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I am a public health doctor who is cynically optimistic about most things.

Exorcising our paranoia

So there we were, sat in a house whose owner I vaguely knew, a group strung together through no obvious logic but united by the same lack of awareness about the clandestine meeting’s ultimate purpose. The host sat across us, furtively looking at the clock as well as the door behind us, half-expecting the mukhabarat to storm in. His rushed and obscure introduction did little to dispel the shroud of secrecy nor the tension that enveloped the room. Tea was circulated but few touched their glasses as we sat in nervous anticipation of what was to come…

The above could well have come out of a Le Carre novel but I and I’m sure many of you have found yourselves in very similar situations in the past where convened meetings would take place in secrecy for no apparent reason. The ‘nervous anticipation’ would invariably end in disappointment as thoughts of being privy to international clandestine operations would disappear with the reality of these meetings that ranged from armchair politics, religious education initiatives or the latest pet project being peddled by a semi-deluded Iraqi Ammu.

This behaviour is understandable to a degree though, as many of our parents’ generation fled here after involvement in ‘clandestine activity’ (distributing a few leaflets) against the Baathi regime. Despite making it to the UK, the eyes and brutal reach of Saddam’s henchmen were very much a real and present danger and thus any ‘opposition’ (meaning any) activity would take place in strict secrecy.

While we may be able to explain this behaviour within that context, the fall of the regime in Iraq has done little to alter this way of working. Even more absurdly, our generation has picked this up and taken it to be the norm in trying to organise anything vaguely political. It seems that any sort of gathering of more than three people over a specific purpose automatically requires strict secrecy, as if word gets out, Baathi zombies will emerge to exact their revenge or alternatively they will be ostracised from the community for their deviant and subversive activities.

Now don’t get me wrong, secret stuff is fun. Talking in hushed whispers, enjoying a degree of exclusivity and keeping mutual secrets is any boy’s dream but is it really the most effective way to organise our activities? These gatherings tend to be totally male-dominated and seem to lose steam not long after their inception. Possibly the limitations of interacting ‘behind the scenes’ and the lack of dynamism from a hand-picked group ultimately sucks the creativity and energy out of well-meaning initiatives.

I do also understand the need to sometimes work discreetly in the initial formulation stages of a project, but beyond that, we have to ask ourselves whether a more open and trusting outlook may reap more dividends than the underground projects we sometimes find ourselves in.

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