Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Proposal for an International Iraqi Youth Network

This is an idea that has been floating around in my head for some time and has been scribbled on random bits of paper here and there. This idea has been discussed on twitter with some of my fellow Iraqi Tweeps - you know who you are J Here is the promised post and beginning of what we have been talking/tweeting about..

I want to form, or begin talks about forming, an International Iraqi Youth committee for pragmatic change and forward thinking. We as Iraqi’s need to focus on the issues facing Iraq currently and Iraqi’s collectively – they are countless. I believe we are the vehicle for change and we must get together and start talking. Many of us have had conversations of these sorts on twitter and I think it’s time we take this beyond twitter and get something going. Something tangible.

I want to pull together like minded Iraqi’s to work together for a better Iraq, a unified Iraq, an Iraq we can be proud of after only crying over for years. I propose some sort of organisation, forum, or platform for discussion that we can use to network and link Iraqi’s outside of Iraq in the Diaspora to those inside Iraq to work together and get talking. Things we need to tackle and address include but are not limited to economic, political, social, environmental and sustainability issues.

What influenced me to put these ideas to paper was current talk of what we can do for Iraq and how we can change things – how our skills can be of use to a new Iraq. I want Iraqi’s on the outside to be linked with Iraqi’s on the ground and for us to cooperate, to talk, to brainstorm pragmatic ideas for change and implementation of these. I want to find politically conscious and aware Iraqi’s that are passionate about the future of Iraq so that we can create links and start dialogue.

Many of us initially thought that TEDxBaghdad was great until we realised how status quo it was and how it realistically only perpetuated the status quo. Let us do something similar to TedxBaghdad but something that has real outcomes. Let us talk about about how we can do this and why we should do this. Let us discuss how we can sustain an international solidarity network of Iraqi’s.

I think we all have skills we can add to such an initiative and we are all, I hope, thinking about how we can better equip ourselves to better equip Iraq. We already have great initiatives taking place such as projects to restore Iraq’s marshland areas and countless other projects. I suppose one task we could take on is to map out all current initiatives inside and outside Iraq of this sort and see where the gaps are and talk about where our individual interests lie and what a network such as this could add to already existing structures.

I believe in grassroots actions and I do not believe a group or an initiative such as this needs to be branded by formal organizations or institutions to exist. We are; therefore we exist. I believe it is best to start at a grassroots level and work up from that. I want to talk to real life Iraqi’s in and out of Iraq who do not have allegiances to other organizations and groups, whatever they may be, before their commitment to Iraq. This is the underlying theme of my proposal; Iraq first, everything else later. We are all free to be committed to whatever we wish but for this project Iraq comes first. 

I think we need to address the realities on the ground and so we cannot claim to be ‘apolitical’; if you know Iraq then you know the realities on the ground are anything but secular and non-political. We may not agree, but we must address this issue and so that is why I don’t think topics of politics should be off the table - having said that, all views and beliefs are welcome and to be respected and listened to equally. Inherently we are all attached to different beliefs and come from different backgrounds and these shape our views, value-judgements perceptions of life - to say otherwise is to kid yourself.  So rather than beating around the bush and repressing these crucial issues; let us embrace and discuss. We can for instance critique the Shia-led government for policies or actions they are taking from a humanitarian point of view – this should not be read as a sectarian attack; just like we can critique a Sunni majority organization that takes a view that restricts other forms of expression. We can critique groups trying to break Iraq apart or groups wanting to avenge the past – you cannot remedy a wrong with another wrong. I think for instance we could all agree that smashing teenagers heads in with concrete blocks because they look like ‘emo’s’ is wrong regardless of our sect, ethnic or religious background and that these issues should not be suppressed in order to adhere to taking a secular or non-political approach to such an initiative.

There is no place for sectarianism or backward thinking in a new Iraq. We need to move beyond framing anything in that way and move beyond such rubbish. A culture of tolerance and acceptance was championed during our parents and grandparents time, let us reignite this. We all come from many different backgrounds, may it be sect, religion or ethnicity but we are all Iraqi at the end of the day. We are all diverse and this plurality is what makes Iraq what it is - tolerance is key.

Yesterday marked the day of the fall of Baghdad and so I think it is significant to prompt such a project around this date. Perhaps in years to come we will not only look to this date with despair but also with hope and remembrance of a project that was initiated around the same time; one for the future of Iraq.

For as long as I can remember and in all my time abroad all I have seen or heard is the mere destruction, disbanding and dissolution of my home country. I carry Iraq in my heart and it is dear to me no matter where I am in the world. But I am constantly reminded by Iraqi youth around me that they couldn’t care less about Iraq. I am infuriated on a daily basis by what I see around me. I am sick of Iraqi’s accepting the status quo and I am sick of the de-politicisation that exists within the Iraqi community abroad and at home. This is my plea for salvation from the international community – I know like minded Iraqi’s exist it’s just a matter of finding each other and connecting.

Our homeland has been destroyed and every aspect of civil society has virtually been wiped out. We need to come together to discuss, share ideas and more simply to connect. I am sure each of us has rich body of knowledge and experience we can all bring to the table. I am sure many of us plan to go back to Iraq one day and take on a project for change and so I hope such a network can foster the sort of environment and encouragement for Iraqi’s to gain skills and equip themselves to take them back to Iraq. We all have dreams and desires so let us discuss these.

I believe this is our duty and responsibility, especially for those of us raised abroad. We were privileged to live a comfortable life outside of Iraq while our Iraqi brothers and sisters suffered immensely and so I believe with our privilege comes a responsibility to Iraq. A responsibility to commit to the future of Iraq by any way that one has the capacity to do so. Iraq should be at the very center of each of our hearts. Perhaps there is a void in your heart - one that longs for a prosperous Iraq. We must work towards filling this void. 

I call on activists, journalists, students of all disciplines, doctors, academics, engineers, writers, poets, rappers, media savvy people, IT specialists, scientists etc etc and anyone with a conscious to come together to create a platform for change and to connect. To discuss. To begin something.

This is only an idea at the moment so feel free to disagree, tear apart, add to it, whatever you wish. But if you agree that there is a need for connection and you have a similar feeling of wanting to do something then let’s get discussing about what we can do and how we can go about implementing these ideas. I am not here to impose my ideas but want to link up and recognise an importance for such a network. Perhaps it sounds all a bit airy-fairy at the moment but I hope we can take it beyond this.

Perhaps we can begin discussing here how we can start such a forum/network and see where we can take it. @mustafabasree suggested this platform and @Naranjnineveh suggested we use google documents that we can all edit and have access to. Before we dive head first into this project we would need to get together and discuss objectives and goals for the first couple of months and then long term goals and projections into the future and an overall vision for the project. I was perhaps thinking we could form an email loop for discussion for starters and maybe have skype group discussions once every two weeks or we could set up a portal to discuss ideas online – i’m just not very tech savvy and don’t know what would be good to use. @Iraqi_Daisy90 has also begun brainstorming of the sorts of things that we could begin talking about and both her documents are brilliant examples of what could come out of such a network which can be viewed here and here.

We can discuss in both Arabic and English, whatever works for everyone, I understand it may be easier for some inside of Iraq to do so but just so as long everyone understands and is on the same page. I welcome all suggestions and additions to my ideas and hope we can work on this. I also ask that anyone who reads this and is interested to please get in touch with me via twitter @asraranwar or via comment on this post.

If nothing comes out of this then I will be happy that we atleast tried and be happy that I was able to connect with such great Iraqi’s on a global scale. But who knows; this could the beginning of something beautiful and in the very least, I hope, the beginning of a lifelong commitment to my biggest love; Iraq.