FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

Children During Wartime

Two tensions pull at Hala Jaber’s The Flying Carpet of Small Miracles, a riveting story of the attempted adoption of two little girls left orphaned by collateral damage in Baghdad at the start of the Iraq war.  First, a three-year-old girl, named Zahra, and her younger sister, Hawra, only a few months old, are the only survivors in their family after an explosion that kills both parents and five older siblings.  Zahra is badly burned over most of her body; Hawra escapes the flaming vehicle they were all riding in because her mother throws her out the window.  Second, Hala Jaber, a celebrated Lebanese journalist, and her husband, Steve, a British photojournalist, have been trying to have children for years, but nothing has worked.  Their hope is to adopt both of the little girls.

After years of unsuccessful attempts to get pregnant, Jaber throws herself back into her journalistic career by seeking increasingly dangerous assignments.  Working for The Sunday Times, she and her husband are in Baghdad when the American invasion begins.  Most other international journalists have left.  As she notes, “I was writing about the human cost of a bombardment that was being executed with a good deal less precision than the spin doctors in London and Washington were leading people to think.”  Her reporting centers, primarily, on women and children.

There are details about the beginning of the war, during the “shock and awe” phase, that I have encountered nowhere else. Before the actual bombing, an Iraqi obstetrician informs Jaber that women who are seven and eight months pregnant tell him, “I want my baby now.”  These women tell the doctor that they are afraid “in case they cannot make it to the hospital on their own due date, in case they have no fuel in their cars, or bridges are blown up or air raids are going on.”   These pregnant women are bitter reminders to Jaber that she has not been able to conceive.

The devastation of Baghdad, the utter chaos, and the extensive collateral damage are depicted horrifically.  In one haunting scene, Jaber (who constantly visits hospitals) encounters a ten-year-old boy, lying on a rickety metal bed, whose shoulders are “wrapped in thick bandages.”  The boy—in a state of extreme shock—asks Jaber (who is fluent in Arabic), “Have you come to give me my arms back?”  This is one of many horrifying incidents, culminating in Jaber’s discovery of Zahra and Hawra.

Jaber’s editor at The Sunday Times asks her to focus on a human-interest story that will pull on readers’ heartstrings.  Initially, she resists, thinking that the request is obscene, but when she learns of the two children who have lost seven other members of their family, she gives in, and then, soon, commits herself to saving Zahra, whose wounds from extensive burns necessitate moving her out of Iraq to save her life.

Bureaucratic red tape, acts of God (a sandstorm that grounds helicopters), and the concerns of Zahra’s biological grandmother contribute to the chaos of the medical evacuation—in spite of the assistance of several other dedicated friends who are determined to save as many of the most severely damaged children as possible.  There’s a kind of Kafkaesque nightmare unfolding here—as well as the difficulty of moving around Baghdad during the first month after the war.

Then everything falls apart.  The child dies and Jaber—who has promised Zahra’s grandmother that she will save her granddaughter—is thrown into a state of remorse and because of her guilt seeks even more dangerous situations as a journalist.  She begins working with the insurgents who initially trust her because she is a Muslim woman.  The years pass as the war drags on; Jaber and her husband make numerous trips to Iraq from their home base in London, but she is unable to face grandmother, whom she knows from mutual friends has continued to raise Hawra.

The ending of this surprising narrative is as gripping as a thriller as events keep shifting and situations—which had seemed impossible pages earlier—suddenly are reversed.  Hala Jaber is one brave woman as well as a strong anti-war voice unafraid to describe things as they are.  Her insights about the war in Iraq are revealing though often blunt.  By the end of the story it’s clear that Jaber has more than paid her dues.  Moreover, she’s helped the rest of understand that in situations as misdirected as the war in Iraq, there are decent people working behind the scenes, trying to alleviate the pain of others.

CHARLES R. LARSON is Professor of Literature at American University, in Washington, D.C.

 

More articles by:

Charles R. Larson is Emeritus Professor of Literature at American University, in Washington, D.C. Email = clarson@american.edu. Twitter @LarsonChuck.

September 25, 2018
Kenneth Surin
Fact-Finding Labour’s “Anti-Semitism” Crisis
Charles Pierson
Destroying Yemen as Humanely as Possible
James Rothenberg
Why Not Socialism?
Patrick Cockburn
How Putin Came Out on Top in Syria
John Grant
“Awesome Uncontrollable Male Passion” Meets Its Match
Guy Horton
Burma: Complicity With Evil?
Steve Stallone
Jujitsu Comms
William Blum
Bombing Libya: the Origins of Europe’s Immigration Crisis
John Feffer
There’s a New Crash Coming
Martha Pskowski
“The Emergency Isn’t Over”: the Homeless Commemorate a Year Since the Mexico City Earthquake
Fred Baumgarten
Ten Ways of Looking at Civility
Dean Baker
The Great Financial Crisis: Bernanke and the Bubble
Binoy Kampmark
Parasitic and Irrelevant: The University Vice Chancellor
September 24, 2018
Jonathan Cook
Hiding in Plain Sight: Why We Cannot See the System Destroying Us
Gary Leupp
All the Good News (Ignored by the Trump-Obsessed Media)
Robert Fisk
I Don’t See How a Palestinian State Can Ever Happen
Barry Brown
Pot as Political Speech
Lara Merling
Puerto Rico’s Colonial Legacy and Its Continuing Economic Troubles
Patrick Cockburn
Iraq’s Prime Ministers Come and Go, But the Stalemate Remains
William Blum
The New Iraq WMD: Russian Interference in US Elections
Julian Vigo
The UK’s Snoopers’ Charter Has Been Dealt a Serious Blow
Joseph Matten
Why Did Global Economic Performance Deteriorate in the 1970s?
Zhivko Illeieff
The Millennial Label: Distinguishing Facts from Fiction
Thomas Hon Wing Polin – Gerry Brown
Xinjiang : The New Great Game
Binoy Kampmark
Casting Kavanaugh: The Trump Supreme Court Drama
Max Wilbert
Blue Angels: the Naked Face of Empire
Weekend Edition
September 21, 2018
Friday - Sunday
Alexandra Isfahani-Hammond
Hurricane Florence and 9.7 Million Pigs
Andrew Levine
Israel’s Anti-Semitism Smear Campaign
Paul Street
Laquan McDonald is Being Tried for His Own Racist Murder
Brad Evans
What Does It Mean to Celebrate International Peace Day?
Nick Pemberton
With or Without Kavanaugh, The United States Is Anti-Choice
Jim Kavanagh
“Taxpayer Money” Threatens Medicare-for-All (And Every Other Social Program)
Jonathan Cook
Palestine: The Testbed for Trump’s Plan to Tear up the Rules-Based International Order
Jeffrey St. Clair
Roaming Charges: the Chickenhawks Have Finally Come Back Home to Roost!
David Rosen
As the Capitalist World Turns: From Empire to Imperialism to Globalization?
Jonah Raskin
Green Capitalism Rears Its Head at Global Climate Action Summit
James Munson
On Climate, the Centrists are the Deplorables
Robert Hunziker
Is Paris 2015 Already Underwater?
Arshad Khan
Will There Ever be Justice for Rohingya Muslims?
Jill Richardson
Why Women Don’t Report Sexual Assault
Dave Clennon
A Victory for Historical Accuracy and the Peace Movement: Not One Emmy for Ken Burns and “The Vietnam War”
W. T. Whitney
US Harasses Cuba Amid Mysterious Circumstances
Nathan Kalman-Lamb
Things That Make Sports Fans Uncomfortable
George Capaccio
Iran: “Snapping Back” Sanctions and the Threat of War
Kenneth Surin
Brexit is Coming, But Which Will It Be?
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail