Sunday, December 17, 2006

Why I Listen To My iPod When I Take A Cab

Last night I saw a show on Arte (French-German channel), about TV in Kurdistan. According to the journalists interviewed journalists still don't have full freedom of the press. That for example they can not attack politicians directly. One explained that most of the laws that protect journalists are those put in place by Saddam, one can't imagine those gave much protection. But there was a lot of good to be said about the media in Kurdistan too. If you understand German or French here's the times of the re-runs of the show.

And if there's one thing that's odd about television if one were to assume that Iraq is now a free country, is that I've never heard anybody direct criticism at any of the politicians in power. All they do is make vague allusions to political 'drifts'. How does one categorise a democratic country with no freedom of speech?

My routine cab conversations are getting very routine. But there was an exception last week when a cab driver tried to convince my friend and me that the country is safe because people aren't killing each other for money.

There are three topics that ultimately have to be touched upon when in a cab. The first is about the checkpoints and how they just bottleneck traffic and provide no security assurances at all. And this is the one that's the most repetitive because there are many checkpoints on the way to wherever one is going and there's a long wait at each one.

Second come the convoys. I get the impression that cabs get more pissed off at Iraqi convoys than American ones. Americans make slow moving convoys that try to maintain a safety distance between the cars in front and behind them, where as Iraqis are too much in a rush are therefore chaotic and threatening. Masked men waving rifles hanging out of their vehicles, shouting and yelling to get others out of the way, sometimes shooting off rounds. It paints a picture that begs the question of how do a bunch of people waving their guns at you meant to protect you?

A lot of convoys are made of unmarked cars. And some of them travel at erratically high speeds too. The usual assumption is that these convoys are those of politicians. Many cab drivers exclaim that we don't know who they are. They could be terrorists for all we know. And then comes the conclusion that they're gangs be they officials or not, they're all gangs.

And then the third topic is safety, and like one cab driver was saying today. As much as I hate Saddam and glad that he's gone, at least he gave us safety. The politicians bicker among themselves about subjects such as federation and the allocation of ministerial posts when all the people want is safety and basic services. The politicians live their roles in the green zone disconnected from society.


Sang J. Moon said...

For the violence not occurring during Saddam, that is because Saddam was a dictator who was able to provide security through the lack of freedom inherent in his authoritarian government. Saddam crushed any dissent and those he couldn't crush, he played off of each other. He created the pressure cooker which gave birth to Sadr's militias when the lid was removed. He created the preferentially treated Sunnis who find it difficult to accept their lower position on the totem pole. I don't even have to tell you what he did to the Kurds. Saddam's security was the security of a lid clamped down on a pressure cooker instead of a steady state situation which would last when opened to the rest of the world.

tmpName said...

Nobody said Saddam's security wasn't that of a brutal strongman. But it was security after all -- being able to go out of the house (or simply staying at home) without fear is something most would prefer to "freedom" if they had to choose and carry the consequences themselves.
Also, whether is is particularly smart to remove the lid off a pressure cooker while it is boiling inside could be argued about...

Sorry for taking so long to reply, I had actually got started writing but wanted to write something more clever and eventually put it off when I was half done. I guess you know what it's like.
I'm glad you seem to at least think about getting out. I know I'm not really in the position to asses the situation since I'm not living in Baghdad or elsewhere in Iraq (I'm from Germany, in case you wondered), but at least from here it seems like it's getting worse rather quickly and that there isn't a realistic chance of improvement in the foreseeable future. If possible, I'd at least try to have the necessary documents (including uni stuff) at hand to be able to go without relying on a by then potentially dysfunctional bureaucracy to get what I need to orderly transfer to some place elsewhere.