Tuesday, November 21, 2006

The Education of Nir Rosen

Blogger David Adesnik, who knew Nir Rosen in elementary school here in the US, described him as "a scrawny kid who could draw just about anything if you have him a pen and paper." Adesnik also noted that Rosen "never had much respect for authority and once got suspended for a having a haircut that was more cut than hair."

Adesnik and Rosen went to different schools in the ninth grade and lost touch with each other until one day in Washington when, as Adesnik recounts, "a heavily-muscled man with short hair and a very attractive woman on his arm called out my name." It turned out to be Nir Rosen, his old classmate, who announced to Adesnik that he wanted to become an investigative journalist.

There are two ways to become a journalist. One way is to start as a cub reporter and work your way up through the ranks. The other way is to wait for a war to break out and then get to the frontlines as a freelancer and report from there, hoping your stories get picked up by mainstream media. Rosen chose the second approach and, while working as a bouncer in a Washington, D.C., nightclub, waited for the right foreign destination to explode, where he would then use his dissident views to help expose the myriad wrongs done around the world in the name of American imperialism.

His first opportunity came with the Balkans and the second in Iraq. "My friend is one of the most hardcore leftists I have ever met," Adesnik wrote in a later blog entry. "His mission in Baghdad is to document and expose the inner workings of American imperialism. This is the same guy who insisted that the United States bombed Kosovo in order to expand into the Balkan marketplace." Rosen was arrested in Serbia, an experience about which he wrote for the Salon online magazine: Ten Days in a Serbian Prison.

But it was the invasion of Iraq in March of 2003 that Nir Rosen had been waiting for. He flew into Baghdad on April 7 and by April 19 he had an article in Time Magazine. And thus began Nir Rosen's career and education in Iraq. Using an engaging smile, knowledge of Arabic picked up as an Israeli-American Jew who spent summers back in Israel, and what was coyly referred to as his "Middel Eastern appearance," he befriended countless Iraqis and created sources from among a variety of groups -- both Shia and Sunni -- with different ideas about the future of Iraq.

At first Rosen thought that the Shia and Sunnis would unite to remove the Coalition forces out of Iraq, as he explained to David Adesnik in the summer of 2004. But after a couple years of covering Iraq, he began to see that some kind of civil war was in fact inevitable.

In early 2006, he thought that the civil war had in fact begun right after the elections of 2005. By the late spring of 2006, however, he had revised the inception of the civil war to the day that Saddam's statue had been pulled down in Firdus Square, April 9, 2003. "It started when U.S. troops arrived in Baghdad," Rosen wrote for the Washington Post on May 28, 2006. "It began when Sunnis discovered what they had lost, and Shiites learned what they had gained. And the worst is yet to come."

Rosen has had a book published -- "In the Belly of the Green Bird" -- and has worked hard and taken many risks over the last couple years to create a career in journalism. He is also now married and, as I write this, his wife is about to give birth to their first child. One wonders to what extent Nir Rosen has had to temper his youthful dissident crusade when confronted with the messy reality of Iraq on the ground. Maybe one day he will write about that too.


On April 24, 2002, Nir Rosen had an article entitled "The Broken Home: Revisiting Israel" published in Alexander Cockburn's Counterpunch. It is an interesting read, especially given that Rosen's Jewish background would later in Iraq be "elided," as the postmodernists quip, and he would simply become a person of "Middle Eastern appearance" whose father was born in Iran. In this article, Rosen reveals that he considers religion "backward and absurd" and that as a child he had "dreamed of joining Israel's elitie special forces." The amount of dissembling he must have engaged in while reporting in Iraq is a little mind-boggling when one considers that Rosen had befriended many who would certainly have either killed him or sold his location to the highest bidder if they had been told the truth about his background. To me, this is just another interesting element to the education of Nir Rosen.


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