Return of the Madness

This poster was shared with me by a Jewish friend living in US. The poster supposedly preceded

the right winged extremist demonstration in Charlottesville, Virginia, on August 12, where one person was killed and 19 injured by one of the extremists.

Does the poster need any comment? Or can we just get a hands up from everyone who understands that what is going on is a return of a madness?

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The Country of Kuwait Before the Americans Moved In

There was a Kuwait even before the American troops went in 1991 to kick out the Iraqi occupiers. Kuwait is a source to a rich culture and heritage: it contained different tribes with different traditions, music and tales, beduoins living off the sea where they were fishing for food and pearls that they traded in one of their many travels around the Gulf region. But much of it has gotten lost to the outside world. What many foreigners see in Kuwait is the many fastfood restaurants and the malls that popped up en masse after the Americans came in and stayed on.

A Kuwaiti friend of mine is dedicated to show the Kuwaiti culture and it’s from him that I have received these photos. He doesn’t have the copyright he has himself received them through social websites, so I decided to share them on. The descriptions of the photos are from my friend.

A Kuwaiti trader with dependents to another 1930s

Kuwaiti traider with dependents, 1930s

Bedouin weaving Kuwait

Bedouin weaving, year unknown

kuwait year unknown

Year unknown

Kuwait 2 1961

Kuwait 1961

Kuwait 1961

Kuwait 1961

unknown 5

Year unkown

unknown 7

Year unknown

Photo copyrights: unknown

Iraqi Womens’ Petition to the White House to Act Against ISIS

I’m reluctant to what kind of international support Iraq and Syria are needing in the ongoing crisis of ISIS, as I as most other people don’t want to see previous disasters repeated all over again. But tonight my friends the women’s right activists at Warvin Foundation for Women’s Issues in Iraqi Kurdistan e-mailed me about a petition that they have signed for the White House, where they ask them to take immediate action to rescue the kidnapped Yesidi Kurdish women from ISIS, and I had a look.

The petition says:

We the… appeal to you to take immediate action to rescue the more than 1000 Ezidi Kurdish women who have been kidnapped by the monstrous ISIS terror group. The majority of women under ISIS control has been raped and is currently being traded on the market to serve as sex slave. We beg you take action and protect those woman’s glories as well as the rest of the women from those barbarous armed men.

This isn’t some foreigners wanting to liberate women in the Middle East, it’s not a bombing campaign noone asked for. This is Iraqi women asking for help for their fellow citizens that are enslaved under conditions you don’t want to imagine. At least I don’t want to imagine. That’s why I decided to share this with you.

Working For US Military in Iraq – Some Reflections

DSC_0372This article was originally published on Brave New World’s website

After invading Iraq in 2003, the American troops needed assistance, and a large number of national staff was employed to help the often ill-equipped young soldiers with the cultural and linguistic challenges they faced. Being a part of the American military was often dangerous, sometimes lethal; many Iraqis who took on this mission were murdered by militias. Still local staff was easy to recruit: the jobs were well-paid and the inflation was sky-rocketing why other jobs hardly could make you earn a living.

I wanted to know how someone who was working for the Americans now is reflecting over the time served, 11 years after the invasion. And so someone put me in touch with Louis Yako.

Louis is a bit reluctant at first when we speak. He points out to me that I as a non-Iraqi will write about an Iraqi rather than the Iraqi writing the piece himself, and we end up speaking about the problematic issue of me as a white woman portraying Middle Easterners.

“When a Middle Eastern person is being interviewed it’s handled as a story,” he says.

He’s right; how often do you see a blog from the Middle East discussing Europe? But Louis still gives me the confidence to write about him and his experiences.

Even though he was only 21, with a BA in English literature from the University of Baghdad Louis was an attractive candidate for the Americans. And for him, his university had closed following the collapse of the infrastructure, and he was looking for a job.

“I didn’t understand much about was what at stake,” he says. “I wanted to practice my English, I was a young person.”

He got himself a job as a linguist in Kirkuk, one of the most violent-ridden cities after 2003; also his hometown. He spent in total two years working as a linguist, translator and local government specialist for US army, USAID and the US consulate. The duties varied but included working with the combat forces when they went to the villages to look for suspects. Two years later Louis had to leave the country:

“I was threatened personally because I worked for US army”, he says, without wanting to dwell more on the subject.

He has never been back.

Louis also had colleagues that were murdered, just like I had when working for a humanitarian NGO, even though my colleague was not killed due to his work but due to his religious belonging. We discuss this and the many Iraqis that have been killed by their fellow countrymen since 2003 when militias started their ruling by fear. But still so, and even though Louis had to flee his own country, he doesn’t want to fall into simple explanations.

“If we’re talking about the killers as ‘bad guys’ we’re using a slippery term. Nobody is truly good or evil; nobody is truly innocent or guilty. Once you call someone a bad guy; once you demonize somebody, you can easily apply your agenda on that person. We need to always understand before we use such adjectives.”

So what is his opinion now about the US invasion? He has a different take on it than the very obvious aspect of the actual war; instead the starting point to him is the many malls and American coffee shops that have popped up in no time, especially in Iraqi Kurdistan. In Erbil, mall after mall is being established to meet the needs of both local people with new money, but also the many expats that have arrived with the contracting agencies and NGOs establishing in the region, sometimes spending their salaries of lunatic standards.

“The real invasion was cultural, economic, and political,” Louis says. The military was paving the way for something much bigger than that. Real invasion is when malls, Starbucks, and other corporations of what I call the ‘transnational mafia’ mushroom, things you haven’t made with your own expertise and by your own raw materials. If you don’t understand that you’re being duped you cannot do something about it. The first step is to understand that you’re not free.” He points out: “I’m talking in a global way, not only Iraqi.”

I want to know how he sees Iraq before 2003 and he wants me to think twice about my question. He wants to shift the focus from the issue of the previous regime versus the country after the invasion:

“We are often forced to compare Iraq between the previous regime and the invasion, as if there is no other option. Let’s put that aside. Yes, Iraq was much safer and it was one nation before the war. But as for killing dissidents, for example, they kind of do that all over the world in any regime. Have a look at Snowden for example.

Iraqis could have liberated themselves, but the West’s support of the previous regime made it impossible. The West always talks about the liberation of women – that’s bullshit. Women cannot be free in a society that is occupied and not free. The ‘women card’ is always played when they want to invade a country. But women’s freedom is inseparable from men’s freedom.

As an Iraqi in the middle of the invasion you didn’t have an agency, and if you did it was because you were a convenient actor in the game. The average Iraqi in the middle of the street has nothing to say. Some voices are purposely unheard.”

We come to talk about the international aid to Iraq and how effective it really is. I ask him what kind of support he thinks the country would really benefit from.

“The concept of support from the outside needs to be reexamined,” he says. “True support can only take place when any two parties are allowed to negotiate on equal grounds.”

“In what ways?”

“Well if I have to take your ideas and they become my reality that is not support, that is very dangerous– indoctrination. So far I haven’t seen two groups treating each other equally. The withdrawal of the US troops is irrelevant; it’s the systems that are important. The soldiers are like any regular employees doing their job. They don’t have much power or say on what should happen none of them. The US presence in Iraq is not military based; it’s political, in the oil fields, in the malls. It makes Iraqis sedated consumers instead of produce what we need by ourselves.”

Now a PhD student in cultural anthropology at Duke University in North Carolina, and also an American citizen, Louis was able to get out of the dangerous situation he once was in when he received a Fulbright scholarship to Lehigh University. But he points out that he was one of few and says that it was a bottleneck, where some threatened local staff with the US army got out and some didn’t.

Still he doesn’t regret his work experience with them or the missions he carried out. What is bothering him today is that the fatal consequences of the US invasion of Iraq doesn’t seem to interest people anymore.

“The US invasion is fading away as if it didn’t happen, that’s discouraging. Not because we always want Iraq to be on the front pages but because the lessons experienced should not be forgotten, in order not to repeat the same mistakes. It’s important for humanity. International conflicts are all connected to Iraq, even before there was the invasion of Iraq, you can’t separate them. I’m totally worried that forgetting Iraq is confirming what Hegel says…”

Louis pauses and asks me if I know what Friedrich Hegel says. I don’t, so he tells me:

“‘The only thing we learn from history, is that we learn nothing from history.

Photo credit: Louis Yako

The Non-Existence of The Iraqi Conflict

This article was originally posted on A Brave New World’s website.

Have you been to any of the neighboring countries of Iraq recently? Have you seen the Iraqi widows begging in the streets? Or the teenagers that have lived most of their lives outside their home country, raised without proper education or housing, on the run as long as they can remember? On the 11th anniversary of US invasion of Iraq, the country is again leaning towards the brink of a civil war and the remnants of the mass exodus in the last decade are still present, scattered around the conflict-ridden region. In Jordan and Lebanon, the Iraqi refugees are now intermingling with the Syrians; in Turkey they blend in easily with the masses of trafficked people who are trying to survive on the dangerous streets of Istanbul.

Last week, Baghdad and Mosul were the latest targets in the series of bomb explosions that has plagued Iraqi since 2003, along with the terrorist groups that are de facto ruling parts of the country with their own extremist agendas. In the governorate of Anbar, The Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant militia briefly tool control over the city of Al Sainiyah before the government troops were able to retrieve it, in what is not a completed battle. The last decade is repeating itself all over again.

Having worked as a humanitarian aid worker for different Iraq missions, what is as disheartening as the continuous reports about lives being lost is the international response. Not in the sense of the humanitarian NGOs and UN’s collective force to – by remote management – try and assist the troubled nation. Following the slow collapse of Iraq, a mass invasion of NGOs established themselves in compounds in Baghdad, in Erbil or the surrounding countries. A staggering amount of US dollars was thrown into the country when NGOs where found to offer anything from counseling to art classes, very few providing roof over the head or food, as an aid for a war the Iraqis didn’t start themselves. But in terms of legal aid or security, the response was nowhere to be found.

UNHCR has been unable to secure the lives of the many Iraqis seeking help in neighboring countries. EU started to deny Iraqis asylum as far back as in 2007 with the justification that threatened Iraqis could “seek help from the Iraqi authorities”. This was at a time when representatives from the Iraqi government officially begged receiving countries not to deport minorities back to Iraq, as the government could not guarantee their lives. Not even the horrifying massacres of Christians during the Sunday masses in churches in Kirkuk and Baghdad seemed to change the international community’s seemingly strong belief in the Iraqi government. The well-known phenomenon that extremist groups had connections and sometimes worked in cooperation with members of the government never seemed to make it to international media, and the government’s failing interest or ability in protecting their population was silenced among international actors. Because the tragedy that was Iraq was an obvious never ending disaster, and who wants another needing family on their doorstep?

11 years later, US has pulled out, leaving behind a nation where terrorist groups are intertwined with the government; minorities are in constant fear of random assassination and terrorist attacks pose a daily threat to the civil population. Oil companies and related contracting agencies have moved in large-scale and the international community is benefiting from the booming industry, but the foreigners employed still cannot go outside of their compounds as safety still is not prevailing – as it would, if the country was back to a normal state of being. The independent region of Iraqi Kurdistan recently closed their borders to their fellow countrymen after the September bomb attacks in Erbil, and so the last resort has been cut off. They had taken a fair share of the conflict; many of the young boys and girls who became orphans joined gangs in Kurdistan when the grim reality of survival in the last decade made many people turn their backs on their orphaned relatives. And is it possible to criticize Kurdistan for closing the door to the chaos of the South, especially after considering the ridiculously low number of refugees that US has accepted since the start of their uninvited attempt to liberate the Iraqi people?

To this reality even the Iraqi refugees that are still in even a country as Syria prefer to stay where they are. Here, UNHCR is still assisting around 44,000 Iraqi refugees. Too afraid of what is waiting them back home, they prefer to stay in a country where the majority of the native population soon will be refugees themselves. Yes, a wealthy family that can afford protection or has a budget allowing them to leave the country whenever they might need to, can consider staying in one of the relatively safer cities, such as Basra that has seen an upswing in security the last years after a permanent military presence. They have seen how their fellow countrymen have suffered as refugees outside; people spending years seeking asylum with no result, living in hiding in different places in Europe and the Middle East, many women being subject to exploitation and sexual trafficking. But the absolute majority of the refugees don’t have the possibility of returning to a safe life in Iraq. They might belong to a minority; they might have had a family member murdered or disappeared without trace; or they have simply lost their hopes that Iraq ever will be a safe place again.

“We will die here or there,” a young Iraqi girl told me last year in Damascus. “It is less painful to just stay on.”

Other refugee groups in Syria have decreased after the start of the Syrian revolution, but in aftermath of the silence of the international community, for many of the Iraqis there is just nowhere else to go.

Photocredit: http://commons.wikimedia.org

“You Need a White Cock in that Mouth” – Emails from My Haters

Do you like my blog and my ideas? Not everybody does.

The experience is new to me since I haven’t been attacked like this before and it’s a different thing knowing about people’s prejudices and to experience them first hand.

A response on Facebook to my blog post “Can I like this page if I date Arab men?” told me I should keep in mind that whites are probably the least racist in the world. I asked the person – no first or last name and the profile picture was the Swedish flag – to back up the statement with some verified research, and received the following answer:

That’s not needed. We let all nonwhites into our country. And now the original population in all the immigrated countries starts to grow tired of the ungratefulness we are given in return. We have the right to become angry and complain. Same thing as if you would receive a guest who didn’t liked the food you cooked and he/she should just demand a lot from you.” (The original population in Sweden is not whites but Sami, but Mr No name might not have been very attentative during his school years.)

Another commenter, self-proclaimed American, found our Arabic-Swedish network’s Facebook group and only the idea of our network seemed to drive him nuts (he’s not the first one). He posted a hateful message on the wall on how Sweden could let in Arabs, which I as a moderator removed. Immediately the reactions came in private emails:

So much for free speech (sic). Fuck you too! 89% of the rapist in Sweden are Arab. Shame on you and all ARab women. No self respect!

Answering and explaining why I had removed his wall post only exaggerated his anger, part of it steemed from the belief that I too am an Arab (one part is translated from Arabic written with Latin letters):

All people living in America Turkish Malay Indian Pakistani Persian… only Arab bastards cause trouble. Also why do you people FORCE your daughter to wear hijab? You can’t teach them modesty first? No wonder they go out and keep boyfriends on the sly. Arab bitch… Are you Lebanese? All Lebanese are bitches Your mother too is an Arab animal. You need a white cock in that mouth. You wish you were white and worship us whites.” (Who was it that was supposedly a rapist by the way?)

So this is obviously the kind of comment you can receive if you belong to an ethnic group not everyone seems fond of. What else could you face as a minority if this is the response I get on my according to me quite harmless commitment?

My reply to the man before I blocked him:

Hello Mukhter! I am 100% white and I suggest you find other people to share your ideas with as I don’t find hate very appealing:)

More comments like these are surely to come, but I won’t let hate set the agenda.

Muslim – How Does it Feel to Be a Problem?

MuslimGirlAmericanCover

Once in a fleemarket, a woman showed me photos from her son’s wedding, proudly telling me that her new daughter-in-law was smart, beautiful and a dentist. The bride looked great, as brides usually do, her black curls spilling down over her chrystal white wedding dress.

“She’s Iranian”, the woman said, apologetically. “But she’s born here in Sweden, and she’s not a fanatic Muslim.” The woman’s friend chimed in: “Oh no, not fanatic at all!”

I always find such comments sad, because for me the bride could have had any religion, she could even have been a fanatic, as long as she respected me for who I am (and shared a fair amount of respect for others in general). I have a friend here in Sweden who supports the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt, which I don’t, and there are many things we might never agree on – but we don’t try to change each other. She has never tried to convince me about her belief, and I would never ask her to go with me in a bikini to the beach, or go clubbing. Yes, I have met religious people that have made efforts in making me convert to or gain interest in their religion; but most people I have met during my lifetime have not tried to press their religion on me, and respect work both ways.

Especially being a Muslim or Arab in Europe or US can be such a stigma, discussed in the book “How does it feel to be a problem? Being Young and Arab in America” (Moustafa Bayoumi 2008), and Europe might need a similar study the way intolerance is setting the agenda here. I also believe that by reaffirming that someone being a Muslim is “not a fanatic” reinforces the stereotypes.  What if someone is proud of being a conservative Muslim? Why is it a problem?

If I was the bride in the photos I once saw, I wouldn’t want my mother-in-law to describe me as a not-fanatic-Muslim. And if anyone asked my mother-in-law if I was, I wish she would answer: “Well I don’t know. But she’s still smart, beautiful and a dentist.”

Photo credit: http://www.muslimgirl.net