Mass media coverage has hammered home the impression that Iraq is a country of street people constantly embroiled in religious strife. Because of the dangerous conditions in Baghdad, Western cameras only go where the army goes. Now we can glimpse a different, much more humane view of daily life in the city, thanks to a video project known as "Hometown Baghdad."
In this documentary, made with the help of Iraqi filmmakers who have much more access to their own hometown, we see 1 and 2-minute snippets that seem to come from another planet. A mother cooks lunch and affectionately talks about her sons--a very ordinary scene except that you notice the modern house behind her, which is far from a ruined hovel. A dental student continues his studies. The violent side of life is never far away--another student shows us the place where a missile scattered the brains of a friend on the ground--but for the first time one sees reasonable, friendly, worried people who seem very much like us.
The tragedy is that most of the middle class has fled Iraq, taking with them the country's reputation for education, technological skill, and tolerant secularism (however horrific Saddam was, he bolstered two generations of non-sectarian Arabism in the country). The people we see in "Hometown Baghdad" are nearly mythical creatures, at least as viewed from America: moderate Arabs who would thrive under democracy and who are the last hope of their country. Such people also live in Palestine, Israel, Jordan, and Lebanon. One only prays that they are not doomed in the future to being eliminated as the tide of violence rises. Their present life is tenuous, and very moving to observe.