Thursday, May 15, 2008

Different era, same shit.

Vietnam, 1880:

Following the colonial conquest, the French symbolically took over the Hà Nội Citadel, destroying what few buildings were left and replacing them with military barracks and depots. It has remained an army base ever since, though at the time of going to press some of its outer sections are being opened up to the public.

In order to make the colonists feel more at home and at the same time to reflect its vision of imperial grandeur, the French colonial government set about systematically rebuilding the major Vietnamese cities according to European specifications. Central to French urbanist plans was the segregation of these cities into quartiers, based primarily on the ethnicity of residents. In marked contrast to the relative squalor of their neighbours in the quartiers indigènes, the inhabitants of the European quarters of Hà Nội and Sài Gòn were given wide boulevards lined with spacious residential villas.

Prior to 1920 many important public buildings were constructed in Parisian neo-classical style; the latter is best illustrated in Hà Nội by the architecture of St Joseph's Cathedral (1891), the Governor General's Palace (1906), the Palace and Office of the French Resident (1906), the High Court (1906), the Opera House (1911) and the Directorate des archives et bibliothèques (1917, now the National Library of Việt Nam); and in Sài Gòn by the Town Hall (1873, now the People's Committee Building), Notre Dame Cathedral (1880), the High Court (1885), the Vice-Governor's Palace (1890), the Central Post Office (1891) and the Opera House (1900).

Iraq, 2008:

Picture, if you will, a tree-lined plaza in Baghdad's International Village, flanked by fashion boutiques, swanky cafes, and shiny glass office towers. Nearby a golf course nestles agreeably, where a chip over the water to the final green is but a prelude to cocktails in the club house and a soothing massage in a luxury hotel, which would not look out of place in Sydney harbour. Then, as twilight falls, a pre-prandial stroll, perhaps, amid the cool of the Tigris Riverfront Park, where the peace is broken only by the soulful cries of egrets fishing.

Improbable though it all may seem, this is how some imaginative types in the US military are envisaging the future of Baghdad's Green Zone, the much-pummelled redoubt of the Iraqi capital where a bunker shot has until now had very different connotations.A $5bn (£2.5bn) tourism and development scheme for the Green Zone being hatched by the Pentagon and an international investment consortium would give the heavily fortified area on the banks of the Tigris a "dream" makeover that will become a magnet for Iraqis, tourists, business people and investors. About half of the area is now occupied by coalition forces, the US state department or private foreign companies
One Los Angeles-based firm, C3, has said it wants to build an amusement park on the Green Zone's outskirts. As part of the first phase, a skateboard park is due to open this summer.

American officials stress that final decisions about reconstruction and development rest with the Iraqi government. Karnowski added that as well as the benefits of renovating and demilitarizing an important area of Baghdad, the blueprint would help to create a "zone of influence" around the massive new US Embassy compound being built on the eastern tip of the Green Zone. The $1bn project to move the embassy from Saddam's old presidential palace is planned for completion later this year."When you have $1bn hanging out there and 1,000 employees lying around, you kind of want to know who your neighbours are. You want to influence what happens in your neighbourhood over time," Karnowski told Associated Press.

For many Baghdad residents, the Green Zone has been a no-go area for years, first under Saddam and now under the occupation. "What do I care?" shrugged one, Ahmed Hussein. "I don't have electricity, I don't have fresh water and I don't have a job."

Call me a dork, but few things piss me off more than people using words like fascism, socialism, empire etc. without having any idea about what they actually mean.

We are an imperial power, and as we have shown in Iraq, we are an imperial nation where the colonial mentality is still very much alive in our words and actions. It's not a pleasant truth to look at ourselves in that light, but M.O.P. would say: "DEAL WITH IT MOTHER FUCKER!!!"

And while this isn't a new idea (Most recently the best case was made by Chalmers Johnson), it is important to keep in mind in order to not lose perspective of our actions in the world, and equally important, how we are seen by the rest of the world.

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