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73nd Annual Summer Conference, August 5–8, 2004

Closing Keynote: Summary of the Conference
Patrick Graham

Moderator: Gwen Burrows

Gwen Burrows:

Patrick will be speaking for, well, we’re not sure how long, maybe 20, 25 minutes, and then we’ll go straight to questions. We won’t have a break, Patrick can stay at the podium, so we don’t have to arrange the microphones, so you can really have an opportunity to ask him some questions about how all of what we’ve been talking about takes shape on the ground in areas where he has covered things.

Now, Patrick, I’m sure most of you have actually met in the last few days, but he’s a freelance writer, and he’s been living in Baghdad, having covered Iraq since 2002, and some of you may have seen his article on living in Fallujah for the last year, which was in the Harper’s Magazine in June, very interesting article. He has written for the New York Times Magazine, the London Observer, the National Post, and has served as a television correspondent for the CBC, Global TV, Channel 4 Television, and spoken on CBC Radio and BBC Radio World Service. More information about Patrick, of course, is in our brochure, so I’ll leave it at that, and welcome Patrick up here.

Patrick Graham:

When Eric asked me to do this, I asked what do I do, and he said, well, you just sort of sit around and you listen to people, and then you just at the end of it you just talk. So that’s what I did. So it’s sort of Eric’s fault, although he wasn’t skinny-dipping late last night the way some of us were.

What I want to do is put some of the stuff that was talked about in the context of Iraq, which is not just the politics and the news that you cover, but I think one thing that wasn’t talked about that much is the actual context of religion. I mean, one of the reasons that Dr. Land last night was so interesting is that you got a sense of his genuine context, he wasn’t abstracted from his beliefs. And in Iraq, people are not abstracted from their beliefs in the least. And there’s a certain tribal aspect, what we would think of as tribal, it’s much more complicated than that, but there’s very close bonds between people, which is actually wonderful, but is also quite imprisoning. I miss it, it’s a really warm culture. It’s also very manipulative and claustrophobic, but in keeping with the tribal aspect of it, I thought maybe if you’re talking about Iraq, it would be vengeance is back with a God, just because it’s a very vengeful place in that tribal way.

Covering Iraq is a journalist is a very strange experience, particularly if you’re working with people who are killing Americans or even talking to them or spending time, let alone being sympathetic with them or perceived as sympathetic. I wrote this piece for Harper’s a while ago, it was in the June issue, and I came back to do some interviews on it, and I became for reasons I’ve never understood but enjoyed a lot, a kind of darling of Fox News, which kept having me on its morning shows, and I was invariably introduced as, “Our next guest has spent months with terrorists and he’s a Canadian.” And it was clear that there was an equivalency there.

I walked around this weekend with my notebook, scribbling a lot of what turned out to be quite illegible notes. And I just was reminded of one of my guards in Baghdad, and Baghdad is really a city that is so insecure that everybody has guards, but we didn’t realize quite how insecure it was when we started, so we hired a guard named Rava [sp?], who turned out to be challenged in many ways, I mean, he would sit scribbling in his notebook, and we grabbed it one time, and it was just illegible writing, and he was just sort of doodling off into space. And I’ll come back to Rava, because the way in which Rava disappeared from our house explains a lot about how Iraq works.

But what’s interesting about Iraq is that it’s a kind of petri dish of everything that we’ve been talking about. I mean, there’s not a subject in international politics or psychology or philosophy that’s not somehow being worked out in Iraq. It’s a terrible place to live, especially for Iraqis, but it’s endlessly fascinating in a kind of intellectual way, and the people are very gripping, so there’s, despite the insecurity of the place, it is a kind of emotional and intellectual cornucopia, and I think people have a lot more to learn from Iraq than probably they realize.

Iraqis understand us much better than we really understand them. And they have some real problems understanding us, but they do it, I think, more consistently, and are more interested, than most of us are really in Iraq.

Karen talked about, like, she made a number of really interesting comments. But one of them was the idea of an absence of the good, or the absence of God, she mentioned it once or twice, and it struck me in the context of Iraq, that is a really really important concept. Iraq is a country where you know fear in an extraordinarily intimate way, and the people there know fear as a kind of a state, not as something that happens occasionally, but something that you can taste in your mouth, and you can recognize it. I’ve had it a number of times, and it’s really important and it’s interesting as a journalist to experience it, but it’s important to understand how that fear drives people, why it is such an important component of both their religion and the various kinship relationships that they have. Until you’ve felt it, you don’t, you’d have trouble really understanding the culture itself, and Saddam was a master of fear, he really understood it, and that fear has never gone away. And it works itself out both in a search for God, because I think this kind of deep fear, which I experienced on a number of occasions – one time I was caught in Shock and Awe in downtown Baghdad on the big night of the bombing, with twelve Iraqis in a toilet hiding – and they were chatting al’akbar, al’akbar, and I didn’t have anything to chant – but it was a kind of deep and overwhelming inexpressible kind of fear.

I was in Fallujah a while later, and it was there, it was… I’m sorry, it’s difficult to talk about… when you come back from these places, you have a very touchy kind of emotional relationship to it, but this is sort of what Iraqis feel all the time. And they do in other places, sorry. I had a very interesting talk with a woman named Candy, a filmmaker, who was making a film in Israel, and we were trying to, I was saying as an outsider it’s very difficult to understand the kind of fear that Israelis express, because they project power very well. And she said, yeah, but you know, I go there and people say to me, you know, if you don’t live here you don’t understand it, and if you don’t live in Iraq, you don’t understand it. And it has a lot to do with a lack of space, emotional, psychological, physical space. Iraqis outside of Kurdistan are imprisoned, deeply, in their houses, I mean they’re just caught up in this… when they say they’re insecure they mean that, you know, you can’t leave your house, you’re worried about your kids all the time, every thought that you would have here that would be a kind of an anxious worry or a kind of daydream, or whatever kind of fancies you’re thinking, in Iraq you’re always wondering how somebody’s gonna die, and you’re gonna die or someone else is gonna die, you’re always thinking of people in the context of their death, and Iraqis have always, since after the war, they’ve talked about their insecurity, and Karen said something very interesting, that you know, we don’t listen.

Journalists now understand what it’s like in Iraq, to be threatened. But we didn’t really understand it until May, and Iraqis have said listen, we’re scared, we’re really really scared, and it was, you know, there was Donald Rumsfeldt, well, you know, it’s messy, democracy’s messy, and there was journalists were, well, Saddam’s gone, what’s there to be fearful about? It’s only recently that journalists write about their own fear obsessively, about how dangerous it is for them, and how this and that, and what’s happening to them, and they’re just kind of beginning to understand that insecurity, and the kind of fear kind of enters your dreams, it’s a very strange experience.

When you leave Iraq and you hit a normal world, you hit a place like Jordan, my friend Tara’s here, we went off to Jordan, and it was so weird that it was normal, and it took four or five days before we had any concept that no one was going to shoot us, we could walk down the street, and at first it was sort of ew, this is strange. Iraqis don’t have an experience of any kind of normal life, because they don’t have the space, there are no public spaces. There’s no place to go, you can’t escape your house, you can’t escape your head always being worried, I mean, you’ve got know, everybody is like Saddam in their little spider hole, they just sort of ew like this, except in Kurdistan which I’ll talk about later, but I mean, the idea of normal in Iraq is very funny.

I phoned up a friend of mine the other day to get some help. I’ve been writing an article over the weekend and I had to do lots of silly things, and one of them is I phoned up a guy named Luke Baker [sp?], who is the head of Reuters in Baghdad, and I said “Hey Luke, what’s happening?” and he said “Ah, Patrick, not much.” I said, “No?” He said “No, nothing’s really happening in Iraq.” I said, “Uh, Luke, I just read that 300 people were killed in Najaf.” He said, “Yeah, uh, yeah, that’s true, 300 people killed in Iraq.” And I said, “You know, Sadr City (which is a poor Shia suburb of Baghdad), there’s a lot of fighting there too.” And he said, “Yeah, yeah there is. And you know your friend [?], you remember he was telling us that [?] would blow up, there’s tons of fighting up there too. There’s fighting in [?]…” And he just started going on, and then he sort of caught himself, and he goes, “Yeah, I guess there is something happening in Iraq.” But he was so used to it that it took a kind of call from the outside that you know, even a foreigner would not know what kind of normal is.

Fear has been kind of a, it’s been a theme, particularly in the beginnings of the talks, people talked about, I mean Ali talked about fear is grounded in empirical reality. In Iraq it’s, as I said, it’s a kind of a taste, or a state, and the way that that plays out, I mean, Robert captured, Robert Orsi, he talked about, you can’t find the origin of terrorism in religion, it comes from the history of the people, that there’s a context for their religious expression that can’t be divorced from the reality of that context. Robert said it very well, he said you know, the socioeconomic world is where you look for the action. And the socioeconomic world of Iraq was incomprehensible to journalists when they arrived. And it’s still incomprehensible to many of us, I can think of a few of them in particular. It’s an extremely complex place that is not, it defies journalism.

When you read an article on Iraq, you’ve got to understand that, you know, the person who wrote it probably didn’t speak Arabic. They probably went to the town for an hour, maybe two hours. Maybe they sent, as the New York Times often does, their translator, who’s going to come back and tell them a hundred things, two-thirds of which they ignore because their conspiracy theories, such as, you know, well, it was the Americans that did that car bomb. Now, the journalist isn’t going to put that in his article, he’s going to winnow through the stuff that makes sense to him. So by the time you’ve, it’s filtered through to you, and put into the context, in America’s case, a kind of very simple morality play about you know, Saddam was evil and the Americans are good, and we’ve liberated it, or various, maybe more complex morality plays, it’s essentially a morality play, and kind of myth, that’s being written as news. It’s very very rare that you read something that is genuinely reflects Iraq. And that’s not really journalists’ fault, it’s just a very difficult place to work. There’s a wonderful reporter named Anthony Shadid who won a Pulitzer this year, and he won a Pulitzer because he was a good reporter, but he spoke Arabic, and nobody else spoke Arabic. We’re talking hundreds of journalists. And the Americans couldn’t come up, and the Canadians, myself included, couldn’t come up with more than one Arabic speaker. And they were churning news out at such a vast rate, without anybody, with any concept of the situation at all. The journalism after the war was far more problematic than before the war, because after the war, they actually could talk to people, and we still didn’t get it right. When I went back to Iraq last August, a friend of mine said, you know, this country’s going to blow up. And he explained a complicated relation between Sufis, which is a very strong tradition in Iraq, and Salafis which is what we think of as Wahabis, and he said they’re getting together, and if they do, it’s going to blow. And he had a complicated analysis of the way the tribes work in the North as opposed to the South. (snaps fingers rhythmically) Every month it got worse and worse. Two weeks before it hit its nadir, it’s going back down again, the New York Times published an article by its most famous journalist which admonished foreign journalists for saying the situation was so bad in Iraq. In a kind of patronizing and arrogant and incredibly ignorant tone, told us that if we thought it was bad, we were just trying to make a name for ourselves, I mean it was just nonsense, and journalism, oh, I can see I’m going into a rant here and I’m going to stop. (laughter)

But it reminds me of a line by Frank Zappa that my friend Egger Friedenberg [?], what’s the dirtiest part of your body? I think it’s your mind. I mean, there’s a projection onto Iraq which is really really profound. There’s an obsession with Saddam Hussein. An obsession. If you found Ude’s shoe, you could get an article in New York Times magazine. I mean, I had an impossible interview with Ude before the war, and I’ve never had an editor down my throat the way that New York Times magazine was about that one. There is a kind of pornography of Saddam Hussein in the West. When Saddam was caught, which was very unfortunate for the Americans because they lost their excuse for, when I say the Americans I don’t mean the Americans, I mean the very narrow group of people in the administration who are running the war basically with U.S. domestic politics in mind. The army is something separate, but the upper echelons of the American army are very very political, and they were kind of on board, maybe not behind the scenes, but in terms of how they wanted to project an image of what they was going on in Iraq, good guys, bad guys, terrorists, they used the wonderful phrase “anti-Iraqi forces,” so you had a group of Iraqis attacking the marines, and the press release would say, you know, a group of anti-Iraqi forces attacked the liberation, whatever, I mean, the Iraqis were anti-Iraqis, we’re dealing with a kind of nomenclature that is so confused that suggests, it’s sort of like sex in the nineteenth century, I mean it’s a, you’re entering an area of taboos where people can’t agree, and it’s fraught in that way.

Terrorism, I mean, were these people terrorists or was it the resistance? I mean, you could spend hours with an editor and say, well, you know, the resistance, they call it the resistance, it’s the [?], that’s the Iraqi word, you know, now, well, are they insurgents, are they terrorists, are they rebels, is resistance too French a word, is rebel too American a word, I had editors say to me, you know, I love your piece, but you seem to be sympathetic with them, and what they meant was, I’m trying to write something in the words of the people as they express themselves, and you know, they were explaining, you know, the owner of our magazine is a Republican, and this isn’t gonna fly.

Now there’s been some incredible journalism in Iraq, and I don’t want to go, it’s problematic, and there’s been more articles written on the Arab world in Iraq, with more effort and more risk-taking than in a long time, and there’s been some really wonderful stuff. But in the next, it’s problematic…

I just want to talk a little bit about the city of Fallujah, where I spent a lot of time. Gerald Post had a great term I loved, he said that stranger anxiety starts at eight months. Stranger anxiety in a city like Fallujah, which is one of the most paranoid places I’ve ever worked, it starts you know, I think probably before conception, and it never ends. I mean, they have stranger anxiety that is phenomenal. The flip side of that is that when you’re accepted there’s an incredible warmth, and a certain amount of trust. As a foreigner you’re seen as CIA, they can never completely trust you, and when we look at this kind of world, we often think that it’s tribal, and there’s a dark side, and it’s true if you’re outside of it, but when you’re inside of it it’s an incredibly warm, it’s an incredibly warm and engaging environment. And very real, I mean, it’s hard to come back to a country like Canada that doesn’t have people engaging in that way. But it’s also a great relief not to be stared down by a bunch of very scary people with mustaches who you think want to cut your head off, which is the flip side of you know, that warmth. And I think people are reluctant to talk about culture, because of various kinds of political correctness, both on the left and the right. I mean, Iraq has a very serious culture. It has to be taken seriously. And it wasn’t. It’s still not, to a great extent. I mean, you know, the tribes have a role. Religion has a role. These aren’t abstractions, and it’s not a moral discussion, and it’s not, you know, you’re not an Orientalist or an Arabist if you say that these people work that way.

There’s a wonderful war photographer named Gilles Peress, who covered the Iranian Revolution, and I met him last fall, we were staying in a hotel together. And he said, you know, people go to these countries, they never pay attention to the tribes, like, they just don’t sit down and figure it out. And that is something that’s very real there.

And I’ll just tell you a few stories about some people in Fallujah. One of them was a friend of mine named Achmed who’s a young guy, we call him a prince of Fallujah, very confident, rather sweet character, who I was trying to get into Fallujah when the marines had surrounded it, and the marines wouldn’t let me in. The marines were doing a kind of borderline war, war crime, actually a war crime, they were allowing the, they’d shut down access to the hospital, and they were allowing the women and children out but they were keeping the men in for strategic reasons, you understood it, but there was this horrible scene of these people streaming out, and the marines wouldn’t let me in, and I explained you know, listen if I go back out there, I’ve been talking to you, they’re going to think I’m some kind of threat to them, the resistance is out there. Cause the marines didn’t control anything around Fallujah. They’d given up. They were basically beaten by these village tribal gangs that were milling around. And Achmed took me home to Baghdad, basically saved my life and became a good friend.

And he took Tara and I into Fallujah. And it was extraordinary going in there at the end, it was just near the end of the siege. I’d gone in once during the siege, which I won’t even go into, it was so terrifying and strange. But Achmed took us in, and he took us to the house – I was very nervous ‘cause I had been, the second, by the time I got in I was, I had been interrogated and taken to a mosque and it was a very uncomfortable situation, not just because it was scary to be in Fallujah, ‘cause the people, it was an out of control rebel army, but also because the Americans were bombing it, and they had a lot of snipers, and it was a place where there was an absence of good, a terrifying little bit of hell. You had to admire the Iraqis. They were like, some of them were just, I mean, just sort of stood there with their guns, you know. We told them, you know, there’s an American tank coming, and they just said, welcome. A very scary group of people in some ways, but very admirable.

Anyway, he took us to the house of a very religious family, I can’t remember his name, [?] or something, and he had a kind of Wahabi beard, and he didn’t have a short [?], which is the Wahabi [?], he’s a religious Muslim, and he had been serving food in the mosque to families that had stayed behind, and he had like, four or five boys, and his wife was an engineer, she spoke English, better English than he did, and was very educated. And just going into that house was a kind of revelation, because there was such warmth and security in there and it was so terrifying in the streets and so safe and warm in there, that you got a sense of how they deal with this kind of you know, fear and chaos. And I have to say, it sounds so prejudiced, it just struck me that like, this is a really religious Muslim household. Why is it – why isn’t it so other? You know, why does it feel like your uncle’s house? It was a really astonishing, they were lovely people.

And Ali – I don’t know if it was Ali here – he talked about a – he gave me an Arabic word called [?], which I keep confusing with the word [?] which means sort of, hot chick in Lebanese, but [?] means “group consciousness” or “kinship,” and that’s a very – it seems to me, it’s an Arabic word – I mean, that kinship in that group context, or that group consciousness, is not something we’ve kind of touched on, but it’s very very real. And the person I thought who spoke who had the strongest sense of group consciousness was actually Dr. Land. As a white evangelical southerner, he had a group consciousness that would be familiar to Fallujans in a way that very few other people who’ve spoken would be.

People in Iraq, and especially in the Sunni triangle, believe in the family, they believe in God, and they believe in the right to bear arms. I mean, they use RPGs. But I mean, it’s essentially the sense of self-defence. Dr. Land and the people of Fallujah would recognize each other. And it’s kind of ironic that – maybe I haven’t given enough context in Fallujah. Fallujah was this town outside of Baghdad – (let me) catch up quickly – that, in the beginning of April, it was a really, it had always been a really problematic spot, and the Americans, the marines switched over from the 82nd Airborne, which had been doing a terrible job and had given up on Fallujah, and decided that they had to take the city and they surrounded it. And they think around 600 people were killed, it’s very hard to know. There was a lot of bombing, it was a very very tense situation. Anyway, so that’s just the background. But you know, someone like Dr. Land, he spoke from his religious and social context, without abstracting his religion from where he was from. And that’s the kind of way you have to look at Iraq. You can’t see them outside of that context.

And it’s kind of interesting that the Scopes trial came up a lot at the beginning, came up like three times. And obviously the Scopes trial, and Roe v. Wade, and those subjects were, Dr. Land was arguing from what a lot of us would think was the other side, and which was really really interesting. That other side, for us, for a lot of us, or a lot of people here, is, that other side is the Iraqi side. I’ve met two atheists in Iraq. One is a friend of mine, [?], who’s basically a playboy, but I think if you scratched him, you know, he says he’s an atheist. The other is a friend of Tara’s named Dr. Ranya [?] who is a teacher at [?] University, who teaches, among other things, Godot. And one of her problems in teaching Godot is that she has to first teach what it means to be an atheist, which she says her students don’t really understand.

So I mean, that’s the context. There was a Texan officer I met who had been out in Fallujah and [?], he said, we were talking about it and he said yep, that’s country. And I’m from Texas. I mean, this is the culture, Iraqi culture has to be seen in that context, of very, and a deeply felt religious belief which isn’t dismissable. I have the nickname ‘bacteria’ in a house outside Fallujah because I had an argument with a teacher who, a local teacher, about Darwin. And he said, you mean you think we come from monkeys? And I was like, yeah. You mean like, bacteria, we came from bac – and they started called me bacteria whenever I came to the house. I mean, the Scopes trial to them would just, you know where they come down on it. I mean, every issue in the United States that is contested, I can tell you pretty much how Iraqis come down on it. I mean, that’s a gross generalization. Iraq has a strong communist history. There was obviously socialism and various kinds of things. But in the last 14 years, under the sanctions, it is a very religious place, and it has a lot to do with how people respond to fear. And I don’t mean that that’s – oh, they’re just scared, they’re religious – which is the way a lot of us would think of it. I mean, when you’re really scared you think a lot more about God and you do, that’s just what happens. And I think it’s been easily dismissed in the kind of cultural journalism that doesn’t take religion, and it doesn’t take culture that seriously either. You know, for these people, we’re talking about secularity, for these people, as Karen said, secularity in the case of Iraq is Saddam. That, that is the great socialist hope, and the great legislative attempt to destroy the tribes and break the religion, and so there’s not a lot in it for them to go for what we would think of as kind of secularism.

Now, pluralism is something else. Iraq has its own pluralism from way back. But, like any artificially created state, those kinds of pluralisms are easy to play with, and the Americans have done it very badly. The Suni-Shia split is not nearly as great as it seems. It’s not a Northern-Ireland split. It’s not a Catholic-Protestant split. There is a great deal of intermarriage. There is a split in the places where there is, I think Luis said, you know, where there’s no lived experience of [Muslim?] – there’s no lived experience of Shia and Suni, they hate each other or whatever, but if there’s lived experience they don’t. The Americans, when they came in, thought well it’s easy, we’ll just, you know, the Shia are allies, not realizing quite how much the Shia distrusted and quite rightly hated them for betrayal in ’91, and weren’t really open to the kind of values represented, what they thought were Western values. And that Shia-Suni split has been exacerbated by the creation of the government council, which allocated seats according to ethnicity and sectarian divisions, which are not, which are present, but are not foremost in Iraqi minds. I mean, there are tribal differences – there are so many divisions within the country. Choosing those ones is a recipe for creating sectarian divisions, which I have to say, Iraqis have resisted with enormous, enormous courage. It was in the interest of someone like Ayatollah Sistani to play on those, if he wanted to take power, and he didn’t. The people in Fallujah, who [?] called extremists are, and there are some really wacko people out there, but they didn’t play on the Shia split. Now, there are people who are trying to do that. And the Iraqis view them as foreigners. Now, it may be that they are former Mukhabahrat, the Iraqi secret police, it could be that they are extreme fundamentalists or whatever, but Iraqis think of them as foreign, foreigners, because the idea of the car bombs, the bombings in places like Karbala during Ashura, killed 150 people, they think of those as very foreign concepts. So the divisions that we think of existing in Iraq, because it’s a shorthand for us, we want to understand it, and so of course, you know, the Shias, the Sunnis and the Kurds, here it goes.

The division isn’t like that. I have a translator who, a young translator who’s 22, I spent a great deal of my time trying to convince that Saddam wasn’t such a great guy, and he just won’t believe it. But his best friend’s a Shia who hates Saddam, and he’s in love with a Kurd, a Kurdish girl that his mother won’t let him marry, everybody in Iraq has an epic history, everybody has a broken heart. Everybody’s in love with somebody that their mother wouldn’t let them marry, and you spend a huge amount of, I don’t know the female culture of Iraq at all, because I’m not really allowed to, but the guys just talk about their broken hearts all the time, it’s just… it’s really like a country song, it’s never-ending… [laughter] But I mean, this guy, this young guy, has been in love with [Jeuan?], this Kurdish girl. Now, the Kurds have suffered a, pretty much decades of genocide from people who supported Saddam. You know, it’s that, you just think, well, listen, if you love a Kurd, you can’t love Saddam, but no, no problem. I had a Shia driver who loves Saddam, who was actually a secret service agent who was hired to watch me before the war and has since come begging money almost every day, unfortunately he figured out where I lived, and he, when I first saw him last August he said, you know what, I, Saddam is gone, Saddam Saddam Saddam. I said you’re Shia, oh no, Saddam was a great man.

And then he had no job and I was very worried about him, because I was very worried about these former secret service people and former army people, I thought they were less involved in the resistance [?], I was just worried about the gangs they get pulled into, because they all know how to kill people, and they all know a lot of bad stuff, and you know, he’d no money. I mean, he was literally starving. And he finally got a job, I was so happy, and he said you know, I got a job. I said Mohammed, that’s so good. With who? With the Americans. I’m like, do you love Saddam? Do you like the Americans? Oh, I like the Americans so much! I mean, he just… and he talked about these officers he worked with, and they were paying him, there was a contracting company that was paying $1500 a month for his job, of which he was being paid $150 of it, and he knew it. So there was some foreign company, I don’t know what it was, who was getting most of his salary, and his job was to drive people around a base and outside a base. I mean, it was the single most dangerous job you could imagine. And they gave him a flack jacket and helmet, but I mean, for $150 he was just driving around with a large target on his forehead waiting to get shot. But you still love Americans? Ah, I love them, they’re so nice.

Karen talked about Iraq as a country in mourning. It’s actually not. It hasn’t had a chance, it doesn’t have the space, mourning requires kind of dropping your guard, and it just, it’s just not allowable. The place that is in mourning is Kurdistan, where I spent the last few weeks, which is a revelation to me on a number of fronts, and in fact, this conference should have been held in Kurdistan, because every topic that you guys are talking about, it’s Kurdistan. They are involved in religion, pluralism, the secular state, and actually the tribal aspect has to be taken into account. What I liked most about the Kurds is that they go picnicking. And you have live in Baghdad to understand how wonderful it is that this small town called Sulaymaniyah, which is sort of the Athens of Kurdistan, near the Iranian border. Tens of thousands of people, every Friday, go and picnic. And they park on the side of the road, and they set up plastic chairs which line the road on either side, in the mountains, and they have a view of the mountains, but they really have a view of the traffic. And they drink. And there’ll be someone praying, and there’ll be someone drinking, and I went there a couple Fridays ago, and I meant a whole bunch of former Peshmurga, the soldiers who were incredibly sentimental about their days fighting Saddam, disturbingly so, you know, how they used to attack a bunker and take it, and then, Kurds dance a lot, and they dance with their shoulders in a very funny way. And [?] and they started dancing, and it was sort of a reminder of the great days when they were, you know, when there was a genocidal slaughter. And then we left them and we found these young guys, I’m parked up against a cliff, and they were sitting around, and one of them was a cameraman for Kurdish Candid Camera, and he, I said what was the worst thing that ever happened to you? And he says you know, I was playing this waiter, and I had to pull people’s plates away, and I pulled this guy’s plate away, and he put a revolver to my head, and he wouldn’t believe there was a camera! We had to pull out the camera, we had to explain it to him, he left the restaurant, he was so angry, he said he was going to kill me. I was like, it’s so Kurdish, you know. And then we were talking, and of course, with four guys we were talking about chicks, and there were sort of girls walking by, and like, ooo, wow.

And they were explaining the story of a Major Taha [?], who was their nemesis. Kurdistan is in this weird position. In the last 15 years it’s been, 14 years, it’s been kind of separate. It’s had a no-fly zone, and it’s built up a system that works, I mean it’s booming up there. You can’t get a job in Baghdad, and in Sulaymaniyah you can’t get enough people to work. And they are struggling with this two-party system, and the parties basically were the ones that feel they liberated the country, although both of them dealt with Saddam at various times in the most devious and evil ways. It’s a very hard system to describe. The parties, the KDP and the PUK here, and then underneath them you have the governments, and then underneath you have the people. And it’s like Iran, there’s a generational change going on, and the Sulaymaniyah is run by the PUK, and they’re more… are we running out of time? The PUK are liberals, whatever that means in that Kurdish context, but they’re more liberal. And Sulaymaniyah is a very educated town full of young people, and they needed an outlet, and so Baram Sala apparently, this is what the young men were explaining to me, Baram Sala was the former prime minister of the area, he’s now the vice prime minister of Iraq, passed a law or an unwritten law, that there were certain areas outside Sulaymaniyah where young people go and make out. And they were known by various, they were areas that were known with very graphic titles that had been named by the local kids. And my favourite was a hill called Abbas Hill [?], where a traffic cop was caught by his boss in flagrante, and now everyone calls it Abbas Hill [?]. It overlooks Sulaymaniyah. But there was a Major Taha [?] who didn’t like the idea of this liberalization, and would hunt the kids down with his binoculars and arrest them. And the injustice they felt about this Major Taha [?] was extraordinary, these four guys talking.

They’re obviously interested in quite a secular lifestyle up to a point, but everywhere else you go you have this deep tribal world, particularly in the KDP world which is to the north, and they’re trying to sort it out. Ansar [?] we call it, the terrorist group that was up, that had a little town in the hills, below that area on the Iranian border, the Iranians are now supporting it in a big way, but below that area, there was an area that’s very Islamic, very very Islamic. And it abuts Sulaymaniyah, which is weirdly secular. The capital, Irbil, is very tribal and very traditional. I drove from Sulaymaniyah to Irbil and stopped in a place called Dokan, which is a lake, which is kinda crappy, unless you come from Baghdad, in which case wow, because there are hills, which is just extraordinary, and then there’s water, and it’s safe. There’s no security, there’s security in Kurdistan, there’s no peace. Anyways, I stopped in Dokan and talked to the chief of the biggest tribe in Kurdistan, and he was lamenting the passing of the power of the tribes, and the good old days when if someone was shot, you could exchange, not just money, but you had to marry somebody, you basically give a woman from your family, and I said is that still going on, and he said yes, yes, yes, but not as much as it should.

Anyhow, I should wrap things up, I’m yakking. There’s still a lot more that I want to go through. But you know, people talk about secularism, we think of secularism as a kind of, that space, and in Sulaymaniyah they have a space, and people talk about, and people use the word space. We have a personal space. But they don’t actually feel they have a political space. And the parties are holding power and not letting it go. But they’re very conscious of the idea of space. But I don’t think they think of it, the intellectuals in Sulaymaniyah think of it as secular space, but what, it’s very hard, it’s not the way we would think of it, but it’s better to think of it as a kind of a space rather than as just kind of secularism.

Yeah, well I mean, I’m going to take some questions, because otherwise I’m just going to go off and talk about this great little army I found up in the Kurdish border, it’s fighting Turkey. Anyways…