When I speak about Iraq, and defend the dignity of its people vociferously, it is not an exercise in petty nationalism. Flags and maps mean nothing on their own. Especially when those flags and maps are the weapons that are used to kill us.
When I speak about Iraq, I am not discussing some abstract political development that is unfolding on the pages of a newspaper, or dancing slowly in a ticker across the bottom of a TV screen. I am engaging in a conversation about the conditions that have shaped the conditions of my life, and that continue to do so.
Throughout my childhood, and even to this day, being Iraqi determined all the details of my life. From the cultural expressions that colored my home to more inescapable facts such as where I was permitted to live, Iraq was there, like a beautiful painting etched across the width of my face.
A few months ago, I buried my father in Canada, thousands of miles away from where he grew up, shaped his dreams, fell in love, and fought for a better future for his community. All his life, he struggled with the perverted realities that have consumed his beloved Baghdad. Eventually, the death that consumed Iraq, consumed him.
We are in exile, privileged to live in air conditioned bubbles that we now call our homes. But never for a moment, will I let my comfort suffocate the realities that make me who I am. And all of these realities are Iraq, whatever that means today, no matter how muted or brilliant they are manifested. How can I stay silent when Iraq shapes my tongue and molds my heart, sets my mind alight and holds my spirits in the company of the gods at night?
Forgive me if I am angry, unforgiving, and even crazy at times. But, I'm watching everything that I am disintegrate before my own eyes. I don't want to live off the fumes of nostalgia, and move through this world with my eyes wide shut. I want to play an active role in telling stories, sharing memories, highlighting brilliance in the face of utter destruction, and starting uncomfortable conversations no matter the suitability of the time and place.
I am not perfect. I am still learning to create the inclusive spaces that we deserve so we can share our tragedies and celebrate our achievements without breaking apart the ground that we stand on. Sectarianism is a poisonous tree that waters itself. Iraq is for everyone, and it is many different things for different people, and we must respect and cherish that.
I hope that through the humble steps I take in spaces such as shakomakoNET, and other future projects, I can give something back to Iraq, seeing that it has given me everything that I have today.