When the Iraq war ended and the Iraqi constitution was drafted, my sister was thrilled to apply for dual citizenship. All groups that were forced out of the country or who lost their citizenship rights were to be allowed to come back and regain their citizenship, so my sister thought. The early drafts of the constitution “took pains to” exclude Jews from the list of those granted the right to return or at least the right to regain their status as citizens.

The earlier al-Mada draft took pains to exclude Israelis from those who could
obtain dual citizenship. That effort is absent from this text. This more focused
clause would not apply to most Israelis of Iraqi origin, since the vast majority
would have lost citizenship rights considerably before 1968 (though some did
emigrate in aftermath of espionage trials in 1969.
The main purpose of this article is to treat those who lost citizenship in the
1970s—chiefly Shi‘a but also some Kurds.]

The Iraqi Jews are very proud people. There are not many of us, and I have heard a rumor that 25 or so still lived in Iraq at the beginning of Operation Iraqi Freedom in 2003. The Iraqi Jews are so proud, in fact, that they often look down upon Eastern European Jews and their contrived traditions. I have heard Eastern European Jews called “peasants”. They are much more passive than iraqi jews. This is a digression, but I find it very funny. Also when my father was growing up, the Iraqi equivalent of blond jokes or Polish jokes were Kurdish jokes, a la “how many kurds does it take to screw in a light bulb”. I say that at the risk of being offensive, but I think it is very funny that offensive jokes are so easily translatable.

Long story short, I had a big problem with my sister’s desire for dual citizenship with a country that did not want us back; and with a country that I knew she had no intentions of visiting. I would prod her about it and try to get her to admit what I feared was the impetus behind her campaign (which was limited mostly limited to dinner table conversations).

And then she admitted it. I can’t remember what I said or why she caved but she finally admitted that it was because all of her friends had dual citizenship and she wanted it too. She and I both knew that Iraq was a hot topic. We were raised in this country, though, and both of us were guilty of being “American Kids”.

It is not something that I like to write about because I cannot do so without feeling like a sell-out. I feel that I am cheapening the culture. I love Iraqi food but I don’t make it in my apartment. A friend asked me to make a dish that he had tried at my parents house. He could not pronounce the word, and I yelled at him for asking me to make it. It is an awkward feeling; as time goes by fewer and fewer people will remember the traditions and the spirit and the culture. I do not want to let it die out and I am tremendously proud of it, but I feel like any attempt I make to explain or translate it, as if I am an expert, makes me feel like I am cheapening it.

Clarification: intervention

The anecdote I was addressing in a previous post, Family Politics, was that intervention for any reason that is based on a moral or ethical concern, is not good legitimate. I do not think that intervention in another state is a good thing. I see how calling all intervention wrong seems insensitive to the problems that many people face, but I mean it with the utmost respect for the strength and ingenuity of individuals everywhere. I think that successful change must come from within. The margin of error is too high and the record of intervening in other state’s internal politics is poor at best.

The fact that my grandmother had to escape from Iraq does not actually justify the war. The fact that she was excited that Saddam was thrown out of power invoked an emotional reaction within me. This does not make it right. Logically, the trade off is inappropriate. We believe that oppressive governments preclude populations from enacting change for themselves; but lasting change is born organically. Why do we assume that unhappy or oppressed populations will be incapable of changing their governments? What about the French Revolution, the English Civil War or the end to apartheid in South Africa?

People are capable of prudent decisions. Intervening in another state imposes an immediacy on governments and an anxiety upon their populations; and it is condescending. I am unconvinced that the American, or any Western European states’ populations, are so benevolent and selfless that we can objectively evaluate the quality and necessity for intervention in areas we are completely unfamiliar with.

It is not necessary to apply a judgment to the leadership, population, and cultures that breed what we consider to be reprehensible behaviors. Humanitarianism is a vague concept; I just cannot logically separate it from any other moral crusade in history in which a state transported humanity to areas that it considered uncivilized…

Imperialism was justified as a benevolent act because it brought god (and the related institutions) to areas that were not developed according to western standards (un-christian or “savage”). By bringing god and the Church, Imperialism brought humanity. To me, humanity and humanitarianism are equally vague judgments of other cultures.

I think that any leader who willingly harms his own people or targets a particular group is a terrible leader and a terrible person. I do not want to support that type of state through trade or aid. If adjacent states feel threatened by a particular leader’s actions they should absolutely involve themselves. It is never good to have only one moral perspective in the world even when it seems infallible. To destroy existing structures, there has to be past precedent for a violent moral campaigns that have been successful or that do not seem misguided later.

Has intervening or transporting moral trends ever not caused harm in retrospect? (really, I am asking because I cannot think of any instances) Are we really so afraid of present suffering that we may ruin the chances for organic, effective, long lasting change? or is intervention indicative of a sentiment that only select people in select regions are capable of overcoming oppression?

thanks but no thanks part 2

Administrative policies can wedge prohibitions and fear between inhabitants of the city. Coinciding with the city’s dropping crime was what seemed like a decline the independence of its citizens.

The newest (and my personal favorite) vague, socially damaging and intellectually dulling MTA announcement is “A crowded train is no excuse for an inappropriate touch”. When I hear it, half of me wants to laugh. I imagine someone actually telling the police that the train was crowded and that he or she did not know that sort of thing was frowned upon. The other half of me wonders what exactly they are talking about.

In high school, a close friend of mine in a crowded train on her way to school felt something bumping her leg. A man had exposed himself, and was very inappropriately touching her leg. She yelled at him and asserted with disgust (to the entire car) that she was 15 years old. He was humiliated and the other people on the train gave her the support that she needed.

This creative and assertive problem solving, is what this city is supposed to breed in its residents. If something or someone is legitimately threatening to you, you can say something without waiting until after the fact and going to the police or an MTA employee. Resolving an issue with an unarmed person should not require a sign or a police officer. It requires awareness of yourself and others around you. The city should facilitate communication, and community through solidarity and self sufficiency. It should not inject a middle man that discourages interpersonal relations and encourages dependence upon its institutions.

thanks but no thanks part 1

I graduated from high school in 2002. When I came back from college for winter break, I noticed that the subways and buses had been plastered with ads for “if you see something, say something”. Although it seems obvious that these ads are specifically geared to preventing terrorism, the signs and instructions are quite vague.

The “See something say something” campaign has potential to be damaging in a variety of ways. The city is filled with potentially “suspicious” packages and characters; how is post-9/11-suspicious different from what pre-9/11 we called diversity?

If we called the police every time a “suspicious package”, an individual in “bulky clothing”, or “suspicious activity” appeared on a subway platform, the city would cease to function.

I always like to make a mental note of suitcases or unattended packages that would warrant “saying something” – if I didn’t know better. The vagueness of the word “suspicious” is an open invitation for service delays on subways, and traffic delays in the street. Not to mention, it is easy to forget that we are looking for terrorists and a successful terrorist’s job is to not look suspicious.

A friend from college moved to New York about a year ago. She recently posted on facebook that she saw a “shady guy” outside of her window. Invoking the “see something say something” guidelines, she called the police. In a hip and selectively charming way she described her conversation with the police officer. She said she “saw”, a man standing on her corner in a puffy jacket, and so she “said something”. The police officer asked if the gentleman was African American. Ugh. It would have been so much better if the officer asked if the gentleman appeared to be Middle Eastern. Even though it would still be racial profiling, at least it would be slightly more consistent with the intention of the ad campaign…

Family Politics

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.

Debt and Sarah Palin

Neither debt nor Sarah Palin seem to actually exist. Although Sarah Palin is tangible and debt is not, no one knows what either one is capable of doing, so everyone expects the worst.

I attempted to purchase the Economist today for the first time since my subscription ran out in Dec. 2008. Why was Sarah Palin in the Economist at all? It makes the same amount of sense as worrying about debt or sovereign default in an interdependent global economy. The state of Greece’s economy is “Pretty catastrophic” but nations with debt don’t disappear. People are still going to visit the Greek Islands, and Germany will still have a very successful economy. Greece may go into Sovereign default, but the population can also retire at age 54…

It seems like “wealthy” or “modern” (aka Western) states are in debt and “poor” or “developing” states can afford to purchase that debt. China purchased a significant amount of US’ debt because US consumers are what sustain China’s economy. If Western states stop buying, then what?

What is debt? We know that debt accumulates and we know that it can be leveraged, packaged and traded but because the global economy is so interdependent, states have an interest in never allowing “debt” to materialize anywhere.

My law firm defended a major investment bank that “collapsed” in March 2008. We were defending the bank in an arbitration involving a former employee (contract issue) in California when the bank collapsed. The arbitration continued along schedule, and my firm continued to collect payments. How is this possible? If an institution’s debt makes the institution collapse, what did it use to pay the outrageous legal fees? Why would a non-entity even need to defend itself?

Debt is more like a symbol than a real problem. Just like a swastika or a peace sign, debt only materializes when people choose to make it real. Admitting that debt is meaningless would destroy the credit markets and end the banking system and global economy as we know it. Like Sarah Palin, debt stands for something intangible and undeserving of the half-hearted attention we pay to it.