Megan Stack : Every Man in the village

Some recommended chapters/articles: 1 (Afghanistan); Chapters 5, 6, 8, 14, 15 (Iraq)

Summary of issues for conflict:

  • clash of ideological religious differences  (Sunni versus Shia Muslims)
  • conflict is exacerbated by war; entrenches difference; leads to worse violence and problems.  (violence is an endless copy)
  • should try to solve conflict by overcoming, transcending differences (Bahjat)
  • people make inspirational sacrifices during times of conflict
  • the hypocritical views and approach of western powers makes it difficult to solve the conflict (views of Americans: naïve, wilful and misguided)
  • everyone is harmed through conflict; there is always a heavy price to pay; physical and psychological harm (Uncle John and Megan Stack herself)

There are no survivors in war:

The plight of Uncle John foreshadows Megan Stack’s eventual trauma:  In the Prologue to her collection of essays, “Every Man in this Village is a Liar”, Megan Stack draws attention to her Uncle John’s war experiences in Beirut. He survived the war, but did not survive the battle. When the bomb in Beirut exploded, 305 people died around him, but John made it back to New York, but few years later shot himself in the head and Megan attended the funeral. This was her first exposure to the battle scars of war which become a predominant theme throughout her journalistic experiences in the war conflicts in the Middle East. She illustrates just how difficult it is to survive the war and often the psychological battles become more horrendous even than the physical. Likewise, Megan survives numerous wars as a correspondent, but it takes its toll.

Although Megan is able to dodge the bullets driving through a battle-scarred Lebanon at the height of sectarian violence, Megan eventually becomes anxious and stressed. There were signs all along. In 2004, at the height of anti-American sentiment during the Iraq war, Megan cannot stop fainting when she visits the victims in a hospital outside Baghdad after a suicide bomb. She admits the stress was intolerable. “My body was shutting down in protest at the parade of broken humans. (102) Raheem reminds her of the need to be “strong” (“We see this every day.”) but Megan admits that it was not the first time she had started fainting, and “it would keep happening for months to come”. After 10 years in the field as a war correspondent, Megan realises personally that you can survive and not survive. She has survived physically and enjoys the clean sheets and distance from the danger, but she knows that she will always be emotionally involved and psychological scarred by the violence.

Everyone is a target

Everyone is scarred as are most of the people she interviews and the people she works with.

We know that many of the policemen and the translators and the media personnel who work with or beside the Americans are marked people. They become targets of the militias. As Stack comments, the worst job in Iraq is a police officer; they are “marked men, working for the occupation”, trying to eke out a living. (101)

Such wars are also littered with examples of those who do not survive – especially not physically. For example, Ahmed Shawkat, a journalist and a Shabak Kurd who ran a newspaper and wrote a book on Mosul’s founding (Kurds are an ethnic and cultural minority). He had death threats and was one day shot while on the roof using his satellite phone.

However his example also shows that while many lose the physical battle they, like Atwar Bahjat, win the psychological battle. Courageously, Atwar Bahjat, (Every Man in This Village is a Liar), a journalist at Al-Jazeera, a Middle-Eastern news organisation, pestered to be able to cover the war in Iraq, but paid dearly for her persistence. But she did not compromise her beliefs and wins the principled war.

Atwar Bahjat’s story is that of Iraq. “Her murder reeked of the hopelessness of a lost cause.”. Her body and soul fed “to appease the nihilistic blood thirst of a slow-motion national collapse”. AS Stack writes, she was a woman, who courageously, kept “company with the country all down the darkest days”. (195) She also, knowing that she was a target, preached tolerance. She was just one of 66 journalists (47 of whom were Iraqi, and 11 Arabiya employees like Atwar) who had been slaughtered during the civil war. (shot by US forces, gunned down by their countrymen, crushed by bombs”. She died at the height of sectarian violence. Just before her death, Sunni militants had set off bombs in the gold-domed shrine at Samarra, a place of pilgrimage for the Shiites. “Civil war had never felt so manifest”. The funeral cavalcade was even targeted by a homemade bomb laid along the road, “planted to strike the mourners as they left the cemetery”.

Conflict is impossible to solve when it reflects the self-interested agenda of those involved: double standards and hypocrisy:

Megan Stack believes that such self-serving involvement as displayed by the Western coalition breeds resentment; it often inflames rather than solves the conflict

Megan Stack draws attention to the hypocritical and selective motives of the Western powers as they pursue their interests in the Middle East. She shows that, as they pursue their self-interested policies, they inflame the tension; they fuel anger; they selectively choose their causes and champion human rights (only when it suits) and cause enormous problems for those who would pursue justice.

  • Stack believes that America preaches values of democracy, freedom of expression, human rights, equality, but often in the Middle East these values get lost.  These values often do not suit their political agenda especially when it concerns keeping peace with Israel.
  • Libya was able to buy its way back into favour by compensating for the deaths of the terror victims after the Lockerbie terrorist attack  (pay outs) (84).  Megan Stack ridicules Qaddafi’s opportunistic stance. After the state sanctioned terrorist acts committed by Qaddafi, and after the demise of Saddam Hussein, Qaddafi believed that the country would just “buy its way back into good standing”. The United States condoned its terrible human rights record because the Libyan dictatorship submitted to the might of the global superpower.  Qaddafi  “liquidated enemies and slaughtered political prisoners” (82).  He was a megalomaniac who ruthlessly cultivated the myth of self, but this was swept aside.
  • In 1991, the first Bush administration urged Iraqis to rise up against their governments. The Kurds and the Shiites responded, expecting support from America, but they were betrayed.  Saddam sent the army to slaughter rebels hidden in the shrine at Karbala. Even now many Shiites believed they were killed – not by Saddam but by America.  (71)
  • Hussein Safar was shot in the mass grave, but scrambled alive.  Rounded up with Shiites from the village, he toppled into the pit nursing his bullet wound but did not die. Miraculously, he escaped. Ironically, he was killed in 2005 when he was called on to testify about the mass grave before the supreme court committee investigating the crimes of Saddam’s regime.  (76).
  • America comes “lofty and unscathed, cloaked in the power to spin dreams of freedom and break hearts.” (72)  If America betrayed the Shiites, Iran provided help and support and absorbed the refugees.  They won their right to influence.  The Shiites distrusted the Americans; they “owed the Americans nothing”.
  • Although the United States props up the Egyptians, paying billions of dollars for a “frosty” peace with Israel, the Americans stand by and watch the corruption of democracy. (184)  US officials stayed “mostly silent in the face of torture and arrest and misery”  of soldiers beating people bloody to keep them from voting for the Muslim Brotherhood during the “democratic” elections.

The tragedy of the new regime was that they did not dispense with the intelligence traitors.  “The Americans left those who tortured and those who wrote accusations”.  The power of Saddam Hussein’s government lay in the public security officers and the intelligence people who were still roaming free, shooting those who sought to tell their stories, like Safar. (77). And as we now know, those who were imprisoned in the US dungeons in Iraq have become the ISIS leaders of today.

(Violent aggressors: “violence is an endless copy of itself” – violence achieves nothing. )

A focus on sectarian differences leads to a cycle of violence between Sunni and Shi’ite brigades wherein both become capable of incredible acts of atrocity

Also the focus on difference fuels the violence and makes compromise difficult.

For this reason, Stack seems to suggest that, where there is no end in sight, the conflict spirals endlessly and it is almost impossible to find common ground. The various groups have sacrifice too much.  Sometimes the conflict reaches saturation and in these circumstances groups with entrenched cultural and religious differences fail to find common ground; there is no place for a compromise and individuals sacrifice endlessly; Sometimes the sacrifices are born disproportionately by sections of the community.

  • Stack shows that in many conflicts there is an impasse/ stalemate and in these circumstances individuals are slaughtered like the cows during the ritualistic ceremony.
  • Ahmed Shawkat a Shabak Kurd from Mosul was killed for his beliefs and is worshipped by the family as a martyr ; likewise Ahmed Younis Muhammed lost his oldest brother during the Iran Iraq war.
  • There are also religious overtones of violence: there is a sense that these people have done nothing but sacrifice and have achieved nothing.  Stack wonders whether they will sacrifice a cow during the Eid Al-Adha ritualistic sacrifice – but he has nothing left to “sacrifice “ – quote 105.
  • In effect Stack compares these men with the cow who is brutally slaughtered. Eg… the blood “bubbled and surged, swelling over the pavement”.  (105). It encompasses them all; as she points out “Violence is an endless copy”; it seems there is no end to the sacrifice that these individuals make.


Clash of ideology and sectarian differences

Causes of conflict may be ideological. They may arise because of a difference in views and values, or in the case of the Sunnis and Shi’as which is the largest and oldest split in the history of Islam, because of religious differences relating to leadership succession. Whilst they both agree on the fundamentals of Islam and in the Prophet Muhammed, the Shi’as believe that Ali was the appointed successor.

In Iraq, Stack depicts the Shi’ites as a persecuted minority; during pilgrimages to Karbala, many Shi’ites are slaughtered as they pray to the family of Ali.

They differ as to who should succeed the Prophet. Sunnis (majority in Iraq, Afghanistan, Egypt) argue that the Prophet chose Abu Bakr to lead the congregational prayers as he lay on his deathbed. The Shi’as’ (minority in Iraq, Afghanistan; power base in Iran and Lebanon) believe that Muhammad, on his way back from his last Hajj, proclaimed Ali the spiritual guide and master of all believers.

See essay “to survive and not survive” at the same time

Sample essay on some interesting parallel examples

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