Wednesday, June 27, 2007
This was one of the two Iraqi documentaries that were nominated for the Best Documentary Award at the last Oscars (both lost for Global Warming), it revolves around Dr. Riyadh, a member of the Sunni Islamic Party which was one of the few, if not the only, Sunni fronts that supported entering the first elections held in January 2005 ( only to pull out at the last minute), following him around as he treks between his home in now-notorious Adhamiya, the charity medical clinic there, and his stint as he tries to rally votes for himself as the Baghdad governorate candidate for the Islamic Party. This central story is told in juxtaposition with a subplot about the efforts of UN officials and other MNF officials as they try to set up said elections, mostly shot indoors in conference halls and private contractor rooms. While Iraq For Sale was a dull talking-heads information piece, this one is the capture-them-unawares personal setting, watching it again for this review turned up some pretty unexpected gems of normal Iraqis captured amidst their daily life: a scene of Dr. Riyadh's wife and daughter trying to kill flies completely oblivious to a raging battle outside, a Najaf woman who complaints that her husband spends all his time with Muqtada al-Sadr, Kurdish men in a car talking about the evils of Arab Patriotism, a visit to the notorious Abu Gharib camps, and a very disturbing segment of a family friend who accidentally metions that he asked Americans for help retrieving his kidnapped son while he does not realize that the kidnappers are still on the phone. It all sounds pretty exciting here, but that was not what I felt the first time I watched, personal documentaries like this are made or broken by the human being you're going to spend those 90 minutes with, and Dr. Riyadh isn't really star material, forget the 'this is real wihout glitz' approach ; the Dr. is a sullen, featureless man who is serious and morbid most of the time, while the monotonus Kadhum al-Sahir soundtrack tries hard to convince you there is something sad in front of your eyes, Dr. Riyadh's desk employee mannerisms shines most boringly in the breadth of the film, even when trying to promote himself in upcoming elections with patients and neighbors in an amusingly low-key election campaign, fortunately the home-video segments are somewhat lively, with a wife who is skeptical about her husband's political aspirations and daughters who are constantly on the tease. Also, as compared to Iraq in Fragments, the artistic vision of the filmmaker: the soundtrack, which is just one song repeated, sounds more forced than coloring, nothing like the gloomy soundscapes of James Longley in Fragments which truly underscores the despair in the characters eyes. The series of official conferences leading up to the elections wind up being filler instead of adding depth, so by the anti-climactic end of the film where the party pulls out of the elections rendering all of the film's point mute and Dr. Riyadh standing in the hallway while his wife and daughters tease him, you are left not sure what it is all about. My Country has a good story and a handful of powerful scenes which are lost between lackluster presentation and wavering storytelling.
Click here to download My Country, My Country (torrent, requires free subscription to site)
PROS: Some interesting scenes of Iraqi experiences during the war.
CONS: Boring hero, unfocused storytelling, soundtrack hell.
ROTTEN TOMATOES: 85% Fresh Rating
KONFUSED RATING: 3 scenes of Dr. Riyadh sulkingly driving his car around Baghdad out of a possible five.
Friday, June 22, 2007
Click here to WATCH the documentary on Google Video.
GOOD: Insightful information on the purpose and function of private corporations in the war
CONS: Shockers all outdated, unbalanced, subjective approach raises credibility concerns, very impersonal, no iraqis.
ROTTEN TOMATOES RATINGS: 20 red tomato reviews out of 20, 100% FreshTomato rating.
KONFUSED KID RATING: One Abu Gharib detainee's choked penis out of a possible five.
Wednesday, June 20, 2007
The Iraqi Documentaries series is about reviewing half a dozen documentaries about Iraq I have seen so far, I have already reviewed two of them before, one here on my blog and the other for another publication, but now that I have seen more documentaries I have a bigger picture and my opinions may have different, the documentaries in question are arranged in the order I saw them:
1. Iraq in Fragments (shot 2004, released 2006, nominated for Oscar '07) by James Langley
2. I Know I'm Not Alone (shot 2003) by Political musician Michael Franti
3. My Country, My Country (shot 2004-2005, also nominated for Oscar '07) by Laura Poitras
4. Voices of Iraq (2004) by the people of Iraq
5. Hometown Baghdad (2006, Chat The Planet)
and maybe Iraq for Sale: The War Profiteers, although i'm not really interested in anything not directly involving Iraqi people.
Tuesday, June 19, 2007
Wednesday, June 13, 2007
A. I say so
B. We were talking about Azuz's lung cancer. My friend, a Christian doctor of high calibre, said that he'd give Azuz four months, as you know and I vaguely knew, cancer is extremely difficult if it is discovered later, this is especially true for lung cancer, and Wikipedia says that the 5-year survival rate for lung cancer patients is 14%. As you would lovingly noticed, I put Abdilaziz al-Hakim's name first on my God's Dead Pool on the right, miracle? Allah be praised. To celebrate this, I have decorated Azuz's name in yellow, much to the disdain of my sectarain friend, Shaqawa.
If indeed al-Hakim bites one last cigarette and goes in search for his lost brother, this would create a very vague power vaccum at Badr/SIIC/UIA, first, Hakim Jr, a smiling dude who looks a lot like high-school homosexual cannon fodder, is highly unqualified for this task, there are a lot of hawks at SCIRI, sorry, SIIC so while they cannot risk not crowning Uday, I'm sorry, Ammar's hand because the heavyweight clerical Hakim name means unquestioning public approval, my guess is that he would be a puppet in the hands of someone much more agile. Hadi al-Amiri, head of Badr Corps, is butch, and there's also one of the most wicked faces i ever saw, Jalal al-Din al-Sagheer. One can never forget somebody like Big Bear-double Adil Abdulmahdi, so it's a very interesting issue. Anyway, I am going to pray now. oh God, look at the rest of the list, NEXT NEXT NEXT!
Saturday, June 09, 2007
One of the most controversial cases in Sunni-Shiite debates is the succession of Prophet Mohammed, any researcher looking into the case through modern objective lenses will feel that the case is one of the far past and has no exclusive relationship to the present, Iraqis opinion was different, as they believe the person who succeded the prophet will be their intercessor and could rescue him from damnation.
The foundations of intercessions is common in all major religions in one form or another, but we could argue that its effects are subdued earlier on, as people pour their interest in performing righteous deeds more than indirect intercession, however as time takes its course people revert to their old social pattern, immersed in life and far away from religion, they find themselves drowning in sins and has no hope for salvation unless by a guided figure who will be their ticket to God. They do not ask God directly, for their example is the one of a criminal being led to the court, finding no other solution but to seek a ‘middle man’, so he dedicates his effort to this ‘middle man’, thinking that his heart must soften and be moved by dignity to come to his aid, people extend this principle to what happens before the afterlife as well, when someone is ill, had a relative dead, is in heavy debt, or is surrounded by plague, they would hurry to a shrine of a saint or imam and would cry and beseech him. They rarely address God himself, for he is like the Sultan who is unreachable due to his high esteem and regard.
The story of Hasan Kibreet is a very fitting example for the social values dominant at those times, Kibreet was a shaqi in al-Kadhimiya district of Baghdad who lived at late Ottoman, early-British period. The many tales people weave around him depict him as a bloodthirsty butcher of the sort that kills a man and then walks in his funeral the next day, others relate incidents which could only be interpreted as sadistic, as he takes pleasure in bloodshed and pain, when he participated wit the Mujahideen in al-Sha’eeba incidents during World War I he would not only kill enemy soldiers but would decapitate them and bring their heads to clerics who were with the Mujahideen, who were sickened by his deed and would reproach him without any effect.
Someone asked Kibreet about the number of his victims and how he shall face his creator, he said that he killed a lot of people but he is hoping for the intercession of Fatima al-Zahraa, saying that one day while he went with a number of Baghdad shaqis to rob rich houses there, he passed the Sheikh Ma’roof cemetery in Kadhimiya, and he heard the sound of a pleading girl who is crying for Fatima al-Zahraa’s mercy, Kibreet realized that she was about to be raped while still a virgin, so he decided to add one more victim to his list for ‘Fatima al-Zahraa’, killing him and returning the girl to her parents safely. It is highly likely that Kibreet died while being certain that he will get that intercession, and many people of
They are not to blame, as they are forced to do this due to their conditions, as they have grown up with the morals of Jahiliya, and have taken a custom to it and cannot deviate from it, on the other hand, they fear the punishment of God and hellfire, so they must reach a solace to pacify the catch-22.
Tob Abu Khuzama:
After Ottoman Sultan Murad re-liberated Baghdad from the hands of Iranian Saffavids in 1638, he left one of his heavy cannons to be put at the gate of the fortress, the cannon grew in the eyes of Baghdad’s peasants, Sunnis in particular, to hold something of a sanitly essence by which people are blessed and myths are spun around. The cannon was named ‘Tob Abu Khuzama’, allegedly because there was a small crack at its rim which legend has it that the cannon was at heavens when Baghdad was being laid siege to, and that God ordered Gabriel to descend to Earth to aid Sultan Murad to liberate Baghdad, so Gabriel descended, leading it by the rim. Other legends speak of the pattern of fish on its sides, saying that they stuck to the cannon while it crossed the ‘sea of power’ in its heavenly descent, and that the cannon picked up dirt and transformed it into bombs by the will of God. Other stories mention that Sultan Murad once became angry at the cannon and struck it by his fist, causing the crack as a testament to his physical strength. Another story talk about the cannon itself becoming angry (perhaps by the Sultan’s punch), so it hurled itself in the
Those legends escalated into saintly proportions, women would bless their children by it, and would swear by it and hold promises near it, custom has it that the newborn in Baghdad is brought at his 7th day, circled around the cannon, and have his head inserted inside the cannon three times, this continued until it was moved to the war museum prior to World War II, people forgot it and its saintly essence, not so long ago, the cannon was returned to al-Madyaan square, and is today an artifact without any divine value. (Konfused Kid - It was pulled out after 2003 by bandits who probably tried to make good use of its copper)
In conclusion, We cannot understand religious rites in
Konfused Kid: I had no intention to translate the passages regarding intercession as most of them were related to a principle which I felt wasn’t relevant to modern times, at least not as powerful as al-Wardi envisions it to be here , but after re-reading it casts very illuminating lights on the contradictory values of religion in Iraqis, it could explain how people who are supposed to be devout can go about their daily life while knowing that they have shed so much blood and destruction. Today, the principle of intercession has faded from the forefront of Sunnis, who claim to ‘ask God alone’. Perhaps influenced by Wahaabism, anyway, it is clear from al-Wardi that a few centuries Sunnis were just as attached to intercession as Shiites. Ironically, Saddam Hussein carried out many of the practices pointed at by al-Wardi here, I cannot remember how many gigantic mosques has he built in the last years of his reign.
Tuesday, June 05, 2007
Iraqi Moral Values:
Iraqis in the Ottoman period were closer to Bedouin values than Islamic values, due to the control of the ‘Bedouin tide’ on them, there is a stark difference between the values of Bedouins and Islam, in a nutshell, Bedouin values glorify racism, vengeance, looting, killing women to wash away shame and so forth, while Islam condemns all that and considers it banned. Nevertheless, those values were common in the Ottoman period as many people glorified the man who shakes the ground when he walks and who robs houses at night out of manhood, describing him as a ‘lion’, ‘nightman’ or ‘tribe’s pride’.
Those Bedouin tides have always encompassed the Iraqi society at one time or another, in a continuous ebb and flow as
- The Ottoman conquest came after a series of Mongul conquests in which no civil government to promote trade and encourage production and irrigation was established, one of the darkest passages of Iraqi history and the lowest of civilization. Post-Abbasid governments were first interested in conquest and taxes instead of reconstruction and order, city dwellers were forced to take shelter in Bedouin and tribal ruggedness as a reaction to save money and soul.
Ottoman Statewas past its prosperity and power and started showing signs of stagnation and decay at the time when it seized in the 16th Century. It was not supposed to stay alive afterwards for a long time but what kept it so was what became known as the ‘Eastern Affair’, as major powers such as Britain and France were interested in keeping the Ottoman State balanced between life and death so it does not die without their having a proper agreement on how to distribute its wealth. As a result, Iraq suffered under a long era of governmental decay and cultural backwardness, which prompted Bedouin tribes to rule supreme. Iraq
- Ottoman state was preoccupied with its continuous war with
Iran, which allowed tribes to do as they please in . The state itself used the tribes sometimes in its war against Iraq Iran, those tribes are known to fight not for any patriotic or religious motive but only for the bounty and to gain rewards that enable dominance on nearby tribes, wide areas of thus is under the control of Tribal sheikhs ruling according to Bedouin custom. Iraq
- Diseases filled
at the Ottoman period once every 10 years, an important factor in crystallizing Bedouin tides and destroying civilizations. Iraq
Cities and Tribes
There are two social patterns that lay evidence to the extremity of the Bedouin tide in the Ottoman era ; the sparse population and the high ratio of tribes per cities. Mid-19th century
On the other hand, city dwellers had three levels of social identification as opposed to the sole tribal one. First of all comes the neighborhood or district against all other neighborhoods in his city, as it comes to be a synonym for the tribe for Bedouins, this local identification would expand to what we could the ‘city’ identification, when the city is threatened under a common ailment. The third level is sectarian, such as when a sectarian case is raised or a state of one of the two sects comes to invade, the citizens then forget all their district and city identifications and pour their attention on that, to quote the Bedouin saying: “Me and my brother on our cousin, and me and our cousin on the stranger.” Hereby, it is clear that sectarianism is another level of social awareness, and is not based on religion or care for it.
The Phenomenon of ‘Shaqawa’
One of the most important social aspects that hint at the Bedouin tide is the ‘shaqawa’, which gives us a clear insight on the values and composition of the Iraqi society.
A “shaqi”, legally speaking, is a criminal who loots houses and imposes ‘taxes’ on the rich. Socially however, he is a hero by which the neighborhood takes pride, he does not disobey the dominant local customs – often a rich, noble guardian of his neighbors, and is keen to observe the rights of ‘the common bread and salt’, his criminal behavior is directed both at the government and at those who do not encompass his identification. Many a bloody battle has been fought at night between the Shaqi and the governmental soldiers, as his status in the eyes of the people increases with the increasing number of victims and battles, if he enters prison, it is a medal on his chest, if he is killed ; a funeral comes out to mourn the ‘great’ man. (Konfused Kid – I have often wondered how come the criminals are always loved, this seems to be universal somewhat in humans, Natural Born Killers, anyone?)
The ratio of shaqis to normal population was very few per district, in spite of their small numbers, they exemplified the social standards with clarity. Their small numbers is a result of the rare qualities one must have to be the shaqi : Courage, physical prowess, weapon efficiency, a stout heart and a dashing spirit. If one person gets lucky and have all this, and then gets to be luckier by surviving a few bloody battles, then his reputation will soar in his neighborhood, eventually adopting all the manners of the confident protector and champion, with a certain ‘walk’ and ‘talk’. Most boys in the neighborhood look up to him as a role model, wishing to be like him when they listen to their fathers and relatives speak copiously, most of those boys will never be like him as explained earlier, which could lead them to suffer immense psychological complexes like the ones which troubled Khalaf bin Ameen.
Khalaf bin Ameen:
Khalaf bin Ameen lived at late-Ottoman period, Baghdadis still chuckle at his anecdotes, all revolving about him being an ugly, cowardly person wishing all the time to be a shaqi to be looked at, he had holstered two big guns which he never uses unless he is absolutely certain that the danger has passed completely. He would spin tales of the most intricate detail about his adventures of looting, mudering and robbing, most of which attributed to himself naturally, if a big heist is attempted, Khalaf would go to people asking whether his name was included in the list of the accused, laying birth to the famous saying: “Didn’t they mention the name of your uncle?”, he would try to confess for crimes he did not commit to attempt and enter jail, but the governor would obstinately release him every time, leading him to come about complaining about the unjust governor who releases the criminals and imprisons the ‘innocents’. Most people, like Khalaf, loved to pompously pose as shaqis, bin Ameen was alone in the spotlight because he exaggerated himself to the point of mockery. A lot of people still carry that trait, and if their hearts are exposed to the masses then we would see many Khalaf bin Ameens. Dr. Mustafa Juwad traces the traditions of Shaqawa to those of the ‘Ayareen’ and ‘Shuttar’ who dominated Baghdad at the Abassid, while the comparison is valid, there is a huge difference; a Shaqi works alone while Ayareen and Shuttar were groups that resembled military soldiers at times and unions at others, and my personal judgement is that the ‘Ayareen’ represented the revolution of the poor over the rich as a result of the aristocracy that grew in the civilized Baghdad at the time, the rich capital of a far-reaching empire. Historians say that when ayareens and bandits would intercept tribes they would justify this by taking their right of ‘zakat’, of which merchants deprived them. This social condition is undoubtedly different from the Ottoman-era
The Principle of Intercession will be the focus of the next post.
Sunday, June 03, 2007
Glimpes in the Social History of Modern Iraq
Published in 1951.
To study Iraqi society, an interest which I have become fascinated by for quite a substantial amount of time, I realized that I cannot understand society at present unless I understand the conditions by which it passed in its past decades, as each event must have left an impact, large or small, on the current behavior and thinking of people.
I would also like to point out a dilemma which always plagued me enormously in previous books, the question of neutrality and objectivity. Many delicate subjects will be discussed in this book regarding the viewpoints of many Iraqis, and those people are quite taken to view history the same way one would view a multi-faceted pyramid, as each group focuses on one side while omitting the others altogether.
Iraqis are not different from other human beings, to be subjective is a natural human trait that could be weak or strong according to circumstances, a person undergoes in his social life a hypnosis that we could call ‘social hypnosis’, as society exerts on man since early childhood various impulses in values, morals, beliefs, and social considerations and by so puts man’s thinking in certain moulds that are hard to break. Thus, a person born in a certain environment is usually personified by the environment’s religious, political and emotional definitions. He believes that he took up those patterns by his own free will and choice while not realizing that he is merely the making of his own social environment.
Hypnosis can affect human beings to a degree that he could see white as black or to think that a particularly repulsive odor is quite pleasant.
It is a common mistake to think that Shiism began in
What we wish to extract from all this is that
Ottoman State has appeared in Turkey since the 7th Hijri century, but it expanded Westward first towards Europe, and never headed East towards Iraq and other Arab states before the emergence of the Saffavid state in Iran, ever since then Iraq becomes the grounds for violent clashes between the Iranian and Ottoman states, something that will last for three centuries. From here the famous Iraqi saying: “be nil ajam wil room balwa ibtilayna” (Between the Ajam (Persians) and Room (Turks) we fell into tragedy), this ‘balwa’ in Iraq came because the Iranian State adopted Shiism as a slogan while the Ottoman picked up Sunnism, escalating sectarian tensions in Iraq unbearably. Sectarain tensions existed in
Sectarain war, on its outward appearance, is based on the clash between those who adhere to the prophet’s household and those who adhere to his companions. As a matter of fact, both Ottoman and Iranian states were both similar in being as far as possible from the principles of both the Prophet’s household and companions. Both were in the vein of traditional imperialist countries which bore little resemblance to the Islamic State witnessed in the days of the Prophet and his Rashidun Caliphs. Ottoman-era Iraqis knew nothing of this, as all that was important to them as that the state be of their sect, so their Imams shrines are venerated and their religious practices and festivities are taken proper care of, the state then is free to do as it pleases as its affairs does not concern them and they believe it is of little concern to their religion.
Friday, June 01, 2007
Usually, any story involving Iraqi refugees you read will tell you that there are about 750,000 Iraqis in Jordan and 1.5 million in Syria.
However, a source from the Norwegian NGO just told me that the initial results seem to indicate that the total number is much lower, almost half of that estimate in here (Jordan). With the strict rules applied by the government on Iraqis entering Jordan, as well as the high cost of living and inability to find work or residency, I don't find it surprising that the estimate is lower, but it's such a huge difference that I am still willing to wait for the official results.