Days Of Fear: A Firsthand Account Of Captivity Under The New Taliban, by Daniele Mastrogiacomo. In the name of Allah Most High and All-Merciful, Sayed Agha, Ajmal Naqshbandi and Daniele Mastrogiacomo are sentenced to death for acts of espionage within Taliban territories (p. 136).
In March 2007, the Italian journalist Daniele Mastrogiacomo, his interpreter Ajmal Naqshbandi and his driver Sayed Agha set out to interview the Taliban military commander Mullah Dadullah. Instead, the three men were taken hostage by the Taliban and held for fifteen days.
As an account of Mastrogiacomo’s nightmarish two week ordeal, Days Of Fear is a morbidly fascinating account of the human psyche being ground in the crucible of carnal man’s ultimate fear—imminent extinction, execution, death.
Mastrogiacomo’s terror is nearly all psychological. The only physical abuse he suffered, excepting the chains on his wrists, came in the early moments of his capture. Blindfolded by Taliban soldiers, Mastrogiacomo discovers, to his horror:
I suffer from claustrophobia. I was aware of this but didn’t realize that I suffered to such agonizing extremes. I must always be able to see a little light, even when it is dark. With my eyes closed and covered, I can’t breathe properly. I feel like I’m suffocating, buried alive (p. 47).
As he instinctively tries to free himself from the blindfold, a Taliban gives him a couple of rifle butts, one to the head. This *cures* Mastrogiacomo’s claustrophobia rather quickly. . .
The carnal man needs to believe he is in control of his life:
A man's heart deviseth his way (Proverbs 16:9).
But when the illusion of control is torn away, such as it was in the unfortunate case of Daniele Mastrogiacomo, look what results:
My heart is beating hard. I’m terrified. I ask where they’re taking me. I ask thousands of questions, one after the other. I’m afraid they’re going to kill me. A single shot to the back of the head, my body abandoned in a ditch, eyes blindfolded, hands tied. A lifeless bundle without form, dried blood around the bullet hole. . .It’s over, I say to myself. I find myself praying, my entire life passes before me as if it were film. My children, my wife, my mother, the newspaper, the sea, my sailboat, my father and my siblings. There’s no time, I need to see more. The film is running fast, in black and white, the images pile up, crazed. It’s over, goodbye mad, unpredictable world that I so desperately love and so violently hate. Goodbye to everyone. My hour has come. I raise my eyes, still blindfolded, to the sky and ask for God’s help and His pardon. I ask that He protect my children. I am no longer afraid. I’m ready. Then, suddenly, I feel that they won’t kill me. I’m certain of it. I don’t know why. My instincts tell me so. I want to believe it. Maybe my death is too absurd an eventuality for me to imagine, or perhaps I’m too important for our captors. I know that they won’t do it. Not yet, not now. My legs are trembling as we move left. They make me lower my head and they shove me into the trunk of the Corolla. I squirm. The blindfold slips down over my nose and mouth. I see some light, now, but I can’t breathe. I’m going to die suffocated. I cry out a dozen times, “Please! Please!” I want them to stop, to take the blindfold off me. My breathing is shallower, faster, the blindfold over my nose and mouth begins to grow damp. My mouth and throat are dry. I make a desperate attempt to get hold of a stray piece of fabric with my teeth and pull it off my nose and then my mouth. It is a long, difficult procedure. I try to control my breathing as if I were underwater. I’m convinced I am going to die. I tell myself that it would be a damned stupid way to die, but I also remind myself that many, many hostages have died precisely this way. I am tossed from one side of the trunk to the other as the car drives over particularly rough patches. It is torture. I have been taken prisoner by a group of Taliban. I do not know them, nor do I know their intentions. I’m alone, left completely to my own devices, I have no contact with the outside world, I am obliged to do everything these young soldiers want me to do, to follow orders issued by people far away from here. My death could come in any moment. The thought overwhelms me, it accompanies me faithfully for fifteen days and fifteen nights. Its particulars arrive in waves and with such force that each successive wave takes my breath away. I will have to learn to control my panic attacks in order to maintain a modicum of psychological and physical well-being. My body grows increasingly weak and beleaguered (p. 61 – 62).
Stripped of control, forced to acknowledge his true condition (O LORD, I know that the way of man is not in himself: it is not in man that walketh to direct his steps), that he is a weakling subject to unseen powerful beings, Mastrogiacomo immediately develops what one might call an Existential Bi-Polar Disorder. One moment, death seems certain. . .the next, life.
[Truly, this Existential Bi-Polar Disorder ought to be the true condition of everyone. But the masses, deceived by the lying vanities of the world, overlook the razor-thin tightrope which holds them over the pit of Hell. But they are just as much the hostage of unseen powerful beings as Daniele Mastrogiacomo was there, in that Toyota Corolla, and are just as close to their deaths. . .but the masses are drugged to an almost fugue state by the opiates of the world, the flesh and the devil.]
This extremely detailed case study of Daniele Mastrogiacomo’s Existential Bi-Polar Disorder is the lurid appeal of Days Of Fear. . .the appeal of the horror movie, the thriller, the ultimate in suspense, an insanely monumental and rickety nightmare rollercoaster, a video game, virtual terror. . .the appeal is pure sensation. . .the sensation of dread. This is enough for me to read and recommend the book. It succeeds as a true tale of terror. . .though, in the interests of full disclosure, it must be noted the climax of fear, Mastrogiacomo’s witnessing the beheading of his driver Sayed, is related in a peculiarly emotionally flat manner. On the back cover of the book, there is an excerpt from a L’Espresso review:
It has taken time, two years, for Mastrogiacomo to put what must be said down on paper. He has had to digest his experiences over time in order to render the profound meaning of his ordeal clear.
It must be Mastrogiacomo still has difficulty processing the execution of Sayed. There is the distancing of the severely traumatized in his account of the severing of Sayed’s head:
They push him down into the sandy desert floor. Sayed can’t breathe. Now, they’re on top of him, they turn him over and as they do I see that the knife has already been drawn. One of our jailors holds it in his hand. I can’t see the blade but I see something that cuts into Sayed’s neck. A quick, neat cut. There are no spasms, no moans or cries, nothing. The scene plays out in an icy silence. Then, a hand. One of the Taliban works on Sayed’s neck, front and back. Sayed’s body is inert by now. His head is removed and they lay it on his torso. They clean the knife on his white tunic (p. 136).
One must understand and forgive Mastrogiacomo’s reticence here. It cannot have been easy for him to chronicle his fear, to relive again those frightful fifteen days, and so if he draws back a bit at the most terrifying moment, ita sit. . .
As I said, Days Of Fear succeeds as a true tale of terror, and for me, this is sufficient. But the book is also being marketed as giving Westerners a close-up look at the Taliban. One of the back jacket blurbs:
Mastrogiacomo draws from this experience not only a hostage’s tale of captivity, but also a story that lies at the heart of the eternal human drama: that of man’s encounter with the Other.
And, ironically, Mastrogiacomo is challenged at the moment he is freed by the man he came to interview, Mullah Dadullah:
In the end, you have obtained much more than an interview. You have seen how we live and how we think. Do you think yourself capable of telling the truth about us? You journalists never do. You owe your life to our Supreme Commander. It was Mullah Mohammed Omar himself who suspended your death sentence. He decided not to have your head cut off (p. 154).
Here Mastrogiacomo fails. He tells the reader nothing but a few banal observations of the day-to-day activities of the various low-level teen and twenty-something Taliban who guard him.
Mastrogiacomo was never capable of connecting with the Other. He could not speak their language, nor did he know their country. He was dependent upon for-hire Others to guide and interpret for him. Like most Western journalists, Mastrogiacomo was nothing but a war gawker, hoping to fly into Afghanistan from Rome to get an interview with which to pad his resumé, and then quickly fly back home. In the end, Mastrogiacomo was the moth who flew too close to the flame. . .he was burned without ever understanding the fire.
In covering the Other, what the West calls *firsthand reports* are nothing more than the glimpses of journalistic Peeping Toms. . .they no more understand the Other than the spying masturbator understands the woman he sees through a bedroom window. This is not to belittle Mastrogiacomo or Days Of Fear, but only to disclose that readers will gain no understanding of the Taliban Other. If readers are not interested in a real life Edgar Allan Poe tale, then don’t bother with this book.
[We judge Mastrogiacomo a carnal creature, and not a joint-heir with Christ, because even though he occasionally mentions *God* in his narrative, he never identifies God, and never mentions the Lord Jesus Christ. On the text’s evidence, we therefore conclude Mastrogiacomo’s *God* is the generic god of the modern scientific and technological man, in Mastrogiacomo’s particular case, the baby-boomer scientific and technological man, whose god is nothing but a vestigial remnant of parents’ faith—a mere rosary, a mere rabbit’s foot, a mere talisman to ward off anxiety when 20mg of Prozac are not available.]
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