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Wednesday, October 13, 2004

The War--On Drugs

Quote of the year, from Iraqi blogger Riverbend at Baghdad Burning: "You have two choices: take a valium, or start a blog."
Here's the context--excerpts from her latest post:

Valium is a staple during wars. I remember when we were preparing for the war, we would make list after list of 'necessities'. One list was for pharmaceutical necessities. It included such basics as cotton, band-aids, alcohol, gauze and an ordinary painkiller. It also included medicines such as ampicloxine, codeine and valium. No one in the family takes valium, but it was one of those 'just in case' medications- the kind you buy and hope you never have to use.

We had to use it during the first week of April, as the tanks started rolling into Baghdad. We had an older aunt staying at our house (she had been evacuated from her area) and along with my cousin, his wife, his two daughters, and an uncle, the house was crowded and- at bizarre moments- almost festive.
Now, during the more lively hours of a shock and awe bombing storm, there's no way you can have a normal conversation. You might be able to blurt out a few hasty sentences, but eventually, there's bound to be an explosion that makes you stop, duck your head and wonder how the house didn't fall down around you.
So where does the valium fit in? Imagine through all of this commotion, an elderly aunt who is terrified of bombing. She was so afraid, she couldn't, and wouldn't, sit still. She stood pacing the hallway, cursing Bush, Blair and anyone involved with the war- and that was during her calmer moments. When she was feeling especially terrified, the curses and rampage would turn into a storm of weeping and desolation (during which she imagines she can't breathe)- we were all going to die. They would have to remove us from the rubble of our home. We'd burn alive. And so on. And so forth.

During those fits of hysteria, my cousin would quietly, but firmly, hand her a valium and a glass of water. The aunt would accept both and in a matter of minutes, she'd grow calmer and a little bit more sane. This aunt wasn't addicted to valium, but it certainly came in handy during the more hectic moments of the war.

I guess it's happening a lot now after the war too. When the load gets too heavy, people turn to something to comfort them. Abroad, under normal circumstances, if you have a burden- you don't have to bear it alone. You can talk to a friend or relative or psychiatrist or SOMEONE. Here, everyone has their own set of problems- a death in the family, a detainee, a robbery, a kidnapping, an explosion, etc. So you have two choices- take a valium, or start a blog.
The other 'drug' problem we're having is much more serious. Before the war and occupation, drugs (you know- cocaine, marijuana, etc.) weren't that big a problem in Iraq. Sure, we all heard of a certain person or certain area where you could get hashish or marijuana or something… but it wasn't that common. A big reason was because selling drugs was punishable by death. Now, you can find drugs in several areas in Baghdad and all sorts of pills have become quite common in the south. People living in Basrah and Najaf and other areas in the south complain that Iranians are smuggling them into the country and selling them. Iran has a large drug trade and now, we're getting some of their exports in Iraq.
During my more thoughtful moments, I do think about the growing drug problem. I know that it is going to get bigger and there's nothing immediate that we can do to stop it. There seem to be such bigger problems out there, that drugs seem to be the least of our worries. Schools have started again and parents worry that their kids will be abducted or blown to pieces. I think our growing drug problem hasn't gotten that much attention with the media because, while it's going to wreak havoc in the long run, drugs don't suddenly blow off an arm or a leg, and they don't explode inside of your car and they don’t come falling out of a plane to burn homes and families… in other words, people don't perceive them as a very immediate threat.

It's like discovering you have cancer while you're fighting off a hungry alligator- you'll worry about the disease later.
Bush brags about 50 million people now enjoying freedom. That's 25 million Afghanis free to export drugs again, and 25 million Iraqis free to use them.