Every Man in This Village Is a Liar
Journalist Megan K. Stack peers into the lives of ordinary Middle Easterners caught between despotic rulers, the dream of freedom, and American foreign policy.
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Stack’s willlingness to embrace complexity, however, does not mean that she is not capable of piercing critique. She writes with a pitch-perfect moral outrage – yet manages to avoid either preaching or equivocating. She has no use for the paper-thin propaganda spewed by government press offices in support of dictators. In one particularly pointed deconstruction, her levelheaded probing of the Lebanese Cedar Revolution allows her to dig deeper intellectually and in so doing to uncover new social truths.Skip to next paragraph
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What stands out most in this book, however, are Stack’s relationships with a series of individuals somewhat cynically known in the news business as “Real People,” the ordinary Middle Easterners who live through the nightmares that most Americans only read about. Like Anthony Shadid’s masterly “Night Draws Near,” Stack’s writing makes clear how difficult it is to talk or think about nation building without understanding the perspectives of Shiite Lebanese or Iraqis.
Stack also offers insights into the image of America in the eyes of the Middle East. After the release of the photos documenting horrific abuses at Iraq’s Abu Ghraib prison, Stack’s Jordanian translator, Nora, is distraught and Stack can’t understand why. “Did you really believe in us?” Stack thinks as Nora sits in utter disbelief at the American abuses. “Did you think we came to Iraq to fight a noble war, did you honestly think that? Don’t you see what we have done?” Nora responds simply: “But Megan, people believe in the Americans.”
Perhaps the book’s most elegant passage is one where Stack – without condescension or simplification – brings the reader eye to eye with the Arab world’s profound sense of shame and dispossession. As Stack discusses the torture and rampant, vicious (and often deadly) backbiting of the Saddam Hussein regime with an Iraqi from the Shiite holy city of Najaf, the man’s hands tremble and his silence deepens before he allows, “Really, it is a shame upon us that we have such things.”
Stack writes: “A shame upon us. I shivered in the heat. Yes, that was it, somebody had finally said it out loud. These people were embarrassed about what they had endured, about the parts they had been forced to play – victims or tormentors, it was all unendurably shameful.”
And so, Stack observes: “They had sunk deeper and deeper into collective guilt until the moment of their final humiliation: they had been invaded by the Americans.”