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New Orleans or Baghdad?

About the author
Andrei Codrescu is a poet, novelist and essayist who teaches English at Louisiana State University, Baton Rouge. He edits the online literary magazine Exquisite Corpse and delivers regular commentaries on National Public Radio. Among his books are The Hole in the Flag: A Romanian Exile’s Story of Return and Revolution (1991) and Messiah (1999), a novel that features New Orleans and The End of the World. His website is at www.codrescu.com.

The Bush administration wrote off New Orleans because it's not part of America, it's merely part of the coming American empire. The president referred to us as “this part of the world.” Not “part of our country,” but part of a world that, like Iraq, has to be secured by armies, not saved through compassion.

After doing nothing in the critical days after Katrina, the government response was to send us troops. With the city empty of its inhabitants, the armies of the United States march around, guns at the ready, waiting around shops for insurgents who might dare to break in for baby-food and toilet paper.

I saw an entire platoon of soldiers in combat gear surrounding an already looted Wal-Mart on Tchoupitoulas Street – a Wal-Mart, incidentally, that many residents fought long and hard to keep out of the city. New Orleans prides itself for its lack of corporate uniformity, so we must be forgiven for not being particularly sanguine about uniforms, whatever their stated intentions.

There are more helicopters overhead than people in the city now. In December 2004, the Pentagon staged a military exercise using New Orleans as a model insurgent city. Jets flew overhead, warships came up the Mississippi and helicopter-gunships flew low over the French Quarter and the city's ninth ward with loudspeakers broadcasting the message: “Stay in your houses! We are friends of the Iraqi people!” Today, the ninth ward is still under water and I'm not sure America is our friend.

openDemocracy writers examine the political fallout of Hurricane Katrina:

Mariano Aguirre, “The Hurricane and the Empire”

Ian Christie, “When the levee breaks”

Godfrey Hodgson, “After Katrina, a government adrift”

Rob Walker, “Regarding New Orleans”

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We have always jokingly referred to New Orleans as part of the “third world”, a foreign country in the US. We didn't know how right we were. America either loves us or hates us. Those who love us, love our music and food, a music and food that came from the depths of poverty and sorrow. The slaves sang spirituals to lift themselves up from pain and to get God's ear. New Orleans jazz was born in whorehouses, another means of alleviating pain. This music told the stories of the poor who had no way out of New Orleans except for Jesus or gin.

New Orleans had other arts brought here by Spanish and French colonists, by pirates and renegades, by writers from other geographies of pain, and by Caribbean pagans. New Orleans has the most diverse spirituality of all the quickly homogenising cities and states of the union.

Those who hate us, hate us for the same reason. New Orleans is Catholic, pagan, poor and bohemian. The music is Devil's music and we are a cesspool of sin. In white evangelical America, New Orleans is synonymous with Sodom and Gomorrah. The Federal Emergency Management Agency (Fema) website has been inviting people to donate money to Pat Robertson's “Operation Blessing”; it was the third recommended charity on the Fema list.

Only a few days ago the good reverend was calling for the assassination of Venezuela's president, Hugo Chávez. The administration put as much distance between it and the man-of-god who delivered most of the Christian evangelical vote to George W Bush as it could. I sure as hell (where we live now) hope that there is nothing political about this.


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