Monday, May 26, 2008

"I have forgotten Iraq..."

Over the weekend I met my Iraqi friend Z (half Shi’i half Sunni), whose family fled Iraq in 1998 because her father, a lawyer, feared that he would be executed by Saddam's regime because he and his brother were involved in exposing Saddam's crimes against the Iraqi people. Yesterday Z told me about an experience she had as a junior high school student in Baghdad that reminded me how the Baath party used fear to intimidate ordinary Iraqis. One day Z got into an argument with a girl named Rayaheen, who was jealous of Z, apparently because Z was popular with other girls. Rayaheen confronted Z and asked her what her family has accomplished in Iraq – she said that Z’s uncle was widely considered to be a lunatic. Z’s uncle was in fact quite ill and suffering from a mental illness. Z responded by telling Rayaheen that she should do her own research and discover the history of Z’s family. Being opinionated and blunt as a young girl, Z talked to Rayaheen after a few days and asked her if she had thought more about what she said, and reminded Rayaheen that she also had relatives who were considered to be low class. Rayaheen was shocked by the Z’s accusation. The next day, Z was told by a teacher to report to the school principal. At the principal’s office was Rayaheen and her mother, who condescendingly criticized Z and told her that Rayaheen’s father is a member of the Mukhabarat, and that he could have Z’s entire family put in jail for years. Z was of course frightened by this, so she apologized. After Rayaheen and her mother left the office, the principal, also a Baathist (there were no non-Baathist school principals) asked Z what she had done, and asked her if she realized that the Mukhabarat could have her entire family killed. Z said that if this happened, almighty God would know who is wrong and who is right, and that justice would be served in any case. Needless to say, Z and her family were quite lucky to have survived this encounter unscathed.

In 2006, Z and her family visited Amman to meet some relatives. While shopping, she ran into Rayaheen, who was wearing dark Gucci sunglasses and designer clothing. Z asked Rayaheen if she remembered her. Rayaheen said that Z looked familiar, and finally remembered who she was when Z revealed her last name. They were civil with each other. Z asked Rayahan what happened in Iraq, why she left. Rayaheen said “I have forgotten Iraq, and will never return.”

Before I heard this story, I read Zeyad’s post titled "Only 4 per cent of Iraqis in Syria plan to return home". I wonder why most Iraqis in Syria do not plan to return home. Is it because the Baathi refugees no longer dominate Iraq? I wonder if a few of those Baathi refugees in Syria helped suicide bombers enter Iraq via Damascus. Are we supposed to feel sorry for them?

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