Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Bachelor of Escaping Al Qaeda.

The wonderful thing about uni is that no one cares when you hijack another lecture. It seems to be the norm. Persuasive Writing, yet again, and after stumbling in bleary-eyed, Glen says something like, “So, after this lecture, there’s a lecture on being a war correspondent. There’s a guest speaker, he’s the only Australian journalist to have been captured by Al Qaeda and lived.”

Majority of class: begins moaning, “Awwwh but we have Intro to Creative Writing after this!”

About 5 people in the class: quickly leapt onto Blackboard, searched what the lecture was, and thought, “Once in a lifetime. Downloading the lecture notes. This. Will. Be. Awesome.”

Michael Ware was the guest speaker’s name - he was the war correspondent for CNN, and had written for the Time Magazine before that. He also worked at the Courier Mail. Yes, Michael is a Brisbanite, and just so brutally honest at that. It, hands down, is the best lecture I’ve been to. Throughout it, I was emailing my dad, as he’s pretty interested in this sort of thing, so, rather than me trying to reproduce any more, I’ll let the email - which involves verbatim quotes/paraphrasing - speak.

Hello Papi.
Just thought I’d send along some joy.
So, JOY!
Anyway, I’m in a lecture at the moment where the guy escaped Al Qaeda. Only Australian journalist to do so. I’m not supposed to be in this lecture, but it just seemed fantastic. I’ll tell you everything he said tonight. One thing I do know is that I categorically refuse to be a war journalist. I mean, he was getting shot at by a sniper, twice caught on footage. The footage he’s showing us is incredibly crazy. He’s just pulling stuff out, “Oh, there’s a green beret.” “There are two Iraqi soldiers who were on our side, but the Green Berets accidentally shot them.” “There’s an informant.” “Here are civilians. Here are the non-civilians.” The footage he’s showing us is the only footage of this battle, he’s just shown us this guy who’s fought for 20 years.
“There are booby traps in the houses. You don’t walk on the street cause of the hidden bombs, so you break holes through walls, and go through, it’s safer”.
He’s showing us Al Qaeda’s ‘domain’, and apparently, when they got there, no people were around at all. Even the dead people were gone. He said in the entire battle, there’s only one dead body that he saw. The only thing he found were kittens which he put in his camera pouch. He said that’s his humanity moment, but no media group is interested in it.
12 car bombs in Baghdad alone in one morning. He said that the guys who set it off said it was “payback” to his group. Far out.
He says that war is just weeks and months of boredom, routine and monotony. He said the “absolute terror” is only a few seconds out of the entire time. He said most of the soldiers who he was with were like, “Who are we fighting? Why are we fighting them?”
He made sure that he never knew what was going to happen in the war. He says don’t believe anything in war unless you see it with your own two eyes.
He says that he used to go over to the other side, which was highly controversial. Most of the soldiers and the American public hated him for it, but he said that he knew none of them understood who they were fighting against so why not do it himself?
He says there’s no censorship since he’s been over there. No one’s ever tried stopping him. There may be payback, but if it’s right, they’ll respect it. The truth, he says, is only where ‘meat meets the metal’. There’s no spin and no bull on the front line.
He was showing us this gun footage which shoots an enormous hole, he demonstrated with his hands and I guess it’s about 20 - 25cm diameter. He said to us, “There’s footage of that but I won’t show you, you don’t want to see what one of those guns does to a person.”
Everyday, where we fudge the truth, he says over there you find out what’s real.
He was almost beheaded by Al Qaeda. He says that’s where he realised.
Apparently it’s a sub-class of journalism (conflict), but that there are so many issues. In war, everyone lies - governments, ‘good’ guys and ‘bad’ guys, even civilians. Conflict is laden with so many emotions - horror, beauty, confusion. He says it’s the most human experience he’s ever had. “You watch an entire community fleeing in panic with their children. It’s an extraordinary thing, especially when you’re running the opposite way. That’s the nature of journalism. You run towards the gunfire, cause it’s where the truth is.”
There’s no such thing as good and evil. It’s only human nature. We are just what we are, and that is all there is. There’s no way to explain anything, but it’s the journalist’s job to be there and document it.
He says if the battle’s not caught on film, it doesn’t exist.
“To me, it’s been a front-row ticket to history. Perhaps one day I might contribute one small footnote to history.”
There’s a price for all kinds of journalism. But this kind of journalism, there’s more of a price.
He says he’s the jack of all languages, the master of none, but that’s what kept him alive. He said psych also helped. 30 seconds to figure out who the guy is, how you’ll stop him from killing you, and to get him to let you live. He said growing a beard, despite blue eyes, helped him get through.
He’d been talking to the Taliban, and they had no idea a Westerner had been to talk. He would go with guys on his side from Iraq, they would ask him questions which he could understand in his limited Urdu and all, then after the meal would pretend to be asleep while the other guys would ask. Then they’d leave and have the question.
Intelligence agents pose as journalists all the time: the greatest cover. In most parts of the world you are assumed to be CIA unless proven otherwise.
He says he didn’t talk his way out of killing him. The first two times, he didn’t realise they were discussing his execution. His translator, first time round, was absolutely white cause these two guys wanted to kill him for being a westerner. He then learned words so he’d know. September 04, third time. Al Qaeda took over a couple of days after a battle, and an insurgent was sent out to meet with Michael. They were going to film his death with his own camera, but in the time it took for them to figure out how to use it, after beating him and holding the knife to his neck and shooting him. His commander piped up, and said, “What are you going to do with him?” “We’re going to kill him.” “He’s my guest.” “You don’t bring a Westerner in here and expect him to leave alive.” “You know who I’ve worked for. If you kill him, you’re going to dishonour me. Who do you think told me to bring him here?” At which point they got flustered. With gritted teeth, the Syrians pushed him back to the commander and left. He says Sammy, his boxing coach, told him, “We died today. Every day from now on is a new life.”
You never leave anything behind in a battlefield.
This lecture was absolutely hectic, he was carrying a camera so his dialogue capturing would be enhanced, but he managed to get so much more. It’s probably one of my favourite lectures I’ve been to, just cause it’s crazy. He says he doesn’t know what his future holds now just cause the journalism future is so uncertain. The happy and joy is significantly gone, but hey…. that lecture was amazing. He says you’ve got to be open, honest, and do exactly what you say you will.

As much of a reality kick as that was (and not the good kind), it was amazing. Don’t know how I could go in that situation.

Anyway, thought I’d share.

Have dandyfuns :)

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