Christmas in Baghdad

Christmas Eve yesterday in Baghdad, Iraq. The photos are from the Iraqi photographer Ahmad Mousa, founder of the @everydayiraq project. The captions are the original ones from Ahmad Mousa’s Facebookpage.

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Iraqi Christian girls light candles on Christmas Eve at a church in Baghdad

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Christmas mass in Baghdad, at Our Lady of Salvation church

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Christmas mass in Baghdad, Iraq

American Jewish Women in Support of Middle Eastern Refugees

After Donald Trump’s horrifying statements regarding Muslim refugees, tensions have been high in social media, and therefore I was happily surprised to see a different kind of action.

A Jewish women’s group in US decided to start a movement under the hashtag #welcomethestranger, with this aim in mind:

“…to counter the rise in anti-Muslim rhetoric and corresponding legislative action recently taken by Congress (HR 4038) that would keep refugees in limbo until they are “certified” as not being a security threat. People who are fleeing for their lives. We must not let this come to pass in the Senate. please join us in this action of writing your representatives, and share additional actions you are taking. Now is the time.” 

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It will be interesting to see how far this campaign can reach. In this polarised and intolerant times, I decided to share this small, but for humanity so necessary action, with you.

Photo copyrights: Leah Katz Ahmadi

I Still Don’t Share Photos of Murdered IS Terrorists. At Some Point This Still Needs to End.

After the Paris massacre a photo popped up in my Facebook news feed, signed the Kurdish security forces, Peshmerga, that I follow. A photo of a murdered young man, clearly shot dead while on the move, probably fleeing for his life. His face is frozen in a frightened expression, his hands curled up in spasms, his face covered in blood.

In front of him another young man is peeking in to the camera and cheekily sticking out his tongue. The photo caption reads “Gift of the Peshmerga heroes to French people“.

The comments are almost exclusively overwhelmingly joyous and sarcastic:

“Nice shot”

“Stay Frosty”

“He’s throwing ISIS gang signs LOL”

I didn’t hit the like button for this photo. I didn’t share it. I did consider potentially stop liking Peshmerga forces, despite the information the page provides me.

It might be obvious to you why I reacted like this, but to sum it up, here’s the comment from the one follower of the page, a young man too and I believe he is Kurdish, who did not agree:

By posting this you bring shame on the Kurdish people.
We should not be driven by hate, but by humanity and our love to freedom.

If only more young men were thinking like him.

I have never and will never share photos of murdered or injured or caged IS terrorists. We might be approaching the third world war, we might be in the middle of it, but at one point, this still needs to end. And peace will not come faster by seeking revenge and mocking the dead ones.

I will not be the person to prolong the wait.

“When Politicians Failed to Agree on Conducting the Country’s Affairs, the Quartet Helped Them.”

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The Tunisian National Dialogue Quartet

Congratulations Tunisia! We were many who were overwhelmed by joy when the Tunisian National Dialogue Quartet scored the – Swedish! – Nobel Peace Prize of 2015 a few days ago. Finally, a light at the end of the tunnel!

Now, what does a Tunisian person think of this? My friend Firas, who usually is happy to share his ideas about politics, especially the Tunisian ones, gave me his ideas, in a typical Tunisian style of mixing English with French vocabulary. He was, for once, very optimistic. A trait that is not very common among Middle Eastern and North African people nowadays.

He is happy to say that the quartet deserves it:

“They negotiated for a year in order to take country to the end of the tunnel. 2012 and 2013 were tough years. Radicals were in the government, economy was down and terrorism and unemployment up. The Nobel Peace lauréates managed to make a deal, through dialogue that allowed peaceful power shift.

They lobbied and conducted a dialogue that almowed power shift from mainly islamist government to a next one made of technocrats. This lowered social tensions… Each part of this quartet represented a part of the society. When politicians failed to agree on conducting country’s affairs, the quartet helped them.”

Firas says that the quartet helped in avoiding dictatorship and power vacuum, and points out that they negotiated around nine months to facilitate the power shift to a technocrat government and to prepare for the first democratic election:

“They negotiated around nine months the power shift to technocrat government, a non-politicised one whose mission is to keep the government afloat, and prepare for the first democratic election that will bring first democratically elected government.”

I share Firas’ hopefulness too. This quartet helped Tunisia in avoiding the fate of Egypt and Libya: where sectarian tensions has taken over and terrorism replaces politics. These days I think we should celebrate the victory over terrorism, or as the player would put it: Dialogue vs Conflict: 1-0.

Photo credit: cnn.com

May God Help Us, if He Exists

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I was going to write about something else, I have done research for a Middle Eastern topic, as some readers know I love the Middle East and am dedicated to write about sides of this region that usually are unnoticed in the Western media.

But then there was the terror attack in Turkey. This photo supposedly shows activists from the Socialist Youth Association Federation, snapping a group selfie before the bomb blast in Suruc. Turkey, the country that has sailed up from poverty and created a large middle class and that hosts a vivid civil society – now pulled back by the murder machine of we-know-who.

Before that, it was the Eid blasts all over. On a holiday that is sacred to many.

Before that, there was Tunisia, a country where I was supposed to go visit friends in a few days time, in Tunis and Sousse, only having to cancel it when Sweden’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs changed their travel recommendation.

Before that there was the Charleston massacre.

So I lost my inspiration tonight. In this very moment, this is what I feel:

I think we will remember this time as a dark turning point in history, when dark powers started to outweigh the good ones, and terrorism conquered co-existence. May God help us, if he exists.

Photo copyright: unknown

All About Damascus, a Sign of Normal Life

War may torment larger parts of Syria and the Middle East, but few signs of the beautiful country that once was and in some places still is, exists and pops up like butterflies here and there. One of them is the Facebook page All About Damascus, a page that started before the war, in 2010, and that is still going strong.

Today, on July 13, the page uploaded a few photos from the every day life in the colourful city of Damascus, the life that is still going on despite the war.

In the politicised debate over Syria, some might say this page is a part of the regime’s propaganda to show that they are able to reign over some parts of the country, that they are able to keep some of the city calm. But I would prefer to say it might as well be a sign of normal life. A sign to remind of what life that can remain during the dirtiest of wars.

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Photo copyrights: All About Damascus Facebook page 

Inside Activists against IS from Mosul, Mosul Eye, Trying to Remain active

Local activists against Islamic State, behind the Facebook page Mosul eye, where they regularly publish news on how the city is ruined IS’s ruling, recently had to close down their activities, due to continuous attacks on their page. They have announced that they will reopen their page and continue to – anonymously – report about the ingoing crimes against humanity from inside Mosul. I want to share their statement here to support the activists:

“For public manners and everyday life, it all can be summed in following bullet points:

ISIL constructed subsidiaries, organizations and departments for everything, and for each manner they set a bureau and appointed staff dedicated for it. the civilians are living under a bloody authority and power. people can not move or breathe, The borders are completely closed, and no one can get out of the city, and dire conditions are applied for anyone wants to leave the city.

And ISIL issued and published these conditions, namely: 

1- hand over House mortgage ownership documents, 

2- $ 2,500 as a deposit 

3- a modern car which is manufactured no further that 2011, and 

4- a sponsor who sponsors the traveller, and for a duration of only one month. If the permission expires, the sponsor gets arrested and the house, the car and the deposit are all confiscated, and the traveller is considered to be an apostate infidel and is permitted to be killed on sight.

Kids are subjected to extreme measures of massing and incitement to all the mass murders and criminal operations ISIL leads through its media points that are scattered over the streets, and through exchanging of video clips that depict scenes of slaughter, crucifixion, burning and murder. large numbers of teenagers have been affected by ISIL’s enormous propaganda and amused by its capabilities of violence.

Lots of teens have voluntarily joined ISIL in its various ranks. Recent statistics study showed that the numbers of children volunteered into ISIL’s ranks, who were under the age of 16 years; were amounted to 370 and received religious and military training in ISIL’s camps, more than 130 children who actually participated in the battles and suicide bombings, many of them died mostly in battles for Baiji, Anbar and west of Nineveh.

ISIL imposes new strict and tough restrictions every day upon the citizens, and the last of its restrictions is men are forced to leave their beards unshaved, we already published on this page, about ISIL’s leaflet on the prevention of shaving the beard, and this is especially targeting the youth.  As for Women, ISIL is practicing extremely harsh restrictions upon them, things like wearing the veil is a must, prohibiting women from going out alone to the market unless they are accompanied with a male relative as a guardian, and as Ramadan is approaching, women are absolutely banned from leaving their houses.  Smoking is banned as well, and penalizing cigarettes vendors started at first with 70 lashes with a big fine, and now the penalty for anyone caught selling or trading cigarettes is “decapitation”!

Food prices constantly rising and will depend on whether the roads are closed with Baghdad and Kurdistan, Baghdad has recently closed the road to Mosul, and prevented the entry of large quantities of goods and foods to Mosul ISIL also imposed severe penalties on those who do not come to the mosque during prayers and closes his shop, and the penalty is confiscation of the shop with large fine and imprisonment for a whole month. Many libraries were closed, and complete banning of trading books that never call them ISIL “infidelity and apostasy books” of Arab and international novels and books of philosophy, history and literature.

In short: There are no sign of life in Mosul, I mean life in which man will be free and able to act freely and easily. The rights to live is guaranteed only by abiding by the conditions and ruthless control of ISIL and any one opposes ISIL is subjecting himself and his family to execution and confiscation of all property.

To be Continued …”

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

Painting: Girls under Islamic State

The Kurdish artist Rostam Aghala, whose art I have shared before, has pictured women’s suffering in the hands of the terrorists in Islamic State. He wanted to share it with me for me to share it on my site, for the world to see. Rostam uses the Arabic acronym “Daesh” to name Islamic State.

“Girls under Esideat (Daesh)” by Rostam Aghala

Photo copyright: Rostam Aghala