Eine Kleine Nichtmusik

Witty and pertinent observations on matters of great significance OR Incoherent jottings on total irrelevancies OR Something else altogether OR All of the above

Sunday, August 14, 2011

Talking About Jane Austen In Baghdad

Once upon a time there was a Girl Blogger from Baghdad known as riverbend. I used to link to her regularly, and the link to her blog can still be found under "Moribund blogs" on the right there. Her posts gave a terrific feel for what it was like to live in post-invasion Iraq, and why, despite Saddam's being a loathsome dictator, even those Iraqis who had suffered under his rule pined for the good old days before the Americans and British invaded and replaced him with a mixture of anarchy, corruption and Islamic extremism. Eventually riverbend could take no more of the random killings and sectarian persecutions, to say nothing of the fact that horizons for women had narrowed from the Saddam era (when women had full equality and many entered the professions) to post-Bush/Blair when to step into the street without covering up was to invite a bullet.

I have just been reading a heart-warming story of an Iraqi lecturer and her email correspondence with a BBC journalist, Talking About Jane Austen In Baghdad. May Witwit was originally interviwed for a World Service news programme, but the woman (Bee Rowlatt) who contacted her stayed in touch. May was even more vulnerable than most Iraqi women to the post-invasion chaos, being a Shiite married to a Sunni. In Baghdad the militias routinely "disappeared" Sunni men, and academics received regular death threats (and probably still do) followed by assassination attempts. I short, life was grim, and as more and more of her work colleagues were murdered, and more and more of her husband's family, she decided they would have to leave. With help from Bee she was put in touch with CARA (The Council for Assisting Refugee Academics) who managed to arrange funding for her to study in the UK and to bring her husband, thus fulfilling the financial requirements of her entering Britain and allowing her to apply for asylum later. Much of the rest of the money needed came from Bee's bright idea of offering the email correspondence to publishers: Penguin accepted, and here we are. The book is full of suspense as May encounters setback after setback in the bureaucracies of Iraq, Syria and especially Jordan (though we know that May and Ali must have arrived safely in the UK as that was a condition of publication) and again gives a vivid feel for what life is like for ordinary Iraqis, and why they wish so strongly that the invasion had never taken place.

I couldn't help thinking that May, highly intelligent, industrious and immensely brave woman that she is, will appear to our Islamophobic press and to the Uncle Jimmies and Melanie Phillipses of Britain as just another benefit-scrounging Muslim refugee, who should take her religion and go back to the Islamic hell-hole she came from. But then of course to Mel and Jimmy the Iraq war was an unmitigated success, and the destruction of a country and its culture merely an unfortunate byproduct.

(A propos that last, according to snopes.com the actual quote is 'To save the town, it became necessary to destroy it' by an un-named major in the New York Times on 8th February 1968.)

Anyway, Talking About Jane Austen In Baghdad is well worth a read.


At 09 September, 2011 04:01, Blogger Iraqi Blogger said...

sorry but i cant realationship between Riverbend and this post?


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