Saturday, October 01, 2005

At Last

affsPaul William Roberts' book, A War Against Truth, has just arrived at my home today, having only just been released in the States. I've been waiting to get my hands on this. I mean, this is a man with all the street cred you could ever expect from a reporter in Iraq, a man who speaks the language, who has lived among the people and had friends there, who has spoken with Saddam Hussein, and who knows what it feels like for the bombs of 2003 to tear apart the house in which he is living, and kill his friends in front of his eyes. A man who is telling you things like this:
""My Mummy and Daddy," Bassim explained, the strained rationality in his voice making his words sound like plastic. "I must help them … in there … They're in there," he added, in case I had forgotten who lived in the house.
Bassim tried climbing up the exterior wall, but his efforts just dislodged more concrete and masonry. We picked our way around to the rear, looking for a way in but finding nothing viable. The fire inside was getting worse, snapping and spitting as it gorged on kerosene and cooking oils.
Then, on the far side, we found an entire upper room exposed intact to the black night air. Its outer wall had been peeled away, like a dolls' house or an architectural illustration, revealing the interior: a tiny wardrobe, a small armchair, a little writing table, a narrow pallet with a diminutive person asleep beneath pristine white sheets.
There was a noise like some giant beating on a steel door with a 200-foot-long hammer. Then came an intense roaring sound followed by a staggeringly huge explosion not far away. My cheeks flapped and lips opened involuntarily as the wave hit, shattering more glass and causing the dying house to lurch as if galvanized. Great pistons plunged through the tiny canals in my ears; I felt as if my brain was being squeezed by big soft hands.
Bassim, oblivious, had already scrambled up the brickwork and was soon cradling the little head. It was his great-aunt. She had probably died of heart failure around the time of impact.
I recalled the only thing she had ever said to me, the day before:
"You must tell Mr. Bush that this is not a good thing he does here. He thinks it is a good thing, but it is not at all good. Ask him which of his own children he would allow to die to destroy Saddam Hussein. He will not be willing to see his own child die for this. Then why must we see our children die for this madness? This is what you must write for the Americani to read … is it not so?" She had turned to the others for support here.
"Aunty wants to be the next Minister of Information," Bassim had told me, gently mocking the frail old lady.
"I don't have the imagination for that any more," she had said, not missing a beat. "Mohammed Sayeed Sahaf is doing a fine job, anyway, and this is because, you see, he always wanted to be a writer of novels. The 'Mother of All Battles' was his phrase, you know?"
"This is the Mother of All Aunties," Bassim had confided to me, loudly enough for his great-aunt to hear.
"Take him back to England with you," she had asked me, suddenly very serious. "Rana and Amira too. There is no life for them here. Make him go back with you …"
Her voice had sounded so desolate and drained that I simply nodded to her grimly — Yes, I will, I will. I promise.
"Bassim, promise you will go back with Mr. Robert. Take your family. Get out of here!"
"Oh, Aunty, don't be so grim. Look on the bright side. Everything will turn out fine — you'll see …""
If you don't have this book, go to the link and read the first chapter.

Then follow this link to Roberts' Globe and Mail piece done September 10, on the desolation of New Orleans, the p/blunder of Iraq, and the American death-wish that is our foreign policy, where you'll read things like this:
"All the television pictures from New Orleans of water with people and houses under it certainly captured the world's attention. What the world attended to, however, wasn't so much the feeble efforts to relieve the city as the startling and unfamiliar sight of, as one of my Iraqi e-pen pals puts it, "so much terrible poverty in a country so much rich."
Many of the people being winched off rooftops did not even own television sets, let alone cars or telephones, so it is hardly surprising they had made no plans to escape until their shacks were under 20 feet of water.
Another Iraqi pen pal was disturbed by the sight of the looters: "Some I see, they look not much human, like wild men." Some were also cops.
But, as a rehabilitated looter myself — I was in Baghdad two years ago when it fell to the invading Americans — I am in no position to judge a little petty pilfering, particularly when the perps have just lost everything they owned.
All in all, the general feeling I derived from these ripples of Arab thought was that, in terms of peeling the veneer of society back to reveal what lurks beneath the codes of law and those who enforce them, the Iraqi capital comported itself a good deal better than New Orleans did.
At least under Saddam Hussein, everyone knew the government lied to them about everything all the time, and also that the media were merely a wing of the regime. Americans may just be waking up to a similar realization, since, thus far at least, no one has told them just how disastrous this disaster is going to be for the nation. You can always tell when the neocons are rattled by some event: They accuse anyone discussing the corporate or government role in it of playing politics with human tragedy. This, of course, is not something they would ever do."
Then, totally off-topic, check out David Strathairn in Good Night and Good Luck. Maybe the current crop of "journalists" will pick up a few tips.

Certainly they could learn something from Roberts.

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