Friday, April 18, 2003


I know it has been some time since I have done some decent posting, but the nice weather in DC is catching up with me, and I have a lot of schoolwork to do in the next couple of weeks. I will get my masters this may from georgetown, and cannot wait to be finished. But things go on, i guess. I am pasting below the text of a UPI article I received, written by Mani Shankar Aiyar. It, to be quite honest, is the first article I have seen that talked about some of the good that Saddam has done. In recent classes many of my classmates and I have been discussing the notion of this war on Iraq being a just war b/c of the humanitarian crises that Saddam had created for his people. While I see some of the joy that portions of the Iraqi people are displaying on American TV, I am just not convinced that this was America's cause. In fact, I doubt it. The point is, I am not sure the U.S. really took into account all the craziness/chaos that is going to occur in the next couple of years in the region. Yesterday I saw on ABC news, a story about the looting of the only mental hospital in Iraq, including medications. Instead of handing out prescribed items, because of the looting, staff now hand out cigarettes to the patients in order to calm them down. Anyway, I have pasted the text of the article at the end of the post.

Panjabi MC featuring Jay-Z, The Beware of the Boys remix was released on Tuesday in the states. You can buy it in your record stores or from here. I have almost every version of this track, but I am going to buy it just to support the desis trying to take the sound mainstream. You should too.

Then, I am posting this link, to an article discussing last week's U.S.-Pakistan, India-Pakistan tensions rising again, with the Indian Foreign Minister suggesting that a pre-emptive strike on Pakistan is in order by citing American action in Iraq. The U.S. response was of course that India should use diplomacy and that there is no similarity between India-Pak and U.S.-Iraq. hah. And now, the Pakistanis are saying they have a right to a preemptive strike on India. All this and it is almost May, which means war mongering again in South Asia.

I also wanted to post this link to the story about Ahemedabad, Gujarat, the site of so much communal violence last year, electing its first Muslim female, Aneesa Mirza, as mayor. I don't know, but this just says something to me about the resilience of Indian democracy. After Narendra Modi's victory a few months back in the overall Gujarat elections, I was having doubts about politics in my familial state (I am a Gujarati). The election of Ms. Mirza adds some hope, as hopefully it will add a more secular tone to Gujarati politics. I think MK Gandhi would be proud.

The final link is more gratuitous self promotion. It is to an interview I gave to on Bhangra Blowout.

The Other Saddam - A View From India

By Mani Shankar Aiyar

BANGALORE, India (UPI)-Why should the Iraqi people feel any gratitude or
loyalty to President Saddam Hussein? You would not know it from anything
that has been written in the U.S. or British media, but there are very good
reasons. I was commercial counselor and deputy chief of mission at the
Indian Embassy in Baghdad from 1976 to 1978. During the interregnum between
two ambassadors, I was also for a while the Indian charge d'affaires. This
explains why I had more than one occasion to stare into Saddam's
expressionless grey-green eyes-straight out of "The Day of the
Jackal"-while shaking his hand at various official banquets and other
ceremonial occasions.

Saddam ran a brutal dictatorship. That, however, caused no concern to the
hordes of Western businessmen who descended in droves on Iraq to siphon
what they could of Iraq's newfound oil wealth through lucrative contracts
for everything. Everything-from eggs to nuclear plants. Because
technologically, from the end of the Turkish Empire over Iraq in 1919
through the British mandate, which lasted till 1932, and the effete
monarchy masterminded by Anthony Eden's buddy, Nuri es-Said, right up to
the Baath Party coup of 1968, there was virtually no progress at all.

Iraqi latifundia-the vast country house estates of the tiny privileged
elite-gave large parties for visiting Western guests, including Agatha
Christie's archaeologist husband who did most of his digging in Nineveh,
now known worldwide to TV viewers as Mosul, while the puppet ruling
establishment gave away Iraq's most precious asset, oil, for a song. Iraq's
major export was-hold your Patriot missile-dates, the fruit of the Arab
desert eaten by pious Muslims to break their daylight fast during the
Muslim Lent-Ramadan. India was Iraq's largest buyer.

It was Saddam's revolution that ended Iraqi backwardness. Education,
including higher and technological education, became the top priority. More
important, centuries of vicious discrimination against girls and women was
ended by one stroke of the modernizing dictator's pen.

I used to drive past the Mustansariya University on my way home from
downtown Baghdad. It was miraculous-I use the word advisedly-it was nothing
short of miraculous to see hundreds of girl-students thronging the campus,
none in "burkhas" or "chador"-the head-to-toe black cape that was, and is,
essential dress for women in most of the Islamic world-and almost all in
skirts and blouses that would grace a Western university.

The liberation of women-that is half the population of Iraq, as for any
other country-has been the most dramatic achievement of Saddam's regime. To
understand how dramatic just look across the Iraqi border at America's
once-favorite Arab satrap, Saudi Arabia.

These last few days, watching television footage of President George W.
Bush's fireworks over Baghdad, I have been remembering pretty Samira,
Purchase Officer at the Iraqi Cement Co., with whom India was doing a lot
of business. She was as efficient as she was lovely, with every little
detail at the tips of her delicate fingers. She was also the velvet glove
protecting us from her irascible boss, Managing Director Adnan Kubba, a man
not inclined to treat leniently the many and varied delinquencies of the
Indian business enterprises it was my duty to shepherd into his presence.
Between Samira and me, we got Adnan to warm to India and the Indian
businessmen to mend their ways. It was a great and valued partnership.

Samira's mother and all her female ancestors for centuries could never have
left the cloistered cages of hearth and home. But here she was, under 30,
yet the motor driving the engine of the Iraqi state-owned cement monopoly.
I do not know if Samira is still alive-or buried under the rubble of a
bombed-out Iraqi marketplace. But as U.S. missiles fall nightly on her
neighborhood or her grave, why would she not have at least some gratitude
in her heart for the revolution Saddam brought into her life and those of
her countrywomen, whatever the horrible things he has been doing to keep
his regime going? Has U.S. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld factored the
feelings of Samira into his war plans for the taking of Baghdad?

I think also of the chief engineer at the State Organization for Industrial
Housing, the driving force behind the massive housing program, which turned
Baghdad in the first decade of Baath rule from a dirty shantytown into a
pulsating modern metropolis that provided a roof over the head of every
family in the city.

The chief engineer was a woman. I kick myself for having forgotten her
name. But I remember her well. She was so much like Mama in "Chicago"!
Across the road from SOIH was SOI-State Organization for Industry where my
diplomatic fate obliged me to cross swords with another tough-as-they-come
lady, the head of the Legal Division, without whose OK no bills were paid.
This was the position of women in Iraq under Saddam a quarter century ago.
One had to keep reminding oneself that this was the Middle East..

My second daughter, Yamini, was born in Medical City, Baghdad, symbol of
the astonishing revolution wrought by the Baath Party in health care. My
child's cradle is now a coffin, a purgatory that holds the mangled remains
of Iraqi babies killed by a rain of terror to end a reign of terror. If I,
who lived in Baghdad but two years, and that too as a foreigner and so many
decades ago, feel violated in my deepest sensitivities at what is being
done to my memories of the ordinary Iraqi men, women and children I knew,
consider the feelings of those who have lived all their lives in Iraq, all
those below 40 years of age who have known no Iraq other than the Iraq of
Saddam, and now find everything they have seen grow around them going up in
smoke - for their "liberation!"

Iraq is home to some of the holiest Muslim shrines, fertile ground for
religious fundamentalism. Saddam would have none of it. Clerics were put
firmly in their place-that is, the mosque and the madrasa-and the Iraqi
believer liberated from the thralldom of the priesthood. The ethos was
completely secular: we interacted every day with Iraqis of numerous
religious persuasions in every position of responsibility.

Few know even now that one of Iraq's longest lasting Baath leaders,
companion-in-arms to Saddam for the last four decades, is Tariq Aziz, a
practicing Christian notwithstanding his name. For Indians, there is a
special place in our regard for Saddam who has treated with reverence a
sacred spot in Baghdad where, legend has it, Guru Nanak, the founder of the
Sikh faith in the 16th century, meditated on his way back to India from
Mecca on the imperative of synthesizing Hindu and Muslim beliefs.

Iraq under Saddam had everything going for it-except democracy. And it was,
of course, the absence of democracy that accounted for Saddam brushing
aside all vested interests: his instant liberation of women, his instant
dismantling of feudalism, his instant caging of the priesthood, and,
therefore, his instant-and, yes, brutal-exclusion from Iraq of all forms of
religious fundamentalism and religion-based terrorism. Which is, one thing
at least that Osama bin Laden and Bush II share: they hate Saddam equally.

If Saddam goes, the brutality of the Baath party will finally be ended. But
other things not wonderful either will take its place. There will be a
takeover of civil society by the elements sidelined over four decades of
Baath rule. Therefore, along with democracy, fundamentalism and terrorism
will rear their heads. Samira-if, poor thing, she has not already been
killed-will probably lose many of the privileges which Saddam ensured her.


About the author: Mani Shankar Aiyar is a member of the Indian parliament
representing the Congress Party. His column is published weekly. This
feature originated from the UPI International Desk.


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