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Baghdad: Barbarism and Civilization


He was the Daily Blare’s reporter in Baghdad, Andy Rubber-Ali, earnest, energetic and deeply embedded, who occasionally wandered off a good hundred and fifty to two hundred meters from the “Bunker” to pick up ‘human interest’ stories.

Given the summer heat ­ over 48 degrees Celsius ­ he decided to interview a municipal garbage man having lunch just outside the “Bunker”.

“Hello, would you mind if I ask you a few questions?” Andy sat on the bench next to the garbage man, wishing he had sniffed some eucalyptus oil beforehand.

“With or without the electric cattle prod?” the worker replied as he bit into a chicken leg.

“Hey, you’ve got a sense of humor, don’t you?”

“Just practical experience,” he said matter of factly.

“How do you think the war is going?”

The garbage man looked straight into Andy’s eyes without malice or spite (or so the Daily Blare reporter noted):

“It is important that those engaged in terrorism realize that our determination to defend our values and our way of life is greater than their determination to cause death and destruction to innocent people in a desire to impose extremism in the world”. He threw the chicken bone to a scrawny cat, whose attention he had attracted.

Andy scratched his scrotum, turned his head and took a deep breath.

“Who are you talking about ­ the terrorists?”

“Yes the terrorists, all of them!” the man answered.

Andy scrupulously wrote it all down, though he had a vague sense that he had heard this somewhere else.

“What do you make of all this violence?” Andy shaded his nose and mouth to avoid the smell of garlic and garbage. “Has it affected you in any direct way?”

The garbage man looked away into the distance at the blue domed mosque.

“We will not allow violence to change our societies or our values. Nor will we let it stop our work.” He picked up his box cutter. “Whatever they do, it is our determination that they will never succeed in destroying what we hold dear in this country and in other civilized nations throughout the world. God willing.”

The last works froze Andy who took heed of the box cutter and edged away.

“You are a very articulate municipal worker,” Andy smiled ingratiatingly. “Garbage- — man”, he said softly. “I learn it from my work.”

“Eloquence from tossing garbage?” Andy asked incredulously.

“Especially from picking up garbage and corpses of all ages, both genders and all religions from our streets and markets.”

“Yes, its frightful what terrorism can do to a country,” Andy inserted his usually British banalities.

“Yes its frightful what a country can do to terrorists.”

The garbage man stood up, stretched and started to walk back to his truck.

“Hey, wait a minute. I’ve got a last question.” Andy ran alongside the worker who jumped into the drivers seat. “I’m not sure I’ve got it straight ­ are we talking about the same terrorists?

The garbage man leaned out the window as Andy bent forward.

“Buuuurp” the garbage man exhaled in Andy’s face. Andy retreated before this disgusting assault.

That night he forwarded his story.

The foreign editor replied, “Pure plagiarism. What are you smoking? Are you trying to make a ‘hadji’ into a Blair clone? Try again.”

The next morning after breakfast, Andy decided to interview an elderly cleaning lady who worked at the hotel.

“How will peace come about in this country?” Andy decided to start with an optimistic note.

The worker lifted her head, drew back her scarf and spoke in a soft whisper, “Ultimately these groups will only be defeated if they are separated from the populations from which they draw recruits and support.”

“Right on!” Andy smiled broadly,”How do weerhow is it done?”

“Get rid of all the foreign terrorists and jail their supporters among the local population.”

“You admit they are mostly foreigners?” Andy scribbled away, eager to get it all down.

“Yes, there are many.”

“How many would you guess?”

“Too many.”

“How do you feel about the bombings?”

The cleaning lady straightened up.

“If the bombers were looking to boost morale or our pride, then they succeeded. If they want to ensure our commitment to our way of life, they have achieved much. If they expected people to crawl out of the rubble of houses, markets and factories, head to work and otherwise get on with their daily lives, they were right. If their aim was to raise our strength and defiance congratulations. Burning with fear? God be praised, not likely.”

The cleaning lady picked up her pail of dirty water and mop and began to walk across the floor.

“What ‘bombers’ are you talking about?”

The elderly lady looked back.

“The ones who want to destroy an ancient thriving civilization, the barbarians who bombed hospitals, schools, department stores, markets, and who try to turn our diverse society of Sunni, Shia, Chaldean Christian, Jews, Palestinians, Kurds, Jordanians, Syrians and Iranians into warring tribes. My son was a Christian. He worked for a Muslim, who traded with Kurds and studied under a secular professor in the University. He was murdered at a check point. We were at the crossroads of civilizations between Europe and Asia. Now we are at the crossroads between civilization and barbarism. The enemies of freedom always underestimate their adversaries.”

At first Andy was astonished. “A cleaning lady improvised that narrative without any notes. She must have been university educated at some point. Then again she gave the wrong impression about whose side she’s on.”

“I had better edit this a bit before I send it to London ­ just to make its slant clearer.”

Next days’ return mail: “Andy, Get off the hash. That’s Livingston talking about London, not some old Arab cleaning lady. You are interviewing the wrong people in the wrong places.”

JAMES PETRAS, a former Professor of Sociology at Binghamton University, New York, owns a 50 year membership in the class struggle, is an adviser to the landless and jobless in brazil and argentina and is co-author of Globalization Unmasked (Zed). His new book with Henry Veltmeyer, Social Movements and the State: Brazil, Ecuador, Bolivia and Argentina, will be published in October 2005. He can be reached at:


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