A Response to Islamic State

There has been plenty of inside resistance to the Islamic State in the Middle East. The blog Mosul Eye is reporting anonymously from inside Mosul about the disaster of the ruling of the Islamic State. Artist Rostam Aghala is painting the horrors of living with the threats of Islamic State.

And here is the last one – Sultan Sooud Al-Qassemi, from Sharjah in United Arab Emirates, published this version of Islamic State’s infamous flag on his Facebook today on May 29. It has already created plenty of negative feedback according to himself on his Facebook page, it has been reported for nudity and taken down by Facebook (Sultan published it again).

Maybe he is right and the IS-thingy was just a joke all along? In reality, they were all just young, misunderstood gays.

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Photo credit: Sultan Sooud Al-Qassemi

My Own Private Light in the Global Darkness

The last weeks were bad weeks for all of us who believe in peace and coexistence. Hell, it’s been a bad year so far. There was the terrorist attack in Tunisia and new reports of young people from Europe being groomed to join IS. A new IS member highlighted in the Swedish news supposedly comes from the projects in Malmö in Sweden, where I once worked as a substitute teacher. Maybe he is one of my former students?

Even though my teaching job was several years ago, I remember my students well and still run in to them downtown sometimes. Unfortunately very few of them have been able to break the cycle of poverty and alienation. I know some of the boys I used to teach are now in jail, and the girls, now young women, I often see pushing strollers outside the discount store, married early and on welfare. And now we are starting to loose some of our young ones to the terror machine of IS. If the new Swedish recruit is one of my former students, this would be almost unbearable to know.

But then last week something happened in my own life, something surprising, that turned things around. Since it’s been a bad year for most of us believers this year, I decided to share the story with you.

On the evening train a young woman sat herself opposite of me. A classy girl, one of those I always envy: nice jacket, glossy hair, carrying a trendy, cream-colored bag full of books and papers. She kept peeking at me from her side of the small table. Suddenly she spoke to me, asked something about a school.

“What?” I unplugged my headphones.

“Were you a teacher in… (the school were I used to teach)?”

“Yeah, I was”, I answered, surprised. “Why?”

“You were my teacher.”

“Your teacher?”

When she said her name, I couldn’t believe it. Was this really she, the young and angry girl that had once been one of my students? I remembered her well: a girl that had possessed the mix of sharp intelligence and inability to make use of her talent. She had confidence, I remember how she in an essay called “My Dream Job” wrote that she wanted to be the Prime Minister of Sweden, whilst other girls wrote that they wanted to marry a football player. But most of her energy she put into fighting with other students and bullying teachers, instead of her schoolwork.

We leaned over the small table between us and hugged. I asked where she was going on the train.

“I’ve been to uni, I commute.”

“You’re at university?”

“Yeah, I study engineering, first year.”

Within seconds, words spilled out. She was studying a bachelor’s engineering program in another city. It was long hours and hard work but she really liked it. After junior high school where I had taught her, she had wanted to get away from the projects and applied to a new high school in the other end of the city. She had coerced her mom to sign the school application.

“My mom didn’t realize why it was better there. You know, she didn’t go to school herself.”

The daughter of uneducated refugees from Kurdistan, she had started a school where everyone else had well-off parents. She had to study more than full time in order to keep up with the other students. Her grammar, vocabulary, everything had been at a much lower level than her peers’. It had been three years of tears and hard studying, and from her family she couldn’t receive any help, but she didn’t cave in. When graduating high school she had the grades to enter university. She stilled lived with her family in the projects, they hadn’t been able to move out, but she wasn’t in touch with anyone of her old classmates. When I asked about the kids that had been in her class – I was curious to know about them – she didn’t know.

“But what about Mohammed?” (one of her best friends, not his real name)

She shrugged.

“I stopped hanging out with all of them. They drained me on my energy. Most of them didn’t finish high school and… I wanted to move on with my life.”

We spoke of politics and she delivered her own opinion about IS and the women’s rights situation in Kurdistan. She asked about me and I said where I have been working – she was thrilled to hear I have been working in Kurdistan. She told of her own plans for the future:

“I might go for a master directly after my program. As a women they’ll always regard me as less than men in this business, you know what engineering is like, so I need to have twice the competence of the men who apply for the same jobs.”

When the train stopped and we went off, she hugged me and wished me good luck for the future. Soon she had disappeared in the early darkness of the March evening, I watched her bouncy ponytail as she disappeared. She, the girl with so little chances who had made it so far, had wished me good luck for the future. It used to be the other way around.

Of course I didn’t tell her, but that evening, she was my light in the global darkness. No matter how far IS will advance, or where European terrorists will strike next time, my former student will still be my light, a hope to hang on to. One million dollars couldn’t beat that feeling.

“My Mother Outside the Mosul Museum, 43 Years Ago. Now Everything is Destroyed”

After IS destroying ancient sculptures in the Mosul Museum, cleverly videotaping everything and uploading the demolition online for the world to share and condemn, without reflecting over the fact that we are all a part of IS propaganda machine, without actually putting the means in to stop them, a different kind of response came from Sweden.

The Swedish journalist Somar Al Naher published a photo of her mother who is from Iraq, when she visited Mosul Museum together with a group of girls 43 years ago, with a comment from Somar. Somar gave me the permission to publish this photo and her comment on Sweden and the Middle East Views. Here is what she had to say (translation from Swedish, Sweden and the Middle East Views):

Somar Al Naher

I have to tell this story and why this is an endless sorrow. This photo was taken exactly 43 years ago outside the Mosul Museum that is now destroyed. In the picture you can see my mom, she is in the middle of the back row, number five from the left. In front of her sits her younger sister. What we see in the picture are girls on a Scout camp. Each summer a number of girls were chosen from schools in Karbala and Najaf, to go on a camp in a new city in Iraq. Several girls come from deeply religious families, some of them had parents who were illiterate. But the trust and the confidence made the families allow their daughters to go on camps in places that were far away from home.

This picture symbolises everything that is about to be destroyed in Iraq: the people, the shared history, the proud heritage but also the development and the future. The girls of this generation would have had the possibility to change the world.

Photo copyright: Somar Al Naher

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

“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.

The Charlie Hebdo Attack on All of Us

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I don’t agree with the caricaturs Charlie Hebdo published and I don’t see the reason for publishing them in the first place. I wouldn’t sign up for the #JeSuisCharlie hashtag because I don’t support this kind of journalism, a journalism that’s provocative only for the sake of being provocative. But I am as shocked with the killings as everyone else.

I don’t know where the attack comes from and I don’t know if we ever will find out. And who was it? Confused young Muslim immigrant men, treated as second class citizens by the Front National influenced France of today, or angry young converts who recently came back from Syria? Did Saudi Arabia fund the terror attack just like we accuse them of funding everything else? Was it ISIS? Or was it loners scraping together for ages to be able and carry out their own little sick plan?

I’m not sure it really matters who was behind this brutal killing. The attack in itself is a sign that we’re on a very bad track internationally, all of us, and that we’re going downhill. KIlling of civilians is becoming so normal our children might think it’s a rational thing to do when you have convinced yourself that you hate someone.

I wish I wouldn’t have to say this, I’m myself irritated at times with all the doomsayers online who critizice politics and the society without wanting to see the good things in it. But 2014 ended with the Peshawar massacre and 2015 starts with 12 journalists killed because of the newspaper they worked for. These attacks sends us back ages in to a dark place where I don’t want to be. Twitter fills up with racist statements and the rightwinged extremist parties are looking forward to an upswing in the next elections. Front National must be shitting their pants with excitement. Us ordinary civilians will lock ourselves in and starting to avoid our neighbours. This attack isn’t just on Charlie Hebdo, it’s an attack on all of us, all over the world.

As Iyad El-Baghdadi, UAE activist, concluded on Twitter:

The extremists will benefit from an escalation, it justifies them. People who just want to coexist are thrown under the bus.

Photo copyrights: Sweden and the Middle East Views

Dark Days

So December that should be a nice month even for us Christian Atheists, has been marked by dark news. There are events that are taking the world forward even if not everyone agrees on it: elections and poilitical developments, and then there’s events that the world didn’t need at all.

IS successes, well-documented by themselves on social media; the massacre in Peshawar on 151 innocent children, their teachers and their principal who tried to save them; the arson attack on two mosques in Sweden.

What is striking to me is that again and again it’s proved that most people don’t care about others if they don’t share the same skin colour, language, religion, political views. It seems so hard for some people to feel some kind of compassion and identification unless all, and I mean all, equal factors are there.

On days like these I make sure to go online and watch pages such as India Loves Pakistan or Jews & Arabs refuse to be enemies. Or remind myself and everyone else out there on the George Harrison quote:

As long as you hate, there will be people to hate.

Please remember that, haters.

Photo credit: dawn.com

I Dream to See My Country Iraq Again, Receiving People from All Over the World

“I am now officially a doctor. Can you write about my doctorate?” Nawar Al Saadi wrote to me the other day, sending over a link from his graduation ceremony.

Nawar is in charge of the popular Tourism in Iraq Facebookpage that I have written about previously. His enthusiasm and love for his country touched many: the blog post has been shared over 300 times on Facebook and other Iraqis got in touch with me after reading the post.

When I first spoke with Nawar he was still a PhD student in Bucharest, Romania, specializing in tourism, hoping to be a part of the future tourism industry in Iraq. He wanted to return to Iraq despite having family living in Sweden – he had a burning desire to show the world another country than what usually features in Western media, and to be a part of it’s future. And he seems to do well, the Facebookpage has over 31.000 followers and is regularly updating with positive news from Iraq and conciliatory messages for a united country. During the ISIS first attacks on Mosul and the mass escape, Nawar published photos of Iraqis in other cities handing out food and water to the newly arrived refugees on the streets.

Six months later Nawar has now received his doctorate degree and is officially a doctor from Faculty of Geography, University of Bucharest, with his doctoral thesis called “The role of international relations in the development of the tourism sector – case study of Iraq“. In the graduation ceremony one of his teachers praises Nawar and points out that their best students are always coming from outside of Romania.

But other things have changed too – ISIS has taken over large strategic parts of Northern Iraq and has at times also threatened Baghdad and Iraqi Kurdistan’s capital Erbil. In the video from his doctoral ceremony Nawar is thanked by his professors and applauded when receiving his diploma. Dressed up and handsome in a suit and smart glasses, he holds a speech and makes a point of addressing exile Iraqis.

“For all Iraqi people living outside Iraq: we need really to work and we need really to study more. We have to make much effort because we have to change the image which is put by media about Iraq. We are not bad people, we are not terrorists as all the world thought. And I hope to see my country…”

Suddenly his voice breaks. It takes him a few moment before he can finish.

“…and I dream to see my country again to receive people from all over the world.”

When his speech ends, he rubs the tears out of his eyes as people in the room comes up to hug him.

Will his wishes about Iraq come through? Will he be able to return and pursue his dream? I don’t know, but I wish the best for Nawar whatever will happen. I haven’t met him in person yet, but I know Iraq needs him.
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UPDATE 17/10/2014

The ambassador for Iraq’s embassy in Bucharest was so impressed by Nawar after reading this and the previous article about Tourism in Iraq on Sweden and the Middle East Views, that he invited Nawar over the the embassy to give him an award for his achievements for his Iraq on October 15, 2014:

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Photo and video copyright: Nawar Al Saadi

Ay hawar! Hawar! Hawar! (HELP US! HELP US! HELP US!)

A number of my Kurdish, Iraqi and Syrian friends in the countries and abroad are horrifyed of the ISIS terror, and at times are unable to talk about anything else. A number of websites and social media pages are dedicated to launch news about the terrorists so as to create awareness and ask the world for help. Today I stumbled upon a heartbreaking message from a Facebookpage that is updating with news from Kobane in Northern Syria that is under immense threat of being abducted by ISIS. I thought I should share their message and let it speak for itself.

From: Kurdish Resistance & Liberation community 

Our hearts are breaking at the moment. Kobane is under serious siege at the moment and our brave YPG/PKK forces are left to fight with outdated and limited weapons on the streets of Kobane. Kobane has a strategic, symbolic and psychological significance for the Kurds, but the lack of help from the west and lack of arms to the Kurds is allowing ISIS to succeed! An imminent genocide of the Kurdish forces as well as civilians is on the horizon all because they do not have the appropriate military supplies. The Kurdish forces have been fighting non stop for the past 48 hours. SHAME on the West for your inaction while these brave men and women die defending humanity, defending civilians, women and children and defend the West from ISIS. Shame!

Friends PLEASE share so that the Western community realizes that if Kobane falls it was not for lack of trying on behalf of the brave YPG/YPJ/PKK forces. It was because of Western cowardice and THEIR betrayal of humanity!

Ay hawar! hawar! hawar! (HELP US! HELP US! HELP US!)

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Kurdish resistance 1

Photo credit: Kurdish Resistance & Liberation Facebook page, source and location unknown