Thursday, May 13, 2004

Those Awful Americans!

Via Andrew Sullivan I came across this blog entry by an Iraqi named Ali, discussing the experiences of his relatives. It's something to keep in mind when one reads posts from the "River Bend Blog" guy exhorting no-good Americans to pull out ASAP. Iraqis, just like Americans, are by no means monolithic in their opinions, and it's sheer stupidity to take one guy's outpourings as the definitive truth about what's going on over there.

Some of the readers may remember me saying something about my uncle. Before the war he was in the same job and he was paid about 15 thousands Iraqi Dinars that was equal to about 7 US$ a month. His wife, who is also a teacher, was paid a little less than that. He has 5 children; one in primary school three in high school and a girl in college. Of course that salary couldn’t help him support his family, yet he didn’t quit it. He always hoped that things would change for the better. In order to meet life's requirements and offer his kids a proper education, he had to work after school. He worked in every kind of business; a taxi driver, a grocer and opened a small shop for a while, but things didn’t go quite well.

He had to sell his car first, then his ‘extra’ refrigerator, then the only refrigerator, then the TV and then and then…. The last time we visited him, I had to hold my tears when I entered his house. There was virtually no furniture there, no chairs, no TV no tables, as they had sold them all, but what shocked me more is that there were no inside doors. He had to sell those too. I mean his house was literally bare. His kids were ashamed of showing because they had nothing proper to wear. It was amazing how he kept honest and didn’t accept bribery from his rich students’ families.

My young cousin is a religious Sunni who goes to the mosque and listens to the cleric there every Friday and believes whatever he says, as he’s still young. My uncle always teased his son about this but never prohibited him from doing that. We were talking about different stuff; the kids’ needs, clerics, Americans and the increase in the average income of most Iraqis. My uncle has a somewhat unusual sense of humor that doesn't fit quite well in his somewhat religious family. He winked at me and turned to his son My uncle had some unusual sense of humor that didn’t fit quite well in his somewhat religious family. He winked at me and turned to his son and asked him "What do you think of the Americans?" His son answered,
"They are occupiers".
"So you think we should fight them?" his father asked.
Ibrahim said "No, but I don’t like them". My uncle said, pretending to change the subject
"Do you like your new computer that no one shares with you?" "Yes of course dad". "Ok, are you satisfied with the satellite dish receiver we have or do you need a better one?"
"This one is fine but I heard there’s a better one that gets more channels"
"ok I’ll get you that next week". Then he said, "Is there anything else you’d like to have son?"
"No dad I have all that I need".
"Ok but how about a car?"
Ibrahim was astounded and said "Really? a..a CAR.. for me!?".
"Of course for you! I'm too old to drive now and my eyes are not that well and you are the older son. So whom else would it be for!?"
"Oh, dad that will be great! When will that happen?"
"Just finish you’re exams and you’ll have it".
"I will dad".
"Are you happy now son?"
"Yes dad, sure I am!"
"Then why do you hate the Americans you son of a b***h!? I couldn’t get you a bicycle a year ago, I could hardly feed you and your brothers and sisters. You didn't know what an apple or a banana tasted like, I couldn’t buy you a damned Pepsi bottle except in occasions, and now you can have all that you wish, and a car of your own! Who do you think made that possible!?"
My cousin's face turned red and didn’t answer as we laughed and I said "What do you think Ibrahim?"
He said, "Well it’s true but it’s our money. They are not giving us a charity" and I said "Of course it’s our money, so let’s forget the Billions of dollars they are giving to rebuild Iraq and the efforts they are making to cut down our debts and lets talk about our money.
Why didn’t your father, I, my brothers and all the Iraqis have anything worth mentioning before the Americans came?"
He said, "Because Saddam used it to buy weapons and build palaces".
"There you have it Ibrahim, but Americans are not touching our money. Can you tell me who’s better; the ‘occupiers’ who are helping us or the ‘patriot’ who did all that you know to us?"
He said in a faint voice "They are better than Saddam but still they are not Muslims".
"So do you want them to be Muslims?" "I wish they were." "Will you fight them to that?" he said, "No, of course not. I don’t like fighting."
We didn’t want to pressure and embarrass him further and didn’t go further, as he’s still young but he’s smart and good-natured and will get it soon.

Amen to that. Reading the New York Times and watching atrocities like the beheading of Nick Berg, it's tempting to come to the conclusion that all Iraqis are just a bunch of savages not worth expending lives and energy on behalf of, so we might as well bring the troops home straight away and leave them to sort themselves out. That sort of thinking is tempting, as I've said, but it is also deeply mistaken. Things in Iraq clearly aren't going as well as one would like, and the failure on the Bush administration's part to come to grips with the implications of the country's ethnic fragmentation is storing up serious trouble for the future; that said, the impression one gets from many on the left of a completely chaotic situation in which things are rapidly going downhill is also far off the mark. Everything must be done to make sure that abuses of the sort documented at Abu Ghraib are not only severely punished but also prevented from happening anywhere again in Iraq, whatever barbarisms might be committed by al-Qaeda and its supporters; but those who shrilly demand that we pull out ASAP must also come to terms with the fact that there are a great many people in Iraq whose well-being will be put in jeopardy should we heed their cry, as all a hasty evacuation would achieve would be the surrender of Iraq's future to the likes of Moqtadr al Sadr and al-Qaeda, which would be a dubious achievement indeed.