Thursday, March 1, 2007

Pieces of Me in This (cont'd)

There is no shelter here for those who see the trouble around us in color. We are homeless, disdained everywhere in this landscape that teems with every kind cheerleader and die-hard. Everywhere I turn, everywhere I am, I bump into a crowd of anecdotes, some silly, others chilling, that belch out the darkest of our tidings. For the first time I know not where these Arab ships are heading, although, at times, I swear I am able to make out the scattered wreckage of our lives.

It is a Friday in January. The new year has started. Saddam has just been hanged. The whole act, from its farcical beginning to its wretched end (the comical court proceedings, the verdict that skipped over decades of brutality and settled for the massacre of one-hundred-and-forty-eight Shiites in the Dujail incident, the panicky rush to the gallows, the sectarian taunts that ushered in the broken neck) showers on his executioners--Americans included--adjectives that had long described the victim himself, especially that one that arguably brought him to this finish: stupid. You’d think the need for pay-back would be tempered with the excruciatingly obvious thought that killing him the way he killed scores of them could only mean in with the new out with old, same ol’, same ol’.

Now it is weeks later. Do you know what al allass is? I didn’t till this very day. In this morning’s edition of Al Hayyat Newspaper (Saturday, January 20, 2007), one of the front-page headlines reads, “Iraqis knew it since the days of the British Occupation: al Allass, The Profession of Target Hunter for Kidnap and Murder Gangs.” Al allass, it turns out, could be a neighbor, a friend, a colleague at work, or even a cousin, who spies on you for a handsome fee from mafias on the prowl for lucrative victims. No need here for a sensitive take on Sunni-Shiite schisms, or the fervor of insurgency, or tribalism, or religious fanaticism, or the ugly legacy of colonialism, or the ignorance of self-described, modern-day liberators. This is Hobbes’s twin jungle out there in Nineveh and Sadr City and even the Green Zone in Baghdad. Sure, it can (and may) happen in many a miserable corner in many a miserable country, but how many middling company employees do you know who dare not step out of their house in the best neighborhoods of a country’s capital city without their thirty-five bodyguards?

More than the death of Iraq’s youth and young, more than the death of its hapless children, more than the death of every Sunni, Kurd and Shiite, more than the waste of wealth and talent and potential, under thirty-five years of Saddam, I mourn the death of this country’s values. I grieve for its tortured past but I wail and beat my chest—at least this once, in the best way a Shiite can express her anguish--for its disfigured future. For what people could hope to rehabilitate their collective self, let alone soar, if their values are dead and buried deep under?

There is good theater now everywhere in the Middle East. Bland, mind-numbing stalemates, it seems, have become a thing of the past. The speed at which causes fly and crash, at which liberation turns into occupation, heroes become villains and villains become pin-ups, is making jokers of our pundits—not to mention theirs.

I am in a Thursday.

It is four years after the Americans swaggered into Iraq and three years and a half into their blood-drenched, humbling stay; four years into a Shiite ascendance in this jewel of the East; over three years since a hysterical Sunni-endorsed and financed vengeance; three years and some months after the first Sunni suicide bombing; two years and some months into every manner of dollar-seeking kidnapping and murder; a few months into a full-fledged, death-squad-driven fratricide.

It is five years after the Americans drove out the Taliban and did Iran a huge favor and four years after they removed Saddam and did Iran an even bigger favor; three years since Sunni-Shiite rancor strolled out of the closet fat with flesh, canines showing, heart alive and ticking.

It is two years since Prime Minister Rafiq Hariri’s charred corpse collapsed over a sham Lebanese peace knit together by fifteen years of unsavory deals; close to two years since an implicated Syria was forced to bid Lebanon--its backyard and front lawn, its amputated limb and significant other, its cesspit and cash cow--farewell; seven months after Israel roared into Lebanon and six months after its humiliating rebuff; seven months after Hizbollah’s masterful performance against Israel on the battleground and barely four months into their blunder-full political audition in the Lebanese arena; seven months after what the US thought was going to be an Israeli-administered spanking of Hizbollah and, ipso facto, Iran; six months after Israel and, ipso facto, the US, got a thrashing from Hizbollah and, ipso facto, Iran; six months after a heroic, black-turbaned Shiite Hassan Nassrallah climbed his way up an avalanche of frenzied accolades in every corner of the then nationalist Arab world; over one month since Sunni Saddam was taunted, then hanged, then martyred; nearly one month after Nassrallah began his dizzying climb-down in every corner of the now outraged Sunni Arab world; over a year since Hamas won in the last US-encouraged parliamentarian elections; over a year since the US, Israel and the rest of the world have been punishing an increasingly impoverished Palestinian people; over a year since the emergence of the most buffoonish collection of Palestinian leaders yet—Hamasis and Fatahawis alike; three months into what increasingly looks like a Hamas and Fatah-sanctioned Palestinian civil war; a few days into a Saudi-brokered lull.

It is months since the Israeli enterprise, for the Israelis themselves, began to lose much of its gloss and sheen; months into faint whispers and loud shouts that something truly ill and ugly lurks inside.

It is four years after the first UN Human Development Report, authored by Arabs, told us we are failures in every category of progress that counts; three years into a booming Gulf economy fueled by high oil prices, an obscene abundance of cash and post-9/11 fear of Western frozen accounts.

It is five years since Arabs began seeing the name of Sudan on the front page of their newspapers, one year since they heard of Darfur for the first time, and still not a clue in their mind about the trouble with the first and the tragedy unfolding daily in the second.


Ironically, all this tumult is because we are still swimming in a decades-old stasis that has joined hands with a centuries-old rot. It was close to a thousand years ago that the Shiites lost Egypt, forsaking the last of their precious Arab crowns. It was close to one-hundred-fifty years ago that the Arabs thought they were on the cusp of a renaissance, only to discover, some years after, that they were actually on the verge of a nervous breakdown. It was eighty-eight years ago that sickly states were wrenched out of a deceased Ottoman Empire and an entire people were stillborn. It was fifty-nine years ago that Israel won the first war against the Arab armies. It was fifty-nine years ago that the Palestinian plight officially began. It was fifty-eight years ago that, one by one, Syria, then Egypt, then Iraq, then Yemen, then Libya, replaced an old, feeble order with a new, ruinous one. It was close to fifty years ago that imposters took on, one by one, the identity of secularism and republicanism and liberalism and progressivism and harassed the real thing out of town. We call this last condition khamkhameh, years upon years of a couch-bound, shower-less, political stupor, from which oozes the stink of snoring regimes that age and crumble while their aimless children regress and falter.

It was forty-one years ago that Israel won another devastating war, turned in its badge of underdog and took on the official responsibilities and title and face and color and moral corruption of an occupying power. It was close to thirty-five years ago that political Islam, for long one among many currents, started, from the mosques, the radios, the television sets, the cassettes, the schools, the universities, the ministries of culture, religion and education, to dominate oppositional land.

A bit simplistic? Of course. How can one not be when shoving the many twists and turns of a sorry history into a few lines? And yes, a hundred years in history is nothing, but it is an eternity in my lifetime.