Television

Wide Angle: Iraqi Exodus

In Iraqi Exodus, Aaron Brown is much like you remember him -- wry, insightful, and slightly sad -- as well as on top of a story that has not yet piqued the interest of the mainstream press.

Wide Angle

Airtime: Tuesday, 10pm ET
Cast: Aaron Brown
Subtitle: Iraqi Exodus
Network: PBS
US release date: 2008-08-19
Website
Trailer
Amazon

"In my experience, governments only do the right thing when it's in their self-interest," says Aaron Brown, by way of introducing his question to Jordan's Interior Minister. "Why is it in America's interest that Jordan is able to manage this crisis?" He's talking about the crisis of Iraqi refugees -- now some 2 million are displaced -- and Eid Al Fayez offers up an unsurprising answer: Jordan is an ally for the U.S. in the war on terror. "We are against the fundamentalists, we are against the radicals. It's for the interest of all the West that Jordan stay stable." Brown leans in, his eyes narrow slightly, the scene cuts to a classroom in Amman, full of Iraqi children, illustrating exactly the best reason for the U.S. and Jordan to do the right thing. It's so good to have Aaron Brown back again.

In the season finale for Wide Angle, airing 19 August, Brown is the journalist on camera for the first time since he took over hosting the series this year. In Iraqi Exodus, beautifully filmed by Tania Rahkmanova, he is much like you remember him -- wry, insightful, and slightly sad. In this instance, he's also on top of a story that has not yet piqued the interest of the mainstream press, a story that, as Brown notes, is underreported "because the consequences won't appreciated for years to come." The exodus will not only affect the immediate individuals and families, but also the economies and cultural infrastructures of Iraq and the nations that decide to welcome them or not. Thus far, no one has welcomed them, and thus far, the refugees remain in dire trouble.

The film opens on a dark street in Baghdad, as families pack up meager belongings and head off into the night. "They're running away," Brown narrates. They're running from violence (both accidental and targeted), lack of work, and hopelessness. But their destinations are increasingly uncertain. When Jordan's population increased some 8%, it closed its borders in 2006; recently, Syria, also facing crunches in educational, vocational, and basic needs resources, has tightened its border as well. The United States has only resettled some 2200 Iraqis stateside since 2003, despite repeated promises to speed up the process and especially to look after those who have risked their lives and families in order to support the U.S. war and occupation.

"This is a refugees crisis with out the refugee camps," says Brown. In Amman, he speaks with a man in a café. Yusef, Brown observes, doesn’t look poor, like a stereotypical refugee. But he is bereft, a civil engineer unable to work legally in Jordan and unable to imagine that his situation will improve. "The Americans came -- people of culture, science, and leadership -- to teach us a type of leadership that's better than what we had in Saddam Hussein's time," Yusef says, drawing on his cigarette. "But what's happening now is unfortunate, not what we expected."

What's happening now involves longstanding religious and cultural conflicts: Sunnis against Shiias, Muslims against Christians, and, in the case of Nagab and Ziad, violent retribution because they are Mandians, a minority religion "older than Islam." As Brown says, between 80 and 90% of the 60,000 Mandians who lived in Iraq have fled, in search of safety for their children and work. Ziad is unable to find even day labor on any regular basis in Jordan, however. In Iraq, he received a letter accusing him of homosexuality, adultery, and "black magic"; when he ignored it ("No way you'd leave your city and your home because of a piece of paper"), an explosion in front of his house left his two little girls injured. As Ziad and his family walk away from the camera, down a narrow street, Brown says, "Not long after this interview -- with perhaps help from an email sent by us to the U.N. office -- they received a call saying they'd be sent abroad for treatment."

Though the film doesn't say what happens for this burdened family, the footnote about Wide Angle's email is striking. While it's likely that email was part of the team's investigation of Ziad's story, Brown's phrasing doesn't even feign traditional "objectivity." Instead, he is increasingly forceful (though still subtle) in his shaping of the report. "What is the United States' responsibility?", he asks more than once. The story of Syrian journalist Rula Nasrallah may provide a model for a decent response. When she started doing a story on education, she learned that Iraqi refugees could not afford the bus fare to got to school, and so she put together a system where she works with 100 families, helping with education and food.

Rula's effort is a model because she's looking ahead, considering the effects of poverty on young people. Similarly, Jordan's Queen Noor makes the case that this crisis is only a beginning. "No one can afford to have a huge number of people feeling alienated and humiliated and hopeless and desperate," she says. And "many feel that the United States and Great Britain have a special responsibility because it was their policies in Iraq that resulted in these humanitarian consequences."

But even as he tracks down causes, mistakes, and ongoing pain, Brown also finds resilience and perceptive analysis in his interview subjects. Two Iraqi targets of the insurgency, Hassan and Ibrahim, have opened a gym in Syria. They "train young Iraqis free of charge, narrates Brown over images of weightlifters at work, "desperately needed break from the boredom and loneliness of refugee life." As Hassan puts it, "Training is a way to get rid of their depression and their anger."

Speaking with a young boy in a classroom supported by an NGO in Amman, Brown tries to avoid such raw emotions, to discover a kind of childishness, where pride and joy might be possible. He asks what could be a silly question ("Are you the smartest boy in your class?"), but the child turns it around. "I'm going to school," he says, "but some kids can't, so I can't judge. Maybe if they had the chance, they'd be smarter than me. I don’t know." As Brown nods and also presses gently to learn the boy's background, he reveals that here in Jordan he misses his friends but especially his father, who was kidnapped three years ago. "That’s sad," murmurs Brown. "That's hard." Not only does he know when to ask a question, but he also knows when not to.

8

Music

Books

Film

Recent
Music

'What a Fantastic Death Abyss': David Bowie's 'Outside' at 25

David Bowie's Outside signaled the end of him as a slick pop star and his reintroduction as a ragged-edged arty agitator.

Music

Dream Folk's Wolf & Moon Awaken the Senses with "Eyes Closed" (premiere)

Berlin's Wolf & Moon are an indie folk duo with a dream pop streak. "Eyes Closed" highlights this aspect as the act create a deep sense of atmosphere and mood with the most minimal of tools.

Television

Ranking the Seasons of 'The Wire'

Years after its conclusion, The Wire continues to top best-of-TV lists. With each season's unique story arc, each viewer is likely to have favorites.

Film

Paul Reni's Silent Film 'The Man Who Laughs' Is Serious Cinema

There's so much tragedy present, so many skullduggeries afoot, and so many cruel and vindictive characters in attendance that a sad and heartbreaking ending seems to be an obvious given in Paul Reni's silent film, The Man Who Laughs.

Music

The Grahams Tell Their Daughter "Don't Give Your Heart Away" (premiere)

The Grahams' sweet-sounding "Don't Give Your Heart Away" is rooted in struggle, inspired by the couples' complicated journey leading up to their daughter's birth.

Music

Gloom Balloon Deliver an Uplifting Video for "All My Feelings For You" (premiere)

Gloom Balloon's Patrick Tape Fleming considers what making a music video during a pandemic might involve because, well, he made one. Could Fellini come up with this plot twist?

Music

Brian Cullman Gets Bluesy with "Someday Miss You" (premiere)

Brian Cullman's "Someday Miss You" taps into American roots music, carries it across the Atlantic and back for a sound that is both of the past and present.

Music

IDLES Have Some Words for Fans and Critics on 'Ultra Mono'

On their new album, Ultra Mono, IDLES tackle both the troubling world around them and the dissenters that want to bring them down.

Music

Napalm Death Return With Their Most Vital Album in Decades

Grindcore institution Napalm Death finally reconcile their experimental side with their ultra-harsh roots on Throes of Joy in the Jaws of Defeatism.

Film

NYFF: 'Notturno' Looks Passively at the Chaos in the Middle East

Gianfranco Rosi's expansive documentary, Notturno, is far too remote for its burningly immediate subject matter.

Film

What 'O Brother, Where Art Thou?' Gets Right (and Wrong) About America

Telling the tale of the cyclops through the lens of high and low culture, in O'Brother, Where Art Thou? the Coens hammer home a fatalistic criticism about the ways that commerce, violence, and cosmetic Christianity prevail in American society .

Music

The Avett Brothers Go Back-to-Basics with 'The Third Gleam'

For their latest EP, The Third Gleam, the Avett Brothers leave everything behind but their songs and a couple of acoustic guitars, a bass, and a banjo.

Music

PM Picks Playlist 1: Rett Madison, Folk Devils + More

The first PopMatters Picks Playlist column features searing Americana from Rett Madison, synthpop from Everything and Everybody, the stunning electropop of Jodie Nicholson, the return of post-punk's Folk Devils, and the glammy pop of Baby FuzZ.

Books

David Lazar's 'Celeste Holm  Syndrome' Appreciates Hollywood's Unsung Character Actors

David Lazar's Celeste Holm Syndrome documents how character actor work is about scene-defining, not scene-stealing.

Music

David Lord Salutes Collaborators With "Cloud Ear" (premiere)

David Lord teams with Jeff Parker (Tortoise) and Chad Taylor (Chicago Underground) for a new collection of sweeping, frequently meditative compositions. The results are jazz for a still-distant future that's still rooted in tradition.

Music

Laraaji Takes a "Quiet Journey" (premiere +interview)

Afro Transcendentalist Laraaji prepares his second album of 2020, the meditative Moon Piano, recorded inside a Brooklyn church. The record is an example of what the artist refers to as "pulling music from the sky".

Music

Blues' Johnny Ray Daniels Sings About "Somewhere to Lay My Head" (premiere)

Johnny Ray Daniels' "Somewhere to Lay My Head" is from new compilation that's a companion to a book detailing the work of artist/musician/folklorist Freeman Vines. Vines chronicles racism and injustice via his work.

Music

The Band of Heathens Find That Life Keeps Getting 'Stranger'

The tracks on the Band of Heathens' Stranger are mostly fun, even when on serious topics, because what other choice is there? We all may have different ideas on how to deal with problems, but we are all in this together.


Reviews
Collapse Expand Reviews



Features
Collapse Expand Features

PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 PopMatters.com. All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.