February 14, 2011
In the novel Saddam City, by Mahmoud Saeed, the main character Mustafa Ali Noman is subjected to brutal prison conditions and torture. Noman vividly narrates his harrowing experience throughout the novel, establishing the issues of humanity and pride in the face of extreme conditions. Despite the inhumane treatment of the prisoners, Noman repeatedly makes attempts to maintain his pride and humanity. This resiliency in the face of tremendous discomfort and pain suggests an important survival technique to staying alive in inhumane conditions, particularly in one of Suddam Hussein’s prisons. The regime is portrayed as such an extremely inhumane institution, that Noman’s act of resistance to being reduced to a demoralized state prevents him from giving up hope in the face of great adversity.
Despite the prison conditions, Noman often makes remarks about attempting to maintain his pride. One such example is his fear that he will be humiliated if he has an attack of the “chronic dysentery” (20) from which he suffers. Rather than constantly dwelling on simply making sure he stays alive in prison, he devotes much of his attention to thinking about the humiliation he would endure if he did have an attack, most notably the “insults” (20) he would receive from the guards. Directing his attention to thoughts other than his possible death can be seen as an important survival technique, in the sense that he mentally does not allow himself to completely lose hope. Noman becomes closest to death when he is transported to the prison in Sulaymaniyan. It is at this point when he begins to let go of his resistance to maintaining his pride and humility, and begins to think that “death comes” (116). However, he ultimately “found courage” (121) in the prison by screaming back at the guard of his innocence, and refusing to confess to a crime he did not commit. By refusing to let go of his pride in this instance, he is then released from prison a short while later, injured but alive.
Although Noman’s resistance to losing his humanity sometimes result in physical discomfort or pain, he still maintains his strength and is ultimately able to survive. Noman was warned by the other prisoners to cry out in pain and pass out when being tortured, “pretend to faint” (93), as this would then cause the torture to discontinue. Despite this knowledge, Noman resists giving in and intentionally passing out, as it is “beneath dignity to cry in pain” (91). Also, despite the fact that it had been “thirty hours” (112) since he had eaten anything, Noman’s “pride prevented asking for food” (112) from the guard. He endures the terrible pain of hunger in yet another attempt to maintain his humility. When an incident occurs where a guard shows a bit of kindness towards him, Noman states that he “considered me a human being” (81). It is at this moment, when he still views himself as a human being and not a victim of Saddam Hussein’s torture that Noman shows the most hope of release and survival.
Mustafa Ali Noman endured great amounts of torture, pain, and humiliation after being wrongly imprisoned during the period where the control of Iraq was in the hands of Saddam Hussein. Despite the conditions, Noman was able to survive his harrowing ordeal in prison. One of the most crucial survival techniques that Noman used was maintaining his pride and humility in prison. Although he could have released some of the physical pain by surrendering some of his pride, this allowed him to mentally maintain hope and survive. He noted that it is “better to be bitten 50 times then lose faith” (68). This also allows him to survive with the knowledge that he is acting against Saddam Hussein’s rule. The “goal of the regime is the harass and humiliate” (82), and Noman’s ability to resist those in power from dehumanizing him ultimately contributes to his survival.