They hail from, among other places, Egypt, Syria, Palestine, Morocco, Yemen, Iraq, Lebanon, Sudan and Libya, though many also have a foot in the Western world. There’s a lot of self-scrutiny in this volume. A sub-theme is the guilt many of these reporters feel over their own relative privilege, the fact that their own families are safe while the people they write about tend to live in poverty and in terror.
“Our Women on the Ground” has many aspects to it — it’s about ambition, harassment and misogyny, sex, family, bravery, politics, religion, history, broken lives and double lives — but at bottom it imparts a pervasive sense of fear and loss. There are two harrowing deaths before we are 30 pages in.
The first is that of a young Syrian woman, a philosophy graduate named Ruqia Hasan, who was abducted and killed by ISIS for her outspoken posts on social media. She knew what was coming. She wrote on Facebook: “While they will cut off my head, I’ll still have dignity, which is better than living in humiliation.” Her story is delivered by Hankir, in her introduction.
The second is that of The New York Times’s Beirut bureau chief Anthony Shadid, who died at 43 in 2012, apparently of an asthma attack, while reporting in Syria. The author of this powerful and rueful essay is his widow, Nada Bakri, who has also reported for the Times.
Bakri, like nearly all the writers in this book, does not hold back. After Shadid’s death, she writes, “I quit journalism, left my home in Beirut and moved thousands of miles away from everyone I knew and everything familiar. Along the way, I became someone I don’t recognize.”