The Globalization of Evil: Words from Baghdad and Belgrade
By Nuha al Radi and Jasmina Tesanovic
edited by Stehanie Damoff
Correspondence between Nuha al Radi and Jasmina Tesanovic started in January 2000, when Nuha read Jasmina’ s war diary in Granta, four years after she had published hers in the same magazine. The correspondence between these two women, one an Iraqi and a Muslim, the other Serbian and a Christian, began with Jasmina’s words, “We were supposed to be enemies. ” It is an account of daily events, of an alternative history which traces the similarities between the lives of two women living in exterior isolation under international sanctions and inner repression of a dictatorship. This excerpt , the beginning of the correspondance, was published in Granta magazine in Spanish in 2004
Sun, 5 Mar 2000 14:04:38 Dear Nuha,
I know when people write about their dogs, it means something else, especially when they are living in a dictatorship. But your diary says a lot. You always have this feeling you could have done better, that’s why I don’t read mine. I think it is the light tone that bothers you. It is the heavy tone that bothers me.
This weekend I was in Lugano, and spent a large portion of my time there locked in a toilet because I didn’t have the coin to get out. Nobody bothered to help me. The lock works when you close the door, but in order to get out you have to have the right coin. What kind of fascism is that? Lately—since we have anarchy and killings and life has become cheap—I’ve started to appreciate the kind of order that keeps you locked in a bathroom above personal needs. It’s not like America. The hypocrisy here is very European, much less political, more anti-political and cheap.
I wish you luck with your visa neurosis. I got my Italian visa too when I didn’t care anymore.
Mon, 06 Mar 2000 08:43:53 Dear Jasmina,
You are right about the light tone being difficult, but then people are always telling me I never take anything seriously. That’s not true. Everyone has their way of dealing with life. My censorship was necessary because of the dictatorship I lived in, and because others were at risk. But I feel hypocritical when I have not said all that I should. I have not read my diary again except when it was being translated into Arabic. Then I had to. Anyway it is done now. The printed word does not go away.
I’m still trying for my visa, otherwise I’m just visiting friends, seeing movies and going to concerts. Tonight I’m going to see a Spanish classical guitarist.
Tue, 7 Mar 2000 18:53:44 +0000 My Dear Nuha,
Our political/personal stories are identical—what criminal patterns the world repeats.
My film “Jasmina’s Diary” had an audience of a million people and God knows how many festivals, but I didn’t get any money. From the start, my crew and I got very little. We were forbidden from showing it in Serbia.
It is a German film and Serbia has cultural sanctions. The country’s allowed to make money on our art and misery, but we are forbidden to survive. That’s why, when I feel that a publisher or agent is honest, I don’t care about money because they always pay you back. But when they are not honest big money turns into humiliation.
I keep quoting and mentioning your diary, telling people about the similarities between us. I made similar comparisons between Serbia and Iraq before knowing you, but our friendship has given me written proof. Your diary is good. Sometimes censorship works the other way round. All the best political and passionate poetry was written in Italy during fascism for the same reason: They had to find new ways to capture their experience. I envy you for your concerts and exhibitions. Here everything is dead. Once it was a world scene.
Wed, 8 Mar 2000 15:57:39 +0000
Sometime ago I erased all of your letters by mistake I have only our notes from the last few days, but I’m the kind of person who erases things deliberately but says it was by mistake.
I keep talking about you all the time, the similarities, differences. I call our correspondance “The Globalization of Evil.”
Jasmina Wed, 08 Mar 2000 09:01:59
You are a genius! What a wonderful idea, “Globilization of Evil.” I have just come from meeting women parliamentarians, all ex-presidents’ wives and ministers. At one point in the evening a girl of about twenty got up to speak. She had been jailed by the Israelis in the south, kept in a prison called Alkhiam, and tortured. She told us how the Israelis would torment their captives. If the prisoners refused to succumb, the Israelis would bring their sons or fathers, sisters, and torture and kill and burn them—just gruesome, horrific. She was twice incarcerated.
After she finished, I went and talked to her. She turned out to be a member of Hisbollah, an Iranian-backed Shia party made up primarily of Lebanese fighters. “Weren’t you afraid of torture?” I asked, but she said, “If you believe, it is not a problem.” This little girl was amazing. She’s trained as a fighter, but she’s not allowed to go south anymore. Now she does her work from Beirut.
The one thing I fear is torture. If I was to go back to Iraq, maybe no one would bother me, but one cannot be certain and I don’t think I could take being tortured.Then again, one doesn’t know how one would behave in such circumstances.
A Palestinian woman was the best speaker at the meeting. She lost her visa when she left Jerusalem and now she can’t go back. An Algerian woman told us that much of the killing that goes on is done by the Algerians themselves. For us poor Iraqis we have it internally with an evil dictator and externally with an evil America—they are the one keeping the sanctions. I guess Britain too, though I think they’re America’s skirts now. Somehow I have a weakness for the Brits, but no such feeling for the Americans.
I just got an email saying that there may still be a chance for Cyprus. I am still waiting for a visa to go there for my exhibition. Just when I had given up.
Wed, 8 Mar 2000 20:27:17 +0000
“Globalization of Evil.” Sometimes I like ideas based on opposing political correctness. This word, “globalization,” is so in, and yet, what do we get out of it?
I failed to go to any meetings today. I visited my mother’s grave with my father and I watched him cry.
My father and her were never religious—unless communism can be considered a religion—so this was the right day for us to visit. She always celebrated collective feasts as her own, the International Women’s Day was her true birthday. She even had me on March 7th, only one day before, as she used to claim, so that my birthday lasted two days.
She was a feminist in a communist old-fashioned way, which has often been proved more efficient and true.
Your description of the women’s meeting reminds me so much of our meetings of Women in Black. We had one in Zagreb in ’96, where an Arab woman explained how she was saving the Jews that were imprisoned in her country and vice versa. It was so moving and brave, exactly what the essence of Women in Black is—to fight the evil in one’s own country, not to globalize it. There goes the title. It closes the circle and opens a new one.
Thursday, March 9, 2000 09:00:57 PST Dear Jasmina,
I can’t understand this evil. How can some people be so vile and still have such large following? Look at Pinochet. Why can’t people see what he did during his reign? Or Castro. Are people afraid of him or are they just too poor to act? Maybe they are more concerned about earning a living? With Saddam I know people follow him out of fear and opportunism, but Pinochet has no power, so why do people pretend? Am I being very stupid?
I like to visit graveyards but not those that house people I know. I still haven’t been to my father’s grave. I like to think of people I know as traveling in another place. I can’t relate to a mound of earth.
Yes, I realized when I was at the women’s meeting that it was probably like your Women in Black. The world is much the same in such matters, maybe that’s why globalization has grown so popular. Now it is an invasion into food and clothing, which will make life very boring. I am glad I saw a bit of the world before mass culture took over. Nowadays young people have such little to choose from.
Friday, March 10, 2000 14:38:46 +0000 My dear Nuha,
Do you feel political censorship lurking everywhere? I am so angry with the West. I feel safer with my own country than with the so-called allies of democracy, which is a very unusual story for me, since I was brought up by the West.
I just learned that I cannot have a bank account abroad because of the new list of unwanted people (I am not on it) and the tightening of economic sanctions. All the money I earned from my book, on which I live,can only be transferred if my President doesn t fall to the Hague tribunal. It was possibility a month ago, but now, no way. “Personally we would love to do it,” the bank clerks say, “But orders are orders.”
I feel like turning down all the business trips they are counting on, the discussion with the Hague tribunal judges, the publishing of my book for very little compensation, my travels via Budapest with sleepless nights so that I can be on time. But then, if I don’t do it, I have nothing to do. I am one of the few who has the opportunity to travel, buy medicine for family and friends, fight back against economic sanctions and the world’s misconception of Serbs, speak out and be published. So I will do it with the energy of true hate. They made me a Serb who hates the West. I am not a saint. I cannot live on thin air and be happy.
I think that this is how criminal leaders get followers, not only out of stupidity, fear or a need for money, but when there is no other place to go. Yes, I have participated in many discussions on how globalization is a loss of cultural identity, market pressure, etc. But I’m afraid that when applied to my own country it turns the other way. We love to have Benetton and MacDonalds here. It makes us feel that we belong to the world and to one another.
For us it is a matter of luxury to be a member of the globalized world, instead of being identified as a bad Serb who eats cevapcici, our local shish kebab.
The good thing about the globalization of evil is that it binds us together, even if in pain. An old Bosnian woman raped in war will tell you a story identical to that of a teenage American raped on a U.S. campus.
Bad things and bad people get together easier than good ones. It’s like how children immediately pick up their older siblings’ negative habits. I’ve seen it happen too many times and yet I cannot find an answer.
I also visit graveyards to see other people’s graves and their pictures, never my own. My own are never dead. I’ve been writing a lot lately—mostly of my mother. In my stories she is never alone. She is the history of this country.
Friday, March 10, 2000 05:26:16 Dear J,
I’ve just had my e-mail full of ranting and raving wiped out by a power cut. It’s difficult to rant with the same amount of feeling the second time around, but I’ll try. I’ve programmed it to save automatically in case the same occurs again.
You make me laugh. Do you know that all Iraqi bank accounts are frozen in the U.K.? Nowhere else but there, I guess, because there are a half a million Iraqis living there. When you ask why, the clerks explain that it’s the U.N. law. I say, how come no other country does it? When you tell them that, their faces go blank.
There used to be so many stories of similar things happening because poor unsuspecting Iraqi’s would come from abroad and put all their money in the bank, only to be told that they are not allowed to take it out. Sometimes the bank clerks are not aware of this but, by the time the computer spits out the information, it is already too late. It’s western democracy and humanitarianism—so they keep telling us. At least we are not hypocritical. We are known to be corrupt, undemocratic and inhumane, but at least it’s not a double standard. I can rant and rave forever , but I might as well be hitting my head against a brick wall. The trouble is that I was educated in the West so my disillusionment is enormous. There is no trust left. Whatever they say, I know they are lying to suit their own political needs.
The Cypriots are not giving me a visa cause it is nearly impossible for an Iraqi to get one unless you have an oil deal. They keep saying your file is lost, making excuses as the months go by. I was told the only way was to be washed ashore and the police would pick you up and put you in prison for three months. After that you could stay. How do you like that?
I am sorry I’m not able to pacify you but much the same has happened to us and for so many years now that we have grown blase about mistreatment.
Friday, March 10, 2000 20:36:02
My dear Nuha,
The strange thing is that, with stories as bad as mine, you do pacify me. We are so different—you a Muslim and me an Orthodox and both of us fake Brits, disillusioned world citizens publishing in Granta. It means that the problem is not in us, but in those who make the rules and the rules are obviously made according to money and power. We cannot change our blood and breed, but we can change those rules.
I’ve had my own decent share of bank account problems. The worst was in 1993. I was on a Greek island with my small daughter and carried around our money for food and board. The Greeks were saying, don’t leave your shoes on the beach, somebody will pick them up, so I went to a bank and asked to leave my money there, FOR A WEEK. “Yes, yes,” they said.
A week after they refused to give it back to me: sanctions. You can put money in but not take it out. I was left with almost nothing, a small child, far from home, no consulate, no phone lines. The girl at the bank didn’t blink. She loved being “civilized”, being part of the European community.
It was tremendously hot, but I took my little girl and we hitchhiked to Thessaloniki, where the central bank was located. We slept in the park. It was 40 degrees centigrade. The director of the bank didn’t blink either. He said, “Not possible,” in bad English, then went away. I was penniless and desperate. I started crying and my little girl, only eight-years-old, tried to console me. Then a woman came up to me and said: I will give you my money, you take a local bus, get off at every village and ask for a small amount of money, they will give it to you without your passport. I did it—twelve banks in all. I managed to raise my money in 15 hours and pay my way out of that horrible country.
I came home, where I am a famous writer and wrote an article. The Greeks were supposed to be our friends. After the piece came out the Greeks explained that the problem was the size of the sum.Different rules applied to small money. As far as big money was concerned, they’d break the rules to help Serbian people, same goes for Cyprus. But who do you think the big money belongs to? Certainly not me. In ‘99, exactly a year ago on the 24th of March when the bombings started, I met my Italian friends from the Italian cultural center, one block away from my home. They were all leaving.
You know what I learned? We couldn’t get visas anymore, not even women and children, but that day the son of our President got his family a one-year visa. They called that high diplomacy.
Jasmina Saturday, March 11, 2000 01:52:44 Dear J,
Yesterday on BBC TV they showed the farmers of Zimbabwe fighting for what is, according to them, their land, while the poor blacks have nothing. They showed these giant white well fed chaps in shorts with their big four wheelers strutting about, and the poor blacks grasping sticks, trying to stake a bit of land for themselves.
I love that the blacks of Zimbabwe are asking the Brits for compensation and I don’t see why not. How come the Jews are the only people to have been compensated? These poor blacks were treated like slaves in their own country. ”Might is right” – is that always the law of the jungle? All this talk of democracy is for the birds.
Saturday, March 11, 2000 16:01:36 +0000 My dear Nuha,
My friend from Uruguay says, great the “Globalization of Evil,” but I’m amazed at the globalization of understanding, how you two get along. That is actually the most amazing part—our two countries and our poor people with their cultures, habits, their rights destroyed and humiliated by sterile political correctness and money. I cannot say I hate Americans, I can only say I despise them. For example, even before this war I could never imagine falling in love with an American, they are too “thin” a personality for me. I had a similar feeling about Italians, after being brought up in Italy. They were too infantile.
My mother on her deathbed was rambling semiconsciously saying, “Please do not let Americans occupy us, they are so primitive.” What an obsession. On the contrary, everything here is Americanized. We follow their technology, updating ourselves from cellars to attics without ever living in a proper flat.
Papers and radio stations are being closed here these days and the police have questioned many journalists. I’m very puzzled by what is going on. It’s not sheer repression. I have a feeling that the police want a way out of Milosevic’s regime. I have a feeling they are splitting and that his autism and criminal deeds have exceeded their patriotism. I hope it is not wishful thinking.
Saturday, March 11, 2000 06:32:07 Dear J,
I have a lot of American friends, and America is a beautiful country but if you paid me I wouldn’t go and live there. (I hope I am not going to have to
eat my words.) Their politics and politicians stink.I think it s Zionists that keep American politicians going.
It’s funny, in my mother’s lifetime half her friends were Jewish and after they were forced to leave Iraq, throughout her life, she used to visit them in London. Iraq had a huge Jewish community. If there was one good thing about Iraq, it was that it was not sectarian. It was with the creation of Israel that animosity grew.
Sunday, March 12, 2000 12:14:23 Dear Nuha,
I hope you know that the Serbian people are not behind Milosevic. Here we hear that people from Iraq are behind Saddam. There used to be graffiti around town that read Slobo/Saddam. It used to make my mother crazy. She was pro Milosevic till the very end and she used to say, he may not be perfect, but he is not a dictator like Saddam. I don’t know what Saddam is like. On the BBC I heard an old exiled Iraqi writer, fighting bitterly against the sanctions in his country, with the same arguments I would have used saying: Saddam is actually a person whose many good intentions went wrong. He was educated, democratic—in the beginning.
Well, that is definitely something I cannot say for my president. I met him before he became important and he was anonymous, typical of certain communists, primitive Serbs. With him it was difficult to see where his career would lead.
Date: Sun, 12 Mar 2000 05:08:22 PST Dear J,
I think there is a difference between Milosevic and “Suds,” as I call him, first, Saddam is not very educated. He fears nothing and is an evil killer. I once asked Patrick Seale, an expert on Syria, if Hafiz Assad and Saddam were two of a kind. He said no, Assad was a killer but Saddam was a serial killer. There’s a difference. Suds knows there is a coup rising against him before the thought has even occurred to those plotting one. Sometimes I think he should be applauded for standing up to the West, but he doesn’t do it intelligently. He doesn’t know how to fight using their language.
Iraq is a very difficult country to rule. You always need a strong man. Our history is a bloody one. It’s because we have such a difficult climate, so extreme, sometimes 30/35 degrees difference in temperature between day and night. It makes concrete break up so what must it do to humans? People have never known if Saddam is an agent of the West, because he plays into their hands. Perhaps he cut a bargain with them, “Let me stay on, Mr. president, and I’ll give you cheap oil, let you have an army, navy, and airforce base in the middle of the oil fields, let you control the Middle East.” But Iraq is now a ruined country, what more could they want? The west will never allow an Arab country, rich and educated to survive.
I don’t know how one can control evil. Love,
Date: Sun, 12 Mar 2000 20:03:39
I have many friends in the US and I even love a lot of things about it that nobody does—fast food, the style of clothing, alienated big towns—but when I’m there I thin out and begin to lose my fantasies, maybe because I am a decadent European who smokes and drinks, a wild Southern who stays up all night and still goes to work. The US has this kind of “nice girl” atmosphere.
I think that evil is always far easier to spread than good. Maybe because evil is such a large and infinite category. It’s so easy to be evil. It costs nothing to close your eyes to injustice.
I think it is the talent for violence that is appreciated in our dictators, that there’s a difference between the fear of death and the fear of dying, as Freud would say. The first one is vital, it brings adrenaline to your blood. The second is decadent. You die day by day, suffering the loss of your hair, good looks and health. There have always been wars. There have always been dictators. All wars could have been avoided. You see it afterwards and yet when they start they seem inevitable. If I believed in God I would say, “the Devil’s work,” and it would be easy.
Since I can’t, I write.