Thursday, June 30, 2005

Interview: 'Sergeant'

Disclaimer and Scope: It is important to be aware that the interviews I conduct are from a small sampling of people. I do not claim nor believe that what I present as interview information is widely true nor the only perspective. To the contrary, I provide these interviews to challenge the popular idea that what the commercial media in America presents is the true and only answer as well as spark debate on this blog, at your homes, your workplaces, and other forums. I have stated before that every interview and poll that I have read in American Media has been sampled from citizens of Baghdad. Baghdad is one of three (relatively) urban centers in Iraq; indeed the largest and most modern. But that does not mean what is true in Baghdad is true in the rest of rural Iraq, or what is good for Baghdad is good for Iraq as a nation. The interviews I provide will present the responses of the interviewed as closely as language barriers will allow. Most responses will be conservative paraphrasing, focusing on the meaning that was being conveyed to me at the time. For further insights into the Iraqi experience, please visit Michael Yon's blog. I highly recommend it and would gladly trade him careers.


Sergeant is a nickname given to him by KBR. I was asked to use his nickname instead of his real name so that he couldn't be tracked down on the internet.

Sergeant is 21 years old and works in the main laundry facility. Eighteen months ago he was a student, living at home in the Diyala region of eastern Iraq. We took the opportunity to discuss some of the 25 most interesting questions my readers submitted.

Do you feel safe? Have you ever had your life threatened because of your association with Americans? Yes, I feel safe. I have not received any threats of any kind.

How long do you believe US Forces should remain in Iraq? I think that the Americans should stay until everyone (in the country) is safe. After the new Iraqi government is able to protect its citizens and brings order back.

What is your opinion of the new (Iraqi) government? Did you vote? Right now, they are not strong enough to do anything. In the future they will be strong. And no, I didn't vote.

Do you feel that the different groups (Kurds, Sunnis, Shiites) will be able to construct a peaceful, co-existant, cooperative, unified country? We all live together now, we lived together peacefully before. I think we will continue to do so. I am a Sunni muslim.

What is your opinion of Americans? I think Americans are good people.

Have you ever been outside Iraq? No

How do you feel about the removal of Saddam? (Shrug) Doesn't really matter. He was a bad man but it doesn't really matter to me.

Do you feel that the Iraqi people, as a whole, are suffering more or less than they did under Saddam's rule? Do you feel more free? I feel the same. The bad people form before, under Saddam, are the bad people now. Saddam's friends, people that used to work for him. They are the insurgents now.

Why do the insurgents attack? Because they were friends of Saddam. They have small brains and will do anything for money.

What do you want most in life? Safety.

Do you have any family? I don't have my own family yet. I live with my mother and my sister.

What is your favorite food? Chicken....lot's of chicken.

What do you for fun? I play soccer.

Sergeant's responses did not quite match up with what I expected nor with what I find in the media. This could be mainly due to the region he is from and his age. Diyala is almost completely rural. Balad Ruz is listed as a main city. You can get a brief 'tour' of Balad Ruz by watching the Pet video that I produced. Balad Ruz is the city with the cow standing on the median.

What I find most interesting is his veritable indifference to Saddam and his removal. To me, this is evidence of the perspective I assume many rural people have. Their day-to-day life has changed little; they still farm to eat, maybe have low paying jobs at the brick factories or as mechanics in towns like Balad Ruz, a larger percentage are shepherds. In this environment, the political and religious differences between the Sunnis and Shiites are of little consequence. This is consistent with Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs.

Please, I encourage you to post comments so that I may clarify or expand on anything concerning this interview with Sergeant. I have kept my opinion and interpretation to a minimum so to spark some conversation. It is my intent to continue interviewing people from significant sectorsas they become available.

18 Comments:

Blogger Carnealian said...

Huh, imagine that, he's like you and me! I guess I too was expecting a rousing sigh of relief regarding the question on the removal of Saddam. Although it is just his opinion, I'm pleased to hear that he feels we should stay (that we are doing some good) and that he feels we are good people.
>>>>>People are people!<<<<<<<<<

13:02  
Blogger InterstellarLass said...

His nonchalance surprises me somewhat. What you say about his perspective being different because of where he grew up may have something to do with it. Did you ask him why he didn't vote? Out of all the things that he could want in life, he says safety. Something we take for granted here, or at least did before 9/11. Also, the fact that he says the various ethnic groups live peacefully is surprising. We hear that they've been fighting for millenia and will forever. Also interesting that the insurgents are attacking for money...like mercenaries, rather than for religious reasons.

13:21  
Blogger Dorman said...

His nonchalance was what was significant to me and made me decide on publishing this interview. I think the key really is perspective and Maslow's Needs Hierarchy.

The insurgents are being recruited and doing their deeds for both religion and money, one just makes the other more palpable. I said a long time ago that the difference between a Haji and an insurgent is $1.

I also believe that his indifference and affinity for Americans is directly proportional to the pay check he receives every week/month. Otherwise he may be a shepherd out in the sun all day, or a farmer working the fields in the heat, in the dusty soil. It isn't like he could have it much better career wise if we were gone. Wal-Mart isn't opening a Super Store near here any time soon.

14:02  
Blogger Dorman said...

Oh, and the religious / tribal groups do still fight over political power, money, and religion. Keep in mind where those are mostly concentrated....Baghdad and other more urban areas.

He probably didn't vote because there was no voting station within a reasonable distance. Most people out here only drive when they have too because cars are junk and gas is scarce, ironically so. Many people live in mud-brick homes, hand made.

14:05  
Blogger InterstellarLass said...

Do you think all people can be bought then? Does everyone truly have 'their price'? If Sergeant were paid more by the insurgents, do you think his affinity would wane?

I detest Wal-Mart. I feel dirty just by walking in there.

17:21  
Blogger mattandriver said...

How easily thus far have these people been persuaded to give in to an interview? When you ask, are they hesitant, or willing?

The 'average' person in the areas that you speak of are, compared to average Americans, poor and undereducated. Do you believe this is due, at least in part, to Saddam's rule? Or would you say that these areas are just what they are because of other reasons?

Keep up the good work. I hope you find yourself during this.

20:00  
Blogger Carnealian said...

Comparably, I would suspect if you spoke to an insurgent, you would get the answers you expected. I think Sergeant is like usual "country" folk. He takes live as it comes at him. Is there much insurgency where he lives? Does he see combat, does he have to fear car's driving up to his local bodega and blowing the place up?

05:49  
Blogger Dorman said...

Because he is rural Iraqi, let's not assume he's a hayseed. He speaks almost fluent English. One of 2 workers there that do. How many bilingual Americans do you know of that actually learned their 2nd language in school?

Poor is also a subjective assessment that is overused, especially in politics. Someone define it for us. Really. His family eats, has a house, maybe even a satellite decoder for TV, clothes, what else does he need to not be poor? Every year the us gov't increases the poverty level in america to assure the politicians that there is an afflicted demographic to rescue.

All the while, the poor have dvd players, 2 cars, waste $60 or more a week on cigarettes and beer, and make little effort to adjust their lives to their income or get a job to feed their habits.

People are willing to take an interview with me, generally happy to do anything asked of them. There is insurgent attacks regularly around us but nothing major so far. The most deadly one was in Balad Ruz around election time. IEDS and small arms fire are regular. The Blues For Allah series happened nearby. In my opinion, the insurgents around here are the low-grade toughs and wannabes that do it more for cash and less because they have joined the gang. They'll shoot a mortar because they'l lget paid, maybe for religious beliefs, but aren't, I assume, trained insurgent 'soldiers' like in Baghdad, Bahquba, Tikrit, Mosul, etc.

What I ask myself is a question I have posed often here; What is the standard for the rebuilding of Iraq? Sergeant is just happy we're here, not much more that he needs from the reconstruction apparently. The entire rural culture would be changed and destroyed by modernization and the '40 hour work week' mentality.

On the reconstruction note, I have noticed a rather large steel structure being built nearby. Interestingly enough it looks like it is being slowly pieced together from the top down, as some setions of the 2nd story are in place. It appears to be some kind of grain processing plant, but I can't tell for sure. I don't even know if it is part of our efforts yet.

07:57  
Blogger Dorman said...

I was thinking about the differencs in Babu's society and Sergeants. Basically I think there are 3 types of society:

1. Competitive (like American capitalism, where everything is owned personally and protected diligently. Success is rated by what you have. You pay for what you need. The property is maximized.)

2. Cooperative (like Babu described. Living in a community where you have your own fields and trees, possessions, but if neighbors need, it is freely given with the understanding that they willingly will do the same. Babu stated they don't usually use cash. The individual is maximized.)

3. Communal (like soviet Russia where everything produced is not owned but lumped together and by your needs it is taken back. The excess is usually kept by some controlling person or group in charge of distribution, or sold and the procedes go to the community as a whole. The indiidual is minimized.)

If Babu lives in a cooperative society, Sergeant lives in a competitive one, like we americans do. That is evidenced by the markets and the gas lines, the AK-47s carried by each family to protect their meager farms from theft. 'You cannot steal what is freely given' in a cooperative society.

What further interests me, and with a little encouragement I would hope my friend Richard D. Jones will begin to enlighten us, is the role and interaction of religion and religious ideas in each of the types of societies. Anyone else have anything to add or disagree with? Let's get deep.

08:09  
Blogger InterstellarLass said...

A better question would be how many bilingual Americans do I know? Our arrogance amazes me. I learned a second language, and I was pretty good at it for awhile, but through dis-use, well, let's say I could order you a beer in Mexico and locate the bathroom, but that's about it.

A 'standard of living' assessment...this is also subjective, but compare our standard of living with theirs. If I were to trade places with an Iraqi woman, would I be able to survive? I would hope that I could. I'm not afraid of hard work, but how would I deal with my limited options? Put your average American in the woods with a compass, a bottle of water and a map and see if they can find their way back home. Doubt it. Shudder to think if they had to find their own food, build their own shelter and protect themselves from harm.

Again, a mess of our own making. We change our way of life, depend on technology, improve processes, work better, smarter, faster, give ourselves more 'free time' and what do we expect? And there you are Dorman, sitting in what you yourself call a stone-age society, and we expect them to change overnight? What the hell are they going to do with broadband internet access and computers when they need clean water, food and medicine? You've stated before that what you see happening in 'reconstruction' is for the benefit of the American companies doing the work, not the Iraqi people. They need wigets and we give them cogs.

10:13  
Blogger Crystal said...

so what are we doing to change our cultural inaptitude?

10:18  
Blogger Dorman said...

Don't get me wrong, because you make a good point. Stone-age is not necessarily 'bad'. It has worked for them for thousands of years so who are we to impose our 'modern techno-society' on them? Why would we want to change their society? It is theirs right?

10:29  
Blogger InterstellarLass said...

I wasn't implying stone age was bad for them. It's worked. It's just not what 'we' want for them. It is their country, it's their culture, it's theirs to do with as they please. I don't want to change it for them. If they were to ask, that would be one thing, but they didn't. So come back to the good 'ol USA Dorman.

I don't have an answer for that Crys. Starting with myself and my kids. We'll see where that takes us. Turn off the TV. Go outside. Talk to friends and neighbors. Don't be a stranger. Offer a helping hand. Value each other rather than possessions. Say a kind word every day just for the heck of it. Be a better person.

10:57  
Blogger Crystal said...

i dont think we do want to impose anything like that. but what we are good at is being projected in the "progress" being made.

10:59  
Blogger Ric said...

Thank you Dorman for your invitation to this discussion. I do have some thoughts about how religion interacts with different types of society. First I would like to offer the ideal view of society as it is purposed in the Bible. The ideal society is a combination of communal and cooperative. A modified structure functionalist view. People will live in harmony with each other by offering their goods to others as needed. They also will first an foremost be responsible for their own well being. (If you don’t work you don’t eat). What will make it successful will be the goodness of the authority figure. The term is a theocracy. This is the ideal, not the real in any place on earth. By religion I mean Christianity with its many failures. I am ignorant of other religions other than doctrines they hold and their view of how they ultimately please their God. The competitive (capitalist) is the most hurtful to religion due to the nature of competition. One might say religion and competition are opposite in their goals. Religion is to please the gods which creates a better quality of life for everyone. The focus is on everyone. (Whosoever will may come) Competition is to prove superiority. One is deontological and the other ontological. (sp?) Competition enters religion soon after prosperity is attained by religious people. Walk outside your house, drive through your town and see which church has the highest steeple. This is no joke. It was a “justified” competition four generations ago. The result of competition is always the glorification of the individual. This is precisely why our society has decayed to the degree it has. Christianity has done little to maintain the focus of do unto others… as evidenced by the steeple envy.
Conversely, the communal and cooperative always has a focus of the group. This is a good thing. This focuses primarily on the do unto others. What we have is not ours to be protected. The motto being nothing to prove, nothing to defend. We do not possess anything that we are not willing to share. What we have we are stewards of for the benefit of others and ourselves. I was told by a foreign exchange student from Russia that people, at market, leave their wares out on tables all night without fear of them being stolen. Obviously the real question isn’t which one is better than the others but what keeps us from following the better way?

11:10  
Blogger Dorman said...

Now, Ric, given that background, how would you interpret Sergeant's and Babu's views and responses, and the situation in Iraq right now?

14:25  
Blogger Ric said...

The Sergeants views I either did not read or do not remember. Babu's comments fit nicely into a segment of a book I am currently reading. The author refers to Tolstoy's Confession (which I've never read or even heard of prior to the my current book) and stated "He could oberseve the mass of persons, the peasants,(Babu) who in the most miserable of conditions found life deeply meaningful and even sweet. They had not heard about "particles and progress." But this is no longer possible. The peasants now watch TV and constantly consume media. There are no peasants now." Babu is such a peasant with all the sweetness simplicity offers. This is in no way an insult but rather a blessing. He does not take on issues that are beyond his scope, nor does he pretend as though he has answers for those issues. He puts forth effort to gain what he believes he needs and is greatful when he gets what he needs. Everyone in america has an opinion and is outraged at whichever side they disagree with. Babu is not in competition with anyone for anything, he is living out the nothing to prove, nothing to defend principle which is encompassed in cooperative and communal societies. Babu may live in a communal/cooperative society but it is a subgroup of the competitive society of his leaders. As for how I interpret the situation in Iraq now. Honestly quite ignorantly. I don't watch the news and really only pick up bits and pieces of things. My only question or comment is that from what I know of world history (which is not much) everyone who has freedom has had to fight for it. I could be wrong. I believe it takes the same courage to fight for freedom as it does to protect that freedom. I am not making any statements about the war,conflict,peace keeping mission pro or con. This is just something that I believe.

17:42  
Blogger mattandriver said...

This is good stuff

10:57  

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