Hussein Al-alak: Britain and Iraq: Where You There?

By Hussein Al-alak
Special to

Since 2004, I have found that my intolerance to intolerance has increased dramatically and my patience is almost non-existent.

On Monday, I was talking to a person I know, who having served two tours of duty in Iraq, has returned to Britain homeless and has been forced to sleep on her mothers couch in the living room.

Having tried looking for a house or flat to rent but found the rents in Manchester (North of England) to high, this person has found it to be financially cheaper in the long term, to build a log cabin in the back garden of her mother’s home.

During the conversation, I asked how this person was doing, since her return from Basra and was amazed to find that we have both experienced a form of what George Orwell called "Double Speak" in the book 1984, a language where love means hate and war means peace.

What I mean by this "double speak", is that there seems to be no real depth to the understanding within the UK, in relation to the Post Traumatic Stress that both British Soldiers and Iraqis in the UK are facing, that when trying to explain a situation, or even your own experiences, people look at you with a glazed expression and a fixed smile on their faces.

When you are given a response, the sound that seems to come out of many peoples mouths is almost like a foreign language or sounds like you are totally submerged under water, like being at a swimming pool and you can hear the noises above and around you.

You can be watching a persons lips move and find yourself trying to read them, hoping that you might understand or even get a faint grasp of what they are saying but are unable to do so and then you start feeling frustrated. What comes next is a feeling that you need to explain even more clearly but then you’re asked to "calm down", or are told that your "behaviour", "comments" are "inappropriate".

As the person you are talking to, actually believes they are trying to keep a situation under control, you can feel your temperature rising, you hear your voice having to compete with an almost deafening noise and a running slide show playing in your mind of people who you have seen or conversations you have had. You see relatives, people who you know or have worked with and your hearing the loud noises and still you find yourself still trying to explain.

During the night, your reliving daily events, waking up in strange environments, or worse, finding that you’ve wet yourself. You find strange people surrounding you, mother, father and partners, where the next day your being asked odd questions relating to things such as shopping and work, television shows or walking into shops where people are talking and laughing.

You can be "patrolling" scenes, where people are rushing past you, bumping into you, voices competing, bright lights with crowds of sweaty bodies and voices of poor people begging for loose change, when bang! A person drops a heavy item onto a hard surfaced floor and you are looking around with panic or dread, or finding places to hide.

And then you get those on the road to hell, which is always paved with good intentions, those who hold the holy grail, which is located at the end of their street. Opinions are fact, backed up with unsubstantiated facts, "of all of them being Al-Qaida", "weapons of mass destruction" and each one is a "suicide bomber", although the ethnic cleansing of Iraq’s Christians is not even an opinion, never mind the dangers of it ever becoming a fact which may cross a persons mind.

On the other side of the road to hell, are the flats, made of ivory and where the streets are paved in gold. It’s where the good and great give moral objections over what they think, where every single soldier is condemned to a patronising, finger pointing, lecture on how bad war is. A former soldier recently replied to objections to them being accepted on a university course in England, by asking "where were you?"

But for now, I just remember a song we sang at school as children: "I was cold I was hungry, were you there? were you there? I was cold I was hungry were you there? And the creed and the colour and the name wont matter, were you there?"

How such songs bring back memories.

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