Saturday, January 26, 2008

Travesty of Human Thinking

Adages are so useless practically ; everyone memorizes them and loves to quote them, but they rarely succeed in the practical field, in enlightening the masses, and rather awfully, the masses, after listening intently for the short duration the adage is read upon them, return to the same corrupt ways.

Ali al-Wardi narrates this adage in his seminal book 'Mahzalat al-Aqil al-Bashari' (Travesty of Human Thinking), it is about two knights who are observing a pyramid from two opposite sides, unfortunately, each face of the pyramid is colored differently, so one of them sees the pyramid as green, and the other sees it blue, both men are indignant at having been proven wrong, and they are soon engaged in endless combat.

As you can see, it is rather lame reworking of the Six Blind Men and The Elephant, but its essence is of such significance that I would care to apply it now, with the help of two Iraqi bloggers to establish what happens when humans refuse to look at things except from their own perspective, which is of course half-right, but ultimately wrong and misleading.

On the left side of the pyramid we have Iraqi Mojo, an educated Iraqi-American, Iraqi Mojo does not hide his identification from the beginning, a Shia who fled after his family has been persecuted during the times Saddam was pursuing Dawa party members. Iraqi Mojo says he has no homicidal hatred of Sunnis, as he says when he met Sunni Arabs, the way you would speak when you explore a new species in the Amazons: "I have met Sunni Arabs and they are really nice." That's quite lovely of him, but even though Mojo occasionally talks about Muqtada al-Sadr's antics or his lack of love for Shia theocracy, they don't seem to be much of his concern, he rarely posts about them, if at all. For the curious American bystander who is curious to learn about how to get the hell out of Iraq, Iraq's problem, viewed through his blog is one long wail against the solitary horrors and evils of al-Qaeda, Wahhabiya, Saudi Arabia, the Arab Jarab (a term he often uses) and just about everything else you would expect a self-respecting Shia to hate, either intentionally or not, and all of which are, incidentally, the evil creations of the same very nice Sunni Arabs brothers.

And on the other side of the pyramid lies Twenty Four Steps To Liberty, I'm not exactly sure about his background, I've met him during the Iraqi Bloggers lone meet-up back in 2006 and he seemed like a pleasant fellow, what happened since then? beats me! While Mojo is at least a bit subtle, his point indirectly unfolded through links, 24's blog is fast approaching Layla Anwar-standards of rabid frothing as we speak. According to 24, all we need to do is unseat the evil, sectarian, IRANIAN IRANIAN IRANIAN puppet government of Maliki, supported by the stupid, evil Ayatollah Sistani (who is Shia, as you and I know), and everything will be automatically Plug and Play, maidens will dance, children will smile, music will play, and the hero would kiss the girl as the sun happily sets between the two ancient rivers, cue to credits, A FILM WRITTEN AND DIRECTED BY: Twenty Four Steps To Liberty, (subtitle: Fuck Iran)

and here, friends and neighbors, is the problem of the Iraqi people in a nutshell, both sides are holier-than-thou know-it-all who blame everything on the other evil, world-domination-type side, rightfully justifying their own bloody massacres in the extent. Neither are willing to even stop and consider if the other side has anything to say, neither are willing to seek a form of compromise for pursuing a somewhat co-dependent relationship. This is especially complicated of course with the unfortunate case of different religions (forget sects, Sunni Islam and Shia Islam are entirely different religions), and religion is the most powerful brain-washing force of all time, as both sides are especially inclined to dismiss the other's viewpoints as fabrications, either willingly or not.

So, oft in theologic wars
The disputants, I ween,

Rail on in utter ignorance

Of what each other mean;

And prate about an Elephant

Not one of them has seen!

We can apply this wonderful parable to everything, let us take Saddam Hussein for instance, today, apologists would say, as they are saying all over the place, that Khomeini's first objective after securing his foothold was to help establish a similar regime in Iraq itself, through the willing hands of Shiite clergy like Sadr and al-Hakim, a fact Khomeini himself had reiterated over and over again. In this context, the clash was not sectarian in essence, but that was an additional motif to the eternal battle between Secularism and Theocracy, hereby, the Dawa party and their aides were in fact the aggressors, since a clash was inevitable, Saddam attempted to preemptively strike Iran while it was in disarray, already an attractive target with its huge oil reserves, and so, from a purely Iraqi POV, and according to the Survival laws of Darwin, Saddam Hussein is a very heroic figure who tried to elevate his country's stature and power in the region.

That of course ignores a lot of important details, Saddam was a megalomaniac whose lip extended a lot more than his bite ever would, couple that with an extraordinary amount of self-importance and ego, visions of greatness (same as present-day Iran's), an inferiority complex towards Jamal Abdulnassir, and a quick-tempered sword that has not even the tiniest remorse for human beings, and you get your picture a lot bit better. Of course, Shia-Kurds wouldn't look at him this way, for them he is a cartoonish sectarian warmonger with a devout intent on decimating everything in his way.

And so these men of Indostan
Disputed loud and long,
Each in his own opinion

Exceeding stiff and strong,

Though each was partly in the right,
And all were in the wrong!

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Parliament Approves Interim New Iraqi Flag (constantly updated)

I have nothing to do today and snow is eating up Amman today. So I'll just this post as things progress.

The Kurds did it, the Iraqi parliament today approved a new interim design to be approved for one year with a majority of 110 out of 275, 100 MPs were absent from the session. The new flag drops out the stars only.

By the way, the "Allah" in this flag looks suspiciously similar to Allah in this flag:

Supposedly, the three stars represent the three Ba'ath Party slogans: Unity, Freedom and Socialism, in reality, the stars reflect those of Egypt and Syria at the time, Iraq yearned to be the third state to join the United Arab Republic (whose flag was an exact replica with only two stars) - Maybe Saddam changed it later to the Ba'athi slogans, but that doesn't matter now, the only thing that matters is that the Kurds had their say and strutted their stuff.

The news is all over the satellite channels, Iraq's supposedly best channel, al-Shariqya, had an item that tried hard not to puke all over, it showed its intention laughably with the closing line: "All the countries of the regions have stars or crescents in their flags, except Iran." Talk about professionalism!

Monday, January 21, 2008

More Iraqi Flags

Maybe we should turn this into another silly internet meme, like lolcats. meet:

After the fiery Iraqi blogodrome discussion, in which a casual Laith showed his fears of religious slogans, only to be almost devoured by our tamed fundamentalist resident blogger, we all came to the conclusion that the best Iraqi flag is this:

After all, Good old Greendizer is really loved by all Iraqis, even the fake ones, mu baba?

Here's another one I created, inspired by stickers put by Iraqi Kia drivers:

A very old joke, I'm sorry most of these great jokes cannot be translated:

Hehehehe. I'm sorry, Mr. Flag, it's just that we can't leave you alone for a few years.

YA RLY! This one is pretty much stale now, but I included it for the sake of completeness:

Thursday, January 17, 2008

The New Iraqi Flag

The recent development in Iraqi parliamentary hell was the second major attempt to pass up a change for the Iraqi flag an national anthem, after the major failure of the 2004 attempt. As suspected, the instigators of this move is yet again, our lovely northern brothers, the Kurds. As a minor compromise solution, an interim design will be approved until a final decision will be made on the final flag and the new national anthem a year later, details are still hazy, and numerous suggested interim flags have appeared on the net, but most prominently the one that only changes the phrase "Allah Akbar" to yellow, the traditional color of the Kurds.

When the new 2004 flag was presented, like many other people, the flag felt strangely alien and removed from me, it boldly dispensed with the traditional Pan-Arab colors (red, green, white, black) which compose most Arab flags, to add insult to injury, it employed a palette that bore a close resemblance:

Same as many other people, I did not understand why a need to change the flag was even necessary ; it never struck me as a symbol for anything but Iraq alone, and it was also a damn good flag.
But then I read the history of the Iraqi flag, it is apparently the most unstable flag of the Arab world, changing for four times, and each time, the change coincided with the installation of a new, radically different political system. It started in 1921 with the traditional Arab revolution Hashemite flag, only different from Jordan's by one star, through Qassim's communist period (some people still use this flag in forums), into the traditional horizontal-stripes red-white-black Pan-Arab flag adorned by the Ba'ath party.
With the realization that the Iraqi flag is not a sacred symbol as I expected it to be, I rationally concluded that, in order to entirely proclaim the beginning of a new chapter, then a new flag reflecting that change in Iraq must also be set in order. I must say however, that this change got as far as my brain, my heart was still beating auricle and ventricle under the banner of the old flag, and it's really hard to come up with a flag that can express Iraq as part of its Arab universe but still indicate the supposedly "bright change" that is to come.

And then I began to consider other factors:

1. the only people who are actively seeking the retirement of the old flag and who hate it with all its gut are, unsurprisingly, the secessionist-dreaming Kurds, who are still dreaming their little chauvinistic Pan-Kurdish pipe dreams while we the Arabs, the ones who messed around with those Pan things and failed a century before them can now enjoy this black comedy as they follow exactly the footsteps of our miserable fuck-ups, worse yet, they can't seem to even find the first step.

2. The majority of Iraq, even the Shias, who have suffered intolerably under Saddam's Iron Moustache, do not look upon the flag as an extension of that hateful persona. Why? Because, slowly and surely, the realization began to form in my mind, that this flag represents Iraq. After all, this is not a Baathist flag ; it is an ARAB flag, more precisely, it is a Pan-Arab flag: Egypt and Yemen, both non-Baathist countries, bear the same design.

3. The nation-state of Iraq is only 75 years old, it has no traditional flags it can revert to (like Germany and Russia did after the collapse of Nazism and the USSR respectively) except the Pan-Arab revolution flag which is based on traditional Arab-Islamic flags, our current flag also holds the same colors, except it's much more kick-ass.

4. Building on point number 3, and taking into consideration that the current flag has been used for 40 years, more than the period any other flag had been used (the runner-up Hashemite flag was used for 25 years), this flag can be considered to have seeped comfortably into the public consciousness to attain a rightful claim to a flag that everybody agrees upon as representative of Iraq alone.

5. MOST IMPORTANTLY, Any flag, regardless of how beautiful or reflective it is, born under those miserable circumstances Iraq is passing through, will be first and foremost a representation of those conditions before anything else, and thus will be reviled, detached and despised by the very people it is supposed to rally.

Hence we conclude that this flag is a valid foundation upon which only minor additions may suffice for a change, if at all.

And also we conclude that the only reasons by which a person can diligently hate this flag beyond reason, like our brothers the Kurds do, is

1. your absolute intolerance of Arabism or Iraqism.
2. Your indifference to how much problems the change of the flag would cause because you are all you care about is your own little mountainous kingdom *hint hint*
3. The only patriotic pretext for hating this flag would be your legal right to hate Pan-Arabist movements, one of which was the Ba'ath Party. BUT this is negated by #4 above.

That and that alone. Of course, the Kurds have the right to determine their destiny, but if they wish to remain part of Iraq, they must tolerate its holiest icon, okay, let us be the generous ones here, we already know that you Kakas hate Iraq, but since our envisioning for a new, better chapter of Iraq would be a better representation of its more overlooked constituents, we might tolerate a reflection of your 17% presence on the flag, but not, of course, in the center, what do you think this is? I think a better idea is to put you as footnotes, or margins, like this:

The Iraqi parliament is holding a competition to choose the new flag, but did they ever consider a referendum to see if people wanted to change the flag?! maybe I should submit my brilliance...
This website (Arabic) contains many submissions for a new Iraqi flag from all over the world, they range from crayon crazy to helplessly romantic (Doves and hearts?! What is this, Snow White?), click the links to the left of the website to see them.
One of the interesting symbols I've seen in that site is the 'Babylonian Sun', this might be a good thing to put instead of the three stars, a remnant of the days Iraq was the potential '3rd state' to join the United Arab Republic after Egypt and Syria (afterwards, their meaning was changed to the Ba'ath Party slogan: Unity, Freedom and Socialism.)

Look a bit too much like Egypt, but then again they all look alike, when I was in Syria I kept thinking why the hell are they hoisting our flag everywhere?!

All in all, the issue is quite preposterous, and is only raised up because our BROTHERS (aargh) the Kurds, want to show us how strong they've become, quite indifferent to the hellhole all of Iraq has become, so as Shalash al-Iraqi said to Mes'ood Barazani the day he lowered the Iraqi flag from Kurdish soils: If you don't see us from your high mountains, then we don't see you as well.

Friday, January 11, 2008

Review: Pride of Baghdad

In 2003, four lions escaped Uday's private zoo, they were shortly killed afterwards by US troops. The incident took its short lifetime in the news, the sort of trivia to dumb down the war just a little bit before disappearing to join similar anti-depressant news that only lightens things down a minute away from the usual refrain of pounding morbidity.
Thankfully for the rest of the world, that story caught the attention of writer Brian K. Vaughan.
Of course, if it wasn't for the fact that this was set during the Iraq war, I wouldn't have even bothered ; I'm not a comics fan, and like Shooting War,the major elements that compose Pride of Baghdad are all tried and tested, after all, an epic story about anthropomorphic lions was all the rage back then when Simba tried to reclaim his father's kingdom back in 1991. Why, then, is this story one of the best things I have ever read?

Upon tackling an issue as grand as war, novels with an all-encompassing altitude often end up as the victim of their own ambition. Vaughan clearly understands this, and he limits our view of the war-torn Baghdad to the puzzled lions of the Baghdad zoo, don't be fooled by the choice of heroes, Simba and Mufasa are as close to this pride as 60s campy Batman was to The Dark Knight Returns, from the get-go, and amidst the frenzy caused by the US bombing, a giraffe beckons the old gods and then gets her neck cut open by a falling missile which quickly sets the tone of an uncompromising end-of-the-worlds apocalyptic mess, there are so many things to recommend about this book, but its strongest asset is that it completely dispenses of uninformed political statements, it is at its most distilled a straightforward story of a family's survival, which favors a universal approach other than burdensome commentary, that is not to say those lions aren't subliminally political, but they aren't as embarrassingly obvious as the film version of 300 like hastily attached deformities, there are causal throwaway one-liners about the price of freedom, well embedded in the story which is in itself so good that you hardly see them as little more than complementary dialog most of the time. The story is particularly well helped by a sense of doomsday urgency and massive exploration and fascination, particularly the discovery of ordinary constructions of human beings, who are insignificant if not incomprehensible here, most of all, the writers know that first and foremost, a story must move the readers before everything else, the visuals are incredible as well, bringing a magnificent majesty through Miko Henrichon's rendering of war-torn Baghdad elevate the otherwise standard-fare constituents of the story into more than the sum of its parts. Like any good song, the book succeeds in working on multiple layers simultaneously, that by the time this roller-coaster ride of a book comes to a close to its brutally inevitable climax, the creators build up strong emotional rapport between the reader and the lions just to the right point where they take it all down, I was completely mesmerized on various different levels, the abrupt finality, rendered in an unforgettable frame, registered to my memory the thoughts of many Iraqis, sprung from their cages, clueless but fighting with all their struggle to save themselves and their loved ones, Iraqis who were killed with such inadvertent simplicity, in complete denial of their humanity and all that they've been through, it was such a powerful moment, both in the straightforward lion and the allegorical cost of war sense, that rendered me visibly shaken for a long moment.
It is clear that such a powerful work of art cannot be easily followed, and Mr. Vaughn has every right to bask in his triumph as much as he can, as Pride of Baghdad makes almost perfect use of its medium's aesthetics to create the unexpected war story that lays down the cost of war at its most engrossing and harrowing, it succeeds on all fronts and fulfills every ambition. A must read.

Thursday, January 03, 2008

Review: Shooting War

This webcomic-turned-graphic novel about the Iraq War follows the misadventures of vlogger Jimmy Burns, after a freak coverage of an explosion in New York places him at the forefront of shock journalism, he is hired by an exploitative news network and sent to Iraq, where he finds himself submerged in a cesspool of "Jesus and Jihad maniacs" left and right.

I have heard of this one casually on TV, and I have so far read the unedited free eleven chapters online on the website, as an Iraqi, I came naturally expecting some gloss oversights in the depiction of my beloved Mesopotamia, after all, the comic would most likely not try to burden its intended audience with unnecessary details about the culture and nature of the conflict, and this being a comic book, exaggeration and tampering in favor of action and excitement is the norm, right?

Wrong. First of all, this is not a comic book ; it's a graphic novel. And graphic novels as such, exemplified by the Pulitzer-winning standards set forth by Art Spiegelman's Maus, stem from the their ability to present somber realism in an abstract perspective, indeed, the Iraq war is not devoid of elements worthy of a frenzy "clusterfuck" narration as the comic calls it, but rather unfortunately, this novel fails on the single most important area where it could count.

Like many tongue-in-cheek works about war (think Joe Haldeman's The Forever War), the only dialog this novel knows is one steeped in deadpan humor, the depiction of "Greenest Place of all of Muhammed's Green Earth" is dystopia as best as it can get, there are a lot of interesting depictions of developments in blogging, media, American presidency (John McCain), and Tom Cruise's personal life, this is all well and dandy so far.

Unlike the guys who wrote this comic, I've reserved an hour and researched them, the Internet says that Anthony Lappe, the main showrunner, claims he drew upon his experiences while he worked in the Iraq war zone, one thing's for sure, this Lappe guy doesn't get out much ; for a novel that's supposed to cut the bullshit to a minimum, this effort is laughable. Okay, so I might be willing to forgive the stereotypical condescending portrayal of every Iraqi with a traditional attire like some Gulf country, hell, even the commonplace Hollywod insult will go by me just fine ("Ice is civillization", declared proudly by the uber-cool Burns to a poor Iraqi receptionist, only he's wearing a Pakistani outfit :) ), add to that the only good Iraqi character is the educated Westernized woman, another ancient "compromise" character right out of the "hey, I didn't say you're all bad"; but this "scary smart" novel started to make me laugh for all the unintended reasons at the horribly ignorant and contrived plot ; apparently, as soon as he sets foot in Iraq, our hero is kidnapped by a terrorist group near Anbar, called the Swords of Muhammed, led by Che Guevara with a Keffiyeh, your run-of-the-mill megalomaniac ultra-villian, this is all okay, except for one huge error ; this group is Shiite! Har Har, okay, let's forgive this minor slip for the sake of the general drive, but by the time you are bombared by lines such as : "The Badr militia is going to target the Green Zone with Qassam rockets." You start to question the intelligence of all those comments that praise this "real as it gets" drama, okay, I'll be even more considerate of your South Carolina Teen ideas about the world and would accept all this if there was any good story in sight, but there's nothing here you haven't seen before, the only appeal of this story lies at its ability to depict reality, when you see that it's nothing but a random exploitation of current events written by somebody who clearly knows nothing about the topic, you only sigh and wonder if Americans will ever learn from their mistakes, this comic clearly commits the same error Dubya and his hungry compatriots it so loathes did, it think it knows everything. If that's all not bad enough, it is clearly Islamophobic, what is there to say about a comic which believes that both Shia and Sunni Muslims are a single monolithic entity that so feverishly wants to spread its religion over the evil West so that every woman and child are part of its holy jihad. Indeed, those stereotypes were as much contributed to by our beloved terrorists than it did by the west, but you'd hope for something much more real from this "all-out" novel than frustrated Sunni Moroccans recruited from France to carry out an operation for the Shiite Badr brigade with Iranian passports?! okay, so they are really part of the Swords of Muhammed group, unfortunately, that one is Shia too, and it operates in Anbar and condemns the massacres of Haditha, Najaf, and Falluja. So much for your clever twist, and novel.