Wednesday, January 12, 2005

CIVILIANS WHO FLED FALLUJAH in the weeks and days before the U.S. siege of that city are starting to come back, although not in very large numbers compared to the pre-siege population. An article in Salon written by Abdul Qadir Saadi reports that many of them are very angry at the Americans who destroyed their city (DUHHHH). In fact, many have significantly more negative feelings, and more strongly negative feelings, about America than they did before the siege.

Consider Ahmed Hussein Nasser. He's 66 years old, has lived in Fallujah all his life, and barely recognizes it now.

His anger against the Americans and Iraqi forces allied with them has only grown since his return -- a worrisome sign for U.S. officials letting people back into Fallujah, a one-time insurgent stronghold where the population was generally believed to support the fighters.

"When I see Americans in Fallujah I feel as if I am seeing devils in front of me," he said.

Another Fallujan came back to a burnt-down house, but that did not devastate him as much as the 250 family photographs -- of himself as a child and of his parents, who are dead now -- that went up in flames with the house.

To U.S. military officials, all this is the price of "liberation" -- a price they say many Iraqis are glad to pay. One of these officials, Maj. Naoimi Hawkins, expressed her compassion and empathy this way:

"Losing your home is a very emotionally distressing, no matter how the loss came about. All human beings will experience a roller coaster of feelings and undoubtedly look for someone to blame," Maj. M. Naoimi Hawkins, spokeswoman for the 4th Civil Affairs unit, wrote in an e-mail.

The implication being, of course, that when Fallujans or Iraqis elsewhere blame the people who dropped the bombs, blew up the houses, and destroyed the possessions, they are engaging in scapegoating. Not to mention the insufferably patronizing experience of being told that it's emotionally distressing to lose your home by a representative of the military force that caused you to lose it. One wonders if Maj. Hawkins could be this philosophical if it were HER home that she'd lived in all her life, and HER precious family photographs and objects of immense sentimental value, that had been destroyed by another country's bombs.

But Maj. Hawkins remains convinced that sensible Fallujans will bear no hard feelings toward Americans.

"Many Iraqi residents have made it clear to me that they realize that foreign fighters brought about the destruction and are ultimately the ones to blame."

Gee, what does she expect Iraqis to say to her? And did they volunteer this point of view, or were they responding to Maj. Hawkins asking them, "You do realize it's the foreign fighters who brought about the destruction and are ultimately the ones to blame, don't you?" It's the standard multiple choice question: Answer No and maybe your brother or son gets arrested and thrown into detention, or shot as an insurgent. Answer Yes and your loved ones get to stay safe, and alive. Anyone who believes that people whose physical survival depends on not pissing off the Americans are going to engage in an honest, genuine sharing of feelings and opinions with said Americans is pretty foolish. Maybe some will, but to use Iraqis' seemingly positive answers to American officials' leading and self-serving questions as proof that Iraqis blame the insurgents rather than Americans for the destruction of their city is a huge and unwarranted leap of wishful thinking.

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