Thursday, July 20, 2006

Enemies: This Is Not A Love Story

Reading Newsweek this week, I found a short article about how many Iraqis are now carrying two ID cards. One carries their real name, be it Shiite or Sunni. The other is a fake, carrying a Sunni or Shiite name. Hopefully, producing the right one at checkpoints will protect you from being found in a sack in the river, or dumped on the doorstep of the police station.

This reminded me of a conversation in Andre Dumas' _The Three Musketeers_. The novel is, of course, set against the backdrop of France's vicious seventeenth-century internal religious wars between Catholics and Protestants. (No one ever remembers this, they remember the swashbuckling.) One of the musketeers--I can't recall which right now--has a servant who explains that his father made a living for years as a highway robber. When he saw a Protestant coming down the road, he would be overwhelmed with loyalty to the true Church, and would rob the Protestant. When he saw a Catholic, he would be set afire by the rightness of the reformed faith, and rob the Catholic. And he baptized his sons accordingly--"I'm a Catholic," the servant explains, "but he made my brother a Protestant."

Eventually, we learn, the father was killed by two men he'd previously robbed--a Catholic and a Protestant who forgot their differences long enough to gang up on him. The sons, however, avenged their father--the Catholic killed the Protestant, and the Protestant the Catholic. Quite the little fable.

And Kohelet was, in fact, correct, there is nothing new under the sun. Worse, nothing under the sun seems to change much.

You want to know what detail from the last couple of months in Iraq really stood out for me? When al-Zarqawi was killed, they reported that one of the other people in the house was his sixteen year old wife. (One of three I understand.) I haven't been able to find a name for her. I read that he used one of his fathers-in-law as a suicide bomber, but I don't know if this was her father or someone else's. I don't know anything about her, except what's above.

But I can guess. She didn't choose him, not because she loved him, or thought he'd be a good provider, or admired his zeal. He took her, or someone gave her to him. She was sixteen. She was travelling with him (because she was the pretty young one? Because she didn't have small children yet?) when the sky fell on them.

She probably would have defined herself as my enemy. And I probably would have, given the option, taken out Zarqawi knowing she was there. But I haven't been able to stop thinking a little about her, and wishing things could be different, for her and all the other kids in the line of fire.

I keep thinking, too, about the lady who wanted me to extend the hand of friendship to the Palestinian teenagers on Montgomery Street. I've said this before--I always feel closer to Palestinian activists than to people who have no stake in the Middle East, but imagine that peace is just a matter of willpower, like losing weight or stopping smoking. We understand what lies between us, and that if we have to pick--you or me--we'll choose for our own people.

Like Alan Lupo said, I keep praying for multiple choice.

I really do have some very cheerful things to talk about--but I think I'll talk about them tomorrow.

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