March 28, 2007

Mirror, Mirror on the Wall...


Let me ask you something.
Are you as bothered as I am by not knowing the whole Truth?

If anything, the Iraqi "experience" has managed to raise so many questions not only about politics per se but also about perceptions, resilience, sense of belonging, emotions, impulses...in short about humans.

I do not wish to engage you in some phenomenological exercise. I am simply at a point where I need to corner that reflection in the mirror, I need to corner that Truth.

Moving from the political to the personal, from the outside to the inside...
Something about losing one's country is very hard to express in words.
I find myself constantly rummaging through concepts, phrases, trying to find accurate nouns, precise verbs and it keeps slipping through my fingers, evading me, eluding me...

The only sentence I found that is probably as close to what I need to express, came from a mail I received from a fellow Iraqi and this is what he had to say:
"Since March 19, 2003 I am a shadow of my former self. The past four years have changed me forever."
Another mail tells me the same thing using slightly different wordings:
"I no longer recognize myself, I am beside myself..."

Simple powerful sentences that reveal something deep and true...
It sounds as if that former Self that one knows or has gotten used to has also been invaded and occupied...changed forever.
It sounds as if this is no longer my country, this is no longer my home, this is no longer my self...
I am no longer myself. I am shadow of me as if someone else or something else took over and I am standing by the sides watching it all and I no longer recognize anything...

It goes beyond bewilderment, amazement, stupefaction, or shock...It is worse.
It is estrangement from one's self.

We have become strangers to ourselves, strangers to one another, strangers to society, strangers to the group and strangers within...beside ourselves.

And am still trying to find the words...the right words...that inner truth that will convey to you the exactness...So I will give myself the freedom to use whatever images come to mind.

Whenever I take the time to ponder on this tragic "loss" of country and self, I am assailed by several visions that keep intruding.

One of them is a forced brutal violent delivery by forceps of a premature infant, unwilling to be born yet, an unnatural forced labor resulting in an unnatural birth.
A premature infant being placed in some incubator. A tight cocoon, spending the rest of your days grappling in total aloneness, struggling with your vital functions to feed yourself, breath...survive.
Unassisted by any life saving machine and the cocoon gets tighter and tighter and you are grappling even more...
You try to grip onto anything and that anything becomes like a totem, a talisman which you infuse with some life impulse, hoping against hope, it will keep you intact...

It can be a memory that you rehearse in your head in its minutest details, a song that you listen to over and over again, a piece of art that you keep admiring even though you know it by heart, a sentence that has provided you with warmth and that you repeat endlessly...anything that keeps the umbilical cord from irretrievably snapping...
Anything to keep a seeming sense of belonging in the face of loss...
Anything to stay alive and not go insane...

Another image that comes to mind is being in a boat with no sails, no oars, no anchor, no rudder, no compass and no life jacket and you are just floating and you do not know if you will end up anywhere or you may just drown any minute...totally at the mercy of the waves and the direction the winds blow.

The feeling that accompanies these images is akin to someone suddenly pulling the rug from under your feet and you come crashing down on your face and everytime you try to stand up...the rug is pulled again and again and again...

You see, it is not only about losing some "territorial" grounds. It is not only about the occupation of a land or the destruction of some house or some building... These are only the tip of the iceberg.
It goes beyond all of that...
It is about losing your own grounds, your signposts, your anchors, your references...
It is about losing your inner edifice, your own inner structure...

And it goes beyond losing too, because losing implies you can find "it" again...

Here, I would like to use the Palestinian example for comparisons.
The Palestinians lost their land through a brutal illegal occupation by the Jews.
I call it a colonization.
Iraqis did not lose land as such...even though they are illegally occupied and colonized too.

Yes, I found the word now...It is not only about losing your country...It is about disintegration...
DIS-INTEGRATION
Something was integrated, made whole and now disintegrates, fragments...
The Palestinians have one "advantage" over us Iraqis. They still have that point of reference. The land out there. They can see it in their imagination, dream of it, long for it...
It is still there somehow and still whole even though violently occupied by someone else. It is there solid...immutable...
For Iraqis, the land is still here...but we ourselves have disintegrated into a chaos...we have fragmented inside out...
The fabric is torn into a thousand shreds...It is not even a jigsaw puzzle you can try reassembling. It is more like a porcelain cup shattered into a thousand pieces...

It is so hard to explain in words. Being beside oneself...a shadow of your former self...so hard to find the right words...

I will try again...searching for the correct sentences.

For many years, Iraq was forgotten by the rest of the Arab world and by the so called international community. At least this is the impression one had.
We were conveniently forgotten by the rest of the world during an 8 year war with Iran that bled us to near death...
Then we came back to the limelight, to the forefront of your TV screens.
Demonized as a ruthless lot, bombed senseless then deliberately forgotten again during 13 years of vicious sanctions...forgotten till we became non beings.
Maybe numbers but nothing beyond.
Then back onto your TV screens. Demonized some more and bombed some more...

Since this process of vilification, demonization and dehumanization has been going on for several years, it was easy to invade and occupy us.
Not only physically but in your minds too...
In other words you made sure it does not pose you a deep ethical problem ...since over the years we came to be viewed as a nuisance, a number, or maybe something else, but in any case, no longer human...

Hence it came as no surprise when one of your so called anti-war heroes came up with this sentence "Iraqis are people too"
It is as if you need to pinch yourselves every now and then to remind yourselves that we do belong to the human race after all...or maybe not fully or maybe not at all...
The ugly violence and brutality with which your government, your voters, your soldiers, your media has dealt with us only point to one thing. In your mind's eyes we are a non-people.

This is not even racism. This goes beyond racism...It is not even extermination. It goes beyond extermination...
It is as if we did not exist to start with. In your minds we were non existent. A land inhabited by something but not a people.
Only that can explain the total disintegration you have subjected us to.
Consequently, it must be so easy for you to write us off with numbers and ratios, and ultimately with death.

I bet you would not even treat a stray dog that way for a dog exists in your mind but Iraqis don't.
Except of course, those you have chosen and picked and delineated into "ethnic" subdivisions, drawing up mental and physical borders and checkpoints ...
But still, I am absolutely certain that even these temporarily favored clans of your invention, you do not see as a people.
They are just your pawns for the time being and they too will become non-existent the minute they decide to stop selling their souls to you.

Do you now understand what am talking about? Are my words precise enough?
I am on the other side of the Mirror and am telling you of your perceptions of us and reflecting it all back to you.

I, in fact believe, only a very small fraction of you are really capable of any form of self awareness...
I see you as robots, mental robots for whom independent thought is a terrible struggle.
You are beyond brainwashed...
What separates me from you other than oceans, distances and a hideous occupation that has made me detest you, is a multi layered veil with which you have covered not only your minds but your eyes and your hearts as well...
In fact behind that thick iron wall of yours, you are nothing but a dead people. Your souls are dead, your minds are dead and your hearts are dead...

Yes we have disintegrated.
Yes we have been uprooted, snatched from our beings, alienated and estranged...
Beside ourselves, a shadow of someone we used to be...
Yes we have been slaughtered by the thousands and killed and yes you have destroyed us beyond repair...
Yes you have fragmented us, fractioned us, minced us, shattered us, scattered us into tiny pieces inside out...
Yes you liquified us and have withdrawn life from us... asphyxiating us, blocking oxygen from entering our sytem, sucking all our ressources including the air that we needed to breath...like a premature baby in some incubator...
Yes we have nothing left but a hollow look on yellowed, bruised faces. Yellowed by your apathy, indifference, carelessness and bruised by your viciousness.
Yellowed like some pages from an old forgotten history book.
The sadness, the loss, the grief, the pain are so vast, so immeasurable...we have no words left.
Most of the time we keep silent. We still manage to look into each other's eyes and we blink in recognition...
We glance at one another and we nod in acknoweldgement
No words uttered...It is so hard to find the right words when one becomes a shadow of your selves...
We nod and we know.

Yet by some strange paradox whose wordings again elude me, I cannot seem to shake off that perception that continously occupies my mind.

The perception that you have disintegrated quite some time ago...way before we did...into fragments...irretrievably lost.
The image of you being that premature infant with parasitic vital functions, living off like some amoeba...growing into a monster perfected by your killing sprees...
In fact you have ceased to exist for quite some time now...being beside yourselves, a shadow of something you used to be... or thought you were...
In fact you are already dead and mummified and you know it not.
What you are doing to us, you have already done to yourselves and continue doing to yourselves...
We have become your own reflection in that Mirror...
Does it not bother you not realizing that whole, simple Truth ?

Painting: Iraqi artist, Farooq Hassan.