One Iraqi Dominican’s mission to save 'treasures' of culture from jihadist madness

For three years his mission has been to save manuscripts and other "treasures" of the Iraqi religious and cultural heritage, stealing them away from the devastating barbarism and destruction of the Islamic State (IS, ex Isis) . 

Today, following the military defeat of the jihadist movement, the Dominican friar Fr. Najeeb Michaeel has decided to pass on his knowledge to other enthusiasts and scholars."My task - says the religious from his refuge in Erbil, in Iraqi Kurdistan - is to save our heritage, a significant treasure". 

Because, he adds, it is not possible "to save a tree if its roots are not saved". And a man "without culture, is a dead man".In August 2014, while the Daesh militia [Arabic acronym for the IS] headed for Qaraqosh and the other Christian towns of the Nineveh plain, he crammed his car with rare manuscripts and precious volumes. 

Some of these date back to the 16th century and are unique and irreplaceable texts of the cultural tradition (Christian and non) of the region.In order to fulfil his mission to safeguard the heritage of Iraq, Fr. Najeeb decided to move to Kurdistan, together with two other friars of the Dominican order, 

With two other friars from his Dominican order, he also moved the Oriental Manuscript Digitisation Centre (OMDC). Founded in 1990, the centre works in partnership with Benedictine monks to preserve and restore documents. It also scans damaged manuscripts recovered from churches and villages across northern Iraq.

Thanks to the meticulous work of the religious and the personnel working, up to 8 thousand texts of the Chaldean, Syrian, Armenian and Nestorian traditions have been saved on digital files in these years. 

A part of the staff of the OMDC is made up of "displaced persons" [Christians and Muslims, precise with a touch of pride] who escaped during the advance of ISIS and who, over time, have become "professionals" of conservation; the latter have also opened the doors of their homes, to host scholars and researchers from France, Italy and Canada. 

"They work for the future - says Fr. Najeeb - and they know it. And they do it with all their heart ".In these years of jihadist folly, the militiamen of the Islamic State have devastated or trafficked thousands of artefacts and treasures belonging to the artistic, cultural and religious heritage of Iraq. 

In these years, different personalities of the Iraqi Church, like the Chaldean patriarch Mar Louis Raphael Sako, have launched appeals to defend "treasures that are worth more than oil".Today the centre is engaged in the production of several copies of the manuscripts, to ensure their conservation. 

The originals are then returned to the owners, while most of the duplicates in digital format are published online and made available to the local and international public for consultation.The archive, until 2007 contained within the church of Al-Saa in Mosul, was composed of about 850 manuscripts in Aramaic, Arabic and other languages, along with three centuries old letters and about 50 thousand books. 

And it is thanks to the work of the Dominican friars that in Mosul, back in 1857, the first press centre was built."My name - confesses Fr. Najeeb - was on a jihadists blacklist of people to be killed ". He returned to Mosul at the end of last year, to take part in the first post-Daesh era Mass, and found his former church in ruin. 

The tower that housed the clock was destroyed, the convent turned into a prison and the rooms into centres for the manufacture of artisanal bombs and explosive belts. "I am optimistic - he concludes - the last will be a word of peace, not of violence".


Thirty years on, Kurds remember Halabja massacre

Thousands of Iraqi Kurds, clad in black and many tearful marked on Friday March 16th, the 30th anniversary of the Halabja gas massacre that killed some 5,000 people. 

They died when deadly gas was released on the northeastern Iraqi town by the forces of now executed dictator Saddam Hussein, in what is believed to have been the worst-ever gas attack targeting civilians. 

The mourners, including some survivors, carried pictures of the victims, most of whom were women and children, as they walked down a red carpet to the Halabja Memorial Monument to lay wreaths for the dead. 

The families, then gathered in a nearby cemetery where tombstones were covered in the Kurdish red-white-green-yellow flag, to pray for their relatives. Fatima Mohammad, who was 17 when Halabja was gassed with what experts say was mustard gas, is among thousands of wounded survivors. 

Each day, for the past three decades, she still suffers from "respiratory problems." "I am in pain and I take medicine," she said as she joined the town's now 200,000-strong inhabitants to remember those killed in the gas attack. 

The attack on Halabja came from the skies after ethnic Kurdish fighters who had sided with Iran in the eight-year Iran-Iraq war withdrew from the rural farming town. It marked the culmination of a ruthless campaign of retribution by Saddam against those seen as siding with his arch-foe Iran. 

Iraqi and Kurdish officials as well as diplomats based in the country took part in Friday's commemoration. Meanwhile Kurds observed on Friday a minute of silence in tribute for the Halabja dead across Arbil, the capital of Iraqi Kurdistan. 

Twenty years after the massacre, Saddam's cousin General Ali Hassan al-Majid was sentenced to death for ordering the gas attack. Known as "Chemical Ali" he was executed by hanging in 2010. 

Foreign Policy magazine revealed in 2013 that the United States provided Iraq with intelligence on preparations for an Iranian offensive during the war, knowing Baghdad would respond with chemical weapons.

"The Iraqis never told us that they intended to use nerve gas. They didn't have to. We already knew," said retired Air Force colonel Rick Francona, a military attache in Baghdad during the 1988 attack. Saddam was hanged in 2006, three years after he was ousted in a US-led invasion of Iraq.


Arab women artists in diaspora focus on identity and loss

Preoccupation with identity and loss of it are pivotal in the works of seven emerging Arab women artists living in Europe, North America and the Middle East, on show at East London’s Rich Mix Gallery

“Perpetual Movement,” which runs through March 25, features Nadia Elkalaawy and Nadia Gohar from Egypt, Najd Al Taher from Kuwait, Araz Farra from Syria, Yumna al-Arashi and Thana Faroq from Yemen and the UAE’s Shaikha Fahad al-Ketbi. 

Arab Women Artists Now (AWAN), which has been organising an annual exhibition of the work of women artists in the Arab world for four years, said “Perpetual Movement” considers the relationship between migration and memory in connection to the Arab world and diaspora. 

“How does your memory of a place change once you have left? What happens if you are ethnically associated with a location but have never even been there? Movement can be both positive and negative, there are many reasons why it takes place but it is always happening,” AWAN stated. 

Exhibition curator Lizzy Vartanian Collier explained that the works were selected to reflect the concept of movement and memory. “I chose to work with artists who each commented on something different, shed light on individual viewpoints and I wanted to reflect my own experience as well,” said Collier, a Lebanese-Syrian born and brought up in London. 

Faroq’s black-and-white photographs present haunting images showing the agony of migration and exile. The three photos of a woman’s face titled “Invisible” suggest a loss of identity. “Life on Hold” pictures a woman sitting forlorn on a bed gazing out of the window and a man looking from a window in a bare concrete building, perhaps a prison. 

A small document titled “The Passport” in a maroon cover is also on display. Inside are the photos and stories of people who have had issues with movement. An outline of the countries they came from on transparent tracing paper accompanies each story. 

“The project explores the experiences of people who are hampered by their passports,” Faroq said. “It is about those who are banned from entering countries, the asylum seekers and stateless individuals who cross oceans and lands to obtain a passport that will guarantee them a higher value in life. There are reflections on personal moments, handwritten testimonies that capture the hopes, fears, dreams and struggle that are fostered by the restrictions of movement.” 

Gohar also explores the restrictions imposed by passports in her work “Passport Photos: Do’s and Don’ts.” She features 25 passport-sized photos modelled on the photos one must present for a visa and explores issues of identity politics. 

Collier pointed out that there are “works on display that celebrate the past and bring it into a modern context.” 

“Yumna al-Arashi’s portraits of the last tattooed women from North Africa celebrate a tradition that is being lost. Similarly, Shaikha al-Ketbi’s photograph of ‘Ghaya,’ diving for a pearl in a traditional bridal costume brings pearl diving and marriage traditions into a modern context,” she said. 

Farra’s short film combines surreal images with the voice of an Armenian who has lived in Aleppo all his life. “Which culture do I belong to?” he asks eager to portray the city he loves in a positive light. “Despite the hunger and the destruction the people of Aleppo still welcome foreigners,” he says. 

Elkalaawy narrates the story of living between two cultures, Egyptian and British. Her acrylic-on-cotton “December Child” features an oyster card, old and new family photos and an embroidered table mat from the Middle East. 

There is a sense of melancholy in the work of Arab women artists in the diaspora. “It is natural to address what we know and being in the diaspora can be a difficult position,” Collier said. “Gohar’s “Mobile” combines elements of an Egyptian and Canadian identity; it is fragile and disparate in parts but by fusing together two cultures, it celebrates them both, showing neither as more dominant than the other.” 

Collier said the challenge of being an Arab woman artist in the diaspora was being disconnected from home. “It often means that the artists’ work is always read as a political comment, even when that is not the case. There are advantages too. 

This separation and distance often offers the chance to reflect on the culture, traditions and politics of a homeland. “It also seems to be the case that this very disconnection is what can cause people in the diaspora to become so interested and fascinated by the place they have left.” 

by Karen Dabrowskais


This community garden is throwing an Iraqi dinner party like no other

For one week, running from March 16-24, the Parents Café at Sydney's Fairfield High School is turning its community garden into a dinner party location and everybody's welcome! 

Performance Youth Theatre (PYT) Fairfield is a theatre company that gives a voice and a platform to local projects embracing diverse cultures and aims to support and engage communities through their creative works. 

This one-off event, Little Baghdad: Cafes and gardens is just that. Set inside the Parents Café garden, the evening unfolds around an Iraqi dinner party. 

By day, the garden houses a commercial kitchen and community centre for refugees. By night, this space will be transformed into a surprising and intimate evening of Iraqi food, culture and storytelling as “audiences” experience authentic Iraqi culture. 

"We hope people enjoy the experience of theatre presented in this peaceful café garden setting. But even more importantly, we hope they learn a little more about Iraqi culture and the warmth and vibrancy of the community, " says PYT Artistic Director Karen Therese. 

Showcasing everything from live music and video art installations to slam poetry and storytelling, the evening comes together over a shared meal. 

On arrival, Australian-Iraqi locals will greet you. You can take in the smell of freshly baked flatbread, as guests are invited to wander the garden setting, which will be transformed, into an art gallery and multi-media installation. 

You will then be seated on Persian rugs where a beautiful three-course Iraqi dinner will be served. You will hear locals explain traditional ways of eating Iraqi food, food customs and traditions, and everyone will then enjoy a tea and coffee ceremony. 

During the dinner party, local artists and community leaders will share their stories and the night will end in traditional Iraqi style with everyone on their feet dancing to live music. Little Bagdad aims to shine a spotlight on the Parents Café, which has been running since 2010. 

The not-for-profit has been running out of Fairfield High School and is a positive example of how important access and education has been to the community. 

Through a variety of regular workshops, training courses, seminars and events, this café has become a hub for refugees looking learn new skills, to socialise and to establish new relationships and friendships with the wider community. 

It has been such a thriving social enterprise that the United Nations has acknowledged it as one of the world’s best models of refugee resettlement practice and inter-community support. 

This warm and unique theatre-like experience will give the typical "dinner and a show" a whole new look, and we have no doubt you will leave Little Baghdad full-bellied and heart-filled. 

By Farah Celjo


Footballer Ali Adnan proud to represent Iraq

The Udinese left-back spoke to Football Italia's Ramez Nathan about his childhood in Iraq and how his generation fought against all odds to play their beloved game.  

Born and raised in war-torn Baghdad, Ali Adnan became the first ever representative from Iraq to play in Serie A. 

It was a very long road to get here. 

"It was not easy to play football in Iraq, as a kid I struggled to even to reach the stadium and train with my colleagues. However, all that was happening didn't stop me or any of the Iraqi players from playing football. For us it was the only source of light in a dark tunnel. 

"I suffered a lot to reach where I am today, knowing what Iraq has been going through in the last few decades. The situation has vastly improved, we can play matches on our home ground now, and we are finally able to compete for the AFC Asian Cup. 

"I am glad all the countries of the Middle East are recovering, women attending football games is a clear sign of that. I hope that our stadiums constantly stay full and may we always learn to live in peace and most importantly enjoy the beauty of the game of football." 

The two people that inspired Adnan as a child also shaped the dreams of an entire nation back then. His father Adnan Kadhim was part of the Iraqi team that won the 1977 AFC Youth Championship, while his uncle Ali Kadhim is considered one of the best strikers in the history of Iraq's national team. 

"I thank God for what they have taught me every day. Sadly my uncle has passed away a couple of years ago. He and my father were my role models as a kid. 

"Growing up my idol has been Roberto Carlos, as we share the same position on the pitch. From the current players I look up to Marcelo and I hope one day I can offer my team a glimpse of what these Brazilians had." 

In his youth days, Adnan represented the club Baghdad FC, but it was not until he took part in the 2013 FIFA U-20 World Cup that his talent began to shine beyond borders. 

Iraq's first game at the competition was against England and thanks to Adnan they managed to pull a shocking result, as the left-back shattered the English defence with his scintillating dribbling skills and his deadly boots found a last gasp equalizer to end the game 2-2. 

It was the beginning of a remarkable story, as the Lions of Mesopotamia took their virtuoso performances all the way to the semi-finals, where they were knocked out on penalties by Uruguay. 

"After the World Cup I had a number of offers from Europe and I even had an offer from Galatasaray, but I opted to move to Çaykur Rizespor. It was a small club in Turkey where I was guaranteed a starting spot and that is what you need at the age of 20. 

"Rizespor is one of the biggest reasons behind my current success, I spent two great years there, I faced top players like Didier Drogba and Wesley Sneijder and because of my performances there, I am an Udinese player now. 

"Before the end of my second season in Turkey, I had already started negotiations with Udinese and although Rizespor rejected a number of initial offers, my agent Christian Emile managed to make this deal happen with the club that has been scouting me since the World Cup." 

The left-back moved to the Friuliani for a fee around €2.2m, and he immediately hit the ground running, as he earned the trust of Stefano Colantuono from day one and recorded his first win on his debut in the Allianz Stadium. 

"Colantuono is the one of the best and most intelligent Coaches I've ever worked with and on a personal level I owe him a lot for putting all this faith in me from the very start of my journey in Italy. My Serie A debut was one of the most special moments of my life, to win my first game against Juventus in their stadium is huge."

"Playing in Turkey was way easier than here in Italy, you've got to step up your tactical game if you're willing to play in this country. Nobody, including myself, expected that I'd get a starting spot here that soon." 

Adnan enjoyed a great spell with the bald-headed Coach, but it’s never the simple route and a change of management almost forced the Iraqi talent out of Udine. 

"After Colantuono left, I still had a lot of playing time under Luigi De Canio and Giuseppe Iachini, but when Luigi Del Neri came everything changed. He decided early on that as a footballer I didn't have what qualifies me to play for him. 

"That didn't stop me from running towards my goal every day, I trained as hard as I can and I believe that whenever I got a chance to play for Del Neri, I proved I can be one of his best players. Unfortunately nothing was enough to convince him, I always returned to the bench and it was the toughest time of my professional career. 

"I think in my situation any other player would have left, but thank God I didn't, because afterwards Massimo Oddo stepped in." 

With the arrival of Oddo, a young Coach brimming with a new philosophy for the Zebrette, he turned the Iraqi full-back from a man hitting rock bottom to a cornerstone at the Dacia Arena. 

"Everything changed when Oddo came, not just for me but for the whole squad. He transformed the way we play and it boosted our performances, as we became one of the best sides in Serie A and got great results upon his arrival. 

"With Oddo I got my starting spot back and due to his belief in me, I regained my self-confidence and strength on the field, which made me offer my best displays since joining the club." 

Adnan has shown some outstanding displays with the new Coach, pulling a higher rate of tackles than any left-back in the competition, accompanied by his ability to march forward and beat the opponents with his dancing feet. 

Sadly the Iraqi international had a long-term injury and with it the team's results dropped too. 

"I was out for 45 days due to injury, and during that time the team got really unlucky in its results, but as a lot of players and myself are back now, we hope to regain our form in the very near future." 

As the first player from Iraq to make it to the grand stage of Italian football, Adnan is thankful for everything he has achieved and looks up to the likes of Alexis Sanchez and Juan Cuadrado who have blessed Udinese with their presence, yet never stopped chasing their dreams of reaching the top. 

"It's a huge privilege for me to be writing history for my beloved country. If it wasn't for Iraq and the Iraqi fans I would have never made it this far, It is a huge honour and responsibility to represent Iraq on a stage as grand as Serie A. 

"Iraq is filled with talented players that can play in Europe, I really hope they will catch their break and move to play here soon. I am grateful for my time here and I am hopeful my next stop will be one of the top teams." 

Whatever happens next, the Iraqi will approach his next step with humility, a head full of dreams and a consuming passion for his nation and the game.


The Iraqi Priest who saved history from Daesh

As militants swept across Iraq three years ago, he rescued a treasure trove of ancient religious manuscripts from near-certain destruction. Father Najeeb Michaeel is now training fellow Iraqis to preserve their heritage. 

"My duty is to save our heritage, a significant treasure," the Dominican friar said in a telephone interview from his office in the city of Irbil, capital of Iraqi Kurdistan. "We can't save a tree if we don't save its roots, and a man without culture is a dead man." 

In August 2014, as the Daesh group charged towards Qaraqosh, once Iraq's largest Christian city, Father Najeeb filled his car with rare manuscripts, 16th century books and irreplaceable records. He fled towards the relative safety of the autonomous Kurdish region in northern Iraq. 

With two other friars from his Dominican order, he also moved the Oriental Manuscript Digitisation Centre (OMDC). Founded in 1990, the centre works in partnership with Benedictine monks to preserve and restore documents. It also scans damaged manuscripts recovered from churches and villages across northern Iraq. In all, some 8,000 Chaldean, Syrian, Armenian and Nestorian manuscripts have been digitally copied. 

Today, the OMDC has about 10 employees, "displaced people who have turned into professionals" who host researchers from France, Italy or Canada, the friar said. The new recruits are all academics who lost their jobs after fleeing their homes during the militant takeover. "They are working for the future and they know it. They put their whole heart into it," said Father Najeeb, whose team includes Christians and Muslims. 

Thousands of religious relics and sites, both Christian and Muslim, were destroyed by Daesh before Iraqi security forces finally declared victory against the extremists in December. "I've trained four or five different teams," said Father Najeeb, explaining that as Iraqi troops advanced against Daesh, many trainees returned home, forcing him to take on fresh recruits.



Iraqi women 'reclaim their rights' with Mosul marathon

Nearly 300 women ran through the streets of Iraq's Mosul on Thursday, in a demonstration of their freedoms eight months after the city was retaken from the Islamic State group. Mosul's first ever women's marathon was held to coincide with International Women's Day. 

The 900-metre run was not the length of a full marathon, but organiser Fatima Khalaf said it marked a real change for women in the city, who faced harsh restrictions under the hardline rule of the jihadists. 

The race aimed to "urge women and girls in the city to actively reclaim their rights," the 30-year-old said. Trophy in hand, winner Najla Abdelhadi said she was "very happy". The 24-year-old sports education student said she her victory would "send a message to the women of Mosul about the need to... take a step towards taking their rightful place in society". 

Women lined either side of the street during the marathon, waving placards drawing attention to the harsh realities Iraqi women have faced. "You Are Not Powerless" read one sign. "Women Can Do It" read another. Men also showed up to watch the event. Mustafa Qais, 24, carried a sign reading: "I support women getting the same rights as men."  

The jihadists of IS seized control of Mosul in mid-2014, making it the de facto Iraqi capital of their "caliphate". During its three-year rule over nearly a third of Iraq, IS subjected hundreds of thousands of women to its rigid interpretation of Islam, using beatings and executions as punishments. 

In Mosul and its surrounding province, jihadists raped, kidnapped and enslaved thousands of women and adolescent girls, especially those of the Yazidi ethnic minority. The marathon was one of a series of events that have seen residents reclaim public spaces since Iraqi forces retook the city in July, including a Valentine's Day market last month. 



Iraqi women raped by IS prefer solitude in camps to facing society

Last December, after liberating the last inch of the country from the Islamic State (IS), Iraqi Prime Minister Haidar al-Abadi declared to the whole world that Iraq is terrorism-free. 

Following a bitter battle that has left many wounds in the country, thousands of women experienced the perils of one of terrorism’s worst sins; rape. 

Iraqi women were the weakest link in the state’s war against terrorism; they became sex slaves owned by the men who tried to steal every part of their bodies, soul and dignity. 

Some of the women liberated from the bloody grip of IS militants opened up and told the whole world about the horrific experience they had for three years in IS captivity. But what about the women who wouldn’t talk? 

A UN envoy for sexual violence in conflict was sent to Iraq last February. Pramila Patten stated that the women and girls who were raped and forced into sexual slavery by IS extremists are going through a new struggle in a community that is struggling to accept them as they are; there is a “gross lack” of support for them. 

Patten, who visited Iraq from February 26 to March 5, said the survivors were released early this year. The women chose to be confined to the camps because they feared being labelled as rape victims and sexual slaves, especially since they were disowned by their families. 

Moreover, the women feared being associated to the terrorist group, which could bring them retaliation from many families who lost their sons, and also feared being detained by Iraqi authorities. The UN report shed light on the catastrophic conditions of these women inside the isolation camps, which are plagued by a severe absence of physical and psychological aid. 

Many women told Patten that they were seriously concerned for their safety if they return home, while Yazidi women, an ethnic group that lives in Sinjar north of Iraq, expressed a wish to leave Iraq. 

In June 2014, IS fighters took over Iraq's second-largest city, Mosul, went on to capture nearly a third of the country. The country was turned into a bloodbath, and thousands of women were captured as sex slaves and children were brainwashed into fighting among the terrorist combatants. 

Between 2015 and 2016, Germany launched an ambitious scheme – the Special Quotas Project – which works on bringing 2,500 of the most traumatized women and children who have escaped IS in northern Iraq, to shelters in the German state of Baden-Württemberg. 

The project also aims to provide them with the psychological and physical support they need, under the supervision of Dr. Jan Kizilhan, a German trauma specialist. Kizilhan brought 1,100 of the most traumatized Yazidi women to Germany for treatment. The project was funded by the state of Baden-Württemberg that set aside approximately $114 million for the pilot program. 

In an interview with NBC News in September 2017, Dr. Kizilhan said: "The youngest girl I examined was 8 years old, and she [stayed] about eight months in the hands of ISIS. She was sold 10 times, that means in the period of eight months she was raped hundreds of times, every day." 

However, efforts expanded by one country is not enough, Germany cannot embrace millions of displaced women and their children. Patten recommended in her report that the Iraqi government provide the surviving women with the physical and mental health and psycho-social support that is needed by survivors of sexual violence. 

“It was essential to shift the stigma from the victims to the perpetrators," Patten asserted during her talks with Prime Minister Abadi and regional and provincial officials. The conflict didn’t have an impact on women, but greatly impacted the children born to IS fighters from rape. They were left in orphanages after being abandoned by their raped mothers. 

The women that Patten met urged her to deliver officials a message from the survivors to intensify their efforts in freeing up the women and children still in captivity and locating the missing. The report concluded that 3,154 Yazidis are missing, including 1,471 women and girls. 

There are 1,200 Turkmen also missing, including 600 women and 250 children. Locating them requires more finances and efforts, that is in addition to the finances needed in order for them to be provided with the appropriate mental and physical support. 

By Nesma Abdel Azim


Middle East Now back with region's art, music and food

The international festival Middle East Now will be back in Florence from April 10 to April 15 with films, documentaries, contemporary art, photography, music, food and events on the modern Middle East. 

Over 40 films will be screened in this 9th edition of the festival to showcase stories, people, current issues and many countries and areas including Saudi Arabia, Egypt, the UAE, Iran, Israel, Iraq, Kurdistan, Kuwait, Lebanon, Morocco, Palestine, Syria, Tunisia, Afghanistan and, for the first time, Sudan. 

There will be a special focus on Palestinian director Annemarie Jacir, one of the most critically acclaimed and talented voices in contemporary Arab cinema who has written, directed and produced over 16 films. 

A preview will be held of her latest film, Wajib (2017), which debuted at the Locarno film festival, has won awards in some of the most important international festivals and which will be in Italian cinemas starting in April. 

Another special focus will be on Tamara Abdul Hadi, a well-known female photographer of Iraqi origins who will be presenting 'The People's Salon', with beauty secrets from Middle Eastern barbers in Beirut, Gaza and the West Bank.


Arab mothers describe cross-cultural experience raising a child in the UK

Mother’s Day is an important celebration of the pivotal role that a woman has in the life of her child and in society. 

Arab mothers described their experience raising their children in the United Kingdom and the effect both British and Arab societies had on the mothers’ decisions. 

Zaheira Barok, a Yemeni mother of three daughters, spoke about her experience dealing with Arabs after her divorce. “Arab people judged me because I was on benefits,” Barok said. “If I was English I don’t think I would be judged as much. Being an Arab Muslim, we have to be more aware of society around us. 

“Over time I decided to ignore what society thought of me and decided to raise my girls the way I saw fit. I found a way to answer people and I think this is where my aggression comes from. I felt I constantly had to justify my actions and decisions. Then I thought: ‘Why do I have to justify myself?’” 

Barok said she had to lie that her daughter was married after she learnt her daughter was pregnant out of wedlock. “I only told one friend at work that my daughter fell pregnant out of wedlock,” she said. “I had to tell everyone else I knew that she was married. If I was English, I wouldn’t have to lie. 

“My parents were angry because they are traditional but they never let the grandchildren feel the anger. My family embraced them straight away. Even though they are traditional, they have very good foresight. My parents never blamed me for my daughter’s actions even though society straight away blames the mother.” 

Lina Slaymaker, an Iraqi mother of two teenage daughters, spoke about her experience raising her daughters whose father is Italian-English. “It is challenging raising children of two cultures,” she said. 

“There are a lot of clashes starting with religion. Even though I wasn’t raised very religious, we believe in God and we follow basic Islamic principles. “I teach my daughters about Islam but they are constantly being influenced by their friends. For example, my daughters say I’m homophobic but I am not. They think I’m weird. Although I could be wrong, to my understanding this is not the norm. 

“I found it hard to explain to my girls that I respect people in the way they want to live their life but if it was normal then two people from the same gender could produce offspring. Although I treat homosexuals as anyone else, my daughters push me to accept them as the norm and their father backs them up.” 

Slaymaker’s daughters have learnt to accept that it is hard for their mother to change her mentality and resolve culture clashes by coming to a common understanding. “What they have learnt to accept is I need time to accept new ideas. I try to adapt to their way of thinking but it’s hard because I was brought up in a different society,” Slaymaker said. 

“My daughters say religion was written for a different time but for me, religion applies to every generation. “I don’t want my daughters to be like me because that’s impossible as they are raised in a different society but I want them to understand my culture. If I was married to an Arab, I think my daughters’ understanding will be a lot better. If I was an Arab brought up in England, it would be a lot easier as I would understand the culture more.” 

Maha al-Mufti, an Iraqi mother of a daughter and a son, explained how she raised them when they were teenagers. “I tried to treat my son and daughter equally but there are certain things I kept in mind for my daughter such as reputation,” she said. 

“However, morals and daily practice is exactly the same. At home it is not 100% pure English, neither 100% pure Arabic or Muslim traditional way of life. “My children were exposed to both cultures and all beliefs. That’s why they accepted and understood our culture. 

The only difference is my son was allowed out late whereas my daughter was not unless it was with a close family friend. My daughter protested this. The reason I imposed this rule is because she is a girl and I felt she could be abused. However, in reality, both genders are vulnerable so it is wrong.” 

Mufti said she would not have raised them any differently but would have influenced them with their choice of friends more. “My son always preferred non-English people whereas with my daughter all her friends are English. I found my daughter’s settlement and integration is much better than my son. She accepts the English culture without judging. My son judges,” she said. 

“Although my daughter’s exposure to the Arabic culture is a lot more than my son’s she does not practise it as she feels Arabs judge more than English do. My son’s exposure to the Arab culture is limited but he practises it much more.” 

Mufti’s daughter is married to an English-French man and is pregnant. Mufti said she wanted to teach her granddaughter the basics of Islam. “For my granddaughter, I can only advise but I cannot interfere,” she said. “

However, when I have my granddaughter with me, I plan to pray in front of her, read the Quran and speak Arabic because Arabic is the language of Islam. I want to give her the basics and pillars of Islam. Once she grows up, she can research more if she wants.” 

Mufti experienced the influence of Islamic extremism with her son. “I was concerned about the information that was passed on to him by his friends. He said hijab and niqab [are] compulsory but I explained this is not the case and he understood,” she said. 

“I told him not to listen to friends and they might not understand Islam properly. I advised him not to search on the internet about Islam because most of it is wrong and not to listen to preachers in mosques. He should pray in a mosque and leave.” 

Asmahan Alkarjosli, a Syrian mother of three sons, explained the importance of perfecting English while living in England and not letting another language and culture prevent that. “In Syria I was an artist and an art teacher so I wanted to be a teacher when I arrived in England,” she said. 

“Before I came here my English was really bad. I felt people didn’t respect me because I didn’t speak English well even though I was more educated than a lot of them. However, I took English courses and involved myself in English society which I love to do.” 

Alkarjosli said she was proud to be Syrian but she felt women’s rights were prevented there. That has led her to resent the society she was raised in. “I have always been rebellious in Syria. I really pushed for women’s rights,” she said. 

“Even though there are a lot of things I don’t agree with about Syrian society, I still consider myself Syrian because I spent my childhood there. I tell my sons they are Syrian even though they don’t know Arabic and only went to Syria once. I never let them forget they are Syrian.” 

Although Alkarjosli taught Arabic in England, she did not push her children to learn Arabic. “I was against teaching my children Arabic. Even though I taught Arabic to English people in a school, I don’t want my children to have any influence from Arabic society. 

I didn’t want my children to be split minded about their identity and I was afraid if I spoke to them at home in Arabic, it will hinder their ability to speak English well,” she said. “Even though it’s beneficial to have a second language in the long-term, I wanted to give my children the choice to learn it when they grow up.” 

by Dunia El-Zobaidi


Football was forbidden – now it brings hope

Under the rule of the Islamic State group, many young Iraqis were banned from playing football. War and displacement, though, are not stopping them from engaging in their favourite sport. 

Many people in Hamam Al-Alil displacement camp in northern Iraq have lost their homes, loved ones, families and friends - but not their passion for football. It has become a way for them to make new friends and maintain positive energy. 

Fighting to play football 

In areas controlled by the IS group, football was forbidden for many, and played under strict regulations by only a few. Many were forced to flee from violence committed by the armed group, and are now embracing Iraq’s national sport in Hamam Al-Alil displacement camp in northern Iraq, where the Norwegian Refugee Council (NRC) has set up a football field for children and youth. 

There is great enthusiasm and competition in both the sport and the use of the field, but the 30 football teams in the camp must wait patiently to play. Ten teams can use the football field every day, and they have to reserve their time in advance. Eighteen-year-old Mazhr had to flee his home in Mosul when the city was attacked by the IS group. 

He has been living in Hamam Al-Alil camp since it opened in May 2017. Mazhr has a great passion for football. He was a member of Mosul football club, and dreams of joining the Iraqi national team someday. 

After the IS group attacked Mosul, his club was destroyed and new restrictions were imposed on players; they had to wear long trousers instead of regular football shorts and when it was time for prayer, they had to leave the game immediately and go to the mosque under the penalty of torture, or worse. 

Mazhr joined a football team in Hamam Al-Alil displacement camp, but they had no proper place to play at first. “We were playing in muddy areas around the camp with a plastic ball,” he says. It didn’t take long before he took matters into his own hands. 

“I kept on talking to NRC’s team in Hamam Al-Alil, over and over again, requesting them to build a football field for us, until they actually built this field as they promised”. He adds grinning: “NRC’s team in Hamam Al-Alil knew about my passion for football and brought me a proper ball as a gift.” 

Friendship and unity 

Football has led to unity and strong friendship among people in the camp. Mahfudh, 21, and Mohamed, 22, both fled when the IS group attacked their home villages. They first met in Mohamed’s home village Tal Afar, where Mahfudh first sought safety, and became good friends through a local football team. 

Later, the friends fled together from Tal Afar to Hamam Al-Alil, where they joined football teams and made new friends. The two young men are happy that they can finally play football freely after the three years of restrictions imposed by the IS group. 

“If they saw us playing football, the IS group would force us to join them, or they would force us to go to the mosque, so whenever we saw them coming we ran to our homes.” 

Playing in the mud 

Adnan, a young boy from Sinjar, has lived in Hamam Al-Alil camp for six months. He’s a big fan of the football team Barcelona, and like with any Barcelona fan, Messi is his favorite football player. “We used to walk around the camp because we had nothing else to do, or play football in a muddy area around the camp.” 

Now, the football field in Hamam Al-Alil has become a source of joy for youth and children like Adnan. Although the IS group has been defeated across Iraq, many people are too scared to return home, while some fear that their homes have been bombed to the ground. It’s uncertain when they will be able to return safely. 

While they’re waiting to rebuild their lives, youth and children play football with passion, wait in line to enter the field, organise and unite teams to play together. Their eagerness has encouraged the NRC field teams to expand the football field project to other displacement camps in Iraq. 

by Helen Baker


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