Thursday, December 02, 2004
In the Red Zone: I must confess that I was a little wary of a book about the aftermath of the Iraq War written by someone who actually acknowledges being an "art critic." By the time I actually began reading Steven Vincent's "In the Red Zone: A Journey Into the Soul of Iraq," any reservations I had quickly vanished.
Vincent's book is a must-read for anyone who's interested about the challenges facing the U.S. and the Iraqi people as they struggle to create a democracy where none has existed before. Vincent does what the the major media -- network news, magazines and newspapers -- have failed to do, report on what the common people of Iraq have to say and why.
I can't emphasize enough how important I think this book truly is for gaining an understanding of the diverse and competing forces pulling at Iraqi society. Islam vs. tribalism. Sunni vs. Shia. Kurd vs. Arab. Old vs. young. Vincent surveys the broad swath of Iraqi society and gives the reader a framework to begin to understand Iraq.
Don't be mistaken, Vincent's is not a navel-gazing book. His solid and thoughtful analysis of feelings on the ground in Iraq is coupled with numerous anecdotes that illustrate his points. Vincent's narrative is at times humorous and tragic. You truly feel Vincent's anguish when he finally puts two and two together and realizes what the intelligent, patriotic young Iraqi woman who has been translating for him went through when she says she was once arrested by Saddam Hussein's regime for a poem she wrote. Vincent had heard all the stories and read all of the accounts of what happened to women who were arrested by Saddam's thugs, but it took awhile for the connection to be made.
A chill shot through me. I suddenly remembered, weeks ago, when Nour told me about her poem, the business about Kuwait, her arrest, and imprisonment. At the time, I didn't think much about it: everyone in Iraq had spent some time in prison, it seemed. But that was before I got to know her. I recalled stories of what went on [in] Saddam's prison, what the secret police were capable of doing -- what they did -- how they would have viewed a helpless young woman.
"Nour," I began, forcing myself not to imagine the unimaginable. "Were you -- did they --" I didn't know how to put it; suddenly, all my journalistic skills deserted me.
"Tell me it didn't happen," was all I could say.
She kept her head turned away and remained silent.
"Nour, tell me it didn't happen."
"I don't want to talk about it."
"Nour --" I couldn't let it go. The realization forced itself into my thoughts with a distress I had never experienced before. Whatever professional detachment I had, or was supposed to have, was long gone, I realized, but that seemed insignificant now. What I wanted most of all was reassurance. Not her, not Nour . . . But the more I pressed the issue, the angrier she became. The cab pulled up to our destination and we got out.
"Don't touch me in public --"
"It's too late," I said, grabbing her arm. "Look, Nour. Lie to me. Make it up, I don't care -- just tell me it didn't happen.
She glared at me. "All right, it didn't happen," she snapped. "Are you satisfied? Do you feel better?" I tried to respond, but she spun on a heel and disappeared behind the walls of the NGO.
I climbed back into the cab. The driver moved about fifty feet down the road, then stopped, turning back to me with a quizzical expression. In his hand was a box of Kleenex. It startled me. I didn't realize I'd been crying so hard.
I can't encourage you strongly enough to read this book. Click either the Amazon link above, or you can buy it even cheaper directly from the publisher, Spence Publishing.