Iraq Through a Bullet Hole: A Civilian Returns Home
Iraq Through a Bullet Hole is a book long overdue, primarily because the media has provided us with insufficient coverage of the Iraqis’ viewpoint regarding the overthrow of Saddam Hussein and the American occupation of their country. Issam Jameel has come forward to reveal his experiences in his native Iraq, a country he left many years ago, but returned to in 2005 to mourn his nephew’s accidental killing by an American soldier. Jameel does not express his opinions on the war, but reports impartially on events and conversations he witnessed and partook in regarding the crisis within his homeland. The strength of Jameel’s story lies in his ability to remove himself from the situation while his background provides him with a more knowledgeable understanding than the Western media, not ingrained in Iraqi culture, can achieve.
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.
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
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