Sunday, August 27, 2006

Jill Carroll's Articles In Christian Science Monitor Are Superb

One of the burning questions in the world today has to do with what Muslims believe, and why, the cross-currents of Muslim thought and its effect on what is going on in the present worldwide conflict.

From that standpoint, a series of articles by former Iraqi hostage Jill Carroll running for the past two weeks in the Christian Science Monitor, and an article by Teresa Watanabe in today's Los Angeles Times on the threats to an Islamic reformer who has been a UCLA professor since 1998, are highly pertinent. They should be must reading for everyone.

The Carroll articles are posted widely on the Internet. One need not be a reader of the Christian Science Monitor to see this 11-part account, in great detail of Carroll's survival of 82 days in insurgent captivity in and around Baghdad.

How did a small group of insurgents keep the young free-lancer for the Monitor secreted all that time? Carroll tells how when she was moved around, it was with lots of veiled women and children, so as to not attract attention. Carroll was never found by all those looking for her; she was finally released voluntarily by her captives, who may have come to love and respect her. Her story, in short, is one of a great personal triumph, although she scarcely presents it that way in her clear, spare writing.

Her relations with her guards, their conversations, the videos they forced her to make and the quiet strategies she adopted to stay alive and keep her sanity make for the most fascinating reading. The insurgents (four suspects have now been arrested) come across with more revealing inside detail than any other accounts I have yet to read about a rebellion which has kept U.S. troops at bay for three and a half years.

The Christian Science Monitor has outdone itself in presenting this gripping story. The articles appear on the Internet both in concise form and, with a click, their complete length, which altogether run thousands of words. It must be emphasized that they are not told in any lurid or provocative way. Carroll's writing is factual without being exploitative, and she is remarkably frank about her feelings during this horrible time, that she was barely keeping control of herself. Actually, with little alteration, these articles could become a book.

The best thing is that Carroll is fair to her captors, without excusing their actions, which at the outset resulted in the death of her Iraqi interpreter and later became an international cause celeb re. Carroll, by surviving, has become a hero of our time.

I presume the 11th and last part of this series will tell us what she is doing now, although it would be a surprise if she has not been taken onto the full time Monitor staff. since she has clearly become a talented journalist.

The other article that is worthy of the highest attention is the one in the California section this morning by Watanabe, the L.A. Times' leading expert on Muslim thought.

It is about Islamic Law Professor Khalid Abou el Fadl, and the lead of the article asks a poignant question: Just who wants him dead?

The UCLA scholar has emerged as a leading critic of the dangerous Wahhabi brand of Muslim fundamentalism. He has long been an ardent champion of democracy in the Middle East and a critic of abuses in Middle Eastern cultures. Imprisoned in the Middle East for his iconoclastic views, he fled to the U.S. in 1982, where he was educated at Yale and the University of Pennsylvania.

But, he says, he did not advise President Bush to support Israel in its recent war with Hezbollah, and reports in the Anaheim-based Al Watan newspaper that he did amount to a "solicitation of murder" against him, perhaps circulated by Iranian elements.

It is shocking by the reported fact that somebody unknown fired a bullet that whizzed by el Fadl's ear as he stood in front of his home last April.

This is not sensationalizing. Would-be reformers of Islam have been murdered in Western Europe and elsewhere. The Watanabe article is a warning this could happen here.

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