Hawking bootlegged ethics
Yesterday I was at one of the local Iraqi-run bootleg stores…
…which, as an aside, brings up a very interesting point, ethically. There are actually posted memorandums at some of these stores, outlining commander’s intent, when they should be open, that the store operators should be treated with respect, etc. The point is that these shops are not only tolerated, but officially sanctioned as “morale boosters.”
Now, I’m not on a witch hunt here, but it is interesting, isn’t it? Every day soldiers are tasked with “escorting” these Iraqis. They sit in the shops and keep an eye on things, on hand to settle any disputes on prices or to only let in 10 customers at a time — that sort of stuff. Significant amounts of military assets are used to guard these locations, tax dollars are spent, yadda yadda.
Now, those that read this blog from OIF locales are probably saying, “Awww, com’on ‘Salsa killer’! Shut up! We love those shops.”
And so do I, but it doesn’t change the fact that the primary product sold at these places are pirated movies, pirated computer programs and pirated console games, all in direct violation of international and United States copyright law.
There, I said it, back to the story…
So I was browsing the selection (yes, I’ve bought some before, I won’t cast the first stone, kay?), killing some time after dropping off a soldier who worked in the vicinity of the shop.
I said “hi” to all the shop guys in the normal Arabic fashion (forgive me for not trying to spell the greeting), shook their hands and the like. A lot of soldiers look at me weird when I talk to the Iraqis, and some make comments.
“Why do you talk to them?”
“No reason, just thought they’d like someone to say ‘hi’ to them.”
The same would be the case when I talk to the Indian guys who work at our dining facility. Hell, I’m a celebrity there. First, they figured out my name was Salmons, like the fish. That got ’em started. Then they saw me come a few times with a camera to take shots of goings on. I get a lot of fist pounds, handshakes, pats on the back, and genuine hello’s out of that crowd.
I love it, and figured the guys could use someone who wasn’t just barking out, “Gimme chicken. No! That, right there. Next to the fish. Gimme more.” You know, someone to treat them like people instead of servants?
“What’s the deal with all the ‘hi’s’ and ‘hello’s’? You a spy or somethin’?” some staff sergeant asked me the other day.
“Spy? These guys are Indian, not Iraqi.”
“I don’t give two sh*ts, as long as the cocksucker doesn’t spit in my food.”
The movie shop was little more than a 15-foot concrete cube, lined with shelves of little baggies, each with a printed leaflet and an unlabeled DVD disc. A couple of florescent bulbs put out a garish light over the library. Sun, heat and dust flew in from the open doorway. Most of the movie copies were of some guy with a camcorder, video taping from a theater. You know the drill, pure bootleg.
In the corner, mounted above the shelves was a 12-inch TV, blaring a selected title. The shopkeepers usually put in one of the new releases or a disc of hip-hop music videos. Between the heat and the washed out, maxed volume, time in the store usually was kept to a minimum. Maybe that’s why the owners did it, to keep traffic moving.
Today’s movie was an Iraqi film. It caught my eye as I stepped around dozens of boxes of “Lost: The Complete Series” ($30, by the way, can’t beat that, eh?).
It was in Arabic (obviously), and the actors were Iraqis, but the uniforms looked familiar.
The scene was at night. A convoy of vehicles had stopped. Iraqi civilians were packed in a cargo container which was on the back of a military transport. Several humvees were going along when someone stopped the convoy.
Out stepped the quintessential “badass” soldier character. He had on a sleeveless uniform top, unbuttoned, was helmetless and had his hair grown out into some sort of mohawk-looking thing. He sort of reminded me of Colin Farrell in “Tigerland” if that helps.
There were American flags on the sleeves of the other soldiers, which would explain the humvees.
The Colin Farrell guy starts shouting orders to several “American” extras, who stay in their vehicles. Some arguing starts between Colin and a lieutenant who walks up to confront him. Colin takes an AK-47 from a nearby trooper, defiantly loads it, glaring at the lieutenant, and starts firing at the civilian-filled container.
The trapped civilians scream and are mowed down. There’s lots of blood and moaning. The Farrell guy laughs, throws the rifle down and walks away from the shocked lieutenant, who yells for him. Colin pulls out a pistol, shoots the lieutenant and jumps into a humvee.
By now I was really watching, mouth agape. I was the only customer in the store, and the Iraqis were watching me watch the movie.
One of them came up, “This. This is Iraq. This happened. You watch. You see. This is Iraq. My brother. This.” Pointing feverishly, he looked to me to see if I understood.
Wow, did I? Would I show it?
The whole world shrank and there I was, ambassador to Iraq, meeting with the Iraqi delegate. Would I pledge that this would never happen again? Would I cry to show my feelings?
Was the massacre true? It didn’t matter. These guys believed it, that was enough.
The rest of them all were watching me intently, to see my reaction. I was their welcomed guest — a customer to their shop, but I had touched on something they weren’t selling, per se.
Was this a test? I had greeted everyone properly, asked how they were, was respectful. Were they reaching out to me? Was this the proper place for all that?
I turned back to the TV. The container had reached a village and people were mourning. Fathers cried for their children, wives for their husbands. Dozens in anguish.
The english-speaking Iraqi was right behind me. I felt tense, watched for a few more seconds, and walked out.
Maybe they would think I didn’t understand what they were saying.
Jesus, that was a lot to drop on a guy. It was like they were asking if I cared about them, about Iraq and the whole way the war is being fought, all at once.
I didn’t have an answer.