Monday, March 31, 2008

The Telltale Inky Finger

My Country, My Country

Once again, several years after the fact, I've seen an interesting documentary about "current" events. My Country, My Country by Laura Poitras is part biopic about Dr. Riyadh, an Iraqi doctor turned political candidate, and part silent condemnation of American and UN policies.

The film follows Doctor Riyadh (a Sunni) and others over the course of the eight months during which the 2005 Iraqi elections were organized. I was at first struck by the obvious fact that there were no Iraqis present at these planning meetings or involved in the distribution of the ballots. This seemed to be a concern for the Americans, French, and Australians in charge of the process as their planning revolved around making the elections seem credible.

This is what people had to say about it:
“We are an occupied country with a puppet government. What do you expect?”

“This is a sham. The war has been over since last May.”

“George Bush can say what he likes, but he cannot control the situation.”

“The question is, the constitution will be drafted by this so-called democratically elected government. But what if this constitution opposes America's interests by, let’s say, 60%. What will America do?”

“They want the elections to look as Iraqi as possible.”

This last quote was in reference to the fact that mercenaries were used to secure the polling places as it was not seen as wise to have American uniforms visible in news broadcasts about the event.

Another major theme in the film was the condescension dripping from the tongues of leaders in uniform. One such professional was training a group of men for the Iraqi police force and his speech included the words, "“Your country is filled with history, and I want you to remember that.” Another officer briefed a room full of interpretor soldiers with a slide show that included a shot of the words "Fake you, USA" graffitied on a wall. He seemed to feel that what was most important to emphasize about this was that they had spelled it wrong, that they had meant to write "Fuck you, USA." However, in the same speech he cried over two of his interpretors that had been killed while on duty and I realized he was just as ill-equipped to deal with the situation as those he had just been mocking.

The voting method used was to dip the voter's finger into a cup of ink, after which they would mark the ballot with it. This resulted in voters being physically tagged for several days as having voted. 44 people were killed at polling sites. Dr. Riyadh's wife and children feared doubly as being the family of a Sunni candidate and for having voted. His wife said after returning home from the polling place, “I hid my finger on the way back. I was afraid people would know I voted.”

The immediate result of the election was that over 7 million Iraqis voted, 58% of the elligible voters. Dr. Riyadh's party, the Iraqi Islamic Party, received 21,000 votes. Only 2% of elligible Sunni's voted. You can read about the long-term results here.

Other aspects of the film are Kurdish feelings about Arabs, Sunni feelings about Shias, moderate's feelings about extremists and eveyone's feelings about the occupation.

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