“I’d heard a man could withstand more hardship than he expects. I had to take myself to the limit” (Saeed 20). -Mustafa Ali Noman
Mustafa Ali Noman experiences physical and mental torture, intense emotional distress, and a constant fear of his uncertain future when he is imprisoned for more than 15 months in six prisons in Iraq. Unable to contact his family, living under brutal conditions, and under the constant watch of abusive guards, Mustafa’s mental strength, physical health, and courage are tested beyond measure. While this injustice took away Mustafa’s rights and limited his actions, his imprisonment allowed him to become, paradoxically, one of the freest men in Iraq. Mustafa’s imprisonment led him led him to be free of society’s distrust of individuals, enabled him to be free of the feeling of total and complete loneliness, and most significantly, evolved him into a man who is free of the fear of death.
First, Mustafa’s imprisonment led him to be free of society’s distrust of individuals because the situation he experiences is vastly different from the outside world. Mustafa’s sudden change from the outside world to prison changes who he is. Mustafa is no longer a teacher, he is a prisoner and now belongs to a new kin.[explain this more – a new community? A new social group?] Mustafa first realizes this when he is grouped with prisoners reciting prayers from the Qur’an at Security Headquarters. Mustafa ask, “Why did I feel so close to these people? Maybe it was because we were all victims of the same supreme injustice” (Saeed 27). These thoughts are the start of Mustafa accepting the situation, and realizing that he may be in prison longer than he originally thought. Soon after this realization, Mustafa reaches the point where he becomes free of the distrust of individuals that is born naturally throughout society. This occurs when new prisoners are brought in and welcomed. Mustafa notes, “The awareness of the difficulties of the trek melted formalities on the spot and generated warm friendships. This kind of instant trust was nothing short of miraculous in a society where the supposedly free people did not trust even members of their own families” (Saeed 68). Mustafa’s time in prison changes his view of people, he notes, “After my encounter with [my fellow prisoners] I have never been able to view human beings in the same light” (Saeed 75). Mustafa’s experiences in prison led him to be free of society’s distrust of individuals, and allowed his outlook of people to expand, which in turn transformed him into a more open minded and accepting individual.
Next, Mustafa’s imprisonment enabled him to be free of the feeling of total and complete loneliness through the connections and friendships he made. Mustafa and his fellow prisoners are experiencing relatable and similar hardships. Because of this, they form an unbreakable bond and brotherhood where they can always rely on one another and be free of the loneliness and heartbreak that prison causes. For example, the first time Mustafa arrives at a new prison, he notes how he is greeted, “Dozens crowded around me, giving advice…They brought me an orange, an apple and a sweet roll” (Saeed 82). Also, “the butcher from Amarah had me as a guest on his bed, and I ended up fighting the cold night by his side…Before leaving he hugged me and wished me a speedy return to my wife and children. His words came from [the] heart and affected me so much that I started to cry” (Saeed 71). Lastly, when Mustafa was being transferred to another prison, and he was saying goodbye to his friends, he experiences an outpour of emotions, “I wiped the tears and started to say goodbye to everyone…A flood of goodwill poured in from the eyes of the simple Kurdish peasants and the soldiers. I knew I would not see any of them again, which made parting more difficult” (Saeed 104). These incidents demonstrate the connection the prisoners have with one another, and show how the harsh realities of prison brought them together and developed deep friendships that freed them from total and complete loneliness.
Lastly, the most significant freedom that Mustafa gained through his imprisonment was his evolution into a man who becomes free of the fear of death. This evolution is stunning and demonstrates the development of Mustafa through the course of the novel. In the beginning of the novel, Mustafa is fearful and doesn’t dare question the power of the government and the police. This is shown when Security comes to his house and requires him to fill out the questionnaire.[actually, not the beginning of the NOVEL, but certainly as earlier point in his life] Mustafa sees signing the questionnaire as his only option and when he does sign, he concedes that he is “signing the deed of my own slavery” (Saeed 49). However, when Mustafa experiences prison, he is no longer the man who signed his life away, he changes into a man who has freed himself from the slavery and control he once lived under. During Mustafa’s final interrogation, he reaches a breaking point and frees himself from any control Security once had on him. Mustafa frees himself when he is no longer in fear of his captors. Mustafa realizes, “what did it matter? To hell with it all. Let them do what they want” (Saeed 117). Further, when Mustafa is being interrogated by Major Muhammad Salah, he frees himself of not only the fear of degradation and pain, but also of death as well. Mustafa says to the Major, “Either tell me how I can prove my innocence, or keep me here until you find the person you are looking for! If he testifies against me as an accomplice, then kill me!” (Saeed 121). This dialogue is extremely significant because it demonstrates a complete change from the submissive and weak Mustafa that was exhibited when he was confronted with the questionnaire from Security. The new Mustafa is strong, aggressive, and without fear-even the fear of death. The significant changes of Mustafa is foreshadowed early in the novel when he is riding in the same truck as men who are about to be executed. Mustafa observes a young man who knows he is about to be killed: “The solid, imperturbable impression of the young man in the opposite row, however, was unchanged. He reminded me of the rock face of mountains. His was defying death. But I was shaking with dread and cold” (Saeed 39). Now, at the end of the novel, Mustafa is the one who is defying death. He is completely free because he is no longer afraid; to be free of the fear of death “is the end of all fears” (Saeed 129). Of all of the freedoms that Mustafa acquired during his time in prison, this is the most significant and valuable because it has changed him as a man. While Mustafa was in a physical prison for over fifteen months, he was already in a prison all of his life. He was forced to obey and submit to everything the government said and was forced to give up his principals and beliefs. However, he redeems himself when he is offered the choice of either confessing or facing the consequences, even death. Mustafa’s experiences in prison gave him the strength to choose the death of his body over the death of his principals. Because of this, Security has nothing to threaten Mustafa with because he no longer has fear, therefore he has gained complete freedom.
Saddam City describes Mustafa Ali Noman’s journey to freedom. Falsely imprisoned and under unimaginably harsh conditions, Mustafa’s courage and personal strength were pushed to their limit. However, Mustafa’s imprisonment led him to freedom. Prison led Mustafa to be free of society’s distrust of individuals, enabled him to be free of the feeling of total and complete loneliness, and lastly, evolved him into a man that is free of the fear of death. To conclude, the courage that Mustafa exhibits is admirable, and the personal growth and development he gains through his acquisition of freedom is nothing short of incredible given the extreme physical and emotional torture he endured during his 15 months of hell in prison.