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...a sweatshop of moxie

Saturday, December 31, 2005

Run, Farris, Run!

Oh youth.

It won't take no for an answer.

The son of well-to-do Iraqi parents in Ft. Lauderdale, Farris Hassan, 16, of Pine Crest School, decided to take his journalism instructor at her word.

"Immersion Journalism", it's called.

When you find out for yourself what's happening in the story you're reporting on, by actually delving first-hand in that story.

Given that his father, a noted physician here in South Florida, had already told him no to going to Iraq, until the situation died down over there, and that his mother, Atiyah, had recoiled at her American-born baby boy going back to their homeland, there was but one thing to do:

Go anyway.

Now I know what you are thinking -- it's very unusual to have a kid do something like this.

Just to decide one day, hey, I'm going to Iraq to find out what's going on there, without the filter of 24-news networks.

But you know how they say there are "warning signs" which young men who become Columbine-type murderers share in common?

Well, if you wrote up a list of characteristics needed to pull off this stunt, you'd pretty much arrive at young Farris Hassan.


(A) He's of Iraqi origin

(B) He's got access to funds from his wealthy parents

(C) He's a competitive student, from a high-achieving family

(D) He attends private school, which breaks earlier for Christmas

(E) He has a valid passport, having travelled before many times

(F) He had asked his parents REPEATEDLY to let him go to Iraq

(G) He has an unsupervised computer in his room

(H) He used that computer to search for a commercial airliner which would allow a minor to travel unaccompanied to Iraq (Pakistani Airways)

Maybe he doesn't speak Arabic (or perhaps, not fluently enough), but as you add these "ingredients" for a runaway to do what he did, it's a wonder people DIDN'T

The first thing he did was look up the AP offices in Baghdad's Green Zone.

They were aghast to find him there, since a young American, no matter what the origin (and to many, Americans of Arab or Muslim origin, are traitors in all but name, and even MORE of a target) is a walking bull's eye, if not accompanied properly in many quarters.

The story broke shortly before Christmas, and his desperate mother received a very nonchalant email from her son, which contained a photo of him in front of the famous ex-Saddam Hussein Square in Baghad.

In it, he asked his mother to trust him, and not to make "a commotion". Hah.

Apparently, the lad had taken $1800 of the 10,000 dollars he had gotten from his mother, as a gift from his having helped her to choose stocks which yielded a 25% return.

Nifty commission.

His teacher at school had assigned an immersion journalism task over the Christmas hols, never knowing it would come to this.

According to his eldest sister, who seemed the most upset at his foray into Iraq, there will be "repurcussions" when he returns, when she was interviewed by local Miami news.

His eldest brother said that his father knew about the trip, but immediately backed off, probably thinking he would get his dad into hot water with the mother.

He said merely that the father may have been "covering up" for his son, since he told US officials he did know and semi-authorised his son to travel unaccompanied to Iraq for a school project.

I guarantee you, as earnestly as I am sitting here, that if this lad had come from a poor or broken family, Florida Department of Child Services would take him from his family IMMEDIATELY, and re-assign him to a foster home, no ifs ands or buts.

We'll see how the story unfolds, as on last update, Farris was en route to MIA Airport, via Kuwait.

I will update the story as needed.

I'm curious to know, however, your reactions.

What would you do, if your child pulled off this kind of amazing stunt?


  • I am praying to not choke on these words someday:

    I'd cut off the money, the computer and I'd quit treating my child like a human-shaped pet.

    If the husband/wife communication is that tenuous, I'd probably also enroll us all in counseling of some sort.

    By Blogger Ruth Anne Adams, at Sat Dec 31, 05:53:00 am GMT-5  

  • In addition to Ruth's comments I'd beat the little bastard within an inch of his life after he gets home, and then confine him to his now computerless room for at least 6 months.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at Sat Dec 31, 09:56:00 am GMT-5  

  • This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

    By Blogger reader_iam, at Sat Dec 31, 12:59:00 pm GMT-5  

  • This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

    By Blogger reader_iam, at Sat Dec 31, 01:01:00 pm GMT-5  

  • Oh, dear Victoria ... forgive me, but ...

    While I agree with Ruth Anne's sentiments, my take was different when I first blogged about this on Thursday.

    And although I resoect you and I generally disagree in degree rather than kind, we're worlds apart on this one, I fear.

    So much so that I was inspired to revisit the topic ...

    I'll stand and take it like a broad if you want to start flinging your Jimmy Choo's at me ...

    And I did "link, damnit!".

    (First deleted comment due to wrong word, was the original "link" part, which was then out of order.)

    By Blogger reader_iam, at Sat Dec 31, 01:05:00 pm GMT-5  

  • "second deletion" was due ...

    SOS with me and typos in comments.

    By Blogger reader_iam, at Sat Dec 31, 01:06:00 pm GMT-5  

  • From blogger Ron Franscell at http://underthenews.blogspot.com ...

    In a couple of unscientific polls overnight, Americans gnerally derided 16-year-old Farris Hassan -- a Florida high school journalism student who skipped a few days of school to fly to Iraq -- for pulling a foolish stunt. (Headline writers, of course, disagree 10-to-1, because how many times does a kid named "Farris" take a "day off" for an adventure? Too bad his last name wasn't Bueller.)

    OK, yeah, it was foolish for him to basically parachute into a war zone with little or no preparation for his own safety, or for the safety of people who'd unexpectedly be forced to protect this wide-eyed, overly enthusiastic pup. When he gets home, ground him for a month and don't let him go to the prom, fergawdsakes.

    But deep down in the heart of his heart is an instinct that most professional journalists don't have or have forgotten: The instinct to see for himself.

    Most of those dismissive, smug Americans clicking on their Internet polls whine incessantly about how the media isn't presenting the proper Left/Right view of the war. They claim the reporters in Iraq would risk their lives just to insert subtle political views in their stories. They seek out only "fair and balanced news" that suits their pre-fabbed opinions, and everything else is propaganda. They don't need to see for themselves because they already know the facts without ever lifting their fat asses out of their nice soft chairs except to fetch more chips and dip.

    Farris Hassan has a long way to go before he's a good newsman. He hasn't yet been exposed the the mechanics of storytelling, the ethical minefields, the withering disappointment of discovering that not all his colleagues are as passionate about the craft as he is. But he's got something most of them don't: The instinct to see for himself.

    Now, if he can just stay a live long enough to learn the rest, he'll make a good journalist someday.

    By Blogger Ron Franscell, at Sat Dec 31, 01:23:00 pm GMT-5  

  • I'd congratulate him/her for having the intestinal fortitude and daring to pull this off. Of course, my wife would kill him/her, so between the two of us we would have a moderate reaction.

    Also, I would pull him/her out of high school (assuming I would let them into such a hellhole in the first place) make him/her get their GED pronto quick, and send him/her off to college. Such a one as this is no child, and should not be treated as such. And the more you try to infantalize them, the worse it will get.

    The only solution to this kind of strong-willed cussedness is to send it out into the world, to get knocked around by reality. And sometimes, not knowing what is impossible, such spirits accomplish the impossible. It's youth's biggest advantage, as well as its biggest weakness.

    More generally, this indicates a problem with America's treatment of youth in general. We have infantalized them to the point that we constantly hear people talk about people in their late teens and early twenties as kids. Hey, a man in his twenties driving or commanding a tank in combat IS NOT A CHILD!

    And a sixteen year-old is old enough to make his own mistakes, and bear the consequences. He might not be old enough to be considered fully mature, but to treat him like a six year-old is stupid. Mr. Hassan, I salute you!

    By Blogger Icepick, at Sat Dec 31, 01:24:00 pm GMT-5  

  • I could see myself, as a young man doing something just as stupid, not knowing that of course, maybe in the back of my mind but I would be far from mortal at that time, things happen to someone else not me.
    And now looking back a bit, what stupid things I had done, both as a juvenile and adult. Different in scope? Maybe. They are done, as his is done. What next for him? I hope he is smarter than I.
    Lord help him if I was his Father, Lord help me if I am.

    By Blogger Paul, at Sat Dec 31, 10:00:00 pm GMT-5  

  • I'd be damned proud of him. That's balls and initiative right there.

    (What, it's not *judgment*? He's 16 - do you expect it?)

    Reminds me of me when I was that age... Australia, mid-1990s. Suspected drug dealers had gunned down the local Federal MP of Cabramatta in his driveway, along with his wife/fiancee/girlfriend/SO, and the area was thus getting a lot of media attention as Australia's "heroin capital", as the most dangerous neighborhood of Sydney, etc, etc.

    I was 16. I realized that Cabramatta had a railway station, and it would therefore be possible for me to get there. Like Farris, I decided to see for myself. Oh, and incidentally bag an interview with maybe a drug dealer or two. So I mentioned the idea to my parents, and they - since at the time I wanted to be a reporter, and they supported this ambition - wrote me a note excusing me from school for half a day on the basis of a doctor's appointment.

    Of course, I'd implied to parents that I wouldn't really be leaving the immediate vicinity of the railway station. And for the first five minutes or so of my time in Cabramatta, I didn't. Note that I was offered heroin three times before I was off the station platform.

    Cabramatta is a western Sydney suburb that feels like a central Hanoi neighborhood. Ho Chi Minh City/Saigon, anyway; most of the South Viet exiles who came to Australia after the ARVN collapsed, settled down there. They run convenience stores; their kids are the foot soldiers of the 5T gang and account for most of Australia's heroin trade. It was my first ever sense of being a foreigner; most of the time I was the only non-Asian in sight. I don't think there was a single English sign that didn't have an Asian translation underneath it, and there were plenty of Asian signs that didn't have English translations.

    In half an hour of roaming streets, malls and dark alleys with unconscious people slumped in doorways, I was offered heroin forty-one times. I scored seven interviews with junkies and two with dealers, although not all the junkies were fully coherent and I think one of them may only have been pretending to speak English in the hope that I'd give him money for his habit.

    Dammit, I wish *I'd* had an Iraq war going - oh yeah, and the money to get there - when I was 16.

    My reaction if he was my kid: "OK, we're signing you up for Arab language classes, and self-defence classes just in case. You can make another try next year; we'll tell Mom you're with a friend in Vermont or something."

    By Anonymous Leo Champion, at Sun Jan 01, 01:45:00 am GMT-5  

  • Great thoughts, everyone. Icepick, I liked yours so much that I linked to it in an update to my own post on the subject.

    By Blogger Kev, at Sun Jan 01, 02:26:00 am GMT-5  

  • I was reminded of Matthias Rust, the German (back then, West German) kid who, when he got his pilot's license, made the traditional toast / boast that he'd soon be flying under the Arc de Triomphe and landing in Red Square, and then actually went and did the latter.

    What an idiot. What a clown. What a guy.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at Sun Jan 01, 03:08:00 am GMT-5  

  • Guys, I've updated my thoughts on the 1 January blogpost above.

    Let me know what you think.

    I'll be back here too, to comment on what you've said.

    Much to talk about, but it's 85F, sunny, and the pool beckons, capiche? ;)


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