Follow the flag

There are plenty of conventional ways to call attention to yourself in a bar, but carrying a full-sized Iraqi flag is not usually one of them. So, it was an odd moment when Geed, a young Iraqi-American woman, stepped into the downtown Sacramento bar Marilyn’s at 12th and K on a Sunday afternoon, parading a flag very different from the one found on most sport-utility vehicles.

As the bartender took her order for a small pizza, the other patrons went back to watching the basketball game, which was interrupted by occasional news updates from Iraq. Geed leaned her flag up next to the big-screen TV and waited for her order. No one paid her much attention, except for a concerned waitress (who reminded Geed that her underage sister must wait outside with her friends) and a local news editor who happened to have spotted her marching up 12th Street.

So began this week’s cover story, Chrisanne Beckner’s compelling tale of three generations of Iraqi-Americans living under one roof (see “When the bombs hit home,”). Geed’s family in Davis gave our writer a privileged view into a very personal ordeal, a story in which ordinary people are caught up in questions of identity and surveillance—from a young child confusing an image on TV with herself to the federal agents showing up at the doorstep to “make conversation” about events back in Iraq.

We, as media, cannot disguise our own voyeuristic role in all of this, as we cast for characters in a larger narrative none of us truly can fathom. For, though these characters are our neighbors, our view of them is strangely mediated, familiar yet remote, like the images of a former home they watch on their TV screens—except that, for them, the stakes are so much higher. At least, in the short term.