A Brief Review of
Saved by Her Enemy:
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Reviewed by Laretta Benjamin.
This was a wonderful book to read; but in all honesty this was a difficult review to write – only because I find my mind scattering in a million directions – mostly having to do with war – the realities of war, the agendas of war, the effects and consequences of war, the stories and ways of war. Setting aside what you may think of the Iraq war – or even of war at all – this is a great story. It is a true story and one that serves to help open our eyes to the realities of life for many in our world. In our relatively safe and secure environment with an abundance of all we need, it’s important for us to get a taste (and probably even a big bite) of what living life means for others.
Thank you to Don Teague and the NBC News team stationed in Iraq who were willing to share this part of their lives with us – relating experiences that must often have been difficult and sometimes incredibly frightening. And, thanks to Rafraf Barrak for her willingness to openly share her story with those she once considered “her enemy”. Her honesty, openness and vulnerability brought great risk into her life.
This book was well-written and easy to read. Its pages are filled with small glimpses of what life was and is like for the people of Iraq (“death and brokenness” are two words used by the author, 100), a small taste of what living in a war zone can feel like (“In a dozen or so trips as far north as Nasiriyah, we were attacked by looters hurling rocks at our vehicle, robbed by a deranged man wielding a knife, chased by an enraged mob, and on one occasion stumbled into a Iraqi paramilitary unit with more than a hundred armed men. Some reporters enjoy working in war zones. I’m not one of them. Still, I went to war by choice. Rafraf had it thrust upon her,” 43), a picture of what it means to be a Muslim woman in a Muslim culture (“even the slightest contact with the opposite sex was considered sinful, and cause for a severe beating,” 9) and ultimately, as Rafraf comes to reside in the United States to live with the Teague family, what it might possibly be like to be a Muslim woman in our Western culture. We are introduced to perspectives very different from the ones most of us have been shaped to have. We are allowed at times to see ourselves (those of us in Western culture) through someone else’s eyes.
This story takes place after the U.S. invasion of Iraq. An NBC news team is in Iraq covering those chaotic, violent (and confusing) days for the Iraqi people. Translators are needed as stories are told and experiences are shared. Rafraf Barrak is chosen as one of the translators and from that point on, her life takes a very different turn and heads in directions I’m sure she never would have imagined.
Chapter 1 draws us into Rafraf’s life – her family, her experiences growing up as a Muslim woman, living under the rule and what we (but not everyone there) would call the tyranny of Saddam Hussein. We see her struggles and her dreams – which in some ways are not so different from ours and yet, in other ways, are in stark contrast with ours. “’I’ve never been in a pool. Where could I learn to swim?’ She pushed open the doors to the adjoining building and continued down yet another hallway. [“How about the river? You could swim in the Tigris.’] ‘Would you swim in that river?’ she asked. ‘You’ve seen it.’ [‘ I guess not…ever been on an airplane?’] ‘No.’ [‘Driven a car?’] ‘Never’. [‘Can you ride a bike?’] ‘Yeah, right.’ [‘Have you ridden an escalator?’] ‘A what?’ [‘You know, like stairs that move.’] ‘Of course not. We don’t have those here.’ [‘Do you have drive-thrus? You know restaurants that give you your food in your car?’] ‘That’s stupid. Are all Americans that lazy?’” (152)
The story of Rafraf’s experiences working with the NBC news team, and particularly her friendship with Don Teague, a brother in Christ, unfolds in the chapters that follow. The differences in culture and perspectives among Rafraf and the NBC team are sometimes fairly obvious as the story unfolds; their commonalities also come to light and it is both fascinating and encouraging to see the developing of the relationships and friendships between Rafraf and the crew.
“He was dangerous. That much Rafraf had been sure of since childhood. He lurked in the darkened shadows of buildings, or sometimes on empty streets at night. She had been warned of his cunning, deceptiveness, and murderous appetite. Everyone had stories of encounters. Rafraf’s friends, cousins and especially her older siblings told awful tales or their run-ins with Mr. John. It was only a matter of time before he would come for her too. What Rafraf wasn’t sure of, was who or even what Mr. John actually was. Was he a demon? A beast whose features only made him look human? Or was Mr. John simply a madman bent on the destruction of all thins good and moral? The truth, she learned, was even worse. He was an American. More to the point, Mr. John was all Americans. Just as children in the United States are raised to fear a common enemy, the bogeyman, the children in Rafraf’s family were told Mr. John might be hiding under the bed or stalking them from behind the backyard shed. What made these stories so frightening was that unlike the mythical bogeyman, Americans clearly do exist. In Rafraf’s limited view of the world, the danger was no myth” (24-25).
God is present everywhere in our world. Every corner of this planet is His. Nothing escapes Him. If it is possible for Him to be “more present” in some places than in others (which I’m sure isn’t), my guess is that He would be the most present in the darkest and most broken places, like Iraq, doing what He does, bringing healing and reconciliation to His creation. It is we who draw the lines and build the walls that divide– race, nationality, gender, wealth …the list is long of all the ways we have separated ourselves from each other throughout history. I think this is one of those stories of tearing down walls and bringing together hearts and minds. Could this description of Rafraf’s view of Americans be a picture in some way of our view of those we might consider our enemies? For those of us endeavoring to walk in the ways of Christ, loving our enemies is a very real thing. How do we define those we would call our enemy? Fleshing that out in the midst of all the hatred and fear and violence of our world isn’t simple – but, I believe it is possible. I’m thankful for Don Teague and his family and their willingness to be vulnerable and step out in faith and bring Rafraf into their home and hearts and lives – not really knowing what it would mean for any of them in the long haul. It’s encouraging to see how their act of love, kindness and acceptance was able to draw someone into life and freedom in Christ. I pray their experience would be an example. I pray even more that those of us who name the name of Christ would consider the call to “love our enemies” and what that might mean. Thanks Don Teague and Rafraf Barrak for their faithfulness and for penning a great book!