Anwar – An Arab Woman Blues: Indicting The Reader
By Garda Ghista
Layla Anwar is the pseudonym for an Iraqi blogger, in her early to mid-forties, who appears to be writing directly from Baghdad, right in the line of fire, so to speak. She comes from a secular, upper-middle class, Sunni background and remains loyal to Saddam Hussein. Unlike the blogger Baghdad Burning, Layla does not write for the American left. Rather, she writes to all Americans, including the American left, and condemns us all along with the Bush-Cheney regime. She indicts every single American for being a part of the destruction and devastation of her motherland. She writes to the enemy.
Her blogs are a blunt description of life in Baghdad in the time of war - a war of American imperialism in its endless quest for natural resources. But then again, this war is not limited to oil. War makes a handful of people extremely rich and renders millions destitute or dead. The rich elite are the scores of corporations and sub-contractors who receive lavish contracts from the U.S. government – companies like Halliburton, Blackwater, Monsanto, Citibank, Chase Morgan, AT&T and Bechtel - who have all gone to Iraq to make millions in the work of "reconstruction", that is, reconstructing everything the U.S. bombed to the ground. So this is an illegal war of aggression for the sake of plunder and profit. The Nuremberg Trials called such wars the "supreme international crime."
On July 5, 2007, Layla sends the readers "A Postcard from Iraq." It is the height of irony. Her words, while describing the tyranny and agony of war, are riddled with sarcasm. She outdoes the entire world in sarcasm to make her point, to get it into the heads of the readers what is happening in Iraq. First she reminds us of her two relatives, Kamal and Omar, who were kidnapped and imprisoned in "detention centers." Then she tells us about Salam, another relative, who was kidnapped and beaten to a pulp. And a few days before writing this entry, it happened to Raouf. Raouf is not his real name. But she gives him the name "Raouf" because in Arabic it means "kind spirited, gentle." She tells us that Raouf is a gentle soul who loves "poetry, arts, animals, the land… which he cultivated with great care and love." One day he leaves Baghdad to check on his small plot of land an hour's drive away in the country. He wants to check if his fruit trees, birds and chickens are all right. But, just a few hours after reaching there, men come and take him away. They keep him for three days and torture him non-stop. Layla writes, "They used iron rods, chains, rubber hoses, sticks… Sometimes the three pounded him in unison. Sometimes they would take turns. The only respite he had is when they stopped for 'prayers'!" Due perhaps to the constant phone contact between his torturers and Raouf's wife, they finally drop him on the road. They do not kill him. He walks for miles until he reaches home. Externally he lives. But internally he has died. Layla sends us all a "Postcard from Iraq" to tell us his story, to tell us the reality that is Iraq.
On July 9, 2007 Layla writes "Some Thoughts on Forgiveness." She asks the question, how to forgive when the abuse, humiliation, destruction, devastation, torture, rape and annihilation continue? There needs to be some time out, she says. There must be a break from the hell of imperialist torture of the Iraqi people. But there is never any break. Christ was crucified just once. But we, the invaders, are crucifying Layla and her country daily, without end. And even if she could forgive us, she says, She, Iraq, will never forgive us. The dead fish and floating corpses in the Tigris and Euphrates will not forgive us. The burned down palm trees, the ancient ruins, the toxic waste and crumbled roofs will not forgive us. Layla says, don't ask me for forgiveness. Ask Iraq.
In another blog entry, "Add'o'holic", written on July 29, 2007, Layla talks about numbers. She makes so many calculations for us, the reader - the reader who cannot see the horror that is Iraq. She wants us to see the horror, to grasp it. This time, she tries by using numbers. She has lists of the dead, and lists of the imprisoned in Adhamiya concentration camp, Al' Ameriya concentration camp, and the Yarmook, Karrada, Amil, Mansur, and Taji ghettos. She has lists of the tortured, the exiled and the disappeared. All these lists are in her head. Then she has lists of all the sick, lists of the unemployed, and the emotionally traumatized. The lists in total include all her family members, relatives and friends. And then it also includes their family members, relatives and friends. It includes everyone, she says, except the hookers in the Green Zone. Killed are 2.7 million (500,000 children), 2.2 million in exile (2,500 per day), 2.2 million internally displaced, so 2.7 million slaughtered and 4.9 million refugees. Subtract that from 25 million Iraqi population and you have 20 million (rounded off). She calls it genocide. She reminds us that when the same events took place in Rwanda, the U.S. called it genocide. But today, in Iraq, the U.S. government calls it democracy and freedom.
On August 7, 2007, Layla writes another blog entry called "Why is Half of Iraq in Absolute Poverty?" From the very beginning, she indicts the reader, that is, the American people. She says, "What does it say about you? What does it say about your countries? What does it say about your institutions? What does it say about your governments, your 'culture', your 'civilization', your history, your 'progress', your 'values', your concepts … ?" She just keeps asking the reader, why? The reader is caught. She says, if only 5 million of you had protested in front of the White House or 10 Downing Street, the war could have been stopped. The context, the raison d'etre for all her blogs, is the war, the horrors of war. The intended audience is not other Arabs. The intended audience is the perpetrators of war, that is, the Americans. It is either the men in blue suits who give the orders for soldiers to go to Iraq and rape, torture, sodomize and kill the simple civilians of Iraq, or the soldiers who carry out these crimes, or the entire nation of 301 million Americans, who by their silence are as guilty as the soldiers who slaughter, and as guilty as the men in blue suits and black hearts sitting in the White House, giving the orders to kill while having coffee and donuts. Saddam Hussein gave speeches, but they were to his own people and the people of neighboring countries. Layla Anwar takes on a far more difficult task, a far more hostile audience. She directs her blog at the enemy, the occupier, the torturer, the rapist, the destroyer of her motherland. The difference is that she is using the internet, which means her potential audience is the entire world. Second, her rhetoric remains uploaded. It is not a speech that is heard one evening on the news and then gone forever. Her blog entries are all there staring us in the face. Her unbounded rage, her seething and swearing, is right in our face whenever we visit her blog.
In each and every blog entry, Layla Anwar wants desperately for us, the reader, the American, and whoever else collaborates with us, to grasp the horror that is Iraq. We cannot grasp it from Fox News. Fox News will prefer to report on Paris Hilton's release from jail or Britney Spears' latest custody hearing, or worse yet, Barack and Hillary. We cannot grasp it from Senate hearings on C-span because it is unbearably intellectualized, complexitized, and justified, with terms like "collateral damage" not even mentioned or, if at all mentioned, never clearly defined as drill holes in the bodies of young men, burned up corpses of beautiful 14-year-old girls by US soldiers to destroy the evidence of rape, or sodomization of 12 year old boys by US soldiers in Abu Ghraib and twenty other prisons throughout Iraq. We never hear about those twenty other prisons, do we. In fact, today there is complete silence of goings on in Abu Ghraib. Some say that nothing has changed; the torture, the rapes, the sodomizing continue. The only difference today is that no cameras are allowed. It is a policy of "hide the evidence of U.S. war crimes." So with no cameras, no pictures, complete censorship of the reality of war, and instead constant TV coverage of American Idol (70 million Americans watched the finals in 2007), how then will the American people grasp the utter brutality of war, particularly when the present generation never went through a war and their great great grandfathers are not here to tell them the horrors that took place in the American Civil War? The final proof of that brutality is 120 suicides per week by returning veterans. They cannot cope with the guilt.
By the grace of God, Layla says, they had no drills for Raouf. When he returned to them,
"Raouf was so badly tortured, he was unrecognizable. You cannot see his eyes anymore. His face, his nose, are so swollen, as if about to explode with pain and hurt. His body, his body, the marks of a thousand rods, chains, sticks on it. His legs, his back, his chest, his arms, his stomach… His white shirt was dark brown with blood. Someone took pictures. For the memory, for the record, for the family album. An Iraqi family album. … It is a miracle they did not kill him. It is a miracle they did not drill him …"
The torture of Raouf is living proof of the horror of US imperialist war in Iraq. Is further proof needed? In the blog "Add'o'holic" Layla provides more proof. She provides statistics. But statistics are just numbers on a page, aren't they. It is not the same as reading about the beastly torture of one man named Raouf.
We learn more about the logos of Layla Anwar In "Why is Half of Iraq in Absolute Poverty?" Layla quotes a BBC radio show, which in turn quotes an Oxfam report stating that over 70 percent of Iraqis no longer have access to clean drinking water. Before 2003, all Iraqis had water to drink. The same Oxfam report stated that today more than 50 percent of Iraqis are malnourished and one out of three Iraqis is starving. Fifty percent live in abject poverty. She provides more numbers for us. Ninety-two percent of Iraqi children have learning impediments due to mental trauma. And ninety-nine percent of Iraqi children are traumatized for life. The logic, the statistics are all documented in the Oxfam report.
In the blog "Some Thoughts on Forgiveness," she explains very simply that the predator is still in her country, still killing, torturing, plundering, raping and sodomizing her people. The reality of the continuation of imperialist occupation cannot be disputed by anyone. Hence, does the question of forgiveness arise?
The ethos, the moral character of Layla Anwar is unknown. She lives in Baghdad, thousands of miles away from America, and as per internet norm, it is unlikely that we will ever meet her. We cannot know in detail about her character. We know from other blog entries that in her helpless, hopeless rage, she does not hesitate to tell the reader at regular intervals, "Fuck you all." We know from reading more of her blog that she is a highly educated, literate and articulate woman. Frankly, in this particular context, the assessment of the moral character of Layla Anwar borders on criminal in comparison to the mighty crimes and tortures being committed on Layla herself, on all her family members and their family members, on the entire population of Iraq, on the rivers, the date palms and soil of Iraq. What right does the critic, any critic, have to discuss the moral character of Layla Anwar in view of the American imperialist occupation of her country with all the suffering that inflicts on her people?
Pathos is pervasive in Arab Woman Blues. No other Arab, man or woman, appeals to the conqueror, the occupier, the invader, the rapist, with the depth and the agony that Layla Anwar appeals. She spews wrath and fury at us all for bringing such colossal destruction to her people. But sometimes she appeals. Perhaps in every human being, even in the worst of circumstances, in the nadir point of their existence, the flame of hope continues to feebly flicker. She recounts how Raoul's wife begs and begs his captors to please release her husband. And then she writes,
"So when some bastard writes to me calling me a 'negative, whining, dram queen' because am not using my 'talents' to 'uplift' the arrogant western minds into 'Forgiveness and Beauty' – Notice how the occupier asks the occupied to uplift him/her! I offer this postcard from Iraq instead of my usual 'whining'… Yes, take it all and forget about us. Just forget us … and let us breathe a little. For it hurts to breathe, really hurts to breathe in Iraq."
Layla never ceases indicting the reader. In "Add'o'holic" she again throws the numbers in our faces:
"700,000 killers roaming around. 1 for every 30. The biggest army in the world. The No. 1 army in the world. Sophisticated, developed, techno-logically advanced, surge after surge…applying "professional Darwinism" as one of your Senior officers likes to call it. And four years down the line, with its logistic support teams, its soldiers, its militias, its contractors, its mercenaries, its peshmergas, it has not been able to control and secure one neighbourhood, not one alley way, not one street corner.... Now what do you call that? I call that DEFEAT. Some of you think of Defeat the Hollywood way. Like soldiers head bent down, with bags packed walking away into the sunset. That is the movies, Dears. DEFEAT is when you have at least 700,000 assholes working for you and you keep increasing their numbers and you still can't make it. See what I mean? Now the flip side of defeat is RESISTANCE. Four years down the line, if you do not call that RESISTANCE, I do not know what is. And you are supposedly the No. 1 army in the world. You can surge all you want, bring in all the mercenaries in the world, pay trillions and trillions of dollars, hire every contractor possible, wheel and deal with every enemy you like, make pacts with militias, thugs, drillers, torturers, snipers … You are DEFEATED." Yes, Ladies and Gentlemen, that is called RESISTANCE."
In "Why is Half of Iraq in Absolute Poverty?", Layla continues her relentless indictment of the American people:
So I ask you again – why? What have Iraqis done to you? Did they invade you? Did they steal your homes? Did they imprison you? Did they torture you? Did they rape you? Did they occupy your lands? Of course, some of you will come and present me with your usual condescending, paternalistic, patronizing lists of political theories, attempting to explain the inexplicable. Save your time and energy… I know all about your theories of imperialism, neo-cons… I also know all about your handy explanations regarding oil, cartels, monopolies, globalization. None of that satisfies me. I still need to know why? Why us? Why Iraq? Why this? Why now? If you fail to answer that question, then you would have not learned one single thing about yourselves. And I say yourselves because your governments are a reflection of who you are, your aspirations, your mindsets, your thinking, your illusions. You are part of it and it is part of you. And I can see right now there are nothing but murderous thoughts – yours…I don't care for your 'yes buts'. I truly don't. And that applies to all of you. All of you whose governments have a finger in the Iraq pie.
If you had really wanted, you could have easily gone en masse, in front of your government's offices … if only 5 million of you, not more, only 5 million, had done that and had thrown your passports in a huge bonfire in front of your White House, 10 Downing Street or wherever the hell you happen to be, then I am sure, we would not be experiencing what we are experiencing now."
Layla both pleads and condemns without ceasing. The emotional appeal is there, but it is a double-edged sword. Many Americans cannot tolerate the indictment and curse her blog. Others, like myself, already understand the crimes of American Empire and feel those crimes only more acutely when reading her entries. In pondering on the millions of tears flowing in Iraq, Layla's searing indictments just leave my face covered in tears. Her radicalism causes readers to either love her or hate her. She is no centrist. She is a radical, and sometimes history remembers the radicals of this world.
She begins slowly, casually, with a flippant comment as if speaking to the wind outside her door. But then she begins to insert the searing intensity of her own character, throwing more and more statistics in our face, naming more and more varieties of torture, talking about this rape and that rape of her Iraqi sisters, and asking over and over, why? It will not be possible to forget that question, along with her hundreds of other questions, to the occupiers. She begins, almost sweetly sometimes, but with the bitterest of ironies, describing the gentle Raouf, his lands and gardens, birds and animals, and then she reaches the climax of his torture followed by the slaughter of his soul. And we are the cause of that slaughter, we are the cause of all the suffering in her country. We stand indicted again and again. We are the invading imperial army, we are the shallow, indifferent Americans living an easy, comfy life back in America. Who would forgive us? Is there anyone who would forgive an army for its invasion, with all the rapes, tortures, crimes and genocides that invariably accompany every invasion in history?
Layla's delivery is abusive, derisive and denigrating. She is highly articulate in the English language, and she uses words to humiliate the occupiers to the maximum. She uses every word to shame us, to compel us to put our faces to the ground. She asks us:
Will Iraq ever forgive you? I am the wrong person to ask forgiveness from. Ask Her. But before you ask Her, stop doing what you are doing. You cannot continue in your ways and ask for forgiveness. It is simply not possible. In the meantime, She will continue driving you out by the same equal sheer force that you have used on Her. Read Her history and you will know. And trust me, you will come begging for Her mercy."
Now is not the time to worry about Layla's abuse. It is the time to worry about the crimes of Empire on innocent peoples around the world. We also cannot forget the people of Afghanistan or the people of Iran, whom Cheney is just itching to slaughter. We need to step outside the imperialist American box, and face her questions directly, find the answers, and then write to Layla and beg for forgiveness. And then we need to do everything possible on the ground to stop the endless serial wars waged by our government.
Garda Ghista is a freelance journalist, author of The Gujarat Genocide: A Case Study in Fundamentalist Cleansing, and Founding President of the World Prout Assembly, a movement dedicated to transferring political and economic power from corporations to the common people. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Layla Anwar's blog can be reached here