mercoledì, marzo 30, 2011

 

An Interview With Kenneth Timmerman, Author of 'St. Peter's Bones'

By AINA

Mr. Timmerman
is a journalist, consultant and best-selling author. He has been tracking terrorism and weapons of mass destruction programs for the past twenty-five years, both inside government and as an investigative reporter. He is a contributing editor to Newsmax Media and Newsmax.com
Mr. Timmerman's latest non-fiction book, Shadow Warriors: Traitors, Saboteurs, and the Party of Surrender, was released by Crown Forum in Nov. 2007, and tells the story of the undermining of the Bush agenda by partisan bureaucrats at the State Department and the CIA.
Mr. Timmerman has also provided expert testimony on Iran in numerous court cases, and has published a thriller on Iran, radical Islam, and the bomb, called Honor Killing, available at his website, www.kentimmerman.com.

AINA conducted an interview with Mr. Timmerman about his latest novel, St. Peter's Bones, set in post-Saddam Iraq. It is a suspense thriller with an Assyrian protagonist and prominent focus on the Assyrians (also known as Chaldeans and Syriacs) of Iraq.

When did you get the idea for the novel?
I have traveled to Iraq, Jordan, and Lebanon many times over the past four years in order to report on the suffering of Christians in Iraq and Iraqi Christian refugees. You can find links to some of those stories from the news page of my website, kentimmerman.com. I have taken some heat from my editors for writing so many stories about the persecution of Christians. But it is important to me as a believer to report on the sufferings of my brothers and sisters in Christ, even if it comes at a personal cost.
I initially wanted to write a non-fiction book about Iraqi Christians, but I discovered that no major New York publisher had any interest in the subject. Even more surprising: none of the big "Christian" publishing houses thought such a book would interest a wide enough audience to make it worth their while. So at the suggestion of Rev. Keith Roderick, who traveled with me on some of these trips, and Michel Kasdano in Beirut, I decided to write this story as a novel in the hopes of reaching a larger audience with a story written from the heart, with real characters whose joys and sorrows would touch the hearts of my readers.
As for the narrator, Yohannes Yohanna: I met many Iraqi Christian interpreters on my travels, and found that writing articles about them as a journalist couldn't begin to get at the depth of their experience. This was borne out to me yet again during my latest trip to the Nineveh Plain and Mosul this February, when I met yet another "terp" who could have been the narrator of St. Peter's Bones. It's funny how life imitates art sometimes.
When did you learn about Assyrians?

Three people initially helped me to understand what was going on politically in northern Iraq between the Assyrians (Chaldo-Assyrian-Syriac Christians), the Arabs, and the Kurds: John Eibner, of Christian Solidarity International, and William and Pascale Warda. John Eibner has made many, many trips to Iraq bringing aid to refugees and IDPs. He is one of the unsung heros of an otherwise sad story of criminal jealousies, monstruous cruelties, and malign neglect. Pascale Warda, a former Iraqi government minister with a price on her head, is an Assyrian Passionara; her husband William, who now runs the Hammurabi Human Rights Organization, has been documenting the exactions of the Kurdish as-Sayesh on the ground in the Nineveh Plain, as well as helping outside groups to distribute aid to IDPs and local communities. All three of them deserve greater recognition and greater support for the tremendous work they are doing.
Beyond that, I have long been drawn to the dark history of the Armenian/Assyrian genocide that was carried out by the Turks and the Kurds at the end of WWI. I can remember reading the eyewitness account of the massacres by Robert Morgenthau, the U.S. ambassador to the Ottoman Empire, when I was a young novelist in Paris in the late 1970s. I tried to recreate some of the atmosphere of those horrific times in the stories told in St. Peter's Bones by the narrator's great-grandmother, Soraya.
How did you learn the Assyrian language used in the book?

Pascale and William Warda sensitized me to how important was the Assyrian language during our travels together through the Nineveh Plain. Best of all: neither the Kurds nor the Arabs could understand it! So it afforded our guards an element of protection. I felt it was important to give a flavor for this climate by incorporating certain Assyrian phrases into my text. I relied entirely on help from friends, and hope I have not made any glaring errors!
Whom do you see as your primary audience for this book?

I've been thrilled by the number of Assyrians who have read St. Peter's Bones and thanked me for writing about their family, their history, their culture. My goal has been to take this story beyond the Assyrian community to wake up the hearts of Americans of different backgrounds to what is happening to our brothers and sisters in Christ in Iraq.
I am dismayed at the lack of response from the American church to the persecution of Iraqi Christians, and continue to hope that a fiction such as St. Peter's Bones might provide the necessary shock to get them engaged. To that end, I am appearing in churches with a slideshow from my trips to the Nineveh Plains in an effort to get American Christians engaged, and specifically, to get them to donate to aide agencies whose work I have been able to document on the ground, and to get their legislators engaged in putting pressure on the government in Iraq to live up to its responsibility to guarantee the security of its citizens. Some of those groups can be found at the "take action" page on my website.
How did your Christian faith influence or motivate your work?

St. Peter's Bones was written largely as a prayer: a prayer that my words and imagination would serve the greater glory of our Lord, and help to make know the suffering of his people. It is not a book about religion or religious themes per se, as it is a book suffused by faith. I have written more than a dozen books in my career, but never before have I started every day's writing with a long period of prayer, as I did with this one.
Assyrians have pointed to an error in the novel regarding the Assyrian Patriarch, that he had a daughter. You have issued a correction and a revised second printing. Can you explain how this error came about?

I have been unable to figure out exactly how I made this mistake, and in the end, it doesn't matter. It was a mistake, I regret it, and I have corrected it. In the huge amount of background reading and research I did in order to write this story, clearly I got the wires crossed. I am saddened that this type of honest error caused the reaction that it did. Matthew 18:15-17 might have been a more appropriate response!
How did your background as a political reporter influence the writing of the novel?

Well, certainly I drew on interviews and scenes I encountered as a reporter when writing St. Peter's Bones. In chapter 3, for example, there's a scene that takes place with the U.S. Ambassador to Jordan and his staff. The narrator accompanies a U.S. aid mission to meet with the ambassador. One of the characters points out how the UNHCR systematically rejects refugee applications from Christians, while putting Muslims at the top of the list to emigrate to America. The ambassador's staff pooh-poohs this, so Gary Utz (one of my characters) says they should interview more Christian refugees in the local churches, where they go to receive basic social services. "It's not my job to go to church, Mr. Utz," the haughty staffer replies (p.81).
I found that I was unable to render the outrage I felt at that response as a reporter writing a news article about a similar encounter (although I did try). This is one of the reasons I wrote this book as a novel. As a reporter you are supposed to be "even-handed," but I have always felt you can't be even-handed about oppression. Someone has to speak for the victims, for the "little" people, and that is what I have tried to do.
I think what influences me the most is my rejection of the standards most political reporters adopt. For example, I do not believe in moral equivalence -- the notion that, if one group commits murder it's okay, because another group provoked them by their very existence. This is used so often by so many "journalists" to excuse the actions of Palestinian terrorists when they kill Jews. There is no excuse for murder, or for burning churches, no matter what kind of real or imagined wrongs may have been committed.
Do you believe there is a future for Assyrians and other Christians in the Muslim Middle East?

I pray that is God's plan, yes. But our job is not just to pray, although that is important, but to use our wits, our energy, our resources, and our connections to make that happen. We need effective political action to sustain the Christian populations in Iraq and elsewhere in the Middle East.
Investment is tremendously important. I know that a few wealthy Assyrian-Americans have started to invest in the Nineveh Plain, despite all the roadblocks thrown in their way by the Kurds and the Mosul governorate. We absolutely need more businessmen here in America to get involved. During my latest trip, I wrote about two projects now underway in Baghdeda (Karakosh): a new university, and a local hospital. The Archbishop of Mosul is backing them. But we need to private sector to get involved, not just Congress and the U.S. government. That to me is the key. Without private sector development, Christians will leave to seek a better life elsewhere.

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