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American Diplomacy
Commentary and Analysis

February 2008

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The author of these two “Letters to Iraqis” attributes her interest in the Iraqi political scene to her father, a graduate of Arkansas University. In order to safeguard family members still living in Baghdad, she is identified here only as “Sama.”

After graduation from Mustansiryia University in 1993, she edited the entertainment section of a Baghdad English-language daily. Following the 2003 invasion of Iraq, the U. S. Army employed her as a translator before she moved to the British Embassy as a press assistant and analyst of the Iraqi political scene and media.

Offered the special U. S. Translator-Interpreter Immigrant Visa, "Sama" seized the opportunity. After a yearlong struggle with the Iraqi bureaucracy and American immigration procedures, she reached North Carolina in December 2007. She will soon begin employment with a large firm in Reston, Virginia, as an Arab foreign media analyst.

Letters to Iraqis from a New Iraqi-American

Quiet Please!
Did screaming become a feature of the Iraqi contemporary civilization? Is this the legacy that we will leave for future generations? Instead of being proud of our hanging gardens they will be proud of our coarse throats.

I frequently have a tendency to believe that we as a people are addicted to screaming and refuse any medication or any attempt to cure it. We continue to move in the orbit of our ancestors' old civilizations, a legacy that has become a burden on us, and we continue to exaggerate its effect on us, but fail to create something similar to it.

Any conversation between two of my countrymen will include a reference to the past, and I am not discrediting the great work of my ancestors, but I wonder about the impact of the accumulated civilizations on the formation of our personality. Did it really have any effect on the way we think and on our culture?

A colleague of mine returned from a visit to one of the civilized nations, although it does not have a legacy quite as significant as that of Sumer and Babylon, but my colleague told me that people there stand before red traffic lights like statues... Everyone is a slave to the red signal starting from babies to the truly rebellious hard rock fan.

I search for those civilizations in the faces of by-passers on the streets, but can only find the civilization of screams… Everybody is yelling with cruelty and most without reason. The politician screams without stop until we feel deaf; then he claims that his yelling is a transparency in the dialogue. The taxi driver will shout until you feel that his voice is like a slap on the cheek because you just asked him, and without malice, to drop you at the door step and not on the street corner.

Who else screams? My father yells if I was slightly late in starting the electrical generator. My brother, my neighbors, colleagues, and even my beloved will shout while flirting with me... Did screaming become a feature of the Iraqi contemporary civilization? Is this the legacy that we will leave for future generations? Instead of being proud of our hanging gardens they will be proud of our coarse throats.

I understand that screaming might be a reflection of anger, which covers us because of our own painful situation, but to become the motto for every part of our life is very painful!

Street market in Samawah
I know we are not like others, we do not even have a red light to stand in front of, because of electricity blackouts, but I think that within each of us there are dozens of red lights!

I invite you, dear reader, to reflect with me on your day, which started with breakfast, up to the point where you read these lines and count with me, how many times you shouted, swore, and cursed, and then think of how many times you smiled?

Yes… did you smile? Is smiling one of your qualities? If you are an Iraqi, I doubt it. I am not blaming you; the list of suffering is very long, and is much longer than can be counted in these few lines; but I blame for you for putting all the mistakes on others, starting with the Ministry of Electricity and ending with the Minister of Oil and the bandits and the mobile phone.

Have you tried to look at yourself in the mirror once a year, to know the size of the deviations and changes in you — I do not mean your nose deviation, but the deviations which affected your values and your ways.

And did you try to change you ways? Instead of screaming, try to raise your voice a little with etiquette, and rather than curse the busy roads and drive the opposite direction to overcome the melee, try to stay home and argue with your wife hoping that you will get a kiss at the end of the quarrel. These solutions may not be very successful, but it is a long term attempt to save and maintain your voice, better than the constant yelling to no avail. Try… maybe… maybe (as Abdel Halim would sing).

Our Democratic Experience — A Case for Reconsideration
Although it is far too early to begin debates about the elections, most of us, if not all, are convinced that we should reconsider when voting in the next elections. Not all that glitters is gold, just as not all of those who deliver good speeches are necessarily good leaders.

Many slogans, big words, and archaic speeches have circulated among us over the last four years. Most prominent speeches have been calling for the withdrawal of U.S. forces, or for an armed resistance or for those who came close to metaphysical identifications of political agendas, although they were issued by potentially future hefty political figures, who, for many of us, we had sympathies toward them at the beginning but we realized later that many of these figures don’t have any real weight except through these meaningless slogans, and listening to them caused us to change the TV channel hoping to forget some of our grievances in a song by Nancy Ajram which despite the simplicity of her lyrics, seems to us more credible and it easily touches our hearts.

The observer of Iraqi politics finds it difficult to identify the differences and conflicts which engulf its political blocs. Most of the leaders on top of the political pyramid could hardly agree upon a single thing, and if they do agree, they quickly step back or retreat.

On the other hand, the bigger picture, which we should go back to if we are able to comprehend it, is that despite the pain and cruelty of the experience and the results of the political process, it remains the best method to reveal the actual influence of our politicians. How can we differentiate the good from the dirty hands without experimental criteria?!

Iraqis in line to vote, December 2005
Although it is far too early to begin debates about the elections, most of us, if not all, are convinced that we should reconsider when voting in the next elections. Not all that glitters is gold, just as not all of those who deliver good speeches are necessarily good leaders; not all those who condemn sectarianism and political sharing have solutions. Some proved, without a doubt, to be on top of the governmental structure; some deserved, with merit, to be in parliament; and many don’t deserve it, either. The same applies to provincial councils’ elections, which in turn need much meditation and reconsideration.

That’s why the democratic experience that we are living through now is important. But despite all reservations, it doesn’t elevate us to a great people but it is heading towards both the wrong and the right thing.which is to have the option to give your confidence to that person who deserves it and to have a vote of no confidence for those who fail.  

Maybe the chaos that Iraq is living through today is the best way to strip the politicians, unmask them, and to differentiate the professional politician who rises to embrace ambitions and responsibilities from those who can’t do anything except prey on our pain.

The positive change we seek comes from our own fingersfrom our pens and not from bullets which we fire whether in anger or joy!!! The citizen is the first step in the political pyramid; thus I can see that we citizens must reconsider, from this very moment, and think seriously about the forthcoming elections and for whom we will vote. For the most part, Iraqis have learned the lessons and realized that elections aren’t a game of emotions that push us to vote for someone just because he or she is from the same sect or because they were my neighbors. Elections are to deliver the present and future generations into the hands of credible men and women to embrace responsibility, the responsibility for a country, and which country is that? Iraq.



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