siblings in America, and probably some others, are keeping up with it. One guy, here, says that, for sure, the woman I dated -- and I'd been without a date for two years -- she's probably keeping up with it, too. I don't know -- she hasn't said anything. Otherwise, I don't think anybody else here is keeping up with it -- not that I know of -- not anybody I know.

See you. And I'll let you know about the picture. Thanks, again -- that is exciting -- sooo exciting. I hope I get to meet him. I'm going for Bremer right now. And I've got a few things planned -- to take my "We Got Him" hat with me, and pull it out, as I approach him, and to say a few things, too. I love that guy, too -- he's quite a hero -- doing great stuff. The law/women's person in the office just saw him a few days ago, and says he's tired, said Iraqis are really hard to work with. He apparently had a little heart trouble, too, the other day.

Hey -- you've just helped me with more blog-posting -- thanks, Karen. Keep writing me, and adding to my blog -- thanks.
By the way, a hearty birthday wish, to prisoner number 00000001. Happy Birthday! They may be waiting for you at Baghdad University's Center for International Studies, where, today, Dr. Moumin noticed about half a dozen of your pictures, stacked on the floor behind the flip chart next to the front dais. Happy Birthday, and many happy returns.
Another e-mail, this one about my latest solo trek:
Monday morning, 10:24.
I walked to work this morning -- by myself -- something I'm not supposed to do.

Listen to your uncle, for several reasons I can think of.....not the least of which is respect. You are now in Rome:-)

Keep Safe, and Keep writing,

My reply:
Yeah, you're right, Doug -- but....he ditched me, and it was past 10, and...I've got sooo much to do -- can't wait [and such important things, too].

But you're right. I'm working on it -- my insubordination, and impatience.

Thanks for the advice. See you.
With respect to the formal titles used here, before a person's first name -- about which I wrote, last week -- I got this e-mail, from my friend Alaaddin, in Holland.
Subj: Prof. Dr. Ing.
Date: 4/22/2004 4:01:18 AM Eastern Daylight Time

I remember complaining to a colleague here about the titles used in Holland (central and Eastern Europe) before the names, like "Professor," "Doctor," "Engineer," and how formal they are. He replied, "When I was in Burkina Faso, every one used the title of Doctor before his first name!" To be fair, people here are not as formal among colleagues, family or friends, only among "strangers". But we use "doctor" even among family and with some veneration. I call a man 30 years my senior (a former Iraqi general or prime-minister who is, as it happened, a dear friend of my late father)
[by his first name, or Abu-something?, a nickname] and he responds, "Ahlan, Dr Alaa'." I keep skipping these "addressing titles" but to no avail. I keep telling them, "Bayn al-Ahbaab tisqut al-Alqaab (originally al-Adaab)." [Between loved ones, the titles fall (originally, "manners fall")]

* * *
After I got that e-mail, as two of the women filed out of the office, each said "bye, oos'taath Ayad" [Mr.; literally, teacher]. I responded to each, "bye, oos'tathah" so-and-so. The second woman objected -- that it didn't matter, that I could go on, saying whatever I wanted.
I was kidnapped again, today. Not as pleasant as the last kidnapping.

I was waiting for my uncle to drive me to work. I'd been waiting impatiently, as he and his sister reviewed family history, over the breakfast table -- going back to the 19th Century -- who married whom, where some ancestral property was in Hilla, who had what business, who died when. The discussion may have started with my father's certificate of citizenship (from 1951), which my uncle brought down, so I can use it to get an Iraqi ID. I was very antsy. I'd finished breakfast, half an hour before, and wanted to get to the office -- lots to do -- write this blog, read the student papers for the contest, maybe stop by a bureau for a fax number, get my hair cut. It's all about me. As my uncle and I were about to leave the house, a friend from the office was knocking on the window, tapping his watch at me. When my uncle opened the door, my friend teased him about my tardiness. "What's going on?" I asked. "C'mon, we have to be at the university now. We were supposed to meet at the office at 8:30," he said. It was past nine. I didn't know. Turns out, I had it in my book -- about the 8:30 meeting -- but hadn't checked it. I apologized. "But, what's this about the university?" My friend was wearing a suit and tie. Waiting in the SUV, outside the front gate, was Dr. Moumin, dressed in a sky-blue pant-suit. In front, were two men -- looked serious, like guards. Nobody'd told me about this. I knew we were to evaluate the papers, today, but have been hearing the others talk about going to the university, tomorrow, to announce the awards. Nobody asked me to join them there.

Ready or not, here we come. We drove along, headed to the university -- to hear the students' presentations, for a contest organized by the Iraq Foundation. The papers, by political science graduate students, were to address some aspect of solving conflicts by peaceful means. The students were given some literature about transitional systems, election laws, justice, and peace and reconciliation. There were also books, but the professors said the books would not be of any use, because they were in the American style, and not the European style they were accustomed to. The best I've been able to gather, about this, is that the professors really don't put themselves out much -- for the students -- by learning English and expanding their knowledge-base, and prefer the straightforward, dry approach, over the anecdotal and situational examples offered by many American writers and textbooks.

I felt so unprepared for this. I wasn't suitably dressed. I hadn't shaved, my shoes were dirty, and, most importantly, I hadn't read the papers and I didn't expect to be going to the university, at all. When we arrived at the gates of the university, we stopped, for a search. There were many armed guards. Actually, within this one campus, in the peninsula at the center of Baghdad, are most of the city's universities and colleges. Dr. Moumin pulled out a paper from the head of the university's cultural programs, affording her entry to the campus. A guard asked if there was press. She replied, yes. The driver, front-seat passenger and my fellow jurors got out of the car, and had their bags searched. I didn't, and was skipped. The guards asked if we had weapons -- we didn't. Last October, Dr. Moumin was in a class at a teacher-training center. The next day, she learned that half an hour after her class let out, a bomb was discovered in the building's library, one floor above. Before that, a bomb was discovered in the library of the communications college.

As we made our way to the university's Center for International Studies, one young man approached Dr. Moumin about one of the NGO courses offered at the Iraq Foundation. Another man inquired about the two strangers on campus. She explained our purpose, and invited him to join us. She said he was probably security. After the presentations, as we made our way back to the car, the students sitting on the stairs and ledges followed me with their glances, and possibly my Iraqi-American and Iraqi peers, too.

Only four of the 12 student-writers showed up, to present their papers. Reaching the school was reportedly a problem for some of the absentees. One of the presenters did an outstanding job -- he of the 112-pager "Problematics for the Democratic Model in Settling International Disputes." A line in his paper -- "no freedom without democracy, and no democracy without freedom" -- he said he arrived at from the writings of Alexis de Tocqueville. He had an Assyrian Christian name. The other presenters were a Kurdish man, an Arab man and an Arab woman, unveiled. The latter argued that Iraq was under a colonial rule. The Kurdish presenter cited the settlement of the Spanish-Moroccan dispute over the Parsley Islands (called Layla Islands, in Arabic). That reminded me of a Republican Jewish Coalition meeting in Cleveland, in which Harry Saltzberg spoke about the two parties appealing to the U.S. State Department, for mediation.

There was quite a bit of sloganeering, including from the professors in the audience. One of my fellow jurors, an Iraqi American from the Golden State, got into it with two of the presenters -- about Israel, and about the nature of the American presence in Iraq -- whether it's an occupation or a colonization. He says he wanted to give them some shock therapy, to get them out of the bland statements. He says that's what he wants to do in Iraq -- teach people to express their opinions, their points of view. He did this during his teacher-training workshops around the country. He'd ask them for their opinions, but they'd offer up mostly slogans and be reticent to offer an opinion. Over a week, he'd persist, and, slowly, they'd start opening up, and by the end, thoroughly enjoy it.

Today, he kept asking a presenter and a professor in the audience their opinion about whether the American presence was an occupation or a colonization. He wanted to conduct a survey of the attendants -- it didn't happen. His respondents replied, "This is a fact." He'd ask them for their opinion, and it went on like that, with an opinion, almost impossible to extract. My two peers felt the professors didn't like the students being permitted to offer views -- this included a professor telling one of the presenters, a doctoral student, that he was theorizing, that he didn't have a right to do that. Dr. Moumin, a law professor, said giving a point of view would get a student a zero grade. The students, according to my peers, enjoyed the opportunity. One student praised the panelists for the discussion, and asked permission to applaud, starting a round of applause. The Californian found that astounding -- that a student would ask permission to applaud. Dr. Moumin said students weren't allowed to applaud, weren't allowed to do anything, and what we did today -- the opportunity the students had, today -- was a first. There were about 40 students and professors in attendance. The student who applauded our efforts, also said, during the discussion about occupation-versus-colonization: "We welcome democracy, no matter how it comes."

With another presenter, my Golden State peer took issue with the student's premise -- that only democracies can settle disputes peacefully. Among his examples to the contrary, he offered the 1975 Algiers Accord between Iraq and Iran, and Israel's dispute with the Palestinians. The student said Israel wasn't a state, nor a democracy, that it "was implanted" in the Arab world. I stayed out of that discussion. After the presentations, I shared with that student a quote from Chou En Lai, foreign minister of the PRC, who, when asked his assessment of the French Revolution, replied, "It's too early to tell." He then asked me if Israel was a state. I tried to turn it back on him, but he pressed me. I said, Why not? He repeated, that "it's implanted." I said, Well, we're all implanted, created out of something.

Tuesday, April 27, 2004

I've long asked my old officemate Ali to introduce me to American soldiers. He sees them often, and talks with 'em -- apparently knows his way around, so he can talk with them, can get into a position to talk with 'em. It used to be, people were very friendly with the soldiers. This went on for the first couple of months, I'm told, after liberation. Then, when the attacks started taking place -- after Saddam's former people organized themselves, later joined by the bin Laden-types -- people became afraid to be seen mingling with soldiers. I'm told that soldiers used to hang around on the main streets and in the markets, for a couple hours, chatting, being friendly with people, especially kids -- used to hand out candy and gum to the children, who'd wave and cheer them on. Now, both sides avoid each other. My uncle says the soldiers have been instructed to avoid fratrenizing, for their own safety, and for the Iraqi civilians'.

Yesterday, Ali approached me, again, with a "golden" opportunity to meet the soldiers, but I was in the middle of something, and couldn't break away. Plus, my camera's batteries are dead, and I wouldn't have been able to take pictures with them, and my "We Got Him" cap.
I'm getting scared, again. Yesterday evening, my uncle, his wife and his son were at it, trying to get me to stay at home -- that is, not go to the office. I'm sorry, I know this is not what you bargained for, but that's all I have. I looked in my stockroom, and I ain't got anything else. Actually, I do have a few things on the shelf, but...first things, first.

They're trying to impress upon me, how much the Iraq Foundation is targeted, because it is a group advocating and promoting democratic practices and principles. My cousin said that one of the teachers who comes in for training, could be a Ba'thi, or could talk about the training to former colleagues, and, so on and so on, until, word reaches the decision-makers of the terrorism -- the ones who decide where to bomb, what to blow up -- and..."Bob's your uncle" (British saying).

I made my arguments for continuing to go to the office -- getting out, the advantages of mixing with people, the work envirnoment (see yesterday's post). I appreciated their concern, but responded, How long are we gonna run, be afraid. My uncle said that I don't have to be on the front lines of the battle. There was a compromise offered -- for me to go to the office, every other day. Stay tuned.

We stopped off at a bakery, to pick up some bread -- we got a thicker pita, roughly the shape of an elongated diamond. We got 20 loaves. My cousin said the guy who runs the place used to be a security agent. They're all over the place -- these Amn (Security/Secret Police) and Mukhabarat (Intelligence/terrorism) people. I guess they'll be there, for years to come -- won't disappear overnight.

This morning, I shared with Dr. Moumin my family's fears. She said, we're 65 percent safe; 35 percent, at risk. Those aren't very good odds.

Well -- what can we do? Hope for the best -- that's my solution -- my non-solution solution.
This morning, I asked one of the law graduates in the office where the law school was. As she described the location, I went to the map of Baghdad hanging on the wall. She found that a novelty, using a map. They didn't exist in Iraq, before. Maps were illegal. Likewise, the weather forecasts on television and in the newspaper were made, without maps.

"Baghdad Without a Map" -- a great book by Tony Horwitz. I've been recommending a chapter in that book for a dozen years, to get a feel for what life was like in Iraq.

Till next time.
A couple of days ago, another friend asked me about dating and sex in America. My "it depends" answer didn't please him. He wanted to hear that, by asking a stranger in the street, you could get a date, and that once you get a date, you'd be able to go to bed with her. This line of inquiry was prompted by his conversations with American soldiers, whom he taught that you couldn't speak with a woman passing by in the street in Iraq. He got, from them, that in America, one could do that, and ask her for a date. I placed some qualifiers on these assumptions.

I was also told a story about a man who works in an American military base. This man was helping design a building, and asked the commander what a paticular room was for. The commander told the man that the room was for the three women in the office with them, and that "maybe we'll put you in there, too." The four Americans laughed. The Iraqi was mightily embarrassed. The person who related this to me, was astounded that men and women could talk that way with each other -- and openly, at that. I told him that's the great thing about America -- the openness, the freedom to engage in almost any type of conversation -- although, "it depends."

* * *

Speaking of which, a brief, and pretty simple, observation: I'm pretty sure that sexual repression, here, leads to hasty and early marriages. The man -- after a while, combined with inadequate familiarity between the two -- gets tired of the woman, and, no doubt, vice versa. They go off in their own directions, spend most of their time with friends, and, for the man, possibly with other lovers. The general condition is that people don't fully mature -- at least, not enough to be adequately prepared to marry, to make an informed decision about marriage -- if such a state exists. As a result of all this, a simple solution for most people is to completely suppress the sexual drive, and the sexual being.

* * *

Maybe in connection with this, my CDs of Aretha Franklin, Satchmo and Joe Williams are making the rounds in the office. The guys love them.

* * *

We now return to the dating game, already in progress.

When last we met, Ayad -- yours truly -- had gone on a lunch date with Layla -- last Friday. Next up, he thought, was a dinner, as suggested by his uncle.

Layla, on seeing my last post about our date, said she couldn’t go to dinner -- that her father would be worried about her, being out late. I suggested, we make it an early dinner. To that, my uncle and aunt said, in essence, “Are you crazy? You can’t go out for dinner -- you’d be out at night -- that’s too dangerous.”

Then, Layla suggested inviting me and my uncle to tea, or lunch, at her home -- her parents' home. My uncle was good freinds with her father’s brother -- although the brothers apparently had a falling out. Hmmm -- about the invitation to her house -- with her father -- I'm worried. I also suggested an outing with her son, too -- to an amusement park, or whatever he likes. I might’ve jumped the gun, there -- too far, too fast. Don’t you agree? I'm afraid of what all this means. She (Layla), and my uncle and aunt, who are encouraging the match -- all say, "nothing to it" -- that I shouldn't worry -- it shouldn't be read as anything other than two families visiting each other. I don't know about that. It feels like more to me, and I'm worried about any consequence, the ramifications of all this, especially to her, and her father, and maybe my family -- my relatives -- too. It's a bit like, fifty years ago in America, when a man got a woman pregnant, and had to marry her. I feel like I might be in that kind of trap.

After work yesterday, Layla dropped by, and although I was just going to show her my uncle's house, so she could pick me up, the next morning, she kidnapped me. My first kidnapping, I believe -- her first, too. We picked up her son from his after-school tutor, and then went for ice cream. All, nice -- so far, so good. He's a cute, chubby 8-year-old -- pretty outgoing. When I think of him, I recall that I was a year older than him when we left Baghdad for Cleveland. I am worried, though, that I'm moving too fast. Layla reassures me, that all's, all right.

On our drive through a suburban market, we passed two groups of four women window-shopping together. All were unveiled. Layla told me that women, for their safety, go out shopping as a group.

We also passed a stand that sold masks, among other things. I wondered if masks of Saddam were sold. Layla said that sellers fear they could get hit, for making fun of Saddam. Too early, I guess -- situation, still tenuous. Those Saddam agents -- still out there.

* * *

Speaking of which, my uncle related an incident from two days ago. He was making his way to his downtown office, and came upon a confrontation between a policeman and a taxi driver -- in front of the Baghdad Museum, on the RiSaafa side of Martyrs' Bridge (so named, according to a workmate, for the 1967 war, in which 10 Iraqi soldiers died). The cab driver was blocking the road, causing heavy congestion, and was in violation of a traffic rule -- "a major infraction," my uncle said. The traffic cop ordered him to move, but the cabbie wouldn't budge. He signalled to the policeman, who was already heated, that he'd pay him a bribe. That enraged the officer even more: "We don't need bribes anymore, we get paid enough now -- you, trying to corrupt us." The taxi driver, holding his position, said, "Why don't you do something -- go execute Saddam?" The patrolman shot back: "I'll execute you and Saddam." People around the scene felt for the officer, sided with him and tried to calm him down, ease his burden. He'd boiled over, though, and was now in full bloom, delivering a tirade against Iraqis like this driver -- that they'll always be like this, corrupt, cheating, lying, good-for-nothing, destructive. Another patrolman arrived, using a calmer approach. My uncle left the scene, but on retelling the story, this morning, wished the aggrieved officer had pulled out his gun and shot the driver in the head.

My uncle told this story as we pulled up to a photo studio, where I took some passport photos, so I can get an Iraqi ID. This shop, like most photographers in Baghdad, is run by Armenians. Next door, there was a fruit stand, and they had tuk'kee, a berry unique to the region. It's light-green, has the texture of blackberries, although a little softer and sweet. We got some, and took a bag to another uncle's and one for me.
Yesterday, the new Iraqi flag was unveiled. It's a light-blue crescent moon (for Islam) on a white background (for peace), above a base of three horizontal stripes -- a yellow stripe (the Kurdish color) sandwiched between two blue stripes, for the Tigris and Euphrates rivers. Gone are the red, black and green, and stars, of Arabdom. Some have said, good riddance to things Arab. Two workers here just said, separately and in displeasure, that it looks like the Israeli flag. To which charge, another person responded, "When are they gonna quit [with that talk]?" The official spokesman of the Iraqi Governing Council (IGC), which chose the winner from 30 entrants, denies any resemblance between the Iraqi and Israeli flags (Arabic article). One person in the office said he was depressed -- that it was ugly, that the colors were pale, that the words "Allahu Akbar" (God is Greater) must remain (inserted into the previous flag by Saddam's own hand, in 1991), and that he'd prefer the American flag. For the seal of the new state, the first republican flag, designed by the late artist Jawad Salim, has been restored. It's a circle, radiating eight red, pointy cones, interspersed with eight sets of three wavy golden lines. At the top of the inside circle are the words, in Arabic, "The Iraqi Republic," and at the bottom, the date of the anti-monarchy revolution, July 14, 1958. Two swords hug the inside of the circle, and at its center is a grain of wheat on a blue background inside a black gear, representing industry. The new flag was designed by top architect Rif'at Chadirchi, whose brother, IGC member NaSeer Chadirchi, headed the flag-selection committee. Some Iraqis, including IGC members, say that the council should be occupied with other matters and should have proceeded with greater deliberation. One argument for the quick adoption is the upcoming Olympic games in Athens, at which the foreign minister, Hoshyar Zeybari, a Kurd, will represent Iraq. Kurds feel they are not represented in Iraq's prior flag and aren't flying it. The selected flag is to fly over government buildings in the next few days, and is to be voted on by the elected parliament.
My mother's relative who was kidnapped last Friday, was shuffled around a bit. There seems to be a hostage market, somewhere. His kidnappers sold him to another group for $50,000; the second group, which may have been the one that asked for $400,000, got $80,000 and two cars -- all in one day. Another day, another dollar. A pretty penny, for a day's work.

Monday, April 26, 2004

In some late-breaking political news, I was told last night, via an inside source, that the prime minister of the caretaker Iraqi government that's to take over, June 30, will be Adil Abdul-Mehdi. Mehdi is the top adviser to Abdil-Azeez il-Hakeem, a member of the Governing Council, representing the Iran-backed Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq. Mehdi, considered a moderate, was a publisher and writer in France before returning to Iraq a year ago. Because of a confrontation he had with Saddam, he's obtained a reputation as a tough man, something Iraqis like. After the capture of Saddam, Mehdi was one of six Iraqi politicians who went to identify the prisoner in his cell. Saddam was defiant and aggressive with everyone. Mehdi, however, reportedly told Saddam to be quiet, that he's the accused and therefore shouldn't be asking questions; we ask the questions, he reportedly said -- you only answer them.

However, in the papers today, reports have Adnan Pachachi as the president, and Sharif Ali (an heir to the former monarch), as prime minister. The government, the papers say, will be announced next week. Meanwhile, Shi'as are insisting that a Shi'a be the prime minister.
Things seem pretty quiet today. The worker here who drives from out of town -- and reported yesterday that there was terrible congestion and a heavy military presence on the roads out of the city -- said today that roads were pretty normal, and that people, for the second day in a row, were going to school en masse, as opposed to last week; this, she said, means "they're feeling safe."

The weather's gorgeous, too -- not too hot, with a soft breeze. Let's see how long this lasts -- I hope it's not the calm before the storm.
I was asked a few days ago by Dr. Moumin, head of the law and women's sections of the Iraq Foundation, to speak at a session of the constitutional course the foundation offers for women; no details, yet, and I don't know if I should -- why not. Yesterday, she asked me to be a juror on an essay contest the foundation is holding for political science graduate students, on democracy. The top three essays' writers get desktop computers. I was given two papers to review -- a 100-page paper titled "The Obstacles of the Democratic Model in the Contemporary Regimes" (the word "regimes" usually refers to Arab governments) and a 50-page paper, "The Settlement of International Disputes by Peaceful Means." Tomorrow, we three -- proud and few -- are to discuss the papers.

To which, I must now turn -- after checking e-mail.
Well -- I just found out, from my old officemate Ali, that there was a bit of a storm, not too far from here. In Aamiriyya, a residential part of Baghdad, there was a large explosion at 10:30 on the main highway that runs through the area. It caused a large pane of glass in an upper-floor window of Ali's house to burst -- nobody, hurt. The highway is used extensively by the American military, and, although Ali didn't see the actual explosion-site, he did see, from his taxi above the highway, on the Embassies Bridge, four or five tanks, about 20 Humvees and six civilian SUVs parked along the highway, with crews of what looked like bomb experts scouring the road. Ali's taxi driver told him that there was another large explosion at 6:30 in the morning. Ali saw a plume of smoke in the distance, which, according to our head of security, who just walked in, is "an attack on A'dhamiyya" (part of Baghdad). Yesterday's explosions and clashes in Sadir City (part of Baghdad) caused, by various accounts, 13 to 18 deaths.
Last night, after my uncle and aunt picked me up, we made several stops, before heading home. The time was 8:30. First we stopped at my aunt's daughter's apartment. She grew up in Lebanon and married an Iraqi man a couple of months ago. She's looking for work, and her mother told her than an uncle had something for her, and she would be picked up the next afternoon for an interview/get-acquainted session. The uncle who drove us, waited in the car, reading the newspaper. On the street -- the main street of Mansour (our neighborhood) -- there was a lot of activity. Quite a few large rotisseries -- five or six skewers, each -- were roasting chickens on the sidewalk, people were drinking tea -- almost all, men. Shops were open -- women's clothing, ice cream, small groceries, rugs, jewelry. Things looked pretty normal. Traffic was extremely congested. My aunt said there are a million new cars in Iraq. I said that her brother, our driver, said the number was half a million. It looks like the total number of cars on the streets now, is one million to one-and-a-half million, with 500,000 of them, new -- a 50 percent increase, or a doubling of the number, from a year ago. According to another source, in Baghdad alone, there were, as of one year ago, 350,000 private cars, 250,000 taxis, 350,000 government cars and 100,000 military vehicles -- for a total of 1.05 million vehicles. Nearly all the government and military vehicles were destroyed, stolen or smuggled out of the country, the stealing and smuggling, done mostly in organized stick-ups by the Kurdish parties. As a result, most of the taxis in Kurdistan are reportedly Toyota Cedrics and Avalons, which were given by Saddam as bonuses to loyalists. In the last year, 208-250 thousand new cars have entered the Baghdad area, which represents about half the drivership of the whole country. After we drove away from my cousin's apartment building, a couple of young guys were guiding traffic through the gridlock. My uncle said they were more courageous than the police.

Next, we stopped at an international-calling center, for my aunt to call her husband and daughter in Lebanon and her daughter and niece in America. It's a little shop, that mainly sells copied music CDs and cassettes -- mostly Arabic, and a few "ro'maan'siyyaat" (romantic) mixtures. The hip crowd, listen to Yanni and Julio Iglesias. In addition, the place sells cell phones -- two kinds (I'm looking for a phone) -- and cell-phone accessories. International calls, anywhere, were 500 dinars (35 cents) per minute.

Finally, we stopped at the nearby money-change store belonging to my uncle's son-in-law. His place is spanking clean, and he's undertaking an expansion, to triple its size, and offer banking services. With the expansion, he'll have to hire security guards. Next door, was a store familiar to me, from America -- the kind of dollar store that sells anything and everything. This one had bicycles, kitchenware, children's games, school supplies, picture frames, Syrian-made backgammon sets, side-tables and chests, and the tallest porcelain Chinese vase I'd ever seen. The place was clean and had decent-looking stuff. I was looking for a pair of small scissors -- mine was confiscated at Kennedy airport -- and a cell phone. The store had maybe 20 kinds of cell phones, ranging in price from $59 to around $500. My problem might be solved, though, as my aunt volunteered to let me use her phone, since she rarely uses it, and will be leaving the country in a month's time -- to visit her daughter in Cleveland.
Monday morning, 10:24.

I walked to work this morning -- by myself -- something I'm not supposed to do. My alarm clock didn't go off -- looks like it's broken -- and I got up at nearly nine o'clock. My uncle was waiting for me, but after I finished breakfast, he was gone. I checked at my cousins' homes, across the front yard -- no cars, no body. So, I decided to walk. I went back to the house, told my aunt. Just then, another cousin called; she said she'd send a car from her husband's work to pick me up. It's barely a five-minute walk to work, through three street-turns -- all homes, some occupied by guarded embassies; it's very safe -- but.... My aunt, and cousin on the phone, kept pressing me to wait for a ride. It was ten o'clock, and I wanted to get to work. I told 'em I was gonna walk -- I just wasn't going to wait another fifteen minutes, half-an-hour, for a two-minute ride. So, I walked -- no trouble -- and called home, once I arrived. Sad, though.

I remembered that when I walked this same route with my old officemate Ali, he had me walk to his side away from the street.

Sunday, April 25, 2004

News update: I learned yesterday evening that my mom's relative who was kidnapped, Friday, was released later that day, for $80,000 and two cars. The cars, apparently, were worth as much as, if not more than, the cash.

When my mother told me the news of the kidnapping, yesterday morning from America, she was worried about me, too. I told her we've got guards. "Still, be careful, my son." My uncle is worried, too. He says he's always been worried about the Iraq Foundation, which another relative headed, from 1991 until last fall. We're an easy target, he says -- that it wouldn't take much, to pick us off -- just an RPG from a passing car on the main street, which is in sight. There used to be a sign, on the main street, pointing the way to the foundation. That was quickly taken down. Then, within a couple of weeks of the foundation's relocation, to this space, some 10 days before I arrived, they took down the sign on the outside wall. To some, the mere mention of human rights, democracy, women's rights, educational reform -- or anything that bespeaks them -- is considered a Zionist front, an agent of American influence and imperialism.

That reminds me of an article I just started reading, a review of Hitler's second book. The echoes are resounding -- the fear of a "pure blood," a superior strain, getting soiled and corrupted by foreign influence. The article, "Did Hitlerism die with Hitler?," is by Omer Bartov -- it's a long one -- my printout is 17 pages. It first appeared in The New Republic (February 2 issue), but there's a charge for opening TNR's version. It reviews "Hitler's Second Book: The Unpublished Sequel to Mein Kampf," edited by Gerhard L. Weinberg, in which Hitler pretty much lays out his plans, which he then tried to carry out, as prescribed in his book. An implicit admonition in the article is to take what fanatics say seriously -- deadly seriously. "Some people mean what they say, and say what they will do, and do what they said."

With regard to my safety, my uncle added that his brother, who was staying at the Palestine Hotel a few months ago, just escaped a rocket attack there, where he, his wife and daughter were staying, one floor from the main damage. So, my uncle suggested I go to the office, less, and work more from his son's house, next door, where there's a computer. Actually, the house is across the front yard, within the walled lot. I don't want to quit the office, which affords me a daily outing, a workspace, a professional environment, quicker wireless connection, backup genrator, friendly folk, source of news, bonhomie and camaraderie (pardon my French). He says, work isn't everything. This is not America -- we don't have to do everything fast. More important, is safety. I agreed with him, but also told him that it's difficult, and I'd think about it. It's a bit tricky, with advice in the tribe. When it's given, especially from an elder, implied, is an order. That's even moreso, when one asks for advice. Well, it's not a done-deal, yet -- he's left it up to me.

On another advice matter, a cousin's son stopped by the office, and we arranged to go out, tomorrow evening, at seven o'clock. When I told my uncle and aunt, they said, no way -- can't go out at night. I had to listen to them -- that is, obey their guidance, even though it may very well be safe, as my cousin's son said. That's the way, with advice from an elder of the tribe. if you don't take it, you've insulted them, offended them. In a similar vein, a relative across town said I shouldn't go to his place, until I've acquired an Iraqi ID. He runs a hospital and drives to and from work in a two-car, armed convoy, traveling at traffic-free times, and, I suppose, traffic-free roadways -- or, at least, ones where the cars can move fast. He added, yesterday, that they're switching cars, too, to avoid detection. It's become a big racket -- kidnapping-for-ransom -- and very well organized. Hence, conclude many, it must be the work of former security agents, who then, use the money to finance the terrorism -- er, "resistance."

The cousin's son who stopped by, came from England last year, and is working with a local ad agency. The agency carried out UNICEF's work in Iraq and did work for Sesame Street of Jordan. The young man came over, to show me a proposal he's working on, for a campaign to counteract the negative media coverage of Iraq by the Arab and foreign media, which is creating hostility and cynicism among Iraqis towards America and the chances for progress and democracy. I just read an article, showing a byproduct of that negative coverage. An article by Dr. Susan Block, a California radio sex-therapist, titled "Rape of Iraq," makes a detailed analogy of the U.S. invasion/liberation of Iraq with the act of rape, and the attitudes of rapist-to-raped, and vice versa. Media in Arab and Islamic countries, and even in the West, ran wild with that story, eventually disseminating reports that American and British troops were raping thousands of Iraqi women and girls. As a result, a Turkish man was motivated to kill himself, along with a dozen others, by blowing up the British HSBC bank in Istanbul, last December. That's one example of distorted "news" -- one I just came across, in my readings. There are many others. Last Wednesday, five car bombs hit three police stations in Basra, killing 68 people. Many people are convinced that Brits struck the stations with rockets.

Back to my safety, and the office I work in. Yesterday, I went out of the office -- alone -- to a kiosk on the corner, at the intersection of two side streets. For a while, I've been wanting to buy some snacks, to keep at my desk, for in-between meals. These improvised sidewalk shops, Iraqis call, a chum'ber -- that's the French chambre, as translated, then rendered, in Iraqi Arabic. They're all over the place -- of varying sizes, and selling cigarettes, drinks and snacks. Iraqis say theirs is "the land of a million chumbers" (ba'led il-mil'yon chum'ber). In Saddam's time, it is said, all the sellers worked as government informers. It's certainly possible that they've continued, for one group or another, and might keep a lookout for foreigners in their zone of operations. I wondered if my presence has been registered -- by one of these kiosk workers.
Now, a few tidbits.

The big news these days is, the possible return of the Ba'ath to power -- not Saddam and his party, but some of his bureaucrats, technocrats and party apparatchiks. On television this morning, they had a man-in-the-street segment, and they were split, three-three, on whether it's okay to bring back mid-to-top-level officials.

* * *

An article in yesterday's al-SabaaH (the CPA paper) announced that 1.5 million new job opportunities will be available in the next few weeks. I thought, boy, if word of this gets back to America, the anti-Bush crowd is really gonna have a field day with that, and the American economy. "We're losing our jobs, and they're being outsourced -- to Iraq -- with our money."

* * *

An officemate reported this morning that, on the way to the office, there was extraordinary military presence and movement. The Dora intersection is blocked by the army. Heavy activity began yesterday in the Sadir part of Baghdad, and was moreso, today. The land vehicles were headed out of town, possibly toward Falluja or Kerbala. The helicopters were headed to Sadir City, which used to be called Revolution City, after 1958, was renamed Saddam City, then, after his fall, took on the names of Moqtada's uncle and father, two top clerics, killed by Saddam in 1980 and 1998, respectively. Yesterday, there was more than one explosion there.

* * *

More items for my top-ten list.

You know you've been in the Arab world too long, when:

It's easy to compliment a girl's looks and smell -- and to call her a girl.

You know you've been in the Arab world too long, when:

You sleep through the pre-dawn call to prayer, or it doesn't bother you anymore.

You know you've been in the Arab world too long, when:

You start involuntarily saying, "Wallah" (By God).

* * *

I say "Wow" a lot. Iraqis don't say "Wow." Instead, they might say, "A'way'lee!" or "Hey, now!" Just kidding -- about the last one. Actually, I've got quite a few people in the office, now, saying "Hey now!" "Ta2" and "NICE!"

* * *

I slept too much, last night -- or, like my cousin's boy's joke says, about the broom that was late for work, I overswept -- and I don't feel like working, I keep yawning, and stretching. So, I just went to the kitchen, got me a cup of tea and a glass of water [this was mid-morning]. Huda and her daughter Lana are fixing lunch -- biryani, an Indian-type dish of rice with fried potatoes, sauteed onions, chicken or meat, almonds (boiled, peeled and slivered), raisins, eggs (hard-boiled), peas, and boiled carrots. One of the law graduates here says, with the inclusion of carrots, it's no longer biryani, but Taa-cheena. Well, I'm not gonna settle that difference. Huda was giving Lana instructions in Assyrian, a language very close to Aramaic, which was spoken by Jesus. It's actually a dialect of it, if I'm not mistaken, and there are places in Iraq, where you can find Aramaic spoken. I hope to visit one of these places.

* * *

I have lots more I started to write about -- we've got views on dating and sex in America, sexual repression here -- I mean, here -- comparisons of Hitler and Saddam, Saddam's trial, Aretha Franklin -- but I wanna get this off, ASAP. I started this, some eight hours ago -- you see what you're getting for your money.

There's even a weather report -- actually, a small update.

Yesterday's windstorm toppled a tree in my uncle's backyard -- fell into the yard -- no damage done. I was gonna say, a "tree fell in...," as my uncle has, on his bookshelves, A Tree Fell in Brooklyn; I'd like to read that. This morning, while waiting for him to give me a ride, I picked up a very dusty copy of Edward Gibbon's The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire -- definitely should read that. Back to our weather update: The guards yesterday, sitting in their room inside the front gate, had their hair speckled, off-white.

That's all the news that was. Give us eight hours; we'll give you...a sliver of...truth -- the world.

Saturday, April 24, 2004

Another addition, to my top-ten list:

You know you've been in the Arab world too long, when:

You think, Yeah, it's all right going to sleep really early and waking up before even the pre-dawn call to prayer.

[For Chrissake, would you -- for just one time -- put a lid on it.]

About which, I learned that a relative who lived abroad, used to rent a place in a heavily Christian part of town on visits, to avoid the pre-dawn call to prayer. Mosques have multiplied dramatically in the city.
As I said yesterday, my uncle was supposed to drop me off at the office, but couldn't, because an 84-year-old cousin had died overnight. They had to prepare the body for burial -- must be done, as quickly as possible -- and then drove to Najaf, to the large cemetery there. After returning, last night -- three-hour drive, each way -- he said that all was well -- as far as conditions in Najaf and the South -- that there was nothing, no trouble at all. They were sitting in a restaurant in Najaf, and saw on one of the Arab satellite stations that Najaf was ablaze. One of the waiters came by, and, seeing the TV, asked, "Where's that?"

On hearing my uncle's positive report, I asked, if maybe it's all right for me to go to Hilla (near the ruins of Babylon) and see the 15-year-old girl who's had thalassimia (a blood disorder) since infancy -- she needs a bone-marrow transplant operation. My uncle said, yeah, fine, as long as the girl's father picks me up, which he's offered to do. That was a change of tune, on his part -- up until now, I've been instructed not to leave the city, and not to go anywhere on my own. He did add, though, that I should get an Iraq ID, first.

Stay tuned.

Speaking of going out on my own. Layla, my date yesterday, mentioned a book she'd like to find, and that she might be able to find it at Mutannabi Street, but, as it's downtown, and she's a..."she," she can't make it on her own. I wondered, if I joined her, then it might be all right -- that we'd each be a kind of "protection" for the other.

At work today, I mentioned this to my old officemate, Ali. He laughed at me. "You'd both be targets." The situation reminded him of an Iraqi saying, about a robin and a sparrow, who each insure the other, yet both can fly.

We'd be quite a pair, huh?
I'm catching up on old e-mail -- way behind, as usual.

Just came across this one -- about demonstrations around the world against the "Iraq war" -- but not in Iraq -- no such demonstrations, here. "No friends but the Americans."
It's very windy here, which kicks up a lot of dust -- gets in your eyes, even into your throat a bit. The world's sort of turned white. The palm fronds are blowing every which way -- looks nice, actually. And everything gets dirty. My cousin's husband washed his car, Thursday afternoon, as he does every week -- only to see it get all dusted up, as it rained a bit, then the winds kicked the sand everywhere. That's the dangerous combination -- for stuff -- water and sand. He washed it, again, Friday, the day off, and it was okay, this morning. Not anymore, I'm sure.
A pair of William Safire pieces: first, his summary of the scandal surrounding the U.N.'s oil-for-food program. Then, in "Scandal With No Friends," a play on the saying about the Kurds -- "no friends but the mountains" -- he describes the "multination cover-up of the richest rip-off in world history."

Nice! You gotta love Safire, and his way with words -- take that, all you nattering nabobs of negativism.
Farther afield, we have Claudia Rosett's piece on Libya, and a human rights activist there. Rosett's done some great work on corruption in the U.N.'s oil-for-food program in Iraq.
Next door, in the land of the Lion kings, things have been stirring up.
Yesterday, I gave an example of Saddam's primitive tribal beliefs, vis a vis women. I wrote that Saddam appeared on television once (well, that's an understatement, isn't it?), and said, "The good and well-mannered girl, shouldn't talk with the neighbor [boy]. If he says hello to her, she should reject him, aggressively." Well, the Arabic version -- "L'bnayya al-Habbaaba wil-mu'ad'daba ma-tiH'chee wiyyal-jeeraan. I'tha y'sellim alayha, laazim tridda, bi-shidda" -- is really more insulting and belittling than its English translation. The adjective "Habbaaba" (meaning "good" or "nice") is mostly used for children, and, even then, is often used in a condescending way.

While I'm on the subject, I was corrected about Saddam's adoption of Wahhabism. In the nineties, he had a revelation, and proclaimed a "campaign of faithfulness," and took on the guise of that severe, austere form of Islam, while, at the same time, rounding up bearded Sunni men and actual Wahhabis in Baghdad. I'm sure that's not the last we'll hear, about this.
My mother called this morning, and told me that a relative was kidnapped last night, on his way back from his factory, on the outskirts of Baghdad. The kidnappers want $400,000. The hostage's brother asked to deliver some medicine for his brother. He did, in Ramadi, and returned safely.

My uncle then wondered if a relative and another person he knows should hire protection or leave the country, respectively.
This morning, I was sitting in the kitchen, putting together my breakfast -- first time for me -- mango juice, little black olives, chamomile tea, country cheese soaking in hot water and some bread. My aunt walked in. She asked me about Layla. I told her I wanted more liveliness. She said that she'd get more lively if I proposed marriage. I cracked up, and went over to kiss her. She pulled away, and retreated. She'd just done her ablutions, to prepare herself for prayer, and I could not touch her.

After she left, I turned on the CD on my laptop, and out comes, "I love to tell the story" (of Jesus and his love), from the soundtrack of "The Apostle." All I need now, is for a hothead, maybe even one of my relatives here, to come in and hear this. While eating and drinking, I'm reading congressional testimony on Burma by a State Department official, and I think, do Iraqis have the stomach, the inner fortitude -- the fight in 'em -- to make it on their own? So far, they've got America doing the fighting for them, and America will be there, all the way, to help them nurture their democracy. No doubt, though, this will be, essentially, an American-made democracy. Will Iraqis fight for it, make the battle their own, as the Burmese have been doing, on their own, for a couple of decades.

Iraqis have largely been sitting back, waiting and expecting America to do everything for them -- build the country, restore electricity, install the institutions of democracy and civil society -- all, over-night, of course -- from 0-60 in a split-second. This is in keeping with the millennia-old tribal passivity and dependence, and the millennium-old Arab abdication of responsibility for their lot. What a mess!

That's the tip of the iceberg, on that topic, but...enough -- for now.
Back to here and now. The electricity flow has been really good, the past few days. People have been saying, that as the weather heats up, electricity will be rationed to shorter time intervals; that hasn't been the case, the past few days.
About my date, I wrote yesterday, "She did most of the talking." I ought to say: "She had more to say, more to share -- than me." Maybe her story, having lived here all these years, is of more interest to me, than is mine -- to me.

By the way, thanks for not showing up with a video camera, yesterday -- I'd'a popped a cork, if you had. Unless you were that sneaky little one in the corner, who kept peaking out, from behind the newspaper.

After the date, Layla dropped me off at the office, said she had a nice time; I did, too. No goodbye kiss -- I don't think that's gonna happen -- not on the first date, not anytime soon. Maybe it used to, a decade or two ago.

Speaking of which, my uncle's been telling me about the girlfriend he had, when he first got back from U.S.C., in 1956. A woman unknown to him called him at home, said she wanted to see him. She appointed a time and place. "How will I know you?" he asked. "Just be there," she said, "four o'clock, at the stairs" (of the university's science building). She studied chemistry, which I thought was unusual, for a woman, then. He showed up, they met, and then attended a public lecture together. Throughout the lecture, they whispered and joked, "like we've known each other for 20 years." Sitting in front of them was the finance minister, and my uncle thought the minister would turn around and ask 'em to keep the noise and laughter down. For the next six months, the woman would show up at my uncle's family home, and they'd retreat to the garden's plant-enclosed corridor and sit for hours on a swing, necking. She was also of a higher rank in the Ba'ath Party than he. After six months, she asked him if he'd marry her. He said he was too young. She disappeared from his life, until a gathering three years later, at the Egyptian embassy, in which the large Ba'ath contingent called on Abdul-Kareem Qasim, Iraq's ruler, to merge Iraq with Egypt. After that, the two didn't see each other for nearly 40 years.

For my next date, my uncle suggested I take Layla to a restaurant for dinner, and he'd take me there, to preview the place. My adviser friend, though, said the restaurant my uncle has in mind is a family place -- "more suitable for a group outing." He suggested, instead, an old-house-converted-into-an-Italian-restaurant -- yes, they have 'em here, too. My friend said it's more intimate, which I don't necessarily want -- yet. "Don't worry about it," he shot back. "The nicest place here, is like Denny's, in America."

Which brings me to the state of utter deprivation in Iraqi social and cultural life. There is just nothing to do here. For nearly 20 years, there have been few theaters, movie-houses or parks worth going to. Layla said she loves going to movies and plays, but the quality of those in Iraq has been atrocious, for some 20 years. All that's left are porn houses and tawdry plays, the theaters themselves becoming unsafe. Along Abu Nuwas Street, on the Tigris, cheap bars and strip joints have replaced the dozen nice movie theaters, teahouses and family restaurants that existed there until the 1970s. The only exceptions to this barren landscape have been the visual arts and the symphony orchestra, which have persevered, through thick and thin.

Layla's family, like tens of thousands of other middle and upper-class families, used to frequent the membership clubs, for swimming, tennis, dinner, bingo, parties and movies. Those were taken over, in the course of the last quarter-century, by military and security officers, becoming the scenes of shootings and, eventually, meat markets for Uday and Saddam's henchmen. As a result, no self-respecting man would take his family to one of them, to protect his womenfolk, as well as himself. With the fall of Saddam, the incoming political parties took over the clubs, and since their expulsion, all the clubs, except one, have been dormant. In addition, after the Kuwait war, Saddam had an overnight revelation and announced a "campaign of faith," banning bars and discotheques. Unofficial bars operated, though, but were of the seediest variety. That pushed drinkers into a parking lot near the Jaadriya bridge, which became an outdoor liquor store and drug market, eventually broken up by the police. Since Saddam's ouster, these places multiplied. Nearby residents asked the American authorities to intervene, leading to at least one fatality, since declared by some, a "martyr."

Combined with the video revolution, and, since the fall of Saddam, satellite dishes, people have been driven further into their homes, and those of freinds and family. On top of that, people were prohibited, either by law or economics, from travelong abroad.

Meanwhile, in neighborning Kuwait and Saudi Arabia, there are fancy stores, restaurants, malls and hotels. Kuwait also has a lively theater and movie scene. Likewise, Jordan, not an oil-producing country, and which Iraqis feel has gotten rich off cheap Iraqi oil and labor. Turkey, to the north, is also light-years ahead of Iraq, in all respects. Even in Iran, the Islamic paradise, people frequently go to parks and travel around the country, to tourist sites. In effect, Iraqis have been culturally and socially strangulated, on top of the political repression.
The last couple of days, when I've opened the web-site blogger.com, to do my blogging, I've seen the following message, at the top of their main page:
USA Today--Iraqis enjoy new freedom of expression: "'We suffered for years under Saddam Hussein, not being able to speak out,' says Omar Fadhil, 24, a dentist. 'Now, you can make your voice heard around the world.'" You said it Omar. That's pretty much our whole thing.
Biz [4/20/2004]
I think he's the young Iraqi dentist who does the excellent blog Healing Iraq, at healingiraq.blogspot.com, where he has links to some 20 Iraqi bloggers, as well as 10 Arab/Middle East bloggers, 10 soldiers' blogs and a pair of CPA blogs.

Actually, in looking at Healing Iraq, it appears its author's name is Zeyad, who's about the same age as the Omar quoted above. So, it looks like we've got another smart aleck dentist around here.

Friday, April 23, 2004


I went on my date. Not much "news," to report. It was nice -- we had a nice time. It was a little awkward. We had a bite to eat -- she had a meat sandwich, I had a couple of salads, one with beans, the other with fried eggplant and onion. Plus, we each had a can of 7-Up. We reviewed our histories -- she did most of the talking. The place was fairly empty.

My ride is here -- must go. I'll write more, especially about the depraved state of Iraqi culture, entertainment options.


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