Saturday, February 11, 2006

Jill Carroll Video: reading between the lines

On a number of occasions I have been on farms, and it is interesting to observe the difference between the way the farmers treat horses versus the way they treat chickens, cows, etc. A horse is typically a pet - an animal that is kept at the farm for companionship and enjoyment. The farmer may ride the horse, but will spend hours cleaning the horse's stable, grooming the horse, petting the horse, giving the horse treats, and will give the horse a name. A cow or a chicken, on the other hand, may live on the same farm as the horse, and the cow may even graze in the same pasture, but it will not be groomed, petted, or given treats, and will not even be given a name.

There is one main reason for this: the horses are being raised as pets, the cows and chickens are being raised as food. And, when the farmer sends the chickens and cows off to slaughter, he doesn't want to feel bad about it. So the farmer never allows himself to get too close to the cows or chickens, or to develop any sort of emotional attachment to them.

There are some interesting parallels between life on the farm and the Jill Carroll video that came out on Thursday. The video of Jill was delivered to Al Rai, a Kuwaiti TV station, along with a letter. CNN reported yesterday that Jassim Boodai, the chairman of Al Rai, had obtained "fresh" information about Jill from the same source who had provided the tape. Boodai reported that Jill Carroll was being held in a "safe house" in central Baghdad, owned by one of the kidnappers, where she was living with several other women, and "sharing the house chores."

There are a few interesting things to note here:

The "safe house", owned by one of the kidnappers, is presumably his own house, and the "several other women" are presumably female members of the kidnapper's own family: his wife, daughters, sister, mother, etc. Jill Carroll is not just locked up in a room somewhere, she is "sharing the chores" with the other women in the house, and in that context, Jill's fluent Arabic would mean there would be no barrier to her mingling and interacting with those women, and perhaps even being friendly with them. To those women, Jill is no longer a nameless American, she is Jill Carroll - a woman who has been living with them and sharing meals with them for over a month.

In fact, Jill's attire in the latest video suggests that she may have befriended at least one of the women she is staying with.

When Jill was kidnapped, she was wearing an all-black abaya (see the top picture above). In the latest video, Jill is shown wearing a pretty green and black patterned one-piece hijab (headscarf), seen at left, which she is wearing folded in just the right way over her head. A hijab is a very personal article of clothing, much like a blouse or skirt. It can be plain and ordinary, or can be colorful, and a fashion-conscious Muslim woman may spend hours shopping for one, and color-coordinating the hijab with her other clothes.

This particular hijab looks like one that someone took some time shopping for and selecting. Either this hijab was loaned to her by one of the women she is staying with, or it may even be a gift that one of them bought for her.

The fact the hijab is a one-piece hijab and worn correctly is also evidence she may have befriended one of the women she is staying with. Jackie Spinner, the Washington Post reporter who recently returned from Iraq and who knew Jill recently commented, "Jill and I both wore headscarves, two-piece things that you don't really have to hook--it's difficult to get your scarf to look exactly how an Iraqi woman wears her scarf if you haven't done it since you were an adolescent. So you can cheat and use these two-piece things that you just flip over your head." The hijab Jill is wearing in the video is the one-piece type, which she may have needed some help getting right

It is also important to note that Jill looked well rested, well fed, and in good health, all signs that she has been well looked after by the people she is staying with.

While it is impossible to be certain, all of these things seem to suggest the kidnappers may not be planning to kill Jill. If they were, they would be keeping her locked up somewhere by herself, and would certainly not be exposing her to one kidnapper's family members and allowing the family members to develop an emotional attachment to her. Now that the kidnappers have housed Jill this way for a month, it would be much more difficult for them to kill her.

Try to imagine that kidnapper, making a decision that it's time to kill Jill and, being bombarded with cries of "Daddy, PLEASE don't kill her!" from his daughters and seeing his wife and mother reduced to tears. It would take a truly hard-hearted man to be able to follow through on his plan after all that.

Of course, the big unanswered question is what was in the letter that accompanied the video. The fact that Al Rai declined to report the content of the letter and handed it over to the US military suggests it was something quite sensitive. Al Rai reported that it imposed a new "final deadline" of February 26 for their demands to be met, but did not say anything else. I suspect the letter had an instruction that its contents were not to be published, and listed what the kidnappers real demands were (possibly something quite different from what they said publicly about freeing women prisoners).

I'm sure the next few weeks will be an anxious wait for Jill's relatives and friends, but I would look at this last video as a positive development.