We Are Iraqi
Today's guest blogger is Zainab Alwan, a law student and past intern of the Interfaith Youth Core.
On March 20, 2003, at 5:34 AM, the Iraq War began. My home in Western New York flooded with tension. Aunties and Uncles filtered in and out, staring at the television, waiting for the worst to be over. Yet, no one in my family could have predicted that the Iraqi people would still be suffering more than five years later.
Between the Iran-Iraq War (1980-1988), the Persian Gulf War (1990-1991), and the present War in Iraq, many Iraqis only know war. It is so easy for us to forget that a war is even occurring, or that peoples lives are being severely affected, destroyed, and ended due to the violence.
It even slips my mind sometimes.
I remember watching "Shock and Awe" in my chemistry class and consequently having a break down. I vowed to never watch the news again. It was too painful to see "smart" bomb after "smart" bomb dropped over my family's homes.
And then one night, a note was placed on the door of one of these homes. It read: "If you don't evacuate your home in 24 hours we will kill one of your family members."
The note seemed unreal; my family was well known and respected by all. My Uncle was a doctor. All five sons were dentists.
This home in Baghdad with a note on the door was their home, and they weren't going to take the threat seriously.
Twenty-four hours later my Uncle's nephew - my cousin - was left on the door step, dead. My uncle and his family grabbed everything they could, piled into a car, and fled their home as refugees.
Some days later, another cousin of mine was driving down the streets of Baghdad and saw a family walking by in the incredible Iraqi heat: a man, his pregnant wife, their young son. He thought the streets in Iraq weren't safe for a family to walk around like this. He decided to pick them up, take them home. They gratefully joined him and exchanged greetings, happy to find a kind heart amongst the chaos. Suddenly, the car was surrounded. Unidentifiable men forced them out of the car.
The men made the boy watch as his father was killed, watch as his mother's womb was split. My cousin pleaded with them, begged them to please just spare the young boys life. He yelled, "Just let me take him home, I won't tell anyone who you are, please." But that was too much compassion for them; the men made my cousin watch the young boy die. Somehow by the grace of Allah the police came. My cousin was saved. He fled Iraq with his family, and they are now refugees.
In 2002, my family visited Iran. As we walked into a store in Isfahan Square, my father began to speak English with the store keeper. The shop keepers eyes lit up, delighted to see Americans. But he could detect a hint of an Arab accent in my father's voice. Upon enquiring, my father proudly declared, "We are Iraqi". The shop keeper's face immediately dropped, and in a loud, uncontrolled voice he yelled at us to leave the store immediately.
It was over a decade after the Iran-Iraq War, and still, the shopkeeper was enraged. I found myself wondering what this meant for Iraqis. Will their angst ever end?
This past summer, during my internship at the Interfaith Youth Core, Iraqi exchange students visited the office. When asked how safe they felt back home, all 10 teenagers immediately began to shake their heads.
"You don't know, you never know. One week the North is safe, the next it is...you just don't know."
My parents left Iraq in the 70's, and I've had the privilege of being born and raised in the United States. Yet I've realized that living in the States, so far removed from the situation, I am blind to many of the injustices that take place in Iraq, and I know that others are, as well. But as Americans, we are in an incredible position. We have freedoms and resources at our fingertips, and we can make change.
Like Gandhi, Mandela, and King did before us, it's time for us to unite around our common values. Even from abroad, we can show compassion - even hospitality - to Iraqis, who need structured institutions like hospitals, universities, clean water, food - and security.
And it's not just the Iraqis that need our care; my friends in the Marines are tired and deserve to come home to warm welcomes. It's time for us to get involved, to discuss these issues with family and friends, to improve Iraqi lives, and to support our men and women who serve abroad.
The content of this blog reflects the views of its author and does not necessarily reflect the views of either Eboo Patel or the Interfaith Youth Core.
October 22, 2008; 11:23 AM ET
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