2 February, 2008 by rhesus12
On the right is a paper crane transformed into a F-22A Raptor by the addition of four cardboard Aim-9 Sidewinder missiles and a nose cannon. It was made by my one and only Iraqi Assyrian Christian Gulf War I veteran friend, John, who I teach English.
Soon after arriving here from Jordan, he did a computer course for immigrants at Whitirea Polytech, where a Japanese woman taught him how to make the famous peace symbol. The heat-seeking, short-range armaments are his improvement.
Why is a former Iraqi soldier who has been bombed by B52s and strafed by low-flying Jaguars so interested in making models of Western warplanes? It is because he hated Saddam and because US and allied air power in the wake of the Kuwait invasion was something Saddam couldn’t control; it casually destroyed anything he put up against it. There wasn’t much else you could say that about in Iraq.
He’s a good and (I may be pushing it here) gentle man, shocked by the fights at the railway station where he works as a security guard and staggered that I could like rugby (“it has no rules!”). But he believes the war in Iraq must go on until the Arabs forced out and back onto the Saudi Peninsula or they kill themselves in a regional nuclear war with Iran (Persians, just a little higher than Arabs). A highlight of our relationship, as far as he’s concerned, is that I was able to watch Saddam’s hanging with him on a Dubai satellite station. Saddam’s accidental decapitation was an especially sweet icing on the cake.
From my liberal point of view – and you’d hope, anybody else’s – this is fairly depressing. I always leave his house feeling I understand one portion of the Middle East a little bit better, but sorry that I do.
But from the point of view of a proud member of a persecuted ethnic and religious minority, especially one forced to fight for the murderer of his people, the 1990-1991 conflict was a supernatural war. John’s clear on that – the Americans were a biblically sanctioned Christian force with squadrons of screaming angels at their disposal. He says that there were all sorts of terrifying rumours in the Iraqi desert bunkers, especially about the B52 Stratofortresses, which supposedly could stand still in the sky high above their targets and drop near infinite payloads. Yahweh in the old testament desert, a jealous god indeed.
John’s an Assyrian, or as he prefers, Ashuri, a descendant of one of the powerful ancient empires of Mesopotamia (others include Babylon, Sumer and Chaldea). Based, where they still are, in modern northern Iraq, their kings hunted lions, destroyed much of ancient Jerusalem and pretty much ran that part of the world for hundreds of years. In fact, they were rated Jewish public enemy number one right back in Genesis. Noah went there after the whale incident. Abraham came from a little further south, in Ur. Later, the Assyrians started the oldest Christian Church, the Church of the East.
The first language of John’s parents is an Aramaic dialect their ancestors learned from the rabbis they enslaved and which Jesus spoke. They are semitic but not Arab (hint: never call an Assyrian an Arab). John considers Iraq to have been occupied by Arab invaders since the 6th century AD. So there’s a sense of identity and attachment to the land that’s hard for a New Zealander to understand. That and the sense of abiding hatred.
He also has a theory that to many politically aware people in the West, genocidal crimes don’t count if they are committed against those who are a) American allies or b) enemies of people with whom America is in conflict.
Struck a chord. I don’t seem to recall to many anti-Saddam protesters marching down Lambton Quay. Look at Cuba, where Amnesty International reports that in 2007 “Freedom of expression, association and movement continued to be severely restricted”, and that “Political dissidents, independent journalists and human rights activists continued to be harassed, intimidated and detained, some without charge or trial.” But still, Cuba’s hip as hell, as rock n roll a police state as you could hope for.
There’s also the mind-bending that sometimes goes on at the intersection of feminism and cultural relativism. Get a public beating in Iran for not covering up? Fine, culturally appropriate. Feel pressure to shave legs in the west? A patriarchal outrage and a thesis. (It used to be culturally appropriate here for women not to vote, the difference being that suffragettes weren’t murdered.) Point is, its not cool to mention that stuff too much because many Middle East countries are sworn enemies of the US (which is understandable, I’m no Bush supporter) and are not European. But surely you can still be openly concerned about happens in those places?