Monday, October 23, 2006

Outside, Looking In

[posted by Callimachus]

This is the first of a six-part series of posts written by our friend Kat, the contractor's employee who worked on reconstruction projects in and around Iraq after the fall of Saddam. Her story is told here and here among other places (listed in the sidebar at left).

As far as I know, the only anti-Administration blogger to really take up these pieces and accept then into his broader view of the war was Kevin Robinson's My Thinking Corner.

Kevin asked Kat some questions about her impressions and her experiences, which she answered, with elaborations, at his site. With Kevin's permission, I'm reprinting her answers, lightly edited, as posts here, since they are interesting in their own right and they broaden and deepen the story she told in the series of posts last month.

Emphasis (in boldface) is my doing throughout.

October 13

At this point I’m one day ahead of you, happily wading through work and trying out business suits I bought for a few days work here in Bangkok. Here I can use DSL and run at slow dial-up speed (by US standards). After that I fly north and it’s almost too slow to access American websites and chat has some wild time delay effects.

Glad I didn’t change your mind about the war. I only wanted to tilt it a little, or shake it up some. I too, have LOTS of problems with the present admin, and I’ve got more reasons than you do to feel that way. But I want to be very careful about something when I say that. Don’t even confuse what I’m saying with a downing of the administration for the concept they’ve taken on. I’m dissing them on the execution of the whole affair, not on the direction. Let’s go down my list of complaints, if you’ve got a sec…

The administration should have been up front about the strategic purpose and the challenge (as far as they could see it) we faced in overthrowing Saddam and rebuilding Iraq.

Reasons I can see why they didn’t? First, as a people, we’re pretty weak and self-centered. Also not very worldly or well-traveled. We’re pretty ignorant and spoiled, on the whole. This administration can’t actually tell us about a world that up to 9/11 we were pretty well happy to ignore. Disco on and make a few bucks, and “oh, that’s so sad ... let’s go get a latte.”

Telling us all about it now is a little late, probably. But it doesn’t mean we can’t learn. We’re ignorant, yes. But we’re not dumb.

Problem is, many of us refuse to learn. Our poor and our career representatives of the oppressed seem to confuse being downtrodden in the U.S. with being “poor” elsewhere in the world. Kevin, those two situations should NEVER be confused between each other. They are worlds apart.

Oddly, it’s the Americans who tend to consider themselves the most worldly who usually end up being the most ignorant and simultaneously vocal. Bead-braiding your hair, growing a beard, smoking weed, or teaching at a university doesn’t qualify you as experienced in the “world.” It just means you’ve got a job, can get stoned, and have the functional skills to tell people about it.

As a side note, it also means people will laugh at you behind your back when you finally do get out in the world and “mingle with the locals.” Dreadlocks, btw, are the international symbol for “I am an idiot, please come rip me off.”

[Ed. note: In conversation, Kat taught me a delightful term for the airhead rich kids of Western countries who troll through the Third World, full of smugness and hedonism: "Trustafarians" -- Cal.]

When crouching to eat becomes second nature, when locals are trying to fix you up with a husband (or wife, for you), when the water and spices no longer bother you, when people go off on you because you screwed up on some cultural formality without holding back because you’re a stranger, and you can smile at the opportunity to go walking out to a country party, then you’re mingling with the locals, and not before.

How do you tell Americans –- so many of whom are convinced that the church-going generation of their parents is primitive, that there’s a stone-aged sect of religious idiots seriously out to get them? For an American, the whole concept is so far off the edge that you can’t really grasp it unless you see people actually being ripped apart as a result of it elsewhere in the world.

Yes, I know there are those in the U.S. who believe we are the whole problem. They believe we are the only real evil in the world. They are sadly, and mortally, mistaken. There is a reason why we are the enemy for those who butcher and murder in the name of religion. And that is because we offer a freedom and a very obvious opportunity to those who cannot otherwise see those things. Does that make us right and them wrong? Well, it depends on whether your idea of right and wrong includes murder or not, and how you feel about it. Personally, I put it in my “do not do” list.

We (Americans, plus a host of other Western-type countries) don’t offer a better religion, we only show a better result. Like it or not, we end up being the envy of the world, and that creates problems.

The biggest problem is that it’s not a simple task for much of the world to get from point A -- Where they are -- to point B -- where we are. We don’t even know how we did it, so how are they supposed to figure it out? If they can’t, it turns into fenvy, and with some, who become convinced it can’t be done honestly, into hatred. There are just too many questions for certain minds to solve.

“Why CAN’T a Muslim country that degrades women and doesn’t believe in education achieve greatness?” Well, I dunno, maybe it’s because women like me are kinda smart, and beating us into corners for your national pastime isn’t a good use of your economic resources.

I’m back here in Thailand, in another country where this animal rears up its head at least once every month, killing total innocents. Killing Buddhists, of all things, in a country where EVERY religion is sacred and protected. For the journalists in Iraq looking for another child running down the road naked with burned skin, or another monk on fire, they only have to come here and go to the south. There they can photograph the school girls and monks butchered with machetes. They can get their fill of blood for Pulitzers.

They won’t do that, of course, because to get a real Pulitzer, the evil needs to be based in the U.S.A., not where it’s actually breeding like bunnies. To the press, evil can’t originate in “oppressed” countries. Oppressed countries can only react, they can’t actually originate anything.

You say it’s not the media. I think you’re dead wrong. I don’t disagree about politicians. I’d wipe the slate of all of them and start all over again if I could. But don’t believe the media isn’t a factor. If you do, you’ve shown a degree of ignorance I seriously doubt you possess.

I apologise for blowing off steam, rambling. I’ve had a hard last three days and I’ve got more ahead of me. (I work with those evil big corporations for a living, and it’s tough to get my evil face on every day.) Seriously, I’ve got to get reports up to the north for water line pipes and meet with company-making or -breaking officials this afternoon about oil pipeline work. Ergo, I have to get myself into this new dress. get my brain on contracts and engineering, and, and … ummmm, sparkle. If I do a good job another twenty Thais will have a good job for another two years or more and I’ll get to stay here for a bit longer. :::grins

Second Part

Third Part

Fourth Part

Fifth Part

Sixth Part