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Iraq Through a Bullet Hole: A Civilian Returns Home (Reflections of History) Paperback – August 1, 2008
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Jameel was a playwright of the Iraqi National Theater and theatrical critic for Al-Thawra, the official newspaper of Iraq from 1981--1985. He fled Iraq to during Saddam Hussein's regime and worked in Jordan for an Iraqi opposition radio station. During this time, Jameel converted to Christianity. In 2002, he migrated to Australia where he currently resides. His Iraqi background, his distance from the present situation in Iraq from his years' absence, and his Muslim upbringing and current Christian faith provide Jameel with multiple unique perspectives on the situation in his country. In Iraq Through a Bullet Hole, Jameel reports on his experiences honestly and effectively because of this impartial yet informed view. Any reader who wants to understand Iraq's modern history and the moral and political concerns of the U.S. occupation will be enlightened by this striking memoir.
The viewpoint of the Iraqi people has rarely been heard, but Jameel reports on a variety of his countrymen's thoughts, providing us their actual words, words they would not exchange with Americans or the media, but reserve to speak only within the safety of their family circles. Most Americans, whether in moral agreement about the war, believe the U.S.'s purpose is to bring democracy to Iraq; the media depicts Iraqis desiring democracy, as reflected in the repeatedly broadcast depictions of Iraqis pulling down Saddam Hussein's statue and celebrating in the streets over the American takeover of Baghdad. While Iraqis may have found Hussein's regime intolerable, within a couple years, the American occupation has caused many Iraqis to look back with nostalgia to Hussein's presidency.
The people of Baghdad suffer without the electric grid they previously had, relying on generators they only dare run a few hours a day to air-condition their homes or run their basic electric appliances. Worse, the Iraqis live in greater daily fear of the American soldiers than they did of Hussein. They avoid Americans at all costs, following far behind their military vehicles, constantly afraid to make eye contact with the soldiers, while the soldiers are constantly vigilant and ready to pull the trigger at the slightest suspicion that an Iraqi may attack them.
Americans will be astounded that Iraqis first viewed the war as a United States trick to turn Iraq over to Iran. Nor can Iraqis be expected to welcome the American occupation when for years the United States' economic sanctions against Iraq brought hardship. The presence of Westerners in their land has made many formerly non-religious Iraqis turn to extreme forms of Islam for comfort and a sense of control over their situation. Issam Jameel's family rarely followed Muslim rituals while he lived in Iraq but now his family constantly prays and worships at the local mosques.
The most insightful yet disturbing perspective reported by Jameel was from his own brother, a staunch zealot for Islam. Jameel reports many of his arguments with his brother.
When Mohamed said it was a Christian war to destroy Islam, the discussion developed spontaneously into a religious debate.
"This is not true, why do you assume that America is the representative of Christianity? This is ridiculous! Can't you see that there are many American Muslim soldiers serving with the troops?" I replied immediately, trying to explain that the Western regimes are run today free from religious influences.
I told him that if George W. Bush wants to portray himself as a good Christian by attending a church meeting, that doesn't make him a representative of the Christians in America, because, after all, a lot of churches have been opposing the invasion of Iraq.
In any case, my comments weren't able to change his opinions, and he still assumed that the main aim of America was to destroy Islam, whether in Iraq, Afghanistan, or in any part of the world.
It was easy to see that Mohamed had adopted a radical Islamic perspective, as he made no attempt to hide behind polite words. He declared openly that everyone who didn't adopt Islam should be treated as an infidel, citing the verse from the Qur'an that reads:
"Everyone who follows a religion other than Islam will be one of the losers."
"But the word `Islam' in that verse doesn't refer to the religion," I said. "You must read the verses that come before it, to understand the meaning of the verse. The Qur'an says that everyone who submits himself to God is a Muslim," I added, trying to explain the meaning of the complex word-play in this verse....on this interpretation, a good Christian or a good Jew is a Muslim.
Such conversations allow the reader to visit Iraqi homes, as if the titular bullet hole is a voyeuristic peephole allowing us to see and listen to conversations that would otherwise never be reported to us. Jameel's reporting is not only impartial but his years of exile from Iraq make the changes in his homeland more visible to him than to his countrymen: "I was sure they couldn't fully appreciate the disaster in which they were living, because they had become accustomed to such scenes over many long years."
As Jameel's first book written in English, Iraq Through a Bullet Hole serves appropriately as an interpreter between Iraq and the West. Jameel style has its imperfections--English is, after all, his second language--but his literary expertise as a playwright has served him in making his report memorable. He never dramatizes his experiences, never exaggerates, embellishes or fictionalizes to glamorize or enhance their horror, but relates each event with brutal, straightforward honesty. The Western media has depicted Iraq as through a camera's angle, marginalizing what it does not want its viewers to see; by contrast, Jameel presents an uncensored snapshot of daily life in Iraq during the summer of 2005--a date sadly less than halfway through what may well become the longest war in U.S. history.
The American public has long waited for this informative, unbiased, uncensored Iraqi voice to provide a more accurate evaluation of the United States' military presence in the Middle East. Iraq Through a Bullet Hole belongs on the desk of every congressman and Pentagon official, on the bookshelf of every military family, and in the luggage of each soldier sent overseas. Issam Jameel has given the Iraqi people a voice, which, after all, is the expressed purpose of the United States' efforts to create a new democracy.
-- Tyler R. Tichelaar, Ph.D., author of The Marquette Trilogy
In 2005, Jameel returned to Iraq to attempt to fulfill his familial role as the eldest male in the family, to console his brother in the loss of his son (Jameel's nephew), killed accidentally by American forces. In the Introduction, the author addresses the time-lapse between his visit to Iraq in the summer of 2005 and the publication of this book in 2008 by explaining that he originally had not thought of writing about his experiences, but then realized that by writing in English, he might make available to people outside some important observations of life in Iraq which they don't usually see in the media. I believe his use of English rather than his native language helped him objectify much of his reaction to the turmoil in his homeland and in his family.
In the format of a diary, Jameel's fear-filled journey into Baghdad and his adjustments to the totally disrupted lives of his family unfold in a close-up of real life. Issues of religious difference and intolerance challenge Jameel's attitude of tolerance. Misunderstandings and miscalculations of US forces and the increase of Sunni/Shia antagonism have made Baghdad a more chaotic city than it was when he left 12 years earlier. His visit to Kirkuk provides a relatively peaceful contrast to Baghdad.
It's true that this book doesn't read as a novel, and no doubt the use of non-native English may contribute to a bit of stiffness; however, I suspect that what some have criticized as a lack of passion in the author is rather more due to a cultural reticence to fly into a rage or rant. Or to put it another way, when feeling overwhelmed, ranting, raging, and preaching become obviously useless. Despite the useless death of his nephew by "friendly" US forces, he also refrains from blaming any single group for this personal tragedy or for the tragedy of his country as a whole.
This book exemplifies the significance of one ordinary person trying to make day-to-day sense out of confusion, inconvenience, and a disintegration of normal civilization. Although brief at 174 pages of large-print text, this book includes footnotes to several incidents of bombings or attacks and several maps of Baghdad and b/w photos.
Also recommended: A Sky So Close by Betool Khedairi and Baghdad Diaries: A Woman's Chronicle of War and Exile by Nuha Al-Radi