Clash of parallel universes in city of peace

This column was published on the S-T editorial pages August 25, 2002.

by Greg Stone

I was born in Baghdad on July 9, 1941, the son of a Muslim cleric and the fourth child of four. When I was six I learned that my native city was originally called Madinat as-Salam, City of Peace. How ironic that name sounds today.

No I wasn't. I was born in Baltimore, Maryland and my father was an Episcopal minister. I had nothing to do with the choice, of course. No one asked me where I would like to be born, or when.

I was just very lucky.

But I got thinking - what if I had been born in Baghdad and into the Islamic faith? What if there is a parallel universe where my Baghdad-born self exists?

How does the Iraqi me feel about Saddam Hussein? Do I fear him? Hate him? Think him "evil" as President Bush says? Or do I think he's a hero, first defeating the Iranians and then trying to recover Iraqi oil fields stolen from us in the years the British and French controlled our region and created false states like Kuwait? And how do I feel about George Bush? Do I think him "evil" as Hussein shouts? Or do I fervently hope he will rescue me from the despotism of Hussein?

Does the Iraqi me have two married daughters and four grandchildren? Perhaps he lost a son-in-law in Desert Storm ? Perhaps the other son-in-law is in an elite Republican Guard unit and has become a killer of other Iraqis who Saddam thought were a threat?


Perhaps my daughters are poor and one or more of their children have died because they couldn’t get the medical attention they needed because of the economic sanctions. Would I be bitter about my son-in-law's death? Would I secretly hate - and openly fear - my other son-in-law who has risen in the ranks of Saddam's minions?

Who would I blame for the lack of medicine? The UN who passed the economic embargo? The United States who promoted it? Or Saddam, who took what money that did come in and used it to build more presidential palaces and weapons?

Religion of violence?

The American me reads about Islam and sees a religion that seems to glorify military action. The Iraqi me is confused by Christianity. He knows the words of peace of the prophet Jesus. But he wonders if Bush hears those words. Perhaps Bush hears the words of Samuel who told Saul: " Thus says the Lord of hosts. 'I will punish the Amalekites for what they did in opposing the Israelites when they came up out of Egypt. Now go and attack Amelek and utterly destroy all that they have; do not spare them, but kill both man and woman, child and infant, ox and sheep, camel and donkey.'"

And the Iraqi me asks himself, is Christianity a faith of love and peace, or of hate and the sword?

My American self fears Hussein may be developing a nuclear bomb. But my Iraqi self knows the Americans have an entire nuclear arsenal, plus the submarines, airplanes, and missiles with which to obliterate every living thing in Iraq. If Hussein has or makes a bomb it would be suicide to use it (assuming he has some way to deliver it ) or even give it away to those idiots who call themselves Islamist, but murder innocents. Any nuclear explosion anywhere and we would be blamed.

Why do they hate us?

"Why do they hate us so?" wonders my Iraqi self. No Iraqi was among the September 11 terrorists. There is not a shred of evidence to link us to it or to Al Quaeda. Al Quaeda's leadership comes from Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Egypt - all countries where there is a strong American presence. Doesn't that tell them anything? Why do Bush and Cheney hate the Iraqis so? Is it just the oil?

But then my parallel universes disintegrate in confusion. I don’t know who I am. The Iraqi me knows so little about the American me. And the Christian me knows so little about the Islamic me. In both universes I am just a man - I love, I fear, and at times my fear sprouts into hate and violence..

And my two parallel universes are about to clash. Will taxes paid by the U.S. me fund the weapons that kill the Iraqi me? Will the attempt to kill Saddam Hussein spiral out of control? The other Arab states seem to be with us this time. And few countries seem to be against us, except the Americans. Will their obsession with Hussein drag the world into much larger conflict? What will Russia do? And China? Can the UN stop this conflict? Hussein is willing to let the weapons inspectors back in, but that doesn’t seem to be enough for the Americans. It's hard to see how anything will satisfy them short of a war.

Glimmer of hope

I see some glimmer of hope in the UN, but what I mostly see is our parallel universes rushing towards war. The U.S. me is silent. He thought the goal was to get arms inspectors back on the job and was surprised when it was achieved so suddenly.

The Baghdad me prays President Bush will find the courage to face his fears and uncertainties about what Saddam might be doing and in the name of humanity, seek peace. But in both universes I see little hope. I believe the worst will happen. The Baghdad me - regardless of whether I support Hussein or am just another one of his victims - is likely to die. The US me will go on, but as an American citizen and taxpayer he will carry the burden of his leader's actions.

I take no comfort in knowing there will be no real winners - that victory is an illusion. This war will solve nothing and merely pave the way for the next war. I know that human beings are not predictable like machines. I know that in every relationship there are risks. But I am old and tired of the little boys on all sides, dancing about and waving their weapons. Where are the men brave enough to love, to trust, and to seek peace and understanding? Where are the men who will meet in the "City of Peace" and talk?

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Last updated August 29, 2002


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