Inauguration of Iraq’s First Female Mayor in Baghdad

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Iraq’s first female mayor Ms Thikra Awash was assigned her duties today on February 26, according to the Facebook page بغداد (“Baghdad”). Her position is so far only temporary, according to the news update, since she took over quite swiftly after the former mayor Naim Aboub who was made to leave due to dissatisfaction with his performance. The inauguration is still groundbreaking: it’s Iraq’s first female mayor, to be appointed in the capital, in a time when the IS terrorists are forcing their terrifying misogynist agenda on the regions that they have conquered.

In the ceremony the previous mayor participated, and Ms Awash was welcomed to her new office by the director of the Prime Minster’s office, Mr Mehdi Alallaq, who wished everyone in Baghdad a good cooperation in order to overcome all obstacles and reach the desired goal; which is to him, a service valued by Baghdad and its people.

Ms Awash said in her speech during the ceremony that she will be loyal and honest in handling the public funds, that she opposes any sort of partisanship and that she will not be biased to any clan, party or sectarian group. She said that her work in the initial phase would have two parallel focuses: to provide better services to the people of Baghdad and work on fast addressing the problems of the city, and also, as she stated: “To reinforce the status of the capital, to once again make it a modern city, while maintaining it’s authenticity and history”.

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Photo credits: https://www.facebook.com/Baghdad1

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First Iraqi Female Mayor Elected

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Thikra Awash

With all awful news coming to us from everywhere these days, it’s wonderful to get positive news for once: Iraq appointed their first female mayor for Baghdad, Thikra Alwash (in some news spelled Zekra Alwach), and she is set to take up duties in her office as by today, Sunday February 22. In a country where women are fighting a slow battle against inequalities in many fields, a battle that is constantly facing set-backs due to the domestic conflicts, such an appointment is an important gesture to all of the country’s women. Although women traditionally have held many high political positions in Iraq – both during Saddam Hussein’s regime and after the US invasion – Ms Awash is supposedly the first one to hold the position of being a mayor.

According to Daily Star Lebanon, Ms Awash is a civil engineer by background and was previously the Director General of the Ministry of Higher Education – this is also stated in her Linkedin profile. In Ms Awash’s new role as a mayor she will be dealing directly with the Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi and will therefore be able to push her agenda, the agenda of the city of Baghdad, on a high level.

Some voices today criticised Ms Awash’s lack of political experience, and the fact that her predecessor Naim Aboub was removed by the prime minister in the blink of an eye. But still so, the choice of a female mayor in a time when dangerous, backwards powers are threatening the country of Iraq, is a brave and forward one. Let’s all keep our fingers crossed for Ms Awash and what the future holds for her, as well as her fellow Iraqi sisters.

Photo credit: Twitter @SAijaz_

Sweden and the Middle East Views Celebrates 2nd Birthday

In February 2013 I started Sweden and the Middle East Views site. Happy birthday to my site! I decided to celebrate it on Valentine’s Day for the message to come through.

What has happened with the site since? A lot. It has reached much more readers the last year and it’s been great to see some posts being so widely shared on social media.

And what has happened with the writer? A lot. Connecting with other people and the topics I write on through my site has been amazing, especially the ones on tolerance and intolerance. Connecting with so many inspiring people in this field, people who work to promote coexistence and reconciliation, has made me start to believe in the world again, that we have capacity to let go of fear and hatred, that we have the capacity to build trust and connect.

To celebrate the site’s second birthday, here’s a presentation to you of the five most popular posts during the last year:

1. My Failed Application to the Nazi Party Svenskarnas Parti

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Nope, neither this time a racist party wanted to have me as a member. What better is, the small and scary Nazi party believed all my persistent, silly questions on a potential membership despite them being posted in their public Facebook groups. Maybe it scared off some potential voters. I changed the title of the post so it would be easier to find, so the numbers on shared times went down, but the post has been shared many times and broke my previous statistics record on the blog. After this blog post being widely shared I started to receive late night anonymous phone calls (that since stopped). Was it related? I have no idea. But it’s one of the blog posts I’m most satisfied with, because it pulled the pants down on this dangerous group few dared to approach.

2. Kurdish Mobilization for the Murdered Girl

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The young Syrian-Kurdish refugee girl Dunya in Iraqi Kurdistan, who was murdered by her much older husband, whom she was in an arranged marriage with, took an unusual twist when the Kurdish society mobilized in protests against violence against women.

3. Hawzhin The Middle Eastern Feminist

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It’s hard not to fall for the charismatic young woman Hawzhin Azeez, the manager of successful Facebook page The Middle Eastern Feminist and whose interview was very successful. Her reconciling approach obviously is appreciated – and needed – by many.

4. Tourism in Iraq – Another Country is Possible

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The ambitious young Nawar Al Saadi, who was a PhD student in Tourism in Romania, started the Tourism in Iraq Facebook page, in order for people to see another side of Iraq. And people did, indeed.

5. How Do You Become an ISIS Terrorist?

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I was on such an angry rant the night I wrote the post on how the US invasion of Iraq created the collapse of the once well functioning and developed Middle Eastern state, as I have seen it throughout the year in my different humanitarian missions. I had no idea it would be so appreciated, but hopefully some people reading it learned something new.

I love my site and for all of the readers out there, people who appreciate my site, but also the haters: much love to all of you on this Valentine’s Days Eve. Love is the strongest power of all.

Photo credit: craftsy.com. For the posts’ different photos, see original post

Syrian Opposition Member in Sweden Prosecuted for Torture Committed in Syria – This is Good

The last week news broke in Sweden that a 28-year-old Syrian man residing here since 2013, is now being charged with a crime committed in Syria in 2012. When I first heard the news, I thought the man had been a part of the Assad regime or the military and committed a crime against civilian people or opposition members. But no, according to the news the man previously belonged to the Free Syrian Army, and had participated in beating and torturing a man from the military, who are operating for Assad. The information didn’t reveal whether the victim had been a higher ranking officer or not.

Swedish media are usually quite mum about details, but from the news reports that the man is the first one in Sweden to be prosecuted for crimes against international law in Syria. The reason for the prosecution is a video that the young man supposedly had uploaded to his own Facebook page, where he is seen to beat and torture a man who is tied to a chair with his hands behind his back, dressed in only underwear and a t-shirt. The video is awful to see. The man who is tied up is trying to comply with his tormentors, who are beating him with tools (sticks and/or belts, it’s hard to see), assaulting him and screaming that the man shall say that Assad is a “motherfucker” and an “animal” (“Say it! What is he? What is Assad?”). It’s not known to the Swedish legal system whether the victim survived the abuse and torture or not.

As surprised as I initially was that the man did not belong to the regime – that he was one of the freedom fighters, fighting against decades of brutal oppression – as satisfied am I that the man now is prosecuted in Sweden. No, I don’t agree with the Syrian regime. I believe everyone have the right to their own opinions without fearing the kind of oppression that has been significant for the Assad regime, sr and jr. But all crimes are crimes, and no previous or current crimes justifies later ones. The one that the young man had recorded and added to his Facebook page is a horrible crime: physical and verbal abuse and torture of an unarmed person.

If convicted for the crime, the young man should under normal circumstances be deported to his home country and his permanent residency would be withdrawn. But Sweden don’t deport anyone to Syria during the circumstances of civil war, why the man most likely would serve time in a prison and then remain in a status quo in Sweden until the situation in Syria has calmed down, which might be, well… who knows? Despite this, I still agree with the trial.

We need to remain our values even in times of conflict. There are many freedom fighters in Syria who are making use of non-violent resistance; publishing news about the crimes committed against humanity; mobilising groups for peaceful protests; caring for the orphaned children and setting up schools in war zones. The young man who was fighting with the Free Syrian Army could have chosen this path instead of tying up and torturing an unarmed man, no matter what the victim had done, and then boldly put up the video on his Facebook page, bragging about what he had done for the world to see. I’m happy that I live in a country where these actions don’t go unpunished. No matter where they were committed and by who. If the Syrian opposition wants to snap out of the vicious cycle of violence their country is in, they need to rise above the methods used by the regime. Revenge will not get the Syrian people anywhere, it will not get anyone of us anywhere, no matter where we might live. Honouring our values of humanity will.

Photocredit: philly.com

“I do, with much content, support Jordan’s role in fighting what’s called ISIS” – Jordanians on the Bombings of IS

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Moath Al-Kassasbeh

The world remains passive and unable to respond, it seems, while IS are slaughtering their way across the Middle East. But after the horrifying killing of the Jordanian pilot Moath Al-Kassabeh a new actor picked up weapons to fight the multi headed dragon: the Jordanian king.

Maybe it’s just the royal PR, but news went out that king Abdullah himself went up in the air to bomb IS, and that the Jordanian airforce intensified bombings against IS as a response to the murder. More than that, they quickly executed a few convicts and alleged terrorists, among them Sajida Al-Rishawi, who had been on death row for a failed suicide attempt since 2005, and whose appeal was still in process. The video footage of Al-Kassabeh reached internet on February 3rd, and Al-Rishawi and Al-Karbouly were hanged in the early hours of February 4th. The justice in these hastened decisions can definitely be questioned. In the war against IS it seems however that all normal rules are out of order. And Jordan seems to be the only actor at the moment this is willing – and able to? – take up the fight against IS. For a comment on this, I asked two of my close friends who are Jordanians, Rasha and Rami who are married, about their opinions. They have been working and studying in different regions all over the world and are currently living outside of Jordan.

“I am with the government in bombing ISIS because they are a real threat to Jordan and the region, but I am really worried about the consequences of this war”, Rasha said. “About Moath, when I knew that he was captured by ISIS, I expected he will be killed. However, I don’t expect him to be burned alive… When ISIS released the video about killing him, my heart broke. I was a little relieved when the government executed Sajida and the other guy who were sentenced to death long time ago and started a revenge for him. I was happy because Jordanian united against ISIS and we didn’t have a chaos in Jordan.”

Her husband Rami was even more decisive:

I do, with much content, support Jordan’s role in fighting what’s called ISIS. This gang has been committing brutal crimes against humanity and somebody has to stop them! Their barbarian acts of executing journalists, humanitarian field workers and, lately, the Jordanian pilot have revealed their insanity and lack of any ethical and humanitarian principle… They are a real threat to the region and their distorted ideology is a major threat to humanity.

Maybe this united force will be a turning point in the war against IS? I don’t know myself. But we are definitely onto a new path in this international crisis.

Photocredit: en.alalam.ir

We Need a Unified Approach on How to Tackle the IS Monster

When the news about the by IS murdered Jordanian pilot Moaz Al Kassabeh I wondered how can people become so barbaric. We have seen the case before, many times in our history, but no people have been so boasting and open about the horrifying crimes they are committing. After previous crimes against humanity, surviving criminals of the genocide in Rwanda, the Yugoslavian civil war have gone underground and denied their crimes. But IS just had to show the world how perverse they are, as if it’s all just a game on real life TV.

I wrote a blog post last summer about the origin of IS, “How Do You Become an ISIS terrorist?“, where I pointed out the failure of the previously well functioning Iraqi society as the starting factor for such a terrorist group to establish and become strong. That doesn’t mean that I don’t see the contributions of the non-Iraqi and non-Syrian IS-members who have happily flied in and are helping out in ruining the rest of already more or less collapsed societies. Why they are there is another discussion I’ll probably jump in to at another occasion (failed integration of immigrants in the West, identity crisis, I believe the factors are many). What I want to say today is that I hope the world takes joint action against IS and the members of this group, no matter what crimes they did commit or didn’t.

One of Swedish politicians, Mona Sahlin in the Social Democratic party, created a stir last year when she proclaimed that Swedish authorities should support returning Swedish citizens after they have been with IS. She spoke about counselling and support to their families, also said that the society should reintegrate them after they came back. This caused an outrage, some have afterwards claimed she said that Swedish authorities should give returning IS combatants jobs and welfare, something that seems like a twisted turn of Mona Sahlin’s statement. However, I do think this statement mirrors the global confusion and uncoordinated force to deal with the monster of IS. One state, Jordan, will execute terrorists as a punishment for lives taken, another one want to rehabilitate them, maybe without punishment. And this is exactly what benefits IS.

Please, world, get together for a unified grip on this ongoing crisis we’re in. It’s a global crisis that will push everyone away from each other, even when we’re far away from the war zone.

Authorities, punish the IS terrorists where ever they are. Yes, returnees will need counselling and support so as not to do what they did again and for themselves to understand why they did what they did. But that they should receive in prison. If they come back to Sweden or any other country where they belong, punish them for the crimes against humanity that they have committed or assisted others in committing. Yes, we need to see why the foreign terrorists are going to Syria and Iraq to murder and terrorise people – but they have still murdered and terrorised people. If we neglect the crimes these people have committed we are making an example of the fact that we don’t care about the people in Syria and Iraq. Those who have committed these crimes shouldn’t get away with it.

Governments, have a dialogue with each other, decide together how you will tackle this monster. Don’t run your own thing. This is an international problem and need to be dealt with as such.

People, don’t stop talking to each other. Keep inviting your neighbours for tea. Make new friends from groups you didn’t communicate with before. Don’t let differences between you and that other person stop you.

IS can be stopped, if we did it in 1945 we should be able to do it now, but only a unified international community can do it. If we give in to IS we give up our humanity. Don’t let these disturbed people take that from us.