Friday, February 18

I'LL MEET YOU 'ROUND THE BEND, MY FRIEND

Reading Riverbend is like reading Anne Frank's diary as she wrote it, instead of after her death. It's heartbreakingly poignant but more, I feel as if I've come to know her, as if she's a friend in a terrible situation, and I fear for her freedom, security, even her life. I check her blog every day to see if she's posted. When she hasn't, I worry and pray. From her latest entry:

Is anyone surprised that the same people who came along with the Americans – the same puppets who all had a go at the presidency last year – are the ones who came out on top in the elections? Jaffari, Talbani, Barazani, Hakim, Allawi, Chalabi… exiles, convicted criminals and war lords. Welcome to the new Iraq.

Ibraheim Al-Jaffari, the head of the pro-Iran Da’awa party gave an interview the other day. He tried very hard to pretend he was open-minded and that he wasn’t going to turn the once-secular Iraq into a fundamentalist Shia state but the fact of the matter remains that he is the head of the Da’awa party. The same party that was responsible for some of the most infamous explosions and assassinations in Iraq during the last few decades. This is the same party that calls for an Islamic Republic modeled like Iran. Most of its members have spent a substantial amount of time in Iran.

Jaffari cannot separate himself from the ideology of his party.

Then there’s Abdul Aziz Al-Hakim, head of the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq (SCIRI). He got to be puppet president for the month of December and what was the first thing he did? He decided overburdened, indebted Iraq owed Iran 100 billion dollars. What was the second thing he did? He tried to have the “personal status” laws that protect individuals (and especially women) eradicated.

They try to give impressive interviews to western press but the situation is wholly different on the inside. Women feel it the most. There’s an almost constant pressure in Baghdad from these parties for women to cover up what little they have showing. There’s a pressure in many colleges for the segregation of males and females. There are the threats, and the printed and verbal warnings, and sometimes we hear of attacks or insults.

You feel it all around you. It begins slowly and almost insidiously. You stop wearing slacks or jeans or skirts that show any leg because you don’t want to be stopped in the street and lectured by someone who doesn’t approve. You stop wearing short sleeves and start preferring wider shirts with a collar that will cover up some of you neck. You stop letting your hair flow because you don’t want to attract attention to it. On the days when you forget to pull it back into a ponytail, you want to kick yourself and you rummage around in your handbag trying to find a hair band… hell, a rubber band to pull back your hair and make sure you attract less attention from *them*.

We were seriously discussing this situation the other day with a friend. The subject of the veil and hijab came up and I confessed my fear that while they might not make it a law, there would be enough pressure to make it a requirement for women when they leave their homes. He shrugged his shoulders and said, “Well women in Iran will tell you it’s not so bad- you know that they just throw something on their heads and use makeup and go places, etc.” True enough. But it wasn’t like that at the beginning. It took them over two decades to be able to do that. In the eighties, women were hauled off the streets and detained or beaten for the way they dressed.

It’s also not about covering the hair. I have many relatives and friends who wore a hijab before the war. It’s the principle. It’s having so little freedom that even your wardrobe is dictated. And wardrobe is just the tip of the iceberg. There are clerics and men who believe women shouldn’t be able to work or that they shouldn’t be allowed to do certain jobs or study in specific fields. Something that disturbed me about the election forms was that it indicated whether the voter was ‘male’ or ‘female’- why should that matter? Could it be because in Shari’a, a women’s vote or voice counts for half of that of a man? Will they implement that in the future?
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We’ve also heard of several more abductions and now assassinations. They say Badir’s Brigade have come out with a new list of ‘wanted’… but dead, not alive. It’s a list of mainly Sunni professors, former army generals, doctors, etc. Already there have been three assassinations in Saydiyeh, an area that is a mix of Sunnis and Shia. They say Badir’s Brigade people broke into the house and gunned down the families. This assassination spree is, apparently, a celebration of the election results.

It’s interesting to watch American politicians talk about how American troops are the one thing standing between Sunnis and Shia killing each other in the streets. It looks more and more these days like that’s not true. Right now, during all these assassinations and abductions, the troops are just standing aside and letting Iraqis get at each other. Not only that, but the new army or the National Guard are just around to protect American troops and squelch any resistance.

There was hope of a secular Iraq, even after the occupation. That hope is fading fast.

2 Comments:

Blogger PSoTD said...

Great comparison to the Diary of Anne Frank. It is both heartbreaking and riveting to read most of Riverbend's posts.

1:06 PM  
Blogger Arancaytar said...

Indeed.

I find myself worrying for her life too; whenever the period since the last post reaches a week, or I read about new suicide attacks in Iraq, I get extremely nervous.

Returning to her blog and finding a new post makes me want to sing all day. :D

2:03 PM  

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