Last week it was exactly one year since we launched Iraq Now. In this article we want to answer some questions to reflect on a year of online activity, interesting moments and our vision on Iraq.
Question 1: Who are you?
This is the most asked question since we launched. The fact that we suddenly appeared on the internet out of nowhere freaked some people out and in some more extreme situations people expressed hostility. We didn’t mind it, the less people knew who we were, the more freedom we had to write what we wanted and what we really thought.
But after some time hilarious rumors began to spread. For example a lot began to claim we were secretly Iranians posing as Iraqis (saddening racism against Iranians there as well), that we were the online wing of the Baath party, or that we are typical communists who can’t stop focusing on folklore and poetry. The red logo might be the main reason people think that latter one. Some individuals even think we are Londoners, honestly, who do they think runs this page? Karl Sharo? The most vile accusation was that we are a literal armed militia, part time writing articles, part time murdering Iraqis. Our explicit statement that we are not affiliated with any party or institution did not seem to help. So let us once more try to clarify who we are.
The fact that we suddenly appeared on the internet out of nowhere freaked some people out and in some more extreme situations people expressed hostility.
We are a group of Iraqis who live inside and outside of Iraq. We got to know each other initially online and we felt that our- grounded in the Iraqi experience- anti imperialist perspective was unrepresented in the wide spectrum of Iraqi political and cultural discourse.
The core of the organization started to meet up regularly in the year 2019 with the aim to set something up. At the time we didn’t even have a name for it yet. When we got together weekly, we were mostly writing, thinking, noting, creating and planning on what we wanted to do. In any case we thought it would be productive to just start making content on Iraq and save it somewhere offline for the time being. Eventually a decent amount of pictures, articles and sources emerged.
Everyone involved also had jobs and school and work to attend to, so we had to do all of this during our sparse free time. We also did not have any sponsors or a budget so we had no choice but to work on IraqNow next to our other obligations. Many of our IraqNow sessions were after a long, tiring day at work.The temptation to just rest and do nothing was definitely there.
However, what drove us, was our eagerness to create something lasting for the next generation, but also to create a platform that allowed us to independently state what we think, believe and hold dear. We no longer wanted to be at the mercy of other platforms or outlets waiting to represent us. One thing we all had in common, next to the fact were all Iraqis, is that we liked to write and study and learn new layers of Iraq’s reality.
Many of us used to write under our own names and this has led to some unsafe situations from time to time. Writing about Iraq remains a dangerous job. For that last reason many of our closest friends don’t even know about our activities for IraqNow.
Question 2: Why did you start the page?
As Iraqis we felt surrounded by a sense of loss, confusion, and disillusionment. The political discourse on Iraq was dominated by ideas framed by American policy aims and an impoverished political vocabulary that failed to integrate a certain nuance and complexity to understand Iraq’s structural problems. Most importantly there was a serious lack in placing Iraq within a global context of both capitalism and American hegemony. Yes, Iraq has problematic local actors and some would argue problematic neighbors but both those neighbors and those actors operate in a world shaped by a Neo-liberal order coerced by American military bases (800 of them in total). This is the core of Iraq’s complex problems and has to be accounted for when we talk about Iraq. Unfortunately, instead of theorizing, thinking and reflecting on the core problem of Neo-liberal hegemony in Iraq, many people talk about Iraq in a very narrow way. The public discussions are extensively focused on “politician X” stealing money, on ‘’institutional reform ’’ or on problems of governance as if Iraq has a natural/normal political process where such a thing is possible.
It is underestimated how much Iraq is at the heart of our modern capitalist society.
The amount of money stolen by Iraq’s politicians are crumbs compared to the billions systematically funneled out of Iraq to finance the western consumer market. It is underestimated how much Iraq is at the heart of our modern capitalist society. Iraq’s post 2003 order was both an experiment to test the merits of an unbridled free market economy but also a desperate attempt to save a capitalist order already in decline by the 2000s.
We created IraqNow to address this problem through a dual approach: re framing Iraq’s political, cultural and social problem through the lens of anti-Imperialism (more about that later) and reaffirming Iraq’s complex social heritage and dynamic culture. Iraqis like anyone else perceive and reproduce the world around them through a variety of vocabularies, customs, traditions and intellectual traditions. It is what makes a people human. Despite all the assaults on these cultural dimensions of the Iraqi condition, Iraqi culture persists and it thrives and it is the basis for a small seed of resistance that can grow bigger. The US occupation attempted to destroy our museums, schools and kill our intellectuals and when that failed they now try to take over culture through NGOs and depoliticize it and take it out of the hands of Iraqis. This is evidence that Iraq’s heritage and culture is an very important resource that has to be actively safe-guarded.
We see anti-Imperialism not only as the rejection of the US occupier, his soldiers and soft power, but also as a positive and affirmative stance for reinterpreting one’s culture, traditions, intellectual creativity, and self-reliance. Yes, Iraqis have suffered greatly, are traumatized, are in pain but there are ways out, there is a way forward, but it will be a long journey and a difficult fight.
Question 3: what were your expectations beforehand?
In all honesty in the beginning we expected to be a decent size Facebook page at best but to our surprise we exceeded such expectations.
In the beginning it was not yet fully clear which audience we would attract but we wanted to cover both groups interested in Iraqi heritage and individuals who maintain an anti-imperialist/American conviction.
Now one year later we cannot believe how far we got, given that we neither had the experience nor the money for such an endeavor. What initially was only meant as a social media presence is now a fully fledged website hosting over 40 articles, organic ties to our followers and most importantly an independent voice.
Question 4: why do you talk so much about politics when your page is about culture?
A comment we have seen often when addressing a news topic was that we should
Just delete the post because it only brings discussion. Keep this page about culture instead of being political.
We are happy to see so many people interested in their history and culture even if they live outside Iraq. Some of them even submitted articles expanding on topics related to Iraqi culture, for example the reflections on Iraqi poets, favorite Iraqi dishes, the way holidays are celebrated in Iraq, personal stories about family trees and more. But does posting and speaking about cultural practices and traditions or sharing (historic) pictures, make you “apolitical”? What does it even mean to be apolitical and why this persistent emphasis on it?
While political systems would be difficult to fundamentally reform, resigning yourself to being apolitical, not discussing them, and reaffirming them is a guarantee they’ll never change.
Apolitical means taking an unbiased or objective position in regard to political matters. This implies that there is certain established neutrality that is not to be questioned, and diverging from it means taking a political stance. People that promote apoliticism sometimes argue that they are maintaining the peace by not speaking about politics, implying that speaking about it is divisive and refraining from it makes them wiser or morally superior than the people who do address political topics. Calling people out to stop speaking about political matters is either affirming the belief that nothing is wrong and our world doesn’t need change or a way of shelter from having to confront the world’s realities and injustices.
If apoliticism means objectivity, what does objectivity mean? The most successful form of social power is the one that presents itself not as power, but as reason, truth and objectivity, claiming to have escaped politics. Western popular media outlets are presented and looked at as beyond mere interpretation, as truth itself. For example many of the divisions today were imposed by imperialism and reinforced by its Eurocentric education. We are taught to (un)consciously divide, distancing us from each other by introducing dichotomous appellations such as Us/them, Muslim-/non-Muslim, primitive/civilized, majority/minority, developed/underdeveloped, and the list goes on. Racial and cultural differences are exploited to legitimize colonial rule. The historical legacy of these divisions have not been limited to the history books but have penetrated global media including film, television and the popular press, and more recently social media. Such texts and images are constructed by groups who have vested interests. In fact, affirming our own culture and different languages and practices opposes Eurocentric power and is “political”. In that sense, reproducing that of popular media also is “political”. There is no way to escape it.
Quesstion 5: What about the future?
We want to expand our website with more topics that reflect Iraqi identity in all its richness and diversity. We also aim to keep addressing the difficulties that Iraqis went through and still go through. Many horrible events and crimes against the Iraqi people received insufficient attention or are swept under the rug. The names of victims disappear and the perpetrators are granted clemency or are never held accountable at all. By speaking about such circumstances we hope to contribute to a change in the narratives around them.
For the coming year we expect that our online presence will grow. Part of this growth is to reach out in solidarity to other groups, communities, movements and platforms involved in critical understandings of American dominance and beyond. We already tried to address the relation between black liberation struggles, Palestine and more with the fight for independence in Iraq. Hopefully we can expand on this matter.
We look forward to the topics that will be covered in our coming articles and to inspire more followers to submit their writings on Iraq-related topics. Hopefully our content will also inspire even more Iraqis to be conscious about their history and present, to value their culture and heritage and to stay curious, to ask questions to family members and their loved ones and to speak and write about their experiences.