Iraq is very close to my heart. The cradle of civilisation has been at war for far too long now. In my opinion, no one has suffered from the Iraq war(s) more than Iraqis. For years, I have lived with a strong Iraqi identity even though I was a product of a tragic diaspora. It didn’t matter to me – my parents brought me up in a way that even if Iraq ceased to exist, I would still know who I was and where I came from. Both of my parents lost family and friends because of the war and while it has brought hardships upon my family, and constant sorrow, it has become an unquestionable part of my identity. Anyone that has ever met me can confirm that one of the first few things I introduce about myself apart from my name is that I’m from Kadhmiyah, Baghdad. I’m Iraqi and I’m proud to be Iraqi. No one can ever take that away from me.
However, with this strong affiliation also comes the defensiveness I cannot help but feel towards my homeland. In an age of information, where fact and fiction are too often meshed as one, everyone suddenly thinks they know the real Iraq. It can’t be denied. Having been raided and invaded 4 times in the past 20 years means that the name of then-Mesopotamia is constantly on the lips of many. Despite this attention, what really affects me is when people think they have a right to have an opinion about Iraq and Iraqis, even if they have never interacted with an Iraqi, or never been on Iraqi land and soil. As if, just because Iraq has been in the media for the past decade or so, people are suddenly experts in Iraqi politics and society. That they have a right to determine who we are and what our country is made of.
I’m afraid that is the furthest thing from the truth. Iraq didn’t go through war after war, loss after loss, bloodshed after bloodshed so that people would feel comfortable making the misconception that “Iraq is made up of terrorists” or that “Iraqi’s are sectarian.” Have you even walked the beautiful streets of Baghdad? Or visited the countless shrines and mosques across the country? Have you seen the way people treat each other in times of distress and times of elation?
Don’t tell me Iraqis are sectarian when we have members of all Islamic sects living side by side. A Shiite shrine for Musa Al-Kadhim and Mohammed Al-Jawad is only a suburb away from the Sunni shrine for Abu Hanifa. Don’t tell me Iraqis are terrorists when people tend to turn a blind eye to the fact that it was America that invaded Iraq and dropped depleted uranium on our children. Don’t tell me Iraqis are sectarian when, in traffic jams, an Iraqi will roll down the window and greet you as “habib qalbi” (the love of my heart) regardless of who you are. Don’t tell me Iraqis are terrorists when we are the ones that have the largest peaceful gatherings ever recorded in history, in Karbala, with around 30 million people present every year.
Far too often, Iraqis don’t discuss their heritage for fear of judgement and prejudice. I have something to say to those who decide to pass judgement: No Iraqi heritage.
Photograph: James Gordon via Flickr, CC BY-NC 2.0