“Saddam City” by René Hayek

The prisons are crowded, is there anyone walking in the street?”

René Hayek.

Issued by the Dar-term culture in Damascus and publishing the novel “I, who felt” by the Iraqi Mahmoud Saeed. And events taking place in Iraqi prisons.

The story begins on Monday morning. Mustafa Numan went out in order to pay two thousand diners and meet with the contractor to agree with him on the final details of the finishing building of the house which he planned to settle in with his family. It did not occur to Mustafa Numan that the day had something unusual in store for him. It began when his car stalled on the road just in time to have boarded in a bus near the Institute where he was teaching. Two security men came to him and told him that they wanted him for questioning. Mustafa Numan asked them why not question him there? They indicated he should accompany them immediately. Initially, he thought that the issue of questioning him was a mistake or a similarity in names. They entered Directorate of Security through the garage where he saw a plethora of cars, and was surprised by the sight of security men dressed as civilians. They approached him and wanted to blindfold his eyes with a very dirty piece of cloth from the mud. Mustafa Numan objected and suggested that they use a piece of his shirt instead. So, the security men took his tie and blindfolded him.

In questioning, they asked him his name. They then asked him about neither people whom Mustafa Numan had heard of nor those people’s names. In the basement of SOS, voices were received as if coming from afar. It did not occur in the mind Mustafa Numan that his temporary state would exceed too many hours, for the security men had inevitably confused him for someone else. As time passed, he remembered what happened to his neighbor who disappeared. He remembered helping his neighbor’s wife look for her husband in hospitals and police stations that night.

He had many questions about why he was arrested. “What Am I accused of? I did not interfere with politics. I just hate the party and my wife’s subordination.  And sometimes I met with my friends and we would speak about politics but, politics were not the focus of conversation.

After awhile, he didn’t only hear the voices of pain and torture; he was taken along with a number of detainees from Basra to Baghdad. Prisons were not made to accommodate this huge number of prisoners. The causes of this overcrowding were many arrests, as well the prisons not excluding older people, children, incapacitated or ill people. Once they were accused, it was impossible to prove their innocence. They moved him from one prison to another, from one city to another and when asked about the reason for his arrest he was never able to find one. In any case, the fantasies were not the reasons for them to be spared from prison. Mustafa Numan was one of those detained in huge numbers; among them, university professors and/or the drivers of private cars which had been impounded. It was very easy to retaliate against any person in the country who went against the regime’s loyalty. They were sent to detention where Mustafa Numan was detained in addition to being subject torture, hunger and thirst, disease, and lack of sleep.

Even words spoken between friends can be justification for the barrage of accusations heaped upon its owner. One of the Medicine prisoners mentioned a joke to his friends when he saw the cleanliness of the College: This cleaning must be sudden, possibly to indicate an inspection visit by the president. Then, one of his friends answered that it was not possible because of the absence of security arrangements that may precede such a visit. For fear and control of governmental practices, this joke got three medical students and their families and their colleagues arrested.

Spies were planted everywhere, even within the same family. Many of whom were sent to spy on their own brothers. They were proud of their performance of duty, emulating the National Honors and receiving congratulations.

Mustafa Numan like countless other ordinary citizens, stayed away from politics to avoid debates, even among friends and family, but that was not enough to protect him and allow him to live a simple,  normal life. In retaliation to this, he decided to become an active enemy of the regime, to avoid being detained without any charges if it were to happen again.

Mustafa was arrested and imprisoned for a year and three months, where his dream of building a home for his family could not be realized. Even when he was finally released, complete happiness seemed impossible while so many other innocent men were still in prison. He was interested in writing about his experience, not for personal gain, but to assure that the oppressed people had a voice and to make a stand against the injustices he personally experienced.  

This book is a genuine testimony of the suffering of people and of the day which created a new art in the humiliation of those people and crush their dignity. The writer probably did not concern himself with a novel construction. Even on the cover, one does not find that the book refers to novel, poetry, or texts. It seems that the concern of the transfer of that experience was maybe to raise a voice against injustice. He expressed his concluding desire that there is exists a, “flickering in my mind a question, what if people briefed on some of these facts? It made me wonder what people would do if they knew the truth about what had happened. Would my testimony only make the sound of a pebble thrown into a shallow well in a world dominated by the roar of cannons?  Or would it be a cure for the suffering?”


About mahmoudsaeediraq

I am an Iraqi writer. I came to the USA in 1999, and I got politic asylum. Since that time I am living in Chicago, Illinois. I have written more than 20 novels and short story collections and hundreds of articles. Some of my novels were destroyed by Iraqi regimes. I have won awards in Iraq, Egypt and the United States. I also have won awards for short stories, one in Iraq and the second in UAE. I worked in Iraq as a high school teacher teaching Arabic literature. I was imprisoned six times between 1959 and 1980. I was dismissed from my job for three years, so I went to Morocco and I worked there as a high school teacher. I wrote about last time in prison as novel titled, "I am the one who saw." This novel was translated to English by Dr. Sadri (a professor of Lake Frost University) and published in Al Saqi house publishing company in London by the name of "Saddam City." The New York Public Libraries listed my novel as one of the best novels of the last century. Amnesty international chose 37 writers from all over the world, including me, to celebrate the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. We wrote short stories, and the collection was published in London, USA, Canada, Spain, and Turkey. It was translated in more than 20 languages. MAHMOUD SAEED, Chicago, Illinois
This entry was posted in مقالات نقدية بالإنكليزية عن أعمال محمود سعيد - Reviews in English About Mahmoud's Works. Bookmark the permalink.

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