"When dawn spreads its paintbrush on the plain, spilling purple... ," Songs of the Pioneers song from TV show "Wagon Train." Dawn on the mythic Santa Fe Trail, New Mexico, looking toward Raton from Cimarron. -- Clarkphoto. A curmudgeon's old-fashioned newspaper column, cross-breeding metaphors and journalism and art, for readers in 150 countries.

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

The pages of October

There's a story or two to tell about how we  were fortunate to have N.Y. Times correspondent Anthony Shadid, an Oklahoma City native,  on campus this week to talk to our students and all interested, including his family members who live here.

Shadid has twice won a Pulitzer prize for his coverage of the war in Iraq, working for The Washington Post. He's been with the Times for less than a year.

I have a notebook full of notes, but I'm writing from memory and emotion here, to recommend one of his books: Night Draws Near--Iraq's People in the shadow of America's war.

Anthony is a Lebanese-American, or as he put it: "I'm an American, of Lebanese descent." He is a Christian, as are many of the Lebanese who immigrated to Oklahoma about 100 years ago. There's another story, one that hasn't been told, although he's working on another book about his southern Lebanese family and their coming to Oklahoma.

I wish you could have heard him talk about covering the war. He's a story teller, and because he speaks at least two kinds of Arabic--that he learned in college and in Lebanon--he has a unique ability to get real stories from real people in a part of the world where Americans are essentially enemies.

So if you want to understand the quagmire America is in in Iraq--"The war isn't over," Shadid said--this book helps. He takes no political stands, just shows the facts and effect of war on Iraq's citizens, and how war ruins the humanity of mankind. He is not kind to Saddam, relating his brutality. Neither is he kind to Bush and America and its invasion...it's just straight reporting. He told my students he prefers "muscular writing"--nouns and verbs, with few adjectives and adverbs. He gives a brief historical perspective of Iraq and its greatness and turmoil and tragedies.

But as he told my students, and this is a paraphrase, he prefers to cover big events by finding small stories that show the bigger picture.

I've only read the first two chapters so far, and am hooked.  Excerpts:

Journalism-- "Journalism is imperfect. The more we know as reporters, the more complicated the story becomes, and by the nature of our profession, the less equipped we are to write about it with the justice and rigor it demands. Night Draws Near is no exception."

Before the invasion--"Against the cacophony of  the Arab world, Baghdad seemed quiet, so hushed that it felt a little unreal. As America framed the war one way, the Arab world another, Iraq simply seemed to be trying to come to grips with its arrival."

Words--"Time and again, I am struck by how seldom I hear the word hurriya, "freedom"  in conversations about politics in the Arab world... . Much more common  among Arabs is the world adil, "justice.... . And justice, it seemed to many in the Middle East, was no longer served by the Americans... ."

Chants--"'There is no god by God and America is the enemy of God!'"

With more than 100,000 dead Iraqis and more than 8,000 Americans dead so far, and with Baghdad--ironically called "the city of peace" still without electricity seven years after we invaded....this book helps me understand. It doesn't give me answers, but it is worth reading because we're going to be there a long time.

P.S. Anthony Shadid, his wife who also works for the NY Times, and his beautiful daughter, will be returning to Beirut, Lebanon, to work. from my part of  the  world, "Vaya con Dios." You make me proud to be a journalist, and reaffirm my faith in who important journalism is to our free society.

Buy the book. I did. But of course I got his autograph: "To Terry & Susan Clark--My new friends in Oklahoma!"

3 comments:

  1. I'm putting the book on my Amazon wish list. I still don't understand the whole Iraq expedition.

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  2. Alan,

    I don't think we ever will understand it.

    The crime is the thousands of people killed, including our American men and women.

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  3. Terry, your blog is a wonderful read. I will be keeping up with all of the entries via RSS from now on! Also, I did check out Zach Nash's website, and I agree that his photographs are marvelous. Thank you for the recommendation!

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