Journalist Jill Carroll has begun sharing the details of her kidnapping in Iraq earlier this year; the Christian Science Monitor is featuring the first of an 11-part series on her experience today. (The series is also running in a number of newspapers.)
This first installment focuses on Carroll's kidnapping, a situation that quickly devolved from a routine interview appointment to a confrontation with armed gunmen. Carroll's recounting of the event is detailed and frequently chilling: "'Jihad! Jihad! Jihad!' my abductors shouted, excited and joyful," she recalls. Carroll brings a grave but honest voice to the project, sharing various anecdotes without trying to fit them into a meta-narrative. When one of her kidnappers gives her the remote control for a television, she remembers,
"How do you channel surf with the mujahideen? I asked myself that question as I flipped from one show to another, trying to act casual. Politics was out. News was out. Anything that might show even a flash of skin was out. Finally, I found Channel 1 from Dubai, and Oprah was on. OK, good, Oprah, I thought. No naked women, no whatever, she's not in hijab, but it's OK."
Surreal moments like those are, relatively speaking, the bright spots; she also vividly recalls being told her captors were planning to make a second video of her condition, and begging a guard to kill her with his gun rather than beheading her. Overall, her preliminary recollections paint the picture of an unimaginably terrifying ordeal.
The Monitor's Washington bureau chief, Dave Cook, has been acting as Carroll's spokesperson, and has said that "reliving the story was painful for Jill and she did it with reluctance. She is devastated by the death of her translator, Alan Enwiya [who died during her abduction]. She is concerned about the upheaval her kidnapping caused for her driver, Adnan. And she is worried about retribution aimed at her colleagues in Baghdad, her family, and herself."
Accordingly, Carroll has been turning down interview requests and award-show invitations; she told Editor and Publisher last week, "I don't want to be rich. I don't want to be famous. I just want to be a foreign correspondent." The Monitor series, which also features a number of video clips of her telling her story, is the only account of her kidnapping she plans to share. The Monitor is handling the situation delicately, using Carroll's kidnapping as the jumping-off point for a broader conversation about reporting in war zones. The series is detailed and very well organized, with the names of various key players hyperlinked to provide additional information and lots of additional features like podcasts, photos and questions for Jill from readers linked in the margins.
Carroll's conscientious refusal to turn her experience into a media circus is admirable, and helps keep media coverage of the war in Iraq where it should be: in Iraq. Still, the Monitor series looks to be a riveting feature. Carroll may not be seeking awards, but I think she should get them.