Last night I had a dream, I was standing in a room in front of a projector giving a business presentation. Saddam Hussein was sitting in the audience; he asked stupid questions, looked impatient with my presentation and showed very little interest in what I was saying. I kept it short, collected my stuff at the end and before I left the room, I said respectfully “Thank you Mr. President”. I woke up greatly disturbed by my dream. You see, this is the first time I have a dream about Saddam in a long time. I thought I had exorcised him out of my dreams. Let me explain, I am an Iraqi citizen that grew up in Kuwait. Even though I never set a foot in my country, as a child I was exposed to Saddam’s personality cult on a constant basis. In our living room, my parents had to have a picture of Mr. President on a corner table. People working at the Iraqi embassy had criticized my father because there were no pictures of the president in our house. My dad afraid of retribution bought the smallest one he could find and placed it in a prominent place in the living room so that all visitors would see it. This might sound ridicules to a Canadian, but all other Iraqi families had huge pictures of Saddam in every single room. Our neighbor had a huge poster of Saddam plastered on the wall, the wife would sit on an arm chair next to the poster and go on and on “Saddam is our father, Saddam is our protector, where would we be without him, .etc”. Everybody sitting around would nod his or her heads saying nothing. The rumor was that our neighbors were associated with the Iraqi embassy. Later on, the same people had to leave Kuwait in a hurry; the rumor was that they had some sort of a disagreement with embassy people. My mom met the wife many years later, she sat in an arm chair in our living room and went on and on “Saddam is a criminal, Saddam is a dictator, why doesn’t he send his own son’s to fight his stupid wars .etc”. My dad was a rebel with his single small picture. He tried to shield me from the propaganda as best as he could. Once in a while he would make a vague comment, like “Don’t always believe everything you see on TV”. Explaining that statement further was simply too dangerous.
As a child I had many nightmares involving Saddam Hussein. In most of them, I am running in a field, Saddam is chasing after me, I find a ditch or cave to hide in. Sometimes the dream involved my whole family being chased. I never met the man in person, but seeing the fear the mare mention of his name evoked, made me realize that he must be a scary man. Normally intelligent people would suddenly turn stupid in the presence of his picture. I used to watch him giving a speech on TV, his eyes piercing through me like an X-Ray. I would imagine him reaching out of the TV set to strangle me. Can he see what I am thinking about him through the TV set?
I immigrated to Canada in 1989, aaah! the freedom. No pictures of him, no long speeches on TV, nobody even knew who Saddam Hussein was. The only time I would hear his name was when I would come in contact with another Iraqi. All Iraqis have what I call the Saddam obsession. We can go on for hours talking about how much we loathe the man and what a horrible person he is. Each has his own favorite story of horror to tell, from the time Saddam assassinated his own cousin, the women he raped, members of parliament shot on the spot for criticizing the president, the list goes on. I have heard these stories told and retold with varying degrees of dramatization. Like folk tales that take you on a journey to a fairy-tale world, passed from one generation to the next.
I have a theory that Saddam Hussein doesn’t exist. We the citizens of Iraq invented him. We placed his picture and statues everywhere, taught our kids to fear him and bestowed magical powers on him. We imagine his eyes and ears spying on us even in our sleep. Like the wizard of OZ, he has magical powers because everybody around him believes he has. He can be a fireball one minute and a scary beast the next. Oh yes! He might have nuclear weapons too. I think that Saddam objected to weapon inspections because he knew they would find nothing. His status as the regional buggy man would be diminished.
Before you pounce on me, I assure you that I am familiar with the history of my ancestral land. I am painfully aware of the Kurdish people massacred in Halabcha. I know about the war against Iran that killed 1 million of both Iraqis and Iranians. In 1990, I read an Amnesty
International report that summarized human rights conditions in Iraq. Tales of torture; multitudes of people that disappear never to be found again. The report stated that Iraq is the only Arab country that tortures men and women equally. In Egypt they have the decency to leave the women alone. Iraq is an equal opportunity torture country. I cried for a week non-stop after reading that report.
However, Saddam is a single man. Thousands and millions of people had to cooperate with his plans to put them into action. Perhaps like Dorothy,
before we uncover the true face of the wizard, we must destroy the wicked witch of the west. Oh she is scary and she has those winged monkeys disguised as soldiers and black bees disguised as smart missiles. Not to worry she will be defeated with a simple bucket of water.
I had hoped that one day the people of Iraq would take down all those pictures off their walls. I had hoped that the average soldier would say I am sick of dieing to defend the ego of a single man. I had hoped that the torturers in the prison cells would say, I refuse to obey orders; I take responsibility for my own actions. The person on the street would reclaim his dignity. Saddam would loose all his magical powers and we would see a helpless and a scarred man. You can’t achieve that by simply changing the guy at the top with yet another wizard. You can’t bomb and starve a population into empowerment. I hope that day of awakening comes soon because Saddam obsession is spreading into North America.
What did my dream mean? Perhaps I am scared of that business presentation I am about to give. At least in this dream I was able to look him in the eye and speak directly to him. In my next dream I will say “Mr. President you’re a humbug”.
An edited version of this article was published in Macleans Dec 2002