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The mother of all package tours

The mother of all package tours: With the world expecting an attack on Iraq any time now, no one in their right mind would take a holiday there – would they? You’d be suprised, says Johann Hari (Guardian).

A fascinating article, from so many angles — First, the tourists:

I met Julie and Phil. They seemed an almost comically suburban couple: polite, a little posh, all golf jumpers and floral smocks. But then Phil mentioned that his last holiday had been to North Korea. “Yeah, I’ve been twice since they opened the borders to tourists. I’m a bit of a celebrity there now. People come up to me in the streets and say, ‘Why have you come to our country twice?’.” …

Then there was Hannah. How to explain her? A frightfully well-spoken Englishwoman in her early 50s. When we first met, she dispensed with the small talk to say: “I think Saddam is a great man and the USA is a great big global bully. My theory is that he should be given Kuwait. It’s perfectly logical if you look at the map.” “I think he’s rather handsome too,” she went on. “Every woman does really. I’d rather like to inspect his weapon of mass destruction myself.”

And the politics:

Talking politics in Iraq is like a magic-eye picture, where you have to let your brain go out of focus, not your eyes. One very distinguished old man in a Mosul souk welcomed me warmly and told me how much he had loved visiting London in the 1970s. After much oblique prodding, he said warmly, “I admire British democracy and freedom.” He held my gaze. “I very much admire them.”

… As we wandered around, looking at the grim exhibits, one of the soldiers on duty guarding the museum told me that three of his brothers died in that war. Everybody in the country lost somebody – yet it is almost impossible to get anybody to talk about it. They speak in a small number of bloodless stock-phrases.

After more than 10 such encounters, it suddenly hit me that the people of Iraq are not even allowed to grieve their huge numbers of dead in their own way. They are permitted only a regulation measure of state-approved grief, which must be expressed in Saddam’s language: that of martyrdom and heroism, rather than wailing agony about the futility of a war which slaughtered more than a million people yet left the borders unchanged and achieved nothing.

Thanks to Ben Walsh for the forwardy goodness.