My friend Stephen is on tour playing music in Syria, Kuwait, Lebanon. He had a hell of a time emailing from Syria – this report comes from Kuwait:
- I’m now in Kuwait where mercifully the internet is not (as) censored!!! I can’t imagine how much effort those guys go to to keep you from…Yahoo Mail! After the one trip to the US Embassy to do e-mail, we didn’t go there again, and the Syrian internet “cafes” we went to would not allow you to surf outside Syrian or other approved Arab sites! Amazing what a waste of time the censors have created. Any smart kid over there can set up a proxy server anyway.
Syria was pretty strange and surprising in that we never had a SINGLE protest or harsh word or sideways glance– very different from last year when we had protests at every show. I would watch the CNN reporters describing the Middle East and Iraq and think they must be living in an alternate universe– which I expect is called the Al-Rashid Hotel Bar.
There simply was no hostility towards us AT ALL, compared to last year. I remember seeing Amanpour on CNN while I was in Aleppo, telling someone she was interviewing (maybe they were interviewing her, given her desire to throw in subjective statements of her own devising) that “The Iraqis just want the U.S. out of there Right Now!” This struck me as odd given that I had just spoken with a guy in the band I was travelling with’s mom (an Iraqi) who had come that day from Baghdad, and had been in Erbil and Mosul, and who said that ALL the Iraqis– while they grumble about things being better under Saddam– have NO desire to see the US go.
She says because of the heat and the discomfort, for many Iraqis it’s a bit like someone going on a camping trip and having it rain– they’ll say they “never” want to go camping ever again or some such thing, but that doesn’t mean anything more than that they are just fed up. She said (and she speaks fluent Arabic and is Iraqi by birth) that there are two groups of people– the people who are glad the US is there, and are mildly optimistic (despite what they tell the reporters who turn up for a day trip), and those who got Mercedes, and jobs, and pensions and villas from Saddam. According to her talks with Iraqis it is ONLY the latter group, and a large smattering of foreign fighters who are doing all the fighting against the US. She drove all the way from Baghdad to Damascus in a single car with just a driver and no bodyguard– and no problem.
One of the State folks was telling me about that big story early in the war when the Iraqis claimed that the US had blown up a busload of Syrians trying to leave Iraq and get back into Syria. Turns out it was a busload of Syrian fighters trying to get INTO Iraq to fight. She said that she used to walk home at night at 10pm and see them all chanting away, lining up to get on the buses to go to Iraq (the Iraqi embassy is right next to the US one in Damascus). Assad was overjoyed to get rid of these fundamentalists, and Saddam was happy to get them, and throw them all on the front lines. Apparently they are the only ones who did any real fighting and they got totally wiped out. That explains why the Syrians never made much noise about a busload of their “civilians” being killed–
but all the Western media ran the story and never ran the retraction.
Another thing that she said is that ALL the Iraqis are done with the idea of Arab Unity. They hate all the other states except for Syria. They believe Saddam gave so much money to these other states, and none of them offered any support. They are particularly hateful now to the Palestinians; ordinary Iraqis were sometimes moved out of their own homes to house them, and they got jobs and pensions– and she said that the new Arabic graffiti on the walls of Baghdad University is “Palestinians go home. The free ride is over.”
In any case, this tour was a lovefest compared to the last one, so god only knows what the reporters are all going on about. Another thing I heard is that 90% of all the attacks have happened in the Sunni Triangle, which if you look on a map represents all of about 1/8 of Iraq maybe (Ramadi, Fallujah, Baghdad– I don’t have a good map to do the math with), so you have a country 7/8 calm. This guy’s Iraqi mom (from Mosul) also said that the power is now on regularly in Baghdad but no one is reporting that.
If CNN hasn’t gotten it, it appears that Assad in Syria has. The cabinet change was a big thing even though many hoped/expected that Assad would choose a non-Baathist over Otri. Still, they think a few of the new guys will be non-Baathists which would have been unthinkable before.
They sure need it– the country is a beautiful basket case full of intelligent, kind people who could do something good if given a chance. On a more superficial, but probably important level as well, the kids military uniforms we saw last year are all gone, and a lot of the militarization you used to see in posters and monuments, etc. seems to have been toned down. The Lebanese paper, The Star, attributes this directly albeit grudgingly to the US being right next door.
The music went over even better, and it now looks like we will be going back next month, and then on to Beirut. Obviously, we have to be careful. But we also have to be careful about what we are being told about this war and its aftermath. It’s frightening to me how unrepresentative it is of public opinion in the most hardline of all Arab states!
So the war is a “failure”? A “quagmire”? “Palestinians go home. The free ride is over” – Arab unity isn’t what it used to be. The media – including our own media, accused in the world of spreading U.S. propaganda – is in fact misreporting the real mood on the ground. God bless the Internet, even in Syria.
Just heard from a blogger named Leon:
I enjoyed your friends report from Kuwait.
I myself recently spent two weeks backpacking Iraq including Baghdad, and put up a blog and photographs of my trip at leonsparx.blogspot.com. There you will find some pictures of battle damage, life in the city, American flags, etc.
Fascinating stuff – check out this little bit from Baghdad:
- sometimes travelling, i honestly think i have a guardian angel. there have been times where i have been helped not only when i was in trouble, but helped in such a perfect, magnificent way that i think ‘this is evidence of a kind and benevolent creator.’ inside the palestine hotel–the main headquarters for all the international media here–i walk up to the reception, ask if they have a room. they say no. the al-hamra hotel–another hotel popular with media–was bombed, so all the media came here, because it’s safe. hmm. “are you a journalist?” the energetic arab man at reception asked me. “no, i am a tourist.” “a tourist! welcome! we have not had any tourists in a long time!” the other desk guy was named muhammed, and i must have made an impression on him, because he totally hooked me up. ‘i will find you a room tonight. i do not believe you are tourist but that is ok!’ sigh. he goes in the back, to make a phone call i guess, comes back out. he has a palestine hotel registration form. he found me a room in the palestine hotel! awesome! while he’s filling it out he asked me a question. this question surprised me since, this place is swarming with journalists, i’d imagine this guy is plugged in with ass-kissing reporters who can give him the scoop on any issue in the news. but he asked me, with sincere interest, “what does america want with iraq?”
i told him what i really believe. “well, america wants to get rid of the terrorists, and make iraq democratic.” “ah, yes, but these men…” “yeah,” i agreed, it’s turning out to be much more complicated than america thought it would be. ‘that is what worries me,’ i said. ‘when i travel i like to walk the streets of the city, but here…’ ‘it is ok in the morning. late afternoon like now, evening, no good.’
“i gave you room on the other side, with river view. very nice.” excellent! tomorrow morning i have to go to the front desk and see if they can have me one more night–i may go someplace else anyway, since the posted rate of $60/night for a single is quite steep.
There’s much, much more.