Wednesday, January 10, 2007

Springtime for Saddam

The end of 2006 saw the dramatic conclusion of the Saddam Hussein story, brought to you by someone with a cellphone who made a YouTube clip to beat all YouTube clips. In the end, this one grainy video nullified all efforts by the “Axis of Good” to paint their ugly version of Saddam Hussein all over the history books.

If it were ever made into a movie, the farcical theater of Saddam Hussein’s last days could only be called “Trial and Error”. Of course, G.I. George Bush and the American government would have loved to see their original script brought to curtain calls of secular throngs of Iraqis dancing in the streets of Baghdad over the death of an evil man, but, sadly, they lost creative control of the project.

The opening act of Saddam’s capture would have made any Hollywood producer proud. Hell, maybe the Weinstein brothers had a hand in military policy at the time, because there could have been no better made-for-tv moment than Saddam being pulled out of a so-called “Spider Hole” covered in garbage with a suitcase of American dollars at his side. Now, anyone who has been to the Middle East, who knows anything about Muslim culture, knows that no self-respecting Arab Muslim, especially not one with an inflated ego such as Mr. Hussein’s, would be caught dead under a pile of garbage, hiding from U.S. Marines with a suitcase of dollars at his side. I mean, give me a break. Has it been so long that we do not see blatant propaganda for what it is any more? The public ate up this story, only too happy to see that this “evil man” was also a coward.

In the war of ideas, the United States tried to take his pride, to take his honor, and in the end allowed history to repeat itself by calling an end to major combat operations in discrediting Saddam Hussein. Unfortunate (depending on how you look at it) though inevitable for the swirling mess of Iraq, it did not turn out as planned.

Fast forward to the last chapter in the saga, where you have a cell phone video broadcast all over the world within hours of his death that shows a dignity to the man enduring the taunts of a violently divided Iraq. As if he knew the world would be watching, he played it masterfully. With a sound bite of “Is this the bravery of Arabs?”, Saddam will be remembered as a victim who died with honor, a martyr to young Sunnis, not an evil psychopath coward.

Just like the producers tried to make a fortune off of a sure flop, the Bush administration naively expected to gain valuable political capital through the death of someone they had gone to great lengths to paint as a worthless, evil man. As it turned out, the show itself was a success. Saddam will live forever in Iraq, the victim of aggression and bias from both his own people and the invading army.

I can’t wait to see what the Bin Laden Show will entail, if only we can get a camera crew to his cave on the Pakistani border...

Sunday, January 7, 2007

Never Enough Fireworks

OK, the fireworks started going off even before Christmas. Nevertheless, nothing could have prepared me for the spectacle of explosion that marked the new year 2007, a celebration which, by the way, only just seems to have ended. For now, the war is over. Major combat operations in the skies of Reykjavik have come to an end. Of course, I would not be surprised if the next few weeks bring the last of the unexploded bombs out of hiding.

There is something about the darkness that compels you to light up the sky with whatever is available. On some nights, especially the coldest ones, the Aurora Borealis does the trick naturally. But in late December, it is fireworks. From small children to responsible adults, every house and every neighborhood consider it their duty to out-do the people down the street. It is not at all uncommon for people to spend several months’ salary, or the equivalent of a small car, to make the sky above your house explode for a few hours. Even the dogs, at least the ones not huddling in the closet for fear of impending nuclear holocaust can be seen in their front yards with sparklers hanging out of their mouths.

The only lull in the insanity comes late in the evening when Icelanders gather around their televisions to appreciate a tradition that goes back thirty years. For an hour the state-run TV station shows a comedy program poking fun at everything Icelandic, from major news stories to notorious celebrities. The only topic that seems off-limits is, thankfully, Bj√∂rk. But even I, an outsider with only a limited knowledge of Icelandic, was able to laugh at much of what all around me found so funny. Some of it was in English, and all of it was funny. Icelanders are adept at self-criticism. They know that you can’t take everything so seriously, and that the best way to forge a strong national identity is to recognize the humor in everything that you are proud of. Others (mm hmm) could benefit from their example.

As soon as the show ends, around 11:30, the real show begins outside. It is almost impossible to hear yourself scream, when bombs are going off above, around, and below you. Yes, accidents do happen, some fingers may get blown off, but it is all worth it. It is impossible not to get euphoric at this display of explosive power, an undying remnant of this country’s viking past. Icelandic fireworks, with pictures of blond, helmeted men with beards, are called “cakes” for a reason: it is the ONLY way to celebrate. And when the cakes run out, as they did at a friend’s house, some emergency flares were found in a closet, lighting up the world in a slow red drama that must have looked even more amazing from far away.

But it doesn’t matter where in Reykjavik you are. Every neighborhood is as indulgent as the next. The first time I experienced Iceland, for the big millennium new year in 2000, I was amazed, knowing that the millennium merited such a grand celebration. What I saw this year proved only that it gets bigger and bigger every year. I knew it when I left my house at five in the evening and was knocked in the face by the pungent smell of exploded gunpowder. I knew it when driving down the street in the following week I needed to wait while one last cake was set off in the intersection down the street. I knew it when even though I did not have a vantage point over the whole city, it was the most impressive display I have ever seen.