Yesterday afternoon I learned that my friends, Raad and Simona, were abducted (along with another Iraqi and another Italian) from their Bridges to Baghdad office in Baghdad. This did not come as quite the shock it might have because recently Raad had emailed our mutual friend Cynthia that their office had just been shelled (fortunately with no casualties.)
I first met Simona at the Al Fanar Hotel in March and April, 2003. She was among the remarkable staff of Bridges who, at great risk of their lives, deliberately chose to remain in Iraq during the invasion and bombing of Baghdad.
I only met Raad three or four times–two or three times in late 2003 at the Bridges to Baghdad office and once when he and his lovely wife, Lubab, and their child, Ahmed, visited our Voices in the Wilderness house in Karrada, a neighborhood in Baghdad. After I returned to the States, we emailed back and forth several times.
My most vivid picture of Raad was at his office. A friend had brought him a large box of books from overseas and I watched as Raad unpacked that box. He removed each book slowly, as if doing so were a kind of sacrament. With each new book he examined, his face shone with delight. With each book he exclaimed which of his friends or which of his students–he taught at the University–he would share it with.
I made a mental note then and there that when I got back to the States I would be sure to send Raad some books–I had never in my life seen a man who so visibly appreciated books as Raad. (This no doubt reflected how precious books were in Iraq–since 1991, few foreign books were able to penetrate the iron curtain of sanctions that had been imposed on the people of Iraq by the US and the UN).
I have still another vivid picture of Raad. Only this time it wasn’t from actually seeing him, but from reading a manuscript he sent me. It was a kind of memoir about his love for amateur astronomy and how during those nights both in 1991 and in 2003, when Baghdad was being bombed, he took advantage of the blackouts to scan the heavens. So I see him up on the roof–with bombs exploding not so far away–pressed to his telescope late into the night, studying the wonders of the universe.
I deliberately use the phrase “wonders of the universe” because Raad, a devout Muslim, saw astronomy as a way to unlock the secrets of creation. And to appreciate that creation.
I don’t know who abducted Raad and his three colleagues or why. I can only ask–I can only beg–that they spare these fine people.
ED KINANE works with Voices in the Wilderness.