Thursday, May 19, 2005

Cultural Contrast (1)

A comment by Gadfly on a previous post "Gratitude" drew my attention to cultural differences between Iraq or Mideast & US or West. Scrutinizing comments on my posts reveals some differences. Emails which I exchange with American pen pals spotlight others.

First of all, one can not make other people of different culture change their way of thinking. Moreover, trying to change it by force won't be easy and may cause undesirable result.

As for the American troops touring the Iraqi streets which I mentioned in "Behavior makes difference", there are number of different points of view on this issue. From mine it represents one kind of annoyances which are numerous in the Iraqi everyday life.

One of the comments puts blame of the traffic jam on the Iraqi driver whose car had been kicked by the American soldier. It is obvious that most of the readers do not imagine the number of cars imported into Iraq in the last two years. The number of cars in the streets doubled or tripled. Many main streets & bridges are blocked and checkpoints slow down the flow of traffic. Policemen can't do much, since they could be harmed by angry drivers.

Try to imagine the disorder & your car is in a complete traffic jam. Suddenly, a soldier appears, starts to kick your car pointing his gun at you, and yelling at you to get your car out of his way as if you could carry the car with your hands or put it in your pocket. Even when you manage to pull the car aside, you can't guarantee not being annoyed. I had referred to many incidents in previous posts & I'm quoting one here:

… my same brother was in a traffic jam when he noticed in the car mirror a bunch
of Humvee cars. So he managed to step aside near the sidewalk to avoid annoyance
usually caused by the Americans when they pass through streets. What astonished
him is that the Humvees' drivers chose to force their cars through a very narrow
space beside his car scratching his car and breaking the radio aerial. My
brother says that the soldiers in the Humvee looked at him in the same way of
Saddam's henchmen and bodyguards.

Maybe someone will tell me to appeal or to file complaints and seek redress. I'm not asking for advice, but I think it is very important to reach a compromise about several issues since the American troops are going to stay in Iraq for a very long time.

A program on Al-Hurra TV (funded by the US government), introduces a weekly review of the main US newspapers, referred to an article published in the NY TIMES on the 2nd of May. It speaks about an American soldier who had spent his childhood in Egypt with his father who was a diplomat. He can speak Arabic & he sympathizes with the Iraqis. According to his claims Some American soldiers insult Iraqis intentionally since they got bored of their existence in Iraq. So if they could turn the public opinion against the Americans they may go back home sooner. I don't have the full details of the article since I can't access the NY TIMES website.

To be objective, comparing the American soldiers conduct to that of the Iraqi soldiers in Kuwait during the invasion of 1990, one can notice a sharp contrast.

To be continued…


Blogger Kat said...

Dear friend,

I was just reading a soldier's website and I believe that the difference is from which perspective you are viewing the situation.

I see clearly that, as someone that was happy to be free, it is hard to comprehend why these men could seemingly act so...well...hostile towards you and other Iraqis.

From the soldier's blog, he wrote about driving down the road with his unit and a car passing in the opposite direction throwing an improvised bomb out the window of his car. It exploded near their vehicle and the gunner, a life long friend of the soldier writing the blog, was knocked silly for a minute. Of course, they all thought he was dead.

AFter the relief of finding their friend was still alive and only had a concussion, they became very angry. People were standing around and looking at them, but no one had made an effort to stop the car or get a description of the car, license plate or driver.

He and his friends had almost been killed. He was very angry and wanted to strike out at anyone. He actually did mention walking up to cars with his gun pointed at them and cursing them to get back.

There are several issues:

1) With the enemy not wearing a uniform and hiding among the population, it is hard to tell who is who. At any moment, the man smiling and waving at you could turn around and push a button, blowing you apart. At any moment, the trash on the side of the road can explode and take your sight, your arms or legs or your life.

When it is hard to see your enemy, it is easier to consider everyone as the possible enemy and do what is necessary to save your life first and worry about whether you offend someone second.

2) Appearance of authority to combat chaos. These soldiers often cultivate a look and manner that is to convey authority. When a situation comes up and they must react quickly, move away or towards a situation and there are cars in the way, to stop and try to sort it out might mean death (see number 1). Therefore, they will act brusque, demanding, yelling even uncaring in order to convey that they are the authority and when they say to do something, it should be done.

It saves their lives and sometime the lives of Iraqis since times when shootings or an IED goes off means that there could be more coming. The soldier I was reading commented that when something happens they blithely go on as if it was nothing, continuing to drive down the street even when they are waving them off. Sometimes, those that deliberately disobey the direction have become threats with bombs in cars speeding up and around the road block to kill them and their buddies.

I believe this is not an issue of culture so much as from which side of the war are you viewing the situation (I mean, civilian v. military).

To an Iraqi who is on his way home or taking a fare some where, squeezing in and around so that they don't get caught in a traffic jam behind the damaged military vehicle might seem very reasonable but to a soldier that just had a car throw a bomb at him or rammed into his own vehicle and exploded, these are threats.

I hope this explains why it doesn't seem to equate.

3:18 AM  
Blogger Kat said...

wanted to add...

It is hard to act like a civilian in uniform when you are in a war zone.

Civilian niceties don't last long when every moment you stay in one position is the moment a car bomb, RPG or other could come out of nowhere and kill you.

That is what goes through these men's minds when they are stuck in these situations.

3:24 AM  
Blogger Bryan Kerwick said...

I would like to point out some issues that have not been addressed.

American soldiers are not trained to be traffic officers. The training they receive is for combat not traffic control. Obviously they are ill prepared for that job.

American soldiers for the most part do not speak Arabic, understand the culture or trust the citizens of Iraq. A terrorist that blows up a Mosque, patroll or bazaar looks and sounds exactly like a guy trying to get home to his family after a bad day at work.

For the most part, the soldiers are in their twenties, away from home gor the first time and are very unsure of themselves and the situation at hand. This is not a good combination of things when you add ARMED AND DANGEROUS to the equation.

I do not wish to make excuses for bad behavior here, meerely pointing out the fact that the stress level is the primary reason for "better safe than sorry" attitudes.

The only solution to the problem is to ensure the Iraqi people can handle their security issues themselves. That is the goal of Americans and Iraqi's alike. We don't want to be there and for the most part you don't want us there either.

That was not the case a few short years ago.

Let's all support the Iraqi people in their struggle to be able to be self sufficient as the use of Marines as traffic directors is really not in their best interests nor yours.

12:05 PM  

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