Longtime readers know that I’m quite fascinated with taxi drivers. A couple of days ago I was in a taxi on my way to the U.S. embassy in Amman. What follows are tidbits from the conversation that went between the taxi driver and myself.
Taxi driver: What business might you have at the American embassy? I swear that I would never ever want to set foot in that country. In fact, a former American consul once offered my whole family citizenship. I have no need for it.
Me: Really? How come?
He then recounted an implausible story about the American consul renting or vacationing in a property that belongs to his family, and how he was so grateful for their services in the end that he offered green cards for the whole family, or something to that effect.
T: Now, two of my sons own businesses in America. We’re planning to visit them in about four months. They always speak of Niagara Falls. I really want to see those Niagara Falls. I want to see what the fuss is about. Do you know what they say about them? I heard that the water falls in a shape that resembles an arc. Allah be praised.
Z: So you are planning to go, after all.
T (ignoring the remark): It’s ridiculous the way they treat us at their embassy here. So many questions and so many investigations. They think we’re all Osama bin Ladens. No, my friend, we’re not like that at all.
T (changing tone and peering at me strangely): You’re Iraqi?
T (complimenting me): ’Ala rasi.
T: So from which of the Iraqi governorates are you from?
Z (fully realising the intent of the question): Baghdad.
T: Baghdad. Oh, Baghdad. The capital of Al-Rashid.
T (peering at me again and predictably asking): Are you a follower of the Imamiya?
Z: No, I’m not.
T (with evident relief and a trace of a smile): So you’re Sunni? You’re not Shi’ite?
Z: Yes, you can say so.
The man looked happy now. He started bashing the Shia and their beliefs, lecturing me on how the Shia detest the companions (Sahaba) of the prophet, on how they loathed A’isha, one of the prophet’s wives (the one he married when she was just 9), and on how evil they all are.
T: So do they openly disparage the prophet’s companions in their mosques? Do they condemn Omar through loudspeakers?
Z: No, they don’t. It’s only in their literature.
T: I see. And how is it in Baghdad these days?
Z: Not very pretty, as you can see from the news.
T: I guess it isn’t. If only the lion Saddam was free. He would crush those ragtag militias in a few hours. Heh. We’ll watch how that wannabe Nuri Al-Maliki would flee for his life, that son of a bitch.
I usually try not to get into an argument with such people. It would be counter-productive. Most of the time, I try to get them comfortable enough to reveal more of their opinions, unless I’m dead bored and I just sit back and listen to their monologues.
T: You know, when Saddam’s daughters sought refuge in Jordan, his majesty the king offered them one of his palaces and 50 million Dinars [about $70 million]. I think two of them are still here, while the third is in Qatar.
Z (nodding): …
T: One of my relatives used to work as a truck driver between Jordan and Iraq. He was once near the Iraqi Central Bank in Baghdad, and there was an enormous explosion that targeted an American patrol there. You know what the media reported? They said that 20 Iraqis were killed and dozens injured. But I swear that 45 American soldiers were killed in that explosion. This is always the case. The Mujahideen never miss their target. Do you see their videos on Al-Jazeera? They never miss.
It’s a common belief among Arabs who are sympathetic to the insurgency in Iraq that the media does not report real numbers of American casualties, or that American soldiers who are not yet naturalised U.S. citizens are not counted among them. This was most evident in the case of the Jordanian family at Al-Salt, which celebrated the martyrdom of their son in Iraq. It was reported that he detonated himself near a police station in Hilla, where dozens of Iraqis were lining up as volunteers to join the police. The blast also killed and wounded civilians at a crowded market nearby. When the martyrdom celebration caused a diplomatic crisis with the Iraqi government and embarrassed Jordan, the terrorist’s family stated that they were informed that their son had actually killed dozens of American soldiers, not Iraqi civilians.