There is this silly and ridiculous notion out there that religious folk propagate about their being no atheists in fox holes, and at the moment of death, everybody cries out for a higher power. A silly proposition, and one that attempts to paint atheism with the same brush of irrationality that religion reeks of. Now, at this juncture, I could go on and on about people I’ve never met, and only read about it, and list how they did not pray in what they thought were their last moments, or speculate on atheists who died on what their last words were, but I think it’s better to tell my own near death stories, 4 in total, and how at the moment of truth, I didn’t look to God or even think of him. Not that this will stop religious people using the term, as it makes them feel good, and enlightened.
Due to the length involved of these stories, this post will be divided in 4 parts, so if you don’t want to miss any of them, sign up for email updates right there on the right…
The Road to Baghdad
The year was 2003, I was 18 years old, newly graduated from High School, and missing my formal (Prom) no less. My dad had worked in Baghdad for 6 months, and we were going to visit him. We landed in Jordan after a torturous 14hr flight, and our dad met us there with 2 drivers. We begun the 2nd leg of our journey, a 10 hour drive east to Baghdad. For hours, everything went swimmingly, we were catching up, talking, laughing, listening to music, and occasionally napping. About halfway into the trip, when we were close to the city of Fallujah, which would go on to become the bastion of resistance, and driving along the highway at 100mph (160kmh), I noticed a dark blue BMW making a u-turn from the opposite side of the road. I thought not much of it, but a few minutes later, I noticed my parents started to act nervously as I turned to talk, but I did not yet casually connect the two events.
Both my father and mother repeatedly turned to look backward, and I was at a loss as to why. Then I saw that same BMW speeding up to us and pull up alongside us with a bearded Iraqi man brandishing an AK47 telling us to pull over, and then pulling ever closer to us, effectively closing us in and forcing us to a stop. My first reaction in seeing all this, was to take off my headphones from my newly purchased Discman (I had just upgraded from a Walkman), and put it in the glove compartment for fear of losing it; the stupidity of my youth! I did however have the foresight to roll down my window so the guy wouldn’t break it with the butt of his gun.
So, there we are, in the middle of the Iraqi desert, on a lonely stretch of highway, with myself sitting in the front passenger seat, my parent’s in the middle of the SUV, and my two younger brothers in the back. I watch in slow-motion as the 2 armed, overweight men got out of the BMW, one brandishing an AK47, and the other a 9mm pistol. AKMan comes to my window, and sticks the machine gun against my throat, and pushes it in a little, just to scare me that little extra bit, as if I wasn’t scared enough already. 9mm Man goes to my dad and sticks his gun into his stomach.
This may make you laugh. AKman starts shouting at me in arabic, “eteinie flousek” which translates to “Give me your money!”. With my poor arabic, I heard “shismek”, aka “What’s your name?”. There I am, hundreds of miles from any kind of help, with an AK47 in my throat, being robbed, by an angry arabman yelling at me for my money, and I respond with my name… Repeatedly… “Fourat JANABI, FOURAT JANABI…. FOURAT JANABI!!!”. I wasn’t shouting, but it was not normal speech neither. My dad intervenes here, and tells them I do not speak arabic, and my parents proceeded to give up all our belongings.
The fat bastards even asked my 8 and 15yr old’s brothers for their money, of which they had none. After they had collected everything, they back up, but not before AKman had the idea to check the glove compartment and take my damn discman!! I was heartbroken, and actually got really angry here. I know, stupid, I think I already mentioned how dumb I was, but that’s what put it over the top for me. They left, and that was that. My heartbeat returned to normal after 30-60 minutes, and the event became a memory.
No god, no praying, just a blind primal fear unrelated even to the notion of death which did not occur, and then a materialistic anger over my discman (God my stupidity, but at least I can laugh about it now).
The very next day, I met my auntie for the first time, and we heard that the same men had robbed someone else, though he made a move and they shot him in the hand, took his car and left him there in the desert. My auntie started to cry as if she had known us our whole lives, at the time I was perplexed, but it makes sense now.
This is bonus material. The next morning, when we had travelled to visit our family, my uncle’s heard that a dark blue BMW had surfaced not 15mins away, with three male passengers. “Shit” we thought, and they asked us to go ID them so they could get our stuff back. We drive over there, two of my uncles with AK47’s of their own. My brother and I are shitting ourselves in the back thinking to ourselves, what if a firefight breaks out? Neither of us spoke to each other. We arrived after what seemed an eternity, and lo and behold, a dark blue BMW is there, with three men standing nearby, though we couldn’t get a good look at them. We stopped the car, and my uncles got out, but told us they wouldn’t do anything until we were sure. They opened our windows, and just stood next to the car blending in. We eventually see them, luckily, it was not them, and we went home, both breathing many sighs of relief.
That happened 9 years ago, just 1 year into my Atheism, and just before the country, especially that region descended into horrible and brutal violence.
That’s when I knew I wasn’t bullshiting myself, I was an atheist in a foxhole.
That was my first near death experience, and actually the least craziest one too. The next one shook me to the core, so stay tuned and I’ll get it up in a few days.