[Bassem Said, Iraqi]
I am a Hajji. I made the pilgrimage to see the Kaab in Mecca, the most holy site in Islam. That pilgrimage is a requirement of all Muslims who are financially capable, and it is called the hajj. After making it, one is referred to--with great respect--as a Hajji.
There, now you know what it really means.
My uncle was a translator for the Americans. He defended his beliefs with words. I
defended my beliefs a different way.
Imagine this: you live in a small village, and a neighboring city decides you’re not doing things right. So an army from the city comes to attack your village. And they get rid of your leaders and they patrol down your streets and they threaten your family and your neighbors. Would you cower in the corner and let them ruin your village, or would you find a way to resist?
Me, I resisted. So did a lot of my friends, but they were not smart about it. You don’t wave your cousin’s gun in the air and hold the trigger down in a crowd trying to get lucky. You don’t set a wired bomb on the road that you have to hide in the bushes in order to set off. You use lasers across the road to get their early morning patrols without being near the blast site. You build fake dogs with reflective tape on the eyes and detonate with a cell phone from a building 500 meters away.
But those things cost money, people said. No bother. You set up shops between the Tigris and Euphrates, near the Americans’ bases, and you get money from the Americans by selling them impure things. You make friend with them, and then you use their money to buy explosives to kill them with.
And maybe you actually only take out a truck once in a while, and maybe you don’t even kill anyone. But the American news cameras show the Americans what you’re doing, and the Americans turn against themselves. Because as much as the Americans think democracy is the best thing for Iraq, democracy depends on the opinions of a lot of people. And the thing about a lot of scared people is they make emotional choice. Seeing big explosions every night in their living rooms makes the Americans write to their politicians.
Now, let me say this: I did not like Saddam Hussein. His army killed my parents when I was very young. We are Shia and he was Sunni. The original argument between these groups was who would take over the leadership of Muslims after the prophet Muhammad. Sunnis say leadership should be elected, but Shia know Muslim leadership should come from God and God alone.
Which is why Saddam Hussein was a hypocrite. Even though many people in Iraq did not want him in power, he kept it anyway, kept people like my parents from having a voice. Elections. Bah!
But know this: it was not up to the U.S. to take him out. Which is why I sold them whiskey and hashish and girlie magazines--to destroy their purity and to fund the violence that would get them to leave. My uncle, Ahmed, told me this was wrong, selling those things was against God. He was a translator for the Americans.
He raised me after my parents died, so I respected him. I would not mess with his choices as long as he would not mess with mine.
He said that even though the Americans made things worse in our home, there was new threat that was even more terrifying. Because the Americans were there, terrorist groups followed them. I told Ahmed that was the Americans’ fault. He said yes, but the Americans won’t be around forever, thanks to people like me. Then what? If we don’t fight the al Qaeda, then they will just keep coming.
I told him he was wrong. When the Americans leave, so will the terrorists. He said he hoped I was right.
I was not. Now Saddam is gone and so are the Americans, and I am still putting bombs on the side of the road, except now I do it against ISIS. Soon, I will be doing it against Iran.
ISIS killed Ahmed after they learned he helped the Americans. They came after me, too, but I am craftier than my uncle. I got away, because I can make friends over impure things and I do not see in black and white. Battles have been fought between the Tigris and Euphrates for centuries, but they are rivers with very muddy waters. And only those who swim survive.
[Exits. Lights go down.]