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Thursday, December 22, 2016

Reminiscing with new acquaintance

I was lucky to meet in London, an Iraqi with whom I can share all the memories, views and the life we lived in Iraq during the 80s and 90s. Most of the Iraqis I have met in London, either belong to the generation who left the country before 80s, or were second-generation immigrants, whose idea of Iraq is inherited from their parents. There was no shared memory to reminisce about, nor a shared experience to discuss. But this new acquaintance provided me with what I needed. Yesterday was our second meeting, and for the second time we spent hours talking about the life we lived in the 80s and 90s. We shared cultural references that other Iraqis in London would never have understood, or realized its significance. For the second-generation young Iraqi, who was with us, we were speaking a secret language, she was unable to decode its references.

But the real exciting factor for me was the space of freedom to discuss Iraqi politics since the 80s without fear of offending someone who was hard-core enemy of Saddam, or someone who thought Iraq was done when Saddam ascended to power in 1980. It was refreshing to be able to breathe out thoughts that nowadays are considered forbidden sentiments that betray the Iraqis who suffered under Saddam.

I grew up in a family that was not interested in politics, nor religion. I was one of millions of Shia Iraqis who lived unharmed under Saddam's rule. My only grievances against Saddam was the endless wars we lived, growing up to the sounds of bombing and women and orphans wailing the loss of their loved ones. I am not minimizing the significance of these, but through my readings I can't toss it all to the shoulders of Saddam and the Baath and blame them for the increased number of widows and orphans in the country. There were two countries fighting in the 80s, and Iran had a big share in the Iraqi blood shed for this war. I also remember very well how the Kuwaiti delegation was indifferent when Saddam gave his speech in the Arab Summit in May 1990, where he warned them against trespassing on Iraqi's bordering oil well. Was it right for him to invade the country and allow the army to commit all these atrocities? Definitely no. However there is another side for the story, in which the ugliness committed in Kuwait was not totally Saddam's fault, but had to do with individual human conscience.

When the Iraqi army controlled Kuwait, many Iraqis went their and robbed and blundered the country, Yes, there were not stopped, but they should have never done that. My uncle used to drive a lorry there to bring different second-hand goods and sell them, but my dad warned my mother not to buy one single thing coming from Kuwait. I still remember the fight when my dad became mad at my mother for accepting a gift from my aunt, which was Kuwaiti dresses. He told her she would not stay at home if she would bring another thing from Kuwait to the house.

During the 90s, all Iraqis suffered because of the sanctions, and Saddam's started a phase of self-adulation, considering himself as the hero of Arab Nationalism against western imperialism, a postcolonial rhetoric as a feminist from Iraq I refuse to subscribe to. However, the US determination to invade the country, and their dirty game with the so-called Iraqi political opposition give some credit to this rhetoric.

Millions of Iraqis have rediscovered their history after 2003, under the confusion of the hundreds of media outlets that give different accounts of the 80s and 90s, and draw different pictures of 2003 aftermath. We were told of how Saddam's tortured and killed Iraqis who were opposing him, or suspected for opposing him. His sons emerged as sadists enjoying the atrocities they committed against Iraqis. Horrifying stories started to spread asserting the beastly nature of Saddam and his family, that we no longer think of them as humans, but more of mythic monsters that could have existed only in ancient barbaric times. But these stories did not conform with the kind of life we used to live in the 80s and 90s. At least, they didn't match the life I have lived.

Do I want Saddam back? definitely no. Do I have nostalgic feelings toward his rule. Yes, to certain extent. Any one of my generation, who grew up in the 80s and 90s, can't escape comparing between Iraq then and now. Even if their comparison ends illogically in favor of contemporary Iraq, at least there is something that provokes their thoughts to compare.

After 13 years of new Iraq and democracy, Iraq is living in worse conditions than what it used to be during Saddam's times, and this is enough to change the balance to his side. The number of Iraqis killed in those 13 years can be compared to 8 years of war, 1991 bombing and the sanctions years.

If those who rule Iraq today were the opposition Saddam was fighting and tried to isolate his people from, then hats off to Saddam, for they proved him right. These people are too incompetent to be rulers, to be given the power keys to my country.

Those who rule Iraq today have no vision, no plan for the country they rule. They are inconsiderate of the sufferings of Iraqis. They have turned our country to an abyss we just want to escape. Their only achievement which they take pride in is the religious militancy, and the spread of religious Shia rituals. Yes, marching, chest beating and wailing the religious leader who died 1400 years ago is far more important that the hundreds of Iraqis dying every week just because they decided to go to work, study and live a normal life. Religious parades, and loud commemoration of the Taf battle that happened fourteen centuries ago are more important than the millions of displaced Iraqis living in destitute in and outside the country.

They claim to fight ISIS because they reject their militant Islamic state, but they end up banning whatever goes against Islam, forming Islamic armed forces, whose loyalty is torn between Iran and Iraq.

I admit that I miss that solid firm rule, when my country was safe, secular to a certain extent, and when education was rewarded. I miss having an identity, a culture. I miss having a life that doesn't involve wailing and mourning for almost third of the year.


Wednesday, December 14, 2016

Woman on a Journey

"Do you measure the extent of your struggle by whether you die or not?"
"In my country? yes we do. The living are accused; the dead are pure, innocent. Death liberates them from accusations, accountability and self-doubt"

Haifa Zangan, Women on a Journey (2001)

When I was in Iraq, I had no interest in Iraqi literature, nor in Arabic. My sole interest was literature written in English, whether British or American. Since I was young, I was eager to read anything that came from worlds unknown to me, giving my imagination the freedom I was longing for. However, when I arrived to London last year, my reading, and literary interest started to have different turns.

At the beginning I resisted people's expectations that I would be excerpt of Iraqi or Arabic literature, sparing no effort to prove that I am capable enough to read and scholarly investigate English or American literature. For some reason, it hurts my pride to have people asking me about Arabic literature, feeling that their inquiry came with the assumption that as an Arab, I would never be as good as the native English in reading their literature. Thus, during the first months, I resisted the demands to read or research Arabic or Iraqi literature. Due to some complications with my fellowships and a pressing of feeling of isolation, I worked hard to have my world acknowledge me as scholar of multi-ethnic American poetry, the genre that I focused on in my PhD, and the projected I proposed for my postdoctoral fellowship. After couple of seminars and conference presentations, my agitation calmed down, motivating me to think practically of my future.

As I started my second year in London, and a tick-tack sound in my mind keeps reminding me of how much time I had left before my visa expires, I urged myself to think of my next step. I needed a plan, I needed to become employable. Yes, I tried my best during the first year to fill in the research gap I had in my CV, signing up for couple of criticism projects that resulted in couple of forthcoming publications, besides establishing good networks with scholars. But, it would be years before I achieve what my peers have achieved so far. The fact I was from Iraq would not really help me to consolidate my CV, and I didn't want to play the victim in my application statements. I needed to offer potential employers much more than the victim scholar from Iraq. Thus, instead of a victim, I am a feminist from Iraq. But how can I claim to belong to that country, which nothing connects me to except for my passport?

I know the most important history of the country, the last four decades, because I have lived them. I knew the intellectual environment because I was university lecturer. All I needed was to find my game, the pitching offer, which came from that rich knowledge I had. I am a scholar of literature, why not bring my feminist interest into the Iraqi literary landscape?

I admit my interest started as academic venture that can change my credentials. I investigated and laid hand on Haifa Zangana's "Women on a Journey". Fortunately, I didn't struggle with Arabic, which was the main reason that drove me away from Arabic literature. I found a translated copy of the novel, which made it easier for me to read and work my scholarly way through its content.

The novel sets in London, tracing the present and past of five Iraqi women refugees as they navigate life in the foreign lands, away from the home they knew and left. All the characters speak to me in one or another. I found myself like Om Mohammed, who is always conscious of her foreignness. Back at home, I was pretty fluent and articulate in English. I used to give my lectures in English, making few mistakes. Students used to record my lectures and listen to them, admiring my fluency and always asking me how I have acquired this semi-native level of English. However, I came here and found myself incapable of producing sound sentences. I always use the wrong tense, the wrong verb and stutter when I speak as beginner learner of the language. In my mind, I am very fluent, but as if my mouth resists this fluency and prefer to interrupt the flow of words that come from the brain. When I speak to non-natives I recover my fluency, but against the staring eyes of the natives I lose my self-confidence which is replaced by overwhelming feeling of foreignness and alienation.

Because of the growing feeling of alienation, I find myself like Sahira and Majada, indulge in the past, that probably never existed to me. I spent many days retiring early to my room in the top floor of the house, contacting no one, and indulge in self-pity for what I lost in Iraq. suffocated by the sense of estrangement from everything around me, I recovered that lost relationship which brought me nothing but pain in the near past. I received that skype call when I was in the library, feeling lonely and incapable of making sense of what I was reading, as if I lost my English reading skills. I answered the call, and retrieved all the feelings that I had lived for the last five years in Iraq. I was familiar with these feelings, I knew how to navigate that world of desperate love. Instead of feeling guilty for abandoning the sinking ship in Iraq, now I can indulge again in self-pity for my broken heart.

The sense of guilt I continuously feel was common between me and Adiba. We both chose to survive, to live, than stay and die in the abyss of Iraq. But unlike Adiba, I didn't want to live in denial of my exile. and resurrect a dead past. I was reading Adiba's character, and can relate to her search for her husband, while she knows he is dead. She lives in denial of her trauma, denying the death of her husband, blocking herself from moving on. I did the same when I answered that call. I was abandoned, humiliated, deeply hurt, but instead chose to go back to the darkness so I wouldn't see the reality of my present situation: 38, alone, no future prospects in foreign land, cut off from everything familiar. This reality was too much to handle, and the past sounded more safe with its familiar darkness than the piercing sun of the present.  

Like Iqbal I tried to move on, and establish a life in London. I met people, outside the university and library. People less skilled in English, to redeem my self-confidence. I went out with men, became part of the social life in England, even if it was pretentious and unreal. But it was better than the state of self-pity and victimization. I went out with Portuguese man, Indian, Spanish, and Kurdish Iraqi. In a word, I lived.

By the time I finished the book, I realized that I was on a journey like these women, a journey of exile. Like them, my real journey in life started when I landed in London, a journey that is still going. I have no idea where I am going to land next, for I am on the move. However, like Om Mohammed, when I go back to my small room I have been living for the last 14 months, my little home; like Sahira and Iqbal I have decided to move on from my past and embrace my independence and freedom and be open to future adventures; unlike Majada I won't allow my past to compromise my sanity, gladly embrace my identity; unlike Adiba, I faced my trauma, and walked toward the light.

The Journey continues


Tuesday, November 29, 2016

Boundaries of Intimacy

we meet, we talk
we start a connection so alien yet so at home,
extends beyond our estranged souls, yearning for the life we have left...

we meet, we chat
You push the boundaries of intimacy, neglecting the cries of my enclosed being,
taking a strong hold of my virgin soul...

we split to reconnect again,
I found myself drawn to you like a moth attracted to fire,
burning herself in a glow of ecstasy 

Monday, November 21, 2016

Away from Home

to ask yourself every day, how does it feel at home now, to check the weather page of London and Baghdad, though you are not going back, not any time soon! but something deeply rooted in fathomless thoughts tells you to check on your country: cold or hot at this time of the year..
to long for familiar breeze of cardamon tea and some white cheese, while smelling your fancy cappuccino; to miss the early morning noise of family waking each other up, while enjoying being left to your own thoughts in London quiet underground.

to look at the Thames and think, "How dijla is now? if they only add some colorful lights! if only we celebrate.." and then suddenly you become conscious of escaping tears, crying loud your alienation with a deeply exhaled sigh, "If only..."

to be divided between here and there, to split thoughts between London and Baghdad, observing "this is not the way we do it back home!", to yearn for some good old days that never existed at home, till you became an immigrant! 

to be conscious at the end of your day of how strange your bed feel, how alien was the air of the day; to fold yourself like embryo, wishing to crawl back home!        


Wednesday, November 16, 2016

Women of Iraq

In a seminar today I talked about the situation of women in Iraq and I mentioned the tribal culture and medieval frame of mind in relation to gender expectations in Iraq. After I finished, I was approached by a woman who pointed out that I should have mentioned the glorious history of women in Iraq, and that my speech was totally biased. Biased? against whom? I am Iraqi and I am woman. I am not a white English woman who is undermining the role of Iraqi women, or biased against women in the Middle East. I didn't grow up in highly privileged family, to be biased against the poor people in Iraq and dismiss them as tribal people. To be bias, to be prejudiced out of ignorance. I came from that world, I lived that world I talked about.

The history that I was asked to mention, the half-full of the cup, was those years when Iraq became or was moving toward being a secular state under the influence of communism which became gained so big momentum during the 1950s and 60s. However, during these years, the group of women who enjoyed the privileges of the secular state were women of middle-class families, who had access to education, and job market. Yes, they traveled, gained postgraduate degrees from the US and UK, came back to the country to occupy advanced positions in the government offices. These were the women who led the feminist movement in Iraq: received an education in the west, or educated in western schools in the country and through this cultural encounter, they developed a feminist voice. 

However, the question I am interested in is what is the percentage of these privileged middle-class girls in comparison to girls from working class, rural backgrounds? Definitely not much. Most of women in Iraq, if they didn't belong to working class families, they belonged to rural Iraq, in which tribal culture was, and still is, prevalent. Under tribal rules, women did not have access to education, and when they did, they were allowed basic education. Probably, if the Baath didn't take over power in 1963, we would have had better world for women (or probably we would have had a dictatorship like the one in China and Russia?!). But the golden days of secular Iraq didn't last long, and soon the Baath took over, and then the communist party was banned. In consequence, most of the Middle class families left, as most of the educated Iraqis were followers. The ones who remained, they had to submit to the patriarchy of the state, which was created by Saddam. 

Anti-illiteracy campaign helped a lot of women to have basic reading and writing skills, among them was my mother. It was mandatory for the illiterate to attend evening classes to learn reading and writing. Education was mandatory till the age of 15 under Saddam's rule, especially during the 80s. The main reason was to create a female workforce, as men were in the battlefield. Feminist ideologies were drawn by the general federation of women, a Baathist institution, which soon to adopt a religious discourse, when Saddam decided to go religious in the 90s. 

While many Iraqi and Arab feminists like to adopt postcolonial rhetoric, asserting the glorious feminist culture we must have had and blame the colonizing powers for destroying this wonderful past, I prefer to face the reality. Yes I believe colonial powers, especially UK in the 20th and the US in the 21st cc., have enabled tribal customs, but they haven't invent them. They were there, functioning strongly in the rural areas and south of Iraq. 

Unless we are ready to see the truth about tribal culture and medieval religious dogams, then we are not going to move out of the abyss we are in. Postcolonial discourse didn't help us in the last half of the 20th c. and it is not going to help in the future. We don't need to be afraid of facing the truth of our reality and the backwardness of the prevalent frame of mind. Engaging in fruitless debates to prove what has been an exception as the general rule, won't help. To have some hundreds of women privileged with education doesn't mean we dismiss the plight of the millions who suffered and still suffering medieval tribalism. 

The situation of women in Iraq today is not different from what has been before. To have most of the workforce in Iraq made of women doesn't mean women enjoy freedom, or they have been liberated. Women started form the majority of employees in the public sector during the 80s and 90s, when most men would quit, as government-paid salaries were less than $5. Men preferred to work in the private sector, and women were employed to replace them, even if they didn't have proper qualifications, nor skills. 

We need to think of the majority, rather than see things through the bright lenses of the privileged few 


Tuesday, November 8, 2016

The Refugee Crisis

Today I attended in SOAS an event called "Forced to Flee" about the globally and internally forcibly displaced people. The director of operations in ICRC talked about the Middle East and the fact that more than 20 states in that region are actors in the current crisis. After the end of the discussion, while we were having drinks in the reception afterwards, I had the chance to talk to the panel and asked them about the issues which they had raised in the seminar hall. When the director talked about the Middle East, I thought of the Gulf countries, with abundance of wealth to accommodate the refugees from Syria, Iraq and other war-torn countries. Instead of fleeing toward Europe in a deadly journey, in which many lost their lives, refugees could have easily escaped to neighboring countries, with whom they share language and culture. It is only convenient to everyone to accommodate refugees in these countries, instead of having one or two European countries welcoming those who survived the deadly journey, while the others grew creative in closing their borders.

The gentleman was reluctant in giving me an answer but he told me that the Gulf countries were ready to pay every refugee a ticket to send them away, rather than accommodate them within their borders. I was not shocked by the answer. I actually expected it, but was searching for confirmation. It was one of the observations that bombard the social media upon the breakdown of the refugee crisis. Many users in these websites asked similar questions, as it is still a mystery to the public everywhere why countries rich as Kuwait Emarat, Qatar, Suadia Arabia  and Oman abandon their fellow Arabs in times of crisis, while they could have easily accommodate them?! Is it because these countries are involved in a sectarian cold-war in the region, and considering people are fleeing from Shia dominant countries, the sunni-dominant countries don't want to accommodate shias from Iraq and Syria? It is a possibility, but considering the fact that many of the refugees have fled from Sunni-dominant areas in Iraq as well in Syria does not support this narrative.

While many European countries have lost the higher moral ground after closing their borders and showing xenophobic and Islamophobic policies against refugees, it does not mean they can't point fingers and question the attitude and policies of the gulf countries! But apparently what these countries are paying to keep these refugees away from their borders is enough to silence any protests. However, the reasons why they want these refugees away are still unknown, and there is no sound explanation for gulf countries silence and passivity in this crisis. The weird thing is that there is not much questioning about it.

The other issue raised in the seminar is that a representative from the UN said that there was no sound penalty for the countries which didn't abide by the refugee international laws and regulations. She also mentioned that the UN often supports governments they shouldn't support in the first place. She brought the example of Sudan, but everything she mentioned applied to Iraq, where state-system was dysfunctional since 2003. I approached her and asked her about my country and what could the UN do to make things better. Apparently, there was nothing much to do to make the Iraqi government eliminate the militias functioning intact in the country with no seeming objection from the government. She told me the problem was that my government needed these militia in fighting ISIS and thus, it wouldn't be easy to disarm and dismantle these armed groups, even with the fact that everyone knew that they actually terrorize citizens in the middle and south of Iraq!

She told me that the UN was aware that half of the displaced Iraqis were not escaping ISIS, but the terror of the militia in the middle and the south, the Islamization of the country and the corruption of the government. However, the UN would not be able to stop that, and continue to support the government that caused these displacement. She mentioned, though, that if Iraqis would speak in one voice in opposing the government, there would be hope to convince the UN to step up and do something, maybe!

She also referred to the role of security council to observe global peace; however, the security council decision were often in the hand of the five permanent members in the council. These five members often pronounce different views over crucial issues, as they did over the Iraq. (Apparently the mess they caused with military intervention in Iraq taught them not to repeat the same mistake with Libya, but have they done the right thing there?!) Today, the US and Russia are divided over Syria, meanwhile millions of Syrians are displaced, dying or living in humiliation around different European countries! Millions of Iraqis, since 2003, lack any sense of security and 30% of 30 millions of them live under poverty line!

To add insult to injury, next week there is a possibility that the new leader of one of the strongest country in the world, a permanent member in the security council, is going to be Donald Trump! The disaster we call Trump is not going to affect the destiny of the US, but because of the role the US play in global issues, a man like Trump will have a say in the most urgent issues worldwide, a man like Trump will have a say in the affairs of Iraq, Afghanistan, Libya and the rest of the war-torn countries.

After what I have heard today from the panel, the world picture is only getting grimmer. With Brexit, motivated mostly by xenophobic sentiments, and one of the strongest countries cheering a man like Trump as their new leader, I don't think there is light at the end of the tunnel.


Friday, November 4, 2016

Fragments of the so-called Iraqi Identity

I met fellow Iraqis in England in an event organized by a former colleague. The event title was a bit strange in English, or thus sounded to me, "Chew & Glue", but the intention of it was interesting to me: to bring Iraqis in diaspora together and work something out of this meeting. I attended because I felt lonely in London; it had been only few months since I arrived and didn't form many friendships. Through the same colleague, I got the opportunity of volunteering in an Iraqi Charity in UK, for one day a week. However, discovering the religious atmosphere and ideology of the charity, I started to feel uncomfortable going to a place which felt like what I had escaped from in Iraq. "Chew & Glew", for me, was another opportunity to connect with the community, hoping for better associations.

There I met group of young Iraqis, who grew up in UK, whose idea of Iraq was romantically nostalgic inherited from their parents who left the country in the good 70s or early 80s. At that time, Iraq was a beloved country to its people, who lived the "good old days", or what we say in Iraqi ايام الخير 'Ayam al-Khair'. When they knew of my recent arrival from the country they were eager to visit, they showered me with questions about the country they were so excited to visit and live in. Their excitement sounded weird in my ears and my brain couldn't understand why anyone would be eager to know about a country that, in my view, had been a residence of all evils.

I went home after the event, happy that I made good impression, made contacts with people who found me a potential of some sort. But that night I couldn't sleep, as I was conflicted over my hatred of the place that everyone I met that day was so excited to visit, support and probably live in it. I wanted to dismiss their excitement as romantic nostalgia and eagerness to belong to the land their parents they belonged to, but instead I was blaming myself for not sharing the same feelings, for being happy just because I managed to escape that abyss. I was overwhelmed with guilt that night for not wanting to belong to Iraq, for wishing to be born any other thing than Iraqi, and enjoyed different life than the one I experienced in Iraq.

Through the contacts I made in "Chew & Glue", I became part of Iraqi Transnational Collective, a grass-root organization of young British Iraqis who were trying to bring the Iraqi community together and promote solidarity between Iraqis at home and in diaspora. The first even we organized was about Iraqi women and their experiences at home and in diaspora. I was there to talk about being Iraqi scholar in a major university in Baghdad. All I could contribute through my presentation was to add darker colors to Iraq's image in the minds of those young Iraqis longing for the country they never knew, and add to their parents' frustration over the country they escaped years ago!

What captured my attention again is the optimism, the ready-made postcolonial arguments of the first generation Iraqis, which were also repeated by their sons and daughters, who were trying to overcome their hyphenated identities by over-leaning to side of the hyphen: their so called "Iraqiness". Iraqis, first generation or second-generation immigrants, were vehement defenders of their Iraqiness, that I started to wonder what was meant by this identity they defended so much! What was the mental image that occupy their brains while their tongues rolled in defending their Iraqi identity?

Through my reading on hyphenated identities and the nostalgia that accompanies this hyphenation, I became more and more interested to discuss the subject within Iraqi context. For me, Iraq is the worst place to live, we Iraqi are lost in different ways depending on what generation we belong to: the elder generation that grew up in the 60s and 70s adhere to a traditional Iraqi society (not religious in the strict sense), but believe in the ideal of "glorious Iraq" of the good old days; my generation is lost in the rhetoric  of the Baath which usurped all patriotic emotions to represent its so-much hated ideology. My generation lost their childhood in the 80s war, to become a teenage and young adult in the sanctions and grew to adulthood in the ethnic-sectarian conflict following 2003. The younger generation lost their childhood in the deprivation of the 90s, and their early adulthood is shattered in the blasts of the 2003. Voices that tell us to be optimistic because they have witnessed better days are deaf to our frustration, to our sufferings, and the fact that their "good old days" is only a myth, or اساطير الاولين.

To speak of our loss and frustration seems to be taken as high treason against the beloved country. The Islamists at home find in any note of frustration a direct criticism of their "Islamic" vision of Iraq. Thus we need to be happy, proud of being Iraqis, to belong to the land blessed by Allah, Mohammed, and his progeny. To be thankful that we are born in the land in which many Imams were buried, as if the couple of these blessed lives killed on this land, more dear to their creator than the millions of Iraqis losing their lives for no choice of their own since 80s!! Iraqis in diaspora find in our loss and frustration a treason to the dream, a justification of colonization, selling out the country to the west that rejected them (though accepting them in their lands). Both ask us to love and shed more blood to keep what is so-called Iraq one land, ignoring the fact that what we have suffered in Iraq is far more serious than keeping this map intact!

The same arguments of Iraqi diaspora were repeated in a yesterday's even on Iraqi identity in diaspora. Instead of discussing how Iraqis are integrating and conceptualize their identity away from home, the attendants turned to a platform to repeat postcolonial arguments, to blame outside forces for making Iraq the terrible country it is today, for making it the worst place to live in!

I was reading Evelyn al-Sultani's views on her multi-ethnic identity as half Iraqi and half Cuban living in the US. While she feels she is  all of the fragments that constitute her multi-ethnicity, she is also frustrated at the attempts to fragment herself so she can belong to all the components of her identity. Her revelation is one honest account of being what we are, without the attempts to engage in postcolonial rhetoric of fragmentation imposed by the evil colonizers on the innocent and united colonized.

None of the Iraqis gathered yesterday can answer what they meant by their Iraqiness: the speakers referred to certain identity denominator, like language and food. I don't like many of the traditional Iraqi dishes, does that make me less Iraqi? I think it does, as I have been told many times by enthusiasts of these dishes. I like Indian food and certainly love Indian music and songs which I grew up listening to them, does that make me Indian? I have read English literature all my adult life and can't force myself to read one book of Arabic since, does that make me English? Maybe the fact that I can't write self-expression in Arabic support my Englishness, and hyphenate my identity at home as well as here!

I find in Al-Sultani's final note on identity a relief to my inner conflict:

"Identity must be re-conceptualized, so that we can speak our own identities as we live and reinterpret them in multiple contexts".

Identity is not a static concept exists in fixed conditions. It is dynamic, changes, shifts, develop and evolve over time, through places, and between contexts. The ready-made rhetoric of postcolonial discourse over the evil role in fragmenting the concept of identity in their previously colonized countries have become out of date. There a need for new conceptualization of identity, but in stead of each trying to do it on behalf of a nation, or community, let's each individual try to understand why he/she thinks they are Iraqis, British, Indians or Canadians. Language, food, music, religion all are global commodities now, and people from everywhere can buy them and make them part of their day-to-day reality without visiting the place they originating from. I love Indian food, passionate about their music and understand hindi, but have never been to India and definitely I am not Indian! or Am I?



Saturday, October 29, 2016

What would I do with a master in physics in Iraq?

I didn't realize the picture is so grim in Iraq, till I was telling my colleague about my sister who is doing now her master in physics and how she is eager to get married, as if it is the only option she has. While I was expressing my shock how someone was studying such advanced science and yet still maintain a way of thinking that is considered today as medieval, my colleague found it quite normal: "what she would do with master in physics in Iraq? would she be put in a lab or something like that?" Then it hits me: Iraq is not a developed country that is concerned with scientific research, we don't have advanced research labs or centers and definitely we are hospitable environment for any kind of science. Our patients would rather do pilgrimage and other religious rituals when they develop any serious sickness, rather than go to hospitals. When there is sun or moon eclipse, all mosques call for prayers, because it is such a miracle to have the sun or the moon disappear. All Muslims would be praying for Allah for one of his glorious "miracles"!! Even if those Muslims know exactly how and why the eclipse happens, it is still for them such a mystery and should not be trifled with.

In a country where women are still used as ransom for tribal disputes, and children at the age of 14 and 13 are happily married off to either equally child husbands or 30+ adults, there is nothing that tells Iraq will welcome physics or any other science. The scientific research environment needs a critical mind to mentor this research, and this critical mind is not going to develop in a country where the majority are waiting for a 'hidden' imam who is assumed to be alive for almost 1300 years. Among this majority are people who have postgraduate degrees in different scientific fields and have come across different scientific developments and achievements across the world. However, they still maintain the same kind of thinking that created the myth of the hidden imam 1300 years ago. It is definitely not a world for science, not a world that a master in physics would mean anything beyond being a fancy degree that give its holder a fancy academic title, as well as prestigious social status. If the holder is a female, though, how fancy the degree sounds does not really help in attracting equally fancy marriage proposal, because a master in physics may reflect on her as being "woman who reads", which is not a very attractive label for girls in Iraq.

I remember when I was telling my colleagues in the department of English that I was admitted to the PhD program in University of Baghdad. I was over the moon for doing the PhD was my dream, but instead of getting congratulations from all, there were female colleagues who expressed their skepticism over this academic honor. One of them told me that she wished to congratulate me, but having PhD and in English would not reflect nice on me in the marriage market for I would be intimidating to men. She was right! My male colleagues, though express their admiration of scholarly females, but when they choose a wife, they would choose a wife whose priority was family life. A woman who seeks postgraduate degrees in English or any other subject deemed "complicated and advanced" in Iraq is definitely someone into family life!

One would argue, could this be individual cases and there are other people more interested in advancing research and development in the country. If the case was like that, we won't be till now a third-world country, we won't score the highest in so many social and political problems. Again, research and economic developments need an environment that encourage critical thinking, which leads to advancement in research and discoveries. The critical thinking won't sustain most of the social and religious cultures that dominate life in Iraq. The fact that we have so many universities does not make Iraq a  developed country, nor it makes a hospitable culture for research. Our universities are not research institutions, but teaching centers, where students are given degrees to make them employable for jobs, which are remotely related to their training in the university. Most of my students graduate with bachelor degree in English language and literature, but instead of working in related fields (journalism, publishing, and editing), they become teachers of English language without being trained for the job of the teacher. In Iraq being a teacher is not such an important job, and basically anyone can do it. Having no proper job markets for all the graduates from Iraqi universities, it becomes a phenomenon worth studying that most of these graduates seek postgraduate studies. It becomes trendy to do master and PhD to seek a job in the university, because teaching in the university gives prestigious social status (specially to men) pays well to both men and women and with the advantage of less working hours. Actually the last two privileges are what make a teaching job in the university so attractive to educated women in Iraq. Rather than worrying about the social status (which is mostly a major concern for men), female graduates care for the good payment (specially if they are already married), but the most important point is the less working hours. In addition to two months summer vacation and two weeks spring break, a teaching job in the university require 2-3 working days during which lecturers give all their teaching loads. The more they are advanced in the academic hierarchy, the less teaching hours required from them. The promotion process may seem to encourage innovative research as it depends on the publications of the scholar. However, most of the research is published in Iraqi or international journals which charge publication fees. These are not usually the highly esteemed journals in their respected fields, but they are popular among scholars from countries like Iraq, whose institutions only ask for publications, rather than investigate the quality of this publication. As a result of this process, I have met so many professors in English and other fields who do not reflect well the academic title they carry so proudly. Besides, this is how we have so many professors in scientific studies, while Iraq is still among the underdeveloped countries.

In few words, an academic is required to teach in exchange of the all the privileges they enjoy under the title. As they hold big titles, but few merits to show for it, their students think it does not require much effort and smartness to be in the position of their lecturers. I have heard it over the years, that our students wonder how Dr. X or prof. Y get to be in that prestigious position! I used to wonder about as well, when I was a student and could tell that I knew of English literature more than the one who was standing on the stage claiming to be "knowing all". My wondering waned off when I became involved in the process and became first-hand witness to academic reality in Iraq. There is no wonder how all these half-illiterate people running the academic institutions in Iraq, as they are made by the same system that still runs the country.

In conclusion, 50% of the population who will find themselves privileged enough to reach university education, will actually enroll in a system that care for quantity rather than quality. Eventually, they will be the new leaders of the country, to maintain the same system that bring them to the country leadership. One may suggest new leaders, imported from abroad, who are the product of more advanced academic institutions, to help breaking this dominating system. Well, this solution have been thought off obviously, as most of the few elder generation are aware of the problem and work on solving it. As the country is too dangerous to attract foreign academics, it was thought that sending postgraduate students through government sponsored scholarships to do their master as well doctorate studies in the most advanced countries in the world: US, UK, Japan, Germany and many others. As a result the government sent hundred, if not thousands of Iraqis abroad since 2009 around the developed world in the prospect of building rich pool of academics who would come back to Iraq and work, each in their university, to change and advance the academic reality of Iraq, which may lead to better educated generations of Iraqis, and eventually break the rotten system of Iraqi reality. Their goals proved to be too ambitious, because they disregarded the fact that rotten system in Iraqi academia or other workplaces come from the frame of mind dominating Iraqi consciousness, rather than vise versa.

Many of the scholarship students were my colleagues and I had the chance of meeting them while they were doing their studies in UK. Couple of them turned to be more religiously strict than they used to be in Iraq, thanks to all the media presentations about Islamophobia, which helped in creating an environment of hate and intolerance in both Muslim and non-Muslim communities. One of them appeared to spent most of her time in Islamic center because she felt quite un-welcomed among other PhD students in the department where she was studying. Without regarding factors of cultural and age differences, she thought the reason was mainly because she was a Muslim woman with headscarf. When I told her I had different experience in King's, she just dismissed my observation as exception to the rule. Another one, who was studying biochemistry thought it was necessary to ask whether the hot chocolate served in a costa cafe is halal (as if you need to kill a cow for milk!)

Most of the Iraqis who came to UK to do their postgraduate degrees didn't really integrate in the academic or social cultures to change their mindsets and acquire new life skills. Most of them moved in Iraqi social circles, always applying for positions in universities which were known for hosting Iraqis, so they could find comfortably familiar environment when they move from their own country to UK. Cardiff, Bangor, Sheffield and Leicester, Manchester and many other universities in UK have welcomed for years Iraqis, Arabs and Muslims that one can find small familiar communities there that bring the sense of home. No sense of alienation or estrangement was felt to push these students out of their comfort zone, to motivate them to think outside the box, or urge them to change. When I was planning to come London, many people told me that I should try to change the university (assuming that I could) and to try to find another position in different city where I could find other Iraqi scholars. As London deemed expensive for Iraqis, they always refrain from applying to universities there and preferred to live in remote cities to the north, where life was cheaper, so they could save money from their stipends which was quite generous if the student would live outside London. For me, London itself was the advantage and staying away from familiar worlds was just a bonus!

That does not mean that the almost four-years time, which Iraqi students spend in UK do not leave an impact or change something in them. It actually does.  After going back to their country, and claim all the social and material benefits of the newly-acquired degree, the reality bites and they start to compare between the last years they have spent in one of the most advanced countries, and their current reality in Iraq. They won't be able to hold the comparisons their minds draw based on their experiences and observations during their years in UK or any other western world, and the way of life in Iraq, which is becoming more medieval every day. Whether they will try to change their reality or not, this is not the question, but whether they would be able to change it. Many people tried, among them are the masterminds that sent them to the advanced countries to change the system, but all failed.

The prevalent culture needs more than hundreds of westernized academics to be changed and exchanged with more liberal one. It needs fathers who raise their sons and daughters to think for themselves and be more in charge of their lives, than forcing them to follow their footsteps. It need mothers who motivate and support their daughters toward realizing their potentials as human beings, rather than convincing them of their dependency on males. It needs stronger law enforcement on the part of the state, which takes the best interest of the people, rather than submit to the corrupted policies of low-level politicians. It needs people conscious of the abyss the country is running into, and strongly willing to push their country back upward, because they know that it is their only home in the wide world.


Thursday, October 6, 2016

I am out

When I come first to this country, they thought I have come escaping IS, that I whatever I have suffered in Iraq was related to that Islamic beast occupying Mosul and other western town in my country. When I explain to them that I come from Shia family, living in Shia dominant area and never came across IS, or never suffered any abuse from them, I can see in their faces question marks, wondering why I would escape my home if I lived a peaceful life. Why a university lecturer, having a good job, would uproot herself and choose to live the life of a refugee in far away land. For those who think that life in Iraq suffers only from IS, I would say IS was the least of my concerns.

Having survived the last four decades in the country with all their wars and sanctions, IS seemed to me just another chapter of an awful life in Iraq. It was not news to me, nor to many Iraqis living in middle and south of Iraq. Our nightmares consist of some other beasts. As a woman, I have more to fight against and struggle with, as secular scholar I had my battles in the university and in the family. If Is had to do with what I had to struggle against, then it was the polarization of religion that IS increased during the last three years. 

Coming from a religious family, I had to practice religion, without truly believing it. I read the holy book hundred of times, and every time I tried to convince myself that there was a miracle and message to all humanity. I tried to persuade myself to take pride in being Muslim woman and wearing hijab. I remember that I for sometime when I was 11 years old, I hated to pray but the peer pressure I get from sisters, I resumed my five-times prayers. I remember that during the 1991 war, everyone was saying that this war because Allah was angry with the Iraqis, and everyone started to look into their sins in their daily acts; I was one of them and decided to come to terms with hijab, intensified my prayers and read the quran constantly.  I even memorized its first five chapters, which are the longest when I was 18. But all that didn't make me believe, nor convinced me that I have the grasped the essence of knowledge through Islam. I thought I was too angry to bring myself to believe and always blamed myself for not being able to overcome my childhood anger, when I hated the gender roles and expectations imposed on me as a girl, in the way I should act, dress, and look. 

My education increased my doubt and nourished my skepticism. I studied English language and literature, through I was introduced to many great thinkers who changed the world with their ideas, but they were not Muslims. They were infidels who drink alcohol, had their affairs and many were actually homosexuals. In my master study, I wrote my thesis about an American poet, Hart Crane, who was homosexual. As a Muslim, I should have hated him, or feel disgusted with him, which was the reaction Muslims show toward homosexuality, if not anger and call for killing whoever is involved in the term. For me, I sympathized with the man, and loved his poetry. Because I touched his humanity through his words, I decided to read about homosexuality, away from religious texts, and found out its scientific explanation. I came to terms with that and started to question why their creator would torture them for being something he cause in them? Then, the same questioning included everything: why we would be punished for doing something our creator deemed so awful but then he could have stopped us from doing it in the first place. What is the purpose of this sick game where you place people in painful situation and when they choose to relieve themselves from pain, you punish them because they chose to end their suffering? I couldn't understand the twisted mentality that this creator had. But I couldn't say anything about my doubts, my questions because I was surrounded by religious family, and society that couldn't accept the mere term of atheism. 

When I started teaching in the university, my lectures were the only platform where I could have raised these questions, but then I needed to be careful then as I started immediately after 2003, when religious tides started to sweep all over Iraq. One day a student who couldn't accept his failing in learning English, snapped in the class and questions the importance of learning the language of the infidel west! It became part of the teaching discourse then to question the west and their real motives in doing anything in the Middle East. Even learning their language was considered a step of blasphemy. Reading their literature was considered even worse. 

But English literature opened my eyes to my worth as a female. In these English texts of different writers I realized that I didn't need to be fair to be pretty and desirable. That I am human and smart even if I was a female. I realized my humanity in a way that I couldn't achieve the same through all the books of religion I have read. With every text I  read, my wish to escape increased. I failed to communicate with my own family, my colleagues, and my students. My prayers became a routine I had to do, my hijab was just convenient way to save time and trouble before going out. My feminine self was put asleep, my intellect is suppressed and my whole existence was waiting for the ultimate end of death. If I talked to God, I would simply tell him, you should have given me the choice to live or not, because I would rather not exist at all than live this miserable life which I hated every single moment of it. 

Religion was imposed on me and made me miserable because I had to believe in it, rather than choose it. Now, I wonder why anyone would choose to convert to Islam or any religion in their adult life? I can talk about Islam and it is honestly not a very attractive religion, whether it is Sunni Islam or Shia Islam. It is simply a repressive religion that ask humanity to keep suffering so they will be rewarded after death. It tells homosexuals, Allah punished people in ancient times because of this and you are next! it tells men you will satisfy your sexual desires with white women and beautiful young boys (no idea what is the purpose of the boys!). I am sorry for all Muslims who are still waiting for a man whom they is still alive for more than 1000 years and still think that humanity didn't suffer enough yet.. For me, I am out..          

Thursday, August 18, 2016

Islamic Feminism Fallacy

Since I have started my research on Arab American feminism, and the intersection of race, ethnicity and gender, I keep coming across "Islamic feminism". At the beginning I thought this is a movement by activist women in the Islamic world who work to gain equality and women empowerment in the Muslim world. Reading more about it, I realized this is half of the story. Yes, it is concerned with the situation of women in the Muslim world, but Islamic feminists work on the assumption that the subordinate position assigned to women in the Muslim world is created by misinterpretation of Quran and Hadith by misogynist scholars who want to keep their domination over men.

I have read the Quran hundred of times, memorized the long chapters starting from al-Baqarah to Al-Anaam, which contain most of the Islamic commands that established the Islamic State in Medina after 622 A.D. I read them over and over again, searching for something that may have inspired Islamic feminists to think that Islam in its essence support equality regardless of gender, but I failed to find any, not because I have missed certain implications, which may have been suggested by a verse here or there. To consider women equal to men is basically an alien thought to the Arab world at that time; it is actually an alien thought to the whole world known then, not just to the Arab Peninsula. Considering the historical social context of Islam, it can not support gender equality.

However, Muslims want to believe in the universality of Quran, that the book is a miracle and speak to Muslims anywhere, anytime, simply because they believe it is God's direct word, rather than a revelation to the prophet. This is the major difference between Islam and other Abrahamic religions: while Judaism and Christianity maintain that the Bible is a revelation, Muslims believe Quran as the direct words of God, which can't be modified, changed, or reinterpreted! Actually, Quran points out in several verses in different chapters that the Bible has been re-written, and corrupted by the Jews and the Christians and Shia Muslims believe that Imam al-Mahdi, when the time comes for his return, will bring the authentic Bible which the Jews and the Christians have corrupted.

So Quran is the word of God, and according to the Prophet's last speech in Mecca, whatever ordained by him and the Quran, should be followed to the end of times. Accordingly, till now women get only half what men get from inheritance, one man's testimony is worth two women's, men control marriage, and husbands are allowed to beat their wives if they deny them their marital 'rights'. Islamic feminists can't find their way around these few Islamic ordains, unless they advocate for the non-universality of the holly book, that it is not the direct word of God, and it can be re-interpreted to adapt it to the changing historical and cultural environments in the Muslim world. By removing this characteristic from the Quran, they open the gate for criticism of the holly text, which will encourage critics of Islam to reduce the text to be man's narrative, rather than the divine word of God. Muslims won't allow that, not even the feminists themselves.

Islamic feminism in the way it is now is just a fallacy; it tries to end patriarchy in Islam, while unfortunately this religion is this patriarchy. I know that I sound like those western feminists who mock "Arab feminism" as oxymoron, assuming that being an Arab denotes a culture that is hostile to women, and prefer patriarchy rather than individual freedom. For some reason, this is true. Our culture is family culture, collective consciousness and identity culture, and doesn't support individuality. In such context, where the individual should sacrifice their individuality for the unity of community, it is only natural that woman's individual freedom is suppressed for the sake of collective solidarity. The best Arab woman activists can achieve is 'women empowerment' which simply means helping women within this patriarchal culture to reach their potentials, to play around the cultural rules, and 'empower' women without trespassing cultural codes. The same logic applies to Islamic feminists. Because empowering women within such hostile environments to women, or only through trespassing 'holy ordained rules', is like 'mission impossible', and whatever they have achieved is unfortunately too weak to change women's situation in the Arab/Muslim world, Arab/Islamic feminists spend most of their activism on defending the concept of "Arab" or "Islamic" feminisms against their western critics, engaging in endless debates to "correct" western views about the Arab culture and Islam.

One of the Islamic feminist writers, Mohja Kahf wrote couple of poems called "Hijab scenes" in which she criticizes Islamphobia in US and how the headscarf invite assumptions about Muslim women's oppression in Islam. It is quite common argument today to say, "I don't need to take off my scarf to be a feminist". No I don't, if feminism means here defending my culture and religion, rather than gender equality and woman's individual rights. Women's decent clothes are ordained by the Quran to protect women from men, hadiths assert that woman's body can tempt men's to sin, and everything in the woman's body is erotic to men and need to be covered. So, if a Muslim woman need to express her devotion to God/Allah she should cover up, so she won't be a source of temptation to men!! It is all about protecting men's decency and purity. How is that empowering women? or how is it pro-feminist? I can't understand that!       

Tuesday, August 16, 2016

Gender Expectations in the Arab World

One of the many reasons that drove me away from Iraq was gender expectation: since ever I heard my mother saying that I need to get married and have children. Without being a wife and a mother, my life is meaningless. I have seen my sisters, colleagues, TV and media, all nurture this idea that today at the age of 38 and with all what I have achieved in life, I can't really feel complete because I haven't been married, and I don't have kids.

I work on feminism in multi-ethnic communities (US) and explore how women work on their gender identity along with their racial/ethnic identity. Meaning, how to preserve your cultural identity and at the same time celebrate your sense of gender equality. This may sound like out of date and tedious. One may say that women can be anything they want now and feminism is not needed now and this whole debate is pointless. It is not, especially in the world I grew up in, the Arab /Muslim world. 

When culture (whether it stems from religion or social tradition) prescribes certain roles for its members, it definitely limits individual freedom. This is true for all cultures: liberal, conservative, traditional or religious. There is always an implied force higher than the individual that maps for him/her the role they can play in that culture if they want to be part of it, otherwise they will simply be outcast. 

When I was in my teens and it was time to think of man-woman relationship, I was showered with hadiths and verses from the Quran about the superior position of the husband and how rewarding is to be a good wife (obedient wife). The first hadith we learn in school says that heaven is under mothers' feet, which was interpreted that becoming a mother assures women eternal paradise and motivate Muslims to be good to their mothers because they own heaven. But, about those women who never get the chance to be mothers? what is their reward? What about the woman who didn't get married and didn't have the chance to be "good wife", or the one that, for some reason, didn't become a mother? No hadith or Quranic verse talk about these non-existent women!!

Women in the Arab/Islamic world are driven toward these two roles and if they don't play at least one of them, then they are deemed incomplete creature, not even human beings. Because of this sense of inferiority, I have seen many women settle down for "any" marriage, even if it is inconvenient, like marrying unsuitable man, a man they don't love, or accept to be a second wife. Even when there are no economic or social reasons that push these women to such inconvenient marriages, there is always the psychological reason which is this sense of being incomplete, that she won't fulfill her role in life unless she is a wife and a mother.

Marriage becomes only a first step toward fulfilling the ultimate role, to be a mother. Sisters, friends, colleagues, with high education degrees and great career potential would feel that there is nothing like being a mother. It can be true, but by saying that, they embarrass all the wretched women who are no longer marriageable, or sterile wives. Their words imply the message that: if you are not a mother, then unfortunately you have missed your chance to be happy, that you have missed heaven!!

The world of men is different. The world prescribes for them different roles: the world asks men to work hard, to have a career and provide for themselves. A single man who is not married is not socially stigmatized, but a hero who decided to stay away from the cage of marriage. His achievement in life is not measured by his social status, whatever he does in his private life is his own choice. However, truth to be said that in our culture even men are pushed into reproduction to keep the family name, but the pressure is definitely less than the one placed on women. A single man is single by choice. A single woman means "no one wanted her"!! A childless husband is free from all the pressures of fatherhood; a childless wife is sterile woman!

The judgments and the social pressure that women in the Arab/Muslim world come from their immediate social circles, mostly from women themselves. That is why feminism is failing there: it is no more than a thought advanced by women who 'failed' to be what they should be 'good wives and mothers'! The persistent idea that feminism is only for women who couldn't secure a husband, who couldn't breed makes all the efforts of women activists who work for women empowerment fruitless. There is always the implied presumption that feminism is against family life: to be a feminist then there is the claim of being against marriage and against motherhood for the preference of career, which is deemed unnatural.

As long as these thoughts persist in the Arab/Muslim world, women empowerment is failing, feminism is a taboo and women's situation continues to be the worst. For women empowerment to succeed and to have the hope for individual freedom to prevail in our culture one day, we need, first women to realize that they are equally human to men. The biological differences between male and female do not mean less or more humanization, and do not prescribe inferiority. When women accept that, and start question every demeaning thought or measure against their humanity, then we can have hope to improve our situation.

Nadia Fayidh Mohammed    

Friday, July 29, 2016

The Good Old Days

I often lose my way in the big city,
and then, I miss home
the good old way I knew very well. 

I miss not using google map, because I know my way 
I miss, if lost, asking for directions, 
How all would offer to help,
They know their city damn well,
No body is a tourist there....

I miss going to work, knowing so much is waiting,
I miss the history I shared with them all:
Here is someone I refused once to help,
and there is a colleague who didn't like my provoking posts..
I miss walking the familiar roads 
There in the university gardens with my only friend
Whine together how hard our job was!!

I miss my way back home, 
The familiar noise of the youngest ones,
fighting over the remote,
I miss all the old ways of the world,
Where nothing sounds good, but I knew it perfectly well. 

Tuesday, July 26, 2016

Talking Back

Maybe it is all I can do,
Maybe it is all I have,
But if I have nothing else, my words will talk back...

They will push off your hand,
Hard pressed against my mouth,
They will cry loud against white and black,
No turban will shroud my soul;
My voice will always shout back...

My grandmother's wise sigh,
My mother's desparate gaze,
Their wrapped-heads in black
Will always talk back ...

From your bombs, I pick my pen,
From repression I choose my ink,
And on your turban I will write back

Songs of resistance and resilience
Songs of life born new,
I will be defiantly talking back...

Sunday, July 3, 2016

The Story of Every Eid in Iraq

I am not sure what I am saying here, but I need to say it. We don't just live a miserable life, but we resign to the miserable fate willingly. Our lives don't matter anymore, not even to ourselves.

With every explosion, I read people's comments on the many lives lost in each incident, most of which are just passive and submissive. Most would dismiss the blood shed for no reason, with passive prayer "May God give them mercy, and end in heaven" (الله يرحمهم، يجعل مثواهم الجنة)!! Then they dismiss the pain of the victim's family with another submissive phrase, "May God give them patience" (الله يصبرهم ). After that we move on to live the rest of our days thinking this is why we are created: to live, die, then end up in heaven or hell!

Ironically, their killers from IS think and say the same, believing their recruits to to have God's mercy, to end in heaven. They also condole the families of the dead using the same words!!

I kept browsing all the pages reporting the explosion in Karrada, reading the comments, hoping that while people write away their sadness with a sentence of two, they would curse the government, and swear vengeance for the dead!! They do curse the government, but they seem to accept death as a fate!! They believe we all will die in a predestined date, probably predestined manner!

(If so, why do we have to punish those who are only God's tool to fulfill what he destined for us?!! Simply, it doesn't make sense!)

The explosion of Karada is no news for Iraqis. For years now Iraqis celebrate Eid with innocent blood, shed around its streets, with black flags hanging around its walls, and with cries of widows, orphans and bewailing mothers. No body is held responsible, because it is the will of God to have these innocents die; it is the will of God to wipe off smiles from every Muslim's face and replace it with tears. It is Allah's will, هذه ارادة الله Praise be to Allah, الحمد لله !!

We sign out, we move on to the next episode of some ridiculous human drama in far away land, meanwhile ask why we can't live like them? then dismiss these sinful thoughts with "You have God Iraq!" الك الله يا عراق

and the story continues.....  

Thursday, June 2, 2016

Leaping Back and Forth

Safe haven is but an illusion,
a matrix of heaven and hell.
At the age of 38, I took a leap,
but not of faith.
A leap out of the cave.
I saw a light.
Now I can recognize the dark.
I can't go back.

Home is no longer 'home'.
My time ended there.
I was no longer welcomed there.
Every breath was a protest.
All tightened up against my eyes.
All felt small.

It was just the time to search for a new place.
I packed up and hit the road,
seeking refuge in foreign lands,
alien world.
 But I had no other choice.
The life I was building was bombed off:
a castle in the air.
It was time, to change places,
 seek new heavens.
The old paradise turned to new hell. 

When I came here, great expectations filled the air.
Great in stature and great in multitude.
I thought the sky was the limit,
but it turned to be my head scarf!
I will always be the foreigner,
I will  always be that Muslim girl!
I can't take it off;
I won't be me.
I will feel strange.
I won't recognize my reflection in their eyes.
Keeping it alienates me back
toward the 'home' I left,
captivates me in my foreignness.
I still wear the scarf.
It is my way back, when I lose direction. 

Back home, no one dreams of tomorrow.
Tomorrow is a prisoner of fear.
Back home, life is born of agony,
immature, stillborn.
Life ends before it begins and other ghosts survive:
long live the tribe! or is it, long live Islam?
or probably, the state?
Does our God needs cheering as well?
Long live Allah?!
It doesn't make sense. 

Back home, we lost our ways to sanity,
but found it toward sainthood:
we gaze at heaven, but feed the flames of hell.
Long live the Imam.
Isn't he alive for centuries now?
isn't he bored with this life?
At 38, I still search for a resting place,
Yet, he's survived!
Wars, floods, famine, and all earth's angry moves.
He just survived!
Does he watch, waiting for the right moment to make an entrance,
when all the world will hail him the savior?
He is probably wandering unaware of voices getting louder everyday:
long live the Imam!! 

Home feels hundred of years away.
I came and took the leap of time,
left the matrix of heaven and hell.
I jumped to a reality, unknown.
Foreign lands.
They still alienate me back home, but I refuse to leap back.
I refuse to submit again.
I am out of the cave, at last! 

Tuesday, May 31, 2016

How is Baghdad

You ask about Baghdad, 'how is it now?'
(You probably think of the news,
You want confirmation).
For a second, I close my eyes,
Not easy, to answer that sort of a question!

I open my eyes, ready to answer:
Hold on a moment, let me think how to reply,
(I want to sound smart)
I think of the postcolonial burden,
Race, gender, ethnicity,
All hold me back....
I need to tell you something intelligent:
(Shall I give a witty answer?
Ironically funny?
Borrow from pop culture? Movies perhaps?
Shall I continue the game of a sophisticated academic?)

The moment grows too long, I need to face your inquiry...
I swallow all the images of blood, destruction and war,
(No need to explain),
I hold off tears, and simply say,

"Baghdad is not fine!"

Thursday, May 12, 2016

Bloody Wednesday 11/05/2016

I was thinking of writing so many things: the sunshine that every Londoner is celebrating with their kids, family and friends. I wanted to write about the kids playing in parks happy that they have a sunny day they can enjoy outside. I wanted to write about my alienation in the university, my dreams of uncertain future and so many other things rushing into my mind. But this happened: three explosions in Baghdad that shattered off hundreds of dreams, plans, and lives. Three explosions that ended lives still taking their first steps toward the world. Three explosions ending smiles resisting poverty, challenging the stagnation of life. They happened, and all I could do was to shed few tears and then sleep on my comfortable bed, enjoying the Spring breeze coming from my open window. Life goes on, but only outside Iraq.

Iraqi woman running in panic searching for her son after the explosion

Little blooming flowers, instead of looking after them to grow and flourish, we pluck them off prematurely and leave them to face terrible end

This is what is happening in Baghdad, and then they say IS took the responsibility of what happened. Seriously? the responsibly is of those who pledged to keep us safe, the responsibility of those who took these people’s money to give them “better life”. They didn’t even give them better “end”! IS can pay for and recruit people to do these explosions, but did it pay to the government to neglect those living a terrible life, and die terrible death? Maybe this is the case. Who knows!?

I don't know if I can say more, but it is a reality that we have to live with every day. When the explosion ends, and survivors go home, we talk about what happened, and in a sense of resignation to our predestined fate, go on with our lives, unaware we could be next!