Friday, August 29, 2003

Secret Meetings of the Home Repairmen

Americans searched Salam's house

They thought the 2 guys coming over to fix the kitchen were part of a Baath party cell.

I'm afraid the American soldiers were not terribly courteous.

I was struck by the way he described how soldiers tend to look at Iraqis--as if you aren't human.

So childhood memory #3: The police arrested a friend of mine in high school at the behest of her upper middle class parents. Since I was with her, I too was taken into custody but my parents were like 'Wha?! Our daughter was just standing there!' I was a really good girl. For the most part.

In any case, I remember that 'look' that fails to acknowledge the cop gave me when I asked him what was going on. Why was he arresting us? What had we done? He didn't answer. It was like I hadn't spoken. His eyes were dead to me.

It's not a look of hate. It is a cop look--you are looked at like an object and no engagement with the other human being (in this case, the cop) is possible. It's like a thousand yard stare. You are a flea. You don't exist. It's a power look--kind of alpha dominate, intimidate.

It's very humiliating to be the object of such a look particularly when the other person does have power over you--e.g., a gun pointed at you. Particularly when they are completely in the wrong--as in this case. Lest you think this is a minor thing--having one's house searched by weapon wielding, rude enforcers--try to imagine it happening to you for a moment.

They made his brother get on his knees.

I imagine that the sense of powerlessness would be chilling. Especially after the kinds of things Iraqis have been through.

The contempt towards you and your basic dignity would cause anyone to become intensely angry.

I think they train law enforcement to have this look and I wonder if that dead look is the look the soldiers gave to Salam's family.

What it's starting to sound like is that Iraq has become one big ghetto where Iraqis are African Americans or Chicanos and the soldiers have become the LAPD in the worst of times...And of course it is worse than this because there is no very clearly defined rule of law governing the soldiers' behavior. So Iraqis must feel even less secure--It is unclear that there is any redress for injustices done to them. The idea is: You could be a criminal so we will treat you like a criminal. The constant reminder that you have no rights and no power.

In your own country.

I'm not of the belief that there are these 'bad people' out there who create situations like this one. I.e., that if we just had more well-brought up young men in the army or if Americans were not 'arrogant,' etc. things like this wouldn't happen.

I think situations where some people have inappropriate power over others and fear of the retaliation of the weaker (e.g., ghettos, occupations, guerilla wars) creates these forms of cruelty. Sure there are some people who can keep their humanity even in dehumanizing situations but those people are rare.

The U.S. needs to bring in other countries and the U.N. Somehow Iraqis need to be given more power.

The threat of harm is real. I'm sure the soldiers must be scared. But just like cops I don't think danger and fear exempts one from respecting human rights. If one man is dangerous this cannot give you the right to shoot 5 harmless men just to get the dangerous one.

Still, even with rules, there can be no 'nice' occupations I think we must now conclude.


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