Baghdad, Damascus, Atlanta

Up now at PEN.org are two pieces from PEN America 9 that we’re particularly proud to publish: “Baghdad, Damascus, Atlanta” by Ahmed Ali and “A Little Explosion” by George Packer. The latter is an excerpt from Packer’s play, Betrayed, which grew out of his epic New Yorker article of the same name (and which will very soon be broadcast on PBS). Betrayed depicts the lives of Iraqi interpreters and journalists who worked with western news organizations and the US government and were then left behind as the country went to hell. “A Little Explosion” is a scene set in 2004, when the worst of the war had not yet come to pass.

Ahmed Ali is the pen name of one of the Iraqi interpreters and journalists Packer got to know—in Syria, where Ali lived for a year and a half after fleeing Baghdad. His brother-in-law had been kidnapped and killed, and Ali’s own life had been threatened. He lived in Damascus with his wife and two young children until the US government, under pressure from PEN and other organizations, helped resettle him (and several others) in the US. Other Iraqi interpreters and journalists were resettled in Europe.

Ali describes this journey in his essay, which begins with him learning, at age eighteen, that he’s Sunni. Until then, he didn’t even know what Sunni and Shiite meant. He ends the piece by describing what it was like to watch George Packer’s play and re-live the harrowing experiences of the previous two years.

After he saw the play, Ali visited the PEN office in New York, and had a taped conversation with Packer, which you can listen to here. You can read more about Ali in this article by Jeremy Gerard, as well as, very soon, The Red Zone, by Oliver Poole, one of the journalists he worked with in Iraq.

(Above, Waleed F. Zuaiter, Jeremy Beck, and Sevan Greene in a scene from Betrayed. Photo by Carol Rosegg.)

1 comment:

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