February 5, 2008

Lonely Survivors in the Cold...

What is Life ? You breathe in and breathe out...but you have no power over your breath.

You breathe while you are unconscious and you breathe while you are asleep, and you breathe in your dreams and your nightmares...but somehow you believe you control your breath and that of others...

Breathing is the vital function that indicates you are still alive. That life is still circulating in you...

Torture is about leaving you breathing but with no life circulating.

Torture is about exercising the ultimate control, leaving you to hover between life and death. Torture is not only sadistic, it is the ultimate ego trip of someone mistaking himself/herself for God, for “Pneuma”.

I’ve written over 300 posts thus far, and if there one subject matter that paralyzes me with both - anger and indignation, it is that of rape and torture.

I am deliberately referring to both Rape and Torture as one and the same thing.
For me they are one and the same thing.

Torture is a form of Rape and Rape is a form of Torture . Straight Murder sounds like Mercy in comparison. But then Murder can be considered as the ultimate form of Torture. But it does somehow come across as clement in contrast to the following stories.

“We left Baghdad because we were threatened by the Mehdi army. We had to go immediately, leaving everything: clothes, furniture, all the things you accumulate when you live more than 20 years in the same house. Things had been getting worse for a while. One event especially, sticks in my mind.
Neighbors of ours had been forcibly removed from their home three houses down from us.
One morning a few days after they had disappeared, one of my daughters walked down the road and saw the heads of our neighbors lined up on the wall of the house. She was hysterical and couldn't leave the house for weeks...”

Seeing heads of your neighbors lined up on a wall is a form of psychological torture.

Here is another story.

“ The young woman was walking with her husband along a Baghdad street when she was abducted, held captive and raped repeatedly by five militia men for several days.
Before, she was very proud of her body but now she is overweight -- she eats to protect herself and not to attract people..."

Rape is another form of Torture.

Or how about that one.

“British soldiers in Iraq have been accused of torturing and murdering captives.
It is claimed 22 Iraqis died in custody and nine survived torture. Alleged abuses include eye-gouging and mutilation...”

No need to go over Abu Ghraib again. The rape, the sodomy, the horrendous torture, the breaking of bones and skulls, the parading naked covered in feces, the wearing of stained panties as a face bag, the blood smeared corridors and walls, the forced masturbation in group, the unthinkable...

Abu Ghraib will never leave us Iraqis, but do read this for a reminder, lest you have already, conveniently forgotten.

“ Mohammed, a refugee in his late 20s, is a particularly hard off case. Mohammed was a former bodyguard for Saddam Hussein and was later imprisoned by the U.S.-led coalition. He suffered torture, unbelievable torture -- they gouged out one of his eyes, and he can't walk properly - she says (his counselor). He is very, very depressed. Every time I see him I don't know if it's the last, because he's suicidal...”

Have you noticed a common thread to the above stories – apart from the obvious torture that is? I have.

What is this Western, Aryan sadistic lustful, fascination with Arab/Iraqi heads and eyes ?

Heads cut off, eyes gouged out...a woman who does not want to look at her body anymore... What is it they are preventing us from seeing ? What is it they want to blind us from ?

Which reminds me of another story I read yesterday on Iraqirabita. A member of Jaysh Al-Mahdi (you know the militias that the Anti–War, the Cockburn family and Arab “leftists” consider patriotic and anti-Imperialistic) has taken a break from his “daily activities” and is now working in the ministry of Interior.

A colleague of his, noticed that the guy whose name is Ali Kha’zal is not well. He looked very pale and his colleague was rather worried and probed him for more information and suggested that he consults a doctor.

Ali Kha’zal opened his “heart” to this colleague and told him the cause of his illness. He had kidnapped a Sunni father and his only 7 year old son. After torturing the father in front of his son, he shot him. Then came the 7 year old boy's turn. He opened the boy’s mouth and placed the gun inside and shot him as well.

The boy was staring at him and he died with his eyes staring at him...He tried shutting them, but they remained open staring at him. Since that day Ali Kha’zal from Jaysh Al-Mahdi has the boy’s eyes follow him everywhere, day and night...

The latest figures concerning survivors of torture are staggering.
UN surveys finds that 1 out of 5 Iraqis are victims of Torture and Violence. And the UNCHR is asking for 261 million $ for psychological treatment only. And the necessary funds have not come forth yet.

Living, surviving with your physical, mental, psychological, emotional, spiritual wounds and scars, some of them raw open – still, without professional help is what the majority of Iraqi survivors “live” with daily. Alone and unattended.

Add to that, lack of financial security, extreme poverty, no employment, no food, no resources, no medical care, no proper housing, no schooling, no network of support...And what do you get ?

What do you expect from someone who has been stripped of everything, EVERYTHING and is suffering from terrible mental anguish at the same time ?

How long would you survive in such circumstances? How long would you last? How long would you last before falling into a psychotic madness or committing suicide ? Do you ever ask yourselves such questions ?

OK enough about little you. Let me continue with another story...

This, I received from a survivor I have met on one occasion. I have translated parts of his letter.

“ Dear Layla,

I don’t know why I am writing to you. I felt the urge to do so, even though I am not writing with a particular request, nor am I asking anything from you...

I do remember when X introduced us, and I was telling you my story and the ordeal I suffered at the hands of the militias. I remember that you just sat there silently, almost detached, and at one point I wondered if you were really there and if you were listening at all...I saw no expression on your face, your face was blank, like a slate...

But you kept contact, by looking into my eyes...I will not forget that gaze. I will tell you why. I remember when I finished my story and told you about my release from the militias, and recounted to you how I was found by some villagers who took me in...I told you they bathed me even though the water would sting my open wounds, they fed me, and they covered me...and I remember telling you that I felt I was like a helpless infant, totally dependent on the goodwill of anyone who would take me in...This is when I saw your eyes fill up with tears, shining like little stars...The brutality and hatred of my torturers did not seem to move you, but the kindness and care I found among the villagers did...

Then I understood that you were focused on the cruelty and the kindness of some...It’s as if you were trying to sort them in your head, it’s as if you were relieved that some good people are still out there...

I find myself thinking along those same lines...Every time I meet someone, I look at them, I try to sort them in my head and guess, are they good or bad ? Because I now know that there are torturers living amongst us even in exile...

I also remember telling you how relieved I was to leave Baghdad. That I hated it and hated everything that reminded me of it. You said calmly “that will change — it’s just a reaction.” And you also said “expect the ghosts and shadows to follow you, not right now, but they will re-emerge later...expecting them will take their element of surprise away...”

Frankly I did not quite understand that. But today I do. After that initial phase of elation, having escaped the prison I found myself in, even though I was innocent, after the high of leaving the hell that is Baghdad, I find myself longing and yearning again...I miss home, I miss my friends, I miss my family, I even miss the rusty nails of our entrance door...and I miss the villagers, Layla. How to explain that?

You were right about the ghosts and shadows...they follow me everywhere.

My nights are filled with nightmares and I wake up shouting or I dream of my dead parents and relatives holding me, again like an infant...I miss their love and tenderness...I see my torturers in my sleep so I stopped sleeping.

Some days are worse than others...Some days my whole body aches for no reason, and I feel as if it is broken into a thousand pieces. Other days, am irritable and snap at everyone and sometimes I catch myself breaking in tears with no reason...like last Friday.

I went to Friday prayers, and while prostrating, I felt my tears covering my face and I could not sit up again, everyone around continued the prayer and I stayed prostrated with my face to the ground. Maybe I did not want them to see me cry...

My life is very difficult. As X already told you, we have no income and I can’t work here...I roam the streets, and pretend they are the streets of Baghdad, pretend it is home...I even pretend that my actual neighbor and local grocer are the ones from my neighborhood in Baghdad. I pretend all the time but at night I can’t sleep, because at night I can’t pretend anymore...

The other day I left the apartment, I could not bear to see anyone anymore...I walked for hours, and I seriously contemplated going back but the ghosts and shadows followed me even during day light and I realized that was simply impossible...

Layla, am a changed man. I don’t know how to explain it to you but am not the same person anymore...I long for my previous self and I look for him and don’t know where to find him anymore...

Thank you for listening to me “

Painting: Iraqi artist, Zaid Haidar.