Tuesday, March 30, 2004

Our Witness in Iraq

My friend, writing colleague and childhood neighbor Ayad Rahim leaves tomorrow for what will no doubt be an emotional, sensory-overload trip back to his native Iraq, in order to be there for the one-year anniversary of the war. He plans to be in the country for at least a month, and possibly two, reporting and, we hope, safely observing the changes at work in the country. You may recall from an entry I wrote here last July (also reprinted by another old friend, upstate NY psychology prof/gaming entrepreneur Tommy Filsinger) that he has written widely for papers all around the world about his take on Iraq, most notably in two brilliant pieces he did for the Wall Street Journal, one celebrating the death of Saddam's two brutal sons. Ayad has subsequently spoken to SPJ's Cleveland chapter, to students at Hathaway Brown School and elsewhere. And now he even has his own booking agent as well as a blog, which he will be using to post impressions from abroad. He's gotten into the swing of things by already posting several interesting entries from stateside.

On this morning's WCPN After Nine program, he explained to news director David P. in his signature lucid and passionate way how the Arab/Muslim world's "lack of introspection" has bred a toxic culture of passivity and blame-shifting for a thousand years. "Part of the tribal culture is passivity, and oil (revenues) make that worse," he said, refering to a study of the top 19 oil-producing countries, only one of which is a democracy. These problems are so deep, he noted, as to prompt a sense of hopelessness. "But you have to do something, or else you look into the abyss, and they will then become the serfs of the world."

Ayad is impossibly feisty (bordering on pugilistic) and sure of himself about these subjects, but he's earned it, having done his homework thoroughly. Over lunch a couple weeks ago at a deli near the Cleveland Clinic, I noticed that he forgot all about his food for quite some time as he energetically sought to convince me that Al Queda and other strains of Muslim extremism represent an even more dangerous threat to Western democracy than the Cold War. Some would call him a hard-right conservative on these issues; he merely makes the case (not unpersuasively, I'd say) that he's simply following the evidence where it leads. And interestingly enough, a caller from Cleveland Heights zeroed in on that this morning. "You seem to see the Americans as complete saviors," she said, before ticking off a familiar list of perceived Bush administration sins. He didn't back down, curtly telling the woman that he had his views, as she had hers. "This is not about oil, this is about terrorism," he concluded. You could hear the steel in his voice.

Ayad's itinerary calls for him to fly from Detroit to Amman, Jordan, and then travel from there by taxi for several hours to Baghdad. And he says he'll be on high alert, vigilant about being in a war zone. He admitted to "the fear of real crazed hotheads, who won't hesitate a moment to slash someone's neck for saying something about religion or politics that they don't like." And earlier, he told me that as a naturalized American, he'll have to be careful about being robbed or even kidnapped for ransom. We wish you a safe journey, my friend. Come back safely, and keep witnessing to these crucial events.

Think About Being At Case on Friday. After a year on the web--more about which soon--Working With Words is proud to report that it's received its first p.r. pitch to mention an event. And it's a no-brainer, because the note comes from a trusted old friend--Jeff Bendix, himself a pretty mean worker with words--about an event well worth your while: CWRU's second-annual research showcase (click here to learn more and to register). I caught some of it last year and found it interesting. And I also note that John Carroll has since mounted a similar annual spring event, showcasing the best of its humanities and arts and sciences work. Copy-catting is of course the most sincere form of flattery...

And Speaking of Case: You may recall that author Kurt Vonnegut was recently there, speaking in his patented style. What you may not have seen was this wild rant on Cleveland that he shared with readers of the Chicago-based progressive/lefty journal In These Times. I'm fairly certain that Bendix had nothing to do with that one...


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