Sunday, July 22, 2007

There's symbolism here somewhere


Iraq beat Vietnam yesterday. No, not over which will be the more frequently used foreign policy caveat over for the next fifty years. I think that's already been decided. Prepare for "Iraq Syndrome" to become the darling phrase of punditry, friends.

No, the victory of Iraq over Vietnam was in football and it vaulted Iraq's side into the semi-finals of the Asia Cup, prompting widespread jubilation in the streets of Baghdad.

I watched the bedlam from my neighborhood barber shop - dare I say saloon? - where occasionally I get my hair butchered and, more frequently, I shoot the bull with the neighborhood guys.

A fan circulated fresh air in the room as Muhammad, my Iraqi friend and sometime barber, and I watched the wild celebration. There was plenty of dancing, many Iraqi flags, a few bare chested young men, and even a few a guns. Most seemed to be in the hands of the Iraqi police, though at one point a television reporter armed who, armed with a microphone, had been going rolled-down-car-window to rolled-down-car-window conducting interviews (which, even in such a delirious situation, unfailingly began with "salaam 'aleikum" and "wa 'aleikum asalaam") dove out of the picture as a joyous man pulled a gun from his glove compartment and fired a few rounds into the air.

It seems that more than a few Iraqis endeavored to test gravity last night and, sadly, the intrepid scientists proved Newton's theory right again, with at least two deaths stemming from bullets being fired into the air and, in turn, coming back down.

But this post isn't some attempt to argue that a milennium of authoritarianism has poisoned Iraqi culture to the point that America is not at fault for the problems of the Iraq War. That would, of course, be a topic for Mr. Friedman.

And besides, it would be foolish to act like Americans don't like to shoot their guns up in the air, or other places, every so often either. Rather, this is about unity, even if only for a fleeting moment.

First of all, the unity of humanity. The streets of Baghdad seemed a little like Franklin Street - except without the tree climbing, fire-jumping, or "f*** J.J. Reddick" chants (I thought that one was universal).

But more apparent was the the unity - perhaps transient - of the Iraqi people. In a discourse increasingly dominated by sectarian appelations of Sunni, Shi'a, or Kurd, the resounding phrase of nearly every interview was "al-sha'ab al-'araqee," the Iraqi people. Another interviewee referred to the celebration's demonstration that Iraqis represented fundamentally "al-usra al-waheeda," a united family. Muhammad added that the celebrations were occurring in a mixed portion of Baghdad.

The green, black, and red of the Iraqi flag was everywhere, waved as a banner and worn as capes or cloaks.

Young men made up most of the revelers, though a number of giddy muhajibat participated as well as what looked like a few worried, arms-crossed-across-chests mothers.

As they transitioned to a montage of national team highlights interspersed - like any good nationalist material - with idyllic video of mountains and forests (and if you think Americans are innocent of this, perhaps "from the mountains..." refreshes your memory) they showed a nifty goal. Afterward, the goal scorer lifted up his jersey (in what, after careful consideration, probably wasn't homage to Brandi Chastain), revealing an undershirt bearing the message of "karama lena," dignity for us.

I'm not sure what this all adds up to. I think sometimes people can go too far in their analyses of sport and world events, treating the relationship as a novelty when sport, as a part of the world and life, sometimes does correspond and, indeed, should correspond with current events issues.

But as I watched the continued footage of the celebrations, of people acting in a, well, undignified manner (I think I have authority to say this as someone who may or may not have acted in an undignified manner on Franklin Street), two things struck me.

One, I suppose an element of human dignity is having the freedom to act undignified.

And two, amidst this brief respite from the horrors of occupation, civil war, staticide, or whatever you want to call it, one of the common sayings of the celebrants, the offhand addition to nearly any prediction or hope whether for a peaceful future or simply an Iraqi victory over South Korea in the semis : "in sha allah," god willing.


Gale said...


An excellent and scary tale of the occupation and mess in the Middle East. I am so sad but my faith is renewed when I read of the strength, courage, and insight of young people such as yourself. Appreciate the truth as you see it.

Go Sam!!!!


Lauren Jill Hatshepsut said...

Mumtaaz! I wish we could be aware of many more such stories. I'm sure many good things *do* happen. In the U.S. mainly we almost exclusively hear about "how many Americans have been killed." While in no way would I want to diminish this sorrow, Isn't something being left out about non-Americans being killed, and the extreme destruction of so much? But thanks for a wonderful postin.

Gale said...

I previously wrote to you to apologize for making a comment on another blog instead of this "symbolism" blog. It was lengthy so my deleting it in error was probably meant to be. Although I think it was pretty good.

Anyway, I just want to say that I believe sports and current events are definitely related.

A game can give a moment of dignity and unity before going back to being invisible.

This is a very important blog; maybe more than most would imagine.


gale said...

Hoping you are fine and waiting to hear your next blog. Seems things got pretty ugly in Iraq after the win.

Go in peace,