Skip to comments.Middle East Souks Stocked with Souvenir Shockers
Posted on 02/18/2003 11:53:41 AM PST by Willie Green
For education and discussion only. Not for commercial use.
MANAMA, Bahrain (Reuters) - If you want to shock your friends with tasteless trinkets, try some of the best sellers in souks from Bahrain to Baghdad, but beware the reaction.
Crammed between plastic toys and fake designer watches in Manama's busy merchant district, the souvenir hunter can find Osama bin Laden T-shirts and a raft of items depicting the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks on New York's World Trade Center. Iraqi money with Saddam Hussein's picture can also be snapped up.
One of the boldest items on sale in the shops of Bahrain's capital is a metal coffee table lighter with a plane sticking out of one of the famous twin towers. Next to the towers is bin Laden's head and a fist with the forefinger pointing up. Push a button on the side and a flame shoots out of his head.
Jeff Fourier, a U.S. sailor on shore leave, said he thought the lighter was a disturbing mockery of the 3,000 people who died when hijackers crashed airliners into the World Trade Center, the Pentagon and a field in Pennsylvania.
"I just shook my head and thought 'Wow, some people will make money out of anything'," Fourier said as he shopped for shoes.
Some U.S. Naval officers from the Fifth Fleet, which is based in Bahrain, said such souvenirs illustrated anti-U.S. sentiment in the region, but asked not to be quoted and said they had been told not to talk politics on shore.
The stallholder selling the Chinese-made lighter and another bearing bin Laden's image said he had nearly sold out.
"Everyone buys them, except for Americans," he said.
But other stallholders said Americans were discreetly buying Iraqi money, bin Laden T-shirts and even the "twin tower" lighters as mementos.
"They buy them, but they say nothing," one said.
A salesman at a T-shirt shop displayed various designs featuring the Saudi-born militant and the smoking twin towers above the caption "America Under Attack." Next to them hang other designs with an Iraqi flag above the words "Save Iraq," pictures of reggae legend Bob Marley and popular Arab singers.
"We had a lot of shirts with flames coming out of the towers and people running away, but we sold out of them," said the salesman, named Sadheq. "Everybody buys them, French, Germans, Turks, Russians, Americans ... everybody."
One person wanted to know why -- considering the rising U.S. talk of going to war with Iraq -- he had no shirts with the Iraqi president's face on them.
"I don't have any George Bush shirts either," he said.
In Baghdad, watches with pictures of Saddam's face are common and in Cairo, street sellers are hawking glove puppets of a pugnacious Saddam in a green military tunic and boxing gloves.
Many of the shoppers looking for the ultimate bad taste souvenir are members of the international press corps who have been picking up nasty knick-knacks for years from the war-torn regions they have visited.
A British journalist recently arrived from Kuwait, where a U.S.-led coalition expelled Iraqi troops in the 1991 Gulf War, said he had seen doormats with Saddam's face on them.
"You get to wipe your shoes on Saddam's face," he said.
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