I have decided there can be no light and witty blog title for a subject such as the one Michael Otterman tackles in his latest book, Erasing Iraq. Chair Sean Plunket describes it as a difficult and uncomfortable read, and not a book to be curled up in bed with at the end of the day. A collection of interviews with Iraqi refugees displaced all over the world, the very first tale relates the story of a Mendaean family whose son is kidnapped and murdered by fundamentalist extremists, and who then must go to retrieve the body.
The main thrust of the message is that the United States invasion of Iraq represents not a liberation, but an occupation, triggering what Otterman calls sociocide – the killing not just of a group of people but of a way of life, with the Mendaeans being a case in point. A small and very insular group with strong religious beliefs, before the war they numbered around 50,000. Now there are less than 5000 remaining, and with their cultural and religious beliefs precluding them from marrying outside their society, they are the last of their people. Otterman describes the “unforseen, unthinking consequence” of United States foreign policy and actions, and has documented the devastating human cost of this thoughtlessness through the tales of those he interviewed.
The session was riveting, and had a deeply appreciative and attentive audience (apart from the dear old ladies sitting next to me, who on discovering which session they had wandered into, said rather loudly, “Oh, dear! That doesn’t sound very nice!”). Nice it wasn’t, but compelling it certainly was, with Sean Plunket making some (rather brave, I thought) comparisons between what is going on in Iraq today, and the Holocaust. As it turns out, however, Otterman’s own father and grandparents were Holocaust survivors, and he is more than happy to discuss the similarities and differences.
There’s no way I can do justice to the gravity of this message, and thus all I will do is relay the advice that Michael Otterman gave the audience, when asked what we as New Zealanders and as individuals can do: read the book. Read as much as you can find from outside mainstream media. Go to Google and type in “Iraq blogs”. Lobby the government to admit Iraqi refugees (in 2006 we took in just 86 Iraqi refugees, despite the fact that more than 3 million are now stranded outside their own country with nowhere else to go). And remember that the Fox Network should never be the sole provider of news and information from places like Iraq, or Afghanistan, or indeed, anywhere.