Manhattan to Baghdad
Allen & Unwin $29.95 pb, 298 pp
At first glance this book looks like a quickie bashed out to take advantage of the looming war in Iraq and to cash in on the coincidence that the author – taking a break from his day job covering wars for the Sydney Morning Herald – happened to be in New York when the towers came down. But to see it in this light would be a disservice. What Paul McGeough has done is to draw on his reporting from Afghanistan, New York, Iraq, Israel, and the occupied territories, in order to give some coherence to the events of the so-called ‘War on Terror’. What we have ended up with is actually a very good rundown of the pre-existing conditions, conflicts and events of the past year and a half in disparate conflict zones. But for their being woven together by the common thread of the US reaction to 9/11, they probably would not have got into print.
For McGeough, 2001 starts in Afghanistan, well before 9/11. He goes there to check out the situation of those refugees fleeing the Taliban regime who were to become a domestic political football in Australia later that year. His coverage of the situation on the Afghan–Pakistan border and in Afghanistan itself is a slap in the face to Phillip Ruddocks’s attempts to distinguish ‘genuine’ refugees from ‘economic’ ones among the Afghans trying to reach Australia. McGeough also puts into perspective the role of the ‘people smugglers’, who at that time were being portrayed in Australian politics as odious villains. As he puts it: