The Christian Science Monitor yesterday [July 15, 2004] has an optimistic report from its reporter in Iraq whose driver found him a wildcat, watermelon festival on a Baghdad avenue: “Cars were parked two deep. The traffic crawled, while people leaned out their windows to haggle over the enormous watermelons that have come into season.” Then came news of “1,000 pounds of explosives” going off near Fort Negroponte, and the assassination of the governor of Mosul.
While correspondent Dan Murphy was pleased at the sight of the street festival, he decided to stay in the car. Optimism among Baghdad “Westerners” is a subjective thing, something felt but not exercised in movement-a feeling that says more about what “Westerners” want, than about what Iraqis are actually getting. How many months now before Baghdad returns to its legendary heritage as home of the streets where the whole world walks?
“I walked freely through the streets of Baghdad,” said activist photographer Alan Pogue shortly before the war. “But if we bomb Iraq, Westerners will not be able to do that.” And today we can apply Murphy’s Test to Pogue’s Prediction: Are you afraid to get out of the car? How many months do you think it will be? At the rate things are going, how long before you will walk in “liberated” Baghdad? Answers to these questions would help to put a practical value on optimism. Is the “expected length of time” growing, or shrinking, and why?
Murphy’s Test can have many uses outside Baghdad, too. Everyone get out their local street map and mark the ones that pass Murphy’s Test. In many cases, just like Baghdad, the places you don’t want to walk are the places that have been bombed out by people like you. In other cases, the places you don’t want to visit are places like Fort Negroponte, built thick to keep you out. I am reminded of teenagers who report they are afraid to walk onto a college campus.
It is crucial to never forget how our correspondents in Iraq do not go door to door in the local economy. They are fort people. I grew up as a fort person. In fact the President was kind enough to visit Ft. Lewis during the week of my birthday in late June, so that I could get a glimpse of where I was born. Thanks George. At any rate, the “Western” perspective on Iraq is a fort perspective. Negroponte, by all accounts, is master of Fort management.
Forts are impressive communist experiments in community organization. On forts there are no homeless, for instance. No unemployment whatsoever. Everyone has health care. When I was growing up, prices were so low at fort grocery stores that you’d have been a snob to go off-fort for food. And always there were movie theaters, cafeterias, craft shops, record stores. Sometimes there were horse stables or sail boats for rent. I firmly believe that we would have fewer forts in the world if more of the world were more fort-like in these respects. Which sounds communist of me, I know.
On the other hand, you don’t find a lot of fashion variety in the clothing worn by fort people. So many uniforms and suits. And you are fingerprinted at age twelve, photographed, and filed away. I don’t know if they do this anymore at forts either, but at five o’clock, everyone stops what they’re doing, faces the fort flagpole and waits for the flag to come down as the bugle calls.
Still, on a fort, you don’t worry too much about the economy or the elections. And, you don’t sweat the housing market. You just take care of stuff and talk with your neighbors about other forts. As you can see, all this fort life is different from life off-post, so it would be foolish if all reporters lived on forts. Yet in Iraq “Western” reporters are fort reporters by and large. So we see Iraq as fort people do.
I scour the blogs and lists these days, looking for reports not filed by fort people. The name Ewa Jasciewicz, for example returns a great list of readings from the Google search. But she has returned to England. When peace witness Ed Kinane filed web reports last October, he noted the concrete blocks, cemented oil drums, and cement walls that fortified Baghdad and Palestine alike. Said the Guardian’s Baghdad Blogger Salam Pax: “I have never seen concrete blocks so big.” In fact, some Iraqis are adding up the cost of concrete blocks in Baghdad, in order to argue that money is being wasted. Will their protests be covered by fort people?
If anyone wants to solve the problem of wall-to-wall fort reporting, it can be handled. There are millions of Iraqis who do live there–drivers, workers with kids in school, former soldiers with language skills, or women fresh out of college–who could gather and file un-bunkered reports.
Women’s centers in Baghdad. Union halls. Railway stations. Schools. Cinemas. Various denominations of faith. Party headquarters. Orchards, farms, and oil fields, for sure. All these sites of human activity now belong to the enormous karma-debt that “Western” warmongering media are now obliged to pay.
In closing, Murphy reports that AK 47 ammo is now up to $450 per box. All the political parties, he says, are arming up for the elections. And who could blame the parties? What would reporters tell us about them if they didn’t buy guns in the first place?
[Note: If you’re wondering how many times I used fort. The answer is, unfortunately, 28.]