Jamail, Dahr 1968–
Jamail, Dahr 1968–
Journalist. Radio reporter for Democracy Now!, the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC), and National Public Radio (NPR); special correspondent to Flashpoints; has also worked as a ranger, mountain guide in Alaska, and social worker.
Four Project Censored awards; Joe A. Callaway Award for Civic Courage; James Aronson Award for Social Justice Journalism.
Beyond the Green Zone: Dispatches from an Unembedded Journalist in Occupied Iraq, foreword by Amy Goodman, Haymarket Books (Chicago, IL), 2007.
Contributor to periodicals, including the Sunday Herald, Nation, Guardian, Foreign Policy in Focus, Independent, New Standard, and Al-Jazeera, and to Web sites, including MotherJones.com and Islam Online.
Before Dahr Jamail became a well-known reporter on the Iraq War, he had been employed in a number of occupations ranging from social worker to mountain guide in Anchorage, Alaska. While in Alaska, he began doing some writing for periodicals, mostly articles about climbing. This was the extent of his journalism experience before the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001. Afterward, he became increasingly alarmed by his country's aggressive policies toward Iraq, including President George W. Bush's eventual call for a military invasion in 2003. Feeling that he was not getting the true story about Iraq from the American media, he took the bold move of traveling to the war-torn country himself and reporting on events as he saw them. After several trips between 2003 and 2005, Jamail had become a respected reporter; he published his impressions of the war in his debut book, Beyond the Green Zone: Dispatches from an Unembedded Journalist in Occupied Iraq.
In an interview with Humanist contributor Mike Ferner, Jamail elaborated on his reasons for going to Iraq in 2003: "Becoming a journalist was really an act of desperation. I saw the leadup to the invasion and read everything I could get my hands on…. I could tell it was lies. It was about oil and strategic positioning. So I did the usual things we do to express dissent. You know, I went to demonstrations; I tried to educate people; I tried to educate myself more. I wrote letters to my senators, made phone calls, signed petitions—all the stuff we're supposed to do." Feeling that he was not making a difference at home, he called some of his friends who were in Jordan at the time and asked for their advice on how to take the risky trip. After nearly being blown up at the first hotel in Baghdad he came to, he settled in an alternate hotel and set to work. Jamail interviewed Americans and Iraqis of all types and aimed to report honestly on what he saw. Because he was not one of the embedded American reporters who were under the strict control of the Pentagon, and because he had no affiliation with a media station or newspaper, Jamail felt free to write about what he wished. He did not make any money at first, but that was not important to him; eventually, after sending out a number of dispatches, he gained attention and was hired to write more articles.
To Jamail's mind, what he saw in Iraq was proof that the U.S. government and American media were not reporting truthfully what was happening in that country and why. He witnessed considerable brutality against Iraqis at the hands of U.S. servicemen, a degraded way of life that, in his opinion, was much worse than during the reign of ousted Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein, and he felt the resistance fighters against the occupation were being mislabeled as terrorists. Jamail's Beyond the Green Zone focuses on the 2004 American attack on the city of Fallujah, an act of aggression that Jamail maintains, contrary to U.S. reports, was not provoked by an Iraqi attack on Americans. Jamail also considers the 2005 elections, which were overseen by the Americans, to have been a sham, and Iraq's current leader, Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, to be an American puppet. After several trips to Iraq, the last one being in January 2005, Jamail kept in touch with friends and other contacts in the country and asserts that living conditions there—again, contrary to assertions by American leaders such as President Bush and then-Republican candidate for president John McCain—are very poor. Electric power is still sporadic, hospitals are insufficiently supplied due to government corruption, and millions of Iraqis have either been killed or are living as displaced refugees. The author asserts that the only solution for Iraq is an immediate withdrawal of U.S. troops.
Critics of Beyond the Green Zone believed it to be an important book, though some felt that Jamail's writing could stand improvement. A Kirkus Reviews contributor, who called the book "an important eyewitness testimony," also reported: "While the author provides many significant, eye-opening observations, the prose is pedestrian, and he offers scant historical context." In Mother Jones, Nick Turse similarly called the work "important" and predicted that "Jamail's account will prove an enduring document of what really happened during the chaotic years of occupation, and how it transformed ordinary Iraqis."
After Jamail returned to the United States in 2004, a friend of his set up a Web site for him that, to the reporter's surprise, soon was receiving over a million hits per day. Before this happened, Jamail thought that alternative media such as Web sites and blogs had little effect on people's opinions, but after learning about his site' statistics he revised his opinion. After his 2005 excursion to Iraq, Jamail continued to give talks to audiences; he received so many bookings he had to hire a coordinator to handle his schedule. Jamail told Ferner: "It just feels like ‘Hey, I'm making a difference and it feels really good.’ The bigger the platform I get the louder I want to talk, and I'm just going to keep doing it. I have this signature on my Yahoo email, a George Orwell quote that says, ‘During times of universal deceit, telling the truth becomes a revolutionary act.’ And that's what it feels like."
BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:
Humanist, November 1, 2005, "From an Act of Desperation to a Million Hits a Day: An Interview with Dahr Jamail," p. 40.
Kirkus Reviews, August 1, 2007, review of Beyond the Green Zone: Dispatches from an Unembedded Journalist in Occupied Iraq.
Mother Jones, September 1, 2007, Nick Turse, review of Beyond the Green Zone.
Nation, February 8, 2008, Jeremy Scahill, interview with Dahr Jamail.
Reference & Research Book News, February 1, 2008, review of Beyond the Green Zone.
Washington Report on Middle East Affairs, January 1, 2008, "An Unembedded Journalist Speaks."
Dahr Jamail Home Page,http://dahrjamailiraq.com (June 17, 2008).