Tuesday, July 12, 2005

Sanded In Baghdad

Spending three days in the Baghdad airport waiting to see if the sand and dust would let up enough to allow flights to arrive (and then allow me to leave) was more stressful that I imagined. Of course, six trips on the airport road may have been a factor in increasing my stress level.

There were a number of internationals in the same predicament I was in. Many were people I’ve had very little contact with in my time in Iraq. Some were private security contractors who work for the large international firms like Dyncorp and KBR and are paid substantial sums (many 1,000 dollars a day) to protect international facilities and personnel. Others worked for NGO’s and organizations that were business related, such as a firm that did management training for Iraqi entrepreneurs. I took the opportunity of being stuck there to try and get to know a number of them.

Perhaps the stress of cancelled flights and having to reschedule and arrange transport back to the Green Zone or other international facilities made their comments harsher than would be the case under different circumstances. But nonetheless, I was dismayed with what seemed, to me at least, to be very racists and colonialist statements by almost every contractor or entrepreneur I talked with.

Having grown up the Southern U.S. and having a very racist father, it was a very bizarre experience hearing almost the same comments being made against Iraqis that I heard as a child being made against blacks. The same venom, for lack of a better word, was coming out of their mouths as they denigrated the people, culture and societal norms of Iraq.

Equally disturbing for me was the colonialist attitude of most of the business- connected internationals (most of the contractors I talked to were South African or English and most of the businessmen were American and all except one were white males). Remarks like, “We have to show them how it’s really done”, or “They don’t have a clue how it’s done in the West”. There seemed, to me at least, to be no attempt at understanding, much less respecting, the culture of the people they ostensibly are here to work in partnership with.

I have to assume the racist attitudes of the security contractors stems from the necessity for a human being to dehumanize and marginalize another human being in order to kill them. Dehumanization is a mind game military-leaders the world over have used to indoctrinate recruits with and it also seems to be the case with these mercenary soldiers.

The colonialist attitudes are harder to grasp. Is colonialism something unique to white, male Westerners? (And I include myself in this category.) Do we see Iraq the same way as Kipling saw India, that of being “the white man’s burden” to bring Western civilization to the uncivilized Arabs and Kurds?

Those three days at the airport are woven deeply into my spirit. I’m wondering if I have swallowed poison that will harden or embitter me. Or perhaps I have been blessed with a homeopathic remedy of absorbing just enough poison to begin to cure me of my own subconscious racist and colonist tendencies and then be able to help others cure themselves. Time will tell.


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