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Photographer Fazal Sheikh.

Photographer Fazal Sheikh. (Fuz-ill) (Shake) In his new book "The Victor Weeps: Afghanistan" published by Scalo, Sheikh weaves portraits and stories together to document their experience. His 1996 book "A Sense of Common Ground,"(Scalo) presented a series of photographs taken of African refugees.


Other segments from the episode on January 26, 1999

Fresh Air with Terry Gross, January 26, 1999: Interview with Jonathan Kellerman; Interview with Fazal Sheikh; Commentary on language and the Clinton impeachment trial.


Date: JANUARY 26, 1999
Time: 12:00
Tran: 012601np.217
Head: Jonathan Kellerman
Sect: Entertainment
Time: 12:06

TERRY GROSS, HOST: This is FRESH AIR. I'm Terry Gross.

Jonathan Kellerman is a best-selling mystery writer and an accomplished child psychologist. Kellerman was the founding director of the psychosocial program at Children's Hospital of Los Angeles. He cared for sick children and researched how they dealt with chronic illness, hospitalization, pain and anxiety.

His first novel "When the Bow Breaks" was a best-seller, making it possible for him to write full time in 1985. Although he still teaches at the University of Southern California School of Medicine.

As "New York Times" crime book columnist Marilyn Stazio (ph) wrote: "Kellerman's singular touch with wounded children pays off royally in his new novel `Billy Straight,' a brisk suspense thriller."

Most of Kellerman's novels have featured child psychologist and sleuth Alex Delaware. "Billy Straight" features LAPD detective Petra Connor. The story is about a street kid who witnesses a murder and finds himself in jeopardy.

Here's a reading from the opening page. Billy has been sleeping in the park and awakes to witness a horrifying scene.

JONATHAN KELLERMAN, CHILD PSYCHOLOGIST; AUTHOR, "BILLY STRAIGHT": "First the car drove up to the edge of a parking lot. They got out and talked and he grabbed her like in a hug. I thought maybe they were going to kiss, and I'd watch that.

But all of a sudden she made a weird sound. Surprise, squeaky like a cat or a dog that gets stepped on. He let go of her and she fell. Then he bent down next to her and his arms started moving up and down really fast.

I thought he was punching her, and that was bad enough. And I kept thinking, `should I do something.' But then I heard another sound fast, wet like the butcher at Stato Brothers (ph) back in Watson chopping meat, `Chuk. Chuk. Chuk.'

He kept doing it, moving his arm up and down. I wasn't breathing. My heart was on fire. My legs were cold. Then they turned hot wet, pissing my pants like a stupid baby. The `Chuk Chuk' stopped. He stood up big and wide, wiped his hands on his pants.

Something was in his hand and he held it far from his body. He looked all around, then in my direction. Could he see me? Hear me? Smell me? He kept looking. I wanted to run but knew he'd hear me, but staying here could trap me. How could he see anything behind the rocks."

GROSS: That's Jonathan Kellerman reading from his new novel, "Billy Straight." Tell us what Billy has actually seen.

KELLERMAN: Billy has seen a vicious murder of a woman in a park -- in Griffith Park -- where he's been living. He's a runaway and he's been surviving in the urban jungle of Los Angeles living in a park. And he's witnessed a terrible terrible crime.

GROSS: He keeps hearing that "Chuk Chuk" sound of the stabbing. Do you think it's particularly true for kids that the bad things they've witnessed get replayed and replayed in their minds in a terrifying way?

KELLERMAN: Absolutely. I think repetition is a very important form of childhood, not just in the sense of trauma but also in the sense of therapy. When I worked as a psychologist I became aware of the curative value of repetition. In the sense that children will just -- for example, if they're frightened by a movie will see it over and over and over again until it's desensitized.

GROSS: Wow, I'm glad you mentioned that. I did that when I was a kid.

KELLERMAN: We all did.

GROSS: That's how I learned to love horror movies.

KELLERMAN: Exactly. And parents make this mistake. They say, "Well, you were scared by it the first time so you can't see it again." It's really the worst thing they can do because the child will often engage in self therapy, and really systematically desensitize him or herself to the frightening stimulus.

GROSS: You worked as a child psychologist before you became a novelist.


GROSS: Or before you became published as a novelist.

KELLERMAN: Published novelist, right.

GROSS: When you worked as a psychologist full time did you know you also wanted to write?

KELLERMAN: Yes, I'd been writing compulsively since the age of nine, and I actually wrote before I became a psychologist. I really never saw writing as a job, it was just a passion and it was just a love. I won a literary prize in college and got an agent at the age of 21 and proceeded to write a lot of books that never got published. So I was really a failed writer with a good day job.

I just always had dual interests in art and science. I'm a painter and I play music and I just love to write. But I also loved science, so I gravitated towards psychology. And I guess the unifying thread in writing fiction and practicing psychology is a curiosity about people.

GROSS: Does that curiosity play out differently as a writer than it does as a child psychologist?

KELLERMAN: Yeah, I think the two fields play out in a diametrically opposite manner. I like to think of psychology as dealing with the rules of human behavior, as psychologists we're always trying to predict human behavior.

And to me, writing fiction is dealing with the exceptions to the rules. That's what interests me. In fact "Billy Straight" came out of that because it was an attempt to write about a very special type of street kid who didn't go the way of other street kids. And it was, in some sense, a super coper -- and very very fascinated with people who manage to rise above the bad luck that fate has given them.

GROSS: Now, you say as a child psychologist you're more interested in the rules of human behavior. I guess I don't think of there being, you know, rules.

KELLERMAN: Well, you know, science is all about rules and psychology would like to be a science. And when you talk about rules you -- basically, all science strives to predict. That's its goal. Psychology is a soft science which, to some extent, is what I love about it because it's ambiguous. I would never want to be a surgeon, it's too concrete.

But we are striving to learn about ways in which people behave and to predict. So there is irregularity. Now, the rules are not as ironclad, but there are certain ways of predicting, I think. But fiction is just the opposite. Who wants to write about the same old stuff? You really want to write about what's different and what's novel.

GROSS: Did you come across stories as a child psychologist that would have made good cases for your detective?

KELLERMAN: Everyday. Everyday. I think what finally helped me get published as a novelist was my -- were my experiences as a psychologist. But all that said, I could never ever write about a patient or even come close to it because of confidentiality. I took it very very -- very seriously, and I bent over backwards never to write about real people.

That's not a problem because the fun of fiction is making it up. But I think what psychology did was it gave me just an experiential base. So, hopefully if I want to write about a kid in a situation -- and I've seen a thousand kids in that situation -- hopefully it lends an air of verisimilitude and authenticity to what I'm doing.

GROSS: Well, let's look at your new novel, "Billy Straight." You know, Billy is a kid from a neglectful and abusive home who is now living on the streets of Los Angeles. And as you say, he's a real coper. He's very smart, not in a school-educated kind of way, but he is very smart. Have you met kids like that?

KELLERMAN: Absolutely. Well, you know, the book came out of so many different places, but one of them was my experiences dealing with children in a variety of traumatic situations. I dealt with street kids. I dealt with seriously ill kids. And there are always a few children who survived in a super way -- super survivors -- and they always managed to rise above things and to do much better than anyone expected.

Robert Coles (ph), a psychiatrist, has written books about that. I had the chance to review some of those books for the "Los Angeles Times" many years ago and I was struck with the similar stories of children growing up in the slums of Rio managing to maintain, not only a survival, but to rise above it -- to transcend it, to maintain a moral vision.

So what I tried to do with "Billy Straight" is create a character in which even though fate casts him in a situation where he's forced to do things that he doesn't like -- amoral and immoral things -- he's always struggling to maintain a moral vision been a constancy.

GROSS: You are the founding director of the psychosocial program at Children's Hospital of Los Angeles.


GROSS: And one of the things you specialized in there was the care of seriously ill children and their families. And I'm wondering if you could talk little bit about children's conceptions of disease and death.

KELLERMAN: My first job, actually, was working with children who were put in these plastic bubbles -- these isolation rooms -- for intensive chemotherapy. And people wanted to explore the psychological ramifications, and they asked me to do it as well as to care for these children and their families.

And I said, "Sure, but what's the previous research?" And they said, "Well, there is none we're inventing the wheel." So I was really privileged to do it and I learned a lot about how children respond. And one of the things that we started doing in the mid-'70s was to talk very openly to children about the disease and the diagnosis. And that met a lot of resistance, but that is essentially the state of the art today.

One thing I'm very proud of is my team really, basically, helped to pioneer the model of psychosocial care that is still used. And once again, children react to it very very differently depending upon developmental stage. I think, once again, with a six-year-old child or younger they tended to react in terms of missing their parents, separation, the isolation.

So when you deal in a therapeutic sense with a child of that age you want to minimize the separation. You want to get the parent in the hospital as much as possible. So we instituted boarding in and sleeping in programs.

Latency age children -- 7 to 11, 12 -- were very concerned about pain and suffering and of course all kids are, but especially it was magnified at those stages. And so we emphasized a lot of pain control programs.

And the adolescents were more involved in philosophical issues, more adult conception. We dealt with death and dying, but one of the rewarding aspects of the work was we dealt a lot with psychosocial rehab because kids were living longer. And today it's even better.

You know, leukemia is basically curable. At this point most children survive many many years, if not outright cure. So, in that sense we were dealing with helping them adapt -- things like getting them back in school. How does a kid who's lost his hair go back to school dealing with peers, dealing with siblings. It was wonderful wonderful work.

GROSS: You must have talked to the children a lot about what their ideas of death were.


GROSS: And I'm wondering if you could share with us some of the more interesting ideas to you. Interesting because they were especially poetic or horrifying.

KELLERMAN: Well, the fascinating thing is children, as their thoughts develop, progress from concrete to abstract. I'll give you a good example. We had a little boy who came in and he was about three or four years old and his mother came to us in a consultation because he was having horrible nightmares. And he'd just wake up screaming about bugs and insects and spiders. And she couldn't understand where this was coming from.

And we did some therapy, some play therapy, and we found out that what had happened is he had asked someone,"What's the matter with me?" And they said, "Oh, you have a bug" -- using the colloquial expression -- "You have a bug."

And once we were able to correct that and give him accurate information at his age level to explain to him what was going on -- at his age level -- and that meant actually showing his blood under a microscope -- showing the blood cells. You know, not doing it in a scary way -- the nightmares stopped.

And so one thing that I learned back in the '70s was the mind abhors a vacuum. If you don't percent accurate information to children they will supply their own, and usually their fantasies are much worse than reality. So we were encouraged and we found that parents who dealt in an open, but age appropriate manner, with their children tended to have fewer adjustment problems. Which is not to say we'd ever tell a child, "You're going to die or deal with it," because we didn't know and that wasn't always true and many kids didn't.

But we like to teach them about the concrete details of their disease so they can assume more control and more understanding. And I think it involves a lot of sensitivity. It involves pacing. The science of psychotherapy is knowing what to say. The art of psychotherapy is A, knowing when not to say it and B, timing it.

So it's not an easy thing you can cookbook. It takes training. But once you focus on the humanity within the child you're able to figure out how to communicate. But the goal was clearly communication and to prevent these kinds of fantasies.

GROSS: Jonathan Kellerman is my guest -- child psychologist and best-selling detective writer. His new novel is called, "Billy Straight." Let's take a short break and then we'll talk some more.

This is FRESH AIR.


GROSS: Back with Jonathan Kellerman. He's a best selling detective writer and he's a child psychologist.

Now, you've not only studied and worked with children who were very vulnerable -- vulnerable because they're sick or because they're abused -- you've also written about, and I imagine worked with, children who are very violent.

KELLERMAN: Right. I have a book coming out in October called "Savage Spawn: Reflections on Violent Children." I worked with psychopathic children -- sociopathic kids -- not that many, thank God, but I've had enough experience to know what they are like.

And this book really grew out of my horror at that Arkansas shooting -- the Jonesboro shooting -- where the two little boys ambushed their classmates. It wasn't just the violence, but it was the premeditation, the coldness of it that I found very very shocking and very very chilling.

And I just decided to sit down and explore the origins of this kind of violence in kids to see if I could learn from existing literature, as well as draw upon my own clinical experiences and to posit some possible answers to the question.

And what I learned was eye opening, I mean, I learned a variety of things. For example, one thing I learned was I don't believe media violence is a big or a very significant ingredient in the equation. The most common knee-jerk reaction when there's an outbreak of child violence is to blame the media and talk about how violent the media image is. And when you look at it closely that doesn't pan out as a significant predictor.

GROSS: What makes you say that?

KELLERMAN: Well, there are a thousand correlative study's and not one caused a link -- and one thing people not trained in science often don't understand is that correlation is not causation. If I could just get into it briefly, correlation is a statistical association between two events.

Meaning that if A occurs, B is more likely to occur. That's a positive correlation. And if A occurs, B is less likely to occur is a negative correlation. So some correlations are causative. For example, smoking. Smoking is correlated with cancer and it causes cancer. But blue eyes and blonde hair are correlated and they don't cause each other.

And the fact is that 99.9 percent of children watch television and watch movies, but very very few of them become criminals. And so it's really hard to tie in. And most of the studies do things like show kids some movies and give them a questionnaire about violence, but that doesn't relate to actual serious murderous violence.

And when you look at those kids, sure, they watch stuff and there is some evidence that the more disturbed kids are more likely to watch violence on television. But what's really at play are things that correlate that are much more important. Namely, some biological factors as well as chaotic families.

It's a classic case of nature-nurture. If you look at kids who actually murder and kill you find a higher rate of brain damage indicators. You find attention deficit, learning disabilities, median IQ of 90, documented head trauma. Just a lot of neurological signs. And you find chaotic families and parents, particularly fathers, with a history of violence.

And then you combine that with access to weapons and that's generally what seems to bring about this type of violence. For example, the Jonesboro shootings, if these kids hadn't had access to automatic weapons -- to speed loaders and known how to use them at a very young age -- would not have been a massacre. It would have possibly been a stabbing of one child, which is terrible, or pushing and shoving.

But when you throw in the access to weaponry with a kid with a nature-nurture tendency to violence you get a really bad bad situation.

GROSS: Jonathan Kellerman is my guest, and his new novel is called, "Billy Straight." Kellerman is both a child psychologist and a best-selling detective writer.

Now, your wife, Faye Kellerman, is also a best-selling writer. And I understand that you both initially kept it a secret from each other -- the writing.

KELLERMAN: Well, mine was not a secret. She knew me -- Faye and I were married very very young, and she knew me as a failed writer with a good day job for many many years. Faye kept her writing secret. I mean, she watched me struggle basically.

Faye -- I like to say she trained perfectly for a career as a novelist. She has a bachelor's degree in theoretical math and she has a doctorate in dentistry. So, I mean, I never imagined she had any sort of literary talent. And I saw her as the chemistry, math, physics hard science person. She's a very very brilliant mathematician.

And I saw myself as the artsy guy. And so it was a fascinating thing because we'd married for 13 years when I sold my first novel and I was still in practice as a psychologist for the first three novels. I was gone, and when I'd leave she'd sneak off and work on this book. And I had no idea.

And I would come home and see her working and she'd hide it. And I figured maybe she was working on a diary of some kind. And then one day she just thrust a manuscript at me and said, "Read it, you won't like it." And I said to myself, she's absolutely right because how could she possibly have any talent. Because I had seen her as this math-science person. So it was a real lesson to me on the need to be open minded. You think you know someone and you really don't.

GROSS: What went through your mind when you said read it -- when she said "read it, you won't like it." Were you worried that you wouldn't like it and would have no idea what to say?

KELLERMAN: Oh, yeah. I said, "This is going to be horrible. She obviously can't possess talent. She's never even written a laundry list. What the hell has she done here. I'm not have to let her down. We're going to have a big fight."

In fact, I was sitting there with our third child, who was born then, and the baby was sleeping on my shoulder and I'm reading the script and I get into it. And I'm realizing this is coherent and I was just shocked. So I started to read it and I'm caught up, and I'm reading and I'm reading. I'm turning pages.

And I called her in and said, "Honey." And she sheepishly comes in looking really upset. I say, "This is really good." And she said, "No, it's not." And I said, "Yes, it is." -- "No, it's not." And we had a big fight about that. She thought I was patronizing her.

So I backed it up and I said, "I'm gonna call my agent." Now, you need to understand I was not a household word, certainly, in publishing if I am indeed now. I had just sold my first novel. It hadn't come out.

I called my agent and said "I know what it sounds like, but my wife wrote a book." And he told me his eyes rolled all the way back in his head, but he said, "Sure, send it." And he sold it -- he sold her first novel, "The Ritual Bath," in three weeks. So it was an amazing story.

GROSS: Now, does she read your novels before they are published, and if so do you prefer an honest critical appraisal or the more supportive, "You're the greatest, dear?"

KELLERMAN: Well, honesty is kind of a malleable term here. You know, I'm Jewish and in Judaism we have a concept of peace that true honesty is peace. But it's interesting because neither Faye nor I came out of the English department. And here we are, both novelists.

So we started to read each other's stuff on a weekly basis. And as Faye says, there are often some very cold nights. We didn't know how to do this, this was a skill we were ill prepared for. And when you criticize someone's creative work it's akin almost to criticizing your child.

The fortunate thing is that we both really love each other's work. I mean, I could love Faye and despise her writing. I happen to really love her writing. So we're approaching it from the aspect of a fan. All that said, we do tell the other if we feel something needs to be changed. And it goes well -- generally, it's, "Oh, this is great, but you might think about this this and this."

And this has been expanded because my son is working on his first novel -- our son -- and...

GROSS: ...have you called your agent yet?

KELLERMAN: I haven't called, but I honestly think -- it's Boshell (ph) -- he's a brilliant writer. He's actually sold a short story. He's quite good. And he e-mails me the chapters from college. And I read them. And, once again, I like them very very much but if there is something he wants me to point out I try to do it in a really diplomatic way.

And I think if you're approaching it from a perspective of positivity and support -- some of the writers group get very nasty because there's this agenda. Faye and I don't have that because we're very supportive. Even so, it can get tough. It's a tough situation. But we work hard at doing it well.

GROSS: Well, Jonathan Kellerman I want to thank you very much for talking with us.

KELLERMAN: It's my pleasure. Thanks for having me.

GROSS: Jonathan Kellerman's new novel is called, "Billy Straight."

I'm Terry Gross, and this is FRESH AIR.

This is a rush transcript. This copy may not
be in its final form and may be updated.


Dateline: Terry Gross, Washington, DC
Guest: Jonathan Kellerman
High: Jonathan Kellerman is a child psychologist and best-selling writer. He's best known for his character psychologist Alex Delaware. In his latest novel, his 14th book, Delaware is on hiatus. In "Billy Straight," his star is Billy, a 12-year-old runaway who witnesses a murder. Kellerman is a clinical professor of pediatrics and psychology at the University of Southern California School of Medicine. His wife, Faye Kellerman, is also an accomplished mystery writer.
Spec: Entertainment; Lifestyle; Culture; Children; Youth; Jonathan Kellerman

Please note, this is not the final feed of record
Copy: Content and programming copyright 1999 WHYY, Inc. All rights reserved. Transcribed by FDCH, Inc. under license from WHYY, Inc. Formatting copyright 1999 FDCH, Inc. All rights reserved. No quotes from the materials contained herein may be used in any media without attribution to WHYY, Inc. This transcript may not be reproduced in whole or in part without prior written permission.
End-Story: Jonathan Kellerman

Date: JANUARY 26, 1999
Time: 12:00
Tran: 012602NP.217
Head: Fazal Sheikh
Sect: News; International
Time: 12:30

TERRY GROSS, HOST: This is FRESH AIR. I'm Terry Gross.

Fazal Sheikh is an award winning photojournalist. He was born in New York City in 1965 and studied at Princeton University. Sheikh was named after his grandfather, who grew up in Pakistan then immigrated to Kenya in the early days of the century.

In 1996, Sheikh went to Pakistan to learn more about his grandfather, hoping in the process to learn more about himself. He did. But along the way he also learned that hundreds of thousands of refugees from Afghanistan had fled across the border to Pakistan, fleeing Afghanistan's two recent wars -- the war against the Soviets and the subsequent civil war which led to Muslim fundamentalist Taliban government.

Fazal Sheikh's new book, "The Victor Weeps," documents the lives of Afghan refugees through photos and oral histories. Nearly all the members in this refugee community have tragic stories to tell.

FAZAL SHEIKH, PHOTOJOURNALIST; AUTHOR, "THE VICTOR WEEPS: AFGHANISTAN": It's a place where, for two decades, they've been in the midst of war, and so you have, you know, generations of children -- 19-years-old -- and all they have known is the warring. And many of the people living in these villages of exile were Mujahideen freedom fighters in the late '70s and early '80s.

GROSS: Fighting against the Soviets in Afghanistan.

SHEIKH: Exactly. And for me, in fact, it was very curious to be in the villages because they greeted me as, what they saw, as a fellow Muslim. But also as an American. And they would often come to me and ask what had happened to America's determination and willingness to help them in their plight.

Of course in the early '80s we were heavily supporting Mujahideen resistance, and when the Russians -- or I should say, the Soviets -- withdrew from Afghanistan they were, in their minds, completely abandoned. All of the support -- the money -- that was funneled through that region was completely withdrawn.

And now they've lived there since that time -- for 10 years -- and they still haven't really come to terms with that sense of abandon. They believed that we were truly there because we were their brothers, because we believed in their fight -- in the Jihad -- and that it was altruistic that we wanted to help their people.

GROSS: Just about everyone in the refugee camp where you were had people -- loved ones -- who were killed during either the war with the Soviets or the fighting with the Taliban. You photographed several of these people holding pictures of lost loved ones -- of dead loved ones. What made you decide to photograph the photographs?

SHEIKH: What I was curious about there is that for two years, you know, I had asked the people about the nature of the fighting and the loss and the Jihad. And what became clear to me was that the loss of the life goes beyond just that person offered, say, to the Jihad.

That the loss carries on to those loved ones left behind. And in the book the people are often baring the picture to me, or to us, as the viewers to show us that there is still that link. That the loss of that person is still carried within the community.

GROSS: You must have also thought a lot about the place of the photographs and the lives of survivors because you're a photographer -- this is the work that you do.

SHEIKH: Yeah. In some regard I'm a bit distrustful of the photograph because though it spurs the imagination onward, I am not so sure how close it gets to a factual rendering of a place or a person. And so I found that I needed to use the text or their voices to round out what the photographic image was unable to convey. Does that make sense?

GROSS: Yeah. Yeah. I mean, I often think about that too. You know, when you have photographs that you really cherish, but you realize it's just -- it's like one frozen moment in time even when you know the person well. It's one moment, so you don't want to invest too much in just that photograph and what it captures.

SHEIKH: Yeah, and it does somethings -- somethings it does so well that on occasion when you'll read the history or you'll hear the history of happened to the person in the photograph it changes how you see it.

GROSS: Right. Right.

SHEIKH: You see it at first, and you have an idea of what that person's life is like and in a way you kind of -- you meld it with your own understanding of the world. And then when you hear the words spoken, or in this case the written testimonial, somehow your understanding of the picture changes. And I think that's fantastic.

GROSS: You went to Afghanistan in 1996 and '97. During your second trip to Afghanistan the Taliban -- the Muslim fundamentalists -- had already taken over much of the country. So you had to pass through Taliban checkpoints, and it sounds like you tried to dress as if you were from Afghanistan. What did you do to help make it easier to pass through the checkpoints?

SHEIKH: Well, actually my features are such that I look rather Afghan, but towards the end of my stay in Pakistan and working in those Afghan communities I decided, as you mentioned, to make a second trip from Peshawar up towards Kabul.

And in that period photography had been outlawed, and to be caught photographing you could be beaten or perhaps imprisoned. And so I decided to travel as an Afghan without a camera just to see how, in a way, the city had changed in the interim.

And so I traveled with my interpreter dressed in a silbar (ph) -- in an Afghan turban -- by bus from Peshawar up to Kabul. I, in fact, found -- at that period, that was nearly a year ago now -- what the Taliban had done was they had brought great security to the regions. Arms had been removed. And there wasn't generally the threat in the remote areas that I had felt in previous times.

Of course, the nature of their inability to have a policy or the extreme repression that they had brought to the women and the communities of, say, Kabul still continue to this day.

GROSS: You mention that the Taliban had outlawed photography. Why?

SHEIKH: They saw it as creating an idol which would compete with the respect only to be accorded to Allah.

GROSS: You actually went to a photography studio in Afghanistan -- a studio that had been shut down by the Taliban. And you met the photographer who ran the studio. What was his reaction to what had happened to photography?

SHEIKH: Yeah, that was quite a curious evening. We had just arrived in Jalalabad, which is a city about halfway towards Kabul, and we were walking through the streets in the evening and all of the photo studios had been closed and the frames were laying in tatters on the ground within the windows.

But we passed one studio where there was a light inside and there was a man sitting there. And we entered through the doorway and were greeted by him and began to talk. I related why I was there and what I was interested in.

And he spoke about this time as though it was just another kind of pause in the cycle. That his business would return when the Taliban moved on and that he was weathering that rather trying time in their history.

And towards the end of our stay and our conversation he allowed me to have some negatives of photographs that he had made in the community. I thought his willingness to give me those photographs was, in some regard, an offering of opposition to this kind of oppression that was being leveled by the Taliban.

GROSS: And you reprint some of those photographs in your book.


GROSS: Now, you told the owner of this photography studio that you're hoping to do a book that would bring the photographs and the voices of the people of Afghanistan to the rest of the world. And what was his response to that?

SHEIKH: It was a curious response. He laughed and he said, "Well, should you bring such a book back to Afghanistan it would be burned and you would be beaten," which of course is completely true. But I think in the main, those who I talked to were really sympathetic. They were interested in having a broader vision of their community brought to the world.

And they were hoping, in a way -- and this is for me the very sad part -- they were hoping in a way that that kind of communication would bring some sort of tangible solution to their situation. I mean, in Africa and Afghanistan that's always been a very difficult thing to confront -- is the extraordinary hope that your presence will bring profound change.

And for my part, I don't know exactly what my work, or that kind of work, does for a place like Afghanistan or Africa. You hope that in some regard it has a positive effect on the world, but you can't measure it in sort of any tangible sense.

GROSS: My guest is photojournalist Fazal Sheikh. His new book is called, "The Victor Weeps." We'll talk more after a break.

This is a FRESH AIR.


GROSS: My guest is photojournalist Fazal Sheikh. His new book documents the lives of refugees from Afghanistan who fled to Pakistan. Sheikh first went to Pakistan to learn about his grandfather who was from there.

You had a couple of motivations in going to Pakistan and then Afghanistan. One was to learn more about your grandfather and his Muslim religion. And the other was a more kind of political motive to document what was happening to the people of Afghanistan who were living in the refugee camps. I'd like to talk with you a little bit about what you learned about Islam and the religion of your grandfather.

It seems that on this trip you were exposed to some of the most beautiful and some of the most extreme and restrictive aspects of a Islam. Let's start with the most beautiful. What were some of the things that you found most moving about the ways in which you saw the Muslim religion practiced by the people who you felt closest to?

SHEIKH: Yeah, there were some extraordinary moments which -- generally I was invited to -- by virtue of having this man named Abdul Satar (ph), who was my companion and interpreter. And sometimes we would have a long day, for instance one time we traveled over the mountains to Chitral in northern Pakistan, and it was the beginning of winter and was quite cold in the region.

And I was sitting in the room just huddling under some blankets, and I could hear from out in the courtyard the voice of the call to prayer -- of the prayer being recited. And I peered through the window into the darkness and there was Abdul Satar -- he's an older gentleman in his late 40s and well respected within the community. And he was leading the group in prayer, there were perhaps 15 men standing together.

And what, for me, was so striking about it was as he intoned the prayer and bent forward and then to his knees -- people behind him then following -- was that all of the people of the area in which we were staying had now a kind of equality.

The boy who had been cleaning the toilets stood beside the owner of the guest house. And all of them at once seemed bound in this kind of, shall we say, meditation or reverie. Which I found very beautiful.

GROSS: What did you find disturbing in how the more extreme followers of Islam practiced the faith?

SHEIKH: I think perhaps the most upsetting thing is -- and something that I have never fully understood, come to understand -- is the somewhat aggressive and violent nature of the religion, or of the way, shall we say, that it's interpreted.

I never fully understood the nature of killing the murderer or even, shall we say more broadly, of the Jihad. I was there at a time when a murderer was caught -- who had been robbing the home of a family and killed the wife and children. The father had not been at home.

And he was brought to a public square, and the father was then able to confront the murderer armed with an AK-47. And was given the choice of forgiving the murderer or taking the man's life. And the father chose for the latter and shot the man many times.

And I often had conversations -- it's in fact difficult at times to have a very contentious conversation about the nature of the edicts of the Taliban or even about Islam. But I had to admit that I never really understood this admonition.

That, in some degree, I always felt that the encouraging or allowing the husband, say, in this instance, to kill the murderer -- in some degree, didn't bring some of that hurt or some of that negative -- what should we say -- negative energy on to him? Was he not, in essence, tainted by his own act?

GROSS: You became very close to your interpreter, and he was your interpreter and companion for two years. And he probably led you through some pretty risky situations, and kept you -- helped keep you safe and oriented throughout the journeys.

Yet he lives in such a different world than you do, and I was wondering if it was very difficult for you to understand the world from his point of view. I mean, for instance, he has three wives. The youngest, I think, is about 14?

SHEIKH: Yes. He was planning to marry the youngest. He was, at the time, 44 and he was going to marry his third wife who was just 14 at the time.

GROSS: So that's my idea -- that's very kind of common to him and very, I'm sure, alien to you. Was it hard for you to kind of fathom that type of life being life by somebody who you had become very close to?

SHEIKH: I think we were fortunate in that we related to one another very well on a kind of human personal level. And so that was a springboard from which we could explore our differences. He was open to discussing his society and his religion. And he was very curious about the way that I had been raised, and respectful of my place. Even though I wasn't engaging a religion in the way that he did.

And so this was, in a way, a kind of fantastic entree to the community. That though -- even Abdul Satar in the way that he spoke about the Jihad, I had to be honest with him that we came, at times, to the position where we just couldn't understand each other. In this notion of the responsibility to kill the murderer because we love the people and want to protect them that we must kill the murderer.

It was something, but perhaps because of my privileged upbringing that I could never understand. But I resisted judging it and judging him for his stance in a way.

GROSS: I just want to ask you a little bit about your approach to taking pictures of the people from Pakistan and Afghanistan. A lot of the photographs in the book that you took are tight close-up's of faces. And I don't know whether it's because you use long exposures, but the faces are just very detailed. Every wrinkle, every facial detail is kind of fully displayed in black and white, not color. Would you described a little bit your approach to taking the portraits that appear in your book about Afghanistan?

SHEIKH: Yeah, I think in some regard I was interested in creating a kind of a meditative mood in the images and allowing the kind of landscape of the face to give you the feeling that it was harboring a rather deep history. And the photographs in the early part of the book made of the Mujahideen elders at night were just by the light of a gas lamp.

And so their features and the strength of their gaze I think is in some way accented by the qualities of that rendering. It works well, I think, in concert with their own voices -- their own testimonials.

GROSS: I like what you said about the strength of their gaze. That's something that you really notice when you look at the photographs. I'm wondering, did you give them any advise -- you know, I really hate it when photographer say, "OK, give me a smile now." Obviously, you're not going to do that with elder Mujahideen -- "Smile for the camera." But did you tell them anything about what you wanted them to do as they posed for you?

SHEIKH: No. in fact, I've learned in the last few years that images that I was able to envision or imagine before I made them were often not nearly as compelling as the ones that came from a kind of collaboration. That, in a way, how could I presume to create something that was more powerful, more evocative than their own lives? Than the way that they knew to carry themselves, to hold themselves and to look with kind of comfort and clarity towards me?

I'm not really interested in rendering them in a way that I can pre-meditate. How could that be nearly as fascinating as what they already know of their own lives? You know, and I think that that is able to ring true in a way that a pose is not.

GROSS: Fazal Sheikh, I want to thank you very much for talking with us.

SHEIKH: Thank you, Terry.

GROSS: Fazal Sheikh's new book about Afghan refugees is called, "The Victor Weeps."

This is FRESH AIR.

This is a rush transcript. This copy may not
be in its final form and may be updated.


Dateline: Terry Gross, Washington, DC
Guest: Fazal Sheikh
High: Photographer Fazal Sheikh. In his new book, "The Victor Weeps: Afghanistan," Sheikh weaves portraits and stories together to document their experience. His 1996 book, "A Sense of Common Ground," presented a series of photographs taken of African refugees.
Spec: War; Violence; Media; World Affairs; Refugees; Asia; Fazal Sheikh

Please note, this is not the final feed of record
Copy: Content and programming copyright 1999 WHYY, Inc. All rights reserved. Transcribed by FDCH, Inc. under license from WHYY, Inc. Formatting copyright 1999 FDCH, Inc. All rights reserved. No quotes from the materials contained herein may be used in any media without attribution to WHYY, Inc. This transcript may not be reproduced in whole or in part without prior written permission.
End-Story: Fazal Sheikh

Date: JANUARY 26, 1999
Time: 12:00
Tran: 012603NP.217
Head: Geoffrey Nunberg
Sect: News; Domestic
Time: 12:52

TERRY GROSS, HOST: Even members of Congress who insist that it's not about sex have had to find words they feel comfortable using in public to describe sexual conduct. Our linguist Geoff Nunberg has been listening to the debate.

GEOFFREY NUNBERG, LINGUIST: There was a curious sentence in "The New York Times" the other day in an article about the Senate maneuverings just before the Clinton trial. "The lawmakers raised the allegation that Mr. Clinton groped Ms. Willey."

It took me aback seeing that transitive use of the word "grope" nestled in the midst of all the discrete formality of "The Times." Of course that sexual sense of grope is perfectly good English, in fact it's been around since Anglo-Saxon. But it's lived all that time in the shadows of private life, and it's not a word we use when we're talking about sex in an official capacity.

Now, I can understand why "The Times" was led to use "grope" in that way. What other word could they have used? Merriam's defines "grope" in this sense as a synonym of "feel up," but that one isn't fit to print either. At least not in a periodical that likes to style itself as the newspaper of record.

And while I suppose they could have gotten away with "fondle," that doesn't have the same lubricious overtones. I mean, you can fondle your daughter's hair, but you couldn't very well grope it. In a sense, this is what the whole Lewinsky affair keeps coming down to.

From Clinton's own testimony to the Starr report to the presentations in the House committee and at the Senate trial, everybody keeps running aground on the problem of finding public language to talk about matters that belong exclusively to private life.

You could say that's what got Clinton in trouble in the first place. The difference between the public and private understandings of what it means when you say you had sex with someone. Of course Clinton was right to say that he used the word "sexual relationship" the way most Americans do.

There was a big flap the other week when the Journal of the American Medical Association published the results of a survey that showed that 60 percent of American adolescents refused to say that oral sex constituted having sex. The Journal's editor was forced to resign for interjecting the Journal into a political controversy.

But it's hard to credit that the survey would come as a complete surprise to the members of Congress. They pass normal American adolescenses afterall, and if you believe the press more than a few of them have kept a hand in since then.

It assumed that they have native command of the American sexual vocabulary: "coming on," "doing it." And of course the eternal jog of the bases: first, second, third, and beyond. We didn't ever mention crossing home plate when I was an adolescent, maybe out of superstition. It would have been like talking about a no-hitter while the game was still going on.

But we're obliged to disown these words when we become parents with adolescents of our own, where the result that our public language leaves us with few resources for talking about sex as if we knew what was going on. Listening to the trial last week, I kept wishing somebody would try to remind everybody what the story was really about.

What if Charles Ruff had said to the senators, "Excuse me, but do the words `going all the way' mean anything to you people?" But of course, that wasn't about to happen. People can only talk about the affair in a mixture of clinical terms and circumlocutions as if the matter under consideration were utterly alien to their experience.

Listening to the presentations by the House Managers last week you had the impression of hearing a committee of Eskimos trying to describe a surfing competition. The process reached its peak in the presentation by Bill McCollum of Florida, who managed to use "genitalia" three times, "oral sex" three times and "breast" four times; excusing himself profusely on each occasion.

It all wound up sounding far more prurient than any locker room conversation could be. People have compared the Senate trial to a daytime talk show, but that has it all wrong. On "The Jerry Springer Show," they talk about sex in English words the way any ordinary adolescent does. Whereas when you listen to somebody like McCollum you think of a hall monitor reporting to the principal on a couple he's caught getting it on in the prom cloak room.

It's no wonder the public finds the whole business a turnoff, and let me say that it pains me deeply to have to use that term. The Republicans know that of course, but they can't seem to keep themselves from going there. It's as if they have a kind of political Tourette's Syndrome. And from the sound of things it could go on for a while longer before we manage to grope our way out of it.

GROSS: Geoff Nunberg is a linguist at Stanford University and the Xerox Palo Alto Research Center.

I'm Terry Gross.

This is a rush transcript. This copy may not
be in its final form and may be updated.


Dateline: Terry Gross, Washington, DC
Guest: Geoffrey Nunberg
High: Linguist Geoffrey Nunberg remarks on the Senate's awkwardness in discussing sexual contact in the Clinton impeachment trial.
Spec: Lifestyle; Culture; Politics; Government; Geoffrey Nunberg

Please note, this is not the final feed of record
Copy: Content and programming copyright 1999 WHYY, Inc. All rights reserved. Transcribed by FDCH, Inc. under license from WHYY, Inc. Formatting copyright 1999 FDCH, Inc. All rights reserved. No quotes from the materials contained herein may be used in any media without attribution to WHYY, Inc. This transcript may not be reproduced in whole or in part without prior written permission.
End-Story: Geoffrey Nunberg
Transcripts are created on a rush deadline, and accuracy and availability may vary. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Please be aware that the authoritative record of Fresh Air interviews and reviews are the audio recordings of each segment.

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