Tuesday, 29 October 2013

Some reflections after flying over Iraq

Last night I flew over Iraq. I am unaware of when the airspace became accessible again, but I recall flying over the area in 2006, and the plane taking a pronounced detour all the way down the Persian Gulf, indeed, all the way over Iran instead. But now, the planes fly directly over Iraq. And looking out of the window, as we passed over Baghdad, a sense of blankness; what trauma, what chaos? Nothing of the recent history could be seen from 39,000ft, but of course, what would one expect to see? Perhaps one could read the growth of the city under autocratic rule from certain qualities of the street plan, but from up there there was absolutely no way of sensing History in any way. But what is odd about this is that seeing the dewy spider-web of a city at night is entirely anthropic; all you are seeing is population geography, urban density, the agglomeration of people. As I was carried over, I saw the daily context of millions of people, but nothing whatsoever of the struggles and agony of recent years.

Then, not long later, a strange sight. As the plane crept southwards, from under the edge of the wing, which obscured most of my view, an odd haze began to spread outwards, granular, dusty, like perhaps the halo of a star when photographed from space. Moving along, it grew brighter and brighter, to the point where the streetlights around it began to vanish, swamped by the glare. Eventually, the source of the light revealed itself from beneath the wings; an oil fire. Burning out into the night, this rusty blaze was easily the brightest thing I've ever seen from an aeroplane, so far away as to be nothing but a silent point of light, but easy to sense the slow pulsations of the oil as it blasted out. Then, minutes later, another fire crept into view, and another, and another. Eventually various strings of these lights could be seen stretching off into the night, interspersed with roads and towns whose nights must be constantly ruddy with the smoke and the light which floods into it.

And of course, this point is when one can see history. Not only in the sense of the sheer tangible sight of the economic and security rationale behind the wars of the last decade, but also in that nauseating apocalyptic sense; from the vantage point of those vast new planes that carry eight hundred people, the ludicrousness of scale, aisles with vanishing points, gates like ferry terminals, anthroposcenic economies of scale, I looked down at the vast petrochemical blazes, burning beacons of what drives us, seemingly uncontrollably, into a new future.