I died yesterday afternoon at 1:46. My death was not exactly a surprise, I had been warned more than once after all. What is surprising is that I remember it at all. Death is supposed to be final and absolute at least as far as life on earth is concerned. It was a little disappointing not to find rivers of milk and rivers of wine and buildings made of alternating gold and silver bricks. I did not expect Hadis of course with or without 70 virgins with whom one might have sex one night and still discover they were virgins the next day. I am, or at least I was, a woman and Hadis is only for men. Not that I would not enjoy a small number of virgins. Having been bisexual when alive, they could be male or female and still satisfy me more than jewels and ornaments. Or at least so I thought, now that I was dead.
The Muslim concept of Paradise is not quite the same as the Christian heaven or the Jewish Garden of Eden, though I should add that the Torah does not mention an afterlife at all for Jewish men or women. None of the three seems to talk of animals being there. Animals just do not have a soul in any of the Mediterranean religions. They do have feelings and memories and will grieve for lost friends whether animal or human, but they are denied a soul and thus a place in any form of Paradise.
Still, if I am not in Paradise, where am I? There is nothing to see, nothing to feel and nothing to smell, taste or hear. Descartes concluded that “I am, I exist” must be true, but only after he convinced himself that the objects he could see were real. For me there are no objects other than thought; do I exist because I can think even though none of the five senses exist? Perhaps in this post death existence the sixth sense persists. Extra sensory perception takes on a whole new meaning when you cannot avail yourself of any of the other five senses.
When I died I was walking along Murray Street in Perth. I had just had a delightful lunch at the Low Down cafe in the Cloisters Arcade. Their panini toasted sandwiches are delicious if perhaps rather too many calories for lunch though on reflection, eating two would have done no lasting harm. My favourite is, was, chicken. One second I was walking in the warm Perth winter sunlight and the next there was a momentary pain and life ended. I did not know that the sniper on the roof of a building behind me had fair hair and blue eyes. Nor that he smelled as though he was not all that careful with personal hygiene. Definitely not the sexually arousing aroma of male musk. That’s fine when fresh, but off-putting to put it mildly otherwise. I certainly did not know what type of rifle he used nor that the bullet was soft nosed to do maximum damage.
As muscle control vanished I collapsed on to the road I had been crossing. Although a Muslim, I dress in western style clothing apart from a hijab of which I have many. My skirt moved up as I fell leaving my pale blue lacey panties exposed; I always wear high cut briefs. To my mind thongs and g-strings are just plain uncomfortable. More people could see them in those few seconds that had seen them in the past year or so.
Two nurses had rushed up perhaps to practise their resuscitation skills until they recoiled at the sight of the large exit wound in the centre of my chest. External cardiac massage would have been internal. They did at least close my now dull dark brown eyes and readjust my skirt.
I paused to contemplate why I had been shot and who of the various people I had annoyed in life had ordered it. My death had been too rapid to allow a quick review of my life during the process of dying, so it seemed apposite to review it more slowly now that I was dead.
Somehow the darkness shifted.
“There is a small City on one of the bends of the Euphrates that sticks out into the great Syrian Desert. It’s on an ancient trade route linking the oasis towns of the Nejd province of what is today Saudi Arabia with the great cities of Aleppo and Mosul to the north. It also is on the desert highway between Baghdad and Amman. This city is a crossroads.
For millennia people have been going up and down that north-south desert highway. The city is like a seaport on that great desert, a place that binds together people in what are today Saudi Arabia, Syria, Iraq and Jordan. People in the city are linked by tribe, family or marriage to people in all these places.
The ideas that came out of the eastern part of Saudi Arabia in the late 18th Century, which today we call Wahhabi ideas-those of a man named Muhammad Ibn ’Abd al-Wahhab-took root in this city more than 200 years ago. In other words, it is a place where what we would call fundamentalist salafi, or Wahhabi ideas, have been well implanted for 10 generations.”
That was how in the spring of 1920, T E Lawrence had described the city where I was to be born 52 years later on the first day of Ramadan. Eight years later, on 28 August 1928 a meting of three men in a Scottish castle set up the Consortium of Oil cartel that was to effectively control the politics of oil for years to come. Those three were soon joined by four more, and the Severn Sisters were as one. The early 1970’s marked the beginning of the real rise in the price of oil and petrol. With that the Seven Sisters who between them had carved up most of the oil reserves in the world and definitely the Middle East came into their own; the rich and greedy prospered, the poor suffered war.
Both my parents’ families were Wahhabi Muslims whose ancestors had lived in and around Fallujah for generations, perhaps even before Wahhab was born. For much of that time the Euphrates had been a mighty river fed by the melting snow in the mountains of Turkey and much of the plains of Mesopotamia between it and the Tigris had been fertile land. By the time I was three, Turkey had finished its massive construction of dams and the water flowing through the Euphrates had been reduced dramatically. Even so the land was fertile and produced much of Iraq’s crops.
When I was nearly four my mother died from what I now know to be a puerperal fever, having lost what would have been my only sibling when 32 weeks pregnant. In the aftermath of that, my life changed dramatically. A distant relative had emigrated to Western Australia. My father reasoned, or at least persuaded himself, that I would be much better off being brought up in that country. Perhaps he was thinking of me. Perhaps he was thinking of himself. In any event I left the river Euphrates for ever, or so it seemed at the time.
My new home was in WA’s wheat country in the south of that large state. Though in fact my new guardians bundled me off to boarding school in Perth as soon as I was old enough. They had no children and did not relish the idea of suddenly acquiring a fully formed one, even if I was just four.
In the darkness my thoughts played through through life at school like a recorded TV show on rapid forward.
As the years passed it became clear that I was an exceptional student. I filled out in all the expected places as puberty came and passed. A tumble of emotions and new sensations. A time of bodily awareness. A time of pillow love with a girl whom I could hardly take my eyes off. Nor my hands, my fingers, my tongue in the darkness of the dormitory bed on the hot sultry nights of Perth’s summer. Silently we writhed as time after time that strange warmth between my thighs built up slowly into a furnace of exotic anticipation and exploded into orgasmic relief and panting satisfaction. A short period of resting in each others arms, and then it began all over again.
University brought an exposure to men as well as women, as well as an education and eventually a career as a journalist. That I became a journalist was due entirely to the writing of John Pilger. I was covered with goosebumps when I read this in January 1991:
“It is as if the very notion of the journalist as a teller if truths unpalatable to ruling elites, as whistle-blower in the public interest, has been fatally eroded. This is in part the result of the ‘communications revolution’ or ‘total television’, in which vast amounts of repetitive information are confined to a narrow spectrum of ‘thinkable thought’, and the vocabulary of a state and vested-interest manipulations elevated above that of free journalism.”
Then there was John’s concept of slow news. Fast news referred to articles in the Western media that key governments and commercial interests wanted to be made available to the general public. Slow news were items that they did not want to publicise. Somehow the slow news either failed to be reported at all, or was glossed over with the minimum of detail and the maximum of deliberate deception. Perhaps that was the background to John’s much quoted passage:
“It is not enough for journalists to see themselves as mere messengers without understanding the hidden agendas of the message and myths that surround it.”
If John Pilger was the catalyst that started the reaction, it was Martha Gellhorn who provided the model that I was to follow. She was to me the greatest journalist and war correspondent ever. When the going got tough in the early years while I was trying to establish myself as a free lance journalist covering the Middle East and Australia, it was to memories of Martha that I turned, time and time again. She also helped me come to grips with the stress of admitting I was bisexual. My sex life quietened down considerably after school and the freedom that the contraceptive pill brought to women, at least when men were involved. I kid myself that I was less active because of the rise of sexually transmitted disease. That did play a part, but my mixed views on bisexuality gave rise to a general feeling of dissatisfaction with myself and with my partners for the night of either sex. The warm glow was tepid at best.
“If I practiced sex out of conviction that was one thing, but to enjoy it … seemed a defeat”, she wrote in 1972, the year I was born. Twenty years later when I had read as much of what she had written that I could get hold of, I thought I knew what she was talking about.
I cried myself to sleep the night I heard that she had finally triumphed over the combined liver and ovarian cancers that were painfully killing her by committing suicide.
No matter how great the influence of these two had been, it was to my father that I really owe my journalist career. Getting started as a freelance journalist is hard; It just does not provide very many meals a day. Ten years had passed; I was making a living but it was not easy. I had for a while been thinking of going back to Fallujah, partly because it seemed inevitable the US would commit atrocities there that I wanted to witness and report, and partly to see if my father was still alive. I had been to the Middle East several times living there for weeks at a time looking for background material, but somehow, perhaps deliberately, I had never made it to south Iraq.
The years that Saddam Hussain had controlled Iraq as its fifth president had been good for Fallujah though there was little actual sympathy for his eventual demise. He had nationalised the Iraq oil industry and for that he eventually had to pay the price. The Seven Sisters may have got older and one or two died, but their iron grip on what the West laughingly calls its major democracies was unbreakable. Oil is money and money and money dictates government policy. Weapons of mass destruction were spirited out of nowhere. Anthrax was among those even though the only reported cases of white powder being sent to politicians in the US contained anthrax spores from a strain that only existed in American weapons of mass destruction research laboratories.
President Bush sent his troops to wreck regimen change in Iraq in March 2003. Somehow Saddam Hussain escaped initially. But he was hunted down and kept in captivity until a show trial ordered his execution three years later.
I found my father in early April, 2004 at the time the killing of four Blackwater thugs led to Operation Vigilant Resolve. What incredible names the US Army summoned up to hide what essentially was a murderous revenge operation that would serve no useful purpose at all. There was no oil in Fallujah; it was just a city with an incredibly rich and diverse cultural background. Was President Bush so stupid that he did not see the link between vigilant and vigilante or was he intelligent enough for it to be a deliberate irony? The former I think was the more likely.
My father had remarried but had no more children. As if to spite that he had worked tirelessly and become a very successful businessman. What type of business? We just did not get a chance to discuss it.
My memory turned to a quite evening. We had eaten out and returned to his house. It was late and he and I were alone sitting on a richly coloured carpet reclining on cushions. he was smoking, I was quiet already comfortable with the thought of just being together. My father got up and with some difficulty moved aside a heavy, wooden carved Druze chest. Behind it set into the wall, was an old fashioned safe fitted with a combination lock. He dialed in the combination, opened the squeaky door and took out a long brown envelope whose contents seemed to becoming close to bursting their way free. There were tears in his eyes as he turned round to face me again.
“Years ago I did a dreadful thing. I sent away my daughter, my only child, to live in a foreign country and be brought up by strangers. I have tried to convince myself that it was in your best interest, or that I was blinded by grief at the death of your mother. But to believe that is to continue to live a lie.”
“I promised myself that I would make a fortune and that someday somehow inshallah I would have the joy of giving it to you. Not to make amends for that will never be possible. Just to say sorry, and to enjoy the thought that one day you might forgive me. This is yours,” he said.” Do not open it or look inside until I am dead.”
“Are you ill?”
“No. The Americans will soon start bombing Fallujah. If the bombs do not kill me, the Americans will when they invade and destroy the city.”
The rest of the conversation is a blur. On the fourth of April the records talk of at least four houses being destroyed. One belonged to my father.
When I walked back to his house in a pause between bombs, it had vanished. There was just a hole partially filled with rubble. No bodies were found amongst the rubble; my father has simply ceased to exist. It wasn’t for another 48 hours that I actually looked inside the envelope. My father had been a millionaire. Slowly it occurred to me that now the only thing between me and a career as a freelance journalist was my talent.
In January 2012, the national Union of Israeli Students became a full time partner in the government controlled spread of Israeli propaganda. Student were to be paid $2,000 to spend five hours a week spreading pro-Israeli propaganda online. Propaganda is rather an elastic term. They were also paid to be internet trolls. I had been labelled an anti-Semite many times by then. Initially my response was to laugh. Did they not realise that deliberately and falsely labelling a person as an anti-Semite actually denigrated what it was to be Jewish? Sometimes the attacks were simply name calling. On other occasions they threatened bodily harm. It got worse whenever Israel’s attacks on Palestinians got worse, since that would normally be an occasion for me to write an article on the subject. Hate mail really poured in during the atrocities of Operation Protective Edge in the Gaza summer of 2014. For the first time I began to take the hate mail seriously. Sometimes I found myself using reflections in shop windows to check if anyone was following me. Sometimes I awoke suddenly at night trembling at a sound I thought I had heard.
Then came the elections in Israel. Netanyahu was returned but with a diminished power base. As he manoeuvered to make a government he descended further into what I had for some time labelled as a psychopathic state. The key to what happened next lay in the revelations to the ordinary public that the US, the UK and Israel has worked together to turn the initial student uprising in Syria into a war that would kill over 200,000, injure over a million and displace 7.6 million people. Even worse, if that were possible, Israel funded ISIS at the same time as the US and others claimed to be attacking it. I wrote a number of articles on this theme.
The shifting levels of darkness jolted and a clear patch opened to revel a conversation between two men. One I somehow knew was from the Mossad. The other was unidentifiable, but spoke with an Australian accent.
“If you can’t control her we’ll have to take her out; a traffic accident maybe or an attempt at robbery that somehow went wrong.”
“So, what do you want me to do?”
“Break her. Use the provisions of the your Counter-Terrorism laws. They allow you to hold and interrogate anyone for 24 hours without a magistrate intervening.”
“Not quite anyone, there has at least to be some evidence that they are involved with terrorism.”
“But they can’t go public can they? If she does, you can jail her and anyone she talks to and then talks about it for 5 years. So pull her in, rough her up for a day. Release her and pull her in again. Just remember, she is damaging Israel. You’ve supported us in the past and I know you will want to support us again. It really would be a shame if you lost your job because certain, shall we say interesting details of the past were to emerge?”
The darkness swirled again.
The first time they detained me a car pulled up, two men jumped out, put a sack over my head and manhandled me into the back of the car. I felt a needle in my thigh and woke up in a dark cell. The interrogation that followed was so low key that it should have been laughable. They wanted me to confess to being a terrorist but obviously had no evidence at all. They released me in the backstreets of Perth in the small hours of the morning. When I got back to my flat, I found it trashed. My clothes were everywhere, milk and broken eggs covered the kitchen floor, plates and glasses had been thrown against the walls. Written across the bathroom mirror in red lipstick were the words. “Remember bitch, you can’t tell anyone or it’s 5 years jail”.
It happened again about a week later. This time the interrogation was tougher. When I got home I found that the flat had been trashed again. The fourth time it happened was two days before I died. I woke up in the small hours again wondering what the noise had been. I reached for the bedside light an turned it on. There were two men in the room. “Come on bitch, it’s time for another car ride.” I screamed and felt the familiar needle in the thigh.
I woke up in a small cell. The sides were no more than two metres long but the ceiling was only just over a metre high. The floor, walls and ceiling were all rough white concrete painted with a brilliant white reflective paint. A spot light was set into each wall covered with a protective grill. The glare was painful, even with my eyes shut. A camera was attached to the wall in one corner. Above it there was a small blinking red light, presumably to let me know that they were watching as I lay there in the nude. There was no way I could get comfortable. The irritation from the scratches when they had pushed me into the room faded somewhat compared with the discomfort of sitting or lying with my hands handcuffed behind my back. Time passed.
After a while the door opened. A hand reached in and grabbed my hair and pulled me out of the room, the floor smeared with blood as the rough concrete did its job. A hand reached between my thighs. I looked him in the eye. “Later.” He smiled and frogmarched my down the corridor to another room.
This was the same room they always used for interrogations. But there was no desk. I was strapped down onto a slab and the torture began in earnest. In the darkness the pain returned in crippling waves. I tried to scream but there was no sound. Just pain, waves and waves of pain.
And then the pain stopped, the darkness receded to be replaced with the soft light of dawn shining in through a familiar window. I woke in my own bed covered in sweat to the familiar sound of a Kookaburra laughing.
At me, I wondered?