Toxic Environments Class of 2015

July 29, 2015

This is an archive of final projects by students in an Anthropology class called Toxic Environments, at UCSC. The students have given permission to post and share their work, in the spirit of intellectual collaboration. Their work is of varied depth, content, and focus.

Written Papers: 

On Water Treatment and Chlorine in Tracy, California

On Plastic Bags and Petro-Pollution in California

On Oxamyl Oxime Exposure and Immunity

On Bromine Based Additives and “Interim Categories”

On Bee Disappearance and Corporate Labeling

On LEED: Are “Green” Buildings “Safe” Buildings?

On Household Hazardous Waste Disposal

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Videos and Websites:

On Vaccines and Chemical Toxicity

On Bees! (A Video)

On Bees (A Slideshow)

On Organic Food Trends

On Killer Cat Litter

On Cowell State Beach and “Dirtiness”

On Chromium Compounds and USS-POSCO

On Toxic Algae Bloom

For this assignment, students were asked to investigate their personal encounters with toxicity. This is the full assignment:

This research project is your opportunity to demonstrate depth of knowledge on a relevant topic of your choice as well as your ability to investigate lines of inquiry using the scientific method and ethnographic skills. You may produce a formal paper, or develop an online forum to present your findings.

You will use observation, investigative research skills, ethnographic interviews, and critical theoretical analysis to complete the assignment.

  • From your observations, select one toxin, state of toxicity or anthropogenic phenomenon you personally witness in your environment. It can be seen or unseen, known or uncertain, but must be something you personally encounter.
  • Find one local agency responsible for managing, overseeing, limiting, studying, producing or otherwise involved in this environmental phenomenon.
  • Find at least two “fringe” articles on the topic, defined as “not backed by a formal institution.”
  • Find at least two academic articles on the topic, defined as “published in a peer reviewed academic journal.”
  • Find at least two official documents on the topic, including memos, policies, or public announcements backed by a formal institution.
  • After reading the articles, develop several interview questions that will help you engage the question “what is the cultural politics of this toxin or environmental phenomenon?”
  • Contact an agency you have selected and interview (either in person or by phone) two or more people involved. Listen with one ear to ethnographic insights and the other to investigative details. DO NOT USE EMAIL FOR THIS.
  • Write:
  1. Your initial observation of the environment. Describe it in detail and across multiple scales. Consider molecular structures, relationships and locations, histories, personal observations (including all your senses), etc.
  2. The steps of your inquiry: what you did and how well it worked.
  3. The differences in credibility, strength, weakness, and relative usefulness of the three different types of articles. Include skeptical thinking about the funders, authors, and overarching power structure of each articles’ production.
  4. Ethnographic insights from your interviews.
  5. Important data points and an explanation about why they are important from your interviews.
  6. Thorough analysis using academic texts from the class about the cultural politics of the toxin or environmental phenomenon. (This proves to me that you have absorbed the conceptual materials from the course.)

On Memorial Day, What We Choose to Remember and What We Forget

May 25, 2014

This article first appeared on StirBy Ross Caputi and Kali Rubaii

When Americans forget the stark realities of war, we do a disservice to our veterans, as well as victims whose lives were lost in U.S. military campaigns.

On Memorial Day we are called upon to remember those who died fighting America’s wars. But we are also asked to forget. We applaud politely as veterans march in parades. Ribbons and medals, flags and fancy uniforms flood our senses, and everyone is content with the atmosphere of honor, pride, and patriotism.

We remember the men and women who died wearing those uniforms, but we forget the men and women killed for wearing different uniforms. There are other victims of war, too, civilians whose lives were extinguished in the course of military campaigns, but most Americans never see them. A few linger in our collective memory—Mai Lai, Wounded Knee, Hiroshima, and Nagasaki. But on Memorial Day it is impolite to speak of them.

Support for our troops is depoliticized, a national sacrament for all to participate in regardless of political affiliation. Like the victims of our wars, why these veterans died is forgotten. America’s wars are sanitized, abstracted from their historical and political context. We are asked to remember the men and women who died, while forgetting the reality of what they participated in. It is a pleasant fairytale, but one which comes at a price cashed out in human blood.

On this day more than others we are spared the inconvenient memory of hundreds of thousands of civilians killed in Iraq, millions in Vietnam, hundreds of thousands in Korea. Most Americans have never seen their blood or smelled their rotting corpses. They have no personal experience that might give them pause about the nobility or the benevolence of our wars.

How we choose to celebrate Memorial Day is the apex of a broader culture of selective remembering and forgetting.

How we choose to celebrate Memorial Day is the apex of a broader culture of selective remembering and forgetting. It is a culture that shields us from the unpleasant knowledge of our past violence, from our responsibility for that violence, and, consequently, from the wisdom to avoid similar mistakes in the future. Just as this culture prepares the next generation to follow in the footsteps of those we remember on Memorial Day, it also forsakes our war victims abroad.

Fallujah is a recent example. Few campaigns have been so selectively remembered and forgotten in U.S. military history. Fallujah, a city 300,000 people roughly 50 miles west of Baghdad, was considered to be the strongest point of resistance against the U.S.-led occupation of Iraq. Coalition Forces launched two major operations in 2004 to sack Fallujah, reminiscent of Rome’s sacking of Carthage. They were the largest and the bloodiest operations of the entire occupation of Iraq, and they have been recorded in a half-dozen books as heroic battles to “liberate” the city of Fallujah from terrorists. What is left out of these histories is that between 4,000 and 6,000 civilians were killed. Much of the city was turned to rubble. Entire neighborhoods were bulldozed to the ground. More than 200,000 people became refugees.

Since those operations, Fallujah has experienced dramatic increases in the rates of birth defects and cancers. Approximately 14% of all children born in Fallujah are born with birth defects. Cancer rates in children are 12 times what is expected in a healthy population. Research suggests that pollution from war is the primary cause. While this is perhaps one of the most severe public health crises ever studied, it has received marginal attention from the U.S. media. The weapon systems that caused this are still in use. Since so few know about this, almost nothing is being done to prevent this from happening to another population, or to help the population we have already devastated.

Fallujah is an extreme example, but the pattern holds for all of Iraq. Since the first U.S.-led invasion in 1991, Iraq was catapulted from a nation emerging as a developed cosmopolitan country, to one of the most dangerous, divided, and desperate places in the world. Prior to the first Gulf War, Iraq was a medical tourism destination. Iraq’s medical facilities were the best in the region, and Iraqis enjoyed universal health care and higher education. After the first Gulf War, the United Nations, under pressure from the U.S., placed sanctions on Iraq that prevented hospitals from obtaining basic medicines and supplies. Food staples became scarce across Iraq. More than half a million children died from starvation or treatable diseases. Iraqi doctors watched helplessly as children suffocated to death from asthma because inhalers were one of many restricted resources.

After the 2nd U.S.-led invasion in 2003, the Coalition Provisional Authority, the main governing body of the occupation, immediately embarked on a policy of “state destruction.” Many of Iraq’s institutions were dismantled, including military and police forces. More than 200 of Iraq’s state-owned industries were privatized. Sweeping changes to Iraq’s political and social institutions were put in place by the occupation.

Iraq’s intellectual class was “purged,” further decimating academic and medical facilities and contributing to the process of “cultural cleansing.” Many who embodied Iraqi culture—public intellectuals, doctors, artists—were assassinated. Museums and historic monuments were looted and destroyed. As a result of this dismantlement, Iraq’s diverse ways of life were either altered or eliminated entirely. Its ancient agricultural system, historic seed bank, marsh Arab culture, and minority religious practices were forced to adjust to a new militarized climate. Entire communities were displaced, robbing people of their historical bond with their landscape. And new social divisions, which previously held little significance, entrenched resentments and fears throughout the country and fueled civilian war.

The estimated number of “excess deaths” resulting from the 2003 invasion and subsequent occupation ranges from 650,000 to 1.5 million. The number of displaced people, both within Iraq and those forced to flee their country, is estimated to be between 3.5 to 5 million. The land and waterways left behind by the dead and displaced are now saturated with contaminations with half-lives of billions of years. This is just a snapshot of the harm brought to Iraq by the U.S.-led invasion and occupation.

On Memorial Day, we remember victorious battles and heroic stories about them; we forget the legacy of death, deformity, and social unraveling those battles leave in their wake. If we remembered, we would have to face questions about responsibility, reparations, and the limited possibilities for repair. But healing from these unspoken atrocities requires total memory, memory that incorporates both the truth of violence and the possibilities for restoration.

Consider the cells of a body, where a cut slowly reintegrates two sides of broken flesh. Cells collaborate, re-gather, and coalesce to heal. They do not forget the injury; they form a scar, a mark to remember the violence. Scars remind us that healing and repair are incomplete in the face of the irreparable, that the texture and continuity of our bodies and societies are forever disrupted by violence. The scar is evidence of truth, the trace of harm. But a scar also marks the healing project itself, the act of repair. Applied to the societal level, repair and restoration require us to remember what life was like or could have been, and to restore continuity to that life.

This kind of repair goes by many names. Islah, in Arabic, means “repair, reconciliation, and restoration.” Islah is a concept of restorative justice that, like a scar, never forgets past violence and never erases it. It means that collective healing requires reconciliation with the truth, and the active work of all people to restore and repair what has been damaged.

In the wake of irreparable damage, how is repair possible?

The case for repair in Fallujah offers two dilemmas. First, in the wake of irreparable damage, how is repair possible? And second, how do we in the U.S. share in the repair of Iraq without perpetuating the spread of empire? While these questions are impossible to fully answer, they guide us to a cognate repair: reparations.

Reparations are like a scar, in that they accomplish many things at once in the healing process. Reparations, particularly those volunteered through individuals instead of governments, mean active, material giving. Neither aid nor charity, reparations acknowledge our responsibility for harming Iraqi people, whether by direct participation, by passively funding the military enterprise through sales and income tax, or by simply benefiting from the occupation as a member of our country.

Reparations give both Americans and Iraqis the opportunity to reconcile with one another, to interact and heal from the violence of the occupation. Reparations, as with any form of repair, are incomplete and patchy. In the wake of irreparable damage and an irreversible legacy of intergenerational violence (birth defects, contaminated soil, half-lives of billions of years), repair is incomplete. As heiresses and heirs to a global empire, we cannot take back our role in the ongoing violence in Iraq. We can only take responsibility, and act on that responsibility. Islah (reparations) allows us to reframe our good intentions and situate them in the context of our place in the world order.

We need a shift from a culture of triumphalism and impunity to a culture of reparations. Memorial Day is emblematic of a culture that shields our national psyche from responsibility. The culture of veneration for veterans, which is so wholly embraced on Memorial Day, obscures questions about war crimes, imperial domination, or accountability. By defining our veterans as heroes, we render almost unthinkable the possibility that they may have participated in something immoral and harmful. Thus, we find egregious gaps and silences in what we choose to remember. This needs to change.

If we challenge ourselves to be the catalysts of this cultural change, Memorial Day can provide us with an opportunity to rehabilitate our memories. We can choose to remember ways of coexisting that do not require military might or national valor. We can choose to consider alternative paradigms of peace that don’t involve total military pacification. We can choose to acknowledge both our own soldiers and the victims of their work in one colliding sweep.

Through rehabilitating our memories, we will come to celebrate Memorial Day differently. And our national treatment of veterans will change, too. For too long, U.S. veterans have been categorized to suit the needs of partisan politics. To some, veterans are heroes without question. To others, they are helpless victims of government propaganda and manipulation. And to others, they are bloodthirsty murderers. There have been efforts by veterans to define themselves in American society. But veterans have rarely been able to assert themselves not as victims, or as heroes, or as monsters, but as humans beings, competent moral agents who made a mistake and participated in something they did not understand.

Reparations are a set of actions, a genuine material embrace of the truths we choose to acknowledge.

Finally, reparations are memory put into practices, not simply a national mentality. Reparations are a set of actions, a genuine material embrace of the truths we choose to acknowledge. To remember wholly and acknowledge fully what is lost or destroyed, one cannot simply say, “I remember,” or, “I acknowledge my responsibility.” Active memory is to say, “I remember, therefore I take responsibility,” whether this means giving a percentage of your income to a project that helps restore Iraqi society, or giving your time to raise awareness about the harm our society has wrought abroad.

Acts of reparations are healing, and not just for the victims of violence. With the emphasis in recent years on how moral injury affects veterans, we should embrace reparations as a way for our society, civilians and veterans, to assert their humanity and rebuild our moral self-image. This process must begin with remembering. We must remember other ways of being and other systems of justice. We must remember that war is not the answer everywhere and always, and that echoing war is a call for repair, for restoring that which can be so easily forgotten.

To learn more about reparations, visit the ISLAH Reparations Project.

Ross Caputi

Ross Caputi is a veteran of the 2nd siege of Fallujah. He is Founder and Director of the Justice for Fallujah Project, and has written about the American mission in Fallujah, the U.S.-led occupation of Iraq, and U.S. war culture at home. His documentary, Fear Not The Path of Truth, investigates the atrocities he participated in and the legacy of U.S. foreign policy in Fallujah. He is currently a graduate student in linguistics.

Kali Rubaii

Kali Rubaii holds a BA in International Relations. She has spent time teaching, studying, and living with displaced people in Syria, Jordan, Iraq, Palestine, and Rwanda. As a Ph.D candidate in Social Anthropology, her work focuses on the impact of occupation and counterinsurgency on rural communities in Iraq and Palestine. She is cofounder of ISLAH, a board member of Rebuilding Alliance, and works for Friends of Sabeel.

Report on Status of Iraq, by Dr. Al Darraji

February 8, 2014

This is a report generated by Iraqi sources and compiled by Dr. Al Darraji on the case of Fallujah, Iraq. It is not the work of the publisher. It was translated by Omar Abdel-Ghaffar. 

Government War Crimes in Anbar Province

Report by the Conservation Center of Environmental & Reserves in Fallujah (CCERF): Fallujah Case Study

February 2014

Fallujah – Iraq

 1. Introduction

Since the start of the peaceful sit-ins of December 2012, numerous peaceful protests have sprung up and spread in the Sunni Iraqi provinces against the sectarian political system, and the continued violation of human rights by the repressive Maliki forces. Instead of negotiating the legal, legitimate demands of the protesters, the Maliki regime conducted a brutal crackdown on the protests, the brutality increasing gradually with time. The number of arbitrary mass arrests increased with a parallel increase in killings in an attempt to exterminate the protesters. This was especially evident in the three consecutive crimes that took place at the beginning of 2013, where protesters were gathered in the cities of al Huwayja, Fallujah, an Mosul. Maliki’s regime justified its policy with the excuse of fighting terrorism, then declared that the demands of the protesters were legitimate, only to go back to declare war on terrorism, a war that in reality is a war against those who oppose that regime and its sectarian government.

The Kurdish Coalition considered the DAISH (Dawlat al Islam fi al Iraq wal Sham, “The Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant”) question to be more of a political fabrication than a terrorist reason, Mr. Shuwan Muhammad Taha, a representative on behalf of the Kurdish Coalition, in an interview with Sumeria News, accusing I’itilaf Dawlat al Qanun (Rule of Law Coalition) of calling all of those who oppose it on the DAISH question terrorists (19). The policies of political marginalization and persecution have reached the representatives of Maliki’ MPs, when they accusing their colleagues within Parliament of being DAISHIs. A representative for I’itilaf Dawlat al Qanun, Mr. Muhammad Sadoun al Seyhud claimed that the political parties that refused to be present under the Parliamentary Dome to approve the new budget were all “DAISHi”

Now, increasingly the fact of genocide plan with increasing such statements that call for genocide under the pretext of terrorism, according to an Iraqi newspaper term lawmakers (Mada) said on the MPs of Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki, said there was no part in Anbar valid to be as party in a dialogue with the government, and that raises the political initiatives not only serve the terrorists. Mr. Hussein Saffi (MP in Dawa party) in a statement to this newspaper “pointing out that military effort is the only solution to end the crisis in Anbar, rejecting calls for dialogue advocated by some political sides, wondering “dialogue with whom?”, and added,” No political party in Anbar even talk with them, they are a group of terrorists, and any trying to confuse it supports terrorism”(30).

Before the military operations in the province of al Anbar began, Maliki declared that large units would be directed to go to Anbar desert, especially the Houran Valley, with a lot of troops from the rest of the provinces, in order to combat terrorism and the terrorist groups that he claims have arrived from Syria!!. But, after the operations began in Anbar Desert, he changed the redirected all of his troops to the cities of Al Ramadi and Fallujah in a clear act of sectarian-based extermination. Repressive policies like these were the main motivation for the uprising in the first place, in addition to the general public refusing to ignore the existence the crimes of his unconstitutional private forces, SWAT. The military operations began on Maliki’s part when he, with the use of the military, arrested an MP, Mr. Ahmed Al-Alwani and assassinated his brother and his sister-in-law. Immediately afterwards, he ordered attacks on the protesters in the square in Al Rumadi, in order to make sure that the protests would not remain peaceful, and that it would turn into a sectarian conflict, one which he could manipulate to his advantage in the election of April 2014. Since December 22, the Maliki government has been carrying out an operation in the Anbar desert under the banner of fighting the terrorist groups that are hiding there, but it soon became clear that it was a widespread, armed attack directed at the residential areas in Rumadi and Fallujah, with random bombing of buildings using heavy artillery, tanks, and air strikes.

Unfortunately, the Security Council’s declaration of support for the Maliki war on terror has not taken into consideration the deadly attacks carried out against innocent Sunnis, and the opposition in general. This grossly inappropriate reaction on the part of the international community is the result of the UNAMI failing to bring accurately relate the humanitarian crisis and genocide crimes by the Mailiki’ regime’s operations. Evidence of the corruption and deliberate cover-up on the part of the UNAMI in favor of the Maliki’ regime can be seen in its disregard for human rights, as shown in the delay in the periodical reports of the human rights situation in Iraq. This report originally was released every three months, then every six months, and now it is released only once a year, making it not as accurate of an analysis. The UNAMI has also failed to take any action by invitation the Special Rapporteurs of human rights to Iraqi for investigate the mass crimes and violations of Maliki’ regime, despite the numerous reports that expose his brutality and repression.

The continuing genocidal policies against the Sunnis in Iraq motivated a member of the European Parliament, Mr. Struan Stevenson, who heads the European Parliament Committee on Relations with Iraq, to say that “Iraq is regressing quickly to a state of civil war and ethnic cleansing.” His point is made even clearer through the televised speeches by Maliki, in which he threatens the protesters, and, with sectarian language, encourages supporters to aid him in his struggle against the residents of Anbar.

In the midst of this political drama, the residents of Anbar and Fallujah have been forced to take action in order to protect themselves from the very real threat that the Maliki forces pose. Self-defense of course, is a right that has been enshrined in all Divine and human-made legal codes, and is a necessity for the inhabitants of these provinces in the face of the criminal policies of this sectarian government.

The dangerous situation of systematic targeting against the residents of Anbar, especially those in the cities of Al Rumadi, Fallujah, al Karmah, and al Khalidiyah, in addition to the government’s decision to cut off all humanitarian aid to those cities as well as nearby cities which host thousands of refugees, all confirm the policy of sectarian extermination which many international politicians and analysts have warned of. The inhuman cruelty of the attacks carried out by the Maliki regime demands the international community’s immediate intervention in order to stop the massacres mentioned in this report, keeping in mind that the population of Fallujah and its nearby towns adds up to 650,000 civilians.

2. Crimes of Genocide and Collective Punishments Against Civilians


Since the start of the military operations in Fallujah on 22 Dec. 2013, the indiscriminate bombing of the city targeted all aspects of life within it. The residents of Fallujah have accused the Maliki government of murdering their children by bombing schools and demolishing mosques and homes (22,10,23). The victims of the Iraqi forces’ artillery, which are centered in Mazra’a Camp near Fallujah, have confirmed that many bombs fell on their houses in the morning, while families were having breakfast, injuring numerous women and children in the village of Sbeyhat (the city of Karma) near Fallujah (4). An elderly man (living in the area of Jubeil) who was injured upon exiting the taxi-cab that had taken him to the city from Baghdad, claimed that the military had opened fire on him meters after he left the area which they controlled. He was transported to the hospital with life-threatening wounds and a critical state of shock (6).

The family of a young girl who was shot during a battle in the Na’imiyah area of the city confirmed that the conflict has forced all the residents to flee, and that the regime’s forces targeted families attempting to return to their homes (7). Eye-witnesses and citizens related to victims in the city of Karmah have released a video of panicking orphaned children whose orphanage had been bombed and reduced to rubble (9). Towards the end of January 2014, Liqaa Wardi, an MP accused the Maliki government of failing to fulfill its promise of stopping the bombing of Fallujah and other cities in the south of Anbar, claiming that over 15 rockets had been fired in the different areas of city. Wardi said in an interview with Sumeria News that the central government has not stood by its promise of ceasing the shelling  in Falluja city, where 15 rockets and mortars were dropped in the areas of Na’imiyah, Buwahwy, and Jamilah, south of Qadaa, resulting in many casualties, including a female refugee who was living in a school (15).

Another witness was Mr. Hmed al-Isawy, aged 32, who was a assistant in a high school in Amriya, Fallujah. He recalled for us that on January 28, 2014, government forces bombed the Buwahwy area, near Fallujah, and blew up several houses, and killed livestock, as can be seen in the images attached below. This incident has been confirmed also by Ms. Aum Jamal, when she was present with her family displaced from Fallujah, in a mosque at this area when the shells rained down on as indiscriminate shelling on the area, many residents rushed to her ​​children rescued by smuggled with the families of the other car out of the danger zone. She has been displaced from her house in Fallujah ( neighborhood Ressala) out of Fallujah because of the indiscriminate shelling on Fallujah, and fear for her children life (32).

2. 1. Statistics Regarding the Victims of Shelling in Residential Areas

The chief of the Residing Physicians in General Fallujah Hospital, Dr Ahmed Shami Jassem, spoke to us about the number of victims as of January 27th 2014, saying there were 313 severely wounded civilians (amongst them 31 children, 31 women). The number of dead is 59 martyrs (amongst them 10 children and 4 women). He added that bullets caused most of the wounds during the first three days of the operation, which proves that military tried to force their way into the neighborhoods of the city. This contrasts with the wounds that he treated after January 3rd 2014, which were caused by shrapnel due to the indiscriminate shelling of the city and its homes (2).

We were able to find an official medical document that confirms that the number of civilian casualties in Fallujah since the beginning of the military operation by the Maliki Regime on December 30 2013 up until February 5th 2014 is 452 victims. Of them, 69 have died, and 383 were wounded. Of the wounded, 40 were children and 39 were women, and amongst the dead 10 were children and 4 were women (12). While another medical sources in Fallujah said the number of martyrs reached 85, while the wounded had exceeded the 400 injured, mostly children, women and the elderly (30).

2.2. Eye-Witness Accounts of the Indiscriminate Shelling

Many satellite television channels have tried to relay to the public the indiscriminate shelling against the civilians in the city of Fallujah (18). Below, we have excerpts of some cases and eyewitness accounts of victims and their families as following:

1) According to documentary films passed on a satellite channel and workers in place mortuary in General Hospital, has killed two families of six members were eating their dinner during the fall of the shell on them in the house the night of January 23 to 24, 2014, as the wounded wife one and remained the daughter of one of them the only survivor of the accident and the accompanying image her name is Ayat Mohammed Fayyad (10 years old) , note that the incident occurred in the neighborhood of Nazzal (5) .


2) Lamiaa (25 year-old) spoke to us about one of her female relatives who lay beside her in the Intensive Care Unit of the Fallujah hospital. She said that her house was targeted with mortars and heavy artillery, fired at them from the Na’imiya Police Station during the government forces’ attack on the residential neighborhood. Her relative said that she was shot in the head, and surgeons had to intervene in order to remove the shrapnel from her head and she currently is bed-ridden and is in critical condition (1).

3) A young girl (Assile Jaber Hamid Ghatran) (aged 14), she was wounded by shrapnel in her neck, the upper right side of her body, and the lower left side of her body, as can be seen in the picture below.


4) The girl (Adian Omar) from al Dubbat District, aged 4 months, was wounded on the evening of January 24th 2014 due to a mortar landing on her relative’s house. A window near her fell upon her, severely wounding her head, as can be seen in the images attached below.


5) The young girl (Fatima Thamir Hamid) (11 years old) was wounded by shrapnel on her left hand, as can be seen in the image below.


6) Documented information has reached us from medical sources regarding the civilians who arrived in the Fallujah hospital on January 30th, 2014. Their images can be seen below, and they are:

  1. Iman Muhammad Abdel-Razzaq, 40 years, female, wounded in Karmah, Fallujah
  2. Ishaaq Saleh Muhammad, 4 years, male, wounded in Karmah, Fallujah
  3. Abire Saleh Muhammad, 18 years, female, wounded in Karmah, Fallujah
  4. Shurouq Burhan Ali, 7 years, female, wounded in Resalah, Fallujah
  5. Ashwaq Muhammad Jassem, 25 years, female, wounded in Resalah, Fallujah
  6. Sarah Muhammad Awdah, 13 years, wounded in Karma, Fallujah
  7. Fatima Muhammad Awdah, 15 years, wounded in Karmah, Fallujah
  8. Saleh Muhammad Abdel-Razzaq, 45 years, wounded in Karmah, Fallujah


7) Amongst the tragic stories that have been relayed to us is the story of Abu Muhammad al Falluji (Ali al Halbusi) who lies today in the Intensive Care Unit in one of Erbil’s hospitals, capital of the semiautonomous territory of Kurdistan. He has been in a situation between life and death for two weeks now, and he does not know that he has lost two of his children due to shelling by the military. The family claims that the shelling occurred on the Nazzal neighborhood in the center of Fallujah, and the shell fell upon his house, which he refused to abandon, due to his belief that maybe a diplomatic solution would solve the Anbar Crisis.  In an interview with Mada press, Karim Hassan al Halbousi, the victim’s relative, said “Abu Muhammad, who is 53 years old, was an officer’s assistant in the former military. After the dissolution of the military, he worked as a cab driver in a car owned by his brother. Al Halbousi added that “He provided for three children, two of them are boys in middle schools. The lone survivor is a girl whose engagement to her cousin was supposed to be announced but had to be postponed due to the conflict. An eyewitness clarified to us that he, on “Wednesday morning (January 15th 2014) issued a warning about the number of casualties due to the density of the bombings. One of these stray bombs fell upon Abu Muhammad’s kitchen while the family was having breakfast.” He remarks that “The mortar resulted in the destruction of the entrance of the house and prevented neighbors from saving Abu Muhammad’s family, except after a lengthy struggle which involved not only direct neighbors, but people from all over the Nazzal neighborhood.” He added that the event resulted in the immediate death of Abu Muhammad’s two sons, and in his own injury, in addition to resulting in his wife and daughter suffering from minor injuries. He continues: “The medical team in the Fallujah hospital performed two urgent surgeries on Abu Muhammad, but failed to improve his condition or awaken him from the coma. He was placed in a coma due to a piece of shrapnel that was lodged near his brain, in addition to damage to his liver and right kidney, as well as several fractures in his leg.“ On his part, another relative of Abu Muhammad’s named Ali Muhsin al Halbousi, in an interview with Mada Press claimed that “The Fallujah hospital suffers from a lack of resources and an overcrowding of casualties. Also, it is threatened by shelling as well, for two bombs were detonated near the Emergency Room door, which prompted us to consider moving Abu Muhammad, but we could not decide where to… we were constantly concerned with how we could move him within the city and out of it throughout his surgeries and despite his critical condition, because of the constant fighting and dense shelling between the army and the armed rebels in our neighborhoods.”


8) On January 26, 2014, Dr. Wissam Jassem al Isawi admitted that the hospital had received that morning 35 injured civilians and 7 martyrs, amongst them women and children. The Maliki regime’s forces had begun to indiscriminately shell the residential suburbs in the Naimiya neighborhood, Karma city, and al Saqlawiyah city, ensuring that all of the victims were members of peaceful families that had stayed in their homes during the shelling (21). While some local activists published interviews with the families of the victims of pictorial civilian was hit and damaged as a result of indiscriminate shelling by the forces of al-Maliki regime (25).

On January 30th 2014 an MP representing Fallujah (Liqaa Wardi) criticized the Maliki regime’s failure to stop the indiscriminate shelling of Fallujah (15). The cruelty of the regime’s forces against innocent civilians violates article three of the Geneva Convention. This article demands that in the case of armed conflict in the territory of one of the belligerents, anybody who is not participating “must be treated with humanity at all times”.

2. 3. The Crimes of Bombing Medical Centers and their Cadres

Fallujah Hospital was targeted more than three times up till January 27th by government forces. The first time, a mortar was dropped on the hospital, which resulted in the injury of civilians who had gone to the hospital for medicine. The second shelling damaged the roof of the building, causing major monetary damage. The third attack was artillery shelling which heavily damaged the hospital, and caused a power outage. The Head of the Doctors Residing in the Hospital confirmed that the general state of depression, terror, and fear amongst the medical cadres was overwhelming, not to mention the dangerous psychological effect the shelling has on the patients. In addition, medical staffs who works in the hospital was targeted on his way to work. Mr. Muayed Salman al Furaji was killed by bullet wounds shot by the Maliki regime’s forces on January 28th, 2014 as he entered Fallujah, coming from his home in the Bufraj area near the town of al Rumadi. 


Lft: Mr. Muayed Salman al Furaji. Rt: Shell in front of the emergency department at the hospital

On the evening of Sunday, February 2nd, 2014, the private hospital of Talib Hammad was damaged by several shells fired by the Maliki regime, as is depicted in the pictures of the journalist Shaker al Muhammadi of the Al-Waleed news agency. Other film published of locals documenting this crime (28).


On February 4, 2014, and citing satellite Fallujah channel, a spokesman for the hospital in Fallujah Dr. Wissam al-Issawi confirmed that fall 3 shells on nearby Falluja Medical College Hospital for the educational year, which caused some damage of building. This accident news also confirmed by the Al-Waleed news agency, Local News, which was published the following photos to the scene :


2. 4. Probability Use of Shells Carrying Chemical Weapons and Fissile Weapons

Some information from eyewitnesses within Fallujah has confirmed that gasses defused from some mortar shells for several hours after they landed. Mahmoud Nouri Kamel, one of these eyewitnesses has given us images of these thermal shells, which fell on the city yesterday, near ice cream of Fairouza. When the shells fell, a strong flame blazed from it, and a chemical vapor that smelled like rotten eggs wafted towards those nearby. Images below depict the occurrence. Other eyewitnesses have sent us videos of the remains of a mortar that exuded a nausea-inducing vapor (8).


An eyewitness confirmed for Al-Taghier Satellite Channel that the military used fissile (cluster) weapons targeting markets, homes, and mosques. Medical sources in the city hospital of Fallujah have spoken of tens of civilians suffering from injuries and deaths due to such gases yesterday as the military tried to regain control of the city from the tribesmen who currently lead the resistance and have control of the city (11).

3. Forced Displacement of Civilians

The brutality of the indiscriminate shelling of residential neighborhoods has forced tens of thousands of civilians to exuding or escaping from the city. The estimation of humanitarian aids workers said about 40% of the original population still resides within the city. Most of the citizens who remain depend on daily salaries, meaning that they do not have the resources to rent a house outside of the city. Many civilians, when interviewed by satellite television channels said that they are forced to remain under life-threatening shelling due to their inability to leave and find refuge anywhere else (17). Others were forced to seek refuge from the fighting in abandoned skeletal buildings despite the lack of electricity, water, heat, and cooking utilities (24).

UN Reports confirmed the displacement of over 65,000 people due to the struggle in the towns of Fallujah and al Rumadi, and has left over 140,000 people homeless. The violent shelling has damaged numerous schools and hospitals and has thus displaced those families that were residing in them.

While children’s organization UNICEF pointed that more than 40 000 children have been displaced with their families in addition to the killing and wounding many of them through indiscriminate shelling of the city and the organization continues its attempts with the Maliki regime in order to create safe corridors for the exit of the displaced families with kids. While the International Organization for Migration (IOM) confirming on the 44 000 families have been displaced from Anbar, because of the military campaign of the owners of the cities (30).

Many civilians moved to the villages surrounding Fallujah, and a large group of them have moved to the north of Iraq and the other cities of Anbar and nearby Salahul Din. Others have resorted to residing in schools, the lack of temporary housing forcing them to live in classrooms.


The Watanya (National) Coalition, which follows the former Prime Minister, Iyad Alawi has admitted in a public statement dated on February 1st 2014 that “The residents of the city of Fallujah suffer under deteriorating humanitarian conditions which should inspire shame in any Iraqi who seeks the continued unity of the nation, and the protection of its future.” The Watanya Coalition has also declared that “Fallujah is a city in a state of disaster, and promised to send immediate delegations to the UNAMI and the Red Crescent to provide the necessary humanitarian aid for the displaced families, since the government has failed to do so.” This statement confirms the sheer size of the government cover-up on this genocidal crime, which is directed even towards refugees who fled the city because of the military operation. It also confirms the scandalous cover up and complete disregard on the part of international humanitarian organizations, not only in providing aid, but also in observing and implementing the articles of the Geneva Convention in cases of war.

President of the Iraqi Parliament Mr. Osama Najafi said that there are 50 000 families have been displaced due to military operations in Anbar province, and added that the conditions of those displaced so bad to the point of need general alarm !! Iraqi Red Crescent Society announced, in (January 30, 2014 ) , for the high number of displaced people from Anbar to more than 46 thousand families, emphasizing assistance to more than 24 thousand families of it (13) . Which means more than 22 000 displaced families stayed without humanitarian aid !!

We documented in recent days, some of the films that demonstrate the survival of many civilians inside Fallujah on 1 – 4February 2014, near the local markets for vegetables and food , which forced civilians to come out in these tough times for shopping or livelihood daily (20) . In addition to the deployment of activists inside the city for the movies to prove survival of many families that their points of relief in the inner city with more than 100 000 civilians, most of them from poor families and earning power per day, or are unable to work (29).

The greatest proof of the sectarian gov. an is the report by refugees from Anbar, when they arrived to the capitol Baghdad, complaining of restrictions placed on them by the armed forces, and the continued arrests, as well as the searching of Sunni quarters of the city, obstructing the daily lives of the families living in them. Since the arrival of fleeing families from Fallujah and al Rumadi to the capitol, the military, under the excuse of security reasons, has been conducting raids on these fleeing families. Numerous refugees have been arrested in the Sunni areas of Amriya, Ghazaliya, Sayedeya, Yarmouk, and Hittin, which house the families that fled the indiscriminate shelling in their homes. In addition, the local city councils in these areas has also expressed a need to review the families which flee to it, in order to keep a record of the number of families present in each area and handing them [I don’t know if they mean the records or the families] over to the government forces. On the other hand, the fleeing families were banned by the Maliki forces from entering the cities of Samraa except after showing proof of a sponsor-resident from within the city.

With the promotion of government sources and parliamentary belonging to Maliki’s bloc, for that there is the risk of the spread of terrorism and spread in the rest of the provinces after being accused the people of Anbar as they have become an incubator for terrorism!!, it is the definitive evidence to planned extermination arguments did not prove, but in their imaginations criminal diseased (31).

Now I have ever been trapped in the city of Fallujah, about more than a month did not stop the indiscriminate shelling of government or restless. Over the days get complicated living situation and deteriorating humanitarian situation, the center of the steadfastness of the people and their determination to hold fast to the demands for which more than a full year (26). As the cut cellular communications in Anbar province has increased the effects of the blockade against civilians and increase the suffering in the lack of communication between their children displaced in other areas or with the views that have prevented aid from entering the cities of Fallujah and Ramadi, except in limited cases. This prompted Motaheidon block MPs to threat to sue the cellular phone companies because of this non- humanitarian work after pressure Maliki regime, in order to tighten the blockade and prevent the dissemination of news of crimes and the fact that the humanitarian situation there is frightening (27). On 5 February 2014, the head of the parliamentary Committee on Migration Liqaa Wardi announced to Al-Tagheir channel that the 15 thousand displaced people from Anbar to Kurdistan scored only three thousand of them!! (27).

4. Recommendations

  1. Urgent international action to stop the military operations in the province of Anbar, which could be considered an operation of mass punishment that reach the genocide level, in order to protect civilians and to make it possible for the knowing the truth, especially the catastrophic humanitarian crisis taking place right now.
  2. The creation of an international investigation committee on behalf of the UN Security Council or the UN Human Rights Council. Although all of the information available indicates an international crime within the jurisdiction of the International Criminal Court, which requires the action from the Prosecutor to investigate all available information.
  3. A review of the mechanisms used by the UNAMI in Iraq, which have become a burden on the people, giving these transgressions political legitimacy. And it became necessary to return the position of the Special Rapporteur for Human Rights in Iraq.
  4. Stopping any military aid to the Maliki regime’s government in Iraq until the investigations surrounding the crimes that have been committed are done.
  5. The urgent entrance of international aid organizations in order to alleviate the poor living conditions of the refugees, who number more than 200 thousand from the city of Fallujah and its nearby villages, in addition to 100 thousand within the city.
  6. The need to adopt solutions based on justice and transparency in knowing the facts and to hold the perpetrators, whatever their positions, and stay away from political solutions that represent the agendas of some political parties, domestic or international , which not only bring us more of the devastation and suffering over the past ten years.
  7. The need urgent action by the International Red Cross in the verification of war crimes in violation of the Geneva Conventions, especially with all the evidence documented in this report . And the need to bring the perpetrators of the war against international forums as stipulated in their responsibility, which gave her the international community.
  8. The need for international pressure to force the Iraqi government to sign and ratify the Convention on the International Criminal Court to halt the series of genocide in Iraq.


5. References

  1. Testimonies of people with indiscriminate bombing of the al-Maliki government forces. Arabic speech.
  2. An interview with a chief of doctors residents in Fallujah General Hospital Dr. Ahmed Shami on January 28, 2014.
    1. Some houses which have long been indiscriminate shelling in the neighborhood of Al Askary in Fallujah.

  1. Women injured as a result of indiscriminate shelling on the vine spend east of Falluja 30/01/2014.
  2. Government bombardment on Fallujah kills entire family in the Nazzal neighborhood. TV Al-Tagheir channel. January 24 January 2014.
  3. Government forces firing on unarmed elderly man at the entrance to Fallujah 30/01/2014.
  4. Woman infected as a result of indiscriminate shelling of the government army forces on civilian homes in the city of Fallujah.
  5. Pictures of the remains of the projectile, which took place yesterday in the Fallujah mosque near Othman bin Affan in Fallujah.
  6. Home was bombed Bakarmh orphans and children appeal to the world to intervene to save them from government aggression 01/25/2014.
    1. Fallujah residents accuse the prime minister of killing their children and the demolition of mosques and homes. TV Al-Tagheir channel. 2 February 2014.
  7. Army shells used in the bombing of fissile revive Fallujah after failing to break into. TV Al-Tagheir channel. 2 February 2014.
  8. Medical document issued by the hospital in Fallujah on February 2, 2014.
  9. Najafi : 50 000 families have been displaced from Anbar, and their need to declare a state of the horn . Alsumaria TV. 2 February 2014.
  10. Chihod describes the blocks impeding the adoption of the budget as “DAISHi.” Alsumaria TV. 1 February 2014.
  11. Deputy for Motahedon bloc accuses the government of not fulfill its commitments on the stop the bombing of Fallujah. Alsumaria News. January 30 January 2014.
  12. Witnesses dozens of families migrating from the area east of the city of Fallujah Abadi because of indiscriminate shelling. TV Al-Tagheir channel. January 30 January 2014.
  13. Fallujah residents declare their stay in their homes in defiance of indiscriminate shelling of the city. TV Al-Tagheir channel. January 28 January 2014.
  14. Army continues bombing civilians in Fallujah and the succession of deaths and injuries, most of them women and children. TV Al-Tagheir channel. 26 January 2014.
  15. Kurdistan Alliance: Daish issue of fabricating a political rather than a terrorist. Alsumaria News. February 1, 2014.
  16. Public life for the people of Fallujah, near the local shopping centers and the daily work in the sale of vegetables and food.
  17. Fallujah hospital is full of Iraqi Army random shelling victims.
  18. Al-Maliki Air Force bombing on Abu Ayyub al -Ansari mosque in Fallujah.
  19. Massive destruction caused to civilian homes impact of the continuing shelling violent boiling of Fallujah. TV Al-Tagheir channel.
  20. Family without a water escape from the bombing of Fallujah to the semi- abandoned building outside the city.
  21. Testimonies of families hit and injured her children because of the indiscriminate shelling of the al-Maliki regime forces.
  22. The humanitarian situation is deteriorating dramatically inside Fallujah and the United Nations criticized the siege of the city. TV Al-Tagheir channel. 4 February 2014.
  23. Motahedon block: will we prosecute telecommunications companies that cut their services for the province of Anbar. 4 February 2014. Alsumaria TV.
  24. Maliki’s forces bombed a hospital in Fallujah 02/03/2014.
    1. Interviews with many of the families remaining in the city.

  1. The displacement of about 40 thousand Iraqi children with their families. Al Jazeera TV.
  2. PM Block (Dahwa party): the storming of Fallujah needs to study the minute. And her families are forced to be an incubator for militants. Mada Newspaper. February 5, 2014.
    1. Survivor testimony of Aum Jamal from Ressala neighborhood in Fallujah.


The Meaning of Future

February 28, 2010

April 27, 2009

Laying Out My Clothes Takes for Granted a Sense fo Future
Laying out my clothes each night takes for granted a sense of Future

If you are a refugee, your sense of time and space has been suspended. If you are not a refugee, it is hard to know what this sense of timelessness means.

I like to lay my clothes out before I go to sleep, so that in the morning I am organized and get five extra minutes of sleep.  But this simple act requires a certain psychological context in order to take place.

In order to lay out my clothes for tomorrow, I must have a sense of the Future.  I must believe that tomorrow will be something like today, but also that I will have a unique purpose for waking up– even if that purpose is to have no purpose at all (which is a luxurious goal).

This sense of future is more fragile than I thought before living here.  For Shayma (name changed), putting her clothes out each morning was something she did back in Iraq, but not anymore: “I just don’t feel like getting prepared for the next day.  I am more like a machine, just work, sleep, and then get up again and put on whatever I find.  I used to put on makeup and do my hair all nice…”

Shayma’s sense of a Future has been interrupted by the US invasion of Iraq.  Before, she used to get up every morning and get ready for work.  Shayma’s tomorrow and today were not so different from each other that they lacked continuity, but her tomorrow was also unique and purposeful… back before the invasion.  Now, “like a machine,” Shayma seems a little numb to the Future.  One could say that lacking a Future has made Shayma feel less human.

What will happen tomorrow?  Who knows. The UNHCR might call and tell her she will be resettled to Canada.  Or a bomb might kill her brother in Baghdad.  Or she might wait for something to happen, and pass her entire day trying to stay busy (Jordan does not allow refugees to work), or just wait…

Waiting, as we all know, is the most agonizing feeling.  And waiting certainly doesn’t motivate a person to lay out her clothes for tomorrow, or even to go to bed at all.  What’s the point?

Shayma’s sense of timelessness and waiting are echoed by other Iraqi refugees.  “If the UNHCR called and said, ‘Okay, you’re here for life, so settle down and get used to it, I could.  If they said, okay, you’re resettled and you’re leaving tomorrow, I could.  But I hear nothing.  I know nothing about my own future,” said Mustafa (name changed) in a meeting we had about the UNHCR.

“A day is a very long time for a refugee!”  -Dana (name changed).

“I would like to get married, but I can’t.”  -Mohammed (named changed).

Life is literally on hold for my Iraqi neighbors.  And worse than time having stopped altogether is the sense that at any moment it might begin again, or it might not…

This Futurelessness is paralyzing the Iraq people, causing depression and futility.  It keeps them from marrying, finishing their college degrees, and buying homes.  But more importantly, it keeps them from enjoying their present,  from doing something simple and comforting, like laying out their clothes for tomorrow.

In this way, the future means something very different to Iraqi refugees than to you or me:

To me, the Future takes place in the future, and whether it will take place at all or not rarely crosses my mind, because the existence of a Future is a certainty.  For Iraqi refugees, the Future defines their Present, and it crosses their minds every minute of every day.

The Meaning of Personalization II

June 24, 2009
Necklace from Nadia

Necklace from Nadia

The other day I got a call on the landline in our flat. Someone had taken great pains to look up the hotel, call the front desk and track us down.

Broken English—it’s Nadia. We need to see you!
Nadia? From the English class or somewhere else—which Nadia?
In Arabic: We must see you immediately!
Is something wrong?
Fast complicated Arabic…
Okay, can you call Dr. Fadhil (name changed?) to speak with him in Arabic?
No no, we want to see you, only you.
Okay. We will come tomorrow, inshalla.
I worry all night.

The following day we visited one of our most beloved families: Two beautiful daughters, the father who was brutally tortured for being a gardener for the US military (see previous blog, The Intranslateability of Experience). The mother who makes the best coffee in the world…
They were eating pigeons when we found them, living on almost nothing, but luckily they are now on the proper cash assistance… They are still in a bad way, but there is a lighter mood in the house.
A little turtle I have never met before crept up to me to say hi. The father, Mohammed (name changed), insisted that I take the little turtle with me.
Please take him– I want to give you a gift!
We can’t, my mom says, they’ll think there’s a bomb in his shell…

Oh. Well alright.  –He grins the toothless grin of a man who has been tortured.

Mohammed seems a little disappointed, but I know the girls would also be sad to see their family creature leave.
What is the emergency? We ask.
The emergency is that we must give you something before you leave and we heard you were leaving soon!
Nadia, shy, pretty Nadia, comes creeping out of the back room, just like her pet turtle, with a little pink bag.
She hands it to me and I open it— a beautiful red necklace, I tell her—you know this is my favorite color?
Yes, she says, pointing to my red hijab.
She must have studied my clothing closely in order to so accurately note my sense of style…
She was beaming.
I feel close to you, like a true friend, she said in Arabic.
A gift.

She must have been terrified to go out and buy the necklace—her family has been horribly harassed by the Jordanian police, who threaten them and frighten them. They attacked her father just a few days before our visit.
She must have also saved money for a long time. Even a 2 or 3 dinar gift is a huge expense for this family.
And more moving to me than anything else was her ability and will to track down our hotel, call us up, and brave the English language.
I will always wear this necklace, like a big red beating heart.
What love she gave me.
It’s personal.

So that’s the other side of personalizing a refugee crisis.

The Meaning of Personalization

June 20, 2009

People have been asking for details about my own personal experience here.  So I will talk about that.

Everything you have read is personal to me.  When I describe refugees’ sense of futurelessness, it’s personal.  When I describe disorientation, restless sleeping, increased mistrust, frustration with the UNHCR, it’s all personal.

How is it here? It sucks.  If it didn’t, I wouldn’t be doing this right.

My goal in coming here was to bare witness to the suffering of Iraqi people, and to bear what I witnessed as part of the reconciliation process between Americans and Iraqis.  Part of the baring and the bearing is sharing the burden of refugeeness.  And it sucks.  It really does.

Sharing in Time Distortion:

Some hours last days, some days last 2 hours.  Time is not linear, and my own disorientation in the space-time continuum is complete.

I forget things.  I walk into the grocery store and forget what I came to buy.  I look up and realize it is 2 am and I can’t remember what I have been doing for the past six hours.  My mind is muddled.

I am always late to meetings with NGO officials, in part because they chronically underestimate the travel time, and in part because I have no personal sense of time.  There are three clocks in our flat; 2 are broken.  I don’t trust the other one, because no matter what time it says, it doesn’t feel like the right time.

(Timelessness can make a person very passive, which certainly benefits agencies and NGOs who need to keep track of the movements and activities of refugees— their institutional success relies on the passiveness of their clients.  It is hard to overcome the urge to sit and watch TV nonstop.)

Sharing in Mis-sleep:

When I close my eyes to sleep, I see faces, and I am constantly bothered by what I can’t do.  The faces always ask for something, or worse, they don’t, but I see what they need anyway. 

There is Mohammed with his spine curved up the wrong way because of the Depleted Uranium that also poisoned the Tigris river Jamila loves so much.  His spine is bent grotesquely, and there are his big eyes smiling smartly.
Oh, and then there is the Jordanian hag who finds food in the trash—I leave things for her behind the dumpster.  No NGO is serving her—she’s not Iraqi.

The General who I tried to bake a cake for?  He’s gone.  When I brought my cake to his house, he had left, probably couldn’t afford it, or he got sick or returned to Iraq.  You never know.

I haven’t had a “normal” dream in months.  Instead I toss around like a fish in the sheets, between dreaming and thinking, that restlessness you have when you had an unpleasant conversation or did badly on a test for no good reason; you should have done something differently…

Sharing the -isms:

The most painful experience we’ve had here is a repeated one.  We meet a family.  They have the wrong cash assistance or their file has the wrong last name… something simple.  They’ve been calling UNHCR for the past 2 years to fix the error.  They have written letters, dropped by, scheduled appointments…  all to no avail.

My mom accompanies them on day to a visit with UNHCR.  The family is asked to wait in line.  My mom is offered a comfortable air-conditioned room for waiting.  The family she came with is offered a hot, sweaty tent just outside the white building.  (Of course my mom chooses to wait with the family).  My mom never sees the UNHCR officer who finally meets with the family, but the family mentions that their American friend, Debra, is waiting downstairs.

The next day their file is fixed and they are visited by two NGOs who promise to meet their medical needs.  Instant gratification.

Two years they waited, and it took my mom’s general American aura (no one even saw her) and a few hours of sitting in a tent to get things fixed for this family.

When you become family with people, when they call themselves your brother or mother, and you have to leave them on the other side of a wall because someone you’ve never met sees some apparent difference between you…  it is the most alarming feeling in the world.

This is not a one-time thing.  It is institutionalized racism and institutionalized classism:

You’re a refugee?  Go wait in the tent.

You’re an American?  Please come in.

You’re black?  You drink out of this fountain…

I am reminded that my own mother was in the 9th grade (1974) when her high school was finally integrated.  Even then, her black friends sat in the back of the room.  (A different kind of time distortion…) 

What’s this nonsense about “restoring human dignity” that sits at the top of UNHCR’s statement of purpose?

I’m so angry.

Sharing in Diaspora:

First, I am Diaspora, the very meaning of it.  I am the single spore that was blown off the pod—dia-spor-a.  The American with Iraqi blood, the loophole in identity.  One who is, but really isn’t.  And so I am accepted and not accepted, I am the future and the past of Iraq in the eyes of my neighbors. 

Am I proof that you can raise a well-mannered girl even in the Wild West?  Or proof that blood is meaningless and that ‘place’ takes over? 

Whatever people think of me here, we share Diaspora together.  I am the end of it and they are the beginning.  If they see the second and third generation in me, I hope they see a Future.

“Flats change faster than the season,” my mom says.  People move.  The General left, who knows where.  Two families have switched flats in the city in just 2 months.  People get resettled, addresses change, phones expire, there are rarely email addresses.  I am anxious about how I will keep track of the families I know.  They can’t tell me their plans, since they can’t make any:

Ahmed was packing up and ready to fly on the 15th of this month.  But he learned two weeks before leaving that his sponsor is on vacation.  He’ll have to wait until September now.  Cancelled his lease and everything.  Said goodbye to friends.  Had all his last suppers.  And then, like always, things change.

“Inshalla” takes on a new meaning here.  I never use the future tense without qualifying it with an emphatic “Inshalla” —God willing. 

I love the people I love.  Inshalla I will sustain some form of communication with them, whether they are stuck here for 10 more years or are resettled tomorrow morning. 

Where will you be in relation to me?  Far away or close?  Inshalla I will see you again before I die.

Goodbye, goodbye.  Maybe…

The unknown is killing me.  It drives me crazy.

So, there is something about personalizing a refugee crisis.

The Meaning of Corruption

June 13, 2009


Hanna (name changed) sent 100 dollars to Dana (name changed) for her hourly services as a delivery person.  Hanna sent the money to Dana through Abu Ali (name changes), but somehow the money went missing.

Did Hanna never send it?  Did Dana receive it and lie?  Or did Abu Ali steal it in the transition?  Regardless, the missing funds are clearly evidence of corruption.

But corruption lies on a sliding scale, and its meaning is hard to capture.

A group of volunteers are sorting through used clothes to give away to some families.  They find a dress they like very much.  One friend says to another, “You should keep it!  It looks good on you.”  The volunteer tries the dress on and decides to keep it for herself.

None of the families would ever know about it anyway.  The clothes were donated by someone who probably just wanted to be rid of them.  And the dress was so pretty!

But the clothes were allocated for Iraqi refugees, and some young woman probably needed it more than the volunteer did because of her bleak environment.  The argument that she wouldn’t miss it having never seen it is also faulty— without even seeing the pretty dress, she already misses and wants it, because she never had it or anything like it.

Was the volunteer’s choice an act of corruption?

How about this: you are working for a small nonprofit.  People work hard and donate a little money to this nonprofit online.  Some of the money goes to your travel expenses, most to Iraqi refugees.  When you are in the store, you have to choose a brand of body soap, paid for by the nonprofit funds.

If you choose the most expensive soap, something you’d never buy at home, that’s corruption.

What if you choose the second most expensive brand, which you do use at home?
What if you choose the second cheapest brand?

Is anything but the cheapest brand really a moral option, given the slipperiness of the Corruption Slope?

I bring these individual quandaries to your attention because in all three cases, the missing money, the dress, and the soap, the answer is based on individual decision-making.

But what happens when an entire system functions on a norm of one-way gain?

“The workers at Caritas were normal people, even poor.  It’s been two years, and now the same people are driving nice cars and wearing gold watches.  And still, we are hardly receiving services from them.  Why does Caritas exist—for their salaries?”  Um Khalid (name changed) asks a legitimate question.

If a nonprofit has an overhead of say, 95 percent, one might say it merely exists to pay salaries to its employees.
Is that corruption?

It is very disturbing to interview NGO workers and discover that they not only make a very fine salary, but that they also never speak with, visit, or even know much about the Iraqi refugees they supposedly serve.

While some of the smaller NGOs are doing excellent work, I often leave meetings still repeating the same question: “I’m sorry, but what do you actually do?”

And I am not alone in asking this question.  In speaking with my Iraqi neighbors, I am forced to understand corruption as a collective rather than individual act, as a systematic process that has in fact become the acceptable “standard operating procedures”:

“Theses NGOs are all corrupt.  You can just look at Iraq from a helicopter—you’ll see a war zone, and then up at the top where it’s pretty safe, you’ll see NGO fortresses coming in to sweep up the mess for pay.  The longer the mess lasts, the more money they make.  Why would they really solve the problem?  The problem is their livelihood.”  Dr. Heba (name changed) articulated what Naomi Klein would call Disaster Capitalism.

This doesn’t mean that NGO vultures are swarming over the carcass of Iraq…

In my interfaces with NGO workers, they are well intended and as frustrated by the system as are Iraqis.

But this may be the crux of the issue: is it corruption to be paid for having good intentions alone?

Without effect, what weight do one’s good intentions have, and are they worth a yearly salary?

Intent doesn’t really matter to Iraqi refugees (in part because NGO workers rarely spend any time or space with the refugees in order to communicate their personal intentions, in the first place.)

Iraqi refugees whom I have talked to don’t hesitate for a second when asked about the meaning of corruption:
When your good intentions offer no effect, that is corruption.

…In which case the “business of doing good,” is as morally hazardous as any other sector.  The only difference is that in this business, people’s entire lives hang in the balance between one’s good intentions and the salary that comes with them.