Cultural Oopsie – Iraq

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IRAQ

Ethnographic research during the 12th century demonstrated that people from different cultures have very different ways of conceptualizing and making sense of the world around them. These different ways of ordering the world can sometimes lead to cultural misunderstandings.

Most North Americans typically have difficulty adjusting to living and working in other cultures. North Americans are more likely to experience culture shock than other people due to our ingrained general ethnocentrism. When more than 100,000 mostly monolingual U.S. troops are deployed as a foreign occupation force  in a radically different country such as Iraq, cross-cultural misunderstandings are likely to be rampant.

In the aftermath of the 2003 war in Iraq, both American troops and civilian contractors expressed disdain for what they saw as the blatant Iraqi dishonesty in their everyday dealings. Brought up to value honesty and straight talk, most Americans fail to appreciate that some other cultures, such as in Iraq, place a higher value on personal and family honor than to tell the unvarnished truth. Often Iraqis would tell Americans that they understood something when they did not. Americans see this as a lie, while Iraqis see this as a face-saving mechanism designed to preserve their personal honor and dignity.

It reminds me of the time when I was working as the medic in charge a small EPW prison during the Surge of 2006-2008. I was called to a group cell, after a prisoner was bleeding from the nose. He told me that he had gotten dizzy, fainted and hit the cot. I was not believing his story, but no matter all the cells were under 24 hour surveillance. I brought him to the aid station and treated his injury and escorted him back to his cell along with the guards. I asked him to tell me the truth about how he was injured and even pointed out the cameras and told them they were working. He still insisted that was what happened.

I went to the prisons command post and reviewed the tapes. As a medic of the prison, every time there was an injury of a prisoner, I had to do loads a paperwork, and I had to know exactly what happened. The real event unfolded when two detainees (the one injured and another one) started to wrestle around. Weather it was horse play or serious it was hard to tell. It appeared to be horse play as we tried to keep Sunni and Shiite prisoners separated as best as we could. This cell was a Sunni cell. They also were laughing on the camera. The winner of the match hooked his fingers in the other guys nose from behind and yanked his head back hard, his nails causing the small laceration I observed earlier. Either the prisoner lied to protect his cell mate and himself for getting in trouble, or possibly being moved to different cells, or he lied because it was a stupid and embarrassing reason to hurt yourself. It was probably all of those reasons.

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