Saturday, September 18, 2004


Complex Iraq


Iraq has a large number of educated people; sometimes it seems that not a day passes without you bumping into one or two PhD's! Yet, there are millions who cannot read and write!

Populations are said to usually display what statisticians call a 'normal distribution' curve. It simply means that the main bulk lies in the middle with fewer, and decreasing numbers as you move on either side of the mean.

In the USA for example, and in terms of mentality, outlook and attitude, the curve has a 'confidence interval' of something like, say, 50 years. At one extreme, you find people living in the past and at the other extreme you find people looking ahead (and sometimes living) in the future.

I suppose this is true for all societies.

The problem in Iraq is that the spread (or 'confidence interval') is something like a few thousand years! On the one hand, there are people living truly in the 21st century both materially and mentally. Yet, less than 100 miles away, there are people with a mentality that precedes Christianity or Islam.

It is complex. It is even difficult for many Iraqis to come to terms with.

Ali Al-Wardi, the father of modern sociology in Iraq, attempted to look into the social make-up of Iraq. He wrote six volumes of an inspiring study that had much effect on a whole generation of Iraqi sociologists. Yet, he could only call his work "Social Glimpses of Iraqi Modern History"!

I find my own title for this blog "A Glimpse of Iraq" a bit ambitious and probably even pretentious.


When I go to the farm, I spend a lot of time with country people, mainly farmers whom we call Arab (!) or "Urbaan".

After an initial period of repulsion, I was fascinated by these truly intricate people. Simple they are not. Several years later, I was fluent in their local dialect and accent. Now I always use their drawl when talking to them. It removes at least one obstacle in the way of communication… exactly as using English to express these thought to you with these words.

In the evening, when I come home I have to "switch" back to my Baghdadi accent, otherwise I wouldn't be accepted as an urbane, modern man! The problem was: it was not just the accent or the way to say words; it was a whole mental set-up and frame of mind.

I had to go through that transformation within an hour. I always saw myself as doing what "Superman" of the comics' magazines did: move across several centuries in a short interval. Quite exhausting I admit, but it enriched my life considerably. It also helped me understand my own society and its history better.

One evening, while entertaining some 'sophisticated' friends, I made the "fatal" error of slipping into "Urbaan" dialect. I could see the look of bewilderment in some eyes. It took a long time for my wife to forgive me.

I am talking about two tiny locations in Iraq. There are many, many variations on those across the country.

Perhaps that was the real motive behind my plan of government that uses tiny self-governing "cantons" to let people live their own lives and develop in the direction they choose within one country.

Dear Amanda

One gentle soul, Amanda, who sensed my pain in writing these blogs wanted to send me a big hug with an email message but was a bit apprehensive that that might not be acceptable in our culture. So considerate and perceptive of her!

Well, it depends on the location. There are places where it would be completely natural; there are places where I would think twice before hugging my own wife or daughter… and there are places where I wouldn't dream of doing that!


Update 9/20/2004

After reading this blog yesterday, my wife expressed two reservations:

1. She has not forgiven me yet for that "accent" blunder! [God, that incident is more than 15 years old!!]

2. She has no objection to Amanda's hug as long as it remains within the realm if the internet!

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