Blood and ouzo in Baghdad

GreekOuzoA one-question test: When you hear the word “ouzo,” what leaps to mind?

Right. Dancing Greeks who are celebrating something, or simply life in general.

So I was a bit concerned when I read the top of that New York Times story from Baghdad that ran with the headline “Iraq Bomber Aimed at Alcohol Sellers.”

Blood and ouzo mingled on the sidewalk outside a shattered Baghdad liquor store on Thursday after three people were killed in a car bombing directed at alcohol sellers in one of Baghdad’s most heavily protected areas.

The alcohol sellers, who have expanded their business as security in Baghdad has improved in recent months, were among the few merchants plying their trade during the Muslim holiday celebrating Id al-Adha, the end of the hajj, or annual pilgrimage to Mecca.

I assumed that there was going to be a major ghost in this story. Actually, there were several potential ghosts in the story and, frankly, I assumed that reporter Stephen Farrell would miss them.

The first, of course, is that one of the lines between “moderate” Muslims and traditional Muslims in a land like Iraq is the consumption of alcohol. We have talked about this here at GetReligion before. In a way, this ghost was the actual subject of the story.

But the bombers were almost certainly focusing on another kind of target. And that is the ghost I was afraid the Times would miss.

But I was wrong. Near the end of the piece we read:

Most of these businesses, residents say, are run by enterprising Yazidis, members of a Kurdish-speaking sect. Iraq’s Yazidis live mainly in the northwest, and their faith combines elements of Zoroastrianism, Judaism, Christianity and Islam and includes a Peacock Angel.

Residents say the Yazidis capitalized on the past few months of relative stability to take over the liquor stores in this area. Christians once dominated the trade locally but fled to escape death threats and kidnappings by religious militants.

Mustafa Hassan, 19, a grocery stall owner, said the blast walls and checkpoints installed in the neighborhood to protect American contractors and the nearby Palestine Hotel had fostered the mushrooming alcohol sector. He said that over the past year the number of liquor stores had increased to 30 from 5.

That covers it all, although with few specifics to make the scope of the tragedy clear. In other words, the ouzo is a sign of several Western values — not all of them good, mind you — that remain under attack. Actually, it’s hard to call the Greeks and the other Eastern churches “Western,” but I think you get my point.

Farrell saw the ghosts. A tragic story, well told.

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About tmatt

Terry Mattingly directs the Washington Journalism Center at the Council for Christian Colleges and Universities. He writes a weekly column for the Universal Syndicate.

  • Jerry

    Normally these stories of reporting done right don’t attract much comment, so I wanted to add my appreciation.

  • John Rich

    As I sit here, having a nip of Jameson, I realize that one of the greatest things that divides the West from Islam is that we are able to relax with beer, whiskey, and other spirits.

    No, I don’t mean getting falling-down drunk. Although that happens, with far too great a frequency. I mean simply the ability to sit down and talk with friends, old and new. I’ve been in a few bars, and can tell you that it’s hard not to make friends in one.

    It’s a civilized habit, if not taken to excess. And to Hell with any faith, Islam, or a mistaken teetotaling version of Christianity, that says otherwise.

  • Charles Curtis

    I think that the word for dry anisette liquor in Iraqi Arabic is arak, not ouzo, which is greek. Just as the Turks would call it raki, the French pastis, Spaniards anisado, etc. All very similar, but not necessarily (to a conissuer) the same.

  • Julia

    the ouzo is a sign of several Western values

    Actually, it’s hard to call the Greeks and the other Eastern churches “Western,” but I think you get my point.

    No, I don’t get the point. What do churches have to do with this?

    It’s only the Muslims in Iraq who have a prohibition of alcohol. The lack of a prohibition of alcohol is indigenous and existed before the Christian era. As people became Christian the cultural attitude toward alcohol remained. Acceptance of alcohol was not introduced by the Greek or Eastern churches any more than it was introduced by synagogues or pagan temples. The acceptance of alcohol is not “Western” in any fashion whatsoever – and has nothing to do with “churches”. After all, even the Chinese, Indians, Koreans and Japanese are known to imbibe.

    These stores existed before the American (Western) invasion; they were not introduced by the presence of Americans and Iraqis know that. The report says that “over the past year” the number increased from 5 to 30. The numbers of all kinds of stores increased over the past year – back toward near pre-war levels. For example, Iraqis aren’t eating more groceries now than before the war because of the Americans, but surely there are more grocery stores now than a year ago because of the surge. Similarly, the number of liquor stores is returning to pre-war levels.

    Military personnel and contractors can use the PX and US military clubs – they are not likely buying acohol at higher prices out of the Green Zone. The article, after all, does not say the customers are Americans. The writer is only noting that because of the blast wall and check points it’s safer to sell alcohol to anybody.

    Maybe you are implying that radical Muslims tend to falsely imply that use of alcohol is “Western” and foreign?