My paternal grandmother is in the hospital. Although I have a very close relationship with my father, she and I are not close and we never have been. My father’s family is from Iraq. He moved here on a student visa in 1958. His mother and brothers followed in the early 1970s. They escaped through Turkey (I think). I know pathetically little I know about their experience.
The reason my grandmother and I never really got along is because, simply, I have a low rank among her 8 grandchildren. Of the eight of us, my skin is the fairest and my facial features are the least ethnic. I am a girl (one out of five) and I am a younger sibling. I am her B- grandchild for reasons completely out of my control, no matter what I do or how much I try. She always showed clear favoritism toward my sister and most of all to her oldest grandchild, the male product of an arranged marriage. I know this is a cultural difference that I should not take personally, but I always have.
In 2003 when my grandmother heard that Saddam had been captured, she “screamed with joy” at the television. The image always makes me very emotional and I get defensive of the war’s critics. However, when I imagine the war objectively, I think of the scattered remains of homes and infrastructure; it makes me angry for the Iraqi people and I feel frustrated. When I picture American soldiers, or American politicians (really George W. Bush) or political scientists sitting down and talking to my grandmother about the war it just makes me laugh (her English is not great and I am not sure if she has ever met someone from the South).
It is immensely difficult to understand another culture; it is even more difficult to imagine understanding another culture well enough to judge the institutions that the culture creates. The dynamics of other cultures or societies gestate and foster their governments (even if it uses repressive tactics). I don’t think any one person, let alone any group of people, can ever understand another culture well enough to impose destruction.