Musy, an Iraqi friend, is homesick. We don’t really know what to do to cheer him up, we tried wearing fake moustaches, but it only worked temporarily. We think it’s all the killing that’s making him miss Bagdad, but it might have been footage from the Arab league. He’s spending an unhealthy amount of time curled up on the sofa in front of Ash Shaksia, an Iraqi TV station, listening to his native dialect.
‘What are you watching, Musy?’
‘Umm, in Iraq you only get electricity for a maximum of 12 hours a day. All the neighbourhoods have massive generators, that can supply you with electricity when the government electricity’s off, but its expensive, maybe 40$ a month. They are poor people, and the channel is asking them stupid questions. The winner gets 24hr a day electricity for 3 months.’
‘Kinda like who wants to be a millionaire, but for electricity?’
‘Yeah. The private electricity used to be really, crazily expensive, but now the government won’t let them charge more than a certain price and sells them cheap petrol.’
We watch together in silence.
‘You know, Baghdadi is incomprehensible.’
‘Yep. Oh, that is a hard question. Who started wearing wristwatches first, the British, Italians or the French?’
Ash Shaksia broadcasts other programs that are grotesquely distorted by Iraq’s social reality. They take home makeovers a bit more seriously, instead of varnishing the floorboards they knock down small, illegally and dangerously built houses belonging to poor people and replace them with safer, more structurally sound buildings. They don’t do a weight loss show, but they do go round poor neighbourhoods asking how much people weigh. If the contestant knows their weight, within five kilograms either way, they get the same amount of dollars. Instead of ‘I slept with my wife’s brother,’ shows they use DNA testing to try and find people lost in the invasion or under Saddam. Musy says the soaps are really good, but he has shitty taste in movies. We often watch their news broadcasts.
Musy is also a bit of a hero at the moment. Tuesday was the 5 month anniversary of the protest at the private universities. The guy who organised the one at Musies’ has been missing ever since, and on Tuesday the anti students stood in silence to honour him. The 10 percent of students that support the regime apparently started screaming ‘Allah, Syria and Bashar.’ The protesters started chanting ‘freedom’ and the pros shut the doors, phoned the Shabiha and attacked. As 40 percent of the students want change violence wasn’t going to get Assad’s supporters very far and the university security could handle things. Until the Shabiha arrived. According to Musy administration and security both assured the Shabiha they had everything under control, but the Shabiha don’t negotiate. Some pro students let them in, and they indiscriminately lashed out at people with clubs and rifle-butts.
Musy ended up at our house with blood all over his shirt; if it was from a nosebleed then he’s an elephant. His eyes had the glazed look I associate with too much exercise. We fed him tea and beer and he told us what happened. After the Shabiha started ‘smashing’ people as many anti students as possible rushed to the busses that take the students to the university, miles out of town on the Dera highway. Inside the building their was blood everywhere, Musy carried people who’d fainted from the gore and watching people being smashed out to the clinic as well as injured students. Happily the universities impressive facilities include a good clinic, only the most seriously injured protesters needed ambulances. Pro students started directing the violence, telling the Shabiha which of their class mates were anti, and the Shabiha really beat them. ‘How did it end?’ I asked.’
‘The beasts arrested all the antis they could get. They weren’t soldiers, they were animals. They were enjoying it, the smashing. They really hated the anti students. I’m an Iraqi, I’ve seen violence, I’ve seen al-Qaeda, I’ve had to shoot someone, but I’ve never seen anything like that, that much hatred. They weren’t people. They were beasts.’