PM Pick

Courage Under Fire: They Tell Iraq's Story

By Trudy Rubin

The Philadelphia Inquirer (MCT)

Americans' perceptions of Iraq are molded by scenes of horrendous violence; few get to see the bravery and humanity of Iraqis living under hellish conditions.

So I wish millions could have watched the International Women's Media Foundation (IWMF) present its 2007 Courage in Journalism award this week to six Iraqi women journalists who have risked their lives in the Baghdad bureau of McClatchy Newspapers. (Brave Mexican, Ethiopian and Zimbabwean women journalists were also honored.)

But the ceremonies could not be televised or photographed, because, if the Iraqi women's faces were seen back home, they or their families could be targeted by terrorists for having worked with Americans. The husband, 5-year-old daughter, and mother-in-law of one of the women, Ban Adil Sarhan,

were shot dead for just that reason, and she is now living in America; another of the awardees is in hiding, and all are under threat.

I know all six because I work with the McClatchy bureau when I visit Baghdad (the McClatchy-Tribune wire distributes my column). So let me tell you a bit about Sahar Issa, who accepted the award for the group.

Sahar is a woman of immense dignity and composure, her English excellent and soft-spoken but with a quiet passion underneath. When I worked with her in Baghdad in June, I couldn't comprehend how she persevered.

During this conflict she lost her son, who was caught in a cross-fire while riding his moped on the street. She also lost her brother. She struggles to care for her family in 110-degree heat with two hours of electricity a day and little water, waking at night to fan her children. Each day when they go to school, she worries they might not return.

Earlier this year she had to go to the morgue to find her nephew. Women are often sent to the morgue rather than men, because the men are in more danger. She, the boy's mother, and an aunt had to search bare-handed through body parts to bring home the remains.

And yet, she decided during this war to work as a journalist, a profession that exposes her and her Iraqi colleagues to even greater peril, especially if they work with Americans. According to the Committee to Protect Journalists, 121 Iraq journalists have been killed on duty since 2003. Yasser Salihee, a member of the Baghdad bureau (then run by Knight Ridder) was killed in 2005.

I asked Sahar this week why she took the risk. "It means so much to me," she replied quickly. "Not a lot of people in America know Iraqi society. It makes wrongdoing (against us) easier. We have to speak out ... to demonstrate to people who may affect decisions (about our lives) that we are human beings - that Ali is like John."

Along with the rest of the McClatchy bureau's Baghdad staff, Sahar writes the Inside Iraq blog (www.mcclatchydc.com/iraq). The feedback convinced her that Americans know little about Iraq. They don't know, for example, that Iraq once led the Arab world in women's education, before wars, international sanctions, and the American occupation set women back. Both she and her mother are university graduates. Those gains, she says, are now being reversed by religious parties.

She also wants Americans to understand that sectarian strife in Iraq is not really over religion - but over political power.

To correct such misconceptions, she is committed to journalism. "No one will do it for us," she says. Is she frightened? "I am scared silly. I am at tremendous risk." Her kids are proud of her, but when she left for America, her son said, "Mother, don't be photographed."

At the award ceremony in Washington, CNN's Zain Verjee asked Sahar how she deals with fear. "Every day could be my last," she said. "I try not to dwell on it. Living in fear has become quite commonplace in Iraq and not just for journalists. We go out to visit relatives, to school or the store, not knowing whether we'll come back. I've been in situations on the way to work where I thought I had said my last prayer."

What Sahar didn't say is that the courage of Iraqi journalists - female and male - is crucial to American correspondents who depend on them to get to places where Americans can no longer go. "They are the backbone of the bureau, my eyes and ears when I can't get out," says Leila Fadel, theLebanese-American McClatchy bureau chief in Baghdad, and no mean example of courage herself. "They are our guide to the streets of Baghdad, and so often they never get recognized for what they do."

Sahar wants to stay in Iraq, but other Iraqi journalists working with Americans are finding the danger is too great. It is shocking so few have been able to get asylum. America owes the brave journalists who have helped us every assistance. The IWMF should be congratulated for giving their

courage the attention it deserves. (You can read more about all six Iraqi women and the other honorees at http://www.iwmf.org/courage/awardees.php.)

___

ABOUT THE WRITER

Trudy Rubin is a columnist and editorial-board member for the Philadelphia

Inquirer.

So far J. J. Abrams and Rian Johnson resemble children at play, remaking the films they fell in love with. As an audience, however, we desire a fuller experience.

As recently as the lackluster episodes I-III of the Star Wars saga, the embossed gold logo followed by scrolling prologue text was cause for excitement. In the approach to the release of any of the then new prequel installments, the Twentieth Century Fox fanfare, followed by the Lucas Film logo, teased one's impulsive excitement at a glimpse into the next installment's narrative. Then sat in the movie theatre on the anticipated day of release, the sight and sound of the Twentieth Century Fox fanfare signalled the end of fevered anticipation. Whatever happened to those times? For some of us, is it a product of youth in which age now denies us the ability to lose ourselves within such adolescent pleasure? There's no answer to this question -- only the realisation that this sensation is missing and it has been since the summer of 2005. Star Wars is now a movie to tick off your to-watch list, no longer a spark in the dreary reality of the everyday. The magic has disappeared… Star Wars is spiritually dead.

Keep reading... Show less
6

This has been a remarkable year for shoegaze. If it were only for the re-raising of two central pillars of the initial scene it would still have been enough, but that wasn't even the half of it.

It hardly needs to be said that the last 12 months haven't been everyone's favorite, but it does deserve to be noted that 2017 has been a remarkable year for shoegaze. If it were only for the re-raising of two central pillars of the initial scene it would still have been enough, but that wasn't even the half of it. Other longtime dreamers either reappeared or kept up their recent hot streaks, and a number of relative newcomers established their place in what has become one of the more robust rock subgenre subcultures out there.

Keep reading... Show less
Theatre

​'The Ferryman': Ephemeral Ideas, Eternal Tragedies

The current cast of The Ferryman in London's West End. Photo by Johan Persson. (Courtesy of The Corner Shop)

Staggeringly multi-layered, dangerously fast-paced and rich in characterizations, dialogue and context, Jez Butterworth's new hit about a family during the time of Ireland's the Troubles leaves the audience breathless, sweaty and tearful, in a nightmarish, dry-heaving haze.

"Vanishing. It's a powerful word, that"

Northern Ireland, Rural Derry, 1981, nighttime. The local ringleader of the Irish Republican Army gun-toting comrades ambushes a priest and tells him that the body of one Seamus Carney has been recovered. It is said that the man had spent a full ten years rotting in a bog. The IRA gunslinger, Muldoon, orders the priest to arrange for the Carney family not to utter a word of what had happened to the wretched man.

Keep reading... Show less
10

Aaron Sorkin's real-life twister about Molly Bloom, an Olympic skier turned high-stakes poker wrangler, is scorchingly fun but never takes its heroine as seriously as the men.

Chances are, we will never see a heartwarming Aaron Sorkin movie about somebody with a learning disability or severe handicap they had to overcome. This is for the best. The most caffeinated major American screenwriter, Sorkin only seems to find his voice when inhabiting a frantically energetic persona whose thoughts outrun their ability to verbalize and emote them. The start of his latest movie, Molly's Game, is so resolutely Sorkin-esque that it's almost a self-parody. Only this time, like most of his better work, it's based on a true story.

Keep reading... Show less
7

There's something characteristically English about the Royal Society, whereby strangers gather under the aegis of some shared interest to read, study, and form friendships and in which they are implicitly agreed to exist insulated and apart from political differences.

There is an amusing detail in The Curious World of Samuel Pepys and John Evelyn that is emblematic of the kind of intellectual passions that animated the educated elite of late 17th-century England. We learn that Henry Oldenburg, the first secretary of the Royal Society, had for many years carried on a bitter dispute with Robert Hooke, one of the great polymaths of the era whose name still appears to students of physics and biology. Was the root of their quarrel a personality clash, was it over money or property, over love, ego, values? Something simple and recognizable? The precise source of their conflict was none of the above exactly but is nevertheless revealing of a specific early modern English context: They were in dispute, Margaret Willes writes, "over the development of the balance-spring regulator watch mechanism."

Keep reading... Show less
8
Pop Ten
Mixed Media
PM Picks

© 1999-2017 Popmatters.com. All rights reserved.
Popmatters is wholly independently owned and operated.

rating-image