Information operations

Baghdad Ten Years Ago – 28 Oct 07

WEEK 50: Disseminating backpacks to children should be easy.

Barbie Doll Backpacks

I glared at the photo of school girls receiving backpacks in somewhat disbelief.  The storyboard was more “Good News” stories to make us feel good about doing something for the children.  I admit that seeing the children get excited about a gift is a nice getaway from the glow of my computer screen and endless meetings.  This “good news” story isn’t making my day.

“Why” I wondered to myself, “are we handing out backpacks with photos of girls or dolls clad in abayas.”  We have tens of thousands of backpacks promoting nationalism and unity and we are giving the girls backpacks promoting a religious orthodox behavior.  I am not saying it is extremist behavior but it isn’t what we should be pushing.

I survey the photo and note that only one young girl of about ten has her head covered at the school.

Second Barbie backpack from the left – culturally attuned for some – but is it the message to support?

While wearing an abaya is very common for grown Muslim women, it is not the rule.  During Saddam’s era, it was not as common.  When I watch the vintage 1960 Iraqi TV shows on Rotana, I see the women were garbed very similar to their Western counterparts.

According to the Iraqi women with whom I have spoken, the abaya grew more popular during the end of Saddam’s rule.  The abaya became the standard even for non-Muslim women during the last four years as a defensive measure to the extremists of Al Qaeda and Jaysh al Mahdi.  Recently, Iraqi women are starting to change their fashion trends again reflecting a less stringent religious grip on the culture and we come along with backpacks of Jihad Barbie.  Super.

If this were Tehran, I’d declare it a small victory.  I’d next be looking for a McDonald’s on the local street corner.  But, this is Baghdad.

Barbie backpacks hang in a Hurriya District shop front whilst the owners read Baghdad Now

Five years ago it was non-secular and even multi-cultural Baghdad.  While most of the city was Muslim, it had pockets of Christian Assyrians and Chaldeans.  In addition to Arabs, Kurds lived in Baghdad.  We would benefit from the city headed back in a secular and tolerant direction. The boys, at least, received Spider-Man on their backpacks.  I have no idea if they even know who Spider-Man is.  Then again, he is literally covered head to toe.  So what if it is a skin tight costume.  Were you expecting a super hero to wear a business suit?

Let me say something about non-super heroes in business suits.  My ever observant cousin Patty noted in my Iraq daily photo to the home front most men don’t wear ethnic garb, including the politicians.  (By the way – if you aren’t sending notes or photos home about what you are doing in Iraq, you are not allowed to whine about us supposedly losing the information war) (By the way part deux – I am not losing the info war on my end. If you think you are losing, stop watching CNN and MSNBC).  Anyway, I explained to Patty many of the politicians have a strong religious orthodox or extremist backing they are trying to promote.  The business suit is often a façade to appear mainstream.

It is bad enough the Sadrists are pushing their Shia religious education agenda throughout the Ministry of Education. We don’t need to help them out with the fashion statements.  This is just what Iraq needs – a greater empowered religious style government. Hasn’t this one failed enough?

Listening to the evening update, I note we continue to giveaway hundreds of the backpacks.  Nobody, however, is showing the face on view of the backpacks since I called foul.  If nothing else, we should have improved relations with firebrand cleric Moqtada al Sadr (By the Way part III – I had to use the term firebrand cleric like every other western media wonk) and the imams should like our Jihad Barbie backpacks.  Anyone up for giving them more influence?



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