In its grotesque reality, Iraq is akin to a children’s tale gone bad, waiting for redemption, for release, for anything that can change everything, writes Nermeen Al-Mufti in Baghdad
This week, I am trying to draw an image that reflects the situation of children in Iraq — trying to be far for a while from the ongoing bloodbaths that killed more than 40 Iraqis in Baghdad, Diyala, Babel and Mosul in three days only.
The circumstances of the blockade imposed on Iraq since August 1990 forced my brother to leave Iraq, no matter to where, west or east, as long as the result was the same: living outside Iraq. Abdallah, his elder son, was born far from Kirkuk, Iraq. His wife and my brother did their best to teach Abdallah Turkish, his mother tongue, and Arabic. Yet his main language became English, his Arabic coloured with an Indian accent.
Abdallah, with his family, visited us last year. He grew up, realising and commenting on the things around us. A while after their arrival at night, the power went off. Abdallah joyfully jumped from his place, saying, “Make a wish” and asking, “Where are the candles?” He thought that we were celebrating the birthday of a family member. Before answering him, the home power generator began working. My niece, Zeinab, who is the same age as Abdallah and lives in Kirkuk, asked: “Aunty, is this national power or the generator?” I had nothing to say; the difference between the thoughts of Zeinab and Abdallah was painful.
I was trying to forget this situation, yet an e-mail from my brother made me remember it. He sent me a photo of the certificate his son received assuring his participation in an agricultural course in his school. In the same e-mail, there was a copy of a booklet written and drawn by Abdallah, named “How to plant the seed to be a tree.” The booklet made him the star of the week in his school. While reading the e-mail, Abdallah called to tell me about his trip with the school to the zoo. The trip allowed him to know more about animals, how they live, and what makes them happy. On the same day, Zeinab came to tell me the police raided the house opposite her primary school. She said that the whistling sound of police vehicles was intense (she did not say it was scary), saying: “They arrested a man.” She added that she heard in her class that the detainee was a terrorist who used to behead others. The image is clear in showing that children in Iraq cannot and do not live their childhood as it should be.
This summer, Abdallah was for a while among us in Kirkuk. On his first day, we heard a large explosion. Abdullah jumped happily and rushed to the garden to watch what he presumed were fireworks. In the same moment, my niece and nephews, who live in Kirkuk, came inside to analyse the sound of the explosion. The elder (Mohamed) said: “It was a car bomb.” The younger (Yehia) said: “No, we didn’t see the white smoke; it was a roadside bomb.” The youngest (Zeinab) said: “Perhaps it was fireworks, as Abdullah said!” Abdullah returned with tears in his eyes because the fireworks had ended quickly and he did not see any colours in the sky.
I rewind my memory, back to my primary stage; the images, one after another, appear clear in my imagination. The music lessons, the small studio where we used to paint, the library full of books and stories, the yard for sports, a number of ping pong tables in the interior hall, the trips to nearby areas for picnics and to know the life of the countryside, the concerts in which we played music, sang and acted, the Scout camps and ribbons I still keep. Then, in the country where my brother lives there were only one or two primary schools; they knew neither scout camps nor music nor libraries; their streets were not paved and the majority of houses were built with mud and many were living in tents.
When the time of travelling came, Abdallah asked his father to stay with us, saying, “Here, there is no law. I can buy the software I want and the games very cheap. Here, there is no law that restricts hackers.”
Wars and the blockade turned the Iraqi value scale upside down. Because of financial circumstances, the teacher became no longer a messenger. Not all teachers, but some of them forgot their message, looking to the hands of a student whose smuggler father became a millionaire. Then came the invasion, occupation and continuing chaos — the kids continued escaping schools. The law of compulsory education is no longer applied. The rate of those under the poverty line increased exponentially.
This difference in thinking between the two young Iraqis, one at home and the other abroad, made me to see the children of Iraq as Cinderella in one way or another, the cruel stepmother hiding herself behind the corruption, ongoing violence and promises of prosperity offered in electoral campaigns and never fulfilled.
For a while, all Iraqis look like Cinderella; they tolerate the situation; they risked their lives to create another nouveaux riche who play at being their representatives in parliament.
Although the Interior Ministry did not give permission for their demonstrations, the activists who began the campaign of cancelling the pensions of parliamentarians are insisting on organising protests in Baghdad on 31 August. Many parliamentarians agreed in interviews to cancel their pensions; yet the activists know that cancelling will only happen by law, not by interviews.
Iraqis are waiting the coming of a good fairy. A fairy that could help them to stop the corruption, the ongoing violence, the lies and the violations of human rights — a fairy that could help Iraqis to have a real life, replete with justice and dignity, and without any differentiations based on religion, sect or ethnicity.
Nermeen Al-Mufti in Baghdad