Sunday, July 31, 2005

No More Mortal Gods

My observations here are based on personal conversations and experiences. They are also based on some knowledge of historical events in Iraq and Kurdistan, though I don’t claim to be even an amateur when it comes to the amount of history involved there.

But for what it’s worth, I’d like to share some discussion and observations. Kurdistan is a bit like a police state. It’s safe, which is a hell of a lot more than you can say for other parts of Iraq, (or for parts of Washington DC for that matter), but the security is tight and it’s everywhere in Erbil in particular. For what it’s worth, it’s working, so I’m all for it at the moment, based on the particular climate.

On Kurdish Independence: I was talking to someone in the Kurdish government in one of the Ministries. He was telling me how they feel so close to America, and how they really should never have been made part of Iraq, it was all the Brits’ doing, and how they really should be independent. I made my argument back to him. I said, “Yes, you are close to America, because you have stood up, and your people have shed blood and endured hardships for everything they have, we understand and respect that, it is our history as well.” Then I added, “You are now 10 years ahead of the rest of Iraq, they are going through the hell you were 10 years ago… know better than anyone else how hard that period is, Kurdistan has a lot to offer the rest of Iraq and together you can be a very strong country, besides which you benefit much more from this in the long run than the risk of having a separate neighboring country that may be riddled with violence for much longer without your help.” It was quite obviously probably one of the first times he’d been spoken to this way, but he took it in stride and actually sat and heard me, and thought for a moment before replying. He said “you make fair points.”

However, there are some other issues in the region. One is certainly Barzani. There are pictures of him everywhere on billboards, on buildings, in windows, especially in Erbil, but also in other areas of Kurdistan. We were discussing this, some Iraqi friends and I, over lunch at a restaurant with some Kurdish women. I was so happy to hear them say, “I really don’t like that, and it bothers me.” Now, here I’m paraphrasing, as part of the conversation was in Arabic, part in Kurdish, and part in English, but the gist was “you’d think after Sadaam we wouldn’t have to put up with such nonsense. It doesn’t help to raise one person as the “savior or protector” of the people, and it sure doesn’t encourage faith that one person or ruling class won’t take over control again”.

Let me add here though, that we were having this discussion in a public place, a restaurant, and that when one of my friends, sitting next to me echoed this sentiment with, “yes, no more Mortal Gods”, I was grinning ear to ear, I thought it was the most appropriate statement possible. Could this discussion have taken place 3 years ago? Could I even have been sitting there? Absolutely not. Let me also add that there is a distinct difference in Sulymania. The political party and process there is different, and it’s visible, in the private sector growth, in the streets, it is a city and a province more of the people, and that is clear.

You want to see what Kurdistan can offer to the rest of Iraq? I think this picture puts it in perspective. You go into schools there, you see Muslims, Christians, kids in headscarves, kids in western clothing, kids all daring to show themselves for who they are, and all sharing the same school, learning each others cultures, and thus coming to appreciate them. Having grown up with friends from Lebanon, Israel, India, hard core Christians, Jews, Atheists, Agnostics, kids that were poor, rich, and in between in my high school, I can tell you it was in fact that that shaped my life, my desire to see and know and learn more and more that we are all pretty much the same underneath. That it’s great to sit at a table and debate religion, politics, and culture, and at the end of the day, if the person you were debating had a personal issue……you were among the first to offer assistance, an ear, a hug, and mean it. That’s a free society at it’s best. People are inherently good. And society can encourage that, or stifle it.

No more Mortal Gods.

American Baby

I have this condition in my brain, where everything can be a metaphor. Music, movies, and especially books, and life events.

I was listening to the new song by Dave Matthews while driving a few days ago entitled “American Baby”. It was interesting to me, as Matthews was a outspoken opponent of the US going into Iraq to overthrow the regime of Sadaam and the Ba’athists, because all that I could find in it was exactly how I feel I should be giving those I love there to feel about me as an American. It really defined one of the things I feel strongly about, that it is a big part of me, of being American, to be eternally optimistic, and to be the smile when one is needed, to be the keeper of faith in humanity, the reminder of something full of life, to show a light so that someone will know there is one at the end. This is a personal post I guess, but hey, that’s blogging. If it bores you, the nice thing is that you don’t have to read it! Here it is, in italics, with my comments after each verse.

If these walls came crumbling down
And fell so hard to make us lose our faith
From what’s left you’d figure it out
Still make lemonade taste like a sunny day

That’s what I want every person to think when they think of Americans, that if the very worst thing happened, they won’t give up, they’ll keep trying to find a way, and I think that many Americans are seen this way, when people lose their faith elsewhere, we are able to hold ours in humanity, by the gift of what we’ve had. We haven’t been beaten down for years by fear and injustice, and yet we don’t take that for granted either.

Nobody’s laughing now
God’s grace lost and the devil is proud
But I’ve been walking for a thousand miles
One last time I could see you smile

Okay, to me it’s the war on terror. Simple, nobody’s laughing now… looks like all’s lost there to some and the evil is proud….BUT still there are many who’ll walk a thousand miles with us….just for one more glimpse of that hope that we shine. And for what it’s worth, there are many of us that have been with those caught in this struggle, in Iraq in my case, in Afghanistan, or Lebanon, or Iran, or many parts of Africa that would walk the thousand miles to see the smile of hope they keep shining in us as well.

I hold on to you
You bring me hope I’ll see you soon
And if I don’t see you
Oh, I’m afraid we’ve lost the way

Lots of people all over the world hold on to us as the “great hope”, and if they don’t see us continue to stand as that, then they’ll feel abandoned. I’m not saying we owe them, I’m saying it’s how they feel, because we’ve played that role as Americans. Personally, I’m proud of that. Unfortunately, there seem to be an increasing number of Americans that just don’t want their comfy little world disturbed. But, ask anyone working overseas in an American consulate about the Visa process. Ask about people that wail outside the windows of our embassies in hope that that showing their despair will get them and their children to our country. Are we still the great hope? You bet we are.

I hold on to you
You lift me up
And always will
I see you in light
Hope I don’t get left behind

This reminds me of a poem by an Iraqi called “America”….we lift people up and want them to be carried away by the same feelings of freedom that we have but we have little patience with them at times, they see us in the light we are shining at the end, but hope that we don’t leave them behind….that we can be patient enough.

Stay, American Baby
Stay, beautiful baby
Nobody’s laughing now
But you could always make me laugh out loud

Please, stay (relative term) and remember that you always could give us hope, even though nobody’s laughing now, you are the hope that we will laugh again.

I’m certain that most people see this song as a song about a guy in love with an American girl, I can see that too, it would be just a microcosm of how I’m looking at it as a bigger picture. Sorry Mr. Matthews, but you just gave me more reason to want to stay.

I’m not leaving.
If and when I’m asked to leave, I’ll do it, but I’ll take a look back, and I’ll smile…