Saddam City: The Expression of Good and Evil through
BENSON NEAL AMAMES
Throughout Mahmoud Saeed’s account of his imprisonment in Saddam City, he has a noticeable preoccupation with eyes and what they express. In nearly every description of a prisoner or a guard, Saeed comments on their eyes. It is interesting to note that this heavy description of eyes comes from a book originally titled I Am the One Who Saw, as well as the fact that Saeed spends a large part of his imprisonment blindfolded or hooded, along with many of the other people he encounters. But rather than take away from the importance of eyes, the fact that they are covered gives them more weight when they are visible and used. It seems that for Saeed, eyes function as windows to the soul, expressing emotion, goodness and evil, and a sense of humanity.
First, it seems important to Saeed for others to find truth in his own eyes. In a dialogue between Saeed and Waheed, his companion on a truck to another prison, Saeed tells Waheed, “Look into my eyes. Do you see a liar?” (Saeed 53). It seems he believes that one can look into another’s eyes and see the character of that person, whether or not he is honest.
Second, and perhaps more important, is what Saeed sees in the eyes of his fellow prisoners. He says that regardless of their imprisonment, many still carry flickers of hope in their eyes, even on their way to imminent death. This seems to express that the majority of the prisoners have not lost their humanity; they continue to harbor hope for release and remain, in some sense, positive. At the same time, Saeed also describes the eyes of many “newcomers” to the prisons as “blurry and sad” (Saeed 94). At this point in the account, the guard has forced him and his fellow prisoners to be silent, leaving them only able to “guess life stories by looking at their faces” (Saeed 94). There is an incredible amount that can be read through eyes, reinforcing the idea that they are windows to one’s soul. But among other prisoners, Saeed sees neither hope nor sadness. In the eyes of a security agent of the Party, who had lately “come under the influence of the doctor (the sheikh in the prison) and had taken to praying,” Saeed still sees evil, a “dull spark” that “still flickered,” regardless of him bending in prayer (Saeed 88).
Third, Saeed lays importance on distinguishing between the guards who seem to have lost their humanity or sense of goodness from those who have been able to maintain it. He describes one guard who refuses to provide him with food as “a hard, thin man with red eyes” (Saeed 105). This guard seems to have lost his sense of humanity, who treats the prisoners as inhuman and unimportant. His eyes, in turn, are an inhuman color. On the other hand, others show Saeed that there is still humanity and goodness even in the prisons, perhaps giving him that flicker of hope in his own eyes. During an interrogation, Saeed says, “Something in the way in which he asked questions implied that he considered me a human being” (Saeed 81). Saeed calls attention to the guard’s features after their conversation, mainly his “black soulful eyes” which he calls “living proof that someone in his position could retain their humanity” (Saeed 81).
The importance of eyes and what they express, whether it is goodness or evil, shows the humanity within the prisons that Saeed was filtered through for more than a year. They act as windows to the soul in which there is much to read and much to be seen, namely the character of the person whose eyes are looked into.