Our latest Chevening Conversations blog is by Iraqi scholar Seja Majeed. Seja studied law at Brunel University in 2009/10.
Iraq, my homeland, or is it? Yes my parents are Iraqi, thus by default I am also Iraqi. But isn’t there more to one’s identity then simply deriving your parents genes. Just like ‘relationships,’ is it not right to expect a person to have a form of attachment to a country, one which goes beyond genes? Or am I complicating matters?
To be honest, I don’t know where to start with Iraq, I really feel lost, bewildered and rather furious at the complexity of our situation. I love Iraq. I have spent my entire life dreaming about it; hoping and wishing that someday I would be a part of its reconstruction and development. I want Iraq to be the greatest Arab Country within the Middle East; if Baghdad was once the capital of intellect, then surely it can rise from the ashes and become the great civilisation it formerly was. Yes, I was a visionary dreaming of something that is now so farfetched and distorted. I no longer dare to dream of Iraq because of my own well being and sanity.
I first travelled to Iraq during the time of Saddam Hussein, when uttering his name even in the confines of your own home was a terrifying thing to do, no doubt a deadly mistake for someone who didn’t wish to get hanged. I also came in 2007 when terrorism was at its peak, with beheadings, kidnapping, gunfire and explosion being the main discussions around the dinner table. And now, I return again, to my homeland, or whatever is left of it.
Since I’ve been here, there have been between six to eight suicide bombings so far and I am not even midway through my journey. The precise number I cannot say as I have not had the energy to switch on the TV and watch the Iraqi news, after all I must keep my sanity if I am to survive such an ordeal and believe me I have little of it left. I initially came to Iraq for several reasons. The paramount one was because I wanted to set up a recycling initiative to clean up the streets of Basra. As soon as I entered the borders of Kuwait, I was shocked by the appalling state of the roads, with dirty ditches everywhere, scrap metal lying in the middle of the streets, plastic bottles along the Shatt al Arab river bank, including unwanted refrigerators, exploded cars, everything that anyone can imagine is there.
My first reaction was quite frankly an energetic ‘where do I start?’ It felt as if I had entered a rubbish tip one which I happily wanted to polish until it shone like silver. I was so eager to get on with my cleaning project, so much so that I wanted to jump into the river myself, use my own plastic gloves and one-by-one collect all the bottles for recycling. But I am a ‘’woman’’ and an ‘’outsider’’ according to ‘native Iraqi eyes’, and apparently, a woman cleaning up the streets would be frowned upon; a truly undignified thing to do, in every sense of the word.
If I chose to ignore such cultural philosophies, I would attract attention to myself thus putting me at risk of kidnapping. I, however, am an independent thinker who does not take much notice of cultural taboos, I would happily jump into the Shatt al Arab River but I need a team and I need funding. I have neither, which leads me onto my second point, one which I am extremely passionate about (but shall discuss in a little while). To be blunt and to the point, there is no community spirit here in Iraq, quite frankly, it is a dog eat dog world out here. The individual and his family is the ‘’nucleus in the atom,’’ and that’s about it. So you see there is a vicious circle, the Iraqi people (not all, but most) do not feel a sense of duty to help themselves by improving their own environment.
It is a deep contrast from the United Kingdom, when London was gripped by the riots, community spirit was key to overcoming the ‘destructive yobbish’ behaviour of those who tried to breakdown society. Everyone felt the necessity to pull their weight, report those who they believed had participated in such hideous acts, and clean up their streets. I remember watching strangers sweeping the road without urging payment. I imagine you are thinking, ‘But there is a great deal of poverty in Iraq, it is only right that they are paid for their services.’
Well that’s not entirely true. Yes, there is poverty, but if you come to Basra, you’ll see most people driving brand new cars and range rovers. The Iraqi people are being paid well, the average man and woman earns about 1200 dollars a month. That’s not a hefty sum but take into account the fact that they do not pay income tax, tv licenses, extortionate electric and gas bills and so on. It is a decent wage for those living here, coupled by that the Government offers free sugar and petrol to families. So you see the problem is not finances, it is mentality, and an enshrined laziness to just accept the things the way they are. Not to tell off a child who throws his chocolate wrapper in the floor, after all, he saw his parents do exactly the same. Iraq has many financial resources, what is lacking goes beyond that.
So let me go onto my second point which relates to the question of ‘Funding.’ Even though I have lobbied hard, wanting desperately to talk to Iraqi politicians, they are having none of it. Why? Because they want to keep their ‘oil funding’ for themselves, it is not in their interests to have real development. Corruption is a better kept secret when there is anarchy. It seems the doll is being spent on ‘fat cats’ that fall within the mentioned ‘nucleus’ of family members. Like I said, Iraq is not poor, those who think it is, are certainly misinformed. The Iraqi Parliament has plenty of money, and quite frankly, I hope they feel ashamed of themselves for wasting it on silly adventures.
I also hope the British and American Government feels ashamed of itself for believing in Iraqi politicians who have done nothing for our country apart from bickering among themselves, sipping tea on grand golden chairs, and hiding themselves away in the Greenzone which is guarded by endless tanks. So furious am I with the Iraqi Government, and their partners in crime, for supporting those who are doing nothing to get this country moving. How are you supposed to develop a country when most of these politicians have no background in economics or international relations?
Let me give you an example of an absolute waste of money endorsed by the Iraqi Financial Ministry, and all the bureaucrats who have done little or nothing. In the outskirts of Basra, they are building a Football Stadium, so that the Gulf Football games can be held there in 2013. It’s Iraq’s version of the Olympic games or so they say? Now should this really be a priority of a country which has no proper roads, electricity, sewage system, internet connection, educational schools and so on?
How can you invite international tourists to come and stay in Iraq when Basra does not even have an airport to allow flights to land? Scrap that, what about a decent road to walk on or a shopping mall to entertain its visitors. My goodness, what on earth is going on? How many millions are being spent on these silly incentives that are pocketed by bureaucrats? This is just one small example of money wasted and there are plenty of others which I will explore in my next article, which will also touch upon international relations and why we are doom to failure. So will Iraq get better? I do not know, what I do know, is that the fictional story of Ali Baba and his 40 thieves is in fact based on a true one, most likely the life of our politicians.
If you are a Chevening scholar or alumnus and you would like to submit a blog entry, please get in touch. You can get in touch with me, Declan Byrne, via the Chevening Community website, the official Chevening groups on Facebook or Linkedin or you can contact your local British Embassy/High Commission. Entries should be 700 to 1000 words please. Remember that you can link to your own blog page if you have more to say. We would be particularly interested to hear about the experiences of the UK from our 2011/12 scholars.