Sunday, March 30, 2008

The Betrayers or the Betrayed?

On Saturdays, I like to listen to NPR's Wait, Wait, don't Tell Me and This American Life while I leisurely clean up the house. Last week, I was off to a slow start, so I ended up listening to Studio 360, which had an Iraq themed show. They talked about the lackluster performances of Iraq films at the box office and later interviewed Kimberly Pierce, the director of Boys Don' Cry who has now made Stop Loss.

But then they got to George Packer, and a play he has made about locals collaborating with US forces in Iraq. The play and the article on which it was based are called, ironically, Betrayed. Of course Packer is not using the word "betrayed" in the sense that most Iraqis would use it when referring to these people: most Iraqis would probably say that the collaborators have betrayed their own people, whereas for Packer, it is the US that has betrayed these servants who for a few dollars, er, I mean, out of their loyalty to the US project in Iraq, joined the US forces as interpreters, errand boys, etc.

In the scene that NPR broadcast from the play, a woman interpreter is harassed or beaten or killed (clearly I was too angry to pay too close of attention to this thing) by some undetermined group of "fundamentalists." For Packard, who apparently was pro-war before and for some time after the invasion, the Iraqi people as a whole did not and do not need protection against devastating sanctions and the invaders of their country. Only the handful who have worked with the coalition forces are the ones in need of protection, and they need to be protected against other Iraqis, or as he puts it, fundamentalists (and never mind that the rise of fundamentalism in Iraq is itself traceable to US sanctions and war).

But it seems no one dares to point these things out to Mr. Packard. Certainly the fawning NPR reporter isn't going to do it. And Mr. Packard surely has enough pet Iraqis, for example the pro-occupation dentist turned blogger that Packard brought to the US, that will be more than happy to condone everything that comes out of his mouth. How could they not? You can't bite the hand that feeds you. Well, you can, but it requires some principle, and people who cooperate with invading armies are generally lacking in that.

This sponsoring of bloggers, by the way, seems to be a family business. Mr. Packard's wife, in fact, has brought two of her own, an Iranian couple. I'd like to say more, but because I don't want to make this a personal attack and because the Iranian blogger is a friend of sorts, I I will leave it at that.

More broadly, however, someone should look at the bring-an-Iraqi (and now, increasingly, bring-an-Irani) phenomenon, and the power grids that make them possible. Who are the real beneficiaries of these relationships, the local who gets "saved" by the compassionate American journalist, or the American journalist, who will build a career and collect countless accolades as a result?