Sunday, May 29, 2011

Living under Saddam's Regime: My Own World VS the Hard Reality.

I lived most of my life under Saddam’s regime. Living under his regime made me feel like I was carrying a heavy weight on my shoulders. However, that weight would increase each year when I grew older. I cannot recall that I enjoyed my childhood or youth. I always remember myself as an adult who the regime could hold responsible for her action at any time and behaved accordingly.  

When I was six years old, I listened to the horrible stories of people who were brutally tortured, because they laughed at jokes, slightly criticized the regime, or even did not say anything. At first, I used to overhear my family talking, (political discussions taking place at my aunt’s house) then I attended these sessions.
When my family understood that I was actually part of the session, they assigned a task to me. My task was to go outside the house and make sure that their voices were not loud and could be heard by people outside the house. If their voices were loud, I should call my mother. Of course, there were times, when I actually needed my mother’s help and she would come saying “we were not talking why did you call me?”

At the end of each session, I could not help imagine what a painful death that these victims had to go through for nothing. 

I also remember watching a video that was aired on the Iraqi television. The video featured Saddam at the stage of the national  theater, while, his “comrades”  were seated at the place of the audience. Saddam was reading names from a paper. Anyone who would hear his name would be escorted outside the theater and brutally executed.  Rumors and stories about the torture of these people were circulated all over Iraq.

I don’t recall that I behaved as a child, who would do or say silly things, or who would laugh at funny moments. Every single move had to be calculated. Saddam’s regime had developed a brutal tactic, which involved asking children about their parent’s behavior towards the regime. For example, would their parents keep watching the TV when Saddam is on the TV or they would close it? Many families were wiped out because one of their children said that they actually close the TV. Cartoons, songs, textbooks, notebooks, color books, even homework assignments were all dedicated to Saddam.

I tried to create my own world, where I would listen to classical music my mother had all types of the best classical music), go through pictures of classic paintings, like Da Vinci, play a bit of piano, my parents bought one) or read classic literature. My family had a taste for art.  My mother painted. My father wrote poetry,only for my mother. My younger sister played the piano. 

However, my world was fragile. The regime was always there to shake my imaginary world.
For example, the regime would “ask” children to participate in supporting activities, including singing songs, demonstrating in the streets, or painting a picture. The process was anything but enjoyable. In fact, it was painful. I tried my best to avoid it.

I would apply every trick in the book not to participate. Sometimes, I succeeded, but sometimes, I did not.
For example, in 1985,  my best friend and I 11 years old girls stayed in the streets until 8PM, because we were forced by our school to participate in demonstrations “celebrating” Saddam’s birthday. The streets were chaotic. Thousands of people were forced to attend in one street where all exits and entrances were blocked.
There was no organization, all teachers disappeared suddenly, and there were no buses to bring us back  as promised by the school.

We kept running from one street to another until we got to the clinic of my friend’s father. It is an understatement to say we were afraid. It was dark and we did not know the streets all that well. Luckily, my friend recalled the road to her Dad’s clinic.

We got there around 9PM, and it was open. I called my family to find my mother crying and my dad worried like crazy.He went to the school several times to join other parents who were worried too. He even tried to go to where the demonstration was taking place, but he could not.  All the roads were blocked). My friend’s father drove us back home at the end of the celebration at nearly midnight. My mother hugged and continued to cry.
I graduated from high-school, and I enrolled in the Law School at Baghdad University[1].  My first day at school, I had to sign a statement saying that I will be executed if I would say or do anything to oppose the regime. It was the “welcoming statement” for the new students.  

In the school, I noticed that the Dean oppressed both employees and faculty members, especially women. Many times, I saw his secretary crying, because he yelled at her, or offended her by commenting on her looks in front of others.  I saw a student jumping over the school fence to avoid humiliation by the Dean. Then, most teachers would oppress the students or yell at them. I was sure that the students oppressed their families. It was an environment of oppression where only "the strong" would survive. 
"The strong" was a high ranking member of the Ba’ath party or a member of Saddam’s family. All other people were oppressed. 

I could not help noticing that the regime carefully protected itself utilizing the law. Laws were drafted to stay meaningless. For example, the Iraqi constitution of 1970 dedicated the third chapter to protect “the rights of the individuals.”[2] Article 20 prohibited torture or any inhuman treatment. However, the article didn't state would be the legal consequences if torture took place. Thus, torture was part of daily life, both physical and mental. 

A practice of disrespecting the law was developed because only the weak and vulnerable respected the law. All others who could “proudly” break it, they would. For example, driving through the streets of Baghdad, you would see a brand new car driving 100 miles per hour and going through the red light. The police officer wouldn’t dare to issue a traffic ticket because only the powerful elements of the regime could do that, and no one would dare to tell anything.

[1] I wanted to study abroad, but the regime band studying abroad expect for those who would support the regime. Moreover, women were not allowed to apply for studying abroad or participate in any capacity building programs.        
[2] The term “human rights” was almost a taboo during the 70s and the 80s.    

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