When reporter Patrick Graham asked his Iraqi friend Mohammed why he was fighting against the Americans, Mohammed said he was inspired by the Mel Gibson movie "Braveheart."
"Did you see 'Braveheart'?" he asked Graham. "They throw out the British and the corrupt nobles. It is about hope. The people in the movie want freedom and so do we."
Graham's article -- "Beyond Fallujah: A Year With the Iraqi Resistance," in the June issue of Harper's magazine -- is the most nuanced portrait I've yet read about the men who are fighting us in Iraq. They are, Graham reveals, more complex and more human than you'd gather from media oversimplifications about "terrorists" and "Saddam loyalists."
Graham, a Canadian freelance journalist and former foreign correspondent for Canada's National Post, covered the Iraq war for the London Observer. In March 2003, before Baghdad fell to American troops, Graham befriended the sheik of a village near Fallujah. In August, when Fallujah had become famous as a hotbed of anti-American resistance, Graham asked the sheik to introduce him to resistance fighters.
"I had expected to be taken to some undisclosed location where paranoid men, their faces hidden behind scarves, would deliver a 10-minute rant against Zionists and the infidels," he writes. "I didn't anticipate . . . Mohammed, with a child sleeping in his lap, telling me that he didn't think Osama bin Laden was a good Muslim."
Mohammed and his friend Abu Ali are two respectable, middle-class Sunni men, building contractors with wives and engineering degrees. But they also attack Americans with roadside bombs and rocket-propelled grenades. Why?
Not out of love for Saddam Hussein or al Qaeda -- they detest both -- but because they're angry that American troops killed civilians in Fallujah and because they believe the Koran requires Muslims to fight non-Muslim invaders.
"When we see the U.S. soldiers in our cities with guns, it is a challenge to us," says Mohammed. "Bush wants to win the next election -- that's why he is lying to the American people, saying that the resistance is al Qaeda."
Mohammed's group is armed with sophisticated weapons -- including Russian-made anti-aircraft missiles -- that they say they obtained by looting a former Iraqi army base last summer while American soldiers watched.
"The Americans are so stupid -- they almost gave us the weapons," Mohammed told Graham. "They thought we were thieves. They watched us taking RPGs and other weapons and said, 'Are you Ali Baba?' We said yes, so they let us in. They thought we were destroying the Iraqi army."
One source of funding for the resistance, Graham writes, is rich Iraqi businessmen annoyed that foreign companies are getting lucrative contracts. "It is," Graham writes, "simple business logic: The more problems there are in Iraq, the harder it is for outsiders to get involved."
Graham spent many long nights with Mohammed and his friends, drinking endless glasses of tea and discussing everything from sex to religion. One night, the sheik tried to convert Graham to Islam, using an article called "How I Came to Islam" by Yusuf Islam, the former pop singer Cat Stevens. On another occasion, Mohammed shared his belief that an apocalyptic global battle will occur in 2023, after which the bodies of the righteous will rise into heaven.
"The more he talked," Graham writes, "the more he seemed like someone who might be invited to give a prayer breakfast at the White House, where he could have delivered a sermon against gay marriage."
Last November, Mohammed was arrested by American troops and sent to the now-notorious Abu Ghraib prison. But Abu Ali has fared better: He was hired to do contracting work for the occupation government and used his profits to support the resistance. This means, Graham notes, that "the American taxpayer was funding both sides of the conflict."
Graham asked Abu Ali if he thought the resistance could defeat the Americans.
"We don't know what the result of this will be," Abu Ali replied.
Graham doesn't attempt to predict the future, either. But his fascinating article is not likely to leave you with a feeling of giddy optimism.
Shock-Jock the Vote?
Just when you thought that every conceivable aspect of the presidential campaign had been identified, analyzed, interpreted and argued over by the geeks from the all-powerful Media-Political Complex, two magazines have identified new constituencies that could be absolutely crucial in this election: Howard Stern fans and punk rockers.
In "Kerry's Secret Weapon?," an article in the June issue of the Atlantic, staff researcher Ross Douthat speculates that Stern, the radio shock jock famed for jokes about strippers and lesbians, "could swing a state or two into Kerry's column."
Angry that the FCC fined him for his on-air discussion of sex techniques he dubs the "nasty Sanchez" and the "blumpkin," Stern has been urging listeners to do him a favor: "Vote against Bush." Arguably, Stern has a track record as a kingmaker: In 1993, he endorsed Christine Todd Whitman, Republican candidate for governor of New Jersey, in return for her promise to name a highway rest stop after him. She won in an upset, which is how there resulted a Howard Stern Rest Area on Interstate 295.
In the cover story of the June 7 issue of the Nation, Kristin V. Jones details efforts to mobilize punk rockers for Kerry. A group called Punkvoter has sent a cadre of punks headed by Jello Biafra, former star of the Dead Kennedys, on a Rock Against Bush tour.
Meanwhile, a group called the League of Pissed-Off Voters is attempting, Jones writes, to "establish a voting bloc specifically on the basis of being young and angry." The group's manifesto is called "How to Get Stupid White Men Out of Office: The Anti-Politics, Un-Boring Guide to Power." The book's co-author, Malia Lazu, 26, proclaims: "I'm the diva of democracy with my push-up bra and my fabulous boots!"
Lazu has this message for her constituency: "If you want to be an anarchist, that's fine, but . . . could you just not be an anarchist on voting day?"