Call Me Ishmael

Ishmael Beah's account of serving as a soldier in Sierra Leone is being attacked. I can only hope the attack is without warrant.

Here is Mr. Beah's statement:

January 22, 2008

For months I told Bob Lloyd and The Australian’s reporter, Shelley Gare, through my publisher, my agent, and my adoptive mother, that unfortunately they were wrong, that the man they claimed was my father was not my father, and that my mother and brothers were not alive, as Lloyd claimed. Last week, when The Australian sent reporters to my home in Sierra Leone, they were forced to acknowledge that this has been a hoax.

Now The Australian’s reporters are trying to raise questions about the dates in my book, A Long Way Gone, regarding when the war came to my village. They offer as "proof" a man named Mr. Barry who claims to have been the head of the school I attended when I was young. I have never heard of a Mr. Barry. The principal of my school was Mr. Sidiki Brahima.

The war in Sierra Leone began in 1991. My story, as I remember it and wrote it, began in 1993 when rebels “attacked the mining areas” (my words from the book) in my village while I was away with friends. I never saw my family again. The Australian, presumably, is basing their defamation of me on reports that the Sierra Rutile Mine was closed down by rebels in 1995. But there were rebels in my region, my village, and my life in 1993. They attacked throughout 1993 and 1994 before closing down the mine.

Others from Sierra Leone can bear witness to the truth of my story.

Leslie Mboka, National Chairman of the Campaign for Just Mining in Freetown, was a counselor at Benin Home, the rehabilitation center in Freetown, Sierra Leone, I entered in January 1996. He told this to my publisher, Sarah Crichton, on the telephone today:

“A gentleman named Wilson was here investigating regarding Ishmael Beah’s book, and I told him emphatically−emphatically−that Ishmael’s accounts are accurate and correct. Wilson was going to Mogbwemo to find out if Ishmael Beah’s family was alive. When he came back to Freetown, he said he couldn’t find anyone alive, and the man who said he was Ishmael’s father was actually just a relative. But then he asked, what about confusion with the dates?

And I said, there is no problem with the dates. The rebels made sporadic attacks on the mining communities between ’93 and ’94, leading up to and in preparation for the major assault in ’95. In fact, military personnel were deployed to the area because there were these sporadic raids. Ishmael was caught in one of the earlier attacks.

I told all this to Peter Wilson. I told him everything that Ishmael wrote is accurate and completely factual, and I explained to him what was confusing him.

I do not understand what his paper’s agenda is. I do not understand why they are trying to blackmail this brilliant and honest young man.”

Mboka was contacted by The New York Times when they fact-checked the excerpts of my book which they published. His testimony did not appear in The Australian’s reporting.

My publisher also spoke today with Alusine Kamara, former director of Benin Home, who now lives in Boston.

“I have known Ishmael since he was a soldier and he came to our center. I have read his book, and I have no doubt that what he says is true I do not know why anyone would want to question what Ishmael writes about. He did not write a history of the whole war, he wrote about his experiences. And if anyone has any doubts about what Ishmael went through, or what it was like for those soldiers, I refer them to the BBC World—they made many documentaries about our center.”

I was right about my family. I am right about my story. This is not something one gets wrong. The Australian’s reporters have been calling my college professors, asking if I "embellished" my story. They published my adoptive mother’s address, so she now receives ugly threats. They have used innuendo against me when there is no fact. Though apparently, they believe anything they are told–unless it comes from me or supports my account. Sad to say, my story is all true.


Ishmael Beah



Anonymous said…
I find this man Beah totally incapable of properly facing up to his distortions and deceptions. It is a serious matter as he is purporting to represent the lives of many victims of war. I would think more of him if he had freely admitted that whole sections of his book are fabricatons. He has had more than a month to do this, but continues on his book tour around the world. What a cad he is.
Anonymous said…
umm, excuse me, but who are you to say he's lying? Are you him? Did YOU go through this? he's not portraying any victims lives but his own! so get off your high horse and sit down, ya jerk. Who in their right minds would lie about crap this? I mean really, those are sickos and maniacs. Ishmeal is not one of those, and i think it was a brave act to write down what it was like for him, to actually sit and relive those horrible memories. so unless you were THERE, which i highly doubt, then shut up.
Bill the Butcher said…
Let’s take things step by step, and see how they stack up.

1. There is no doubt whatsoever that Ishmael Beah’s account of events is a whole two years out of time.
2. As a result of this, he cannot have been a soldier for more than two months rather than the two years he claims.
3. Two months isn’t even enough time for basic training; Beah cannot possibly have experienced the combat he reports.
4. Beah’s chronology is not the only other falsehood in the book; the claimed year long odyssey of wandering from Mattru Jong to Yele he claims could have been completed in one day because the two towns are 6 kilometres apart, not 450 kilometres as Beah claims and as an admittedly (by the man responsible for making it) false map in the book shows.
5. The fight Beah claims happened in the UNICEF refugee camp in Sierra Leone which killed six ex-child soldiers never took place.
6. Beah’s school records prove he was in school in 1993 and 1994, when he says he was a child soldier.
Even without the evident Hollywood character of the book, complete with redeeming white American angels, the entire account is provably false.

Now: does it matter that it is false? Here’s why it does:
First, dishonesty is dishonesty, and it becomes more so when one makes a career out of it, and a lot of money besides. The Beah Camp is all complicit in this; they are frauds now, if they weren’t all along. When the evidence is presented them that Beah is lying, and they choose to ignore that evidence, they are frauds.

Then, by presenting himself as a de facto spokesman for child soldiers worldwide (and far more than Kabba Williams, it is Beah who’s a recognised figure), our Ishmael is in effect hijacking their tales, whether such tales are from Congo or Cambodia, Sri Lanka or Sudan. Once his own transparently false tale is exposed, everyone’s tale becomes doubtful by taint of association. Unfair, but that’s how these things go.

Thirdly, by reinforcing the notions of Hollywoodised salvation of poor victimised blacks, Beah is hiding the truth of the situation, where thousands of child soldiers (and child sex slaves, whom Beah doesn’t mention) can never re-integrate into society and live lives of drug abuse, poverty and crime. All this is a crime against people who have no voice, whose voices the Beah Camp has stolen.

Fourth, Beah’s account trivialises the very real sufferings of genuine child soldiers. Since Beah crammed his fictional experiences with cliches of child soldiering (except, notably, sex slavery) and stole the experiences of a large number of other ex-child soldiers, he appears to have suffered much more than they did. If you believe what he said he suffered, you can’t have that much sympathy for someone who was “only” made to cook and clean and carry weapons for rebels or sent into human wave attacks, and you wonder why those people can’t re-integrate into society while Beah did such a wonderful job of it.

It’s time Beah, and his apologists, were forced to confront and admit his sins.

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