Give me books, fruit, french wine and fine weather and a little music out of doors. --John Keats

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

"Thura's Diary: My Life In Wartime Iraq" by Thura al-Windawi

I must admit that I chose this book because, like medicine that is no fun to swallow, I figured it would be "good for me" (plus it was on the bargain book shelf, only $3.97 for a hardcover) but I ended up appreciating it much more than I expected to.

I wish I knew how common Thura's experiences and opinions are to those of the rest of the Iraquis. This is just the voice of one girl. Do most of her countrymen agree? I have no reason to expect that the rest of her people think very differently, but I also have no way of knowing.

I found it interesting, but not surprising, that Thura felt stuck in the middle, between Saddam's regime and the Americans. She neither sided with her own government nor with President Bush. She could see that the Baath party was cruel and should not be in power, but even so she was not happy that they were deposed due to American intervention, and she even thought that Iraq was going to become an American colony. This was a new notion to me. I wonder if she still thinks Iraq is no more than an American colony now? I wonder if other Iraquis think this? I hope not... but I fear so.

I found as I read that I was curious as to the original state of her diary. It was obviously edited (one clear example being that she would have mentioned praying to Allah, not God) but I wonder how deeply the editing struck. Was her diary toned down to keep from offending Americans? I was surprised that I didn't find more negative comments about my country, which makes me wonder if the stronger of such opinions were edited out. There were a few, and they were comparatively mild. One example is Thura's father's statement that "the Americans have created this chaos," followed by Thura's conclusion that "this is part of the plan to destroy our country". That rubbed me the wrong way at first, but if I put myself in her shoes, I see that I probably would have felt exactly the same way. By the same token, but less importantly, I wonder about the translation; how similar are the English phrases to her original wording in Arabic? I found a lot of the writing to be trite, or old-fashioned, or otherwise strange for a teenager's voice; somehow awkward, not ringing true.

I was initially surprised by Thura's perspective on American women as soldiers. She was in disbelief that we would send our women to fight. When viewed from the perspective of a Muslim I suppose this shouldn't be so surprising, but it is just so odd to me when juxtaposed with the fact that this "freedom" is something that American women have struggled to attain. Thura seemed to think the American women were forced to fight, and she couldn't believe they weren't kept home and protected. The idea that this is what those women wanted is foreign to her.

I was also at first surprised that the removal of the Baath party resulted in less freedom for women. The power vacuum allowed for more extremist Muslims to exert power, forcing women to wear headscarves and be more homebound. On further reflection, I should not have been so surprised, because a lot of things got worse, not just in diminished freedom for women. Most of what got worse was due to lawlessness. Anarchy brings out the worst in people.

When Thura made friends with the foreign journalists, she mentions that "they asked me all sorts of... political questions like what the Iraqui people feel about Saddam," and she says she answered their questions, but she does not write down her answers. I wish she had written more about that. She does later mention that her people had a sort of pride and love for Saddam, which was actually born of fear, and in the postscript her dad reminded her "that even though the regime had only ended recently, Saddam had died in the hearts of many Iraquis long ago," but this seems to only scratch the surface and I want to know more.

I like that Thura defines a martyr correctly: "a peaceful person who died while trying to help others." The only thing I would add is that a martyr dies unjustly. This is at odds with the way I would previously have assumed most Arabs define "martyr" (namely, a suicide bomber). I also like the way she sees my country after she emigrates: "America is a place where there are all kinds of possibilities and a real understanding of the concept of freedom." I hope she really feels that way and didn't write it out of a feeling of obligation.

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