A Typical Friday in Baghdad
Just a personal story, for a bit of biographical flair. I don't think I can really claim interpretation and understanding of law is often personal and idiosyncratic without at some point saying a little more about myself.
This past Friday morning (our day off here in Baghdad, akin to Sunday elsewhere), after my normal morning gym routine, I received a call from my cousin Muahhad, son of my uncle Sh Humam, head of the Constitutional Review Committee, for a family lunch at 2. I readily accepted, I long for good Iraqi food as the place where I am normally asked to take my meals (this awful facility called in typical military jargon a DFAC) is far, far (far) less than ideal. But the sojourn does require me to do some walking, from the International Zone to the no less protected Jadriyia Iraqi Green Zone, where the Hakim fatiha mentioned in the last email was held. I don't feel unsafe, though the walk, having done it a number of times, is odd, in that I walk and walk, across the River Tigris, through checkpoint after checkpoint and then suddenly there's checkpoints but no white people, military protection but shops and activity, fresh vegetables not frozen, nobody's wearing shorts, lots of women in abayas, booze is unthinkable, it's as if I've left one country, a moderate to liberal Muslim state like Turkey, and plopped right down into Kuwait. But onward I walk, and eventually I just call my uncle, and his guards come for me.
My uncle Sh Humam is of an Islamist bent, and the women are all not only headscarved, but also wearing loose, thick clothing that always makes women appear about 30 pounds heavier than they are, particular in the hips area. In fact, they have to be so dressed. Not so much because of Sh Humam himself, he is in Parliament, he leads the Foreign Affairs Committee, he’s been around enough. It is more because his sister, my aunt, is also attending, and her husband is the head of the Shi’I waqf, a Sayyid (meaning descendant of the Prophet Muhammad), a cleric of a clerical family (his brother gives the Friday sermons at the largest Shi’i mosque in
Also attending are Muna Zalzala, a member of Parliament and her husband. My eldest uncle, a prominent if retired merchant, is also there with his family, and a smattering of cousins, about 25 people in all. The meal was lovely, a long table centered with the quintessential Iraqi grilled fish, surrounded by Biryanis, other rice dishes, salads, mezzes, dolmas and the like. I sat beside my uncle on one side, my aunt on the other, and ate far too much, compensating for the unspeakable culinary cruelty imposed upon me by the “DFAC”.
Later we sat in my uncle’s large parlor room, men on one side, women on the other (though this was not by any sort of formal rule, and conversation passed between both sides easily enough). We discussed any number of topics, from politics (will Maliki listen to the clerics as he should and join the Shi’a coalition?) to law (mainly of the criminal sort) to religion (what can humanity do to speed the return of the Hidden Imam?) The Sayyid sat on one and of a large couch facing the room, prayer beads in one hand, the other tucked against his long flowing black robe. His turban, black to demonstrate his status as descendant of the final Apostle, lay elegantly on his head, his beard neatly trimmed as he held court.
My eldest uncle sat at the couch at right angles, in a short sleeve shirt and slacks pulled high over his stomach in the manner of the elderly, leaning forward hands on knees, old and therefore respected enough to feel comfortable interrupting the Sayyid at will, mostly to try to move the topic off of religious doctrine, with varying degrees of success. I sat by my eldest uncle, and then at right angles to me, Muna’s husband, giving us what he described as the people’s perspective. Facing him was Sh Humam, and to his left, between he and Muna’s husband, were the women, talking amongst themselves but interjecting in the other conversation when something that to their mind was stupid was said.
Sayyid: There are ways to speed the return of the Hidden Imam set forth in the books. We read invocations and ask for his return, but while it is true that oppression must reign before he returns, we don’t use this as an opportunity to practice that oppression so that it reigns and he returns. This view is wrong, and was declared such by . . .
Eldest Uncle: You know what isn’t oppression? Earning money lawfully, which is what we can do now in
Sh Humam: Haider, what’s your view on the foreign investment law?
Me: Well, there are issues with it, though some of its provisions seem fine. But arbitration provisions for example are not quite enough as written ..
Muna’s Husband: Foreign investment is spreading corruption, just like that guilty trade minister.
Muna, from women’s section: That had nothing to do with foreign investment. I am on the Finance Committee, the issues are separate.
Muna’s Husband: Well to a normal citizen they are the same. I am talking like a normal citizen, you guys are the legislative elites, you are out of touch with the people.
Sayyid: what does being out of touch with the people have to do with the Trade Minister?
Muna's Husband: This is how normal people feel is all.
Sayyid: We're talking about the color of the walls and you're saying the floor is green, but nobody is talking about the floor.
And so forth.
After several hours of talk of religion, politics and law, more or less along these lines, I departed and began my walk back, from the Iraqis to the white people, abayas to shorts. After crossing the river
Others wonder how to hold all that together, I guess I sort of come at it from the other end. Do schizophrenics ever get so used to a double personality that they can’t imagine how tiresome life would have to be if they had to give one of them up? I know I do.