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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?