Monday, September 24, 2007

THE GRAHAM IDENTITY - what's his War Story?

Scottish-Canadian freelancer Patrick Graham exposed in his natural Celt hair colouring. A rare sighting, as he seems to dye his hair as often as Captain Sir Richard Francis Burton did in trying to get into Mecca.

I thought the BIG story this week was the Israeli raid on the Korean-Syrian nuclear material site inside Syria, but only the Sunday Times is covering it. Instead everyone is pointing at that abortion of a story perpetrated by MACLEAN'S, Canada's aging and sometimes cranky newsweekly. I think they all miss the point. Who cares about another piece of Bush-bashing tripe? It has no significance beyond giving a podium to a reporter who hasn't earned his stripes. The point is that the Canadian media want a piece of the upcoming U.S. election and are willing to be extreme in order to grab some market share. The issue of MACLEAN'S released to the street on September 20, features a forged image of Bush as Saddam and vicious text by one Patrick W. Graham a freelance journalist who has written for a half dozen papers and who (significantly) also has a book being readied by a publisher. Since we know our media is, like any labour union, intensely conscious of seniority, how did this guy get to the top of the pile?

I hadn't heard of this journalist, so I thought I would spend a few minutes Google-sniffing, to discover his claim to fame. My web harvest was helpful, but it made clear that he is concealing his past and has reinvented himself in the style of Richard Francis Burton - the Victorian adventurer journalist, who used disguise to gain access to Mecca and the tents of the Sheiks. His articles frequently refer to the use of disguise and he seems to have a bit of Tarantino in him, because he loves to put Hollywood flavored pop references into the mouths of terrorists and the Muslim faithful.

I note that Mr. Graham was first thrust into the spotlight in 2002 as a guest panelist at WAR STORIES, a gathering of Canadian “War Correspondents” here in Vancouver. It was convened by staff from the University of British Columbia, and held on January 31, 2002. According to one account the event attracted fully 300 people, perhaps because it was strategically sited at Robson Media Centre, amid the downtown hotel towers. I wondered how a fellow with relatively little experience qualified as a veteran war correspondant. Was it because of his connections in Ottawa? After all Mr. Graham's father, Liberal Cabinet Minister "Bill" Graham had just recently been appointed to the Foreign Affairs portfolio by Jean Chretien.
Journalism student Peter Tupper covered the UBC event for his own campus magazine, the Langara Journalism Review. In his piece Tupper gives us just a hint of Graham’s background: “Patrick Graham, who has a master's degree in classical Greek studies, and claims to have taken Islamic courses, described Afghanistan as a "vendetta culture," precisely the kind of reductionist-generalizing statement about Muslim society criticized by historian Edward Said.” Tupper also demonstrated that he had his Poli-Sci jargon down pat. The big evening was characterized as a “managed event”, with the celebrity panelists offering stories which seemed “rehearsed”. Global TV cameras recorded the event. Some of the "War Stories" Tupper heard seemed to him “a testament to the journalist's "self-imposed sense of bravado", and in obvious disappointment he chose to pin a few journos to the wall with the dismissive dart of “Great White Journalist”. (By the time I finished Googling I decided that Mr. Tupper was correct in his suspicions.)

UBC student journalist Sara Newham also reported on WAR STORIES, but was less critical: “Patrick Graham, a National Post correspondent, told the audience how he befriended arms smugglers and dressed head to toe in a woman’s burqa to get across the border into Afghanistan. "You’re always involved in a hustle or a con," said Graham of war reporting, adding, "The trick was to find someone who would take us across the border."

Ah sooo. It’s not only Taliban bomb smugglers and firebrand Muslim clerics like Lal Masjid of Red Mosque infamy who use the burqa as tactical garb! Canadian journalists do it too. This is how he begins his article BEYOND FALLUJAH: A YEAR WITH THE IRAQI RESISTANCE, published in Harper's magazine June 2004:
"Early one morning in April, a Monday, an Iraqi doctor and I piled medicine for the Fallujah hospital into the back of his car. I had dyed my hair black, and a friend had made me a fake Iraqi I.D. By then, various groups around the country were holding dozens of foreign hostages; driving out of Baghdad was like slipping into a shark tank. Ahead of us on the road were convoys of trucks, carrying aid and probably weapons. Men from all the Sunni areas, I was told, were coming to Fallujah to fight, a situation that one U.S. Marine had called the Sunni “Super Bowl.” Inside the city itself, the resistance had set up checkpoints every 100 feet. At the tenth checkpoint we were stopped and interrogated. A gun was put to the head of the doctor's uncle, who had accompanied us. We had planned for this eventuality: I was to pretend to be the doctor's mentally ill brother. For this reason I was wearing a suit. I muttered my Iraqi name to the guard. They took us to a mosque at the edge of the industrial zone, where the fighting had been the heaviest. Occasionally a bullet pinged into the asphalt. 'Snipers,' said the guard."

The famous HARPER'S article, and which won Graham a prestigious journalism award is constructed largely around interviews supposedly conducted with a thirty-something insurgent leader leader he named "Mohammed", claiming that the man's surname was too distictive to be revealed in print. I think Graham is lying, and the editor at HARPER'S let him get away with incredible howlers. Consider the following in which Graham alleges that a committed Iraqi guerrilla leader searched for metaphors not in his own culture or history, but in mythology which matches Graham's own Celt past?!
Did you see Braveheart?” he asked me. “They throw out the British and the corrupt nobles. It is about hope. The people in the movie want freedom, and so do we. In the movie, the problems start because the British invaded and take the beautiful women and hurt the people. Because of the hard times, they gather weapons and get rid of the spies and traitors, isn't that right?”
Mel Gibson's movie had struck a chord with Mohammed on a number of levels. Not only did his own grandfather fight against the British but, like the Scottish nobles in Braveheart, many of the area's important sheikhs worked with the British occupiers
I would have been more impressed with Graham's "year with the Iraqi resistance" had he not been carrying a "Get Out of Jail FREE" card. At the time he was supposedly researching the Fallujah story Chretien had made his father was Canada's Minister of National Defence. Now there is a huge kick in the teeth for our closest military Ally. Liberal MP's were crapping all over George Bush and the U.S. military in Iraq, while Bill Graham's son is in bandit country assuring the terrorists that Canada has THEIR back. Well we DON'T any more.
I could go on and on, but that's enough. Patrick Graham said it best when he described his own work in 2002 - "You're always involved in a hustle or a con." I think that young journalism student at Langara College got it right when he reacted negatively to the WAR STORY panel and their "self-imposed sense of bravado." Patrick Graham undoubtedly has nerve. He'll need it as he's embarked on a career that may yet kill him. Good Stuff! But that doesn't mean we have to swallow ALL of his bullshit. Braveheart indeed!

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