Wednesday, 17 August 2011
I still clearly remember that man, bearded middle age wearing Dishdasha and came running out of a police station carrying a vase. The foreign journalist stopped him and asked why he is taking this vase. The man simply answered “I paid its price in blood”. The journalist commented later that this man was a conscript in the Iraqi army for nearly ten years during the Iraq-Iran war and then the 1991 Gulf War. That was in 2003 amid the widespread anarchy and looting that swept Baghdad when the Iraqi regime collapsed. At that time, the media, both foreign but mainly Arab media tried to portray the scenes of looting, anarchy and violence as part of the nature of Iraqi society (more precisely, violence is encrypted in our genes) paying little attention to historical conflicts, interests of regional powers in Iraq, complex ethnic and demographic diversity of Iraqi culture and religious/sectarian and tribal divisions in Iraq. This belief about Iraqi society was not new. Echoes of the same accusations can be tracked back to the late fifties when the King family was massacred in 1958 and the scenes of cheering crowds and the jubilation in the street when the corpses of the Prince and the Prime minister were mutilated and dragged in the streets. This was further reinforced by the successive bloody military coups in 1963 and 1968. Also the Iraq-Iran war and then the large scale looting of Kuwait by the Iraqi army in 1990 and the uprising that followed in the south and north of Iraq. Interestingly, even many Iraqis hold this belief including many intellectuals. Baqir Yasin, shared the same opinion in his book The History of Blood-stained Violence in Iraq `Tareekh Al Unf Al Damawi Fi Al Iraq`. Salam Abood in his book The Culture (or Education) of Violence in Iraq ` Thaqafet Al Unf Fi Al Iraq` the effect of violence on the Iraqi literature in the last three decades of the past century. I have noticed some similar hints in a book called Rituals of War-The body and Violence in Mesopotamia (by Zainab Bahrani) where “ she investigates the ancient Mesopotamian record to reveal how that culture relied on the portrayal of violence and control as parts of the mechanics of warfare”.
Now six months into the Arab Spring that swept the whole Arab world and we have a more or less civil war in Libya and Yemen, a full scale military crackdown in Syria. Not to forget the deep Sunni/Shia’ rising tensions in Bahrain. However, so far no blame of the people of these countries being violent but all blamed on authoritarian repressive brutal regimes.
But the recent riots in Britain made me think more about this theme, which I call it, the Collective Psyche of Violence. The scene of that Asian student with bleeding nose approached by a gang that pretended to help him but instead mugged him is not much different from looting scenes we saw in Iraq in 2003. Four people died in these riots (in 14th July 1958 Revolution that reshaped the future of the whole Middle East – or the bloody coup as described by the Times magazine in 1958- only 18 people died across Iraq).
Not long ago, David Cameron said publically that multiculturalism has failed in Britain (which I think is true) but he put all the blame on “British Muslims” and since then he and many other politicians asking the British Muslims to “embrace British values”. However, nobody said exactly what these values are? And are there such unique values for British people in particular. Are there French, American, or even Chinese values? After these recent violent riots, Cameron described parts of the British society as “sick” and blamed it on “moral collapse” over the last three or four decades. Some blamed job cuts, unemployment and poverty. I just wondered what left of the British Values that Mr Cameron wants me to embrace and most importantly how much this collective Psyche of violence differs between affluent Western countries and poor eastern countries like Iraq for example.