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Literary Hoodwink
Thursday, April 20, 2006   |    Fiction

Rockin’ In Iraq

by Peter Dabbene

(Interview conducted by Peter Dabbene)

Zakim Salah al-Awi, an Iraqi prisoner detained at a United States holding facility near Mosul for the last three years, has secretly published the first Iraqi criticism of American music. The slim volume is causing a sensation in underground music circles: many readers have expressed amazement at al-Awi’s familiarity with the American pop radio canon of the last two decades, and awe at his thoughtful, scholarly insights. But while the playing of American music at above-average noise levels was originally intended as torture, al-Awi has developed a discriminating ear. Even his captors have begun to ask him for deep-level reviews of songs they had previously dismissed as “rocking, but trivial” or “def, but dumb.” We managed a short, surreptitious interview with al-Awi and asked him for his thoughts on the songs most often played at the Mosul prison.

Tell us a little about your first days being subjected to loud music as part of American PSYOPS?

You American G’s would probably think that after listening to Barney the purple dinosaur sing his famous “I Love You” song for fourteen hours straight, it would no longer seem so good as the first time, but it is not the case. I did not speak so good American English at the time, and so the soldiers would translate the words for me. At first, I thought this was mere cruel trickiness because why would U.S. soldiers be telling me “I Love You”? Later, I heard what the horny Americans did to their prisoners at the Abu Ghraib prison, and maybe I am glad that they loved other prisoners more than me. (If Americans come to visit you, hide your goats and children.) “I Love You” was first American song I heard in prison, and when I hear, it makes me smile; makes me think of home, except without big purple dinosaur.

Can you describe the American soldiers’ treatment of you?

At first all soldiers played music loud, but they don’t think any Iraqi can understand these words. They just think hearing loud song 50, 100, 200 times makes us confess things we did not do or do not know. But little by little, I learn more of the English by soldiers telling me word here and there, from songs they play. These soldiers, they grow to like me, but others keep hating on me. I tell them please not to be haters, like police against American G’s Dre and Snoop.

Do they take requests?

If they play songs and I show that I like it, they don’t play again. But I learned this and I pretend to not like songs I like, so to listen more. Later, haters see what I am doing and just start to play one song over and over in a row. But by doing this, they must listen too, until they are sick. As the wise American music group Creed has said, they are “creating their own prisons.”

What song do they play the most?

Metallica all the time, most the “Enter Sandman.” I do not know who the Sandman is, but if he is from Abu Ghraib I fear he will wish that I enter him. (But I suppose that is better than if he is entering me.) Most time, Metallica is the growling and it scares me much at first, but later it is just funny to see soldiers still banging heads to song after fifty times they played it.

How were you able to transcribe your commentary, given that you know so little English?

International Aid peoples tells me how to write words I don’t know when they come visit. Some words the Aid peoples be tripping on, like they don’t understand the rapping words like “gangsta” and “chronic.” My favorite word to use is “bitch.” If I return to my loving wife bitch Nawal and my six children, Nizar, Yusuf, Dawud, Amira, Zenab, and Umm, I will greet Nawal as my bitch, and I will rejoice at seeing my homiez again.

I see you’ve picked up some words from the rap songs they’ve played here. What do you think of Eminem?

The Eminem is not understood, he is only misunderstood, by the American G’s. He is much complex, much disturbed person. All he want is the peoples to get off his back, but he needs the peoples to love him for him to get the money, yes? Is very complicated. And the Kim? The ex-wife? Oh Allah… is like soap opera, can use story for episodes of “Al Badeel.”

Can you give us your opinion on some other artists you’ve heard while incarcerated?

I like the Snoop Dogg. His shit is da bomb. The Limp Biscuits, they suck the cock. American G’s do not yet tell me “biscuits” as word for the American penis, like “dick,” “cock,” “prick,” and oh so many others. But I think “biscuit” must mean same, because they are limp penises, fo’ shizzle. You understand, they are flaccid, yes? That is worst pain, to listen to that crap. It is worse than, let us say, the electrodes attached to the nipples. When I learn Americans listen to Limp Biscuits songs for pleasure, I think I am going crazy. They play Britney Spears, who is also bad music but I have seen pictures of and is a hot bitch. Why she is with the Kevin Federline, Allah only knows. If I was not a married man, I would make Britney my bitch, but I would tape her mouth shut with the American duct tape so to not hear the singing of the voice. Ha ha. I am only kidding, but not really.

Are there any songs that you feel the Americans just don’t “get”?

These American Gs are so stupid, they play the “Born in U.S.A.” by the Boss Bruce Springsteen, and they don’t know song is criticism of America in way they treat veterans after Vietnam War. Instead, they all wave American flags in my face like they are so happy they will go back like heroes, when really will be treated sometimes same way as in song, except they will maybe have more of the bad dreams and bad psychology and less calling of names. Truly, to intelligent analysis, song is introspective reflection on treatment of war veterans, and attempt to focus on the humanity within the uniforms, is it not so? Also, is good foot-stomping song. I admit, there exists no song “Born in Iraq,” though I wish it were so.

What do you plan to do when you are finally released?

I will maybe take my homiez and my bitch and move to United States. I will acquire a classic Chevy Camaro IROC and a license plate that says “I ROCK.” Music there is stupid, yes, but even stupider must be the music critics, people who sit and listen to American music for hours, just to make opinions. Anyone can write for the music critic magazines, no? I will get job maybe writing at Rolling Stone magazine, or maybe The Source. That shit would be the dope.

Peter Dabbene is a Hamilton, New Jersey-based writer. Some of his stories can be found online at (parenthetical note) and Eyeshot, and in print in American Drivel Review. Another story is forthcoming in the Kearney Street Press music anthology. His poetry has been published in Lady Churchill's Rosebud Wristlet, Apple Valley Review, and California Quarterly, and is forthcoming in Bogg, Zillah, ByLine, and The Journal of New Jersey Poets. He has also published two story collections, Prime Movements and Glossolalia, as well as a novel, Mister Dreyfus' Demons. He enjoys Yankee Pot Roast, as reading material, and as an entrée.