A veteran of the anti-roads movement, Jo Wilding first travelled to Iraq in August 2001 as part of the UK anti-sanctions movement, returning in February 2003 to witness the (re)invasion and then again in November 2003 to tour the country with the circus of the title. In April 2004 she was one of a tiny handful of internationals to witness the US siege of Fallujah first-hand, riding an ambulance in the city (over 300 women and children were killed during the siege as fighter bombers attacked residential areas and US snipers fired on unarmed civilians).
During these last two visits Jo wrote a remarkable - and widely read - blog that forms the basis for this book. As she herself notes, “[b]eing a clown, going into the squatter camps, the orphanages, the schools, being out on the streets [and] playing rather than aiding or reporting, [and] going wherever people were rather than looking for `stories'“ gave her “a near-unique perspective”. Certainly the people of Iraq shine through this book - not least in the wonderful photos scattered throughout, almost all of which were taken by Jo herself. Here, in a cast of scores if not hundreds, we meet 62-year-old Zakia Ibrahim, married at 13 under the Monarchy, her 16-year-old grandson shot dead by US troops, poet Bashir al-Majid - tortured and imprisoned under Saddam, but vehemently opposed to the invasion and occupation of his country - and many, many more.
Reading Don't Shoot the Clowns it is hard not to stand in awe of Jo Wilding's combination of guts and talent. Not only has she been places and done things that would make most of us quail, but she can also write powerfully and eloquently about her experiences.
This book richly deserves the plaudits that it has already received.
The book launch for Don't Shoot the Clowns will take place at Housmans Bookshop on Friday 6 October. Jo will also be speaking at a special screening of the film A letter to the Prime Minister: Jo Wilding's Diary from Iraq on 15 October. See page 4.