After New York Times reporter David Rohde escaped from the Taliban, Sultan M. Munadi, who had worked as an interpreter for The Times, sent him an email: “Oh my God! I’m really really happy for this great news. I’ll thank billions of times the God for this freedom.”
Today, Rohde wrote Munadi's obituary. Munadi was the latest fixer/interpreter to be killed in Afghanistan, one of the scores who have died while assisting reporters in Afghanistan and Iraq. Their work is invaluable, since in both wars American soldier and journalists have entered into conflicts and countries where they do not speak the language. They rely extensively on people like Munadi to help them understand the culture and navigate their world. Munadi had been studying for a master’s degree in Germany for the past year and had come back to Afghanistan to visit his family, and he was killed in a commando raid to save him and Times reporter Stephen Farrell from the Taliban.
Afghan journalists are now blaming international troops for the death of Munadi, according to an Associated Press story that ran in USA Today. Afterward, as the Afghan journalists pointed out, the soldiers brought Farrell to freedom and left Munadi’s body behind.
Fixers and interpreters like Munadi are often singled out in Iraq and Afghanistan because they work for Americans. But the attacks on the professional classes in Iraq are not only felt by interpreters; in fact, the assaults have been widespread and systematic. Hundreds of scholars in that country have received death threats; and more than 2,000 physicians have been murdered. Many of them had assisted Americans in their efforts to understand Iraq -- as interpreters, sources, and guides. Overall, the professional classes have been hit hard by the wars in their countries, and they need the help of Americans. Luckily, the Institute of International Education’s Scholar Rescue Fund has been providing fellowships for some of these scholars to study at universities in Jordan and other countries. The New York Times has also set up a fund for Munadi’s family.
Three days after Munadi was kidnapped, his captors let him make a phone call. “The first thing he said when I answered the phone was, ‘Father did I wake you?’” Qurban Mohammed recalled, according to USA Today. They spoke briefly, as Munadi told his father not to worry; within hours, he was dead.