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Friday, May 14, 2004

Iraq & Cricket 

There's a great aritcle by Jonathan Raban in The Guardian entitled Emasculating Arabia. It critiques some of the U.S. "thinking" on Iraq:

What was clear from reading the English-language Arab press over last weekend was the truth of the old saying: "American viciously humiliates Arab" is not news; only when the terms are reversed are headlines made. To most of the Arab editorial writers, and perhaps to most Arabs, the digital photos merely confirmed what they had been saying since long before the invasion of Iraq took place: America is on an orientalist rampage in which Arabs are systematically denatured, dehumanised, stripped of all human complexity, reduced to naked babyhood.

Well, ok, but I don't think decapitating someone for the cameras is exactly the same thing as humiliating someone for the cameras...

Defining the orientalist project, Edward Said wrote of how occidentals feminised and infantilised Arabs, crediting them with "feminine" traits like intuition and an incapacity for reason (so Arab magicians figure large in the mythology, but Arab mathematicians not at all), and rendered Arabia as pliant, sensuous, passive, awaiting penetration by the rational masculine west.

In classic orientalist fashion, Iraq was brutally simplified before it was invaded. Because of the way that the British, operating on the principle of divide and rule, had cobbled together three profoundly dissimilar Ottoman provinces to make a nation, Iraq stands alone in the Arab world in its complex rifts of religion, politics, tribe, race and class. For 80 years, Iraq has been an immensely tricky spiderweb of social and cultural lines and intersections. None of this was recognised by the invaders. As recently as last January, so we are told, George Bush was cheerfully ignorant of the deepest, most conspicuous fault-line in Iraqi society, the division between Sunni and Shia. The Bush administration rhetorically homogenised the several peoples of Iraq by endless iteration of the phrase "the Iraqi people", or, when speaking of Saddam, "his own people".

When Saddam's gang of Tikritis gassed Kurdish villages or drained the water from the Marsh Arabs' swamps, they were decidedly not dealing with their "own people", but with people they regarded as dangerous aliens: tribally, racially, religiously, politically distinct from themselves. [...]

The Iraqi people were pictured as yearning, femininely, childishly, with one voice, for a pluralist free-market democracy, and (bad taste though it is to recall this detail) they would greet their liberators, femininely, childishly, with flowers. In the early autumn of 2002, the secretary-general of the Arab League, Amr Moussa, warned that a western invasion of Iraq would "open the jaws of hell", but the orientalists listened to no one from the region, preferring to trust the Middle Eastern expertise of Paul Wolfowitz, who blithely represented Iraq as a comely bride, trapped in a dungeon by her wicked stepfather.

OK, you get the idea by now. Pretty interesting I thought. There's no such thing as a single Iraqi voice or viewpoint. Some in NZ may be interesting to know there's no such thing as a single "Pakeha" or "Maori" voice or viewpoint either. As Kierkergaard said, "If you label me you negate me."

Anyway, on a lighter note, how about some cricket. Actually, it's not a lighter note, because Ricky Ponting and friends are complete morons. As this commentary explains, it's one thing to say you're going to tour a country regardless of the political situation, and another to say you're going to play against a team which is selected on a fundamentally unfair and racist basis. In Zimbabwe, it's not like cricket is somehow insulated from the political machinations:

Cricketers are entitled, should they wish, to turn a blind eye to rape, torture and murder: these comprise a valid but by no means overwhelming justification for cancelling a cricket tour of Zimbabwe. But Ponting has a "duty" to consider this. Had he grown up in Bulawayo or Harare, not Launceston, he'd have been sacked as captain last month because of the colour of his skin.


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