Dancing in the No-Fly Zone: A Woman's Journey Through Iraq


263 pages
Contains Photos
ISBN 1-55192-735-7
DDC 956.7044'3





Reviewed by Laila Abdalla

Laila Abdalla is an associate professor of English at Central Washington University in Ellensburg, Washington, and former professor at McGill University.


A combination of travelogue, memoir, and news report, Dancing in the
No-Fly Zone is set in Iraq after the invasion but before the insurgency,
and is interwoven with recollections from earlier visits. In a sense,
reporter Ditmars’s experiences seem improbable: a woman of Middle
Eastern appearance, her Arabic is limited and she has been
simultaneously blacklisted by Saddam’s regime and criticized by her
editors for being “too soft on the Iraqis.” Nevertheless, she
travels alone, visits Iraqi homes, participates in local culture,
converses with Iraqi politicians, and interviews American military
personnel, including one running pre-scandal Abu Ghraib.

The various experiences make for an engaging and moving account. Her
stories portray an intense emotional investment and a clear political
stance, but without sentimentality or dogmatism. Ditmars’s prose is
clear, amusing, and well controlled. Infrequently there is a tendency to
become hackneyed, as when she recounts the time she replaced an American
CD with Arabic music, began to dance, and was soon followed by
journalists, drivers, and translators of all nationalities; there is
something clichéd about the image, however authentic, of diverse races
dancing together while a war rages outside. But Ditmars is a self-aware
writer, and when she flirts with triteness, she employs her humour. She
credits this incident as the source for the “belly dance diplomacy”
that gained her access to Iraqi culture.

Ditmars is strongly critical of the West’s treatment of Iraq, from
the 1990s U.N. embargo to the current American-led “liberation,” but
she similarly exposes Iraq’s crimes, from Saddam’s administration to
contemporary unrest. Likewise, she exhibits compassion for both
sides—most clearly and consistently for the Iraqis, but also for
Western soldiers. She is clear about America’s self-interest in Iraq,
yet she does not deny the immoral nature of Saddam’s regime. Most of
all, this book is about Iraqis living in Iraq and, against all odds,
finding avenues for artistic and political expression.


Ditmars, Hadani., “Dancing in the No-Fly Zone: A Woman's Journey Through Iraq,” Canadian Book Review Annual Online, accessed June 13, 2024, https://cbra.library.utoronto.ca/items/show/16501.