Wednesday, May 11, 2005

a bit of deja vu

I went to the talk by Howie Severino and Pratap Chatterjee last week on the War in Iraq. Both are noted journalists. Howie presented a segment he did for a show called iWitness in the Philippines, one of those news story programs, on Fiipinos living in Iraq. Three women had gone to work there before Desert Storm, then married Iraqis and have been there ever since. Howie showed life before the bombing, days before the first strike fell. How normal life was. The three woman had not been home for at least 12 years and with war on the horizon there were no plans to go home. They were going to stay with their husbands and families. Howie returns to the Philippines and brings pasalubong and letters to their families. One woman's family misses her but are resolved that Iraq is her home now. Another woman's mother just wants her only daughter home, 12 years is too long. The last woman had left behind three children, she is raising two in Iraq. The children left behind, though wishing her well, are pained to see the loving family videos with her children there only to be reminded of the woman who left them.

In contrast, Pratap didn't get a chance to enter Iraq until after the war started. His footage was of bulletholes in both people and buildings. He talked about how security companies like Halliburton have created a type of indentured servitude labor system, hiring workers from various countries at amounts that are extravagent for their home countries but not on par with each other based on their work. Salary rates go by home country than work skill. A driver from India might get $80/month, one from the Philippines might get $100, while the American driver might get $6000 a month. They are all separated from each other, living in separate housing, separate meals, separate food. The non-Americans might have their passports taken from them as "insurance." He tells how it's been impossible for the Americans to guard all the borders. Anyone can walk into Iraq now. Most Western journalists sit in their hotel all day, not allowed to really roam and film in the streets. They send runners instead to bring them the news. Hospitals lack any kind of medicines. Even the ambulance is shot by security forces. And how Americans obsess over racial tensions in Iraq between Shiites and Sunis, Iraqis themselves don't worry about such things. It's never been an issue until the Americans made it an issue.

Afterwards they answer questions. Yes, all the Filipino families in the film are still alive, though they all know folks who did not. And then there was something that both of them said, that gave me chills. They both mentioned how safe and secure Iraq had been before the war. How crime, even stealing, was unheard of. "Yes, Saddam was a ruthless dictator, but there was no crime and the streets were safe." And I kept thinking about how I had heard something like that before.

Tonight I turned the channel and came across a showing of "Imelda" on Channel 9. It was the part where they were talking about martial law and one of Marcos' cronies said, "Martial Law was the greatest time ever! The streets were clean and there was no crime." Yeah, well, that happens when there's a dictator: crime is nil, the environment is pristine, and immigration is strict. I've heard this about North Korea as well.

I'm not saying that they were pro-Saddam. But it was such an eerie feeling of deja vu. Suddenly the issues in and around Iraq became much more complex than the daily body counts given each day on American news. I felt for Iraq the way I often feel about the Philippines, wondering if there really is a lesser evil. Is there a way to rip off the bandaid without leaving a scar?


Timothy said...

That's pretty much the big question. "is there a way to rip off the bandaid without leaving a scar?"

A friend of mine grew up under Communism in the USSR and says something similar, that before there was at least some food, and at least some medical care. But then again, people lived under the crushing knowledge that saying "the premier is a jackass" could result in a quick one way trip to Siberia.

Having the separate compounds/housing/salaries for the workers from different countries is complete bullshit. Wage arbitrage, I think that's the name for it.

howie said...

hi michelle, an interesting account of our event... brutal dictators need to be removed, whether it was marcos or saddam. the issue was the cost of removal. marcos was overthrown with minimal bloodshed. saddam was ousted in a war that seems to have no end. compared to today's total breakdown in law and order, Iraq under Saddam was a safer place.