The Hatred Behind 'Hadji Girl'
- The Hatred Behind 'Hadji Girl'
By Sheldon Rampton
Center for Media and Democracy
July 1, 2006
If you want to understand why the war is going so badly in Iraq, it
may help to examine the recent reaction to "Hadji Girl," the
videotaped song about killing Iraqis by U.S. Marine Corporal Joshua
Belile. The song became controversial when the Council on
American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) discovered it on the internet and
objected to its lyrics. "Hadji Girl" tells the story of a soldier "out
in the sands of Iraq / And we were under attack":
Then suddenly to my surprise
I looked up and I saw her eyes
And I knew it was love at first sight.
And she said...
Dirka Dirka Mohammed Jihad
Sherpa Sherpa Bak Allah
Hadji girl I can't understand what you're saying.
The girl says that she "wanted me to meet her family / But I, well, I
couldn't figure out how to say no. / Cause I don't speak Arabic." They
visit her home, a "side shanty" down "an old dirt trail," and as soon
as they arrive,
Her brother and her father shouted...
Dirka Dirka Mohammed Jihad
Sherpa Sherpa Bak Allah
They pulled out their AKs so I could see
... So I grabbed her little sister and pulled her in front of me.
As the bullets began to fly
The blood sprayed from between her eyes
And then I laughed maniacally
Then I hid behind the TV
And I locked and loaded my M-16
And I blew those little fuckers to eternity.
And I said...
Dirka Dirka Mohammed Jihad
Sherpa Sherpa Bak Allah
They should have known they were fucking with a Marine.
The song is gruesome, to be sure, and CAIR complained that it
celebrated the killing of Iraqi civilians. The video shows Belile
performing the song before a laughing, applauding audience of fellow
soldiers at their base in Iraq. Recognizing that the song could only
bring bad publicity, U.S. military officials promptly issued a
statement saying that it was "clearly inappropriate and contrary to
the high standards expected of all Marines." Belile also apologized,
saying the song was intended as "a joke" and that he didn't intend to
offend anyone. Pro-war pundits, however, actually rallied to the
song's defense. The conservative Little Green Footballs weblog thought
news reports about the video controversy were the "mainstream media
disgrace of the month." There's nothing wrong with the song, the
Footballs said, because it doesn't actually describe a soldier killing
civilians: "the people who kill the 'little sister' in this darkly
humorous song are -- not the Marines -- but her father and brother, as
they attempt to perpetrate an ambush." Some of the comments on LGF
even called it "a wonderful song," and attacked the "nutless Pentagon
star-chasing bastards" for their "capitulation." Here are some of the
other comments about the song, from Little Green Footballs and elsewhere:
"Damn it, we are in a fucking war! Nobody whined about 'insensitivity'
to the fucking Japs and Jerries."
"I expect more from the Pentagon. The State Dept & the CIA are just a
bunch of cucumber sandwich eating fools. The Pentagon USED to be about
waging war on our enemies. Now they just want to kiss up to them."
"I'm Proud of my fellow Marines in that video. That is EXACTLY the
espirit de corps needed, the HIGH MORALE needed in the middle of a
combat zone where those self-same jihadists are trying to kill those
Marines every single day.
"Insensitive? Marines insensitive? God I hope so. We need them to kick
ass and follow orders but we don't need them to be particularly
sensitive. A sensitive Marine Corps will be the death of this country."
"One of the things CAIR didn't like was the phrase 'Durka Durka
Mohammed Jihad, Sherpa Sherpa Bak Allah' which makes fun of the Arab
language. To hell with CAIR and to hell with the Arab language. ...
And the Islamist pigs can keep going to hell."
As these comments illustrate, defense for the song quickly turns into
traditional conservative anger at what they see as censorious
"political correctness." They have a right, they insist, to be
insensitive and hostile to Arabs and Muslims. I would argue, in fact,
that this cultural xenophobia is the main theme of the song and that
the violence in it is a secondary byproduct.
Let's start with the title, "Hadji Girl." The term "hadji" (also
sometimes spelled "haji" or "hajji") is the Arabic word for someone
who has made the pilgrimage to Mecca. In Iraq and Afghanistan, it has
become a common slang term used to describe the locals. According to a
dictionary of war slang compiled by GlobalSecurity.org, the term is
"used by the American military for an Iraqi, anyone of Arab decent, or
even of a brownish skin tone, be they Afghanis, or even Bangladeshis"
and is also "the word many soldiers use derogatorily for the enemy."
Related terms include "haji mart" (a small store operated by Iraqis)
or "haji patrol" (Iraqi soldiers).
The term seems to have come into usage even before the war began in
Iraq. Its use was noted following a U.S. military investigation into
the 2002 murder of two prisoners at the Bagram Collection Point in
Afghanistan, by some of the the same soldiers who later oversaw abuses
at Abu Ghraib. ''We were pretty much told that they were nobodies,
that they were just enemy combatants,'' said one of the soldiers at
Bagram. ''I think that giving them the distinction of soldier would
have changed our attitudes toward them. A lot of it was based on
racism, really. We called them hajis, and that psychology was really
One of the prisoners beaten to death at Bagram was an innocent taxi
driver named Dilawar whose only offense was that he happened to drive
his taxi past the American base at the wrong time. According to Corey
E. Jones, one of the MPs who guarded him, the beatings intensified
when "He screamed out, 'Allah! Allah! Allah!' and my first reaction
was that he was crying out to his god. Everybody heard him cry out and
thought it was funny. ... It became a kind of running joke, and people
kept showing up to give this detainee a common peroneal strike just to
hear him scream out 'Allah.' It went on over a 24-hour period, and I
would think that it was over 100 strikes."
The term "haji" is not simply an ethnic slur, like "gook," "jap,"
"jerry" or "nigger." All ethnic slurs entail hostile stereotypes, but
"haji" is a specifically religious stereotype based on hostility
toward Muslims. In our 2003 book, Weapons of Mass Deception, John
Stauber and I described the efforts that the Bush administration has
undertaken to rebrand America in the eyes of Arabs and Muslims,
spending hundreds of millions of dollars on projects including Radio
Sawa, Al Hurra, a "Shared Values" campaign, and the Council of
American Muslims for Understanding. Through glossy brochures, TV
advertisements and websites, the United States has sought to depict
America as a nation of religious tolerance that respects and
appreciates Islam. These words, however, are constantly being
undermined by the actual deeds and attitudes of the Bush
administration's most ardent supporters, including soldiers in the
field in Afghanistan and Iraq. While the White House has tried to
frame the war in Iraq as a "war on terror," its own supporters keep
reframing it as a war against Islam. This is a serious, if not fatal
error. Rather than fighting a few thousand actual terrorists, the
United States is positioning itself in opposition to one of the
world's major religions, with more than a billion adherents worldwide.
Culture shock and awe
"Hadji Girl" also refers to another aspect of soldiers' experiences in
Iraq: the language barrier that prevents them from communicating
effectively. The refrain, "Dirka dirka Mohammed Jihad / Sherpa Sherpa
Bak Allah," is borrowed from the movie "Team America: World Police."
According to filmmaker Matt Stone, the the phrase is not real Arabic
but a parody of "Arabic gibberish which they just go, you know,
'Dirka-dirka, Muhammad, Muhammad Ali.' ... And that, to me, is what
terrorists sound like when I look at their little tapes that they
release." This inability to comprehend the local language contributes
to the soldiers' inability to distinguish between friend or foe,
forcing them to suspect that anyone -- including the beautiful girl
you just met, or her family -- might be a terrorist.
These facts began to shape the relationship between U.S. soldiers and
Iraqis early in the war, as Associated Press reporter Andrew England
noted in September 2003:
Young American soldiers -- many carrying out operations they have
little training for -- find themselves in a hostile environment,
unable to speak the local language or distinguish "the good guys from
the bad guys."
Most just want to survive and return home. Some have grown to despise
Iraqis, whom they call "Hajis," scowling rather than waving as they
pass locals along highways and dirt roads. ... "I hate the Hajis. All
of them are liars. They injured one of my soldiers," said one.
"You don't want to know what I think about them, they shot at me one
too many times," said another.
It is worth noting that one of the few conscientious objectors who
have actually served with the military in Iraq, Aidan Delgado, had a
very different perspective of Iraqis because he did know how to speak
It was tough for me to see brutality coming out of my own unit. I had
lived in the Middle East. I had Egyptian friends. I spent nearly a
decade in Cairo. I spoke Arabic, and I was versed in Arab culture and
Islamic dress. Most of the guys in my unit were in complete culture
shock most of the time. They saw the Iraqis as enemies. They lived in
a state of fear. I found the Iraqis enormously friendly as a whole.
One time I was walking through Nasiriyah with an armful of money,
nadirs that were exchanged for dollars. I was able to walk 300 meters
to my convoy -- a U.S. soldier walking alone with money. And I
thought: I am safer here in Iraq than in the states. I never felt
threatened from people in the South.
It would be a mistake to imagine that the casual brutality of "Hadji
Girl" is coming from people who are simply evil or racist or cruel.
The soldiers occupying Iraq are normal men and women who, in other
circumstances, would never commit the abuses that have been documented
in Bagram and Abu Ghraib and that are now alleged in Haditha. The
situations in which this war has placed them -- far from home,
surrounded by a foreign language and foreign culture, carrying guns
and fearful for their lives -- have brought out behaviors that we
would not see otherwise. If American soldiers and Iraqis could meet
under different circumstances, things would be different. Here, for
example, is how Iraqi blogger Salam Pax described his experience upon
visiting the United States and having dinner with an American soldier:
You have no idea how strange it feels that we share so much in common.
When I told him I would never actually approach an American soldier on
the street in Baghdad, he told me that if we were in Baghdad he would
probably be talking to me with his gun pointing at me because he would
be scared shitless. Yet there we sat, drinking beers together.
America's cultural isolationism and prejudices are exposed by "Hadji
Girl," but that's only part of the story. The war itself is
encouraging these dark aspects of human nature, by bringing Americans
and Iraqis together in an environment full of tension, fear, hatred
and violence. And if the war itself is creating these evils, how can
it hope to end them?
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