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From Calamities of Exile,
by Lawrence Weschler


Calamities of Exile "It's strange," [Kanan] said. "You know the Iraqi press is not hesitant to report on violations of human rights; in fact, it's saturated with accounts of such violations, not there in Iraq, of course, but everywhere else around the globe -- the more gruesome the account the more extensive the coverage. Day after day. It's all part of the mix, intended to demoralize the population, as if to say, 'This is how it is everywhere, this is man's fate, don't even fantasize about any alternative."'

We talked to another recent émigré, who described the atomization of daily life inside Iraq, with everyone distrusting everyone else. It must be terribly difficult, I commented, having to live with such double-mindedness. "Double-mindedness?" he shot back. "I wish it were only double-mindedness. I myself lived at least five lives, each securely walled off from all the others. There was the me-at-work" -- he began counting them out on his fingers -- "the me-with-my-friends, the me-with-my-children, the me-with-my-wife, and then," he tapped his closed fist against his sternum, "there was me."
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It wasn't only the Iraqis who sought Kanan out: Kuwaitis too seemed eager to find him. One of them, who'd just emerged after having spent the entire occupation inside Kuwait City, told him about the deadening transformation of Kuwaiti television, how it quickly became a nonstop paean to the glories of the revered leader Saddam Hussein. "Only once a week," he related, "did the propaganda let up for a few hours, and instead they'd broadcast a regular movie. The streets would empty and everybody would rush home to enjoy that little respite. One time -- this must have been in December or so, the crisis was already well along, the allied armies were all dug in along the southern border -- they showed us The Good, the Bad and the Ugly, you know, the Clint Eastwood western. The whole movie went along, quite engrossing and enjoyable, and then, in the last scene, Eastwood walks into this ambush in a seemingly deserted town, his poncho slung over his shoulders. Suddenly he's being fired on from all sides, dozens of people shooting at him, only they're the ones who start collapsing dead all around. He just stands there, untouched. Finally everything falls silent and he lifts off his poncho to reveal a cast-iron bullet-protector wrapped around his chest: the bullets had all just ricocheted off him and instead killed the ones who'd been doing the shooting. Eastwood then took off this metal shield, set it aside, and the camera zoomed in on it. The End. Only -- and I swear this happened, even though I can still hardly believe it myself -- as the camera zoomed in on the shield, the image of Saddam Hussein's smiling face materialized right in the middle. His technicians had even figured out a way to sabotage that little bit of our respite!"


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Reprinted by permission of the University of Chicago Press, USA. From Calamities of Exile by Lawrence Weschler, pp. 56-57. Copyright © 1998 by Lawrence Weschler. All rights reserved.
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