When a child screams in Baghdad…

February 28, 2003

SANA’A, YEMEN – Fear is a funny thing. Along with other Commonwealth citizens, Jean and I were recently informed that most staff members of the British Embassy here are leaving and that we should consider the same.

Getting out of Yemen is not a new message. But concerns now are that commercial airlines might unexpectedly halt services if Iraq is bombed.

Fair enough.

There are more than 400 Commonwealth citizens in Yemen, at least that many Americans, 300 Germans and various other nationalities. If you’re not an aid worker, usually in health care or education, you’re likely in Yemen’s relatively small oil fields. Unlike expatriates in some other parts of the Middle East, it appears many, especially those with smaller companies, will stay for now. We plan to return to Canada in April for the birth of our first child.

That’s a hard wait for loved ones.

“Come home,” is what my worried dad told us — a dozen times or so — during a recent phone call.

Still, issues such as domestic poverty and the plight of Palestinians in the occupied territories inflame the Yemeni more than the Iraq crisis. While millions just marched worldwide against war on Iraq, the Arab world has been, as one Arab paper put it, “in a coma.”

In fact it is illegal to protest in Yemen without state approval. You demonstrate when you’re told. You’re given a placard with a mug of the president to hold high. And everything, in theory, stays under control.

The bigger threat to foreigners here comes from radicals who, as a German official recently said to me, have an “individual neurosis.” If they need to be a hero, and if they dislike a community, the threat is incalculable.

The recent murders of three western aid workers at Jibla Mission Hospital? You can’t protect yourself from that. Besides, where is it safe? The space station?

And when people get fixated on personal safety, they develop the wonky idea that tranquillity and happiness, whatever that means, is some human birthright. Which is probably why our generation has been described as lost, “huffing and puffing down the fast track to nowhere, always looking to the dollar sign for direction.”

But, you know, security is a strange thing, too. We spend our lives searching for it, then hate it when we get it.

So when Jean and I do hunker down in the refuge of Canada, albeit briefly, my bigger fear is that we’ll forget important questions, like when a child screams in Baghdad will anybody hear?

Iraq’s 13 million children are already dependent on state rationing. Now war. One international report suggests it could result in over one million refugees, many trapped in Iraq without enough food or water. Add the dead.

To the most ignorant of people these folks are different anyway, not Canadian, not American. They have a different colour of skin, language and dress. They might as well live on Pluto. But don’t the best of us also grade human suffering? The 3,000 deaths on Sept. 11, 2001, were horrible. So were those recently of NASA’s astronauts. How will we rank their lives against Iraqi Brownshirts controlled by an evil, mustachioed madman?

Will we really worry about blood and brains and charred babies on someone else’s kitchen floor any more than we’ll fret over our dying RRSPs? Will it all be more than a TV special?

Remember what the Nazis told the Nuremberg trials? Their war was somewhere out there, not in their own neighbourhood.

Times have changed. But don’t feel too guilty if, in all honesty, you’re not much different. Indifference is, after all, part of our shared human nature. And that’s what we should fear.

Share this post

February 28, 2003 • Posted in ,
Contact Thomas at [email protected]


Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Scroll to Top