One-Minute Book Reviews

March 2, 2008

Ishmael Beah May Have Had ‘Nagging Doubts’ About His Story, Wikipedia Reports — A World Exclusive for the Online Encyclopedia? — Or Was It Sucker-Punched?

Filed under: News,Nonfiction — 1minutebookreviewswordpresscom @ 4:55 pm
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[Update at 11:30 p.m., March 9, 2008: Another bizarre change the entry for Beah — this one suggesting that his parents may not be dead! All along Beah been claiming to be an orphan. This change in the entry requires a separate post, which will be dated March 9 or 10 depending on how long it takes to write. Jan]

[Update at 1:30 a.m. March 7, 2008: Since this post appeared, Wikipedia has removed some of the editorializing, speculation and other elements of Beah's entry that appeared to violate its own policies. But if the recent pattern holds, these will soon reappear. In any case, the entry is outdated, inconsistent with published reports and an unreliable source of information. For example, Wikipedia refers to Laura Simms as Beah's "foster mother." Beah refers to her as his "adoptive mother." Similar problems occur throughout the entry. Jan]

The reference site again abandons neutrality and editorializes about the bestselling author and this time speculates about the mental state of the man who says he was a child soldier

By Janice Harayda

Ishmael Beah may have had “nagging doubts” about parts of his controversial A Long Way Gone, Wikipedia reports. The free online encyclopedia makes this startling assertion in its March 2 entry on the author who claims to have been a child soldier for two years in Sierra Leone en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ishmael_Beah.

The Wikipedia statement, if true, would appear to be either a world exclusive for the popular reference site or evidence that it has been sucker-punched. Beah has not publicly admitted to having such “nagging doubts.” He says in A Long Way Gone that he has a “photographic memory.” And after questions arose about the credibility of his book, he released a statement that said, “Sad to say, my story is all true” www.publishersweekly.com/article/CA6524214.html.

Wikpedia speculates about Beah’s state of mind in a section of his entry called “Credibility Controversy.” The section deals with articles in the Australian that have made a persuasive case that Beah’s village was attacked in 1995, not in 1993 as he suggests, and that he could not been a soldier for more than a few months. Wikipedia speculates: “Beah perhaps believed to the best of his memory, events were in 1993; but was aware of a few nagging doubts, so could not commit 100% to that date.” Or perhaps the author of that ungrammatical comment hopes you won’t remember that Beah said as recently as January: “I am right about my story. This is not something one gets wrong.”

That’s not the only place in the Beah’s entry where Wikipedia contines the editorializing discussed in a Feb. 13 post on One-Minute Book Reviews www.oneminutebookreviews.wordpress.com/2008/02/13/. Some biased comments were removed after that post appeared.

But Wikipedia has added a long new section of editorializing (beginning “However, there is …”) that attempts to justify inconsistencies in A Long Way Gone in ways neither Beah nor his publisher has done. This section ends with this campaign rhetoric by the online encyclopedia:

“In the large scheme of things, fixing a precise year is perhaps not that important. The main issue is child soldiering. Beah clearly went through horrendous experiences, and it probably makes little difference whether they were spread over a few months or longer.”

This is not a neutral statement. It is a further attempt to deflect attention from the credibility of Beah’s account by focusing on child soldiers in general. Who says that “the main issue is child soldiers”? Why isn’t the main issue the truth? Or respect for the nearly 700,000 people bought A Long Way Gone and deserve better answers than they have received from Beah and his publisher about what it contains?

Child soldiering is a tragedy. But legitimate questions have been raised about survivors’ accounts of tragedies from the Holocaust to the Sept. 11 attacks. And some accounts have been revealed to have flaws ranging from mild inaccuracies to sweeping fabrications.

If questions were raised about a Holocaust or 9/11 memoir, would Wikipedia editorialize that “the main issue is that 6 million Jews died” or “the main issue is that the U.S. was attacked”? Simplistic arguments like these insult thoughtful and intelligent adults who are capable or recognizing that great as a tragedy may be, any individual account of it may have serious flaws. And it’s a mystery why Wikipedia keeps allowing such editorializing to appear in Beah’s entry.

© 2008 Janice Harayda. All rights reserved.

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