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An Alliance of the Occupied

From Saddam to Uncle Sam

by OMAR BARGHOUTI

Jerusalem.

I have to admit: I did feel a tinge of jubilation, albeit soaked in the overall agony, bitterness and deep anger that overwhelmed me when I saw that monstrous 6-meter icon of Saddam falling. It was almost similar to those special moments of unanticipated ecstasy that catch us by surprise, but not without leaving us with an inexplicable feeling of guilt.

Being Palestinian, I am not quite sure whether this odd blend of feelings is due to the fact that for us, Palestinians, guilt is a sinister and inseparable companion of happiness. When Palestinians laugh from the heart, they usually say: "Allah yustor!" [God protect us from what might happen afterwards].

Or perhaps being progressive can better explain this emotional oddity. After all, there is nothing more gratifying for all of us–progressives, liberals and democrats in the Arab world–than watching one of our own repressive tyrants fall. Actually, this is not very accurate. Making them go, through our own toils, is the pinnacle of bliss. Watching them being smashed by others is considerably less satisfying.

But, bearing witness to a cynical change of guards, whereby our local tyrant is replaced by a global repressor, a born-again colonist, is the absolute worst of all feelings. It is like being saved from a stormy sea only to be dumped into a tumultuous ocean. I can only marvel: why is it our miserable fate to choose between native–well, almost native–dictators and foreign occupiers?

This might be news to the likes of Thomas Friedman, Paul Wolfowitz and Richard Perle, but there is nothing we–yes, we, genetically undemocratic sand-niggers–cherish more than freedom, democracy and human rights, but we do not trust you to deliver them to our doorsteps. Neither do we really envy your peculiar flavour of democracy, especially given the pathetic state of affairs your current administration has brought you to. But, since we believe in fairness and ethical consistency, we cannot but respect that only you, Americans, can address the United States’ own burning need for regime change and mental emancipation.

We also jealously guard our inalienable right to self-determination. We–like every other nation–love to be masters of our own destiny, to topple our own dictators, or born-again fundamentalists (hint, hint!), to elect our leaders, to develop our culture, society and economy.

Thanks to you, our brethren in Iraq have indeed lost their ruthless despot, but in the process they’ve also lost their freedom. Your neo-conservative clan has made good on its promise to lift Saddam’s boot–which, incidentally, has "Made in the USA" written all over it–from over Iraqi necks, but only to place Uncle Sam’s own boot in its stead, on the same painful spot, lest they breathe freely and stand up tall and dignified.

Today, the wretched Iraqis have joined the very exclusive club of nations under occupation, with only one other most senior member: the Palestinians. I therefore suspect that they already share with us quite a few aspects of our ambition.

For we’ve always dreamt of the day when we could reclaim our sovereignty, and we hovered over the thought of being able to exercise our most fundamental right to lead normal lives, to send our children to school without being anxious about their safety; to work and be productive without the fear that someone might usurp it or destroy it all; to have our morning coffee, instead of our almost routine mourning coffee; to have the luxury of reading the latest world news and the most provincial local news, rather than having our dailies’ front pages covered with fresh names and photos of our most recent martyrs; to ensure a dignified burial when we die; to be able to travel, to visit relatives, to shop, to picnic, all without experiencing the humiliating and degrading military checkpoints; to die of natural causes, not of a bullet, or a piece of shrapnel, or depleted-uranium-related cancer, or a heart attack caused by watching a loved one die of either; to enjoy music, dance, theatre and literature without feeling guilty or selfish; to have more faith that our children will have a better life than ours; to curse at our leaders’ corruption, without being accused of high treason; to choose between political parties; to choose which paper to subscribe to, which website to surf; to demonstrate against poverty, joblessness and repression; to feel whole again.

We really deserve to lift your boot, and any other, off of our necks. We truly wish to feel whole again.

OMAR BARGHOUTI is a Palestinian political analyst. His article "9.11 Putting the Moment on Human Terms" was chosen among the "Best of 2002" by the Guardian. His articles have appeared in the Hartford Courant and Al-Ahram Weekly, among others. He can be reached at: jenna@palnet.com