Tuesday, May 31, 2005

Cultural Contrast (2)

About a year ago, Mr. Al Gore (The former vice president of the US) said on a TV show something which he phrased as a joke. He said "I used to travel on 'Air Force Two' when I was the vice president, but now I have to take my shoes off to get on a plane". It is a wonderful demonstration of obedience to the regulations. Now, consider the behavior of the Iraqi assembly member which described by Lisa, NY in a comment" …what I read was that the assembly member (one of Sadr's former men) moved his car quickly out of the line at the checkpoint and into a different lane because he didn't want to wait." One may notice the cultural difference in perceiving the concept of law & order between two men of two cultures.

Jordon Golson said in another comment:

"American police are taught to treat every person they encounter as a potential threat, and prepare accordingly."

Another commenter said:

"In this kind of atmosphere, the reality that they're (referring to the American troops) here to protect and serve Iraqi people becomes instead a theory, and the first reality becomes to stay alive." Another said" Well, everyone in Iraq is under suspicion to the soldiers. Everyone in Iraq or anyone in Iraq could kill or cripple them. Iraq is a WAR ZONE and they are NOT policemen. They are trained to kill and complete the mission they are given."

So it turned into an aggressive bilateral relation. Its main elements are fear, suspicion, mistrust, keeping Iraqis away from Americans & vice versa, etc. And this is the main idea which was adopted by Saddam's regime to keep Iraqis isolated from the world. It depends on showing any person as a possible threat starting from one's family members. It is horrible to live in a hostile environment with a continuous condition of alert. Such situation, for more than quarter century, led the Iraqis to be fed up with Saddam's regime and to let it down.

There are incidents which happen by chance, once or twice during one's life like this one by another commenter

"…it was police men and not soldiers. I was with a friend and suddenly a bunch of police cars surrounded my car. They had their guns pointed at us and made us lie on the ground, some of the officers kicked us and cursed us. Other officers tore through my car searching it. I was angered at my treatment but then I later found out that a grocery store had been robbed and the criminals killed a man just so they could get $40 from the cash register. They had a car that was like mine."

Here in Iraq, especially Baghdad, such annoyance is daily or in the better weekly.

This one says

"I do not think the main motivation behind these sorts of actions is malice,
cruelty or even fear. Unfortunately, it is just the best way at this time to get
the job done."

If we agree with this description then we need to modify 'the best way at this time to get the job done' of both sides, the Iraqis & the Americans.

To be continued…

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…

Thursday, May 12, 2005

Another Lesson

My phone line is still out of order. The whole phones in the district are out of order since 11th March. And for that I do not interact with my blog regularly. Generally speaking, there wasn't any tangible development deal with the infrastructure within the past two years.

Another lesson comes from Britain. A demonstration of genuine democracy. It is a result of long history of struggle. Thousands of British people gave their lives to achieve this level of democracy. Democracy in such society is deep-rooted and it is an essential feature of its culture.

This leads me to several questions:

-Are we ready, the Iraqis, to accept & integrate democracy into our culture?
-Could it be possible to burn stages of social & political development?
-And, would it result in stable society or state?

The Iraqis could not look after the state which the British established for them in 1921. They ate it away so the Americans had nothing to do but blowing out the rotten state. It has been dismantled so easily in 2003. It seems that something, maybe many things, is wrong with our collective conscious.

Wednesday, May 04, 2005

Behavior Makes Difference

The editor in chief of Al-Sabah Iraqi newspaper guided me back to an issue which I mentioned in several previous posts, as a first hand experience and as incidents that encountered other people whom I know. Mr. Mohammed Abdul Jabbar, the editor, wrote yesterday in his daily column about an incident that he had witnessed. I translated what he wrote, hoping that the idea will be clear enough to be understood. Al-Sabah newspaper has the highest number of distributed copies among the Iraqi newspapers.
Mr. Abdul Jabbar wrote:

"Impermissible, impermissible, impermissible for an American soldier to kick the car of an Iraqi civilian. The soldier kicked the car because the Iraqi car driver could not get out of the way of an American convoy of trucks. There was a traffic jam in which the Iraqi driver was stuck. It was out of his hand. The incident happened yesterday and I witnessed it. I was on my way to Al-Iraqia TV studio, descending from Al-Jumhuryah Bridge. The traffic was crawling toward Karadat Mariam (a district in Baghdad) because of barricades, checkpoints and disorganized traffic control. The military convoy was protecting several civilian cars. It stopped at a point where the traffic was jammed. One of the American soldiers, in the convoy, lost his patience and rushed the car driven by the Iraqi civilian who had his family with him in the car. The American soldier kicked the car bravely like a lion (sarcastic), pointing his gun at the family. It is impermissible. It is not courageous & it is not a civilized way to solve the matter.

The American troops, together with the foreign ones, are no longer called occupation forces; they are called, now, the multinational forces. And their personnel are guests for the coming time.

Viewing the situation either side, occupiers or guests, it is assumed that these soldiers, whatever their nationality is, should respect the country they occupy & its citizens. The behavior of the soldier annoyed me since it is improper & unacceptable. Moreover, it is denounced & censured.

It is presumed that the MNF strive to win the hearts & minds of Iraqis. It can not be accomplished by improper, unacceptable behavior & insulting Iraqis. A guest should observe his/her behavior. I wish an interpreter could translate our old Arabic proverb which says "Hey stranger, be polite" for the commanding officers in the MNF, so they can explain it for the soldiers. And in turn these soldiers stop terrifying the Iraqis & their families and stop kicking their cars. This will help the MNF to be more polite with the most polite, generous and hospitable people in the world."

A member of the Iraqi national assembly had encountered a similar incident two weeks ago, when an American checkpoint insulted him intentionally.
Maybe, I can understand the behavior of a nervous soldier who is under stress, but I don't understand the behavior of a soldier who knows that he is dealing with members of the national assembly.