Tuesday, September 12, 2017

Three Things to Survive Dictatorships!

To me, living under a dictatorship is like being in an abusive relationship. Basically, you don’t exist, in fact, you don’t matter at all. Unless there is a duty you must perform; pay taxes, fight for the regime, or cheer for the leader. You also have to do well to avoid performing these duties. Similarly, in an abusive relationship, you only matter if your partner needs you. If not, then you will be neglected, controlled or abused.

Your goal is to leave and exist, to put an end to it all.  But in the meantime what do you do? How do you survive? You need three things, space, support, and self-empowerment. Triple S, as I call it. 

I.                    Space
You need an escape; a place where you can be who you want to be. When I was living under Saddam’s regime 1979-2003, I used to spend hours drawing in my room. I studied paintings and drawings by all the famous painters. My favorite school was and will always be the impressionist. I immersed myself into my drawing and sketching. Even though I sketched women’s empowerment and freedom of expression, the meaning was well-hidden. With a dictatorship so brutal as Saddam’s regime, I couldn’t risk it. At least, not right away.
II.                 Support
You need a friend to talk to freely or semi-freely. Perhaps, a family member to share your feelings with. You need to see the look in someone else’s eyes that says, “I feel you,” or “I have been in your shoes. I understand.” Some support can go a long way. But sometimes, it can be dangerous too. Many family members turned in their relatives in and hand them over to Saddam’s regime for money. Yet, I found friendships that I cherished. I would pick-up the phone and talk about hobbies, interests, likes, and dislikes. The warm discussion provided me with the fuel to go on. But what can you do if you don’t have that support? Find inspiration somewhere else. A book, a poem, an art piece that you can relate to. Many people sought
      III.              Self-Empowerment
Standing Strong Facing the Winds! 

You need to grow and develop. Take any step to make you stronger. Even if meant, turning the TV so that you want. For me, I continued my education. I earned my master’s and then my Ph.D. I chose topics related to justice, equity, and fairness, and I presented a strong argument supporting them. Just think about it this way, each time you grow one inch, the regime shrinks one inch. Sometimes, when pressure accumulated, I employed self-talk. I wanted to remind myself that a better day will come and it did. Once you take the first steps, you will be surprised what will happen next. So, after earning my Ph.D., I started teaching human rights at the Law School at Baghdad University. I felt empowered by simply mentioning the term.

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