Saturday, March 10, 2007

"This is what war does." He said.

Last night Morgan and I had diner at a hookah bar / cafe with another couple. I thought the night would go well because they're, intelligent people who can always hold up their end of a conversation. They also tend to bring a unique perspective to our interactions because they are both Muslims of Middle-Eastern descent. They are both Americans and dress like typical Americans.

This night began at the Egyptian Tea Room. The tea room looks to be an old house that was soaked in orange paint and converted into a cafe. Inside, the burning tobacco mixed with aromas of traditional food filled the air. We eventually placed our order at the counter and went outside for a table on the patio under the outdoor heaters.

Our conversation began innocently enough with talk of traveling, life, work; the things everyone has in common. As many recent conversations have, this one turned to politics and war. Many people shy away from talking about these subjects, but maybe that is the point. I learned long ago it is easy enough to get someone enraged when talking about politics, but how difficult indeed for everyone to stay calm. I never imagined where our conversation would take us that night.

I had to ask what they thought of select Muslim groups using religion as a justification for atrocities. Their feelings were very clear; anyone claiming religion as a justification of murder is blatantly wrong, in any religion. They felt the current conflicts weren't about religion. It was about politics, like it always has been. It got me thinking... Are Muslims the majority of individuals waging war against America ? Sadly, yes. Are the majority of Muslims against Americans? Clearly, No. Yet the media is quick to use terms like fundamentalist Muslims. Why not call them fundamentalist men? Think about it. When is the last time you saw a woman running through the streets with an AK-47? Why not some crappy socio-political term? Why not refer to them geographically? Religiously?

As we talked of the war and the situation we are in, a man younger than me asked if he could join our conversation. I've thought of doing this many times yet usually abstained. So I was obviously intrigued now as to what he might say. At first glance I wondered if it would be of any significance though. He sat down at our table and held up a bloody napkin. "This is what war does." He said. "...and it's not about religion." He glances at the napkin as says "I got hit and now I get headaches that cause my blood vessels to swell and I bleed from my mouth."
I still didn't know whether he was crazy, lying or both.
"How Long were you there?" Our friend asked.
"Seven Months"
"Northern Iraq, by the Syrian border... Yeah..."

At this point I'm sure everyone had their own thoughts, but me personally, what could I say? I publicly protested this war years ago, before it began. Probably before this young guy had ever enlisted. What could I say to him? "Thank you for being strong enough to do something I never believed in?"

He began to tell us what he felt this was was all about. He described a land which had deteriorated into bitter clans struggling for resources and power. People who believed in anything from preordained destiny to just old fashioned capitalism. Stories of mercenaries coming in from Syria, snipers, improvised explosives, detainees, everything. He described 3-block urban battles and patrolling till someone shot at you. He talked of his general frustrations about being shot at and his eventual acceptance of the "annoyance." After we asked, he finally told us he was going back in July.

When I asked him where he thought the future lay, it seems he didn't know what to say to me either. I never asked him his name. I knew I didn't want to know it. But, before I walked away, I shook his hand and said "Be safe."


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