Posts tagged ‘Middle East’

Black Hawk Down

The movie Black Hawk Down was on MBC2 last night.

Mark Bowden wrote Black Hawk Down. It was published in 1999. 

Black Hawk Down takes place in 1993, when 18 American soldiers were killed during a raid in Mogadishu. They were withdrawn shortly thereafter. Bill Clinton was the president then.

Before the credits, we are shown graphic images of starving Somalis. Interspersed among the images are messages that read, in order of appearance:





Years of warfare among rival clans causes famine on a biblical scale.
300,000 civilians die of starvation.

Mohamed Farrah Aidid, the most powerful of the warlords, rules the capital Mogadishu.

He seizes international food shipments at the ports. Hunger is his weapon.

The world responds. Behind a force of 20,000 U.S. Marines, food is delivered and order is restored.
April 1993

 Aidid waits until the Marines withdraw, and then declares war on the remaining U.N. peacekeepers.
In June, Aidid’s militia ambush and slaughter 24 Pakistani soldiers, and begin targeting American personnel.

In late August, America’s elite soldiers, Delta Force, Army Rangers and the 160th SOAR are sent to Mogadishu to remove Aidid and restore order.

According’s Mickey Kaus (partially quoting author Mark Bowden):

Muhammad Farrah Aidid was the recognized leader of the Habr Gidr, “a large and powerful clan planted deep in Somalia’s past and present political culture,” in Bowden’s words…

The Habr Gidr were the militarily more powerful of two main groups contending for control of Mogadishu. If the U.S. had killed Aideed, citizens of the Habr Gidr areas wouldn’t generally have felt liberated, like Afghans freed from the Taliban. They would more likely have been pissed off. 

 Later in the article, Kaus talks about an event that wasn’t mentioned in the movie:

On July 12, months before the Ranger raid, in an incident unremarked in all the Black Hawk Down hype, U.S. and U.N. forces attacked a Habr Gidr clan meeting. The meeting included clan elders, intellectuals, poets. It was held at the house of Aideed’s self-styled “defense” minister, but included Habr Gidr members who planned to argue against Aideed’s anti-U.N. stance. Indeed, the meeting had been called to consider a Howe “peace initiative,” according to Bowden.

The aim of the mission depicted in the movie was to detain two of Aidid’s aims. They hoped to capture Aidid as well.

The names of the dead Marines appear at the end of the movie, before the credits roll.

Over a thousand Somalis died as well. None of their names appear.

In the movie, Sam Shepherd’s character, Major General William F. Garrison, says something to the effect of :

             “This isn’t Iraq. The situation is complicated here.”

The marines in the movie constantly say, ‘huwwa’ as a response to a command, or an acknowledgement of fact. In Arabic, huwwa means ‘he’.

In the movie, the Somali spy who helps the marines is named ‘Abdi. A couple of years ago, I tutored a blind Somali man named ‘Abdi. He was one of approximately 40,000 Somalis who have immigrated to the Twin Cities since the early 1990s. He told me his story in short bursts, and with a quick smile and a reassuring laugh.

Tens of thousands of Somalis—or mostly Somalis, some of them are from other East African countries—have crossed the Gulf of Aden in rickety boats to come to Yemen.

There are over 90,000 Somalis in Yemen.

Somalia’s total fertility rate—the average number of children are born to a healthy woman—is the forth highest in the world, at approximately 6.6. Yemen is the sixth highest, at 6.4.

Yemen’s population is expected to double in 16 years. 

I live in Khormaksar, which is a neighborhood in Aden close to the sea, or gulf. Every day, I pass at least a dozen Somali men who wash cars. Somali women and their children ask for change quite close by. The men never ask for change.

Black Hawk Down is an effectively intense, neo-verite army movie that shows a mostly white army battle a black insurgency.

After an initial limited release, the movie was widely released in the United States on January 18th, 2002, three days after Martin Luther King Jr.’s birthday and two days after the U.N. Security Council established an arms embargo and froze the assets of Osama bin Laden, Al-Qaida, and the Taliban.

Black Hawk Down grossed over $170,000,000 worldwide.

 In 2003, NovaLogic released a video game for PCs, Xboxs and PS2s called Delta Force: Black Hawk Down. It’s rated T for Teen.  

A review on the site, complained that the computer-generated Somali insurgents were not developed enough. The writer added,

So, it’s basically up to you to play Rambo, running around and shooting all the sitting ducks. In fact, the game even keeps score for you–you can expect to kill more than 1,500 Somalis during the campaign.


June 17, 2008 at 5:44 am Leave a comment


Today was the first day of class. For me, the teacher. Most of the students had studied there before.



The view from my desk


The view from my desk



I look like I belong in Michael Rappaport’s entourage


I was really nervous. I hadn’t taught before, at least not formally. A few students came very early. I looked at my attendance sheet, and looked back up at the students, who were know staring at me intently. I looked down at my attendance sheet and started to fidget.


The first class went smoothly. I showed them pictures of Minnesota during the winter: the frozen waterfall, the snowy planes, the ice carnival.


We played the name game. Or a name game. Basically, the point of the game was to remember something about every one of the students, including his and her names. I started: my name is Ben and I like to skateboard. Then I pointed to a lecturer at Aden University, who said he liked to read in English and the game was started.


I had a hard time differentiating the four Muhammads, and which one of them said he didn’t like playing soccer. One girl, in a beautifully ornate black abaya, said she liked Hannah Montana, music and TV show (she has a TV show?). Every student after her said her name and then said something like, “she likes” followed by a wry grin and a quizzical expression. ‘Ha—hana’


And then the others would chime in, ‘hanana, hana, hanna, mon-taana’


Eventually everyone could say ‘Hannah Montana’ with relative ease, and I chalked that up as a teaching victory. And pop cultural imperialism, I suppose.



The next class was fifteen minutes after the first one ended. This group included three girls wearing the niqab. At least half, but probably more, of girls and women that I have seen here wear the niqab. I knew that I would encounter this dilemma sooner or later, but as they walked in, I wondered how I would relate to them. How could I gauge their involvement, participation?


They sat together, directly across the room from me, with a desk separating them from the others on each side.


I started my introduction; the spiel about my education, Minnesota cold, languages are hard, I’m terrible at Arabic, I like to skateboard—that’s like surfing, you…oh, no you don’t…ok, here’s a picture…yeah, that stick figure is me—that sort of thing. I explained the lesson, and I made a point of not staring at them but not looking away either. They nodded to say they understood this point or that, and it came time for the name game.


It came to the first of the three, who repeated everyone’s name and what they liked clearly and calmly. She said her name, and I heard her say ‘I like to ride horse.’


‘Great, where do you ride horses,’ I asked.


She looked down, then directly at me, and said more quietly, ‘no, I would like to ride horse.’


We went on. Like the first group, this one was full of enthusiasm and variety. The three girls, separated by a desk on each side, made sure they were heard, and I started to see three totally different people wearing very similar outfits.


We started discussing the lesson, staying in shape. I walked around the room to see how the small groups were doing. The girl who would like to ride horses asked me to define ‘aerobics’. I started stepping in place, grew tired after about three seconds, sat down beside another student, and brought down my arm on the desk of the student on the other side, knocking his stuff over and irreparably damaging his desk. Everyone laughed. The thought it was even funnier when I kicked my desk, knocking over my sunglasses and phone.


May 14, 2008 at 4:52 am 2 comments


HARRA–youm al-awaal

When I stepped off of the Embraer Royal Jordanian plane that brought me from Amman, down the Red Sea, over part of Saudi Arabia and into Aden International, I instantly started sweating. Instead of a jet bridge connecting the plane to the concourse, a portable stairway was rolled up to the door of the plane. I smiled at the gorgeous stewardess, stepped on the staircase’s platform, and the hot air affixed itself to every exposed part of my body. It was the first time I had been outside since I entered Chicago O’Hare about 20ish hours before.

 It was 30 degrees Celsius.

It was extremely humid.

It was 4 o’clock in the morning.

I was led to a room in the hotel Daibani, and towards the first bed I’d seen in 36ish hours. Mercifully, the room was air conditioned.

Although I was exhausted, I couldn’t sleep. The fan was swirling furiously and the air conditioning unit created a steady hum. As dawn started to peer into the room through the cracks in the curtain, I opened my eyes, closed them, opened them, and closed them. I was cool now, and, despite the excitement and anxiety about this new place, I was relatively calm. I cocked my head back, pulling the curtain behind me a bit, to sneak a peek at this wild new place. The building across the way from my window seemed abandoned, with chipping paint and dark windows. It seemed as if no one had lived, worked on, or even entered the building in a hundred years. A sleek dark figure floated overhead, and then landed on the window sill of a cavernously dark window. The crow made this unbelievable sound, like it was begging for something, or wanted the world to hear its grievances.


I was thinking of all those troubles here, mostly concerning poverty and political control rather than fundamentalism, that seemed so abstract to me.

While I was drinking a glass of wine in the Amman Airport the night before, Al Jazeera reported on a car bombing in the northern Yemeni city of Sa’ada, killing 18 people and injuring dozens. There had been a sporadic insurgency led by some group, for some reason.

I had read about the unification of north and south Yemen, the Zaidis, the restive tribes in the north, coups, assassinations, the Cole, etc..

But it all seemed to complicated. 


…oh, to sleep…to dream…to let all of those pieces scramble around in the head and hopefully to wake up with them in some sort of coherent semblance…


The next day was hotter, probably around 95 F and humid. I hadn’t fallen asleep until at least 8am and I was roused at 11:30 by my alarm clock. Us new teachers-there were three of us, two Americans and one Austrian who had spent the last few years in Colorado-were to meet with the teacher coordinator of Amideast in Aden and the country director.

I was spacing it. When Nafisa, the teacher coordinator, asked me a question, I had trouble formulating an answer. It was still looking at that damned crow.

Later on in the evening, Edward, the country director, took us for a quick tour of Aden. Edward explained Aden–its pervasive poverty, average of seven children per healthy woman, annual per capita income well under $1000, ethnic diversity, and history of colonialism–in a droll and slightly ironic way that reminded me of Kevin Spacey. We saw the Arabian peninsula’s first public housing project, a Jewish cemetery, Christian churches, teeming neighborhoods, towering American and European hotels, and lots and lots of idle young people.

We stopped at a park along the industrial side of Aden (the side of the Gulf where the industry made the water unswimable).  A breeze gently nudged us, and for the first time the weather was pleasant. Then Edward pointed out the spot where the USS Cole was bombed at around the same time in 2001.

May 9, 2008 at 11:30 am 1 comment

Five Years in Iraq

Hi everybody,

 I haven’t really had time to write anything about Iraq lately. I’ve also had trouble making my thoughts coherent. There are a lot of dimensions to this war, and I often go back and forth on them.

 So rather than scribble something that will look and sound crazy, I’ll defer to two totally different perspectives on five years gone by.

First is a piece published yesterday in the Iraqi daily al-Zamaan (الزمان) by Fatih Abdusalam.

 Second is an editorial piece published in the Wall Street Journal on March 20th.

I think each article represents the prevalent ideas of its paper’s readership, and each seem to promote the predominant view of many in their respective country’s governments.

March 30, 2008 at 3:24 pm Leave a comment

Life Must Go On



 When I first heard about this blog, I didn’t believe it.

Two young men, both enmeshed in one of the world’s most bitter and intractable conflicts share a blog called It was created by a Palestinian living in a refugee camp in Gaza and an Israeli living in the town of Sderot, which lies just on the Israeli side of the Gaza border.

They met a few years ago at a conference, where they discussed, well, you know, the situation.

They kept in touch and eventually started this blog, each contributing anecdotal evidence of the failure of both sides’ leaders to come to a peaceful solution.

They use pseudonyms–Peace Man and Hope Man. Peace Man is the Palestinian and Hope Man is the Israeli.

In a recent post, after a Palestinian man murdered 8 Yeshiva students in Jerusalem, Hope Man wondered:

Does it matter to the father and mother, the sister and brother, the friend and the fellow student?Less than a week ago a family of 7 was killed during an Israeli attack in Gaza. Retaliation or Terrorism? defense or offense? Does it really matter to the relatives and neighbors? To the friends and acquaintances?
2 days ago a one month year old Palestinian baby was killed in an Israeli attack. He was killed while Israel was searching for a Hamas militant. The militant was killed but how can such consequences be justified?

A few days before Hope Man’s post, during a brutal Israeli incursion into Gaza that killed over 100 people, Peace Man wrote:

Its was a bloody day in Gaza and I am sure it’s the same with my friend hope man.
I still don’t understand till now, what do they want to achieve by the continuance of violence .
Why they want to kill any chance of hope and peace ?
I wish I can get answer to my question.

Peace Man and Hope Man are both pushing for a complete cessation of violence for one month. No Qassam rockets going into Israel, no Israeli missiles or troops going into Gaza.

Please sign their petition. It won’t stop the violence, it won’t bring peace. That’s almost besides the point. The only hope for these two men, and their compatriots, is for us to show them that we stand with them (if virtually).

A BBC correspondent asked both men if they thought that they would see a day when they could meet for a cup of coffee. Each responded that they were hopeful, despite all of the fighting, that such a day would come. Let’s hope so too.

March 12, 2008 at 1:16 pm Leave a comment

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