Laura Flanders GritTV did a story on Iraq. Below's an excerpt of Laura's interview with Iraqi-American singer-songwriter Stephen Said.
Laura Flanders: You were there for the tenth anniversary of the, uh, the invasion and I want you to talk about that moment a little bit because the news from here, when we can get any, is very, very grim. So even though, yeah, you bring back the story of love can conquer, it's hard to see the future in Iraq right now.
Stephen Said: Yeah, I mean, of course, again, that's why I think we need to elevate those voices because it's certainly the majority that wants peace and you know everybody that I'm met -- I can't tell you how many people volunteered a couple things to me. One, like nobody's ever come here to work with us and tell our story. People were telling me over and over and over again, there always just telling what's happened to us. You know? And, uhm, also they all said, 'Look, before 2003, before this war, nobody knew who was Sunni and Shia.' And many of them even said that they didn't know, growing up, whether they were Sunni or Shia.
Laura Flanders: But now you have the majority Shia, or rather, the majority Shi'ite against the Sunni minority. Uhm, the Sunnis saying that they feel kind of edged out of power since the invasion and the ouster of Saddam Hussein and what looks like a civil war brewing again -- as it was five years ago.
Stephen Said: Yeah definitely. When you say that we have the worst violence in five years, that's what's happening -- that's -- It's no secret that most foreign policy analysts already refer to Iraq as a failed state now. But that's not the case, obviously, for the youth. I mean, I went there and I met all of these people who were creating -- you know who founded Ted-Ex Baghdad, who founded Iraqi Culture Day to promote culture to unify this-this the-the people again. To -- All these amazing groups. And they are the most resilient, optimistic people I've ever met. I cannot imagine arriving any place on earth -- even in my own town here in New York City -- and trying to get people to unabashedly try to do something so brazen as to call for a global movement for change. And they all just came on board.
In the days when she carved out six hours of live radio on Air America (The Laura Flanders Show), Laura's Iraq coverage made clear that she knew the Sunni and Shia divide was something the US (further) imposed -- it was the first question Americans asked Iraqis -- which were they?
I say "(further) imposed" because the reality that many didn't want to face and that Stephen doesn't seem to get is that an oppressed people (the Shi'ites) do not forget. The Israeli government was built around fighting back against oppression because of what was done to the Jews. The Israeli government had crossed over into oppressing others. That often happens with oppressed people. Sometimes, they can move beyond it, they can use an awful experience to bring about peace between groups. (Though South Africa has many problems, it appears to be one where the oppressed people have been able to create an equal society.)
There is no way in the world that, under years of Saddam Hussein, with many Shi'ites having to join the Ba'ath Party, that your average Shi'ite was unaware that the system was rigged against them.
There's no question that the US encouraged Iraqis to see themselves in an either-or grouping. But let's get real that most Shi'ites knew they were discriminated against on the basis of being Shia.
That's not to say Stephen's story shared is inaccurate.
I believe him.
But, as an artist, I also know artists. Let's be really clear, most don't know a damn thing about politics. We know how to echo. We may echo the talking points of the Democratic Party or MSNBC or CGPSF (that's a person -- first two initials for those wanting to guess are "Closted Gay") (or Pajama Media or whatever on the right) but most of us do not put in the time necessary. I like Alec Baldwin, he's very smart. In the 90s, he put in the time. I have no use for what he says today (politically) because he doesn't put in the time. That's true of a lot of artists who just pay attention enough to have their own beliefs confirmed and then rush back to another topic.
I put in the time on Iraq. I can speak at length about that. After that? Did I sit through hearings on a topic? If I did (spying, the IRS' targeting, etc), I can speak on those topics. Not in the same manner as Iraq.
I'm at home for most of this month and speaking locally and that allows me to catch up with a lot of people. This includes many caring people, many vote each election and feel it's their duty to vote. This includes many people who are specialists on one or more areas of public concern (the environment, human rights, etc.). And I've heard over and over from both of those two groups this month, "You're still speaking/writing about Iraq? But all that's over."
They have no idea, for example, that last fall Barack sent a unit of US troops back into Iraq. Why would they? Only Tim Arango's ever reported on that -- one story in the New York Times. They have no idea that a Memo of Understanding between Iraq and the US was signed in December (see the December 10th and December 11th Iraq snapshots) and that it allows for joint-patrols (US and Iraqi) in Iraq. The memo was completely ignored.
Again, they're not bad people. When they fill me in on, for example, fracking, they have a lot to catch me up on because that's not an area I can follow every day. There are many other issues as well that I have to be caught up on.
Iraqi artists are the same as artists anywhere else.
And those, at this point in their lives and their country's history, willing to work with an Iraqi-American are ready to put certain things behind them.
It's equally true that Iraqi artists have made major protest contributions in the last three years and Stephen apparently didn't encounter any of those. Novelists and painters, singers and actors, playwrights and directors all took part in the 2011 protests and a number have taken place in the ongoing protests.
Stephen Said is giving a voice to a segment of artists and they deserve to be heard and their voices are valid. But from his description, I'm picturing the artist retracting -- due to a need to focus on the art or due to a need to shut out the pain.
That's a group of artists in any community, in any country.
That is not, however, the entire artistic community and it is a mistake to assume otherwise.
I believe very strongly in art and I especially believe in the power of music. I have no doubt that Stephen Said and the Iraqis who worked on the project have planted important seeds which will produce a positive effect.
But a song, no matter how great, is not going to pave over the problems multiplying in Iraq today because Ayad Allawi should be prime minister but the White House demanded Nouri get a second term and so, since the votes weren't there, they created the contract known as The Erbil Agreement -- a contract that created a power-sharing government in exchange for Nouri getting a second term as prime minister -- and, despite swearing they would back it, the White House then looked the other way when Nouri used it for his second term but failed to honor the contractual promises he made to the other political blocs. No song is going to erase mass arrests. No song is going to erase arresting family members when you can't find your 'terrorism' suspect and those family members rotting in prison for years.
No song erases that.
I'm glad Stephen's sharing his story and believe it's an important one -- but he would do well to acknowledge that he worked with a select group and not the entire Iraqi artistic community so he cannot, therefore, speak for the entire community.
The work he did was important and is important. And his desire to see all Iraqi artists as the warm and wonderful ones he met is a gracious move. But to pretend that, for example, the youth do not have problems -- serious ones -- with the government is not realistic. The youth have been most active in the protests of 2010 and of today.
You can see the full interview -- and other episodes of Grit TV -- by visiting the program's website. And Stephen Said's website is back up and you can learn more about him by visiting that.
I'm traveling in some vehicle
I'm sitting in some cafe
A defector from the petty wars
That shell shock love away
-- "Hejira," written by Joni Mitchell, first appears on her album of the same name
The number of US service members the Dept of Defense states died in the Iraq War is [PDF format warning] 4488.
The latest from Third went up earlier this edition:
- Truest statement of the week
- Truest statement of the week II
- A note to our readers
- Editorial: Little Gloria, hypocrisy at last
- Media: Fantasies and Fancies in place of Facts
- Spying on Democracy: Government Surveillance, Corp...
- Rock Chick: Book discussion
- Telecommunicator in chief
- Video report of the week
- Biggest laugh of the summer
- About the DoD Directive on Military Sexual Assault...
- Kerry and Zebari meet-up
- Let Lynne go! (Workers World)
Isaiah's latest goes up after this. The e-mail address for this site is email@example.com.