Tuesday, April 24, 2007

Whatever Happened to Waleed Rabia? (Updated)

When the Coalition forces began their march to Baghdad back in 2003, Waleed Rabia was a nineteen-year-old Iraqi Muslim metal-head. He was one of the Iraqi students who participated in the "Bridges to Baghdad" video project, in which a group of American and Iraqi students created film pieces about themselves and then talked to each other over a live video hookup. Waleed was very engaging and articulate, looking very similar to any headbanger loping through a mall here in the States. In "Bridge to Baghdad I," filmed while Saddam was still in power, the Iraqi students were monitored by the Iraqi authorities. Later, to Michelle Goldberg ("Baghdad Chronicles," May 24, 2003), a reporter from Salon, Waleed would explain how constrained they had been:
Rabi'a's not proud of the first "Bridge to Baghdad" (he has since taped a second, postwar episode), because he had to be so dishonest. He says that Houda Saleh Amash, the only woman among the 55 Iraqis most wanted by the Americans, sat right in front of him as he spoke. "I was really angry," he says. "We had to pretend we were dumb. Either you're going to answer the question, which is impossible because you're going to lose your head, or pretend you're dumb and you don't understand the question and answer another question."
The fall of Saddam was a dream come true for Waleed. In "Bridge to Baghdad II," Waleed and his band played on top of a building in downtown Baghdad and he screamed into his microphone, "F*****ck Saddam!"

Along with Majid Jarrar and other friends and with help from a an organization called Voices in the Wilderness, Waleed started an independent newspaper called "Al-Muajaha," the "witness." Michelle Goldberg, in her Salon article, spends an afternoon with Waleed and Majid as they go to a local theater to report on the increase in porno films in Baghdad:
At the theater, the two reporters seem surprisingly assured. In the lobby, Jarrar takes pictures of pictures of buxom women in lingerie, while Rabi'a makes notes on the men who stumble by. "Most of these people are taking drugs," he says, adding that Valium and Xanax are popular. "All of them are drunk."

After a few moments, a man slams Rabi'a's notebook shut and starts yelling at him, accusing reporters of ruining Iraq's reputation. Rabi'a yells back, and soon a crowd has gathered. One onlooker says that no one would go to the porn theater if the coalition government turned the electricity back on, but without it, there's nothing else to do. The yelling turns political as people scream out their dissatisfaction with the occupation.

Outside, Rabi'a says, "This is not the same Iraq we were living in."
One notes the now unremarkable twisted logic of the bystander who claims that Iraqi men are only watching porno films because the Americans haven't produced enough electricity for them to stay at home, thus forcing them to watch forbidden carnal delights at the local cinemas.

Waleed, the Muslim Metal-head, would soon start feeling the pinch of deeper contradictions about being a kid wearing a Iron Maiden T-shirt and following Metallica and being an Iraqi Muslim whose military had been crushed in three weeks by the American infidel invaders. In a article from June 12, 2003, Robert Fisk clips a paragraph from an article written by Waleed for Al-Muajaha:
"The people of Iraq have fallen," Waleed Rabia, a 19-year-old student, wrote in the new paper Al-Mujaha. "Invaders are in our country. The wild animals of this jungle called a world are trying to rip us apart. We've been through hard times under the old regime, but we were better then than we are now ... Look at those girls who are having sex with the Americans in their tanks, or in the bathrooms of the Palestine Hotel ... What about those Muslim girls marrying Christian foreigners? No one can accept this as a true Muslim or true Iraqi."
That the cramped interior of an M1A1 Abrams would lend itself to sexual encounters sounds far-fetched to me. How many Muslim women have married soldiers from the Coalition forces? I would like to see the statistic on that.

As far as I can remember, Waleed Rabia eventually left Iraq and attended a university in Vancouver, Canada. I could be wrong about that, but that's what I recall. The last mention of him that I've found on the internet comes from an announcement from June, 2005, for a keynote speech to be given by Waleed in Vancouver on a panel covering the "ongoing resistance to war and colonialism at home and abroad."

That was almost two years ago. So where is Waleed today? If anyone can find anything else on Waleed, post it in the comments and I'll punch it up onto the front page in an update. Even if he says things you don't agree with, it's very hard not to like Waleed.

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UPDATE: Thanks to commenter Jesse, I'm now able to link to two different YouTube offerings on Acrassicauda (Black Scorpion), of which Waleed Rabia was the original lead singer:

The Black Scorpion of Baghdad (7 parts).

Heavy Metal in Baghdad (5 parts; from an August 2006 trip to Baghdad).

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