In my reverie, Mohammed and his mates would invite me to their breakfast. We would talk about the kidnapping as if it had been a play and we the players who had now removed our make-up and costumes. War thrusts the most unlikely people into heroic or demonic roles, then casts them back into the tedium of mundane existence (Spectator).
This haunting commentary was written by Charles Glass twenty-five years after being taken hostage by Shi’a militants in Lebanon for 62 days. He managed to escape his captors by climbing out of a tenth-floor window and down an outside staircase in the building where he was being held.
We often talk about life imitating art. But the life and career of world renowned journalist, writer, broadcaster and publisher Charles Glass read like a film script. So, it was perhaps unsurprising that I was somewhat daunted and more than a little in awe when I met him for the first time a month ago in London at the Dhaka Lit Festival dinner. Within a short time, we were chatting like old friends discussing topics ranging from politics to religion, food allergies and, of course, his upcoming visit to Bangladesh for the Dhaka Lit Festival where he is a speaker.
The term ‘Been there, done that, bought the T-Shirt’ seems to have been coined for the likes of Charles Glass. There actually isn’t much he hasn’t done. He was ABC’s News Chief Correspondent for the Middle East from 1983-1993, and in 1986 interviewed the hostage crew of TWA flight 847 on the tarmac of Beirut Airport. He broke the news that the hijackers had taken the hostages from the aircraft and hidden them in the suburbs of Beirut. This in turn caused the Reagan Administration to abort a rescue attempt.
In 1988, two years prior to the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait, Charles Glass alerted the World to Saddam Hussein’s biological weapons programme which up until then had been secret. He was the only US television correspondent in northern Iraq to cover the Kurdish rebellion in 1991. His search for the truth also led him to venture alone into Indonesian-occupied East Timor with a hidden camera where he secretly filmed and wrote a report on the repression and torture taking place there.
Born in Los Angles, Charles Glass lived in California till he went to the American University in Beirut. It is evident from speaking to him that he harbours a deep fondness for the country, perhaps partly because his maternal grandmother was a Lebanese Maronite Catholic and partly from his time spent living there. Since then he has worked and written extensively about the Middle East. Over a distinguished career spanning over four decades, he has been witness to the rise and fall of different dictators and regimes and seen first-hand the cost of human lives in war ravaged countries. His books cover his own experiences in the Middle East and deal with its ever-changing political climate. These include Tribes with Flags, The Tribes Triumphant, The Northern Front and his latest book Syria Burning: A Short History of a Catastrophe.
He has also written about World War II in Americans in Paris: Life and Death Under the Nazi Occupation, 1940-1944 and The Deserters: Deserter: The Last Untold Story of the Second World War. Money for Old Rope is a collection of his essays. It came as no surprise when we touched upon the topic to discover that he had also had his short fiction published in Granta and The London Magazine.
It’s hard to keep up with his body of work and his accolades. He contributed significantly to the making of Peabody Award-winning documentary Sadat: An Action Biography for ABC News in 1974; he was honoured by the Overseas Press Club for his radio reporting about the deaths of Palestinians at the Beirut refugee camp at Tel el Zaatar in 1976. He also contributed to the British Commonwealth Awards-winning documentary Islam for London Weekend Television in 1978.
Over the years, Charles Glass has been a correspondent for the Observer and Newsweek Magazine, a special correspondent for the London Review of Books as well as being a regular contributor and columnist for newspapers and magazines such as The New York Review of Books, The Guardian, Chicago Daily News, The Daily Telegraph, The Independent, Time Magazine, The Spectator and Harper’s, to name a few.
It feels impossible to do justice to Charles Glass within the framework of an article. But his appearance at the Dhaka Lit Festival will provide the opportunity for people to learn first-hand about his experiences and views on Syria and the Middle East and the man himself. An expert on the Middle East, an accomplished reporter, author, historian and journalist and a man who has lived and breathed his subject – Charles’ panels will definitely be illuminating for anyone interested in the Middle East.