September 05, 2005

The diary of hope

We are in real bad shape. We are pleading to God to help us out...Where is the help that Bush spoke about. No one knows.

Where are the humanitarian organizations, where is the aid?...Why don't they hear the cries of children? Why? Why? They are crying and shouting. Why don't you hear their calls?...Do you hear us? Where are you? I am crying now, and shouting, but no one is listening.

Women were crying, and many people with grief on their face seemed bewildered and unable to understand why so many people have to die. After the funeral, the street was empty, but there was still a lot of wreckage and debris. Many started to clean up, especially the shop owners, but the big problem is we don't have water for drinking. There is no life!

It sounds like quotes from those in the Superdome perhaps, or the New Orleans Convention Center, but they are instead quotes from the diary of a 14-15 year old Iraqi girl who is featured in a series of articles by Anthony Shadid in the Washington Post based on his new book, Night Draws Near: Iraq's People in the Shadow of America's War (New York: Henry Holt and Co., 2005). Beginning with the prelude to the U.S. invasion, Shadid takes us through the war and its aftermath through the eyes of precocious Amal Salman, who writes about the experience in her diary. While her life has not of yet ended in the same tragic way that Anne Frank's did, one can't help but find parallels. Along with the parallels to the abandoned Katrina victims.

The rich can live outside Iraq very comfortably but the poor who can't have to stay suffering...God knows who is telling the truth or not these days. No one has trust in anybody else, whether the police, the National Guard or even our own folks. God help us all!

And just as it has been horrific for Americans to watch pictures of our fellow citizens reduced to third world conditions, the deterioration of Iraqi life has been painful for its citizens to watch.

Following the explosion by about eight hours, an American military truck loaded with water bottles came over. An American woman soldier was distributing the water bottles in the same place where the explosion took place. People then lined up in a long line in front of the American truck, and received the water. It was a scene that was hard to describe, as if the Iraqis were beggars standing in line in a humiliating way! During the dispensing of the water bottles, the American woman soldier gave a camera to the translator to take a few pictures.

As hurricane Katrina has exposed the neo-Darwinianism of American society, one can't help but wonder what form of society exactly we are exporting to Iraq.

Life has become very, very difficult. . . . People are exhausted and conditions are harsh. We are now living on false dreams and in a failed democracy. Satellites were banned in the past, and they are now permitted, but who can buy a satellite? Those who have money can buy, but those who don't can't buy anything. This is democracy. I used to think that democracy was something that benefited the people, but what has democracy done? Where is democracy? It is a question that should be asked of everyone.

A question that I think a lot of Americans should be asking now. Is democracy about leaving behind our most fragile -- the weak, elderly and poor? Or about bombing a modern country back to the Stone Age?

It has been a traumatic week for Americans, though in a most palpable way for those along the Gulf Coast. For those in Iraq, it has been decades of trauma. And it is when life is its most traumatic that the optimism of youth seems so precious.

"People must be optimistic," Amal tells Shadid.

Sometimes her dark brown eyes were cast to the floor. At moments, though, she looked up, her voice clearer, her ideas more insistent. "There must be hope. Even the Koran says we should be optimistic."

She looked down to the floor again. There was a suggestion of defiance in her words. "If not for my generation," she said, "then the generation that's coming."

...Her family had turned quiet, listening. "The situation is bad. It's true, it's really bad. It's true that every day is worse than the one before. But we don't ever want to be hopeless.

"I always want to leave something for tomorrow," she went on. "The sun will set today, but it always rises again. Everything rises again. Even without life, there is hope."

Shadid gives us three separate links to translated excerpts of Amal's diary. But he fails to translate her name for his readers. In Arabic, Amal means hope while Salman comes from the root word for peace.

[Cross-posted at Behind the Surface]