Sunday, July 25, 2004

Kuwait Occupation: "A Kind of Malignancy"

"A kind of malignancy was at work during the Ba'athi occupation of Kuwait, which went beyond the killing of Kuwaitis and the looting of houses. Specific violations were in the end attributable to it. Imagine Kuwait being visited by a foul-smelling kind of plague, one that could not be seen but that secreted deadly humors in its wake. These came seeping out of pus-filled sores whose very existence no one had been aware of before. The most tangible thing about this malignancy was that it exuded a stench. An Israeli novel imagines a former soldeier in the Occupied Territories who returns from his job only to find that he cannot rid himself of a foul odor that has begun to emanate from his body, becoming an ineradicable part of his constitution. "The smell covered us like a heavy cloud, attacking the senses. It was hard to sit there. ... Maybe it is a punishment for cruelty." (Yitzhak ben-Ner, Ta'to'on, 1989.) The truth in such fiction is that occupation - whether on the West Bank of the Jordan River or in Kuwait - is always foul-smelling.

"A similar kind of truth is present in the observation that a new rotten odor was in the air in Kuwait after August 2, 1990. The smell was unusually bad, permeating everything. The garbage, after all, was not collected, and decomposed to release a stew of organic odors. The bodies of Kuwaitis who resisted and were caught ... were left out in the streets. There was nothing to hinder the bacteria from working on their human remains and their work naturally smelled. Both Iraqis and Kuwaitis sweated more profusely, and they would have cleaned themselves less often than before. Water, after all, was scarce. Soiled clothes remained unwashed. Electricity was intermittent. Maintenance standards in the desalination and water-purification plants had plummeted. Crude oil was pumping out into the ocean and finding its way back into the city by mysterious pathways. Marine life was dying and decomposing.

"So it was true that the rank odors of refuse, vile-smelling fish, dirty water, and sweaty, filthy, rotting bodies filled the air of Kuwait with a pungent and offensive aroma, to say nothing of the later effects of six hundred burning oil fields and children who now took to coughing up soot-laced mucus. The truth of the matter, whether physically tangible or fictional and literary, is the same: occupation seeps into the body. Kuwait smelled differently under Iraqi occupation, and maybe it will never smell the same again."

- Kanan Makiya, Cruelty and Silence (ch. 1)