Reports from the Frontline

19Aug10

So, last night to the Frontline Club in Norfolk Place near Paddington. Have you been? It’s for independent journos/foreign/war correspondents (prolly best not to burst a paper bag loudly in the restaurant downstairs) and supports independent journalism wherever it may be. They hold fantastic talks on all manner of subjects, and last night was a bit of a Time knees-up.

An erstwhile colleague (the only one of us still working for the organisation, if you want to get really bogged down in detail) has written a fantastic book, Black Hearts. Jim Frederick, not content with escaping the redundancy guillotine, has rather tactlessly written a best-selling and utterly brilliant book that has been flying off the shelves in the US, and has just been published here.

Its subject is a horrible war crime (no, I know there’s no other kind) in Iraq. Abeer Qassim Hamzah Rashid al-Janabi, a 14-year-old girl, was raped by a group of US soldiers, who then murdered her and her parents and six-year-old sister in an attempt to cover up the attack. The platoon’s command structures had broken down, followed swiftly by the men’s humanity. Though as Jim pointed out in his introductory comments, what started out for him as a true-crime story became about the the nature of brutality and morality. That is, why did a small bunch of men go nuts, and the rest of the platoon didn’t, even though they’d all been exposed to the same degradation?

The talk last night was, basically, ‘Whither Iraq?’ and Jim was on a panel with a representative from the Iraq body count (John Sloboda, co-founder of the Iraq Body Count project, which tracks deaths during the conflict); a former British diplomat who served in the region around the time of these events (Sir Hilary Synnott, Coalition Provisional Authority Regional Coordinator for Southern Iraq, 2003-2004 and author of Bad Days in Basra); and – jubilation! – an actual Iraqi! (Haifa Zangana, Iraqi author of City of Widows: An Iraqi woman’s account of war and resistance and co-author of The Torturer in the Mirror, to be released next month).

It was a fascinating evening, with a really well chosen panel who brought very different perspectives and agendas, which meant that there was no territorial squabbling over expertise. You can watch it here. For me, it was Ms Zangana who made the evening. She gave it validity. She made the point several times that Iraqi voices have been completely silenced during this war. She also observed that it was a bit rich for the governments of the coalition forces to be worrying about corruption in the fledgling Iraqi administration, when those people were hand-picked by the US govt anyway. Drily: ‘Put it like this, they didn’t ask me to join.’

Anyway, it was great to see Jim, albeit only fleetingly. He came over to Mickey’s fish bar across the road, where we were fortifying ourselves afterwards with chips and mugs of tea, but couldn’t stay. Wednesday night is press night for Time, so poor old Jim had to go back to his hotel and close a load of stories. Suddenly, redundo didn’t seem so bad.

Buy Jim’s book. It’s great. Read an extract here, or watch him on YouTube. Though, being American, he calls it YooToob. Bless.

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