Blog by Sumana Harihareswara, Changeset founder

01 Sep 2005, 10:13 a.m.

Phillip Robertson Is Braver Than I'll Ever Be

Hi, reader. I wrote this in 2005 and it's now more than five years old. So it may be very out of date; the world, and I, have changed a lot since I wrote it! I'm keeping this up for historical archive purposes, but the me of today may 100% disagree with what I said then. I rarely edit posts after publishing them, but if I do, I usually leave a note in italics to mark the edit and the reason. If this post is particularly offensive or breaches someone's privacy, please contact me.

I have the freedom to yammer on about literature. I'm not in Iraq.

Hajji Qais had been on Al Mutanabbi street for 10 years and the vendors all knew him. He sold greeting cards for births and anniversaries along with Christmas and Easter gifts, cologne and pens. He wore a beard and was also known as a devout Sunni who had no problem hiring Shia workers or spending time with Christian colleagues. Aside from stocking a few items related to Christian holidays, there was nothing unusual in his shop. He wasn't a known member of any political party, and he was, according to his neighbors on Al Mutanabbi Street, a generous man who often gave money to the poor.

No one in the district will speak openly about who killed him, including his own son.

Ahmed Dulaimi, a young guitarist for Iraq's only heavy metal band, told a story that has been going around Baghdad these last few weeks. There was an ice seller selling ice from a small shop on the sidewalk in the Dora neighborhood. One hot day, a man came up to him with a gun and said, "You shouldn't be selling ice because the Prophet Mohammed didn't have ice in his time." Then the gunman shot the ice seller dead. This story terrifies Iraqis but they often laugh when they recount it, because it is absurd that anyone would get killed for selling ice or shaving a beard. It is also true that the ice-seller anecdote follows a pattern of killings around the capital where Islamic militants have regularly assassinated Iraqis for violating strict, and utterly random, codes of behavior. The point of the ice-seller story is that now, anyone in Iraq can be killed for any reason at all. After Hajji Qais was killed, more than one person mentioned these spontaneous assassinations, and they spoke about them the way they'd describe a sandstorm, an all-encompassing thing that no one can stop.