Two bits from this morning’s news seem to point towards something positive for 2006.
And I don’t mean the one about Attorney General Gonzales’ investigation into the President’s FISA violations; I mean, into who leaked information about the President’s FISA violations, although that is indeed interesting.
No, two other stories seem to say it all about this past year, and both happen to be object lessons on Iraq.
A Florida teenager of Iraqi heritage decided to do some immersion journalism, and hopped a plane to the Middle East, target Baghdad. It was a low budget trip, funded from past parental gifts and savings. Basically, Farris Hassan was working on a school assignment at the Pine Crest School in Fort Lauderdale.
Farris Hassan’s Day Off began a week before Christmas vacation. It is a significant story in many ways, but I especially liked the brief spasm of State and Defense Department honesty in the wake of Hassan’s visit to Iraq. Iraq is "very dangerous" for Americans, with "[f]orty American citizens … kidnapped since the war started in March 2003, of which 10 have been killed," and for which the State Department issues "one of the strongest warnings."
More to the point, a military officer said "he was shocked the teen was still alive."
Look, Hassan, wait until you are 18, and then the U.S. Government will fully embrace your desire to visit Iraq. What a difference a year or two will make.
Hassan’s mother did not approve of young Farris’s visit to Iraq. Like millions of other American mothers, Mrs. Hassan will probably not be encouraging a military enlistment for her son anytime soon. Farris himself has done a very good thing. He has encapsulated for all Americans exactly what we need to understand about our national Iraq adventure.
"You go to, like, the worst place in the world and things are terrible,” he said. "When you go back home you have such a new appreciation for all the blessing you have there, and I’m just going to be, like, ecstatic for life."
I applaud Hassan’s rash courage and fresh idealism. However, his visit to Baghdad illustrates a more somber reality, one he glimpsed in a most innocent way. Washington has destroyed a country, in an experiment of state corporatism, political corruption and democratic chaos theory. But don’t worry, be happy, be grateful, Americans! We, like Hassan, don’t have to live there.
The second story of interest is the beat-of-the-drum story about "Baby Noor," recently airlifted from Iraq to Atlanta for surgical correction of spina bifida-related defect.
The most fascinating part of this story is how Baby Noor was discovered to be in need. From the CNN report, I quote,
The child captured the hearts of members of the Georgia National Guard after they raided her Baghdad home during a routine “knock-and-search” three weeks ago. As the girl’s young parents nervously watched the U.S. soldiers search their home, the baby’s unflinching grandmother thrust the little girl at the Americans, showing them the purple pouch protruding from her back.
"I saw this child as the firstborn child of the young mother and father, and really, all I could think of was my five children back at home and my young daughter,” Lt. Jeff Morgan said. “And I knew if I had the opportunity whatsoever to save my daughter’s life, I would do everything possible.
"So my heart just kind of went out to this baby and these parents who … were living in poverty and had no means to help their baby. I thought we could do that for them."
Knock and search raids brings helpful foreign military men to your door, where they can do real good for you and your family.
Well, just as long as you and your family aren’t too open about the "help." The Atlanta Journal Constitution reports that "The full names of Noor’s family members have been withheld because of security reasons. [Noor's grandmother] Soad said she told friends and family that she was going to Georgia, not to America….[saying] it can be dangerous for us to be associated with America."
Two very different stories. Both relate to our stupid foreign policy and the dangerous dehumanizing excess of the central state. But both tell us the same strange yet salient thing — human beings count.
Individuals count because they are bold and idealistic risk-takers like 16-year-old privately schooled Farris Hassan. They count because in the face of tremendous hopelessness, fear and deprivation, they remain survivors, like Noor’s extended family.
They count because, like the homesick Georgia National Guardsmen in Kevlar, individual soldiers feel deep love and longing for their own distant wives and children, and then stubbornly attempt to express that love in the random tiny windows that occasionally open for love in a war zone.
The rest of the story consists of government-mass produced tall tales about why and how and what in Iraq. It consists of broadcasting "Baby Noor" style "miracles" and "Operation Homefront." This part of the story is mostly untrue, and utterly irrelevant. It is loud and furious and unrelenting. But happily, in the asymmetric world that pits individual human beings against the state, the state remains hopelessly outgunned, out-witted, and out-maneuvered.
The truth stays on. The history that truly persists about Iraq will be not what we put in future Iraqi textbooks for children like Baby Noor to read, nor what Washington conjures in a pitiful attempt to save the collective face of thousands of civil servants, congressmen and several recent presidents. The history that persists will be that of individual lives and choices and actions.
May we all cultivate a bit of young Farris’s crazy courage, and be as tough-minded and spunky as Noor’s grandmother. Like some of our forward occupiers in Iraq, may we try to resist the easy path of hardened hearts and self-righteous expediency. In these stories, there are signs that 2006 will be a year of a welcome state paralysis and an abundance of human action.
Karen Kwiatkowski, Ph.D. [send her mail], a retired USAF lieutenant colonel who spent her final four and a half years in uniform working at the Pentagon’s Near East/South Asia bureau. She lives with her freedom-loving family in the Shenandoah Valley, and among other things, has written on defense issues with a libertarian perspective for militaryweek.com, hosts the call-in radio show American Forum on Saturday nights, and blogs occasionally for Huffingtonpost.com. To receive automatic announcements of new articles and upcoming guests on her American Forum radio program, click here.