Dear Comrade Dog,
Greetings from Al-Janna. Before you start wondering where on earth I’m writing you from, Al-Janna is not on earth. It is that place of infinite bliss where Muslims who serve Allah faithfully and adhere strictly to the teachings of Prophet Mohammed (peace be upon Him) during their lifetime go to enjoy eternal life. It is similar to what your American owners call paradise in their evangelical Christian religion. I arrived here last week with all my limbs missing but I am happy all the same that I have finally escaped the Jahannam that your American owners have made of my country, Iraq. I hope you do not pronounce it Airak like your owners. That’s infuriating! It is ee-r-a-k!!!
Lest I forget, Jahannam is the place of eternal damnation in my religion, something like that place they call hell in the Bible of your Christian owners. Your owners may know it as Gehenna if they are Americans of Jewish extraction. Hundreds of my brothers and sisters, my people back in Iraq, arrive here daily bearing tales of women and children in a hurry to get out of the American Jahannam in Iraq and join us here in Al-Janna. How did I get here? Well, we were at my cousin’s wedding, making merry. Next thing I know, a blast and we all vaporized, all hundred guests, including the bride and the groom. Every gathering in today’s Iraq is suspicious in the eyes of an Occupier whose psyche is held hostage by the T word. The only two things the Occupier does not find suspicious are the smell and the sight of oil. Sometimes he even finds himself suspicious, opens fire on himself, and calls it friendly fire. The word on the street is that they suspected our innocent wedding party, called in attack helicopters and a few bunker-busting smart bombs were dropped on us. Anyway, that’s a minor detail of daily life in Iraq. It is really not newsworthy.
But I digress! I apologize. I’ve become quite garrulous and wordy since I got here. This letter is not about me. It is a letter of solidarity and commiseration. News travels fast and I have recently received news from American Muslim arrivals here of your near-death experience in the hands of that barbaric African American football player, Michael Vick, who, I hear, has been declared guilty by the American public before his trial on charges of sponsoring and facilitating dog fighting. The NFL is already making a lot of noise about the distance they have put between themselves and Mr. Vick. Nike has cancelled endorsement deals. Animal-loving, placard-carrying protesters are having a field day. I hear his alleged participation in this primitive, crude, and backward practice has provided a legitimate excuse to call him all kinds of names that would have been considered unacceptable racial and racist slurs had the circumstances been different.I hear that in the society of your owners, it is always welcome for the occasional person of colour to commit a horrible faux pas that could constitute a convenient and legit veneer for the public explosion of secretly-held, long-suppressed prejudices. Now, why would Michael Vick go and do something like this? Something this barbaric, almost lifted out of the practices of his folks in the heart of darkness. I guess your owners are by now murmuring that it is not always easy to take the African jungle out of the African American. Three centuries of trying to inoculate Vick against the primordial barbarity of his African origins and see where we are at!
But I digress again. I am beginning to suspect my own digressions. Remember I’ve only just escaped an enclave of destructive suspicion. It’s too early to expect coherence from me given the incoherent world I’ve just left behind. This letter is not about Michael Vick either. I don’t care about him and I hope he gets his just desserts if proven guilty. This letter is about you. First, I am sorry to hear about all you went through. The details have been graphic and gory. To be raised and trained for the sole purpose of tearing at and destroying your own kind just for the gain, pride, and pleasure of man is an unfathomable fate. Man! What a traitor! What a betrayer! What a way to repay his best friend! You who have served him so faithfully, so absolutely ever since his accursed ancestors domesticated you. If he is a hunter, you helped him in his profession; if he is a shepherd, you’re on duty almost 24/7, rallying the sheep and keeping predators at bay; if he is blind, you’re trained to be his eyes; if he has kids, you play with them; if he is lonely, you keep him company. If he is attacked or approached by strangers, you bark your lungs out, ready to lay down your life for him. I can go on and on. What have you not done for man? You never ask for gold in return. You never ask for silver. You just serve him selflessly. Yet he trains you to turn on on your own?
Given your location in America, I can only ask you to be comforted by the knowledge that the best animal health care delivery service in the world will be mobilized round the clock to take care of your physical scars and injuries. Be comforted by the fact that while they can live with the idea of over 40 million of their fellow citizens being too poor to afford health insurance, Americans will not tolerate, even for a second, an imperfect animal health care system. Be comforted by the knowledge that the world’s best trained dog psychologists, dog therapists, dog masseurs, and dog whisperers will be mobilized to take care of your emotional scars. Take comfort in the fact that American dog dieticians will also intervene with numerous prescriptions of a restorative diet. Academics may even write postmodernist tomes about your experience and the construction of trauma. If you’re a female dog, God help Mr. Vick! The radical feminist establishment may join the fray against him. And if he hasn’t done it yet, it won’t be long before White House Press Secretary, Tony Snow, calls a press conference to condemn Vick and offer you presidential commiseration. Last time a dog died in the White House, Ari Fleischer, one of Mr. Snow’s predecessors, called an international press conference to announce the death of that presidential dog. We laughed then in Iraq and wondered about the strange customs of Americans. We even heard that some Republican friends of President Bush called for a probe to ascertain whether the terrorists were somehow responsible for the death of that presidential pet. You know how rumors tend to fly around in seasons of madness.
In essence, I am happy that you will soon be restored to a life that most poor Americans – especially the folks in the hood, in barrios, in Reservations, etc – cannot even imagine possible. If no one has thought of it, I will even suggest you spend a convalescent year at that famous Manhattan five star pet hotel where Hollywood royalty and America’s rich and famous check in their pets whenever they are in New York. Mr. Vick should, of course, be made to cover your expenses as part of his process of redemption. We can’t possibly expect your owners to pay, knowing that they also suffered terrible emotional pain when you got lost the last time they went strolling with you in the park, only for you to end up in Mr. Vick’s hound harem. Come to think of it, I ought to be careful using the word owners. The relationship between you and your human family in America is not exactly that of ownership. You are a bona fide member of the family, on equal footing with the children of your human Dad and Mom. Sometimes you are more important than their children, your human siblings. At least it looks that way to anyone viewing that culture from the unimplicated location of the outside observer. Where they opt not to have or adopt children, it goes without saying that you are their child. It is not inconceivable for you to be the sole beneficiary of their will, in which case you inherit millions and humans act as trustees on your behalf. It is against this background that the enormity of Mr. Vick’s heinous crimes can be appreciated.
Everything happens for a purpose. I want you to consider your ordeal in the hands of Mr. Vick as the ultimate act of commitment to the cause and salvation of the American public. Your story almost follows the script of the life of Jesus Christ, the only difference being that he actually did die for the salvation of sinful man. If you look closely at things, both of you were persecuted and tortured and both processes were salvational in man’s behalf. You see, before your ordeal, the rest of the world had given up on the American public. If your human Dad and Mom are neoconservatives or fringe, extremist evangelicals, you must be familiar with the rhetoric that the rest of the world needs to have its head examined since America, by nature, can do no wrong. The rest of the world may have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God, America is the one perfect exemption. In line with a national fetish, I am sure you have not failed to notice American flags in every room, every square inch of your home. One is attached to the family car. I’m sure they did not forget to put a star-spangled banner in your kennel.
Have I digressed one last time? Sorry. I was talking about the rest of the world giving up on the American public. You see, in the last couple of years, hundreds of thousands of people – yes, we must keep insisting that the Other is people until the American public accepts that fact – have perished in Palestine, Lebanon, Afghanistan, and Iraq through policies and practices either directly authored and supervised by America’s rulers or approved and funded by them. I am not going to talk about Latin America and Africa. This mass murder of civilians is carried out with the tax of the American public in behalf of the American tax payer. Yet, the rest of the world has watched with utter amazement the seemingly infinite inability of the American public to be outraged by the mass murders committed in its name in the places I’ve mentioned. No one is spared. You already know how I got here. Women, children, and other innocent, non-combatant civilians whose only crime is to have been born in parts of the world blessed with resources coveted by American capitalism.
The rest of the world has watched in disbelief and wondered how a people could go about its myriad quotidian preoccupations with so much insouciance, not a teeny-weeny thought is accorded the horrible fact that somewhere, every second, somebody is being bombed to maintain what American rulers like to call “our way of life”. So, the rest of the world concluded that either the American public has lost the capacity for human empathy or it is governed by conceptions of the human that the rest of us just cannot understand. We concluded that this public’s benchmark for the expression of collective, humanizing outrage is beyond our understanding. Or maybe the American public has ways of determining who qualifies to be a mournable human and such parameters that they have established exclude the Palestinian, the Afghan, the Iraqi, and so many Others. The American public’s insouciance has led us to a moral question we could never have imagined possible: in the event of death, especially violent and needless death, who is a non-mournable human? And we are not alone in giving up. Unable to snap them out of their slumber and insouciance, Cindy Sheehan, the American anti-war activist who got a taste of Iraqi life when she lost her son needlessly to the war, also gave up on her own people and retired from an apparently pointless conscientization cause.
Then comes your ordeal in the hands of Mr. Vick and we discover, to our pleasant surprise, that the American public is endowed with the ability to express public outrage and emotion in the face of the Other’s tragedy! Dear friend, your experience has bestowed on you the exceptional privilege of being the vehicle for the renewed faith of the rest of humanity in the ability of the American public to recognize horror and react to it the way the rest of us do. This letter is already looking like a dream. Dreams, I know, are not the exclusive preserve of the Reverend Martin Luther King, that great American who, were he not in the Christian paradise today, would have been horrified by his compatriots’ self-sedation in the face of civilian massacres in Iraq. Now that this somnambulistic public has shown so much outrage on account of Mr. Vick’s inhuman treatment of you, my comrade and friend, I dare to dream:
that one day, an Iraqi civilian life taken in cold blood by American bombs will elicit half, no, a quarter of the noise Americans have shown themselves capable of making on account of their maltreated dogs.that one day, an Afghan baby’s life, wasted as collateral damage by American-controlled NATO forces, will elicit half, no, a quarter of the decibels Americans have supplied thus far in behalf of yourself and your fellow victims of Mr. Vick.
that one day, a Palestinian woman’s life, taken in cold blood by bombs bought with American subventions, will elicit half, no, a quarter of the noise Americans will continue to make whenever their pets experience trauma.
that one day, when the worth of these people’s lives has equaled a quarter of the worth of the lives of America’s dogs in the eyes of the American people, a future generation of Americans will arrive to increase that worth to half; and other successive generations of Americans will add gradual value to our lives until that generation of Americans arrives, hundreds of years from now, that will actually believe and be seen to actually and truly believe that the Other is people too.
A Your human comrade, Pius Adesanmi
Pius Adesanmi is Associate Professor of English and Director, Project on New African Literatures (PONAL), Carleton University, Ottawa, Canada.