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madsam's dissident scientist: interview Three and a half GoldenYak (tm) award
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“Hussain Al-Shahristani spent 11 years as a prisoner in the infamous Abu Ghraib jail. As Iraq struggles to rebuild, he was recently put forward as a candidate to head the interim government. He explains to Michael Bond why he declined.”

Recommended reading.

“ What happened to you when you refused?

“I was arrested in December 1979. I was interrogated and tortured for 22 days and nights. In my case they were gentler because they did not want to leave any permanent bodily marks on me. They hung me from the ceiling by my hands, which were tied behind my back. They used electric probes on sensitive parts of my body and beat me. There were others in the torture chambers who were treated far worse. In one case I witnessed a guy having holes drilled into his bones with electric drills. The most painful thing in those torture chambers was to hear the screams of children being tortured to extract confessions from their fathers.

“What did they do with you then?

“I was sentenced to life imprisonment and taken to Abu Ghraib prison near Baghdad. I was visited by Saddam's step-brother, who came to my cell and expressed his disappointment in what they had done to me, and tried to persuade me to go back to my work. He told me there was a place for me at the presidential palace. I said I was not in a position to do so, both physically because I was half-paralysed after being tortured, and also because weapons research was not my speciality. Then he said that any man who was not willing to serve his country did not deserve to be alive. I said that it was our duty to serve our country, but that this was one service I could not do. At this point I was ordered to solitary confinement for 10 years. I was there from May 1980 to May 1990, on Saddam's personal orders.”



the very slow but steady modernisation of the middle east

“Even the many Arabs who dismiss MTV and on-line dating as the preserve of gilded, westernised youth will admit that female role-models have changed a great deal. In all but three out of 22 countries in the Arab League, women have the right to vote and run for office. (Recall that the Swiss canton of Appenzell did not grant such rights until 1991). Arab women also work as ambassadors, government ministers, top business executives and even, in Bahrain, army officers. A fifth of Algeria's Supreme Court judges are women, and women hold 15% of the top judicial posts in Tunisia. Even in Saudi Arabia, Lubna Olayan heads the kingdom's leading private industrial group, and Thoraya Obeid runs the UN's family-planning agency, though admittedly in New York.”

“ Just as disturbingly, movement towards equality in some Arab countries has shunted into reverse. Such is the case of Iraq, a country that during the 1960s and 1970s was in the vanguard of progress. Saddam Hussein's two decades of war and sanctions crushed the life out of the country's once large and rich middle class. Their decline discredited social models, such as the nuclear family, which had begun to replace the old patriarchal clan system. The lot of most Iraqi women has worsened even more dramatically since the war. In the cities, women are simply afraid to go out alone. The rise of religious radicalism has prompted many to adopt the veil, out of fear as much as conviction..”

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