Sunday, May 22, 2016

The Middle East Heroes



As I was surfing the web looking for op-eds discussing the Iraqi paradoxical situation, I came across a headline featuring my best friend’s name.  I immediately recalled our last heated discussion.
My friend and mentor, Ammar Al-Shahbander, asked me to go back to Iraq and work with him on promoting freedom of expression and empowering women. I declined; I didn’t want to go back.

I felt that I already jeopardized my safety and that of my family and friends. Ammar was disappointed. He said, “If you don’t go back and help, and I don’t go back and help, who is going to build the country?”  “I just can’t,” I replied.

I felt I couldn’t do it again to my son. Both of us suffered a lot.  Just like many Iraqis, we have been shot at, survived bomb attacks, threats, separated from each other, and lived in fear. Even though I wanted to help, I couldn’t. I just couldn’t. My mentor concluded the conversation with deep disappointment.
( Ammar's name  in Arabic calligraphy ) 

As I started to read, my heart started to sink because the op-ed was actually an obituary of my mentor! He was killed in a bomb attack. I couldn’t comprehend a word after the first sentence. In fact, I refused to comprehend. I hoped that by the end of the op-ed, it would say that it was some sort of a sick joke, but it didn’t. I immediately emailed a mutual friend asking if what I read was true.
Due to the time difference, our mutual friend replied after eight hours. Each minute of those eight hours felt like ages, I was checking my emails every second. Once I received the confirmation, I cried for months. I felt that part of me died with my friend. 

Was it the first time for me to lose a friend? No, I lost many friends, and I have lost a part of myself with each one of them.  I just wished that our “last words” were not a heated discussion. I also wished that I could have gotten the chance to say goodbye.

These feelings can be true for any of the friends that I have lost. I still remember the conversation that I had with Aqila Al- Hashimi, one day prior to her assassination. She told me, “Mishkat, I am scared!” Aqila was a brave strong woman. So, I replied, “Aqila, you are brave, don’t let them get to you.” She was killed the next day. It wasn’t a heated discussion, but it felt like I was sugarcoating her fears by telling her that she “is brave or strong” didn’t address her legitimate fears.
(Alqila's name in Arabic calligraphy) 

What could I have done differently? I don’t know. Perhaps, I should be grateful to even have had the chance to discuss or express something because, with Amal Mamalishy, another friend, I didn’t get the chance to say anything.

( Amal's name in Arabic calligraphy)


We met before her assassination, but we talked business, empowering women, improving policies, and rebuilding the country. The next day, she was gone.

Somehow, I feel my friends died in vain! There was no official recognition of any sort to honor their sacrifices. No award, no memorial, nothing. Just like many other Iraqis, their families were left alone to suffer. These comments were exactly the same ones that I heard from my family and friends after surviving the attempt on my life. My son was six at the time. My mom, who was battling cancer, asked me, “Who would raise your son? Answer me.” I can’t remember what I had told her, yet I survived a second attempt and other threats after that.

I feel I survived to tell the stories of those who didn’t get the chance to tell their own. These freedom fighters were trying to make a significant positive difference but the world ignored them.

These people stepped up when no-one else would. They believed in freedom and democracy; their beliefs were strong enough that they put their lives on the line. However, the world executed their voices. Their ultimate sacrifice was labeled as “sorry for your loss” or “you knew what you were getting yourself into.”  

To honor their memories, I wrote their names in Arabic calligraphy . 

The Middle East is not just ISIS, there are heroes as well. The question to be answered is why the media ignores the heroes?



5 comments:

Mishkat said...

Please feel free to share the story of any freedom fighter that you know.

mazin said...

I do find it really interesting that the quiet - by "quiet", I mean nonviolent - strength to stand up to tyranny and violence seems to be washed away so quickly, as if it were never there. However, I believe that it does remain. Just like you wrote about how linguists often look at the words in front of them and miss the implicit meaning, I think it's common for people to look at the horrors on the news and miss the amazing, quiet, strong people who minimized the severity of the event, who stay to clean up, who invest in the social infrastructure to ensure an incident doesn't occur again. I was really touched by your stories and reading about those amazing people...please don't ever think that what they did was in vain. I don't believe it ever is.

Unfortunately, I don't have a any stories like yours. But I just wanted to take a moment to honor the memories of the ones you shared.

Mishkat said...

Dear Mazin,
Thank you for your kind comment. I really appreciate. I agree with you. The strong, amazing, and quiet people should be acknowledged. Please feel free to talk about anyone of them. Also, please share the post of others. Thanks again.

drmuthomar said...

Dear Dr. Mishkat, I completely agree with you, and I think we-Iraqis- already had enough sacrifices, while the country is running down...more victims will not improve the image. God bless you. Greetings and best regards
Muthanna Al Omar

Mishkat said...

Thank you, Dr. Muthanna! I appreciate your kind comment. All the best to you and your family.

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