US military legacy rubs off on Iraqi youth

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Not all Iraqis welcome the culture the Americans brought. Dr. Fawzia A. al-Attia, a sociologist at Baghdad University, says one result is that young Iraqis now reject school uniforms, engage in forbidden love affairs and otherwise rebel against their elders.

“There was no strategy to contain this sudden openness,” she said. “Teenagers, especially in poor areas where parents are of humble origin and humble education, started to adopt the negative aspects of the American society because they think that by imitating the Americans, they obtain a higher status in society.

“These young Iraqi people need to be instructed,” she said. “They need to know about the positive aspects of the American society to imitate.”

Like many Iraqis, high school student Maytham Karim wants to learn English. But the English he hears most often from his peers _ and mostly those who listen to American music _ is laden with profanity.

“The F- and the ‘mother’ words are used a lot, which is a very negative thing,” Karim said.

As U.S. forces began closing their bases Iraqis rummaged through their garbage for discarded uniforms, caps and boots to sell to youngsters who pay top dollar to dress like soldiers. Baghdad’s tattoo business is also booming. Hassan Hakim’s tattoo parlor in affluent Karradah neighborhood is covered with glossy pictures of half-naked men and women showing off their ink, regardless of Islam’s strictures on baring the skin.

The storefront caused a stir when it opened last summer, but complaints soon died down and the business is thriving.

“Iraqi youth are eager in a very unusual way to get tattoo on their bodies, probably because of the American presence here,” said Hakim, 32, who is attending graduate school at Baghdad’s Fine Arts Academy. “Four years ago, people were concealing their tattoos when in public, but now they use their designs to show off. It is the vogue now.”

Most of Hakim’s customers are Iraqi security guards imitating their American counterparts. They demand tattoos of coffins, skulls, snakes, dragons, bar codes, Gothic letters and crosses. Female customers prefer flowers and butterflies on their shoulders. Also, many young women now dare to wear tight tops and hip-hugging jeans with their hijabs, or head coverings. Some also sport miniature dogs.

Showbiz and military chic aside, young Iraqis agree that the American troops opened their minds to the outside world. The wait for a place in an English classes, for example, can last months.

“I found that all Iraqis want to learn English,” said Nawras Mohammed, and using the Internet or watching satellite TV is fine. But users need to be selective, the 24-year-old college graduate said.

“The positive and the negative aspects of the American presence,” she said, “depend on us.”

Copyright 2014 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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