Saturday, January 11, 2003

thank you germany!
the only european country to position themselves to an absolute "NO TO WAR!".

Monday, January 06, 2003

There has been increasing news reports on Iraqi people (artists, support groups....) here.
We can finally detect a Face in the growd!
Hang in there, we are seeing you.


M, I got your email thanks and congrats.

There is a real shift here. Today is Army day in Iraq and the city is at a standstill. A group of peace activists coming back from Basrah, a city south of Baghdad and the one most desvastated by the Persian Gulf War, blew a tire and crashed. One member died and five are injured. The mounting troops around the gulf are beginning to make everything tense. But no one is preparing for war. What does one do when bomb shelters won't save you and the civilian infrastructure is already at abysmal conditions? The Iraq peace team is planning more radical actions in the coming weeks. The air is thick with death and transfiguration.
By Paul Chan

Hijra, the Islamic New Year, doesn’t even begin until March. But if there is any city in the world that deserves to set aside their earthly miseries and celebrate, just for one night, something, anything, with stiff drinks and dancing, it is here.

New Year’s Eve on the streets of Baghdad is a riotous affair, second only to Saddam Hussein’s birthday in April. People chatted and waited in line at the liquor stores on Al Saddoun street, near the city center, to buy whatever was left. Iraqis can’t drink in public anywhere: it was banned in 1995. But that doesn’t stop people from sharing cheap beers and Arak, a traditional Iraqi liqueur, with friends and neighbors at home. Or in vans. Dusty old vans full of young men and spirits sang and yelled out of their windows on Jamia Street, near the Baghdad National Theatre. The traffic, already formidable during regular business hours, turned into gridlock hours before the turn of the New Year. Not to be outdone, young men in Karada, a neighborhood and shopping district in Southeast Baghdad, roamed the streets dressed as dandies, replete with ill-fitting checkered suits and canes, following men with homemade drums as they wandered from intersection to intersection, stopping only to play a few hypnotic beats that would instantly give birth to a dance party. The dandies sprayed matr, a white foamy substance Iraqis like to break out during weddings, onto cars and tempted the passengers to leave their dusty seats and join them on the street, where the real party was.

The police were out in force too. They kept the revelers in line with provocative flashes of their automatic weapons. But beside the guns, not much more separated the two camps on the streets: they were both young and proud and will most likely enter military service soon, called to defend their country against a possible invasion. It is difficult not to see the celebrations as a kind of last hurrah, before the fall and their official status as causalties of war.

This was the sobering thought that kept the rest of Baghdad from celebrating. There are, of course, those who don’t because they are simply too poor. Sadam city, a poverty-stricken neighborhood in Northeast Baghdad remained relatively quiet. There are also those for whom New Year’s Eve is meaningless. Since the sanctions, secular Iraq has turned increasingly Islamic. Saddam and the Socialist Baath party is partly the cause. They have turned the virtues of Islam into instruments of the state, building mosques (when completed, the Saddam mosque in Baghdad will be the largest in the world) and mounting “quality of life” campaigns (like banning the public consumption of alcohol) that have steered many in Iraq toward Islam. State sponsored religions are generally a form of social management. With the aftermath of the gulf war and the punishment from the sanctions, the social fabric of Iraq was unraveling. Islam connected the people back together with the state and provided a framework for rebuilding social order. “This is why,” Allah, a media escort with the ministry of information said, “before the sanctions there were public pictures of Saddam dancing with girls and having a good time everywhere in the city. Now there are only pictures of Saddam praying.”

At a moment when history is teetering between hell and reason, prayer, for people who have known only political impotence, makes a lot of sense. This is the politics of salvation, and tonight it is being practiced by everyone; young and old, Muslim and Christian. Zein is a young Iraqi coordinator for Bridges to Baghdad, an Italian anti-sanctions relief agency. She has lived in the US, Italy, Lebanon, but decided to return to Iraq and be with her people at the dawn of a possible attack. Tonight, like many Iraqis, she has turned down party invitations, opting instead to stay home with her parents, to reflect and pray. For many Iraqis, the coming of the New Year brings only dread. “There is nothing to celebrate,” Zein said. “Maybe the rich can forget what is happening and what will happen to our city if something isn’t done to stop it. But I can’t.”


At the Orfali art gallery in the affluent neighborhood of Al Monsour, Black Scorpions, quite possibly Baghdad’s only heavy metal band, played their first gig on New Year’s Eve. It was a short set, with only six songs. Unfortunately, they did not play an Arabic rendition of Guns–n-Roses’ classic “Sweet Child of Mine,” although it was rumored that they would. Instead, the four-man band played traditional Iraqi folks songs. They were nervous at first, playing to the sixty or so guests who paid a hefty $15,240 dinars, or roughly $12 US dollars, for dinner and entertainment. But by the third song, the Scorpions had hit their stride, and the mostly middle aged audience began to sing along. Minutes before the New Year, this party immersed itself in a nostalgic haze, reveling in a past infinitely brighter than the bleak future of a coming war.

Now, there are Iraqis who know about the growing opposition to Bush and company. They know about the global anti-war marches in January. There are even those who believe that averting the war is still possible. Here, however, at this swank art gallery and music hall in Southwest Baghdad, they weren’t taking any chances. They were preparing for war by stockpiling memories of their Iraq through song. The New Year was almost upon them, and their country had to be protected, one way or the other.