Sunday, June 11, 2006

Proof of Life- Part One

I watched the movie, Proof of Life (Meg Ryan, Russel Crowe), the other night for the second time. I remember the first time I saw it was right after the kidnapping of my uncle in law back in March 2005, and it really hit home. It goes into the rebel kidnapping of an American in a South American country, and the subsequent negotiations for his life and release. It embodied alot of the emotions that we had just felt and many of the incidents we had just lived through. The fear that the family left behind lives, the not knowing if your loved one will live or die, the 24 hour a day wait for the phone to ring, the huge ransom that you have to find a way of coming up with, the humbling of oneself to ask for a loan to pay off the ransom, and the inability to report the crime to authorities for fear that they are mixed up in it. The movie shows all of those feelings that many Iraqi families live through daily. In my husband's immediate extended family, we've had two such kidnappings this past year.

The first kidnapping occured back in March 2005, when my husband's uncle in law went missing on his and his wife's way back from their medical clinic. He left Aunt H halfway home and contined walking to a nearby butcher shop. When he didn't make it home a few hours later, Aunt H knew something was seriously wrong. She had neighbors ask around, and heard that a man had been seized near their neighborhood stores. His glasses had fallen to the ground, and were brought to her.
Two long days later, she received her first phone call from the kidnappers. And twelve days later, Uncle S was finally released for $50,000 USD.

That's the short version of it. The long version includes the great turmoil and suffering that the family went through, on a minute by minute basis, for 12 long days, waiting for news from the kidnappers; delicate, nerve-wracking negotiations that my husband, his cousin and aunt carried out with the hardened criminals, and short-term and long-term physical/emotional effects suffered by our uncle in law after his release.
Just as the movie portrays, we lived and we watched Uncle S's four daugthers (ages 10-24 years) and wife live on the edge of their seats for two weeks. We watched his daughters and adult brothers lose their cool and demand that Cousin A (doing most of the negotiations) agree to the high ransom costs or 'their brother's blood would be on her (his wife's) hands.' We watched strong, patient Aunt H break down and lose it. We watched her finally agreeing to a ransom price way above her head, $50,000 USD, while she makes less than $400 monthly.
We watched the celebrations when Uncle S finally made it home safely, and we watched him slump into post-traumatic stress for a while after his ordeal. But he made it home alive and in one piece, Alhamdlulillah (Praise be to God).

Here's an excerpt from my journal written back on March 25, 2005 before I started to blog:
A took the phone and spoke with the man, insisting that they couldn’t go above twenty thousand, but that he had just gotten $1300 from his aunt in Mosul and would raise another $1000. He told the guy, “After all that you have put us through, do you also want me to go out onto the streets and beg for money?” He’s really a good speaker/negotiator. Anyway, apparently the man told him that he had other ways of pressuring them and shut the phone in his face.
The whole time I was sitting there listening to the conversation, I felt just a sliver of what Khala (Aunt) H and her family are going through every day. It was so nerve-wracking just sitting there. I felt the huge risk that they are taking, will these kidnappers accept the negotiations, or will they hurt Ammu S? If its this scary for me, how must Auntie and her daughters be feeling??? Allah Kareem, wa Huwa fawq kull ‘ibadih.
I had a long talk with E, Khala H's oldest daughter. She was telling me how she can’t do anything, she can’t study for her USMLE’s, can’t go to work, can’t sleep, can’t concentrate on anything. Everyday, morning to night, they wait for these phone calls, and race to the phone every time the phone rings. SubhanaAllah. I can just imagine.


misneach said...

Wow, its amazing that in the west there's next to no coverage that gets in-depth into what it is like for Iraqi families losing loved ones or dealing firshand with the dangerous situation (kidnappings, bombs, sectarian shootings, military killings, etc.). I guess those in control of the media don't want people (in america especially) to feel what the Iraqis are going through, because if they did there would be a much louder outcry against the apalling conditions in which Iraqi people have to live today. It annoys me that the news media goes out of their way to portray themselves as voraciously seeking out important stories, while in reality doing their best to keep americans distanced from the pain and suffering of daily life in Iraq.

That movie had amazing sales at the box office in the U.S., so its logical to conclude that people would be interested to hear the realities of such turmoil. I guess those realities would hit a little too close to home though since it's america instead of a foreign country that would find itself to blame for the situation.

Speaking of keeping americans in the dark, you should see the post Truth About Iraqis has up, with a photo from yahoo news. It's heartwrenching, I'm warning you now. I think (well, I would like to believe) that if more americans were aware of such horrendous results of their military's actions, they might not so easily believe the propaganda about "freedom and democracy" and "liberating" the Iraqi people. (Liberating them from their lives, perhaps?)

(Sorry, I'm feeling a bit cynical today...)

Halla said...

I agree with Misneach, although I am not much of a movie watcher, I will go and rent this one.

Fatima said...

Hey misneach. I saw the picture, and it is horrific, to say the least. For those interested, here's the link:

Magda said...

I held my breath reading yur post and didn't realise it until I came to the end and exhaled!
Whenever I moan, or feel sorry for myself for some minor worry I remind myself of how dreadful it must be for family and friends still trying to survive this hell.
Allah ye sa3id kull il iraqyeen.
stay safe

John1975 said...

This movie is one of my all time favorites!!!

What I don't understand is why aren't there vigilanti groups formed from the very citizens being brutilized? I mean, if I were an Iraqi I suffered a death in the family by the hands of the insurgents or some of these local punk-gangs I'd have to fight back knife with knife bullet for bullet.

Of course this same thing goes for the American's as well. I'm sure the insurgency has grown in numbers because of the innocents killed by bombings and indirect fire.

It's all just an insane mess. I believe there is power in numbers. Why don't the Iraqi civilians take matters into their own hands and take back the streets?

I realize this is easy to say, though! And I mean no disrespect in any way.


Fatima said...

hey john,
Very good point you make. I was going to post a link to an older article in my next entry, which discusses how some neighborhoods have started neighborhood watch groups at night, to keep out kidnappers, etc.
But the situation is alot more confusing. As you may have heard, and as you will read in my next entry, some of the kidnappers are corrupt Iraqi police and security forces out to make a buck. How is a person supposed to react when an officer arrests him, but later goes on to kill him or keep him until a large ransom is paid?
And I guess the bottom line is that people are just scared. That's one of the sad realities here, you see a kidnapping happening right in front of you, or an assassination, etc, and you can't do anything about it. or you're too scared too. it does say alot about human nature.

John1975 said...

What can one do about it? I don't advise that you or anyone follow this advice but, if I were a community leader I'd tell the members of this community to not go with the arresting officer by all means necessary.

I'd educate them on proper police procedures. I'd be willing to bet my next pay check that if those who are kidnapped by these corrupt police would have known about how the police operate they would have known something was up.

I'd even reccomend killing the officer as a last resort. Things are just to messy there right now to trust the police.

I'd rather face a murder charge where I at least have a chance of defense to prosecution than a bullet to the back of the head or a knife to the throat in total sumission.

That's what I'd do; and you know what; the corrupt element of the police would hear about the people standig up and not bowing down to their corrupt tactis and they would eventually learn that it's just not a viable option to target civilians as police officers.

With respect,


John1975 said...

Oh, on a side not; I was saddened to see "Truth about Iraqis" close his comments.


Halid said...

Hey John, it's easy for you to comment as it's not your country invaded by some pervert army. Haven't u seen "Collateral Murder" of wikileaks? The weaponless people including kids are being killed by a coward army. So please rethink about it and question how your administration bombed WTC buildings.