The Null Device
Posts matching tags 'iraq'
Following the recent Spiegel piece on punk rock and dissent in Burma, music journalist John Harris has an article on parts of the world where punk and its offshoots are still dangerous:
It's been a long time since the term "punk rock" could strike fear into the British establishment. The Sex Pistols' John Lydon – aka Johnny Rotten – was long ago transformed into a pantomimic national institution, and now advertises Country Life butter; it's 16 years since Tony Blair admiringly mentioned the Clash in a speech at the Brit awards. The spiky-topped punk look is as harmless a part of vernacular British style as Harris tweed; the concert nostalgia circuit is now home to any number of ageing punk groups, from the Buzzcocks to Sham 69.
The last few months, however, have brought news from abroad suggesting that in many places, punk's combination of splenetic dissent, loud guitars and outre attire can cause as much disquiet and outrage as ever. The stories concerned take in Indonesia, Burma, Iraq and Russia – and most highlight one big difference between the hoo-hah kicked up by punk in the US and Britain of the late 70s, and the reactions it now stirs thousands of miles from its places of birth. Back then, being a punk rocker might invite occasional attacks in the street, a ban on your records, and the odd difficulty finding somewhere to play. Now, if you pursue a love of punk in the wrong political circumstances, you may well experience oppression at its most brutal: torture, imprisonment, what one regime calls "moral rehabilitation" and even death.The ways that punk-influenced subcultures are colliding with the local establishments differ for each place. In Iraq, Islamists are stoning youths to death for wearing clothes and haircuts associated with “emo” (which originated as an offshoot of DC hardcore punk, though in the affluent first world, has long since degenerated into Hot Topic merchandise lines and highly commercial bands making whimpering songs complaining about girls not putting out, Fake Emo having displaced Fake Goth as the bad joke of teenage angst some time in the 00s). In Iraq, however, emo is still seen as a threat to Islamic values and traditional norms of masculinity:
One thing is definitely true: figures for emo-related killings are blurring into those for homophobic murders (put at up to 58 in the last six weeks alone), reflecting a widespread perception in Iraq that emo is a byword not just for devil-worship, but homosexuality. A leaflet distributed in east Baghdad gave any local emo fans four days to "leave this filthy work", under pain of "the punishment of God … at the hand of the Mujahideen". At least two lists of intended victims have been posted online, and tattoo parlours in the city have reported terrified young people asking for their punk-esque body-art to be removed.Hard rock and the Islamic world have come into collision before: Malaysia reportedly had its own issue with “Satanist” heavy-metal fans, and in Indonesia's conservative Aceh province, officials detained punk rock fans at an event, shaved their heads and subjected them to “moral reeducation”. This action, intended as a show of strength by local political figures, resulted in protests outside Indonesian embassies across the world.
There are, he tells me, two kinds of punk in Indonesia. "One is what we think of as a poser: they adopt punk fashions." This group, he says, tend to be "street kids" who fall into begging and petty crime, and thereby provoke the authorities. "The other punks are part of a community that has developed since the late 80s – a moral, ideological type of community," he says. "They're totally different. But the government and society thinks that if you have a Mohawk and boots, you are a punk, and all punks are the same." The kids arrested in Aceh, he thinks, are likely to be the genuine article, because they were arrested at a gig, a reasonably sure sign of true believers.Meanwhile, in Russia, a feminist punk movement influenced by riot grrrl is forming part of the growing resistance to the Putin regime, the ex-KGB siloviki and the oligarchs, and their plans for a tightly managed democracy:
In Moscow, a court ruling on Wednesday marked the latest chapter in the story of an all-female band called Pussy Riot, two of whom were arrested last month after they illicitly took over the pulpit in a Moscow church, and attempted to recite a "punk prayer" written in opposition to Vladimir Putin. Pussy Riot's music is scratchy, unhinged stuff that takes its lead from a fleeting genre known as riot grrrl – once again traceable, at least in part, to Washington DC, and brought to fruition nearly 20 years ago by such groups as Bikini Kill, and a British band called Huggy Bear. Their music was clearly derived from punk's basic idea, but took its lead from such feminist groups as the Slits and the Au Pairs rather than the Clash and the Pistols: apart from anything else, the controversy around Pussy Riot has at least served as a reminder of this overlooked strand of punk history.
"We somehow developed what [those groups] did in the 1990s, although in an absolutely different context and with an exaggerated political stance," one band member called Garadzha Matveyeva has explained, "which leads to all of our performances being illegal – we'll never give a gig in a club or in any special musical space. That's an important principle for us." The band, who always perform in identity-concealing balaclavas, has a free-floating membership that can number up to 15 people – it amounts to "a pulsating and growing body", as Matveyeva sees it.In all these cases, the common theme is how punk, a dated subculture of generational rebellion, now often reduced to a grab-bag of clichés and commodified kitsch, has come to signify vastly more in considerably more desperate straits, without losing the decidedly foreign and awkwardly specific semiotics of someone else's adolescent rebellion in a distant country, long ago. So the image of punk comes, mediated via layers of marketing, commodification and nostalgia, to the developing world, where a Burmese dissident finds a copy of NME with a heritage-rock cover in the bins of the British Embassy, or an Iraqi teenager sees a Fall Out Boy video on a satellite video channel, and a chimera is born:
"You hear a lot about the clash of civilizations," [Ole Reitov, of Copenhagen-based freedom-of-expression advocacy group Freemuse] tells me, "but often, these things, they reflect a clash within civilizations. You're seeing the same symptoms in all kinds of countries: it's a matter of what you do if you feel you're powerless. You can only be extreme, relative to so-called normality. He thinks all this will only increase given two parallel developments: the rise of religious fundamentalism, and the increase in networked communications, which means that every aspect of a subculture can be globally spread at speed. "Think back 50 years," he says. "People didn't necessarily know what the Shadows or the Beatles looked like. These days, you immediately know. Someone in Ulan Bator immediately knows the body language that comes with rap music; in Iraq, the young people who've been killed knew how to dress a certain way."
What do Iraqis who worked as interpreters for US forces, and been resettled as refugees in the US afterwards, end up doing? Well, some of them end up playing Iraqi insurgents in fake Iraqi villages in Texas, set up for military training.
Michael Rakowitz, a US artist who previously created car-shaped tents for reclaiming parking spots as living space, has an exhibition at Tate Modern. Titled "The worst condition is to pass under a sword which is not one's own", the exhibition draws connections between the history of Saddam Hussein's Iraq and Western pop culture, such as professional wrestling, the G.I. Joe figurines and the history of science fiction, from Jules Verne to the Star Wars series.
The exhibition takes up a handful of rooms in a small sub-gallery on the ground level of Tate Modern. On the walls are illustrations (traced from various sources) with explanatory text, shedding light on various episodes which are, if the artist is to be believed, tied into the tangled web of this history. We read about Gerald Bull, the Canadian scientist who, seemingly influenced by the writings of Jules Verne, strove to create a giant cannon capable of hitting the Moon (or, indeed, closer targets) for Saddam Hussein; of the impact that a screening of the Star Wars film had on Saddam's then adolescent son Uday, who, a decade later, would design the uniforms of Iraq's paramilitary Fedayeen, whose helmets were modelled almost exactly on that of Darth Vader. (Rakowitz provides four helmets for comparison: the two mentioned, along with a samurai helmet and a WW1 one.) We see prints of fantasy-art posters which were found in Saddam's palaces, and other (North American) fantasy artwork which had been plagiarised for a novel said to have been written by Saddam and published before his capture. We learn of Adnan Alkaissy, the Iraqi pro wrestler who moved to the US in the 1950s and fought under the name Billy White Wolf in the US, before returning to Iraq and becoming a national champion of the regime, only to flee for the US and resume his career and old identity when his popularity threatened the regime, and the impacts the wars in the Gulf had on the characters and plot lines of US pro wrestling.
The title of the exhibition comes from the Baghdad victory arch erected by Saddam Hussein in 1989, in the form of two cyclopean hands holding crossed swords. The arch is ever-present; one wall at the entrance to the exhibition is covered with photographs taken by US soldiers posing in front of it (including a Sergeant Slaughter, who shares his name with one of the aforementioned wrestling characters), and the main room (which is visible from outside through glass) has a replica of the arch, with plastic Star Wars lightsabres, and the helmets of the vanquished at the hands' base being made of melted together G.I. Joe toys. A monitor in the corner plays a YouTube clip of troops marching through Baghdad to the Star Wars Imperial March.
The worst condition is to pass under a sword which is not one's own is showing in the Level 2 Gallery at Tate Modern until 3 May; entry is free. There is more about the exhibition here.
A new study from the University of North Carolina suggests that Iraqi citizens experience sadness and a sense of loss when relatives, spouses, and even friends perish — emotions that have until recently been identified almost exclusively with Westerners:
Iraqis have often been observed weeping and wailing in apparent anguish, but the study offers evidence indicating this may not be exclusively an outward expression of anger or a desire for revenge. It also provocatively suggests that this grief can possess an American-like personal quality, and is not simply a tribal lamentation ritual.
Psychologists and anthropologists have thus far largely discounted the study, claiming it has the same bias as a 1971 Stanford University study that concluded that many Vietnamese showed signs of psychological trauma from nearly a quarter century of continuous war in southeast Asia.
"We are, in truth, still a long way from determining if Iraqis are exhibiting actual, U.S.-grade sadness," Mayo Clinic neuropsychologist Norman Blum said. "At present, we see no reason for the popular press to report on Iraqi emotions as if they are real."
(via Mind Hacks)
Art movement of the day: Neoconservative Realism:
In addition to the prints, Birk has made a number of paintings, including The Liberation of Baghdad, seen here. The paintings are more satirical and ironic, and many are based on paintings of the glories of war in Napoleon's time and from Russian socialist images of battlefield glories.
The Liberation of Baghdad, says Birk, is about "what we were told would happen -- happy, joyfully liberated Iraqis welcoming American troops as we free them from the shackles of oppression."
(via Boing Boing)
The successful Iraqi election, with its broad participation of all ethnic groups and relative lack of bloodshed, has sent Bush's approval rating soaring; however, looking more closely at the situation, the triumph of democracy looks rather hollow. The country is divided along sectarian lines, hardline Islamists dominate all three parts of it, and the pro-Western secularists Washington had hoped would prevail look like getting fewer seats in the new parliament than the hostage-beheading militants. In short, Iraq seems to be fissioning into two or three theocracies, with the Shia faction enthusiastically joining Iran's (Ahmadine-)jihad against Israel and the West and the Sunni part becoming an al-Qaeda fiefdom not unlike Taliban Afghanistan; either that or the whole country turning into Somalia.
"People underestimate how religious Iraq has become," said one Iraqi observer. "Iran is really a secular society with a religious leadership, but Iraq will be a religious society with a religious leadership." Already most girls leaving schools in Baghdad wear headscarves. Women's rights in cases of divorce and inheritance are being eroded.
The biggest threat to troops in Iraq is, apparently, dog bombs, which imitate the numerous stray dogs roaming the country:
The terrorists have apparently used florescent tape to create eyes in their canine cut-outs to make them look more realistic in a vehicle's headlights.(Hang on, aren't attacks on soldiers by definition not terrorist acts? Unless, of course, we define "terrorist" to mean "anyone fighting against us".)
The device includes two metal plates that, when hit by a bullet or the wheel of a truck, are jammed together, closing an electric circuit and setting off the bomb. Coalition soldiers say the dog bombs are the biggest threat they face in Iraq.
Apparently, one of the US-imposed laws in Iraq gives multinational agribusiness a monopoly on seeds. It is illegal for Iraqi farmers to save seeds from their crops, and the only seeds they can buy are genetically-engineered ones from Monsanto and such. Which should keep the profits flowing healthily back to Head Office.
WASHINGTON, Sept. 3 (1967) -- United States officials were surprised and heartened today at the size of turnout in South Vietnam's presidential election despite a Vietcong terrorist campaign to disrupt the voting.
The size of the popular vote and the inability of the Vietcong to destroy the election machinery were the two salient facts in a preliminary assessment of the nation election based on the incomplete returns reaching here.
Salam Pax, the Baghdad Blogger, recently went to Washington, writing the whole experience up with his unmistakable wit:
When my turn comes to step up to the podium for the archangels to question my reasons for entering this land of dreams, this heaven on earth, I get asked a question that will trouble me for a long time after the interview is over: "Sir, are you religious?" Now, I am the type of Muslim who would tell you that even if there was an Allah hovering up there, he should be punished by collective disobedience because he has been doing a miserable job. So the answer to Mr Immigration Officer would be a hearty: "Oh, no. I dropped that potato a long time ago." But instead I keep looking at the little cross hanging from his neck and feel like telling him that this is none of his business. But I don't. We all know why he is asking me this question and what my answer should be: "No, sir, I am not religious and I do not know how to prove that to you." I feel ashamed that I have just said these words.
And that is another thing that seemed to be incomprehensible to one of my new Washington friends: when we were talking about the popularity of the clerical militia chief Moqtada al-Sadr I was asked how anyone could be fooled by someone who so obviously used religion to boost his own popularity and went for the lowest common denominator for popular appeal? I was saved by another guest who asked if we were talking about Bush or Sadr here.
The US's most highly decorated soldier, David Hackworth, argues that, despite denials from the Pentagon, a return of the draft is inevitable:
Clearly, this war against worldwide, hardcore Islamic believers will be a massive military marathon, the longest and most far-flung in our country's history. By Christmas, more troops could be needed not only in Iraq and Afghanistan, but wherever the radical Islamic movement is growing stronger, from the Horn of Africa to Morocco, Kenya, Somalia, Yemen and across Europe -- remember Spain?! -- to Asia. Accordingly, we need to bring our ground-fighting and support units to about the strength they were before the Soviet Union imploded, especially since the proper ratio of counterinsurgent-to-insurgent in places like the Middle East should be around 15 to 1. You don't have to be a Ph.D. in military personnel to conclude we need more boots on the ground.
I led draftees for almost four years in Vietnam and for several years during the Korean War. If well-led, there are no finer soldiers. Ask the Nazis, the Japanese and the Reds in Korea and in Vietnam, where "no value" draftees cleaned their clocks in fight after fight. Israel, a country that has lived under the barrel of the Islamic terrorist gun for decades, has the most combat-experienced counterinsurgent force in the world -- and boy and girl draftees are its major resource.
To which, Counter Spin adds the suggestion that, when the US reintroduces the draft, a re-elected Coalition government will follow suit in Australia.
Some speculations about what America would be like if it were in Iraq's place:
What if, from time to time, the US Army besieged Virginia Beach, killing hundreds of armed members of the Christian Soldiers? What if entire platoons of the Christian Soldiers militia holed up in Arlington National Cemetery, and were bombarded by US Air Force warplanes daily, destroying thousands of graves and even pulverizing the Vietnam Memorial over on the Mall? What if the National Council of Churches had to call for a popular march of thousands of believers to converge on the National Cathedral to stop the US Army from demolishing it to get at a rogue band of the Timothy McVeigh Memorial Brigades?
The latest novelty: make your own Iraqi decapitation video. Bonus points if you can get al-Jazeera and/or Associated Press run it as genuine:
Mr Vanderford told the BBC World Service he did not send the video to anyone, but made it available on internet share networks. The "people of the world" did the rest, he said, and the video found its way to Arab television stations on Saturday and then a US news agency.
I suppose it beats those cheesy "Wanted: Dead or Alive" posters people bring back from Wild West theme parks.
More allegations of abuse in US-controlled military prisons, this time in Guantánamo, have emerged, with recently released British suspects claiming that they were interrogated at gunpoint and forced to pose naked.
In the dossier the Britons say the level of mental illness among detainees is higher than admitted by the US. The Tipton Three say guards told them that a fellow British detainee, Moazzam Begg, still imprisoned in Guantánamo, had been kept in isolation and "was in a very bad way". They say that Jamil el-Banna, of London, was so traumatised that "mentally, basically, he's finished".
(Forced to pose naked? Can you see the pattern? I wonder how long until there are Guantanamo-themed pr0n sites, only with naked women playing the parts of the detainees ("AlQaedaBabes.com", where you can vote for your favourite bikini-clad she-terrorist to be sexually tortured on camera (all major credit cards accepted)?); or perhaps an "Ilsa, She-Wolf of the SS"-style exploitation film about Lynndie England? The possibilities for bad taste are limitless.)
Two US political links lifted from unsworn@lj: apparently President Bush is being heavily medicated by his handlers to control his increasingly erratic behaviour. Which is understandable, as you wouldn't want the Leader of the Free World, say, ordering a surprise nuclear strike on Cuba or suddenly sending British and Australian troops into Canada or something; on the other hand, the drugs are claimed to impair the President's mental faculties and decrease both his physical capabilities and ability to respond to a crisis:
Dr. Frank diagnosed the President as a "paranoid meglomaniac" and "untreated alcoholic" whose "lifelong streak of sadism, ranging from childhood pranks (using firecrackers to explode frogs) to insulting journalists, gloating over state executions and pumping his hand gleefully before the bombing of Baghdad" showcase Bush's instabilities. "I was really very unsettled by him and I started watching everything he did and reading what he wrote and watching him on videotape. I felt he was disturbed," Dr. Frank said. "He fits the profile of a former drinker whose alcoholism has been arrested but not treated."
Meanwhile, some congresspersons are now pushing for UN supervision of the US Presidential elections. Apparently bills banning the UN from monitoring US elections are being or have been passed, though; pity, as it'd have been amusing to see the fraças as France, Zimbabwe, North Korea and Saudi Arabia volunteer officials to the multinational election monitoring team.
Speaking of Our Saudi Friends, they've now proposed an Islamic peacekeeping force for Iraq, which the US has cautiously agreed with. Which all sounds like a case of the fox winning the chicken-coop-guarding contract. Apart from more or less putting the damper on the ideal much promoted by the neocons of a pluralist, secular, McDonalds-enabled democracy arising in Iraq (or, indeed, of Iraqi women even retaining the rights they had under Saddam's neo-Stalinist dictatorship, for that matter), the Islamic militants currently streaming into Iraq to kill infidels are likely to get a rich new sponsor than be put out of business. Osama bin Laden, if he is still alive, must be a very happy man these days.
In the global war for truth, justice and the American way, sometimes our boys in Iraq have to make some tough decisions, like whether to rape young boys in the name of liberty:
The women were passing messages saying "Please come and kill me, because of what's happened". Basically what happened is that those women who were arrested with young boys/children in cases that have been recorded. The boys were sodomized with the cameras rolling. The worst about all of them is the soundtrack of the boys shrieking that your government has. They are in total terror it's going to come out.
And here is salon.com's take on this.
So when exactly is it morally acceptable to rape children for a greater good?
In case you thought Donald Rumsfeld wouldn't do anything about the Iraqi torture scandal, he has just banned digital cameras in US military facilities. The happy citizens of McWorld no longer have to be troubled by images of brutality, and can go back to believing that everything's going well.
Meanwhile, the US's immunity from international war crimes prosecution is about to expire; given the recent situation, they are more likely to have problems getting a renewal, and, not surprisingly, aggressively lobbying for a renewal. Chances are, if it is not renewed and US troops are arrested, some sort of behind-the-scenes deal will be done to keep them out of The Hague; given that the option is a US invasion of The Hague to liberate them, and a possible US-European war; though, if anything, the lack of an exemption will put pressure on the US to more aggressively prosecute any war criminals in their ranks, at least whilst the media are watching.
Mashups of Iraq torture photos and iPod advertisements have started appearing in New York. The posters take off the iPod ads' distinctive silhouette format, and bear the subtitle "10,000 volts in your pocket, guilty or innocent". (via Gizmodo)
50 suspicious things about the Nick Berg killing; from Berg's unusual circumstances (what he was doing alone in Iraq with an Israeli stamp in his passport, why he was travelling at night, his stated intention to leave, the 3 FBI visits he received whilst in custody), what exactly happened between his release from custody and capture by the killers (if he was handed over, that would have saved Osama Bin Laden from having to procure an orange jumpsuit for him), the timing of the release of the tape (which mentions the prison torture photos apparently before they were released), the increasingly implausible "al-Qaeda" assassins' builds, accents and hands, and even questions of whether the decapitated man was, in fact, Berg. Something's not what it seems. (via jwz)
Bad news for the neo-conservative pipe dream of making Iraq the start of a domino chain of neo-liberal democracies across the Middle East, too busy eating Big Macs, watching MTV and monitoring their Halliburton shares to consider annihilating Israel or supporting international terrorism, thus ushering in a new age of peace and contented consumerism across the entire Middle East. The US Government have indicated that they will accept a theocracy emerging in Iraq. I'm sure John Ashcroft wouldn't object.
Meanwhile, two cities in southern California are designating themselves no-communist zones; very retro.
Conspiracy theories about the Nick Berg killing. They come down to (a) where did the killers get the orange jumpsuit (though I'm sure al-Qaeda's budget would extend to those if they needed them), and more seriously (b) Berg's presence on an "enemies list" of treasonous liberals who opposed the war, and (c) the identities of the hooded killers, whose white hands, build and body language are allegedly inconsistent with them being Middle Easterners -- but consistent with them being US military/paramilitary personnel. (via tyrsalvia)
According to this article, the Kurds, not the US, captured Saddam Hussein; members of the al-Jabour tribe, one of whose daughters had been raped by Saddam's son Uday, betrayd him to the Kurdish Patriotic Front, who drugged him and left him in the famous "spider hole", which had been sealed to prevent his escape, and called the US to pick him up. In other words, he had no more chance of escaping from the US forces than one of the cage-raised birds Dick Cheney enjoys gunning down.
What is truly interesting is not just the US claim of capturing Saddam Hussein, but the claiming of an elaborate operation that ended successfully (much like the scripting of the rescue of Jessica Lynch). Not only did that elaborate operation not work (if it existed at all), but the Kurds had him trapped in a hole while the US got the media apparatus together for the "dramatic" events.
What is also worrisome, but not unexpected, is the virtual silence of the US and British press. ABC News Online was the only US-based news I found, and it was a copy of the Agence French Press report.
Arch-terrorist supervillain Saddam Hussein captured; he was found hiding in a "spider-hole" under a farmhouse, during an operation named after a 1980s teen Soviet-invasion movie. It is still not clear whether he'll face trial in Iraq or be spirited off to Guantanamo or somewhere.
Meanwhile, war skeptic and Scottish lefty scifi writer Charlie Stross thinks that the capture of Saddam may be a turning point, and not in a good way; with the Beast of Baghdad safely in a cage, the various Iraqi factions' main concern now may be the US occupation:
Saying "ding dong, the wicked witch is in custody" is a dangerously naive reaction to this kind of news. By way of a thought experiment, I suspect a good metaphor is this: imagine it's November 1945, and Adolf Hitler has been dug out of a cellar, alive, in the US occupied sector of Germany, where he has been coordinating sporadic resistance attacks. He goes on trial at Nuremburg and is in due course sentenced to hang. What, sixty years later, would his historical record have been like? And more importantly, what, twenty years later, might the German people have made of a leader who put up a spirited defense in a kangaroo court, rather than taking the coward's way out of the consequences of his actions by shooting himself?
I wonder whether they can afford to put Saddam on open trial, either in Iraq or elsewhere, for this reason and because of incriminating revelations he could make.
A heartwarming look at the reconstruction of Iraq's shattered schools, being carried out by military contractor Bechtel, as a
PR humanitarian exercise:
Most of the cheap plastic cisterns are already broken. Even a broken banister that resulted in one child falling one floor down - was not considered to be part of Bechtel's renovation plan. So the director ordered to weld it again, paying the work out of his own pocket. The work on the school, according to Abdel-Razzaq, was completed without a single person from the Bechtel corporation appraising the work. "Why do we need Bechtel? They have done absolutely nothing," he said.
"The first time they came here, they went from classroom to classroom with guns dangling over their shoulders, asking the terrified children whom they loved more, Saddam Hussein or George Bush."
Another decent piece on Salam Pax, this time from the Daily Telegraph.
In this country, we talk of "going into politics;" in Salams country, politics goes into you. It swaggers up the street in a tank, or kicks in your door. "When I was born, Saddam was already there," he says. "There is no pre-Saddam."
Self-government, he says, at present, "would mean Sharia law. We need people to learn to be politicians, and we need someone to guide us through this. Unfortunately, it has to be Britain or the US. The UN would make it worse it would just add bureaucracy."
Liberated from the shackles of Saddam Hussein's neo-Stalinist regime, Muslim extremists are moving aggressively to impose faith-based government on Iraq, which used to be one of the most secular societies in the Middle East. Liquor stores have been bombed, and women of all faiths have been threatened to cover up or else:
"Women who don't wear the veil won't be served when they go shopping; taxis won't pick them up and they might have eggs and rotten tomatoes thrown at them."
Not everybody's keen on Islamist theocracy, though; secular Iraqis and the country's Christian community vow to resist.
The statue of Saddam Hussein which was toppled by
the newly-liberated Iraqi public a Whitehouse-backed warlord and his militia has now been
replaced by a new statue of Ronald McDonald a symbolic Iraqi family holding aloft a crescent moon (representing Islam) and sun (representing the ancient Sumerian civilisation).
A Grauniad reporter tracks down Salam Pax, the mysterious Baghdad blogger. It turns out that by day he is 29 years old, an architect by profession, and spent much of his formative years in Vienna.
Soon, however, he began to search out other "bloggers" posting on the internet. Few were writing in English from the Arab world, and those that did wrote in heavily religious overtones. That was enough to encourage Salam to put his head above the parapet and one day he identified himself on a bloggers' website as an Iraqi. "I was saying, 'Come on, look, the Arabs here: sex, alcohol, belly dancers, TV shows, where are they?' All you saw was people talking about God and Allah. There was nothing about what was happening here."
Screens cover the windows to keep the midday sun away from his three computers, each of which has been opened up into a sprawling tangle of wires and circuit boards. A poster from the film The Matrix hangs on the wall, looking down on a jumble of computer books and CDs strewn over the floor. Pages of website addresses and computer commands are tacked to the wall above his screen. It was here that Salam would sit and talk endlessly about the impending war with Raed, who returned to Baghdad before the war, and the friend he describes only as G - Ghaith, another young, intelligent, eloquent architectural graduate who spent much of his adult life dodging military service.
A look at the Iraqi death-metal scene, or in particular, the Iraqi death-metal band; a group of five young men who sing in fluent American (learned from TV shows) and have ambitions of moving overseas: (via NWD)
"Iraq, man, there's nothing here," Moudhafar says. "The scene is in other places. Life is in other places."
All their songs are in English. Heavy metal should be either in English or German, says rhythm guitarist Faisal Talal. "Arabic doesn't fit." Moudhafar interjects with sudden hauteur, "We don't want just anybody to listen to our music. It should be, like, an educated person."
(I'm not so sure about the you-can't-rock-in-Arabic thing; I've seen it done. And if they're not at least using Middle-Eastern scales in their music, they're missing out.)
Remember the Iraqi secret documents proving that bolshy anti-war MP George Galloway was a traitor in the pay of Saddam? Well, it now looks like they're highly dubious. (via NWD)
A scrawl claimed to be Mr Galloway's signature on "receipts" has no similarity to his real one. The operation, revealed by the Mail on Sunday, also threw up glaring misspellings of Iraqi officers' names and mistakes in the title of Saddam's son Qusay, also said to have signed the document.
The documents were offered for sale by a former Republican Guard General. What is the world coming to if you can't trust the Iraqi Republican Guard?
Salam's back. (Well, not entirely; he still has no Internet access per se, so he's getting confederates abroad to post his entries for him.) Anyway, his dispatches from the war and the subsequent anarchy of occupied Baghdad make for interesting reading. Good to know he has made it.
A whole market has emerged right there in front of the two hotels, Meridian and Sheraton. Thuraya [thuraya.com] phone owners standing in front of their cars offering you phone calls abroad for $5 a minute (it actually costs less than a dollar).
Hang on; Meridian and Sheraton? Have Baghdad's hotels been acquired by US multinationals that rapidly, or were they called that during Saddam's regime?
Yesterday I almost died of thirst in front of 30 bottles of pure water. I had 30,000 Dinars in my pockets but couldnt buy a 2,000 Dinar bottle. (2000 in itself is a crime you used to get 4 bottles for that price, but what to do, the war and all). 30k Dinars in 10,000 bills which now have the stigma of being stolen on them.
Who gave them permission to camp at the grounds of the ***** Social Club and the Iraqi ***** Club. What am I supposed to do with my membership? Where do I find another big indoor swimming pool? No, seriously. What is this thing with these foreign political parties who have suddenly invaded Baghdad? Do they have no respect for public property? Or since it is the season of the loot they think they can just camp out wherever they like and, ahem, liberate public buildings. PUK at the National Engineering Consultants building. PDK at the Mukhabarat building in Mansour. INC taking an army conscription center. Islamic Dawa at the childrens public library. Another Islamic-something taking a bank. Outoutout. Liberate your own backyard; you have no right to sit in these buildings.
Hopefully he'll resume blogging regularly once AOL or Earthlink or someone rebuilds the Iraqi Internet.
These people claim that former RIAA lobbyist Hilary Rosen is now writing intellectual-property laws for the new government of Free Iraq. If this is true, I wonder what bold experiments (abolition of public domain? criminalisation of non-DRM file formats/P2P filesharing? copyright as perpetual property title?) Rosen will have a free hand to try out without the legacy baggage of preexisting laws. Of course, it could be a hoax. (Maybe if the Democrats were in the Whitehouse...) (via bOING bOING)
I know; maybe they can fund the reparation of Iraqi heritage damaged by museum looters by giving the copyrights to Disney or someone and allowing them to invest in rebuilding Mesopotamia, in return for a guarantee that the profits will go swiftly back to head office.
So, after Iraq is pacified (or handed over to junior COW members to fix up), who's next? Let's take a look at the candidates:
- Syria. Its name has come up in Washington lately. They're sheltering Saddam and/or his WMDs (you know, the ones they couldn't find in Iraq), helping Palestinian bombers, and refusing to let McDonalds set up in Damascus. And besides they're not very nice.
- Iran. Similar reasons. Plus they're right between Iraq and Afghanistan. Not conquering them wouldn't look very good.
- North Korea. Rumsfeld's heart seems to be set on Syria, but if Kim Jong Il keeps jumping up and shouting "Me! Me! Pick me!", he may have to reprioritise. Business before pleasure and all that.
- Cuba. The presence of a fiercely anti-US Communist state a stone's throw from Florida makes a mockery of the Project for a New American Century's goals of full-spectrum dominance. How can they expect every government in the world to fear and respect the US, knowing that their fortunes, and indeed their very survival, hinge on the report card Washington gives them, when America can't even control its own backyard? Cuba has to go; and with no USSR backing it, it's only time before it gets its turn.
- Venezuela. Crucible of No Logo-style anti-corporate populism or creepy Cuban-like Marxist dictatorship in the offing (depending on whom you believe), either way, it doesn't belong in the New American Century. And they have oil too. To further sweeten the deal, some figures associated with the military-backed strike against the leftist leaders there have actually made claims of President Chavez giving money to al-Qaeda shortly after 9/11.
- Saudi Arabia. The monarchy is apparently tottering on the verge of collapse, with Islamic fundamentalists of the same stripe as made up most of the 9/11 hijackers set to take over. Backlash against the invasion of Iraq could be the push that sends it over, and invites intervention.
- Pakistan. See Saudi Arabia. And they have nukes too.
- France. Well, there are bumper stickers in the U.S. which read "First Iraq, then France", so someone must be for it.
- Canada. Because it's there. It's not heavily defended either; a quick conquest of Canada in the last 2 weeks of October 2004 should be enough to get Bush back with a landslide, even if the economy is fux0red.
So which will it be? Only time will tell.
Oil is not the only commodity with which the Iraqi people can repay us for liberating them; a British firm wants to auction off .iq Internet domains, and promises to use the proceeds to pay for rebuilding Iraq's Internet infrastructure.
An interesting thesis on the social history of Iraq, in particular the Ba'ath party's systematic annihilation of any possibility of a civil society arising any time soon.
In her book, The Outlaw State, she describes a common behavioral reaction that Iraqis exhibited when encountering foreign visitors like herself who happened to ask even apolitical questions. Sciolino referred to it as "the blank stare." (Sciolino, 77). By this she meant that when asked a question that might seem harmless to a Westerner, but that to an Iraqi connoted even the slightest hint that something political could be read into his or her answer, it was simply safest to reply by assuming a blank stare. For one could never be sure that an informer was not lurking nearby. Makiya takes this argument even further. Accordingly, to live in Iraqi Ba`thist society requires not just assuming the blank stare but putting on a mask
In one case, a government official and his family were executed and their house bulldozed simply because he happened to attend party where someone known to him had made a joke about Saddam in his presence. Informers were present at the time but his failure to report the joke cost him and his family their lives. (Miller and Mylroie, 50). In a more recent case, a telephone operator was executed simply for warning a businessman not to use a line that was bugged.
Meet one of the people we're soon going to be bombing into dust in the name of God, Liberty and the right to cheap gasoline: Where is Raed?, a blog run by a young Iraqi. A combination of the usual blog trivia and joking, dispatches from Baghdad, astute and somewhat cynical observations, and an underlying anxiety about the small everyday details likely to be annihilated in the upcoming carpet-bombing. The author of the blog comes across as urbane, cultured and very much like us. In fact, you could imagine much of it having been written in East Berlin in 1988 (though, obviously, not as a blog). Interestingly enough, there is an open disrespect for the official lines of the Ba'athist dictatorship; perhaps a sign that Saddam's police state isn't what it used to be? Mind you, the Americans' intentions don't get off lightly. And then there are his most astute observations of anti-war activists:
Those foreigners are all over the place, I think I know what it should be called: War Tourism. betcha they will be out of here faster than you can say 'Iraqi-peace-team' when things get a bit too hot. It must have been a slow day for news people because the Mutanabi Street was full of them, or Iraqis selling second hand books have become important news items. At least three news teams were filming in that crowded street with their Iraqi minders shooing people away from the cameras. Later on I walked thru Al-Rasheed and Al-Sadoon and they were all over. Not news teams this time but the War Tourists, some of them even carrying backpacks which have [Iraq peace team] written on them in gold marker. And I guess we will be getting more tourists soon. Come on, have a couple of days on us. They will be accommodating you in Al-Rasheed Hotel for free and you get the official sight seeing tour, a couple of lunches with people you can tell your kids you met, when they are shown on CNN and you get to be on TV singing "give peace a chance" in front of the UN building in Abu Nawas (don't miss the excellent grilled fish - masgoof - while you are there, the restaurants have a good view of one of the oldest presidential palaces). I know they all mean well, but I really don't think coming here and getting photographed with Iraqi officials is helping their "cause". Do thy really want to stand up and risk their lives for this regime. If you are so in love with the situation here, be my guest let's trade places because if it is a "cause" for you, for me it's my life and the way I have to go thru it.
(Best of luck, Salam. Do try and stay out of danger, and keep blogging.) (via 1.0)
Julie Burchill presents a leftist argument for invading Iraq in the Guardian.
5) "Ooo, your friends smell!" Well, so do yours. We may be saddled with Bush and Blair, but you've got Prince Charles (a big friend of the Islamic world, probably because of its large number of feudal kingdoms and hardline attitude to uppity women), the Catholic church (taking a brief break from buggering babies to condemn any western attack as "morally unacceptable") and posturing pansies such as Sean Penn, Sheryl Crow and Damon Albarn.
George W. Bush's Axis of Evil as extreme holiday destination.
North Korea was nowhere near as tough as I thought it would be, but Cuba was a real disappointment because it's so touristy.
Iraq should be popular as Egypt as a tourist destination; it's got the Garden of Eden, the first ever city, the Hanging Gardens, yet hardly anyone visits.
On the third day (in Iran) three guys burst in while we were talking to some students. They took us back to the hotel and turned our rooms over. When they found cameras, tapes and tourist visas, they decided that we were spies.
A number of young idealists are on their way to Baghdad to act as "human shields", lending their moral authority to defend the peaceful Iraqi state against US imperialist aggression. As one guitar-wielding peacenik says, "Baghdad is probably the most peaceful, mellow place I've ever been in my life. Everybody is so laid-back it's unbelievable." Though this neglects the fact that Saddam Hussein's regime is monstrously brutal, with a shocking record of torture and murder.
According to Amnesty International the regime was busily torturing and executing various enemies, real and imagined. Eyes were being gouged, tongues ripped out and heads cut off. The torture of political detainees, said Amnesty, "generally takes place in the headquarters of the General Security Directorate in Baghdad or in its branches in Baghdad".
Now it could well be that Amnesty International has been infiltrated by Dubya's disinformation operatives (perhaps via Phony Blair's "Nu Labour" government) and turned into a pro-US propaganda engine, with their strident denunciations of US capital punishment and racism merely acting to lull bleeding-hearted Guardian readers into a false sense of trust and get them to swallow the bigger lie; it could be, but I doubt it.
This Iraq war is a sordid affair. On one hand, Saddam Hussein is a monster. (Not even the most delusional Marxist could argue that he's the leader of a liberation movement... well, maybe the Spartacists could, but everybody knows they're barking mad.) I doubt that there's much support given to him by the Iraqi people that's not the result of blind fear of what happens if they don't. On the other hand, the Saudis are just as bad, by all accounts, but they're Our Allies so it's OK. And pretending that the US invasion of Iraq will be all about giving a helping hand to the poor downtrodden Iraqi people (who happen to be sitting on one of the biggest, and most strategically important, oil fields in the world) stinks of hypocrisy. Given that the US is reportedly considering pocketing Iraqi oil to pay for its occupation (how fortunate that those poor Iraqis have this means of repaying their benefactors!) adds to suspicions that it's all about oil.
OTOH, the "peace activists" who plan to go to Baghdad to act as human shields for a murderous regime just because it opposes the US don't seem to be the sharpest knives in the drawer. In fact, they make student-newspaper pro-Cuban apologists (whose ability to excuse away the apparatus of totalitarianism as a higher form of freedom never fails to amaze) look like mature and well-reasoned political commentators.
As the Second Gulf War approaches, there is debate on where to try Saddam Hussein. The US want an international tribunal, though there is apparently a growing consensus for him to be tried in Iraq under Iraqi law (though presumably they'd have to rewrite Iraqi law significantly; I suspect that rule of law is somewhat ad hoc over there. Unless by "Iraqi law" they mean the whims of whoever is in power, in which case perhaps they can take him to Texas and let George Jr. pull the switch personally.)
(Personally, I still like the idea of parading Saddam around the malls of America as a trophy, at least for aesthetic reasons. Perhaps they will briefly tour him around Australia afterwards as a reward for our loyalty. Well, that and put a plaque honouring the Bali victims in the playground of the Baghdad McDonalds.)
Then he's over the wall and yelling and charging straight at the machine guns and somehow the bullets aren't hitting him. Gone is the Santa of old: fat, jovial, and bearded. Now he's clean-shaven, square-jawed, buff and barrel-chested in his signature red and white uniform, and the colors blaze amongst the desert browns and greys. And his bag, painted bright blue with little white stars to show his national pride, is slung over his shoulder. He's like a beacon, a big banner that says shoot me, I'm American.
(via bOING bOING)
Shortly after the CIA has failed to find any link between Iraq and terrorist groups, the UN's chief weapons inspector, Hans Blix, has said that there is no evidence of Iraq having or trying to build weapons of mass destruction. Nonetheless, Bush, Blair and Howard are still going on about how there must be terrorist links, and how with international help, Iraq could easily make a nuclear bomb to give to Al-Qaeda. Call it faith-based geopolitics.
Evidence or no evidence, there will almost certainly be an invasion of Iraq. Bush will not be robbed of his statesmanly stature and turned into just another bumbling idiot politician again, and nothing short of Saddam Hussein giving himself up to U.S. authorities (and not those UN/EU pinkos either) will suffice to stop the machinery now in motion. And as soon as Saddam is safely in his supermax cell in Colorado and the insurrections across the Middle East have been put down, they can go after Castro or Gaddafi; the possibilities are endless.
Looks like we're off to war with Iraq, Iran and North Korea next.
"For too long our culture has said `if it feels good, do it'," Mr Bush said. "Now America is embracing a new ethic and a new creed: Let's roll."
Actually, "if it feels good, do it" sounds a lot like waging war, finding your approval ratings soaring, and then declaring war on three more states, don't you think?
Topical comic of the day: Get Your War On. (via Plastic)
Far-out rumour of the day: Is Saddam buying up PlayStation 2 consoles to convert to supercomputers and missile guidance systems, neatly bypassing the UN embargo on computer sales (which doesn't count video game systems) and striking the infidels where it hurts -- with a pre-Xmas video game shortage? (via Slashdot)