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Very interesting book and interview

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This is worth clicking through to read:

The Patriot: Dahr Jamail’s Beyond the Green Zone: Dispatches From an Unembedded Reporter in Occupied Iraq

Book review by Leslie Thatcher

We were a minority, but still, there were many of us to whom it was as plain as the nose on our own face, in the fall of 2002 when the great “marketing campaign” for the Iraq war was rolled out, that Saddam Hussein had no weapons of mass destruction and no connection whatsoever to 9/11, that the war was an illegal act of aggression that could only hearten enemies of the United States. Some of us turned out for the great global “focus group” of February 15, 2003; some of us wrote to the editor, argued with family members and neighbors, were horrified by the mainstream media’s pornographic endorsement of “Shock and Awe,” but Dahr Jamail came down from his job as a Park Service rescue ranger on Mt. Denali in Alaska, and, armed with $2,000, a laptop, digital camera, and some indie media listserve advice about how to get there, set off for Baghdad. What he has described as “an act of desperation” provoked by his sense of complicity as an American is also, in a very real sense, an ultimate act of patriotism, an assertion that Americans are better than what we have done in Iraq, a faith he still champions that:

“If the people of the United States had the real story about what their government has done in Iraq, the occupation would already have ended … If people in my country could hear the stories of life under occupation and put themselves in Iraqis’ stories, they would understand. I hold that hope because the stories of Iraq are our story now.”

The decision to “embed” with the Iraqis, to tell the Iraqis’ side of the story – or what he could learn of it – has won Dahr Jamail four Project Censored awards. He broke stories about American house raids, torture and use of white phosphorus in Fallujah. He has written for The Nation, The Independent, the BBC, Democracy Now, and continues to work principally with the InterPressService as editor and fact-checker for Ali al-Fadhily and Ahmed Ali, two Iraqi reporters working under pseudonyms in Baghdad and Baquba, respectively. And in his book, “Beyond the Green Zone: Dispatches From an Unembedded Reporter in Occupied Iraq,” published by Haymarket Books this October, Jamail supplies the Iraqi perspective he garnered from the four visits he made to Iraq between November 2003 and February 2005, spending a total of eight months in the country.

Jamail’s conviction that telling the Iraqis’ stories is a path to personal and perhaps national redemption provides his book with a focus, perspective and objective very different from the so-called “objectivity” of the “professional” journalist. Perhaps, because he is aware of his absence of “professional” credentials, this citizen journalist makes it clear he verifies his stories, checks his sources, and generally applies the standards “professional” journalism contents itself with paying lip service to. By adopting the standpoint of the occupied, he is forced to violate one of the most fundamental tropes of mainstream media reporting: the sacrosanct virtue, integrity and wholesomeness of US military personnel.

Americans may not be able – or willing – to put themselves “into Iraqis’ stories,” but Jamail reproduces Iraqi voices:

Quite soon after his arrival, he observes US troops fanning out in the street from a balcony where he stands with Iraqi interpreter and driver Hamoudi. Jamail describes one soldier twitching, jerking and swiveling as he walks backward. Hamoudi leans over and says, “Look at that poor bastard. It’s clear to anyone with eyes that he has mental problems from being here doing this shit job.”

Dr. Aisha Abdulla in the supply room at Yarmouk Hospital rages against the occupiers:

“They’ve destroyed the foundations of Iraq – what do you think we can do without foundations? Even if the Americans stay here 15 years, there will be no security … Anything they do or build is superficial, not fundamental. Abu Ghraib attacked the dignity of the Iraqi people. Did America not become barbarians from killing Indians, Vietnamese, Central Americans, Afghanis, and bombing us and our young children, who now have psychological scars? If these did not reveal the true barbarian nature of America, then Abu Ghraib did. I never liked Saddam, nor did I support him, but at least under the dictator there was order and some basic services. Now, there is no order, no electricity, no fundamental stability.”

One detainee released in the spring of 2004, tells Jamail, “The Americans brought electricity to my ass before they brought it to my house.”

An Iraqi policeman comments on the case of an Iraqi driving home from work who was gunned down by US troops, “This is the usual policy of the Americans. They always shoot first, because there is nobody to punish them for their mistakes.”

And Jamail shows how US brutality and heedlessness, the military having “all the power and no accountability,” radicalized ordinary Iraqis from the outset, as their sense of justice and honor was repeatedly outraged. Without even making an explicit argument, the book wholly refutes the notion that a continuation of the occupation in any form could promote stability: By the time Jamail arrived in November 2003, all trust and any sense of joint purpose between occupier and occupied had already been exhausted.

“Beyond the Green Zone” details what it’s like to be on the receiving end of troops searching a boy’s high school for boys who took part in a pro-Saddam demonstration and threw rocks, of house searches that end in murder and destruction, of arrests that end in torture and death, of “reconstruction” that leaves people drinking sewage – but only during the hour in the day the electricity is running – of assassination attempts on independent journalists, and, most notably, of the two sieges of Fallujah.

The coverage of war crimes in Fallujah: the use of cluster munitions and white phosphorous against civilians; the targeting of hospitals, clinics and ambulances; snipers hitting women and children is more vivid because he introduces the people of Fallujah, whom he met prior to either siege; describes how the city turned from moderately cooperative with the occupation to totally opposed to it; how its people gloried in self-government between the April and November 2004 sieges; how virtually everything the US military did there boomeranged.

The stories of Iraqis’ resourcefulness, hospitality, sense of humor and warmth; Jamail’s descriptions of shared meals and experiences that are spread throughout the book, are other angles, missed – in every sense of the word – by embedded reporters for whom the Iraqis are always “the other.” Jamail, instead, conveys Iraqis’ shock – because it has become his own – at the apparently wanton bulldozing of a grove of date palm trees that belonged to his interlocutors’ fathers’ fathers’ fathers, at a friend’s inability to get home from a shopping trip because she lost her American-issued biometric ID card, at the vastly inflated turn-out numbers in the Iraqi elections reported by the US media.

Jamail’s immediate and intense identification with the Iraqis he encountered and his ability to convey their experience makes for matchless reportage. His book is also very strong on deconstructing propaganda: This is what happened; this is what the US media, the Pentagon or the CPA reported. Jamail may have been reporting too close in to provide an outside perspective on how Iraqi society works: He ascribes sectarian violence largely to US troublemaking, but the basis and trends of Iraqi allegiance is not clear. One fixer describes an Iraqi policeman as a “US spy”; Jamail refers to “militants,” and certainly describes how they are created, but the patterns of loyalty, rivalry and leadership are no clearer from his unembedded perspective than they are in the mainstream media vocabulary of “insurgents,” “foreign fighters,” “Shia factions,” Sunni tribesmen” etc.

That is both the weakness and the strength of choosing the perspective from the ground, of ordinary Iraqis still reeling from their world being turned upside down, trying to survive and to protect their families, still testing narratives that can make sense of their lived experience.

And by bringing us their voices, their experience, trying to project us into the lives of ordinary Iraqis, the ones who could be you or me, were we willing to exercise our imagination and put ourselves into their stories. Dahr Jamail continues to try and rescue his fellow citizens from obliviousness, folly, hubris, from the consequences of their heedlessness, just as surely and courageously as he did on the slopes of Denali.

An Interview With Dahr Jamail
Leslie Thatcher Interviews Dahr Jamail

Thursday 03 January 2008

Written by Leisureguy

6 January 2008 at 3:11 pm

Posted in Books, Iraq War

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