For Fathers Day I publish an exchange of emails between two fathers, one in Iraq and one in America, trying to find a way to leave a better world behind when they die. Our children and grandchildren face problems enough without those we are multiplying today. I was fortunate to be in the Army in Korea during the Vietnam era, years after real combat. My tour of duty was a cakewalk compared with those of many of my peers, and it marked me deeply -- and for the better -- for the rest of my life. Abu Khaleel's comment is to the point: It is truly sad that so few of the US boys and girls here in Iraq have not had the chance that you had in Korea to meet and know people.
I comb the internet looking for indications that cultural bridges are being built rather than destroyed. Unfortunately I find mostly a struggle for hegemony between ancient cultures and the forces of technology, economics and political domination.
You certainly took me by surprise! I was only looking for an explanation of the “vanishing” aspect you referred to in your earlier post… and didn’t expect anything like your in-depth analysis!! Frankly, I was taken aback!
I was also humbled by your magnanimity of spirit and your piercing insight that allowed you to cut through all the cultural barriers and look into the soul of another human being thousands of miles away, using as metrics his own words! But I must say… you give me more credit than I deserve.
You are right in the most important aspect that I was perhaps unconsciously trying to put across: I actually do see myself as a citizen of the world. Yes, I do love my country deeply, but I see no contradiction whatsoever with belonging to the human tribe at large. It is something like loving your family not necessarily leading to hating your neighbors! Like you, I have seen many people from many different corners of the world. They talk differently, they frequently dress differently, they sometimes have widely differing spiritual beliefs and funny social customs… but I am frequently amazed and amused by the numerous similarities I can see between them.
It also makes me sad that I believe that I will leave this world and I know for certain that it is not going to be the world that I want my children and grandchildren to live in!
I found your words: “Too many people who are not enemies are being killed. And too many more are being inoculated against ever being our friend.” particularly apt and touching. I hope you don’t mind if I use them sometime. I guess they summarize much of what I have been trying to say so economically!
On the other hand, looking at the other, more positive side, here we are, total strangers, thousands of miles apart and ‘on different sides’ of this ugly war, exchanging views and comments (and personality analyses!) This new connectivity, made possible by this wonderful American invention is already changing the world, isn’t it? I think we can all already see that.
It is always a joy to communicate with someone who is so eloquent and has such penetrating insight. I will certainly try to keep up with your musings on your blog.
Thank you again for those kind words.
Warm wishes from Baghdad
There is a Continental elegance to this exchange. I love it. Maybe I was born a century too late. I wrote to Mr. Khaleel asking his permission to publish our correspondence...
Thank you for your wonderful reply. May I have your permission to publish it on my blog? I think that our dialogue may be of some value for others to read.
I would like to know more about you. I presume that if you were dealing with sharecroppers in 1980 you are a man of some importance and also no longer a youngster. Also, your command of English is better than most who claim to be English speakers, so you must have spent some time -- years, in fact -- in some English-speaking environment. That is my blessing since I speak only English. Your blog is very well-done.
My only time in another country was as an Army medical corpsman in Korea, 1966-67. It was there that I realized that there were people whom I would call "world citizens" through a family that basically adopted me as their own for over a year. Since I was using my off-duty time to teach English conversation in a high school to a handful of students who wanted to do extra work, I know that if they had any ulterior motive it was to have someone around with whom their two older children, especially the son who was still living at home, could practice English. But far beyond the subject of English, there was a world of learning and discovery. I was able to receive from them and a few other Korean friends a personalized, world-class inside look at Korean history, geography and culture. And when I came home, I did so as a different person. To this day, now nearly forty years later, I still have a deep affection for Korea and its people. I have lost contact with my friends there, but their influence in my life is indelible.
I'm sure that if you have lived in another country, and I sense that you have, you must know what I mean. I like what you said about seeing no contradiction between loving your country and belonging to "the human tribe at large." I have a feeling that the word "tribe" has a more powerful meaning in Iraq and the Middle East than in America. Incidentally, feel free to publish anything I write you as you see fit. If you get it wrong, I will simply try to clarify my meaning as well as possible and hope for the best.
I think for the sake of safety it may not be wise to be too precise about exactly who and where we are. I can share that information on this end with those whom I trust, and you, I am sure, can do the same. But since I am known to have some serious objections to wars in general, and this one in particular, I am certain that there are people here willing and able to silence me, particularly for corresponding with a "potential enemy." George Bush can hold hands with the king of Saudi Arabia, but I don't have his level of influence and protection.
Looking forward to knowing you via internet.
Your guesses about me are again correct in essence. Yes, I did spend 9 years in England in my youth in the 70’s… and I still retain warm feelings for the country and its people. I will copy you a profile of myself I once wrote in response to a request by a reader:
I was born and raised in Baghdad and still live here. I have spent most of my life in Iraq. I am married with three children. The eldest, a girl, is a business graduate, the second is a junior doctor and the third is a teenager, still at school. I deeply love Iraq, both emotionally and intellectually, and will never live anywhere else if I can help it.
You are also correct in assuming that the word “tribe” has a more powerful meaning in Iraq than in America. This is particularly more profound in the countryside. There was a time when (like most people who are raised in the city) I thought it was something backward and primitive. Later, when I had the chance to know those people better and understand their way of life from a broader perspective, I had to change my mind. I now view it as a sort of ‘cooperative’ of mutual social benefit. This has been borne out by the events of the past two years. When chaos almost reigned in the cities, life in the countryside went on as if nothing had changed… simply because the social relations were strong enough. I have tried to convey that in my blog. I don’t really know how successful I have been.
As regards security, I am glad that you not only understand but have similar apprehensions! Will it surprise you to know that, in today’s lawless liberated Iraq, you can get someone killed for as little as $50?
It is truly sad that so few of the US boys and girls here in Iraq have not had the chance that you had in Korea to meet and know people. It was mainly through no fault of theirs. Most of them found themselves operating in a hostile environment that was produced by mistakes made through the incompetence (or ill intentions) of politicians!
There was a time when (like most people who are raised in the city) I thought it was something backward and primitive. Later, when I had the chance to know those people better and understand their way of life from a broader perspective, I had to change my mind. I now view it as a sort of ‘cooperative’ of mutual social benefit. This has been borne out by the events of the past two years. When chaos almost reigned in the cities, life in the countryside went on as if nothing had changed… simply because the social relations were strong enough.and...As regards security, I am glad that you not only understand but have similar apprehensions! Will it surprise you to know that, in today’s lawless liberated Iraq, you can get someone killed for as little as $50?