LOVE IS BLIND

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Update:   Hear our interview with Amanda Matti, author of A Foreign Affair, (originally aired on KNSJ radio) by clicking the audio link here.

 

A Foreign Affair, by Amanda Matti (W & B Publishers, Kernersville, NC, 2016, 343 pages).

Book Review by Dennis Moore

December 1, 2016 (San Diego) - Amanda Matti, an El Cajon (San Diego) resident who served six years in the United States Navy, including a 2005 deployment to Iraq in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom, has written a riveting true story of romance and war; A Foreign Affair. Matti provides graphic details of her experience in a war that many in this country felt never should have been.

This is a well-written book by Matti that gives rare and personal insight into what it must have been like for our soldiers on the ground, in a very controversial war. She takes the reader to this desolate area by describing the sometimes 120 degree weather and the clear and starless sky, in such a way that one feels as if they are actually there.

Can love exist between two diverse individuals whose countries are at war? When Amanda, a 22-year-old US Navy Intelligence Analyst, deploys to Baghdad, Iraq in the summer of 2005, she does her best to prepare mentally and physically to face the horrors of war. What she isn’t prepared for is to fall in love…with someone on the “other side.” For Amanda and her Iraqi translator Fahdi, it’s love at first sight. While serving together near the front lines of the Iraq War, the two realize their connection transcends cultures, countries and politics. Amanda knows she may have to choose between Fahdi and her career in the military, but actually finds herself at the center of an international criminal investigation spearheaded by a trifecta of US government agencies – the NSA, CIA and NCIS.

This is a very revealing book about us as a society, about us and human nature, the frailties of life! Matti’s frailties comes across quite succinctly in this heartfelt memoir, which at times seems no different than those of myself or the reader.

Yes, A Foreign Affair is a love story in the midst of the Iraq war, but what intrigues and resonates with me is a profound statement made by the author in this book; “Our main mission was to help the Iraqis become self-sufficient in conducting intelligence operations to support their own free government. Our secondary goal was a simple public relations mission to prove we didn’t invade only to kick Saddam’s ass and leave, but that we were genuinely interested in helping Iraq establish a functioning democratic government.” Of course, all this could be considered revisionist history by Matti!

Spurred by a draconian double-standard, investigators quickly compile a speculative list of offenses Amanda may have committed; one being having fallen in love with an Iraqi native. Together Amanda and Fahdi defy governments and cause international scandal as they fight for justice and love. A true story of romance and war, but above all, an epic love that overcomes incredible odds. Matti finds herself being accused of violating the Uniform Code of Military Justice (UCMJ) Articles #192 and #34 for failing to disclose an unauthorized foreign contact and improper transfer of classified information, due to her falling in love with an Iraqi national.

Matti was expected to sign a form presented to her by the government stating: “Due to these violations, I understand that I am suspected of illicit disclosure of classified information and espionage.” All this possibly due to her own naivete, which is what love sometimes does to you! And speaking of naivete and vulnerability, Matti shares in this book a revelation with Fahdi that she had a failed marriage at the tender age of 18, during one of those open and poignant moments that they initially shared with each other in Iraq.

Not to appear judgmental, but was Matti really that naïve? Especially considering the revelation she made in her memoir, of her current husband, Fahdi, was once one of Uday Hussein’s personal body guards. Mind you, Uday Hussein was the son of Saddam Hussein! Once this was revealed to Matti by Fahdi, she vehemently stated to him: “I don’t believe this. The simple fact that you’re a native Iraqi has us in deep enough trouble already. The fact that you used to fucking work for Uday Hussein does not help our situation at all!”

Incredulously, Fahdi actually admitted to Matti in this book that he enjoyed working for Uday Hussein in a response to her inquiry, by stating: “Honestly, yes. I made good money. I was given privileges and benefits that were really pretty awesome. It was a good time. I got to go to awesome parties and do a lot of cool stuff.”

Readers of this insightful and well-written book will draw their own conclusions, as I have, despite and because of what the author has written.

The way Matti describes Iraq and her involvement in this book, it was reminiscent of the movie Zero Dark Thirty with Jessica Chastain. Perhaps A Foreign Affair could be developed into a movie also, as the author has provided the type of riveting and emotional material worthy of a screenplay or movie. It has the intrigue and drama seen in a number of movies. Brad Pitt’s new movie Allied also come to mind, with his wife in the movie suspected of being a Nazi spy.

This epic memoir could very well have been titled Love is Blind or Sleeping With the Enemy, as opposed to A Foreign Affair.

Many people came down hard on Matti besides the government, for her illicit affair with Fahdi, including and especially her ex-boyfriend Shawn. As a matter of fact, Matti indicates in her book that it was actually Shawn that turned her in to the authorities. Shawn indicated that his pride was hurt, due to his finding out through the internet that Matti was sleeping with what he described as a “sand nigger.”

This revelation on the part of Matti’s ex-boyfriend Shawn is actually quite revealing in and of itself, as one could possibly see it as his actions towards Matti when they were together and prior to her going to Iraq, driving her into the arms and affections of Fahdi. In a poignant moment when coming back home from Iraq, Matti actually strikes out at Shawn by attempting to justify her relationship with Fahdi, indicating that in the few short months she was with Fahdi he treated and respected her better than all the time they were together.

Her own father came down hard on her, by stating: “The government doesn’t play around with stuff like this, Mandy, they don’t want you to associate with this guy and, quite frankly, neither do I. They can put you in prison. Do you understand that? Ever heard of a place called Leavenworth? If you don’t cut him out of your life, they will do it for you. You’re playing with fire and you’re going to get burned. This man is not right for you. He is from a completely different culture and he will never accept or understand who you are. I know you think you’re in love, trust me, you’re not; there’s no way. You spent less than four months together. You two hardly know anything about each other. You’re from two opposite worlds and the odds are stacked against you. A successful marriage is an impossibility.”

The author even had her sympathizers, among those assigned to investigate her on suspicion of illicit disclosure of classified information and espionage, who stated: “You’re a good person, Amanda, and I know how awful you’d feel if you were responsible for helping a person with bad intentions get into this country. But even putting that aside, you have to at least acknowledge the possibility that you are at least being used. Fahdi could very well simply be using you to get to the U.S. And I’m not even saying he’s a terrorist mastermind or anything even close to that – chances are, he isn’t. But that doesn’t mean he’s not still using you just for a green card.”

Matti references Fallujah and the infamous Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq in such a way, that resonates with me and I am sure will all other readers of this book. The horrific scenes of murder in Fallujah, as well as the documented torture of Iraqi citizens by our government at Abu Ghraib are shameful. A video documentary that I have been provided by the ACLU; “Ghosts of Abu Ghraib”, by Rory Kennedy, puts into perspective what Matti had to endure while in Iraq.

Matti actually found herself apologizing to Fahdi while she was in Iraq for what we (USA) did in and to his country, which is quite poignant.

The aftermath of the Iraq war has shaped and determined our society and politics, and elevated Barack Obama and Donald Trump to the presidency, along with bringing about the rise of ISIS. It has destroyed and subjugated what was once known as Iraq, and brought about such brutality and torture, as depicted in Abu Ghraib. Matti’s book even questions if it was all worth it, through the words of her husband Fahdi: “You guys shouldn’t have ever come here – well, you-you know what I mean. I’m glad the U.S. invaded because it brought me you, but that’s the only good thing that came out of this whole ridiculous mess.”

While Matti was undergoing the scrutiny of a military tribunal here in the U.S., Fahdi was being beaten and tortured by Iraqi and Iranian insurgents in a jail in Iraq for his perceived complicity with the American government. It seemed as if Matti and Fahdi were catching it from all sides, their own and opposing governments.

The author notes that on March 7, 2006, she received the news that she had been hoping to hear for months, that the joint NCIS/NSA criminal investigation against her had been closed as no substantial evidence was found to merit the pursuit of any charges in a federal court.

There is actually a silver lining to this story, for after all Amanda and Fahdi had to endure because of their love for each other in Iraq, they now currently reside in El Cajon (San Diego) as husband and wife – and the proud parents of their two young daughters, Elise and Elaina. I can’t wait to see the movie! The podcast interview below with the author on our "East County Magazine Live!" radio show is most revealing.

Dennis Moore has been the Associate Editor of the East County Magazine and he is the book review editor of SDWriteway, an online newsletter for writers in San Diego that has partnered with the East County Magazine, along with being a freelance contributor to EURweb based out of Los Angeles. Mr. Moore can be contacted at contractsagency@gmail.com or you can follow him on Twitter at: @DennisMoore8.

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Interview with Amanda Matti26.27 MB

Comments

Thank You Carole

Thank you for your comment Carole. You are so right - sometimes even those of us who are over there lose a piece of our humanity. Even I myself went over there ready to deal with horrors - I had my "game face on" is a manner of speaking. It's amazing how fate will always find away to blindside you with a eye-opening experience.

A Foreign Affair

This story gives rise to a whole different way of seeing the conflict, or the war, in the Middle East. Personally, I never once believed there to be a romantic side in all that dark misery going on over there. This book brings to light that there are actual people over there. Of course, I always knew that, but I still never saw any human beauty or believed that there was a softer side of humanity in that area. So glad to be introduced to this story. I can't wait to read it in its entirety. Thank you Matti, for bringing it to my attention. And thank you, Dennis.

A Foreign Affair

This review by Dennis Moore makes me want to go out there and buy this book. From the review, I see the book as a love story between two individuals of different cultures, and the background, e.g. one American,one .Iraqi, Amanda and Fahdi. I find it surprisingly unbelievable that the US Navy will get between these two love interest, but then again the question of trust and classified information shared with one's love interest who could potentially be the enemy is cause for concern as well as pause. Personally, I never understood why there was a war in Iraq but Amanda's explanation was spot on. I also like her statement: "Our secondary goal was a simple public relations mission to prove we didn’t invade only to kick Saddam’s ass and leave, but that we were genuinely interested in helping Iraq establish a functioning democratic government.” Were we successful in that endeavor? Not sure it was addressed. I commend both Amanda and Fahdi for not letting anyone get between the love they had for each other; not the Navy, not her father, NOBODY!! That had to have taken courage, and love, and I am elated that they are now married with two children. Jacqueline Carr - Author of "Quiet Thoughts and "A Selected Few Just For You."

"A Foreign Affair"

There is actually a lot more to this book than is covered in my review, particularly is it involves Fahdi. There is a passage in the book when Amanda's current husband went to the funeral of one of his best friends in Iraq, and the mother of the deceased slapped Fahdi and berated him for his involvement with Saddam Hussein's son, "Uday". There is another passage in this book where after love making between Amanda and Fahdi, Amanda notice scars on Fahdi's back. When pressed by Amanda for an explanation, Fahdi admitted that during America's first war or incursion with Iraq, a bomb was dropped on their family home which he suffered horrible burns. Fahdi admitted hating America at the time, but supposedly got over it. There is even another occasion while in Iraq that Amanda actually admitted to violating a rule or protocol in the housing of a number of Iraqi nationals in her room.

Thanks Jacquie

Thank you for the kind word Jacquie :) We found it kind of strange that the Navy was so hell-bent on splitting us apart too - LOL. But, in the end, I think it was honestly the work of a very zealous NCIS team that was desperate to make a name for themselves. Had Fahdi been a completely unknown person I'd picked up on the streets of Baghdad, that would be one thing, but he'd been working alongside US forces as a translator for nearly three years when we met. He'd been embedded with Marine units in Fallujah, he'd translated for Army drill instructors training the new Iraqi Army units in Ramadi, and he'd even suffered several combat injuries along the way - so he'd literally bled for our mission in Iraq and then our government turned around and accused him of being nothing more than a potential terrorist trying to use one of their own. It was a horrible betrayal - I was actually more ashamed of the betrayal Fahdi faced than what I had to deal with, he's done more to serve this country than 90% of American citizens. Thanks again for the comment.