“The Middle East was better off with Saddam.”
From a three bedroom apartment in an upper class neighborhood of Amman, on live TV I watched as a dead Kurdish soldier hung from a lamp post. The victim of a well planned counterattack by ISIS into the Kurdish held city of Kirkuk, just days before Iraqi and Kurdish forces planned to retake the key ISIS stronghold of Mosul. Taking a sip of instant coffee from a Versace cup, casually scrolling through my Instagram feed, I thought to myself, “What the fuck?”
My brother once said, jokingly, “I can never visit the Middle East, I’ve watched too much Homeland.” As funny as that was when he said it, the average American….shit, every American…can’t deny the underlying truth.
Over three days I toured the stunning sites of Jordan; The Lost City of Petra, the Red Sea-side city of Aqaba, the enchanting desert valley and Sandstone peaks of Wadi Rum, and finally, a float in the Dead Sea. If you’ve ever dreamed of going to Jordan, go. Have no doubts. I’ve never been so spoiled, as my hosts, per Middle Eastern culture, went out of their way to see I was fully, if not overly, satisfied. It was a whirlwind of culture, coffee, and the best hummus I’ll ever have in my life (cliche, I know). But….there’s one thing that kept pulling me down. In those three days I passed through more metal detectors, put more bags under X-ray scanners, and drove through more security check points than I have in my entire life. I literally can’t count the security check points we were stopped at on the highway, it felt like one every 40 miles. By the last day it became reflex to pull off my sunglasses and flash my blond hair and baby blues from the front passenger seat so police officers didn’t have to search our car.
So it was, on that fourth and final day, from that beautifully appointed apartment, after all the security measures and the graciousness of my hosts, while watching as a crowd of civilians eased that limp dead body down from a lamp post, I had my “What The Fuck Moment”.
What the fuck do I, you, we, as Americans, really know about the Middle East? Or Muslims? The day-to-day reality of terrorism?
Follow me real quick.
A (narrow) majority of the American population hate...errr...have a palpable distrust...of Muslims and Islamic culture. Jordan is 93% Muslim and yet it's one of the US's strongest allies in the region. The instability of the region from the US lead Iraq War has put a tremendous strain on the progressive and highly educated Jordanian population. You could argue that outside of Iraq, they bear the largest day-to-day brunt of the United States' blunder (Jordan was bombed in 2005 by ISIS suicide bombers and a Jordanian pilot was burned alive by jihadists in 2015). King Abdullah II of Jordan, considered the strongest Muslim in the world, is on a personal mission to kill all 23 jihadists seen in that gruesome video of the pilot's death....he's got 8 so far. He also joined the US in airstrikes against ISIS in 2014. Trump, and his supporters, want to ban Muslims from entering the country. Hmm...what about these Muslims fighting ISIS with us? And just as a kicker, the US in 2016 agreed to give Jordan $60 million in aid as part of an agreement they accept Syrian refugees into their country. Jordan will, as they also have for almost 2 million Palestinians who have fled their state over the past five decades. Yes, Jordan, a country of 6.5 million has already accepted 650,000 Syrian refugees. Wrap your head around that. All of which, threatens to increase instability, security fears, and unemployment rates.
So what does that even mean?!? Say China bombed the shit out of Canada forcing millions of Canadians to flood into Chicago, New York, Washington, and that those refugees stole your jobs. Say Brazil invaded Mexico and pushed dangerous Mexican drug cartels into Arizona and Texas, and that when driving through those states you were stopped on the highway every 40 miles, every day, to have your car searched. Say Jordanians thought every white nut job with a semi-auto shooting up schools or churches represented every white American Christian. "What the fuck?", right? That's a start.
And I didn't even cover IRAQ!!! Where Kurdish fighters (an ethnic group, 98% Muslim, that Saddam Hussein once committed genocide against!!) fight next to current Iraqi forces, forming the tip of the spear in the attack against ISIS (that global threat created by the vacuum of the Iraq War). Wait….more Muslims fighting against ISIS? Iraqi Kurds (my hosts in Jordan), again, who's people were victims of the largest chemical weapons attack directed at a civilian-populated area in history, actually said to me that they thought the Middle East was better off WITH Saddam, the man who committed that atrocity against their people! HOLY SHIT!! WHAT. THE. FUCK.
I'm sorry. I wanted to tell you about this vibrant and hospitable culture, and these camels...incredible creatures really…but this was all so heavy, unavoidable. And complicated. And not easy. Maybe now, it's not easy for you? To paint with such a broad brush. To condemn. To be ignorant. Like I was.
Cause the Middle East isn't an episode of Homeland.
And maybe, the region was better off with Saddam.