Sunday, July 23, 2006

A Memo & an Article (II)

The memo says:
"… it is now dangerous for men to wear shorts in public…People who wear jeans in public have come under attack."

It is not a new offensive campaign. There were many. One which was led by Khairlah Tulfah, Saddam's uncle & father in law, took place about thirty years ago. At that time, girls fashion was short skirts & the beetles' hair cut was for boys. Tulfah used to send groups of his bodyguard to tour the streets painting girls' legs & cutting boys' hair (beating them in many occasions).

It is not some kind of formal regulations. It is a way of showing power over people of a certain community. It spreads since the government can not implement law. So, it is either to be changed into a law or it will vanish along with enforcing law.

The memo says about power shortage:
"Temperatures in Baghdad have already reached 115 degrees. Employees all confirm that, by the last week of May, they were getting one hour of power for every six hours without."
And it is still the same in my neighborhood.

"Areas near hospitals, political party headquarters and the green zone have the best supply. One staff member reported a friend lives in a building that houses the new minister; within 24 hours of his appointment, her building had city power 24 hours a day."

And some eastern parts of Baghdad (Sadr city) have good supply of city power. That is because of kidnapping the under secretary of Ministry of Electricity (by Almahdi militia) and threatening him that he will pay his life for power shortage.

With such kind of heat, people are:
"contracted with neighborhood generator hookups that they pay for monthly. One employee pays 7500 Iraqi dinars (ID) per ampere to get 10 amperes"
People in my neighborhood pay 12000 ID per ampere. Most people in Iraq makes an income of 150,000-200,000 ID per month. So to get 10 amperes, one has to pay more than half of his/her salary. The solution is corruption to earn more money.

Likewise is the shortage of oil products. Gasoline:
"prices on the black market in much of Baghdad were now above 1,000 ID per liter (the official, subsidized price is 250 ID)"
This means about $3 per gallon.

The memo speaks about kidnapping and threats, which are things most of Iraqis have not witnessed before. People who kidnap and kill were fully monopolized by Saddam's government. After ousting Saddam, they found themselves out of their jobs. So, they started their own business by establishing NGOs (kidding) for kidnapping & killing people. And it seems that they are making good money out of the business.

An Iraqi employee works at the US embassy told them:
"… in mid-June that most of her family believes the US - which is widely perceived as fully controlling the country and tolerating the malaise - is punishing the population as Saddam did (but with Sunnis and very poor Shia now at the bottom of the list). Otherwise, she says, the allocation of power and security would not be so arbitrary."
It is widely believed here that the Americans follow the same policy of Saddam toward the Iraqi people in the field of public services.

A good comment is made by the embassy:
"Employees are apprehensive enough that we fear they may exaggerate developments or steer us towards news that comports with their own world view."
Listening to a stream of eerie stories from different persons requires lot of sanity to be able to examine their credibility. For example, I heard many strange stories about the Iraqi soldiers' bad manners. I came across Iraqi soldiers twice; one at a check point and the other when they searched the houses in our neighborhood; I noticed they are nice and polite people.

Now, the
article which I refer to it in the head was published in the Commentary Magazine (June 2006) by Amir Taheri
. It sounds so optimistic. The writer surveys what make the American people feel that they have been embroiled in Iraq:
"It would be hard indeed for the average interested citizen to find out on his own just how grossly this image distorts the realities of present-day Iraq."

The writer introduces his own way of assessing the condition in Iraq:
"Since my first encounter with Iraq almost 40 years ago, I have relied on several broad measures of social and economic health to assess the country’s condition. Through good times and bad, these signs have proved remarkably accurate…"

To be continued…

Wednesday, July 12, 2006

A Memo & an Article (I)

A memo from the US embassy in Baghdad to the State Department was leaked out. Is it normal to leak out cables between US embassies and Washington? I have no idea. What kind of message to be conveyed by leaking it out?

Anyway, an article by Patrick Cockburn in The Independent UK written as introductory to the memo says:
" The US and Britain have said they would withdraw their troops as the security situation improved, though the embassy memo suggests that it was, in fact, deteriorating. Britain said yesterday that it was to pull out 170 soldiers from Muthana province in southern Iraq when the Iraqi government took over security there next month."

This implies a negative subtext that America & Britain are ready to flee from Iraq at any time.

The memo says that an Iraqi female employee in the embassy:
"… was advised by an unknown woman in her Baghdad neighbourhood to wear a veil and not to drive her own car."

Another said:
"… people in her neighbourhood are harassing women and telling them to cover up and stop using cell phones."

These stories remind me of a female colleague who approached me asking "What do you think? Should I wear a hijab (veil)?" and my answer was "It's up to you". That was about six years ago, when Saddam was in power. I wondered what made her think about wearing a veil since she had lived her whole life without wearing one (she was approaching her forties). She told me that the surrounding feminine community was keeping on harassing her for not wearing a veil. I asked about her point of view about wearing (or not wearing) a veil. Her answer was that Iraq climate is so hot which makes a veil unbearable. The conversation went like this, I said:
- Good point, then don't wear a veil.
- But Allah (God) ordered us to wear a veil.
- If you are convinced, then put a veil on.
- I'm asking you. What do you think?
- It's not me who will put on the veil, and you are the one to make a trade off between your religious belief and practical life.

Finally she was subdued by social pressure and she put on a veil.

I visit campuses from time to time, and I enjoy counting female students with veils and those without. On entering any campus (there are several in Baghdad), I start to count the number of girls whom I come across, categorizing them into (veiled & non-veiled). I played this game for more than twenty times and each time I find the ratio of females with no veils represents 25%-30%. Women feel it safer inside campuses to wear fashionable clothes than outside. On leaving the campus they jump directly into their family's cars or taxis which the families choose their drivers carefully to take the girls, in groups, to schools and colleges and back home. In the street, one can see unveiled women, but they wear very decent clothes and avoid any kind of make up. I'm talking about the center of Baghdad not some suburban neighbors.

It is not a new trend, in our society, to oppress women. It is usual to give vent to one's anger in the conduct of oppressing the weakest group. For that I believe a rational power is needed to maintain order to protect the weak people and minorities in Iraq. I doubt that an Iraqi party can play such a role, at least for the time being.

Women in Iraq are oppressed on several levels. A woman could bring disgrace to her family. So a close eye should be kept on her, watching every gesture she makes by the whole members of the family. Even the youngest male member in a family could oppress female members. The same woman could be criticized by the neighbors for a salute, a smile, a laugh, a way of walk, a kind of clothes…etc. This close watch would double if she is divorced or a widow. Another party which oppresses women is the clerics. They believe that they should force people to act, eat, walk, behave…etc in certain way. They do not persuade people, they compel them. And one of their favorite targets is women which represent the motive for devilish deeds according to their point of view.

Paradoxically, women in Iraq oppress themselves. About a year ago when the draft of the new constitution was under study, a group of Iraqi female members of the Shiite coalition organized a demonstration refusing equality with men. Iraqi extremists perceive women's rights as the beginning of ethical deterioration.

Away from this shallow way of viewing women's rights, many Iraqi women are denied their rights even according to Sharia (Islamic law). Inheriting is one of the basic rights granted to women in Islam, but it is normal to hear stories about denying women this particular right. Male partners in the inheritance may deprive the females of their shares.

So it is very normal practice in our society to target women since they can not defend themselves by using arms or protected by effective laws. And these same people who create the nowadays terrifying environment here in Iraq are completely ready to turn 180 degrees if they have the chance to live in western societies. I have heard many stories about the kind of life they lead in Europe & US. A member of the Ikhwan Muslmeen (Islamic Brethren) told me how his old comrades, who migrated to the UK, behave towards him when he visits that country. "They would never invite an Arab or Muslim visitor to their homes." he says, and the reason for not doing so is "The guest might reveal the kind of life the host's family leads; especially the female members who wear fashionable clothes and have their boyfriends." Still, they oppress their native societies through media.

There is a lot to be said about women's rights. To be continued…