I was planning on starting this post differently; I was planning on writing about the realities on the ground in Iraq. The diplomatic ping-pong that journalists love to devour, the movement of X terrorist group from A to B with a battle at C, a break-down of the change of allegiances: how this week we were shown how today’s enemies are tomorrow’s friends and today’s friends are tomorrow’s disgraced enemies. I was going to narrate how my week working at the Iraqi embassy in Paris has been one of the hardest weeks of my life with all the turmoil and infectious feeling of helplessness.
But 20 minutes ago I called my aunty Hanan for news of my family. Turns out my aunt-by-marriage’s brother was killed three weeks ago. He was in the mosque praying when a bomb hit and he died.
The front page of yesterday’s French paper Le Figaro was emblazed with the words ‘Irak: Les Djihadistes aux Portes de Bagdad’ – the Jihadists are at the doors of Baghdad. I picked it up on the way to work at the Iraqi embassy in Paris. The situation in Iraq is beyond strained: Mosul, Tikrit and Kirkuk have all gone and if Baghdad falls, then Iraq, for all intents and purposes will be a failed state, run by no one in particular save a terrorist organization that is now richer than some counties. As of yesterday morning, ISIS were 60 kilometers away from Baghdad, driving in American Humvees (oh the irony) having already seized a helicopter. There have been clashes 30 miles north of Baghdad between the Iraqi government forces and militants in the city of Baquba but so far the Iraqi military forces are holding off the militants.
In real terms, president Nouri al-Maliki has given no reaction, having failed to achieve a quorum in parliament imposing a state of emergency or to get permission to ask the UN for drone strikes. He has made no statement on the loss of Mosul, Kirkuk or Tikrit.
Can someone explain what the correlation is between sun and creeps? Logic tells me there shouldn’t be one and yet the evidence proves otherwise. It’s almost as if creeps store up all their year’s worth of harassment until the sun triggers their perverted ways.
I always opt to walk or cycle home after nights out. Being neither drunk nor ‘scantily dressed’ gives me the false confidence that nothing will happen to me, it makes me feel like if something were to go down I could get away quick. That thought in and of itself is tragic: neither alcohol nor clothing should ever be considered as an excuse for harassment or worse. I’ve been told I’m brazen, perhaps even rash, but I do it for many reasons. First, that women would prefer or need to take cabs or else require (usually male) company is an abhorrent idea when men don’t deal with the same burden. Secondly, and most importantly, I think the more women that demonstrate they are prepared to walk around alone at night, the more normalized it gets and the more comfortable we’ll feel to about doing it in the future.
You might not be aware, but Mousal, Iraq’s second largest city, fell to rebels yesterday. I work at the Iraqi embassy, something felt off, a colleague spent the day glued to the computer and everyone seemed on edge. Even the weather was stormy and tumultuous. It didn’t feature heavily on the news: it was the fourth piece down on the Guardian under the information that Theresa May wasn’t a bloke (shocking) and Le Monde and The Times weren’t featuring it much either, Facebook was quiet, Twitter too – but for me, and those with a finger on the hot-blooded Middle Eastern pulse – this is terrifying news.
The country has been increasingly unstable due to a plethora of reason, not least due to the turmoil in Syria. The Iraqi elections took place at the end of April, a government still hasn’t been announced, but Nouri Al-Maliki, the President who seems to be losing control of the dire situation, has urged the Parliament to declare a state of emergency in the country as 15,000 Mosul residents have fled – mostly further north to Arbil in the autonomous Kurdistan. Violence has spread like wildfire and hundreds of prisoners have been released as prisons were set alight and the army abandoned their posts. Indeed such is the havoc that people are leaving on foot or driving away in abandoned police vans with those who tried to fight lay dead on the streets.
One of my most striking physical attributes is my curly hair. Growing up my mum would plait it and brush it out every morning before school so it wasn’t until I was 11 that my best friend, Gen, drew my attention to my natural curls. Gen’s mixed race – her grandmother’s from Jamaica (though I detest the idea of anyone fractioning their heritage like that) and she has beautiful curly hair. She pointed out that when wet, my hair would spring up into ringlets; she showed me what products to use to tame the ‘frizz’ and how to style it. I went from being unaware to fiercely proud of my hair, in fact, we were so proud we formed the CGC – the ‘Curly Girl Crew’ – where we invited members with similarly curly hair to join us. Duties involved changing our MSN names to ‘reppin’ CGC’ before promptly forgetting it ever existed, to date we’ve only ever had five members – how cool was I?
It was over the course of my teenage years that I grew to love my hair, in fact I was on the number 52 bus one time and I overheard an Iraqi mother say to her daughter in Arabic ‘that girl’s got beautiful hair’, it made me glow and over time I’ve come to value it as one of my defining features. I straighten my hair a couple of times a year and people always remark how different I look and how long it is when straight. Though I do love the change (and convenience) of straightening my hair, I also feel like I’ve lost something that makes me stand out – like I’ve somehow ‘normalised’ myself. I appreciate this is a pedantic point that some could even class as neurotic but hair is political: how you style your hair, as a woman or man of colour, influences how you are perceived both within your community and without. The colour, texture and style of hair for all non-white communities is inherently contrasted with European ideals where straight, white hair is considered beautiful.
When I heard that there was a fatal shooting at the Jewish Museum in Brussels my heart dropped. I knew what was coming, the media at first reported that they had no idea who had carried out the attack but I implicitly knew, and I’m sure so too did everyone else, that it had something to do with an extremist acting in the name of Islam. Naturally, it was only a matter of time before the news broke and it was confirmed that 29-year old French citizen and radical extremist, Mehdi Nemmouche carried out the attack. He’s part of ISIS – a group so radical that Al-Qaeda is distancing itself from them. The attack was shocking and cold-blooded and the ramifications are still being felt all over Europe, indeed in the Parisian Jewish quarter at 11pm on a Sunday night, eight days after the attack, there were two police officers with firearms patrolling the Jewish Museum of Art and History.
What’s jolted me into writing on this Tuesday morning was a special report yesterday on France Info – a French radio station. In discussing the incident I realised how the specifics are nothing new: a young, radicalised Muslim named X, joined radical group Y and carried out terrible act Z. The same old phrases surfaced – I can recite them in my sleep: ‘neighbours say he was polite…radicalised in prison…went to Syria…politicians addressing the issue of radicalisation…’ Though the language is different, the rhetoric is the same.
On Friday night I went to a Mashrou’ Leila gig in Paris with some friends from Arabic class. I’m ashamed to admit I didn’t know who they were before the concert, but being the good sheep I am, I went along anyway and it was great. Admittedly not knowing many (rather, all) of the songs could be seen as a disadvantage but my fresh eyes showed me lots of things I probably would have missed, like how diverse the crowd was, filled with old and young, grey hair and pink, Parisians, Europeans, Arabs, (and those inbetween), gay, straight (you get where I’m going with this) all dancing like crazy to the sounds of Mashrou’ Leila.
Mashrou’ Leila are a Lebanese band formed at the American University of Beirut in Feburary 2008. I’m usually skeptical of Arabic popular music, filled as it is with boring gender roles, emotionally tortured love ballads and a disproportionate amount of plastic surgery. But these guys were different, they seemed to understand what originality, youth and music really meant (and good God were they a good-looking bunch). I got the impression that this was a group who loved creating together – exploring new styles, genres and audiences. It was refreshing and exciting.