Tag Archives: Middle East

How We Lost the Syrian Revolution [Al-Monitor Article]

DisclaimerI have not written or contributed to this somber yet heartwarming Al-Monitor article from May 28, 2013 about the prospects of the Syrian uprising. I’m sharing it here for it provides substance and valuable insight into the underpinnings of the crisis.

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Forces loyal to Syria’s President Bashar al-Assad carry their weapons as they move during what they said was an operation to push rebels from the road between Dahra Abd Rabbo village and Castello, in Aleppo, May 27, 2013. (photo by REUTERS/George Ourfalian)

By: Edward Dark

So what went wrong? Or to be more accurate, where did we go wrong? How did a once inspirational and noble popular uprising calling for freedom and basic human rights degenerate into an orgy of bloodthirsty sectarian violence, with depravity unfit for even animals? Was it inevitable and wholly unavoidable, or did it not have to be this way?

The simple answer to the above question is the miscalculation (or was it planned?) of Syrians taking up arms against their regime, a ruthless military dictatorship held together by nepotism and clan and sectarian loyalties for 40 years of absolute power. Former US ambassador to Syria Robert Ford specifically warned about this in his infamous visit to Hama in the summer of 2011 just as the city was in the grip of massive anti-regime protests and before it was stormed by the Syrian army. That warning fell on deaf ears, whether by design or accident, and we have only ourselves to blame. Western and global inaction or not, we are solely responsible for our broken nation at the end of the day.

Nietzsche once said, “Whoever fights monsters should see to it that in the process he does not become a monster.” That has proved to be very prophetic in the Syrian scenario. Away from all the agendas, whitewashing, propaganda, and outright lies of the global media stations, what we saw on the ground when the rebel fighters entered Aleppo was a far different reality. It hit home hard. It was a shock, especially to those of us who had supported and believed in the uprising all along. It was the ultimate betrayal.

To us, a rebel fighting against tyranny doesn’t commit the same sort of crimes as the regime he’s supposed to be fighting against. He doesn’t loot the homes, businesses and communities of the people he’s supposed to be fighting for. Yet, as the weeks went by in Aleppo, it became increasingly clear that this was exactly what was happening.

Rebels would systematically loot the neighborhoods they entered. They had very little regard for the lives and property of the people, and would even kidnap for ransom and execute anyone they pleased with little recourse to any form of judicial process. They would deliberately vandalize and destroy ancient and historical landmarks and icons of the city. They would strip factories and industrial zones bare, even down to the electrical wiring, hauling their loot of expensive industrial machinery and infrastructure off across the border to Turkey to be sold at a fraction of its price. Shopping malls were emptied, warehouses, too. They stole the grain in storage silos, creating a crisis and a sharp rise in staple food costs. They would incessantly shell residential civilian neighborhoods under regime control with mortars, rocket fire and car bombs, causing death and injury to countless innocent people, their snipers routinely killing in cold blood unsuspecting passersby. As a consequence, tens of thousands became destitute and homeless in this once bustling, thriving and rich commercial metropolis.

But why was this so? Why were they doing it? It became apparent soon enough, that it was simply a case of us versus them. They were the underprivileged rural class who took up arms and stormed the city, and they were out for revenge against the perceived injustices of years past. Their motivation wasn’t like ours, it was not to seek freedom, democracy or justice for the entire nation, it was simply unbridled hatred and vengeance for themselves.

Extremist and sectarian in nature, they made no secret that they thought us city folk in Aleppo, all of us, regime stooges and sympathizers, and that our lives and property were forfeit as far as they were concerned. Rebel profiteer warlords soon became household names, their penchant for looting and spreading terror among the populace inducing far more bitterness and bile than what was felt against the regime and its forces. Add to that terrible fray, the extremist Islamists and their open association with Al-Qaeda and their horrific plans for the future of our nation, and you can guess what the atmosphere over here felt like: a stifling primordial fear, a mixture of terror and despair.

So who was “us,” and why did we feel that we were any different or better? Well, by “us” I mean, and at the risk of sounding rather elitist, the civil grassroots opposition movement in Aleppo, who for months were organizing peaceful protests and handing out aid at considerable danger and risk to our own lives. “We” truly believed in the higher ideals of social and political change, and tried to emulate them. We tried to model ourselves on the civil rights movement of the US in the 1960s, Mandela’s struggle against apartheid, and the teachings of Gandhi: precisely what similar civil movements in other Arab Spring countries such as Tunisia and Egypt had done before.

For “us,” a revolution was a slow, deliberate and committed struggle for change. Like water drops repeatedly beating down on a boulder, eventually we would break it. But for “them,” well, their idea of change was throwing a ton of TNT at that boulder and having it, and everything around it, blown to smithereens. “We,” well, we mostly came from the educated urban middle class of the city. We came from all walks of life, all sects and all areas, and we didn’t care.

We never asked where that guy or girl was from or what they worshiped. Each one of us gave and contributed what we could, in the capacity we could. The leader of our group was a young Christian lawyer, a very active and dedicated young woman. The rest of the volunteers in our group were a microcosm of Syrian society; veiled girls, Shiite boys, rich kids and poor working class all working together for ideals we strongly shared and believed in.

Over the course of our activist work, some of our group were jailed and injured, one was even killed. That is why it never hit home so hard, and never have I felt as sad as when, shortly after Aleppo was raided by the rebels, I received messages from some of those people I used to work with. One said, “How could we have been so stupid? We were betrayed!” and another said, “Tell your children someday that we once had a beautiful country, but we destroyed it because of our ignorance and hatred.”

It was around about that time that I gave up on the revolution, such as it had become, and saw that the only way to Syria’s salvation was through reconciliation and a renunciation of violence. Many felt this way, too. Unfortunately, that is not a view shared by the warmongers and power brokers who still think that more Syrian blood should be spilled to appease the insatiable appetites of their sordid aspirations.

Even as activists, intellectuals, businessmen, doctors and skilled professionals fled the city in droves, others remained and still tried to organize civil action in the form of providing aid and relief work to the countless thousands of families that were now internally displaced inside their own city in desperate conditions. But it was clear that it was becoming futile. Everything had changed; it would never be the same again.

This is what it has come down to in Syria: It’s us versus them everywhere you go. Opposition versus regime, secular versus Islamist, Sunni versus Shiite, peaceful versus armed, city versus rural, and in all of that cacophony the voice of reason is sure to be drowned out. Whatever is left of Syria at the end will be carved out between the wolves and vultures that fought over its bleeding and dying corpse, leaving us, the Syrian people to pick up the shattered pieces of our nation and our futures.

Do we have recourse to blame anyone but ourselves for this? Was this our destiny, or the cruel machinations of evil men? Perhaps a future generation of Syrians will be able to answer that question.

Edward Dark is a pseudonym for a Syrian currently residing in Aleppo. He tweets at @edwardedark.

Read more: http://www.al-monitor.com/pulse/originals/2013/05/syria-revolution-aleppo-assad.html#ixzz2VUJ8l1uZ

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HIV/AIDS Prevalence in the Middle East and North Africa

This paper is slightly outdated. I wrote it two years ago! However, one thing hasn’t changed: HIV is on the rise in the Middle East and North Afria- so as everywhere else for that matter.

HIV Prevalence in the Middle East and North Africa 

When I used to hear the word AIDS, a slight shiver used to run through my body. Now that I learned a lot and gained valuable insights about the virus, how it is transmitted and ways in which it can be prevented from spreading, I feel more comfortable in discussing the topic. From sexual contact, to the use of dirty needles to HIV-borne-blood transfusions, HIV has found its way into our population and it is indiscriminately infecting people at staggering rates.

Middle Eastern and North African countries have not escaped the epidemic. Statistics indicate low prevalence of the virus in the region. In a 2007 survey, the Joint United Nations Program on HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS) reported that 380,000 adults and children were living with HIV/AIDS across the

North African and Middle Eastern countries, in comparison with the Sub-Saharan African region that suffered from approximately 25 million cases of the disease[1]. South and Southeast Asia had approximately 6.5 million cases. Data collected from these countries outnumbered that of the Middle Eastern and African regions that represents roughly 1% of the world’s HIV/AIDS caseload[2].

However, new infections indicate a serious, saddening fact that the AIDS virus is spreading fast in the aforementioned countries. At the United Nations Development Program (UNDP) meeting held on March 29, 2007, it was reported that HIV/AIDS cases have increased 300% in the Arab world over the past three years[3]. “This is against an annual rate of increase of 20 percent in the United States, Japan, Europe, and Australia,” a UNDP analyst and HIV/AIDS program coordinator, stated at the meeting that had more than 40 Muslim and Christian leaders gathered to discuss faith-based strategies to combat the virus.

It is estimated that more than 36,000 deaths occurred in 2006 in the Arab region alone because of HIV/AIDS. UNAIDS recorded 75,000 new infections in the region; an alarming message about the rising epidemic to the countries of the region2. Moreover, available data is not so reliable because not a single country in the Middle East or North Africa conducts a systematic survey of groups at high risk of infection. Consequently, UNAIDS ranges total number of HIV/AIDS cases in the region from 200,000 to 1.4 million people. This broad classification compromises the population and leaves it prone to the virus and higher rates of infections because no concrete data can justify, support the need of organized effort, funding, for instance, to provide antivirals and other care-related expenses.

The Middle East and North Africa regions roughly correspond to the Eastern Mediterranean Region (EMR) of the World Health Organization (WHO). The EMR includes North African countries of Morocco, Algeria, Tunisia, Libya, Egypt, Sudan, Somalia, and Djibouti. Middle Eastern countries include Iraq, Yemen, Syria, Lebanon, Jordan, Palestine, and the Arab Gulf countries of Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, the United Arab Emirates, Oman, Bahrain, and Qatar[4]. From statistical and data-report standpoint, other countries are designated as Middle Eastern by the WHO, but are not actually in the region: Afghanistan, Greece, Turkey, Iran, Chad, and Israel.

Arabic is the most widely spoken language in the Arab states of the region. Islam is the predominant religion among its inhabitants; Christianity and Judaism come next, respectively. EMR countries share common culture, traditions, and beliefs and are generally prone to conservatism across their nations and religions. Culture influences certain practices against HIV/AIDS patients because of lack of HIV education and other sexually transmitted diseases. As a result, those groups are hard to reach which consequently result in poor data and bad execution of intervention measures – should these be implemented.

HIV was introduced into the EMR countries during the mid-1980s mainly through imported blood products. Annual number of HIV/AIDS cases has increased steadily from 71 in 1987 to 974 in 1996; total number of reported cases was about 4,800[5]. Furthermore, it is believed that in case of collecting HIV data that true number of reported cases is usually three to four times higher. Among the AIDS community it is known as the tip of the iceberg and it reflects HIV occurrences that happened 5 to 20 years ago. Therefore, special care should be paid to those numbers as they indicate alarming data about the spread of HIV among EMR communities. It was recorded that most of the 4,800 AIDS cases were reported from Sudan (32.6%), Djibouti (25.9%), Morocco (7.8%), Tunisia (6.7%), Saudi Arabia (5.0%), and Iran and Egypt (3.0%) each5. Sudan and Djibouti represent the highest levels of AIDS cases, whereas Iran and Egypt the lowest. However, this data was collected 14 years ago. In 2008, UNAIDS and WHO released a report on the global AIDS epidemic which alarmingly indicated that number of HIV prevalence in the Middle East and North Africa region had almost doubled. At the end of 2007 there were 720,000 people living with HIV – adults and children[6].

In 2007 world report, so as in previous reports, low rates of infections – in comparison with other regions – have led EMR governments to dismiss AIDS cases as insignificant and to show complacency in taking actions. Crises such as housing, education and economy have taken governments’ attention and had HIV/AIDS labeled as a low priority. Some of EMA countries think conservatism will heal off the epidemic. It is true EMA countries are conservative, however, HIV infects people indiscriminately. Even though complex sets of religion and culture might influence the way HIV/AIDS epidemic is handled, one cannot dismiss it as simply irreligious or culturally taboo to talk about.

Credible and reliable data on HIV epidemiology and preventive measures are limited in Islamic countries. Islam prohibits non-martial sex, homosexuality and intravenous drug use. This, to some extent, explains the relatively low HIV cases – in comparison with international data. In 2004, BioMed Central (BMC) for Infectious Diseases published an eighteen-year surveillance study in Saudi Arabia (SA) focused on collecting data on HIV epidemiology, HIV prevention and care measures6. Sex and sexual practices are considered taboo in the conservative SA society. Those who are publicly chosen to be screened for sexually transmitted diseases are doomed to stigma. There are other detrimental penalties for those who are believed to have the virus. The study has been underway since 1984, conducted by healthcare facilities. Data was collected through screening of individuals who showed “clinical suspicion”6,[7]. It was conducted by various governmental and non-governmental institutions, to facilitate the access to those who already have the virus, and those who are most susceptible of receiving the virus, with maintaining complete confidentiality and autonomy from factors affecting the results.

Results will be reported to the Ministry of Health (MOH) using unique identifying codes. Those groups, who have undergone routine testing, included HIV-infected patients, blood and organ donors, prisoners, intravenous drug users (IDUs), and those who have sexually transmitted diseases – HSV, etc. HIV testing is a compulsory, pre-requisite for employment in the SA. As for expatriates, they are tested upon their arrival and once more after two years, as they file their residency applications. Saudi patients who test positive will be referred to tertiary care HIV-specialized governmental clinics where highly active antiretroviral therapy (HAART) medications, in addition to further important laboratory tests such as the CD+8/CD+4 counts.

As a result, more than 6000 HIV/AIDS cases were recorded. More than half of which were non-Saudis. The study showed increase in numbers as it progressed. Although data was collected in 2001, it sends alarming indications that HIV is spreading throughout the population. Factors that could be put into consideration, such as the world recession and moving from centrally planned economy to a more capitalist economy, have been driving HIV-infections high. Consequently, big influx of expatriates from various countries have come to work in Saudi Arabia, which some of them may be carrying the virus. Moreover, socio-economic status of Saudis and wealth distribution have changed dramatically. It is scientifically proven that whenever a nation interacts more with other nations, it will eventually result in increased levels of HIV prevalence.

Prevention, treatment and care interventions have failed internationally to control the epidemic. They might have worked effectively in developing countries, but the limitation of resources along with the described complacency made the HIV prevail in the Arab region. Moreover, even if the medications are readily available, good slice of the population will not be able to afford them. This is a huge issue that some are working on solving it by introducing free medications7 and/or subsidize them for those who are in need. This will, ultimately, reduce the HIV levels and help those who have AIDS to receive the meds required to prolong their life expectancy.

Furthermore, stigma plays major role in combating the virus. More than hundred Non-Governmental Organizations (NGOs) have been active in a number of prevention efforts in the EMR region to reach out for stigmatized patients and those of high risk5. These particular groups might be hesitant or reluctant to seek a conventional governmental help since their behavioral is not accepted in the society, and the virus is highly stigmatized in the region. These groups include prostitutes, IDUs, and homosexual males. All previously noted indications have funneled in the creation of a new policy that advocates for the universal access of treatment for HIV, malaria and other diseases[8]. The program is introduced by United Nations Developing Group (UNDG) to help introduce the HIV/AIDS topic and break the stigma associated with it – in addition to providing key medications needed – in the Arab region. The United Nations Education, Scientific and Cultural Organizations (UNESCO) office in Beirut, Lebanon has mobilized several financial and human resources to work on the issue. These resources will also be working on the UN initiative Focusing Resources for Effective School Health (FRESH)9 to utilize the public and empower local NGOs to effectively addressing the key health issues afflicting their country. In addition to that, the initiative acknowledges the lack of awareness and education about HIV/AIDS and pledges that more openness should be applied to topics such as sex, sexual diseases, and blood-borne diseases.

Because NGOs are grassroots organizations that operate locally, they tend to understand their community and have a better understanding about its needs. They understand the sensitiveness of the cultural as well as speak the language of people. Those organizations have proven themselves reliable and instrumental in tackling the HIV epidemic.  Those organizations include the Arab Scouts Movement, the Somalian AIDS Protection Group, the Egyptian AIDS Society, the Syrian Women Union, the Health-Environment Club of Djibouti, and the National Society Facing AIDS – Egypt, among other Moroccan, Sudanese, and Lebanese and Iranian societies. Those societies were instrumental in organizing a World AIDS Day in the EMR, and organizing educational activities such as that of the Health-Environment Club – Djibouti – that incorporated HIV education in an environmental protection program. These programs, among numerous others, raised awareness and broke some of the chains that were locking HIV/AIDS patients.

As noted earlier, it may seem that EMR is not as important region as others are with a high HIV prevalence, nevertheless, I believe that a region with a steady increasing rate is far more important and risky that a regular region with steady HIV rates. In addition to that, I chose this region because it pertains to me personally since I was exposed to overwhelming HIV/AIDS data and research points, in the class, that made me think about my original region – the Middle East. Another reason why this region was chosen is that there is no reliable data that can prove what the HIV-prevalence rates are like there. That subsequently drives people off researching the region to solidify the data.

Apart from that, since the actions of high-risk groups are highly intolerant and unacceptable by the people of the EMR countries, it was hard to focus on one group and talk extensively about. In addition, because simply there was no credible data to draw conclusions from and to draw lines as to which group is mostly at risk. However, it is universally known that the members of high-groups are injection drug users, prostitutes, homosexuality and men who have sex with men10. Therefore, factors such as religion and conservatism sometimes have a say in this, and might determine the future of those individuals.

Moreover, religions and conservatism among EMR communities not only combat HIV/AIDS in their own classical ways – intolerance and stigma, but also they were proved instrumental as they can alter preconceived notions concerning HIV-related issues. Patients will suffer detrimental effects if they were to be neglected. Proper care and treatment interventions are yet to be provided. Basic medical needs hard to be provided if the international committee and HIV-organizations are not able to acknowledge the need  of this small number  of people. If those HIV-carriers could not get a proper education about their virus, or did not get their medicine, that will result in devastating events that have multilateral affects among the EMR region. My goal is to draw attention to the dangerous region in hoping for people to acknowledge its importance in terms of HIV-prevalence. And since various groups and regions were mentioned throughout the quarter, EMR was not one of them. Hopefully by writing this paper, I’m contributing to help the EMR countries by spreading the word about them. This is one of the lessons that I learned in the Discover Chicago AIDS class – speaking out and letting people know about HIV-related issues.

Those all noted reasons were driven from the fact that I gained so much knowledge, and learned a lot about HIV/AIDS throughout the Immersion Week and the Fall Quarter that made me think about my original region. This concern, empathy, and determination are important things that I believe I will walk out of the class with. I not only learned about the politics surrounding the epidemic and legality issues, but also learned about different levels of discrimination among homosexuals and other members of the high-risk group. In addition to that, the class drew to my attention the facts and statistics of the Chicago HIV/AIDS community in particular and the United States’ in general. I also learned about the various services and intervention measures applied by a number of community-based and not-for-profit or corporate setting organizations, which ultimately lead to the process of decision-making.

To conclude, I’m planning on doing several things in the course of near future. First thing is to speak out and let people know that HIV/AIDS is a serious epidemic and we should join efforts in combating it by simply being opened up to HIV/AIDS education. I believe that being open about the epidemic and accept those who have the virus is as crucial as administering medications that prolong life because if those individuals were not accepted and embraced by their loved ones, devastating psychological and epidemiological effects might happen. I remember visiting the Broadway Youth Center – a non-for-profit organization – and seeing a wall of sticky notes in which some of their clients wrote things. One of the notes that grabbed my attention was a one that said ‘I want to be loved and embraced’!

Second thing I want to do is that I will volunteer to an organization called Project VIDA – a non-for-profit community-based organization. Since they are community based, they know exactly what their community needs and what things have to be done to combat the virus. Their services range from food catering and free testing, to case management, free condoms, and others. Some of their services grabbed my attention – massaging and acupuncture. Among the things I learned there, I learned that providing services such as massaging and acupuncture are crucial to those who live with HIV/AIDS. I previously thought that services like that were not to be offered for the fear of contracting the disease.

The third thing, I will try to talk about the Needle Exchange Programs and write about them in the DePaulia newspaper. My story was previously rejected; however, I will keep on pushing the story on them and see what happens. The fourth thing I want to do is talk to my friends back home and explain to them what HIV really is. There is huge misconception about HIV/AIDS among my friends. This is definitely an area I have not tackled before, but thanks to discover class, now I am. In addition to that, the International Fund activity that Andrew conducted with the class has drawn a better picture of the logistics of the combating HIV/AIDS and that tied some loose ends I had. Therefore, I have recently made a contributed to the Chicago AIDS Foundation, and will send them an email asking about a monthly program, similar to Children International and Doctors Without Borders, that I can enroll in and make my monthly contributions for a great cause.

Finally yet importantly, I’m planning on distributing condoms to the Lincoln Park campus by dressing up as a big condom.  I have previously distributed condoms to my floor mates without their knowing. They woke up in the morning with a condom and a sticky note that says ‘be safe’! A big number of college students engage in sexual intercourses throughout their college life. Drawing from the Discover Class experiences, such as Chicago Women’s AIDS Project (CWAP), safer sex practices are highly recommended since college campuses have a mixture of students from virtually everywhere.


[1] The Joint United Nations Program (UNAIDS) “Insight into AIDS responses in Middle East and North Africa

[2] Sandy, Sufian. “HIV/AIDS in the Middle East and North Africa: A Primer.” Middle East Report.

[3] U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, . “HIV/AIDS in Arab World Up 300 Percent.”

2 Sandy, Sufian. “HIV/AIDS in the Middle East and North Africa: A Primer.” Middle East Report.

[4] “Middle East.” Encyclopædia Britannica. Encyclopædia Britannica 2009 Student and Home Edition.  Chicago: Encyclopædia Britannica, 2009

[5] A., Raymond. Encyclopedia of AIDS: a social, political, cultural, and scientific record of the HIV epidemic. Ill. Routledge, 1998. p355-58

[6] BioMed Central . “Epidemiology of the human immunodeficiency virus in Saudi Arabia; 18-year surveillance results and prevention from an Islamic perspective.

[7] Draper, Robert Franklin. “Antiretroviral drugs help HIV patients, specialists say.” Yemen Times

6 BioMed Central . “Epidemiology of the human immunodeficiency virus in Saudi Arabia; 18-year surveillance results and prevention from an Islamic perspective.

 

[8] UNDG, “MDG-6: Combat HIV/AIDS, Malaria and Other Diseases.” UNDG/Middle East 1-2.

7 Draper, Robert Franklin. “Antiretroviral drugs help HIV patients, specialists say.” Yemen Times

5 A., Raymond. Encyclopedia of AIDS: a social, political, cultural, and scientific record of the HIV epidemic. Ill. Routledge, 1998. p355-58

 

Iraqi Youth, Whereto?

Iraqi Boys

“Our history, our memory, our perceptions of the future, are all built and held within stories,” Dahir Jamail, Beyond the Green Zone. Since the extensive abrupt change that happened to many Iraqis generally and the young ones particularly, especially in 2003, many social and mental disciplines had been changing. Some of them started to expose to public, for instance, from expatriation, emigration, being far from one’s own country, to the mental and psychic disorder. Some of these issues started to vanish or disappear, commitment and patriotism for instance. Iraqis adapted the Idea of traveling and abandoning their houses, friends and country, simply because Iraqis wanted to get rid of all the confusion and disorientation that Iraq had been facing the past few years. Those poor years in numbers, are rich in incidents. Those incidents had their negative affect on people on different perspectives. The ones who really were injured because of these horrible incidents, were the young Iraqis! They had to face many responsibilities that they didn’t have to face before. Some of those young Iraqis went to find a job to further their life-class, while others found their way to European countries seeking re-settlement or fleeing from religion sectarian conflicts! Many causes and our youth is paying the price.

Traveling and Knocking on Emigration Doors

People at their early life with their early stages suffered a lot because of IraqAn Iraqi refugee hold his national flag ready to board on buses in Sit Zainab, a southern suburb in Damascus, in November 27’s wounds. Some of them carried out these sufferings inside their country, while others add additional weight to their chests – mourning and enduring on their beloved occupied country – by tolerating these sufferings outside their country. Recent  conditions separated between friends, lovers, relatives and even between east and west. There are many opinions, someone supports leaving country, while some other oppose it.

I had the chance to meet a student at the Technology University, Baghdad. Mohamed Saleh, 21 years old, rejects the idea of leaving the country for foreigners “Why do we run away from our own reality. That’s what meant for us to live, and thanks God I live in my country,” he said “I haven’t lost my dignity, dislike many others I know outside Iraq,” he adds. This young man has an interesting way of thinking. Saleh thinks that leaving the country is hard, and he has his reasonable reasons, “I have no intentions to be in the middle of this scary adventure, emigrating is a hard experience that I don’t want to try, and hopefully, I will not be forced to try it. It is exhausting, physically and mentally,” he explains.

On the other side of this equation, Ali Mahmoud, a 23-year-old refugee, Damascus, Syria, disagrees with Saleh “living in my country became desperate and unbearable.” Mahmoud faced many difficulties in his life. He was threatened by an unknown militia. “If I want to improve myself and develop my skills, I have to go to Europe. I’m aware of the difficulties I might face there, and I’m capable to deal with them. Simply because, I have nothing to do other than that,” he says, explaining his future plans.

The negative pattern of emigration will, surely, reduce and may be eliminate one’s skills and capabilities. Indeed, their passion for participating, creativity, originality, and planning for their big picture – future will be injured.

The Positives and Negatives of Emigrating, and Its Impact

Emigrating is like a funnel where positives and negatives are pouring through. Positive – negative, two intuitive concepts that we’re familiar with in every single experience in life. What if this experience was migrating? What if emigrating meant separating from your beloved belongings and people. Many opinions and points of view regarding these questions!

Through my involvement in working things out for refugees, I met an incredible personality. Mohamed Faleh, a 20-year-old student, living in Damascus, Syria, talked to me about his opinion “Emigration has a direct impact on one’s life psychologically. They used to live with their families and friends; doing activities that they can’t engage in them only in their home country.” Leaving country is harsh in Faleh’s perspective “When I was compelled to leave my country, I felt different kinds of negative feelings, depression and frustration for instance. It is very normal that people grief and sorrow, it’s like a big mountain lay upon my chest,” he explains. He thinks that migrating sufferance vary from one country to another. Living in an Arabic world is different from European side of world, for instance, “Although I live in an Arab-Islamic world, where people nearly have the same nationality and speak my language, still, I miss my school and neighborhood.” In addition, he said that “on the one hand, here in Syria, as a refugee, I had the chance to learn more about Syrian culture and accent, and their way of living, on the other hand, daily, you have to worry about work, food, education and money.”

Arej Emad, 21 years old college-student in Arbid University, Jordan. She finds that negatives of emigration are far more than positives, “I don’t think that there are positives in migration,” she said. She thinks that the moment a one leaves their country and becomes a refugee, they will worry about things they didn’t worry about before. “Most refugees have psychological issue that they have to live with, because of bad news about Iraq, the separation from their beloved ones, redundancy and managing to live for a next day in the host country,” she adds. Emad agreed with me about the sad fact of education fees. They are so high that some of families cannot afford them because of redundancy and prohibiting working in host countries.

Education, Standards and Curriculum Changes

Curriculum, teaching styles and methods, class standards and accent change are the biggest problems that Iraqi students are complaining about. While some of them cannot study due to those factors, other managed to cope with them to complete or continue their education.

The Iraqi Cultural Council (ICC) in Syria is offering an exceptional chance to do the Iraqi version of baccalaureate – in Iraqi curriculum. I was there; I saw a face with an optimistic look full with hope, prospect and confidence, Ahmed Ismail. This 20-year-old student, who likes to be called as a man instead of a student, lost faith in himself when he failed two times in his last year of high school. Ismail faced hard times back in Baghdad. He received many kinds of threats from unknown militias “I came to Syria running away from killings in streets.” He did his transcripts and carried them out to The Syrian Ministry of Education, to be part of the Syrian baccalaureate. Problems in specific fields of study were faced by Ismail; as a result, he failed in his first year of baccalaureate and the year after, “Physics and Math were the hardest rivals in my two baccalaureate years. Symbols and names were different than the ones I’m familiar with. I was confused, my head kept swirling, I have names and symbols from the eight years of my study in Iraq, and now I have names and symbols from my six months of study!” He explains. Ismail tried the Iraqi version of baccalaureate. At that time, in front of the ICC, Ismail was waiting for his marks. Therefore, I waited with him; the results came and Ismail passed that vexing term of his study.

 

On contrary, I met Maryam Al Rubaie, a 19-year-old high-scholer. Changing curriculums and teaching styles are the advantages of being a refugee in host country, as she noted, “all the manners are poured in one funnel.” Another advantage, students will have the chance to access different kinds of syllabus. As a matter of fact, it’s good to educate in different environment, Syria, than the one you were familiar with, Iraq “I can see no wrong in learning Syrian curriculum. Teachers, students speak my language. I can know more about Syria’s culture and traditions.” She mentioned that we, Iraqi students, are an ambition and well-known with our intelligence, intellectual capacity, smartness and talent.

Customs, Traditions, Folklores and Rituals

Tradition is a strict and complicated concept in our, unfortunately, closed-society. Those rituals manipulating human-communities, and this manipulation will end up in the creation of one’s personality. That’s why we notice stereotypes in Chinese, Western and Middle Eastern personalities. It will be an understatement to say that this is who we are, a bunch of traditions. Unquestionably, when two cultures are mixed, we will have a unique culture that breaks stereotypes’ cultures.

Through the internet, which brings people closely than they are, I interviewed a young woman, who lived nearly thirteen years in Netherlands. A 22-year-old Zahra Ali is studying medicine in one of Netherlands universities. She clarifies the differences in the cultures, Dutch and Arabs’, but that didn’t stop her from continuing her life though. “There is a huge gap between the Iraqi’s and the European countries in every aspect of life. It’s hard to live here, because I have two cultures and one identity – Arabic,” she said. The young Dutch have their way of living, which varies from the Arabic way of living. Dutch do things that Arab can’t do, as a result, Arabs got rejected because of their beliefs. They feel that Arabs are crazy; they don’t respect Arabs’ beliefs, “I know how to deal with such discriminate people, I’ve been here for thirteen years.” What comes in parents’ mind is that how they going to control their children behavior in such communities where everything is allowed under many justifications. Western communities have a completely different way of living; it’s not just about accent. Indeed, those non-Arab people have different way of dealing with things; this kind of actions is not acceptable in Eastern communities, “Now I’m living my life as an Arab, because that’s who I’m. A party will not change my identity, trust me!”

Totally the opposite – in other side of the world I met a person. An Iraqi-Syrian, Karar Abbas 24 years old, live in Humus, has another look to the Syrian culture “In my humble opinion, I think that there is no such thing called – Iraqi and Syrian culture – I remember that my father usually said “The Iraqi say ‘where you want to go? Syria,’ and the Syrian say ‘where you want to go? Iraq.’ That’s because the two countries are not too far from each other.” In addition to that, Iraqi people marry Syrians and Syrians marry Iraqis.

The Freedom That was Obtained Throughout Loneliness and Being Lost in the Exile

Diverse and democratic societies enable young people to think freely. A person usually reflects the values of an era or time that he/she lives in. However, there is an exception to that rule, when someone comes up with new ideas that don’t fit their period of time.

A twenty-year-old network engineer student in Damascus, Ahmed Samir, explained that the concept of freedom was misunderstood by some parts of society, “Freedom, democracy and transparency issues, those appealing words that have been introduced lately to the Iraqi scene were understood and applied in a wrong and uncivilized way.” Unfortunately, this misunderstood freedom was used by some young men to break the law. In my personal perspective, I believe that establishing the freedom of a person on someone else’s is a savage and disturbed way of using freedom. I also believe that we are not actually living in the freedom time while there are still some restrictions on freedom. On the other side of this picture, Omar Mohamed, 18 years old, illustrate his opinion in quite few words “When a man leaves his country, the dignity and freedom concepts will be vanish. I don’t believe that there is freedom in an exile because no freedom for people without home!

One day I went to a café where Iraqis used to hang out. As usual, I saw a bunch of Iraqis who used to play cards, backgammon or domino. When I started to talk to them, they took a deep breath, I sensed the rage and depression inside this breath, and they said, “We are young men living alone here in Syria because of the grave conditions in Iraq. We often come to this café, so that we kill our free time and the feelings of failure. We couldn’t find anything else other than playing cards to fill up this huge space inside us.”

Iraqi Youth’s Big Picture – Their Future

Future has a unique definition for Iraqis, it might be different for other nationalities. Regarding those mischievous actions of killings and discomforts, Iraqis’ future definition had been changed, as a result, the combination of migration and loneliness had a direct impact on their life in the exile. As noted before, there are positives and negatives. Refugees should think positively in order that positive things will come to them. I have faith and positive hoping in those young Iraqis. We hope much in the coming generation of young Iraqis, whose life is full with experiences. They will re-build our country, get it out from dark and put the cornerstone for a new community full with gratitude and determination to their life.