In my last blog I referred to this outstanding book by Megan Stack, a young American journalist working for The LA Times, who was sent to Afghanistan to file reports – and later to all the other Middle East war zones. The subtitle is “ An education in the emotional toll of War”.
At the beginning she says it was a rush. She was excited by the danger, and thrilled at living in important times. “It was an adventure, an exhilaration”. But the horrors she saw every day, and the arrogance of her own government using the taxes she paid to cause those horrors, ground her down – and made her ashamed to be American. She concludes “You can survive a war, and not survive a war”.
You can come home physically safe and sound – but you always carry with you what you have done, or what you failed to do. “There is no redemption”, and I would add to that “There are always consequences”. Only the young and foolish – and the terminally naïve – think that there are no consequences.
Here, there is an echo of Graham Green’s THE QUIET AMERICAN – probably the most prescient book on the consequences of America’s naïve and adolescent foreign policy blunderings.
I was at one with Megan until I read her chapter on Saudi Arabia, where I lived and worked for 12 years. Her article is off-target. Not by a lot – but definitely off. She just did not get it – or maybe not have all the information. So what if all her articles are a little off-target? And who would be surprised?
In my book THE GULF “Reaping the Whirlwind” my protaganist is a freelance foreign correspondent, resident in Bahrain, and a specialist in Gulf politics. He reacts violently to celebrity journalists parachuted in, collecting stories from stringers eager to please and earn money (remember “every man in this village is a liar”).
The journalists are under pressure to file dramatic stories , meet deadlines – or feed their nightly TV news slot. And, even if they manage to grasp elusive truths, they are at the mercy of editors who can cut and change the slant of their stories to fit the page, or the TV slot, and perhaps most importantly, the media owners’ agendas.
Specifically in Saudi Arabia Megan covered the sudden sharp shock when Saudi Arabia, relatively calm and peaceful, suffered an outbreak of internal terrorism with attacks in Jeddah, Riyadh and in particular on the OASIS compound in Al-Khobar. But, contrary to the slant of Megan’s essay, this attack was not targeted at Americans.
Immediately after the OASIS attack, an American woman living in the compound circulated an email saying she was safe. She had foolishly gone outside her villa when she heard the shooting and had been wounded by a ricochet. The shooters asked if she was American. When she said yes they told her to go inside and lock her door – and she was left alone. The majority of the 22 people killed were non-Muslim Third World Nationals – Indian, Sri Lanakan and Filipino.
The attacks were designed to discredit and embarrass the Monarchy. The Monarchy’s response was typically brutal and efficient. They identified the 25 ringleaders of terrorism in The Kingdom, and within 12 months hunted down and killed the top 15. The other 10 fled to Yemen. But the Monarchy’s response was also humane.
The Saudi Army called all expatriate consultants to meetings and pleaded with us to move to identified private compounds that they could protect. I moved to a walled compound for Western males only. The outer perimeter was guarded by Saudi Army. The inner perimeter by Saudi Police – and the Compound had its own Security inside the walls. No more terrorist incidents.
Megan understood why the wretched and dispossessed in Afghanistan, or Egypt and elswehere, could breed terrorism – but could not understand why affluent Saudis could support it.
I mentored 12 young Saudi engineering graduates. All had spent 4 years at American colleges. Apparently Westernized, they came to the office in Western clothes; but in the evenings and weekends they changed back into a long white thobe with a chequered ghutra on their heads. And when we were traveling, at prayer times they a either found a local mosque – or we stopped at the roadside while they found a clean place, performed ritual ablutions with bottled water – and prayed. They are believers, without Western sceptism or irony.
They believe that the Holy Q’ran is the true word of Allah (God) passed down to Mohammed the Prophet (PBUH), – and it is the Third and Final Testament for The People of the Book (Jews, Christians and Muslims alike). Some would come with me to the fleshpots of Bahrain – but did not drink alcohol. And they always liked to end the night at a shiska house, smoking a hubbly-bubbly and drinking mint tea. Surprisingly they prefer their quiet way of life.
They do not believe in cold-hearted blind justice, and dog-eat-dog free market capitalism. Their first loyalty is to Islam, then to their family, then to their clan, then to their tribe. They are not like us. Whenever they are allowed elections they vote for a deeply conservative society based on Islam, guided by Imams.
All men (and women) in this (global) village (invented by the West) are liars. Whether deliberate liars like Blair, and Bush and the Neo-Cons with their lust for war, or like journalists and their editors filtering what dubious “facts” they have to hand through their own Western pre-conceptions. They understand the problems facing the Third World – they do not understand the people.
If you want authentic insights into the Middle East then read my book THE GULF “Reaping the Whirlwind”.
You can preview it at:
and download it if you have a Kindle.
If you prefer a real book order the paperback direct from my publisher