There are moments in life so stunning, so unexpected that they are very difficult to describe, the shooting of my son Nazar on the morning of the 29th of March 2004 in Baghdad which was a mistaken act by a young American soldier was such a moment, by that time the environment in Iraq against the Americans was so poisoned which left the young American soldiers in a very tense and a trigger happy mood. This book is a modest attempt at telling the story of my unfortunate son, his long ordeal and the terrible nightmare we were plunged into as a result of that inexcusable incident. That ill-fated moment turned my life and that of my family upside down and plunged us for eight years into an endless tragedy full of agony and uncertainties and all kinds of difficulties, but it is also a story about friendship and the meaning of giving.
I have told the story of the tragic shooting of my son and the events which followed it in a fairly reasonable detail from the day it happened until its end on the 21st of December 2011 when he died and was buried in a cemetery in Southfield, Michigan in the United States, but I always wanted to tell the whole story not only its uncertainties and frustrations but also to acknowledge the prodigious obligation I owe to so many people who provided us at times with very desperately needed help, some of these exceptional people were total strangers and so for the last year I have been writing a detailed version of the story hoping that I would be lucky enough to have it in a classical book form.
All books are the works of others in addition to the those whose names are scrawled on the cover and this one is no exception, it is my work but it is also the work of those who shared my agony and frustrations, who encouraged me to write it as a means of letting out those agonies and frustrations, it is also the work of those who taught me by their kindness and their sympathy the meaning of love and giving and who were a great inspiration by learning about their lives and experiences. This is a journey, it is a personal story, a sad and very painful story, full of tensions and hindrances and death, but also a story about love and kindness and giving, and I like to share it with you and those who understand the morals and the real values of life who are indulgent and compassionate.
To me, telling my story to such people is a catharsis and psychotherapy, telling my story allows me to vent out my frustrations, my worries and my stresses and to ponder about our very long ordeal which was full of agony and pain a terrible and a very fateful incident which turned my life and my family’s completely upside down. And I like to tell this story because inside the long history there were many smaller and sometimes not very small stories each one of them was really fascinating and which took place at different times and places during the more than eight years of our tragedy, each one of them taught me an unforgettable lesson in the meaning of love and friendship and charity.
On the 26th of last October we were visited for two days at our home in Detroit’s suburbs by two great American friends from the old days of the Iraq war, Colonel Eric Schwartz and Chaplain Ron Cooper, I have not seen Eric for five years and the chaplain for more than ten, so during their stay us our other amazing friend Jacki Lyden from NPR suggested that it would be a good idea to have the three of us interviewed for her NPR ‘s program [all things considered ] to ponder about the good old days, about our hopes and dreams which were shattered by what happened later which they did not shatter our friendship with these people, in fact our friendship with them survived the tragedies and mayhem which followed the occupation of Iraq.
The following is a transcript of that interview:
Jacki Lyden has followed the story of the Oxford-trained Christian ophthalmologist for years. It began in 2003, when Hanoudi first met a band of American soldiers patrolling Mansour, his upscale Baghdad neighborhood. "They called themselves the Rogues," Hanoudi says referring to a Second Brigade, Third Infantry Division battalion out of Fort Stewart, Ga., known as the Desert Rogues. "But they were never Rogues. They were very polite, very civilized, very helpful and very keen on the job."
Hanoudi gave information to the Rogues about a weapons cache in the neighborhood belonging to Saddam Hussein's regime, and so began a deep relationship between Hanoudi and the Americans.
'A Master Teacher', Col. Eric Schwartz, commander of the Desert Rogues, recently drove from Pennsylvania to Hanoudi’s new home outside Detroit for a reunion. Maj. Ron Cooper, a chaplain, came in from Washington State. The three men worked closely together in Iraq, and it has been 10 years since they were together. "This is a time for us all to just come together as brothers," Schwartz says.
In Iraq, Hanoudi was a mentor for the Americans.
This is a time for us all to just come together as brothers," Schwartz says. "We were culturally ignorant," Schwartz says, and Hanoudi was a "national treasure" and "a master teacher."
"I would go to him with our plans, and I would ask him to provide the cultural aspect of the mission," Schwartz says. "He would say, 'My kind sir,' which essentially meant, 'I wouldn't do it that way, I would consider that you do it this way.'"
For his part, Hanoudi was deeply grateful for Hussein's ouster.
"When the Americans came and got us rid of Saddam, I was very happy," he says.
But the next year, Hanoudi's hopes collapsed. His son Nazar was working as a contractor on an American military base of a different unit. He arrived at work using an unfamiliar entrance and the U.S. soldier on duty mistook him for an intruder and shot him. A week later, an ambulance transporting him ran out of oxygen. Left severely brain-damaged, Nazar fell into a vegetative state.
It took Hanoudi and his wife Firyal, more than three more years to get refugee status and come to Michigan for Nazar's treatment. They placed Nazar in a nursing home in Southfield, Mich., rarely leaving his side. And, they prayed for a miracle.
"But in the end, there was actually no miracle," Hanoudi says.
Nazar, 40, died a few days before last Christmas.
"Two days later, we laid him to rest in a cemetery here in Michigan," Hanoudi says, his voice breaking.
Nazar was the oldest of his three children, a daughter, Nadia, lives in Toronto/Canada, and another son, Samir, in Southfield/MI.
Nazar’s death has also been difficult for Schwartz to bear, even though his own unit was not involved. "Weighing heavy on my heart was a feeling of guilt and responsibility because ultimately we chose the Hanoudis," he says, meaning that it was through his team the family became involved with the U.S. military at all.
Hanoudi does not agonize over what-ifs or feelings of resentment.
"I'm not even bitter about the boy, the young soldier who shot him, because I would never like to see any father in a position like that," he says. "But I am sad about it."
Healing through Relationships, Cooper, the military chaplain, worked to help the Hanoudis after Nazar's shooting, both at the time and during his recent visit.
"We were forever changed when we met one another," he says. And while there was good that came out of that, there was also tragedy and sadness, Cooper adds. "I'm becoming convinced that it's in relationships that we're healed," he says.
Hanoudi is working on a book about this last decade. And it isn't, ultimately, about the grimmest days of the war that destroyed his world in Iraq and took the life of his son.
"I always said and believe very strongly that a life which is worth living is a life which is lived for the others," he says. "And I think that I've shared my life with these people."
War always leaves death, destruction and sorrow in its wake, and the Iraq War piled a great deal of it on Dr. Najeeb Hanoudi. Yet his friendship and bond with the Americans remains unbroken.
Saturday, December 1, 2012