Um Khalid

Um Khalid has an ideal situation for an Iraqi refugee. She’s an engineer working in the private sector who’s married to a Jordanian Sunni. She had a satisfying life living in Amman, Jordan that was quite balanced between caring for her kids and working in their family "water purification device" business. However, as prices got higher in Jordan following “The Kuwait War” and her longing for her homeland got more intense, her family moved to Baghdad. Even during the sanctions, they did well economically since they had their own company. Those who were working for the government at that time had their salaries reduced to a pittance, which of course led to widespread corruption. Life was reasonably good there until her son, Khalid, a university student who sported a shaved head and a long unkempt beard, was kidnapped. Under Saddam, her son’s beard, which to some indicated sympathy to the Wahabbis (or Salafis) of Saudi Arabia wasn’t a problem because Saddam had an intelligence system that enabled him to know about each and every family in every district. These folks knew that Khalid had no such allegiance nor fanatical intentions. After the fall of Saddam, that intelligence apparatus fell apart, and after several warnings to cut his beard "like a proper Shia” the militia took him off to prison. He remained there for 14 days until his family could locate him and pay the ransom. The night he was released, they moved back to Jordan. Life for Um Khalid changed. Before, she was friendly with her Jordanian neighbors, enjoying pleasant light conversation over cups of coffee. After this experience, she became passionate about helping less fortunate Iraqi refugee families and the former small talk became unpalatable. Because of her legitimate residency status she’s a lot freer to speak out and stand up for herself when taxi drivers try to drive her “the long way” to her destination or shopkeepers overcharge her once they hear her Iraqi accent. Um Khalid, a Shia, told me that while she believes Malaki (and his executive branch) to be “worse than useless”, she thinks the parliament is filled with reasonable people who, given the chance and support, can rule Iraq constructively. These are people, she says, who are willing to compromise and that once the Americans leave they will be able to make the concessions necessary to create a functioning government that represents all of the people. Some Sunnis and Christians I talked with think the Parliament is against them. The sectarian violence going on now does not stem from an age-old religious schism, but rather intentional favoritism towards Sunnis, Palestinians and Christians as well as persecution of the Shia and Kurdish communities under Saddam. The continuing violence since his fall exacerbates this. Now the Shia are taking their comeuppance. Once the violence subsides, if there is justice in the new leadership of the Iraqi government, there is a chance that the population, hungry for peace and security, will join in the rebuilding of their country. The sooner that the violence subsides, the more likely this is to come about. Again, I’d like to invite those of you who live in Austin, TX to A Gathering Under the Oaks, a backyard event as a benefit for Austin Center for Peace and Justice. I will be the featured guest along with Oliver Rajamani. It will be held at the home of Steve and Rene Morris Larson (2703 Bridle Path, Austin, TX) on June 14th from 6:30-9:00 pm. The event is a fundraiser for ACPJ with a suggested donation of $25/student $20. For more information, call 799-5117. I will give a short presentation followed by an informal discussion. I hope you can come. This is the last entry for the section of my blog on Iraqi women refugees. Postings after this one will come as I feel inspired to write. Thanks for joining me on this journey. Peggy

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