Tuesday, January 6, 2009

2008 - Looking Back

2008 was a landmark year in many ways, but buried under the major global, political, and economic stories of the season was one small story which affected thousands of lives. And though the people most immediately affected by this story all live in Iraq, this may be the story which struck closest to home for America's translation community.

The war in Iraq has weighed on the hearts and minds of Americans as we have prayed for our troops, worried over the fate of a nation on the other side of the world, and argued bitterly over whether or not we should be there at all. Yet in the midst of the talk and concern, it is all too easy to lose sight of the Iraqis who have risked everything to support the American troops.

For years, many Iraqis have risked their lives and their families' lives by acting as interpreters for the American troops in Iraq. Certain groups may dislike the American intruders, but they despise these Iraqi "traitors" and hundreds of Iraqi interpreters have been assassinated for working with Americans. In order to protect their lives and the lives of their families, these men and women wore ski masks to hide their identities.

In September of 2008, the American military banned the wearing of masks by interpreters working with the troops in Iraq.

This ban, which horrified not only the interpreters, but the troops on the ground who worked with them, was opposed by several members of congress as well as the American Translators Association. The translation community in America watched in horror as stories of fear came out of Iraq. Iraqi "terps" were quitting their jobs, growing beards, and telling of how shots had been fired into their families' homes as retribution for their betrayal. These linguists, helping to bring order and understanding, were faced with a future of terror.

After months of questions and opposition by unbelieving politicians, individuals, and organizations in America, the ban was lifted in December of 2008.

Today, the Iraqi terps are still risking their lives working beside American troops. Many of them hope to remove their families from danger by moving to the United States, but obtaining a visa is extremely costly and difficult.

As January 20th approaches and the American administration changes, there are certainly going to be changes made in Iraq as well. The translation community hopes that these brave men and women will not be forgotten in the upcoming transitions.

If you are interested in learning more, visit The Checkpoint One Foundation, an organization set up by an American soldier to help Iraqi interpreters obtain visas.


Rebecca Ward Design said...

I never thought about how important the mask and anonymity was for the interpreter...

AEGtranslations said...

Frightening, isn't it? Of course, once we stop to think about it, it's clear that their experience is different from the soldiers'.

Not only are they "traitors" instead of simple "interlopers", but instead of staying on the army base and enjoying the security that it offers, most of them return home at night. Also, unlike the soldiers, their families are not thousands of miles away from the conflict.