Friday, July 13, 2007

The Beastly Badgers of Basra

As if foreign troops, sectarian violence, and daily living weren't bad enough, the besieged inhabitants of Basra have something new to worry about--man-eating badgers.

This morning’s paper elicited a novel reaction. I laughed out loud at a news story out of Iraq. For once, it wasn’t the appalling list of civilian and military casualties (and isn’t that a sweet, gentle word to describe maimed bodies and bloody flesh?). The headline news reported that residents claim that giant man-eating badgers are terrorizing the Iraqi city of Basra. Inevitably, the occupying British forces are held responsible for the mutant beasts—farmers around the Karmat Ali area air base believe that the English released them into the country side. (They’re lucky, if they are right the English are being relatively mild, compared to the smallpox infested blankets that they used to get rid of 90% of Vancouver Island’s First Nations population 200 hundred years ago). Despite the reassurances by a local veterinarian that these are actually indigenous animals who typically weigh in at about 35 lbs, residents live in fear that the badgers will attack them in the night.

In a way, they are right about the British. The sudden increase in the badger population that has raised their visibility and predation is because the new government of Iraq has been restoring a vast marshland, which had been dammed (or, perhaps, damned) by Saddam Hussein as a means to rid himself of some rebellious tribes. As the wetlands are restored, the badgers, which had expanded over the last few decades into this new territory, are forced into the adjoining countryside of Basra. So it is legitimate to assign at least part of the blame to the bloody English.

I assume that, if I were unfortunate enough to live in Basra, dwelling on killer badgers would make a pleasant change from worrying about heavily armed sectarians determining that I subscribed to the wrong belief system or US allied troops deciding that I was an enemy. A new urban-folk myth might be the kind of marvel one discusses with neighbours and friends over coffee, almost a return to normalcy, rather than the daily, drearily sad horror that is life in occupied Iraq (and which will probably be even worse once coalition forces have withdrawn). In the end, it seems that my laughter was, after all, misplaced.