Felicity Arbuthnot: The New Stateless

By Felicity Arbuthnot
Special to PalestineChronicle.com

I rang a dear Iraqi friend: “I just wanted to wish you all greetings for Eid”, to offer seasonal wishes, for the joyous three day celebration, marking the end of the fasting month of Ramadan, on the sighting of the new moon. One can no longer say “Eid Mubarak” (Happiness for Eid) to an Iraqi family; only wish them all they wish for themselves, now usually just the survival of their families, somehow – and anywhere.

The joy of the sharing of dishes, the visits, the children’s new clothes and shoes, the crisp new money given to children, the fun fairs and outings are, for most, a memory, for Iraqis, corralled in their walled enclaves, courtesy the “liberators”, as the Palestinians in theirs, courtesy “the only democratic country in the Middle East”. As for the Afghans, many living in irradiated craters, since homes have been bombed with radioactive weapons; blown to bits by NATO convoys, should they venture out for traditional food and dates – should they, unusually, have the money for some small treat, forget it. Eid has died again, for the unquantifiable, at the hands of George W. Bush’s new Crusaders for oil, natural gas and regional strategic dominance.

My friend, however, is not in an irradiated hole in Afghanistan, or a tent on the Jordanian or Syrian Border with Iraq, courtesy the “liberation” force. He lives in the U.K. and comes from a proud, ancient, professional family. He is another who had believed in all the United Kingdom’s best stood for: fairness, decency and the rule of law.

Greetings over, I asked of his family. A family, who like so many beyond number, knew, whatever, they could never leave their beloved country. They, as so many, stuck through the eight year Iran-Iraq war, the 1991 onslaught, the thirteen year embargo accompanied by thirteen years of (illegal) bombings by the U.S. and U.K., and then the invasion.

Never would they leave the country, the homes, the friends, the neighbourhood familiarity which is the fabric of Iraq. The smell of the fresh daily flat bread from the local baker, or from the local lady fallen on hard times, who rose at dawn to kneed and bake dough, to provide for her family, collected in the early hours, hot for the morning meal. The street cigarette seller (increasingly, children from the embargo years onwards) who has the favourite brand waiting to hand through the car window as you pass and slow, at your routine time to work, the school run. The fresh juice or ice cream parlour, who knows the children’s favourites, already mixing or dishing them, before they asked, after school, or homework. The evening treat. The fruit and vegetable seller who had saved specialities for three generations of families, friends and patrons over decades.

And just to walk or drive through history itself, and feel oneself custodian (as Iraqis do) of a unique honour, a country where farming, animal husbandry, house building, weaving, pottery, art and sculpture, go back eight thousand years and where fifty thousand years ago, archaeologists have discovered, Mesopotamian man strew flowers on the graves of the dead, in a concept and beauty, it is said, they have seen nowhere else from a near pre-history era.

My friend, thanking me for greetings, told me of his family. “H”, had managed to get his family to safety in Syria. They had left all they had and two homes. Homes, which from Iraqis with some money provided for the needier. Iraqis, do not need aid agencies, where vast amounts of moneys are spent on offices and expenses. The wealthier mind the poorer of the neighbourhood. “H’, had just lost $100 dollars, somehow, in a bank transaction. A fortune now. “Yet in minutes, he was telling his children of looking forward, of the essentiality of education, of never giving up”, said my friend. No home, no furniture: even their clothes left in their closets. Yet the children must “look forward”.

Another brother was in the Emirates also, having abandoned all, just to get his family out to safety. Another, now with family moved to Sweden, his home, where his family was raised, on which he had lavished improvements, abandoned, with all they had. Survival before all. The list went on. And then: “But my father, he will not leave. He will be buried in Baghdad, so my sister must stay to look after him.” An elderly man and a woman, alone, in the jungle of occupation.

These are Iraq’s professionals: lawyers, engineers, doctors, academics, architects, professions to be handed to their nation’s children as a sacred trust. They are driven out because, at every level, they come from a country which has brought the world the knowledge and ingenuity it has had – since the mists of time. Now the ram raiders of the Carlile Group, Halliburton, Kellog Brown and Root and their mercenaries are set to rape its assets (and remaining population along the way.)

My friend has spent months flying around the world, never sleeping in his own bed, meeting with fellow thinkers, as to how to put Iraq – Mesopotamia – together again. He had one day here in the U.K. and was leaving within half an hour of our talk. “I had the most wonderful holiday, it felt like weeks. My wife and I caught the train, and spent the first day of Eid with my little granddaughter (and son and daughter-in-law) I took her to the park; the birds sang; the sun shone; we played; the swings swung; the trees glistened through the rays, with the leaves dancing.”

As I write, he is on another ‘plane, self financed and knowing that: “In spite of all my family escaping all we love, now turned to hell, none of their visas are safe any more. We are the new stateless, as Palestinians.”

Greetings for Eid, my dear friend – and one day we will say: “Eid Mubarak” again, Insh’a’Allah.

-Felicity Arbuthnot is a journalist and activist who has visited the Arab and Muslim world on numerous occasions. She has written and broadcast on Iraq, her coverage of which was nominated for several awards. She was also senior researcher for John Pilger’s award-winning documentary.

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