On the frontline in the Middle East

2009-04-15 00:00

If you want to know what has really been going on in the Gaza Strip and particularly in Iraq for the past few years — indeed, for the past few 1 000 — this is the book for you. It is also rivetingly absorbing, a page-turner, written with the best of journalistic qualities (snappy, darkly witty and ironic, ruthlessly candid and highly observant). And it is stomach-churning, full of horrors which, even more frighteningly, are shown to be “everyday” in that part of the world. “By a blown-in restaurant door was what remained of a man I presumed to have been a suicide bomber. His body had been reduced to a pond of jam-like pulp, atop which sat his head, eyes closed and lower jaw sheared clean off.” (p.161) There are many such scenes: accounts of numerous suicide bombings, torture, ham-fisted beheadings, and bloody gun battles between various fundamentalist groups or between such groups and American or British soldiers from the occupying coalition forces.

The author casts a cold but fairly impartial eye over the ethics and especially the complexities of the occupying forces operating in Iraq since the overthrow of Saddam Hussein, with a chilling backward glance at the tyrant’s vicious reign of terror. Sadly, the “liberation” of Iraq seems to have opened a can of sectarian and violent worms, and produced a situation which is about as horrific as the problem it was meant to solve. The West’s thirst for oil is also a sinister player in the whole murderous farce. As for the people of Iraq, Hider made some good friends among them; but he sees so many as being driven by (for him) totally insane religious fanaticism to acts of unspeakable cruelty against their own people. In fact, Hider, after extensive spells in the Middle East, has developed an abiding horror of irrational and obsessive beliefs and the fruits they produce.

In the midst of the horror, the book also offers fascinating glimpses of local history and mythology, stretching back to the Sumerians 3 000 years ago, as well as many striking cameos of both sympathetic and terrifying characters, insight into military operations and into the activities of journalists who, like the author, often show incredible nerve in the face of mortal danger.

Early in the book, Hider expresses his nagging despair: “It seems the rational world, that thin mirage of enlightenment shimmering in a heat haze of illusions, will continue to be blind-sided in a bloody fashion by the madness within us.” His book is frightening, reeking of terrible realities, and a stunning plunge into the hottest of hot spots.

David Pike

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