Somehow Operation Iraqi Freedom, not a large war by America’s historical standards, has blossomed into a crisis of expectations that threatens our ability to react to future threats with a fist instead of five fingers. Instead of rallying we are squabbling, even as the slow fuse burns.
One party is overly sanguine, unwilling to acknowledge its errors. The other is overly maudlin, unable to forgive the same. The Bush administration seeks to insulate the public from the reality of war, placing its burden on the few. The press has tried to fill that gap by exposing the raw brutality of the insurgency; but it has often done so without context, leaving a clear implication that we can never win.
“I punched him in the face myself because I’m a normal Russian guy,” Alexei said, grinning.
Using a widespread Russian expression, Alexei said he and others came to protest the march to “combine the pleasant things with the useful things” — hanging out with his friends while physically beating people he considers perverts.
The Somali smugglers are a ruthless lot. They charge $30 to $100 for passage, quite a bit since they pack 80 to 200 bodies into the fishing boats. And payment does not guarantee safe passage, not by a long shot.
If the seas get too rough, some passengers might be hurled overboard to lighten the load. If someone dares to stand up during the voyage, a whack with a stick or a gun butt is the inevitable punishment. Unaccompanied women might find themselves sexually molested by the crew in the dark.
But it is when the Yemeni Coast Guard appears and the boat owner risks losing his craft that things get even worse. The crew is likely to force all the passengers into the sea at gunpoint. If anyone hesitates, the crew will sometimes tie the hands of the passengers and throw them out, or simply shoot them.
Hiba Abdullah survived the killings by American troops in Haditha last Nov. 19, but said seven others at her father-in-law’s home did not. She said American troops shot and killed her husband, Rashid Abdul Hamid. They killed her father-in-law, Abdul Hamid Hassan Ali, a 77-year-old in a wheelchair, shooting him in the chest and abdomen, she said.
Her sister-in-law, Asma, “collapsed when her husband was killed in front of her eyes,” Ms. Abdullah said. As Asma fell, she dropped her 5-month-old infant. Ms. Abdullah said she picked up the baby girl and sprinted out of the house, and when she returned, Asma was dead.
But, he (Congressman Jack Murtha) said, “I will not excuse murder, and this is what has happened,” adding that there is “no question in my mind about it.” He reiterated a previous statement that shootings of women and children occurred “in cold blood” and that there was no firefight in which civilians were killed in a crossfire, as some Marines asserted after the event.
“This is worse than Abu Ghraib,” he said, referring to the abuse of Iraqi detainees by U.S. soldiers at a prison west of Baghdad that, when revealed in spring 2004, became a major setback for the U.S. effort in Iraq.
My life, though, is about to get a lot easier. The Daily News finally has a “real” photographer on staff.
A month after I introduced you to our new-look reporting staff, I’m happy – thrilled, actually – to introduce you to Garrett Davis, who has more photography talent in his right index finger than I have in my entire body.
Just look at his photo on this page. The one of the American flag on the rooftop at Steve Giger Auto Sales. Cool, huh?
In the Belly of the Green Bird; The Triumph of the Martyrs in Iraq, by Nir Rosen. [rating:4/5]
Nir Rosen’s book gives us something I hadn’t seen much before- the view of an occupied Iraq from the Arabic point of view:
A nervous soldier asked me to go explain the situation to the bespectacled staff sergeant, who had been attempting to calm the situation by telling the demonstrators, who did not speak English, that the U.S. patrol meant no harm. He finally lost his temper when and Iraqi told him gently, “You must go.”
“I have the weapons,” the sergeant said. “You back off.”
“Let’s get the fuck out!” one marine shouted to another, as the tension increased. I was certain that a shove, a tossed stone, or a shot fired could have provoked a massacre and turned the city violently against the American occupation. Finally, the marines retreated cautiously around a corner, as the worshipers were held back by their own men. Women peered at the marines from behind cracked open doors and children waved to them and gave them a thumbs-up.
Rosen, a Turk, is able to travel and speak with the Iraqi people, imams, and fighters, in a way that I have not seen anywhere else. He carefully details the change in Iraq from the heady liberation, the growth of the insurgency, and today’s sectarian strife:
Haidar was the father or two children and a frail man, with an attenuated body made even smaller by the immense turban he wore that pressed down on his large ears. Wide eyes and a long nose protruded from his long, thin face, made longer by a beard. In Moqtada’s prison, he was chained to a column and beaten. He claims he was also tortured with electric shocks. Haidar’s forehead is scarred because his keepers bashed it into a column. He claims there were about thirty-five detainees in the prison, including a twelve-year-old accused of homosexuality and a fourteen-year-old who stole money.
Haidar was finally released after his face was broadcast on TV as a missing person and representatives from the seminary pressured Moqtada’s office. His true “crime” had been some public statements blaming Moqtada’s men for a murder back in April 2003.
As a westerner, it did get hard keeping track of who is who. Rosen interviews so many key figures that it’s often an effort to keep up. But it’s so worthwhile. His is one missing viewpoint in most American minds.
My last night I sat with my friends on Sandra, my favorite fresh fruit juice and ice cream place, happy that the owner still recognized me and remembered my usual drink, a strawberry and banana milkshake. One friend, a Sunni, confided to me that things had been much better under Saddam. Another friend was annoyed that Iraqis could be celebrating Eid and ignoring the horror all around them. Yet, he said, “They could level all of Baghdad and it would still be better than Saddam. At least we have hope.”
A few weeks later the same friend e-mailed me in despair: “I’m living here in the middle of shit, a civil war will happen I’m sure of it… You can’t be comfortable talking with a man until you know if he is Shia or Sunni…People don’t trust each other…To be clear, now Shia are Iranians for the Sunni, and Sunni are Salafi terrorists for the Shia. We have a civil war here; it is only a matter of time, and some peppers to provoke it.”
In the Belly of the Green Bird; The Triumph of the Martyrs in Iraq, by Nir Rosen. Grade: B
When I asked Anderson about Sunn0)))’s stage theatrics, his response was almost Warholian in its mastery of spin, laying claim to absolute sincerity while playfully allowing that a certain degree of camp might be involved. What about the robes? I asked. Anderson frowned. “The robe makes it easier for me, personally, just to forget about the audience and concentrate on what’s going on onstage — the chemistry, the tones, the sounds.” What about the fog machines? “The idea is that this is a ritual, somehow: not a ‘gig,’ not a concert, but a sort of invocation. That shifts the expectations of the audience.” What about the final track on “Black One,” the band’s breakout 2005 album, for which one guest vocalist, the legendary “suicidal metal” recluse known only as Malefic, supposedly recorded his vocals while sealed inside a coffin? This, finally, prompted Anderson to smile.
“That was about capturing a certain kind of claustrophobic, isolated tone. There was actually a hearse parked outside the studio — a Cadillac hearse, painted purple — that belonged to the studio owner. So, we’re like, well of course we have to put the coffin in the hearse! So we actually put contact mikes inside the hearse, and inside the coffin and on top of it, and shut the lid. Malefic’s a tall, lanky guy, and he didn’t really fit inside too well. Eventually he started feeling claustrophobic, and that’s how we got the tone we wanted. There are outtakes of him knocking on the lid, saying: ‘O.K., I’m done! Let me out!’ ” Might that not qualify as tongue-in-cheek? I asked. “Tone first,” Anderson said, holding up a finger. “What this group’s about is tone.” He watched me closely for a moment, then his smile suddenly widened. “I love metal,” he said, as if confessing a closely guarded secret.
From Scott Anderson (photos by Eugene Richards/VII), New York Times Magazine:
Norris, too, had come to understand that his presence was not appreciated, or worse. His officers, he told me, “were always drumming into us: ‘Hearts-and-minds, hearts-and-minds. We’ve got to win these people over.”‘ He gave a laugh. “These people just wanted us dead.”
Keep Sweet; Children of Polygamy, by Debbie Palmer & Dave Perrin. Grade, regular reader: D; Polygamy-obsessed: B.
Picked up a signed copy of Keep Sweet at a small bookstore in Creston, BC, just a few kilometers from where the events in the book took place. The inscription from Debbie Palmer, “Hope you enjoy” struck me as odd from the start, but especially when I got to this paragraph:
Early one Friday morning, I was stuck in the only bathroom in the house, vomiting. I threw up green, slimy liquid, then was hit with a terrible attack of diarrhea. Children soon started pounding on the door. Sharp pains stabbed my right side, and a flush of fever left me sweating and weak. I crumpled in a ball onto the floor, unconcerned that I was lying in my own mess. A stern command from Daddy brought me to my feet, and I unlocked the door.
Hope you enjoy? Um, okay.
This book isn’t what I thought it would be. Coming from a woman who left polygamy after three tough marriages and apparent trauma, you expect a strong voice speaking out against, what I would think she feels, is a lifestyle incompatible with equal rights for women. But Palmer isn’t that speaker. She was a believer and her story seems pretty honest. She takes some shots, but then portrays herself as almost an idiot. The book is less an anti-polygamy diatribe from an exile than a look into the fundamentalist religion of intense faith and, often, poverty. It is a religion at odds with Canadian and US law:
Uncle Isaac called the whole family to evening meetings and firesides. He would read from a book called Jonathan Livingston Seagull by Richard Bach. Over and over he told us, “When it is my time to die, which could be anytime, none of you will ever see my face again, let alone the face of Christ, if you are not prepared to suffer as Christ suffered. You people cannot expect to slide into the celestial kingdom on someone else’s coattails. You’ve got to suffer and sacrifice and be maligned and hated. Do you think the world will love you if you’re doing the Lord’s will? We can be dull, stupid, and common like all the other seagulls on the shore fighting for the rotten, stinking fish, or we can soar like Jonathan Livingston Seagull into the next life with a celestial vision.” Uncle Isaac was firece and bold and we loved it. I became determined I would be a high-flying seagull, no matter what the pain or sacrifice.
Put aside the polygamy, the religion here is fierce and fundamental. The polygamist leaders in Keep Sweet are very intense in their beliefs, and the religion is portrayed by Palmer as one where fear is the key motivation:
Joseph White Musser decreed the Lord required us to bring our earthly needs and desires under subjugation “every whit” before we’d be allowed to parent these choice spirits. When a woman was married to a man for all eternity, she shouldn’t think she could let her passions run loose in the way of the gentile world. He said the Lord’s commandment to multiply and replenish the earth has an order.
“We watch the animals of the earth and see that they follow the natural order the Lord has designed for them. Therefore we must counsel together as husbands and wives and find out the time when we may conceive, and otherwise bring the passions of the flesh under control so our energy will be used in serving the Lord.” This commandment weighed heavily on the woman; if she deceived her husband and did not inform him of the proper times, she would be guilty of adulterating the birth canal, and the consequences would be “dire and severe.” There was a short verse at the end of the passage: “Sow in the morn thy seed, In the eve hold not thy hand.”
I wish this book had been edited more tightly. It seems as if Palmer is trying to get every last detail and every event in here, and a lot of it doesn’t move the story along. And the book ends before she leaves the group. But I think Palmer tells it the way it was, and often it’s as unflattering to her as it is to the fundamentalist religion she left behind. Don’t read this book expecting to find a hero, or even a sympathetic character. It’s more interesting as an insight into religion. I think that was most valuable to me: reading the experiences of someone who spent some time around polygamist prophet LeRoy S. Johnson and other insights into the FLDS fundamentalist mormon religion:
We were truly blessed that our prophet and his apostles visited Canada every three months now so they could update us on what God had in mind for his people. They arrived shortly after the gentile media made a big fuss about the United States being the first world power to build a spaceship and send a man to walk on the moon. Newspapers, radio, and television were talking non-stop about beating Russia in the race for space. We were all excited, and most everyone managed to find a television to watch “the moonwalk” over and over again. Uncle Isaac reminded us that our prophet had said, “God would never, worlds without end, allow a man to walk on the moon. The moon and all the celestial bodies in the heavens were protected from man by God, and He would never allow man to reach any of His creations off this earth.”
That certainly dampened the excitement in our group, and some of the kids were even wondering if the prophet had been wrong. We all stopped talking about it until he arrived to explain to us why the newspapers and television were contradicting what he’d told us. We were relieved to find out how Satan had inspired the government of the United States to create fake pictures of the moonwalk in order to further trick and confuse people on Earth. After the meeting, everyone was distraught to discover the lengths the devil would go to make people “believe a lit and be damned.” Jan immediately included the prophet’s teachings about the treachery of the gentile nations in our classes at school so we wouldn’t be tempted to believe what we heard on television or happened to read. We just needed to be very sure to remember that Satan’s number-one tool to deceive and destroy people through temptation was television.
Keep Sweet; Children of Polygamy, by Debbie Palmer & Dave Perrin. Grade, regular reader: D; Polygamy-obsessed: B.
From the Daily Sun, Nigeria’s King of the Tabloids:
“Pressman, you have no need to ask questions on whether we live under the terror of security operatives. You have witnessed it and we guess your story will just be a narration of what you have encountered”. It was a story that told itself and investigation practicalised by the constant visit of daring security men to the town. There were three of such visits on Monday, May 8, and we all ran into the bush whenever they came. One managed to peep from the hiding to catch a glimpse of the armed men who called like ravenous wolves to take a prey.
Dispatches from the Edge, by Anderson Cooper. Grade: A.
Don’t mistake my high rating of this book for any vindication of broadcast media. I don’t watch TV news, finding it generally shallow. And before I quote from the book, showing you some of Cooper’s observations, I’ve got to ask, did he really need three photos of himself on the book jacket? There he is looking serious in Africa. There he is looking serious in a hurricane. There he is looking serious after Katrina. He’s got that serious-looking squint going down, but in photos inside the book, you’ll actually see him with his eyes open.
That said, it’s a great book that gives you the feel for crisis reporting:
In Baghdad in 2005 the list of what you can’t do is much longer than the list of what you can. You can’t: eat in a restaurant; go to the movies; hail a taxi; go out at night; stroll down the street; stand in a crowd; stay in one spot too long; use the same route; get stuck in traffic; forget to barricade your door at night; neglect to speak in code when using walkie-talkies; or go anywhere without armed guards, communication devices, an ID, a Kevlar vest, or a multi-vehicle convoy. You can’t forget you’re a target.
Other than that, it’s not so bad.
Cooper writes about covering international crisis in Iraq, Bosnia, Niger, Rwanda, and Somalia:
I arrived back in Nairobi and showered the dust from my hair, lathered my body, pried the dirt from my finger- and toenails. I put on fresh clothes, went to an italian restaurant, ate pasta, drank passion fruit juice, watched the TV above the bar. I’d been there, now I was here. A short plane ride, a few hundred miles, another world, light years away.
I finished my meal. A cool breeze blew through the restaurant. When I breathed deeply, however, I was suddenly assaulted by a smell. Smoke, rot, flesh, and food- it was the smell of Somalia, and it came like a stiletto stab out of the shadows. I couldn’t tell where it was coming from. My clothes were clean, so was my skin. For a moment I thought it was my imagination, a hallucination brought on by the heat and my fever. Then I realized that it was coming from my boots. I had only one pair, and the smell of that place had soaked into the leather, worked itself into the soles. Just that morning, in Baidoa, getting pictures of a dead donkey, I’d stepped into a pool of blood. Who knew what else I’d walked through?
From the chaotic aftermath of Katrina:
The Scientologists are here too. Kirstie Alley arrived with a bunch of them, and John Travolta is around as well. No one beats Steven Seagal, though. He’s not here with any group. I saw him late one night dressed in a cop uniform, out on patrol with some deputies from the Jefferson Parish Sheriff’s Department. He’s been going out with their SWAT team.
“Seagal’s tight with the sheriff in Jefferson,” a New Orleans cop tells me later. “There’s a bar where a lot of cops hang out, and I remember a couple years ago Seagal comes in with those guys and takes out a framed eight-by ten photo of himself and fucking hangs it on the wall.”
“Get out of here,” I say, “no way.”
“I shit you not,” he says. “As soon as he left, a couple of us took out our pistols and shot it. Blew the fucking thing off the wall. One bullet actually went right through and hit a car-rental place next door.”
Dispatches from the Edge, by Anderson Cooper. Grade: A.
Through a spokesperson, Shock editors declined to be interviewed for this story, though the company did provide an advance copy of the magazine for review.
The first issue of Shock is a medley of photojournalism essays, paparazzi, and upsetting images including a self-immolating protestor and a child held hostage with a blade to her throat. Shock borrows the celebrity tabloid look of its French counterpart, but with less nudity; it’s more PG-13 than R.
This issue has just five advertisements, for JVC, Bowflex, Girls Gone Wild, a cell phone service and a film school.