Read this

October 22, 2009 at 8:37 am | Posted in read this, the media | Leave a comment
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David Rhode is a Times reporter who was kidnapped by the Taliban on his way to interview a Taliban commander in Afghanistan. As it turned out, he was taken hostage by the very subject he was supposed to be interviewing (though he didn’t find this out until weeks later) and was held for seven months, until he escaped. This week, the Times has run a five-part series by Rhode, recounting the experience. (Read the first installment, here. Then read the rest. It is worth your time.) It was big news when he finally escaped because the Times and other news organizations had never publicized his abduction to begin with. Rhode’s story is incredible, not only because of the obvious — he was kidnapped by the Taliban — but because of its insights, as a result of his capitivity, into what is actually going on in Afghanistan and Pakistan (for example, how utterly brainwashed these uneducated young men are in their anti-American thinking).

Afghanistan, the news media has recently let us know, is the big story right now. Bigger than Iraq. And, yet, it’s difficult to understand why. Who is the army? The militia? The Taliban? Al Qaeda? Rhode’s reporting starts to delineate the “enemies” from the “allies,” and yet also underscores how difficult it is to tell one from the other.  It helps one understand why the decision to send more troops there is so fraught. 

My interest in this area also has recently been piqued by Dexter Filkins’ The Forever War. Filkins, another Times reporter, does not merely recount the stories he already reported from this region. Instead, he opens up the rest of his reporter’s notebook — his observations and personal analysis of his reporting in Afghanistan and Iraq, before 9/11 and before and after the US invasion of Iraq in 2003. We read about his interactions with warlords, politicians, soldiers, and the often overlooked civilian. I was given this book by a pro bono client, whom I’m representing in his application for political asylum. My client, an Iraqi, is mentioned in the book several times. (After reading Filkins’ accounts of some of the things my client went through — things my soft-spoken client plays down — I have moments where I am so glad I am a lawyer and can help someone like this and yet despair that I can’t do enough.) I haven’t read many other books on the conflicts in this region, so I can’t compare Filkins’ approach or effectiveness, but his book has given me important background into why the U.S. is finding it so difficult to accomplish what it wants and needs to in both of these countries.

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