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A Long Night in Baghdad
On August 29th of this year, I had one of the longest sleepless nights I have had in a long time.
For most people in the West, the word "Iraq" brings one of two things to mind; ISIS or a failed war. For me, it immediately brings to mind my work, my valued staff members, and the people I care about who currently live there.
On August 29th of this year, I had one of the longest sleepless nights I have had in a long time. After nine months of failed negotiations in Iraq, the major political parties decided to resort to violence to resolve their differences. This happened just days after Ideas Beyond Borders organized a conference about how to prevent a civil war from breaking out in the capital city of Baghdad, my hometown. I was wide awake throughout the night feverishly checking on as many people and their families as I could get in touch with. As we spoke over the phone I could hear the sound of gunfire and chaos in the background. Each conversation I had brought back memories of the old days during the civil war that I survived. The civil war that I survived, but my brother and my cousin did not.
I managed to maintain my composure as I cycled through emotions during each call that night. Each conversation reminded me that not only is my speech restricted here in the United States, but I also have to abide by and heed the censorship rules of my hometown. Every word I say could potentially affect the livelihood of my people currently living there. I would not wish this predicament on my worst enemy. It is a helpless feeling, having to hold one's tongue. Especially when the stakes are so high.
I was put in a similar position just days after the stabbing of Salman Rushdie. I was forced to stop talking about the attack publicly, even though I received many requests to speak about the incident. I had so many thoughts I wanted to share, but doing so could make many people I cherish a target, so I held my tongue.
While I am very proud of our accomplishments on the ground, founding and running Ideas Beyond Borders comes with a price. I must be intentional and cautious when deciding when, where, and how I speak about current events. I constantly censor myself in hopes that exercising restraint will safeguard the imperative work we are doing on the ground in countries across the middle east. It is a sacrifice I must make. The less Arab media pays attention to us the more effective we are able to be. The safer my loved ones and staff remain.
You might be thinking, isn’t writing this article doing the exact thing you claim to be avoiding? The truth is I am not fully holding my end of the bargain. After conversations with my people in the region, we reached the conclusion that the articles I write will be reviewed before publication to ensure they don’t have the potential to endanger anyone. With the lines in the sand constantly being washed away and redrawn at different points, this process will likely look different from week to week. It’s too hard for me to keep my mouth shut as I watch my hometown being destroyed from hundreds of miles away.
I will admit that I am really angry. Angry not only about history repeating itself in Iraq but that I can’t speak freely about it. Being cautious is worth it because of the tangible impact we are making on the ground that has the potential to change the lives of millions of Iraqis.
Maybe I will fail, but I will never stop trying to redirect countries in the region toward a path to freedom and peace. If I am not successful, the next person to carry my baton will be able to learn from my successes and my mistakes.
Despite the conflicting emotions I am feeling, I believe we are winning this fight. I saw positive change happening before my very eyes on my last trip to the region. From rebuilding a library that ISIS destroyed, to the metal band that just played their concert in the Yazidi refugee camps, to the women and girls who now have the opportunity to read and learn new skills, I am optimistic. If the price I have to pay for these steps forward is to bite my tongue when need be, then that is a sacrifice I am willing to make.
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