Readers ask, and Jill Carroll answers

After Jill Carroll was released, the Monitor invited readers to send in questions about her experience. Hundreds of people responded. Below are a selection of questions and excerpts from Jill's answers. A video-taped interview of her complete answers can be found here.

Cecil E. Perfoy, from Maui, Hawaii, asks: "When released from Iraq, you had stated that you had been well treated by your captors. After your trip to Germany and return to the US, you then indicated that you were not treated well. For a seasoned correspondent, which answer was truthful?"

Jill: Well, obviously, the latter. I wasn't well treated. But keep in mind, I wasn't doing this as a reporter. I was a hostage ... I had been attacked, essentially.

The reason why I said in the beginning that I was well treated ... those were the exact words I was told to say by the insurgents who captured me. They said if I ever said anything more, or anything different from that, essentially they would come kill me.... So, when I got out, I was still absolutely terrified.

People seem to think that when you're free, suddenly you're just back to who you were and that you're feeling safe and everything's great again. Not at all, this kind of thing just shakes your sense of security to the absolute core for a long, long time.... After a few days, in your mind, you start to get a little better sense of yourself. Also, being out of Iraq, and being in Germany and back in the US ... I began to feel a little safer about saying things, and not sticking to the script that I had been given by the captors to say. But I was afraid they would come get me again. I did whatever I had to do to keep that from happening.

Sean Smith, from Gettysburg, Pa., asks: "What do you think is the most important ... insight from this event?

Jill: The biggest insight was just into how these kinds of insurgents work, and who they really are. Before, to a lot of us [journalists], they were just sort of, like, shadows behind a curtain....

We didn't really know who they were, or why they were doing what they were doing, how they think about things, how they feel about things. Once we understand that, we can probably address the issues as to why they are doing it. That, I think is actually really valuable. For me, ... the biggest insight [was] into who they really are.

Sandy Simon, from Ann Arbor, Mich., asks: "Many people all over the world were deeply troubled by your kidnapping and thought of you daily, prayed for you, and took you into their hearts. It must be a bit dizzying to emerge from captivity and realize that you are now a member of so many diverse and unknown families, unknown to you. How do you handle this?"

Jill: It was definitely a shock.... I have been overwhelmed. There have been a lot of cards and packages and things sent to me from all over that are really thoughtful. I have a quilt that this group put together and each patch of the quilt was signed by a former POW or a former member of the armed forces from World War II and Vietnam.

And I feel pretty guilty because I feel like I don't deserve that. I didn't do anything great, and being kidnapped is not worthy of praise.... But I think people are responding to the ideals that The Christian Science Monitor puts out there and less to me personally. I think that they are responding more to those ideals of truth and honesty, and the pursuit of information and pursuit of intellectual research.

George Pence, from Whispering Pines, N.C., asks: "For most of us who lived through 9/11, and are now observing Islamic cultures from afar, we are having a very difficult time establishing a bridge between who they are and who we are. We witness a seemingly endless number of suicide attacks.... Why should we see them as anything other than monsters?"

Jill: Painting any group of people with a broad brush, saying everyone is all evil or all good is never accurate and is never helpful. That is ... why I think reporting in the Middle East is an important thing to do, actually, because there are as many kinds of Islam as there are Muslims, which is 1 billion. I have had many friends who were Muslims who are angry, embarrassed, frightened, and disgusted by the things they see other people doing in the name of their religion....

There are a lot more factors coming into play. Factors like frustration, lack of jobs, lack of representative government.... I know people who are really angry about things, but they don't pick up a gun and then go kill somebody because of it. So, I think we can no more say that Muslims are monsters because some people are murderers, than you could say that all Americans are like Al Capone because Al Capone killed people....

It's a complicated issue. It's a complicated place. The only way to really address this, to understand better, is to be better informed citizens. Read the newspaper every day.

Sabrina, from Columbus, Ohio, asks: "From your experiences abroad, what insight can you give to other young journalists who want to make the jump to freelancing overseas and in other conflict-ridden regions?"

Jill: Freelancing is not for the faint of heart, and not just because it's dangerous. Financially, it is really difficult to do.... it's really competitive.... If you are trying to do it for money or adventure, those are the wrong reasons. If you are trying to do it because it is exciting to be in a war, then that's a wrong reason. You should be going there because you feel journalism is a duty and a noble cause, and that the only way ... to perform that duty is by going to a place that needs understanding.

We can go in there and, by living there and being among people and talking to people every day, understand them more as individuals, not as a group. You do it because you really love what you are doing, and you feel you have a broader purpose.

I. Macias Jr., from San Antonio, asks: "Because of your well-known support of everything Muslim, many of your fellow Americans, including myself, believe your capture ... was, in fact, conducted and staged with your cooperation, and that you are a traitor to your country as well as to your family and friends. What is your response to those allegations?"

Jill: Well, of course, it's absurd that I would arrange for this to happen. Alan was my friend, and like a brother to me. I don't know how anyone could ever think that anyone would ever wish to torture their family and their friends like this....

Just because I lived in the Middle East and care about understanding the Middle East and helping Americans understand the Middle East in the fairest most objective way possible, I don't see how that makes me a traitor.

In fact, I do it because, as citizens of a democracy, it is our duty to be well informed. And we can only express our wishes through our representatives of government properly and effectively ... if we are properly informed.... I [was] there because I believe so much in our country's need to have good, fair, truthful information so [citizens] can make their own decisions about what we want our policies to be and who we are as a country.

It's really easy to say you're patriotic by doing what's easy, by hearing what everyone else wants to hear, saying what they want you to say, being what everyone wants you to be.

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