Monday, February 23, 2004

Saturday 21/2
Baghdad is about to welcome spring. The gardens are full of beautiful seasonal flowers, of all
kinds and shapes. White butterflies are coming and going in pairs in our garden. They look happy, as
if they are engaging in an exhibition to welcome this season. Spring is short in Iraq, whereas the
summer months are long. In Amman, the winter months are the longest and the summer is short. I
remembered how passed a plant and flower short a day before the war and bought several beautiful
plants for the home garden. It was the end of Adar (Arabic lunar month) … the kids laughed at me. They
told all their friends that mom lives in a different world, a world that is unrelated to the
upcoming war. In truth, I was shattered on the inside, of fear of what was about to happen. Perhaps, I
was trying to fool them or maybe fool myself.
Today, as I returned home from work, I noticed a group of the American war machinery at the edge
of the road leading to the airport. There was some kind of a mechanical problem and they stopped to
fix it. The soldiers stood in a group pointing their weapons at the passing traffic and we were
passing them quickly in fear of getting a fetal shot. After I passed them, I smiled and thought to
myself. Who is afraid of the other? I remember a letter I got a while back from an American mother
that is worried about her son. Her son was deployed to Iraq with the American Army. I felt for her
heart ache and sadness because she hasn’t heard from him. She is afraid that he will die from a
shot from an Iraqi opposing the American presence. I sent her my response, hoping that her son will
get home safe and sound soon. I wish I knew somebody here that knew him so that I could tell his
mom that he is ok. I am a mother too. I feel with her. The same feelings.
Why are the Iraqi perspective on the American presence in Iraq different? Especially those that
write over the internet. I think that age and personal experience play a major role in this
variance. I think the people that are in their twenties and thirties now never had a chance to experience
life without Saddam being in power. This generation was born at a time filled with wars, crisis’s
and animosity. Iraq was like a big jail. They all faced a mysterious future that surrounds young
people with depression that is crushing to life. A small minority had the chance to travel abroad
and were deprived of the connection with their family ties. They lived in exile far away, to get
away from tragic endings that might meet them had they stayed in Iraq. The young people here are now
happy and free. It is as if they see things as a choice between two things, either Saddam or the
Americans. Off course they will choose the second choice, because they experienced the bitterness
of the first choice. They haven’t experienced a third choice, they haven’t even dreamed of it. Then
there is the older generation, that is 40 or older. Im in this group. We experienced the happy
times and then we experienced that hell during the time Saddam was in power. We don’t see the
American solution as the ideal.
Those that experienced that British colonization are probably extinct. But those that experienced
the monarchy in Iraq and what followed have many different experiences and different ideas from
those of the new generation. I will talk about my own personal experience as an example of the
generation that experienced the sixties as children, seventies as youth and so on. The world was a more
safe place to be. We lived a calm childhood in the sixties, despite all the revolutions and
internal conflicts over power. At one point the people in power were tilting towards the Soviet Union
under the leadership if Abed Al Kareem Qasem. Then came the rule of Abed Al Salaam Aref and he was a
nationalist. The Ba’athists waged a war against him and removed him from power. Abed Al Salaam
Aref died in a airplane crashes that is surrounded with suspicions about the role of the Ba’athists
in that incident. His brother came into power for a little while but the Ba’athist were able to
overthrow the government and take power to themselves. At that point the struggle was Iraqi, there
were no big disasters. With each new president things would go back to the old routine quickly and
the pictures of the new president would replace the pictures of the old in the schools, streets and
governmental offices. It was a routine that everybody accepted. Certain issues were common among
all Arab nations. We rarely saw a person from a different Arab country. There was a sense of
stability and self sufficiency. There was one central issue that all agreed upon. All arab governments
used this issue as a winning card to get closer to their people. The card of true nationalism. It
is called Palestine. Everybody was trying to do what they can to help this Arabic oppressed
nation. We all, young and old, would repeat the same slogan, with our blood and with our sole we will
defend you O Palestine. Our composition essays at schools were always about Palestine. At the end of
the essay we always wrote, we are returning to Palestine. We had such naive and distant dreams. We
paid for it dearly later. Today I laugh in sadness at how ignorant we were. We dreamt of building
free and independent homeland. And that we would get united into a single Arabic nation that is
feared by all our enemies. We had beautiful songs then. Gentle, shy and lovely songs. Our singers
were respectable and dressed modestly. Our singers back then didn’t represent the most fallen
section of our society. On many national occasions, the nationalistic songs were the same in all arab
countries, O! my beloved coutry, O! My big beloved arab nation. We used to read both Arabic and
translated books. I used to love Russian authors from before communism, like Tolstoi, Gorky and
Tchekov. As for western writer I used to love, Hemingway, Charles Dickens and the plays of Shakespeare.
As for Arabic books we would read Twfeek Hakeem , Taha Hussein and the poetry of Jawahiri , Saiyab
and Baiyati. As for old poetry we would read Al Mutanabi and Al Ma’ari. When I was 20, I used to
love listening to foreign songs. I used have some memorized and I would write the words to some of
my favorite songs in a little notebook. I was in wonder with the soft love sentiments expressed in
them. In college I used to sing as part of the annual party. I would sing Arabic songs for Fairouz
or the foreign singer Petula Clark. I used love her so much. I wonder what happened to her? Is she
still alive? When I graduated and got married, I read Gibran Khalil Bibran I greatly admired him.
I bought most of his books, read them and had them memorized. Then I got hooked on “Thus Spake
Zarathustra” by the German Nietzsche. I loved his desire for a person to be strong and defiant to his
weakness and his flaws. Then when I got into my thirties, I returned to reading old Arabic books.
Like one thousand nights and a night and Jahed and songs of Al Asfahani. I found it deliciously
infused with Arabic aromas from pre and post Islamic eras. I found these books closer to my
identity. Then I read the writings of Al Ghasali and loved him immensely. He is one of the Muslim Sufi
philosophers. I would keep his books with me. I would rather buy books and deprive myself from
clothes and makeup. I never stopped reading translated works. For example, I read George Orwel. I really
loved his novel 1984. I felt like we were living his novel in Iraq. Then I read D.H Lawrence. I
also read William Gerald Golding , I found him to be mysterious and too symbolic and abstract in his
writing. When I traveled from Amman to Baghdad in 1991, I donated several boxes of books to a
public library in Amman. I was afraid if I tried to bring the books over to Iraq that they would be
confiscated. In Baghdad I started a new library. I started to read the history of the Arabs before
and after Islam. I believe that if you read about the past you will be able to understand the
future. When I turned forty I started to read religion books. I started to look into it with maturity,
depth and understanding. In way so as religion doesn’t become an excuse to hate people or to be
separated from them. I started to look at religion a way to love other people and feel tolerance
towards everybody even non Muslims. All daily experiences seem trivial, when you don’t look in depth
into the experiences of the people from the past.
In 1976, I graduated from university and got married the same summer. Then I volunteered with my
husband to go to Lebanon where the civil war was going on. It was a very secretive decision. I
lied even to my family. I told them we were going to work in Basra south of Iraq at an engineering
company. I believed we were going to help desperate people as part of the committee to rebuild the
Palestinian refugee camps. We attempted to provide running water electricity, build bakeries, and
provide isolation to houses from cold. We would create windows from nylon covers instead of glass.
In some cases we had close windows with bricks. Everyday I thought about death. I was a young and
naive bride. I didn’t get a chance to enjoy that stage of my life. I left my wedding dress and all
the wedding gifts I got from my in-laws with my sisters. I told them that if I would die they
should keep it as a way to remember me. I begged them not to tell my mom and dad about it. I didn’t
want to become a source of pain to them. I was convinced that I was doing something noble that was
worth dieing for. After about two years of living in Lebanon, I discovered that I was mistaken. The
political organizations working there were not as pure as I had thought initially. There was lots
of selfishness and private interest at play. Trivial conflicts that cause dividedness and not
unity. I realized that these are ignorant organizations that don’t hold a clear vision and doesn’t
bare the responsibility of the message that it should. I became disappointed. I discovered a big gap
between the dream and reality. The dream is far far away. It was a crazy war. All the cards got
mixed up. You no longer knew who was fighting who. The Christian Lebanese organizations against the
Palestinians. The other nationalistic Lebanese parties, the Syrian forces, they all played a role.
And a foreign observer flaming the war. Nobody knew where it was all heading. When the engineering
work was done, it was suggested that I would work in the women organizations field. But I
apologized. I got involved with working for an engineering office building designing buildings for the red
crescent and designing buildings for a university in Yemen. The work was enjoyable but also
exhausting. Long working hours a bad security situation in Lebanon. After about two year I discussed
with Azzam the use of staying there. I was pregnant with Raed. My psychological state was not that
great and I was feeling lonely and tired with the war. So we decided to leave Lebanon and go to
Amman where Azzam’s family would be. I went to Baghdad to give birth to Raed. Then I returned to Amman
to start a new journey. The Jordanian intelligence bothered us. They kept interrogating us and
pressuring us confess that we were members in the Ba’ath party. But we held to our position that we
were innocent of this accusation. Then they started asking us if we were members in a Palestinian
organization. They didn’t call it terrorist organizations then, they called it martyr
organizations. A new torture journey started. We were prevented from traveling outside the country, we were
also restricted from working for the state run organizations. I couldn’t understand what our crime
was. We went as volunteers to help desperate people in refugee camps. What got these people angry?
What made us turn in accused? Why were we denied our rights? All arab radio stations were crying
about Palestine so we went to help out, where is the mistake? This was the second shock in my
life after Lebanon. I started to look at things with a different perspective. There is a big gap
between media and the reality in the arab countries. Beautiful talk but ugly deeds. Lies without any
limits, why do they lie? This question tormented me for long…Who has an answer? I sunk myself into
work and the burdens of a new family. We worked in the private sector because the governmental
office were off limits for us. After year of my existence of in Amman, I realized that all the young
people returning to Amman are being treated the same way. They are reprogramming their life,
dreams and ideals. Then we left Amman to live in Saudi Arabia. To work and home sickness. Azzam was
busy with work and I was busy with the kids at home. Sometimes I did some engineering work from
home. Other times I would read books. In the summer we would spend our vacations in Europe. I would
take off the abaya and wear trousers. I felt I would get a split personality with this
transformation. I would be at awe with how beautiful and clean Europe was. How nice the people were. I would
envy them their freedom and calm. The civilization that they get to enjoy. Once we were in Geneva, I
was pushing the kids stroller with Khalid in it. Azzam whispered in my ear, if we had the chance
would you come live here? I answered without even thinking about it, No. I scowled at him. Why not?
Asked Azzam. Isn’t this a beautiful and clean country? Isn’t this better than living in arab
countries? I told him, I don’t know, I stayed confused. Yes this is a beautiful country but I feel no
connection with it. No common denominator. How would I live here? I would die with home sickness.
In 1982, Israel invaded Beirut, Lebanon. The massacres happened in the refugee camps. The arab
countries did nothing except for public statements, meetings and lots of talk. There was a siege and
murder that lasted weeks or months, I can’t remember now. The refugee camps fell and the
Palestinian resistance left to Tunisia. There, far away north west of Africa, they went. There was a general
depression in the arab street from what happened. The war between Iraq and Iran was going on. Saddam
was in the prime of his power. He was disseminating the Iraqis with a war with a muslim neighbor,
Iran. The reason was the Iranian revolution that was feared by many. The nearby and the distant
countries. So they formed an alliance to fight them. Here, America was a clear participant. They
supported Saddam and supplied him with money and weapons to destroy both Iran and Iraq. In that war
both Iraq and Iran were the losers. I was living in Amman and my heart was full of pain with what
was going on in Iraq and Palestine. The arab countries were impotent to do anything. There was a
strong feeling of disappointment in the arab street. A feeling of anger growing. The Irani, Iraqi
war ended only for the Palestinian intifada to start. A never ending cycles of clashes and violence.
The arab street was wondering what is going on? There was disgust at the silence from the
governments. Big resentment started to grow against America. Because they were able to help and calm
things down but instead were pitting one side against the other. America was pressuring arab
governments to stay silent and do nothing. In turn the arab governments were pressuring their nations and
destroy what is left of their dreams and hopes. To liberate Palestine. The arab unity. Then came the
war with Kuwait. That was the straw the broke the back of the camel. The nation was divided
between opposing and supporting. As a result of negativity of the arab governments, America got involved
to launch a war against Iraq against Kuwait. There was clear pressures from America on the arabs,
so that the conflic would not be resolved internally among the arabs. The war started and the
illusion of arab unity got completely destroyed. We became divided into groups of enemies.
Palestine got lost and was forgotten. The intifada stopped and entered a complicated path. Useless
negotiations, strange oganazations justifying killing and murder as means for resistance. I always
ask, who initiated them? Who funded them? These organizations are destroying the Palestinian cause
and disfiguring the face of Palestinian resistance in the eye of the world. The gap is widening
between the nations of the area and the west. With everything that happened in terms of destruction
and chaos, nobody is clearing America of its own guilt of participating in it. And now another war
on Iraq. The last page of what we hold in our memories. The 1948 war, where Palestinians were
attacked and kicked off their land and killed. Many had to emigrant to near by or far away countries.
The 1967 war when arab countries lost its war against Israel, why? Even though Israel is a small
country with limited ability. Later on we discovered that the arabs were not fighting Israel, this
small country, but rather a much bigger foe. A country that is providing support and weapons to
Israel. Isn’t that America? Another failed war in year 1973 and the start of negotiations as an
alternative to war. The people became more and more depressed, our history lengthens. All failures and
disappointments. Why did we lose all these war? Even though we all believe that our position was
the just one. Maybe it is because our governments realized that they can’t fight this powerful foe,
but they were also too embarrassed to face their people with this fact. So they continues to
stall, lie and make bogus claims. Our nations were dragged into disappointments that never end. Many of
the smart arab brains immigrated to other countries like Europe, Canada, US and Australia. The
area was cleared of the skilled people that could make a difference towards the better. We sunk in
ignorance and backwardness. Even religion, we lost the beautiful side of it that emphasizes truth
and courage towards change. We got the ugly face that pushes silence, obedience and oppression of
women. A man marries four woman. The whole world got a stupid and ignorant image of us that they
can’t part with.
Then started the reprogramming of the area. Discussions, arguments, talks about peace with Israel.
Israel becomes stronger and we become weaker. The scale never balances. Then America enters Iraq.
Here we are, face to face. How do we get convinced that America is innocent of all the tragedies
that fell upon us? How can I delete all these bad files? I can’t
As for the young generations, their files are clean and new. They have what they heart from their
parents. But it is not the same as having lived it. They accept the simple idea that America is
the compassionate mother that came here to rescue us. But people of my age and older smile in
bitterness, as if saying, where do we start to explain.
Now I am thinking. I have this small question nagging me. The American who lived though that time,
who is as old as I am, how did he spend those year? Did he get depressed? Did he watch his dreams
get destroyed? Did he watch his people sink in a sea of ignorance? Does he read books that tell
him that his country was the very first nation to see the light of civilization, only for it all to
change? If I was an American I would read this post and send an angry response. I would criticize
and ridicule such a writer. Would I have done that? I don’t know, everything is possible, when we
switch places.
[translation by]

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