Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Iraqi TV

the last few days i have gotten lucky with Iraqi TV. i have gotten programs on the Euphrates Channel that are not theologians in black robes and turbans. the glimpses i catch of Iraq through this channel show a society in turbulent, often fearful and anguished, transition.

there was a brief commercial advertising iran as an investment destination. there were no words or text, only pictures of famous landmarks, until the end; even then it was only the english phrase "Iran -- Land of Investment Opportunities."

first i saw part of a discussion-format show on the economy. the topic was, who is benefiting from Iraq's economic development? i could understand very little semantically, except that they made frequent reference to Japan after WW2, and they used the (to us) Leftist phrase "political economy." i suspect this usage is a reflection of Iraq's quasi-socialist heritage, common in many countries throughout the world. Iraq does have leftist parties, but i don't think they have their own TV channel. the discussants made frequent reference to foreign interests. recalling Naomi Klein's excellent book "The Shock Doctrine," and her point that countries "shocked" into accepting neoliberal economic policies, such as Iraq: often these countries upon emerging from their shocked state end up soundly rejecting the experimental economic surgery that was foisted on them (Bolivia a good example). i hope that what i was seeing -- discussion of economic policies -- is part of a similar waking up and reaction against imperialist "free market" domination.

i learned how to say "planned economy": iqtisadiyah markaziyah.

the studio decor, i have noticed on the few Iraqi talk shows i have seen, tends to bright, abstract patterns that can be a little jarring and bare. behind the host, several bars of primary colors rose above his head, part of the big background design featuring a graph. it is as if the new media has not had time to grow accustomed to its own existence, like a room smelling of new paint -- an awkward newness evident aesthetically in sterile, brightly colored studio design.

one of the two guests was an old man whose speaking voice was so unique and charming i found myself smiling and leaning forward, wishing i could understand what he was saying, rather than sitting woodenly, dutifully as i often do. his voice rose and fell dramatically, from crescendo to whisper, and it was thin and old like a grandfather's. he was delightful, gesturing and painting vivid pictures and scenarios, his face full of expression. the other two younger men often laughed. i saw a rich culture of intellectual pursuit and story telling in this old man, even through the horrific modern history of the country.

after this show there were two commercials that looked like public service announcements. one showed a man in farmer's attire, walking across a tilled field, reaching into his apron for handfuls of seeds to scatter. but his hands bring out not seeds but bullets, tumbling into the dirt. the next commercial shows a young boy and his father walking past a market. we see the merry bustle and chatter of people buying and selling, a fair-like atmosphere. the boy points at a man with a gun standing in an alley. "is that a police man?" he asks, and the father answers negatively as the man turns and slips away. i could not read the written message fast enough to get it.

these two announcements were visually and emotionally haunting.

then there was a ten minute performance of a song. it was most unusual to me. a youngish man sang, with a sheet of paper in front of him with the lyrics. his voice was piercing but resonant, and the music slow and stately. it seemed he was standing in a mosque, and his style reminded me of Quranic recitation contests in Indonesia -- but there was no use of words like "Allah" or "Muhammad" or "Ali." but it could be that the words used metaphors for religious concepts or figures. the only line i really understood was "I am a flower" (zahra), which also could be "I am bright." the solemn, measured singing was beautiful but haunting. every so often the camera showed a circle of young men swaying and clapping in unison, or clapping one hand across their chests. this action reminded me of things i have seen in news images of shiite pilgrimages, the blow to the chest a miniature act of flagellation, recalling Ali's tragic death.

following this song there was a static screen with a young boy's picture and a written message, read out by a voice. age: 13. residence: . . .there was a date, May 9, 2009, and a phone number. this plain message was utterly heartbreaking: an appeal for information about a boy who had been taken.

Mr. Bush and Mr. Cheney: you hold half the blame for this boy's disappearance. your eagerly sought war turned iraq into a cauldron of anguish and death; the cauldron still bubbles. and you liberals who enabled their fantasies are also culpable. the pork-barrel king, sen. byrd, had guts when you did not by standing up to them.

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