April 13, 2004

Iraq Today Gets Me To Remembering

I'm watching the crap boiling over in Iraq, today, and I find that it sucks to have my convictions tested like this. I mean, it really, really sucks.

I don't profess to understand everything and everything about Islamic culture in general and Iraqi culture specifically. But, here's what I do know: during the year I lived in Tokyo, going to school at St. Mary's International School, I was friends with several Islamic students. I studied with them. I wrestled with and against them. I went to class with them. I joked with them.

And, I'll tell you what; whether they were from Saudi Arabia, or Bangladesh, or Iran, or Pakistan, or wherever (no Iraqis, now that I think about it), they were all great people, great friends. They were friendly, they were frightfully intelligent, and they were all just super-nice people.

We never talked politics. Hell, we were 17 and 18 years old, living in an industrial nation that featured vending machines on every corner, including vending machines filled with hardcore porn and used women's underwear (no, I'm not kidding). Politics and world events seemed forever and a day removed from the daily grind of trying to graduate from a truly challenging school system. The buffers of a moden industrial society kind of shielded us from the harsh glare of world events and politics.

One thing keeps crawling back into my brain, every time I see pictures of al Sadr, or Sistani, or even Osama bin Laden, and it's something that actually bothered me when it happened and continues to bother me every time I open the pages of my St. Mary's yearbook.

There were, perhaps, 40+ nations represented in my graduating class alone in 1993, with every possible combination of religions and ethnic backgrounds you can possibly imagine, right down to a Japanese Jew named Carl Shapiro. You want a real melting pot? Go to St. Marys.

Anyway, on the day that my senior class was photographed together on the roof of the school, one of the students, a charismatic (if somewhat unstable) borderline neo-Nazi named Aleksi, convinced almost 90 percent of the class to do a Nazi salute to the camera. I found the suggestion to be in incredibly bad taste, and I refused, opting instead to stand with my arms crossed in front of me.

And yet, today, every time I open the pages of that damned yearbook, I'm confronted with that freakin' picture of 90+ students, representing 40+ nations and every major world religion and countless cultures, giving a Nazi salute. A NAZI SALUTE! And, there I stand, my arms crossed in front of me, with a wide-eyed look of disbelief as my fellow students, apparently oblivious to the twisted symbolism of it all, happily flash a sieg heil to the camera.

I'm not sure why I'm writing this. Perhaps it's to point out what a little ignorance mixed with a little persuasion can do to convince people to do stupid, even destructive things. And it's scary to think that almost no one is immune from it.

I really should scan that picture and post it here, if only to underscore the surreal shock value of it all. I'll have to remember to do that the next time I go back to my hometown.

Posted by Ryan at April 13, 2004 10:54 AM

That is most definitely what the world needs, more vending machines selling women's dirty panties! The world would be a much happier place.

I think the point you were making is that people are, on a fundamental, ready to be led. By anyone with the charisma to carry it off.

Mob mentality is among the scariest phenomenona I have ever witnessed and is a main part of why I harbor serious dislike for large crowds of polarized people. Its too easy for things to spiral into anarchy and violence, witness the violent celebrations of sports team victories.

And good on you, Ryan, for refusing to take part.

Posted by: Johnny Huh? at April 13, 2004 01:01 PM

I recently wrote a blog about this subject called "A boy in the crowd," when I saw one of the demonstrations in Iraq and singled out a young boy, happily following along waving a banner, oblivious to the intent of the demonstration.

Posted by: bigdocmcd at April 14, 2004 11:58 AM
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