Send in the clown - The Guardian
Published: Thursday May 17, 2007
It is hard to imagine how Jo Wilding's kidnappers reacted when she told them what she was doing in Iraq. They were in Fallujah, a city under siege in 2003 - and this British woman was claiming to be a clown, in a circus she had brought to a country in the middle of a war. "We could have been anyone," she recalls, "there to spy or assassinate someone. The only foreigners there were Americans - and they were there to kill them." She seems remarkably generous about her kidnappers: "From their point of view, what else could they have done?" In fact, she does not even refer to them as kidnappers: "I don't really think of it as hostage-taking because they didn't take us for political or financial gain. It was purely for security reasons: they wanted to know who we were." But when she writes about it in her book, Don't Shoot the Clowns, her fear is palpable.
How to describe Wilding? She's 32, a mother and a newly qualified barrister, who lives in Brighton with her partner. But she is also an activist, blogger, unembedded journalist, documentary star, human rights worker and a clown with a talent for making balloon animals. "Jo was the only one of us foreigners in Iraq who I was absolutely sure was doing something useful," says Naomi Klein, the author of No Logo. The journalist and film-maker John Pilger is another fan. "Living with families and without a flak jacket, she all but shamed the embedded army of reporters in her description of the atrocious American attack on an Iraqi city," he wrote last year. He said her dispatches from Iraq, posted on her blog, were "some of the most extraordinary I've read". The writer, director and academic Jonathan Holmes has written a new play, Fallujah, which draws heavily on Wilding's experiences, among others.