Yesterday, there was an event by the Muslim Youth Association (MYA) on re-count of votes and the future of alliances in the next Iraqi parliament. I went with a hope that it wouldn’t be another one of those typical Iraqi events where there is a lot of disorganisation, time wasting and unnecessarily long questions, but unfortunately I encountered exactly that.
What made the event “Iraqi” wasn’t the topic but the presentation and the interactions of the audience. The chairperson introduced 3 speakers representing the major winning blocs to give short remarks for 15 minutes each. The first speaker was of a younger generation than the other speakers so his talk was quick, well structured, to the point, and finished just before 15 minutes. With a start like that, I was hopeful that the rest of the event would follow in a similarly well structured and clear manner so when the second speaker finished on time too, I was understandably impressed and feeling rather glad that I had decided to spend my Saturday evening at such an event. However my initial optimism soon faded, after the third speaker took the liberty of inviting his colleague to give a power-point presentation [which didn’t follow the format of the event and the other speakers had not been told that they could present in this manner] that in itself took about 25 minutes and was additional to the 10 minutes the third speaker had already spent talking!
After the third speaker had finally finished, the chairperson invited questions from the audience. It was here that the real manifestation of our culture began because instead of asking questions, the audience started recounting the following:
1- Long general comments not directed to any particular speaker or the chairperson;
2- Life stories, lessons from our troubled history with observations from recent travels to our homeland;
3- Rhetoric speeches about the plight of Iraqis on behalf of Iraqis inside Iraq; and
4- Repetition of any or all of the above in any possible way.
If that was the main course, side dishes were the unstoppable chatter among the audience without any consideration to the noise it generates in addition to talk-backs and unrestricted cross questioning from the audience. The desert was cake, and the icing on that cake was the variety of mobile ring tones going off ignoring and defying several signs (Please switch off mobile phones) visible to the naked eye from all angles in the room.
Amongst many things, we seem not to listen but to wait for our turn to talk. If that doesn’t happen as we wish, we can always interrupt. Is there a flaw in our culture that we can’t communicate in a better civilised way? Does it really take a dictator or a very high authority figure to make us listen and behave well? Are we that hopeless? I certainly hope not!