Monday, January 31, 2005

Life in Iraq: Some Blogs from the Frontline

Continuation from the previous post...

Most people I have interacted with, seem to take one of these two stances about the current happenings in Iraq:

  • either they have next to no interest in Iraq, apart from as a news item (which is not "real" in the real sense)... Almost as if Iraq is something which is happening on a different planet, and to people of a different species, while the life on planet earth goes on as if nothing is "happening",
  • or they have an opinion about Iraq - was it worth it or not? Is it right or not? Wasn't-it-better-to-get-rid-of-Saddam-Hussain vs. Isn't-Bush/USA-trying-to-act-like-imperialist?

To be honest, I also have an opinion about Iraq (in fact, I recently mentioned to a friend that listening to Bush's inaugural address reminded me of "The Feuhrer", and he told me to consult a psychiatrist for harbouring such delusions :0)....

Later, I checked on Google and found that apparently, like me, there must be some millions of people in the world who need urgent psychiatric care![1]... I felt particularly vindicated by this letter from one of the holocaust victims[2]... Iraq of today can as well be the Poland of 1930s...

That, in a way, is also the source/reason of my interest in Iraq. The tsunami waves of history also travel invisible till they are about to strike the distant shores, even though they may take a few years to strike...

Someone sent me a mail about the last post about Riverbend's Blog "Baghdad Burning" saying: "My first reaction was .. Anne Frank , but with more grisly details..." - I agreed, and was also struck by the subliminal imagery behind this observation. Diary of Anne Frank!!! What was the historical context in which she wrote that diary!!!

For those who may be interested, here are a few of my other sources/links for keeping track of the day-to-day life in Iraq. These is not a complete list, but some of those Iraqi/Arab blogs which I visit more often:

Life in Iraq:
  • The Baghdad Blogger's Blog
    Salam Pax's original blog - Where is Raed - which got translated into a film (which screened in the International Film Festival in Vancour a few months back). Though it's latest entry was in April '04, this perhaps is amongst the oldest Iraqi blog which started a few months before the Iraq invasion/liberation. The best way to get a feel of history in making would be to go back in archives to the first entry in December 2002, and read it forward... Salam Pax was able to attend the Vancour Film Festival, and now has another new blog

  • A Glimpse of Iraq
    This blog, maintained by Abu Khaleel, has some of the most unique anecdotes, which are simultaneously touching and surrealistic. A very dispassionate view of a slice of the absurd reality.

  • Diary from Baghdad
    Rose, a 27 year old woman, a civil engineer, writes about "the current events in Iraq in my point of view and as I hear from people living here around me and the way they see things here. Not as you hear from the news, but the way we feel and live with and how it affect us."... A cross-section of individual private life with history-in-making

  • Life in Baghdad
    One year old blog, maintained by Ahmed Khuraffa - he didn't like Saddam, and he doesn’t like occupation either... A very personal and authentic view things as they are... By a person who is directly impacted by them.

    The following four blogs by "The Blogger Family" - mother and three sons - is an intimate view (view?... Makes one seem almost like a peeping tom!) of the personal life and aspirations getting intertwined with history:
  • Mom's Blog: A Family in Baghdad
  • Khalid: Tell Me a Secret
  • Raed in Middle: I guess this is the Raed who wrote with Salam Pax!
  • Majid: Me vs. Myself

    News/Reports from the Frontline:
  • Dahr Jamail's Weblog
    Dahr Jamail's Iraq Dispatches are the reports from the trenches. He is a professional journalist, who, disenchanted by the mainstream media, decided to be on his own

  • Healing Iraq
    Maintained by Zeyad, this has some detailed posting about the events and happenings in Iraq, and his views about them.

  • Free Iraq.. It should actually read "Let's Free Iraq"
    A daily collection of news items about Iraq, specially about the US actions in and against Iraq.

    ... there are many more blogs, of course... maybe I will post them in one of the later posts...

  • Tuesday, January 25, 2005

    Iraq Burning: A Peep Through the Media Veil

    Much of what we get to know about what is happenings in Iraq is through the mainstream (read, Western) media - which, to be fair - barring a few examples, tries to be objective....but then, in the current Iraq, the foreign journalists hardly get to move out of the Green Zone...

    I have been trying to understand how Iraqis experience their liberation/occupation through the numerous blogs maintained by the "liberated/occupied" iraqis (I have a whole list of these blogs, and will also post them in one of the future postings).

    One of my favourite blogs is by a 25-year old girl called "riverbend" - Baghdad Burning[1]. Her blog is also getting published as a book by the same name this year

    Here are some recent excerpts from her blog:

    Iraqi Elections:
    ...The elections are set for the 29th. It's an interesting situation. The different sects and factions just can't seem to agree. Sunni Arabs are going to boycott elections. It's not about religion or fatwas or any of that so much as the principle of holding elections while you are under occupation. People don't really sense that this is the first stepping stone to democracy as western media is implying. Many people sense that this is just the final act of a really bad play. It's the tying of the ribbon on the "democracy parcel" we've been handed. It's being stuck with an occupation government that has been labeled 'legitimate' through elections.

    We're being bombarded with cute Iraqi commercials of happy Iraqi families preparing to vote. Signs and billboards remind us that the elections are getting closer...

    Can you just imagine what our history books are going to look like 20 years from now?

    "The first democratic elections were held in Iraq on January 29, 2005 under the ever-watchful collective eye of the occupation forces, headed by the United States of America. Troops in tanks watched as swarms of warm, fuzzy Iraqis headed for the ballot boxes to select one of the American-approved candidates..."

    It won't look good.

    There are several problems. The first is the fact that, technically, we don't know the candidates. We know the principal heads of the lists but we don't know who exactly will be running. It really is confusing. They aren't making the lists public because they are afraid the candidates will be assassinated.

    Another problem is the selling of ballots. We're getting our ballots through the people who give out the food rations in the varying areas. The whole family is registered with this person(s) and the ages of the varying family members are known. Many, many, many people are not going to vote. Some of those people are selling their voting cards for up to $400. The word on the street is that these ballots are being bought by people coming in from Iran. They will purchase the ballots, make false IDs (which is ridiculously easy these days) and vote for SCIRI or Daawa candidates. Sunnis are receiving their ballots although they don't intend to vote, just so that they won't be sold.

    Yet another issue is the fact that on all the voting cards, the gender of the voter, regardless of sex, is labeled "male". Now, call me insane, but I found this slightly disturbing. Why was that done? Was it some sort of a mistake? Why is the sex on the card anyway? What difference does it make? There are some theories about this. Some are saying that many of the more religiously inclined families won't want their womenfolk voting so it might be permissible for the head of the family to take the women's ID and her ballot and do the voting for her. Another theory is that this 'mistake' will make things easier for people making fake IDs to vote in place of females.

    All of this has given the coming elections a sort of sinister cloak. There is too much mystery involved and too little transparency. It is more than a little bit worrisome.

    American politicians seem to be very confident that Iraq is going to come out of these elections with a secular government. How is that going to happen when many Shia Iraqis are being driven to vote with various fatwas from Sistani and gang? Sistani and some others of Iranian inclination came out with fatwas claiming that non-voters will burn in the hottest fires of the underworld for an eternity if they don't vote (I'm wondering- was this a fatwa borrowed from right-wing Bushies during the American elections?). So someone fuelled with a scorching fatwa like that one- how will they vote? Secular? Yeah, right.

    There are NO WMDs:
    This was an interesting piece of news a couple of days ago:

    The United States has ended its physical search for weapons of mass destruction (WMD) in Iraq, which was cited by the first administration of President George W Bush as the main reason for invading the country, the White House has said.

    Why does this not surprise me? Does it surprise anyone? I always had the feeling that the only people who actually believed this war was about weapons of mass destruction were either paranoid Americans or deluded expatriate Iraqis- or a combination of both. I wonder now, after hundreds and hundreds of Americans actually died on Iraqi soil and over a hundred-thousand Iraqis are dead, how Americans view the current situation. I have another question- the article mentions a "Duelfer Report" stating the weapons never existed and all the intelligence was wrong. This report was supposedly published in October 2004. The question is this: was this report made public before the elections? Did Americans actually vote for Bush with this knowledge?

    ....They don't care about right or wrong or innocents dead and more to die. They were somewhat ahead of the game. When they saw their idiotic president wasn't going to find weapons anywhere in Iraq, they decided it would be about mass graves. It wasn't long before the very people who came to 'liberate' a sovereign country soon began burying more Iraqis in mass graves. The smart weapons began to stupidly kill 'possibly innocent' civilians (they are only 'definitely innocent' if they are working with the current Iraqi security forces or American troops). It went once more from protecting poor Iraqis from themselves to protecting Americans from 'terrorists'...

    ...Now we're being 'officially' told that the weapons never existed. After Iraq has been devastated, we're told it's a mistake...

    ...I hope Americans feel good about taking their war on terror to foreign soil. For bringing the terrorists to Iraq- Chalabi, Allawi, Zarqawi, the Hakeems… How is our current situation going to secure America? How is a complete generation that is growing up in fear and chaos going to view Americans ten years from now? Does anyone ask that? After September 11, because of what a few fanatics did, Americans decided to become infected with a collective case of xenophobia… Yet after all Iraqis have been through under the occupation, we're expected to be tolerant and grateful. Why? Because we get more wheat in our diets?

    Terror isn't just worrying about a plane hitting a skyscraper…terrorism is being caught in traffic and hearing the crack of an AK-47 a few meters away because the National Guard want to let an American humvee or Iraqi official through. Terror is watching your house being raided and knowing that the silliest thing might get you dragged away to Abu Ghraib where soldiers can torture, beat and kill. Terror is that first moment after a series of machine-gun shots, when you lift your head frantically to make sure your loved ones are still in one piece. Terror is trying to pick the shards of glass resulting from a nearby explosion out of the living-room couch and trying not to imagine what would have happened if a person had been sitting there.

    The weapons never existed. It's like having a loved one sentenced to death for a crime they didn't commit- having your country burned and bombed beyond recognition, almost. Then, after two years of grieving for the lost people, and mourning the lost sovereignty, we're told we were innocent of harboring those weapons. We were never a threat to America...

    Congratulations Bush- we are a threat now.

    Christmas Wishlist:
    I have to make this fast.

    No electricity for three days in a row (well, unless you count that glorious hour we got 3 days ago...). Generators on gasoline are hardly working at all. Generators on diesel fuel aren't faring much better- most will only work for 3 or 4 straight hours then they have to be turned off to rest.

    Ok- what is the typical Iraqi Christmas wishlist (I won't list 'peace', 'security' and 'freedom' - Christmas miracles are exclusive to Charles Dickens), let's see:

    1. 20 liters of gasoline
    2. A cylinder of gas for cooking
    3. Kerosene for the heaters
    4. Those expensive blast-proof windows
    5. Landmine detectors
    6. Running water
    7. Thuraya satellite phones (the mobile phone services are really, really bad of late) 8. Portable diesel generators (for the whole family to enjoy!) 9. Coleman rechargeable flashlight with extra batteries (you can never go wrong with a fancy flashlight) 10. Scented candles (it shows you care- but you're also practical)

    When Santa delivers please make sure he is wearing a bullet-proof vest and helmet. He should also politely ring the doorbell or knock, as a more subtle entry might bring him face to face with an AK-47. With the current fuel shortage, reindeer and a sleigh are highly practical- but Rudolph should be left behind as the flashing red nose might create a bomb scare (we're all a little jumpy lately).

    Allawi declared a "State of Emergency" a couple of days ago... A state of emergency now - because previous to this week, we Iraqis were living in an American made Utopia, as the world is well aware. So what does an "Emergency State" signify for Iraqis? Basically, it means we are now officially more prone to being detained, raided, and just generally abused by our new Iraqi forces and American ones. Today they declared a curfew on Baghdad after 10 p.m. but it hasn't really made an impact because people have stopped leaving their houses after dark anyway.

    The last few days have been tense and heart-rending. Most of us are really worried about Falloojeh. Really worried about Falloojeh and all the innocents dying and dead in that city. There were several explosions in Baghdad these last few days and hardly any of them were covered by the press. All this chaos has somehow become uncomfortably normal. Two years ago I never would have dreamed of living like this- now this lifestyle has become the norm and I can barely remembering having lived any other way....

    Friday, January 21, 2005

    "Socialism": Well, Alive and Thriving!!!

    This is a continuation of my previous post... to have a relook at the much-criticised "socialist" economic model.

    The fall of Berlin Wall, and the collapse of Soviet economy is widely described as the triumph of free-market capitalist economy over the flawed socialistic economy model (the fact that this connection is a pretty large leap of logic, is another story;0)... But such is power of this paradigm, that since then any information which contradicts this myth (e.g., when later Russia adapted the IMF-prescribed model of free markets, its economy went into even greater shambles), is forgotten, ignored, or at best, explained away as an exception.

    Contrary to popular belief, the socialistic economies have been thriving, are competitive, and perhaps provide a better model of economic development than the free-market economies, as the data below shows.

    While there is perhaps nothing wrong in the free-market capitalist economy (except that it is a contradiction in terms, as I had once pointed out earlier)[1], but there is a certain intellectual poverty in the blind belief that "one-size fits-all" - that one economic model is suited for all societies, irrespective of their unique history, local needs, cultural values, etc.

    It is in this context, it is useful to study the The Scandinavian Socialist Model[2]. The Scandinavian countries - Sweden, Finland, Norway, Denmark, Iceland - are Socialist Welfare States, characterised by all those things which are nowadays seen as "primitive" and "backward" - high taxes, government subsidies, state interventions, etc.

    The following is the global ranking of these countries - they feature in top 20 on all - on 5 indices of development:

    1. GCI (Global Competitiveness Index): issued by World Economic Forum, and is based on a composite ranking of growth potential, business competitiveness, etc.

    2. HDI (Human Development Index) : issued by UN which is a composite of education, per capita GDP, longivity, etc.

    3. Gini Index: this a part of HDI, which ranks countries according income disparities in the society

    4. IDC Information Society index: composit of computer/telecom penetration and e-nabled societal structrue etc.

    5. Economist's Quality of Life Index: issued by The Economist's Intelligence Unit, and is a composite of 9 factors: material well-being, health, political stability, family and community life, climate and environment, job security, political freedom and gender equality.

    Since the world - and definitely, India - has become quite "US-centric", I have color-coded the rankings of these countries and USA.

    Think about it! - why do these facts never feature in main-stream media, are never discussed in public forums, are rarely taught in business schools or elsewhere?... and for that matter, why most of us never bothered to find out about these alternative economic models?!!!


    Thursday, January 20, 2005

    Did "Socialist" Indian Stagnate before 1991?

    One of the popular beliefs (I would call it just a belief... even a myth), specially among the contemporary urban educated Indians is that India, due to its "Nehruvian Socialism" remained stagnant till 1991. It is unfortunate, that not only most believe that prior to 1991, India lived in dark, corrupt ages, but also that the economy and growth was stagnant...

    This myth is also fueled by media, and often many good and influential writers who put this point quite convincingly too. One such example is this quote from Gurucharan Das's India Unbound:

    "…in July 1991… with the announcement of sweeping liberalization by the minority government of P.V. Narasimha Rao… opened the economy… dismantled import controls, lowered customs duties, and devalued the currency… virtually abolished licensing controls on private investment, dropped tax rates, and broke public sector monopolies…. We felt as though our second independence had arrived: we were going to be free from a rapacious and domineering state…"

    Like a Meme or an Idea Virus, such a view of history gets replicated, till people actually start believing it (this is, unfortunately, more true of many young educated Indians, who often believe that intellectual brilliance - and they are briliant!! - can compensate for their lack of historical rooting)

    Thus this posting!...just to put the facts in perspective (the following are the facts and figures I could collect from various sources - I am sure, there will be many more such tables):

    ... There is another dogma about "socialism"... but I will come to that later...