Friday, May 29, 2009

Images of Iraqis: Shock and Cliché?

I recently came across a great photo essay on the enduring suffering of Iraqis: SUFFERANCE: Iraqi Victims of War (some images graphic). Below are two images from the essay.

These images are both sad and powerful. They provide a window into the lives of Iraqis hurt by the war and conflict. They personalize the reality of life for Iraqis. Many Americans, including me, are shocked by this reality. As with the power of art in general, these photos can transform perceptions of reality.

Yet the "shock factor," unfortunately, wears off. According to Susan Sontag, in our culture “the image as shock and the image as cliché are two aspects of the same presence" (Regarding the Pain of Others, 23). The images above are shocking (and important reminders of the continuing and enduring suffering of Iraqis), but many Americans have seen similar images for the last six years. What has already shocked soon becomes passé. Images that were once scandalous cease to be beyond our boundaries and instead move within our understanding. We become inured and numbed, consumers of spectacle.

What does this say about us? About our relationship with the depicted Iraqis? Can photos such as these provide more than an initial spark of motivation to change the reality of the depicted, or does that reality simply become part of "the way the world works"? Does the sympathy that photographs can engender have any real worth? If feelings of pity and sympathy fail to translate into action, are they less than worthy, i.e., can they reflect negatively on us as perpetrators of some further crime of inaction against the depicted?

Sontag also writes, “for the other, even when not an enemy, is regarded only as someone to be seen, not someone (like us) who also sees” (72). As a stillframe window, the image shows only a moment of the other's life. We do not see the whole story, the person's family, home, work, daily life, etc. In this sense the image is all too often a product to be consumed, with the power to shock and change perceptions, but not to develop a relationship or sense of personal connection with the depicted. By itself, an image soon becomes old hat.

While photos in the media are often intended for this limited function - to shock and then become cliché - images can serve a more positive function when incorporated into a larger narrative and project of building personal connections. The photo essay above, SUFFERANCE: Iraqi Victims of War, for example, displays images of Iraqis suffering not simply to shock and sell, but as part of an ongoing project begun in July 2008 photographing and documenting the lives of Iraqi refugees in Jordan, Syria and Lebanon. There is a larger narrative that the photographs support and that aims to engage on a deeper level than shock. While our culture tends to consume images for the pleasure of viewing them, these images of Iraqis are used as points of entry into greater personal involvement with the lives of Iraqis.

My concern with this post has been the value or utility of photos for social justice, rather than any inherent value as art. In their general use in the media, photos reflect a disturbing appetite for shock, consumption, and inaction. As part of a larger project of social justice, however, photos can act as powerful inroads to greater personal engagement and action.

So the next time you see a photo of suffering or pain, think about the entire story and life behind the image. The person in the picture also sees, and looks at photos, and wants to understand more of your life.

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Letters for Peace: a letter from Chris

Below is a letter from an American student to an Iraqi student, translated and sent by the Letters for Peace program. Letters for Peace seeks "to create an atmosphere of trust, respect and mutual understanding between the young people of America and the young people of Iraq. The purpose is to open channels of communication so that students might open their heart to one another and find that what we have in common is greater than what separates us."


Dear Iraqi Friend,

We have just read some of the letters you are writing about what life is like in Iraq today. It is amazing to know that we are the same age and yet our lives are so different. It must be pretty tough to have to deal with so many hard things like schools closing because of fighting, bombs in markets when you are shopping, friends being killed or just disappearing. I sure hope that people figure out what to do to stabilize conditions for you again.

I wonder if you have any sports in your school? I play basketball, which you would probably like if you don’t know the game. What kind of music do you listen to? I wonder if we have heard any of the same bands? I learned that you don’t use computers much because of electricity shortages. I hope that changes soon.

Well, I wish there was something I could do to make things better in your country. With the new U.S. president, Barack Obama, there is a good chance that things will get better.

Take care,

Your friend,


صديق عزيز في العراق

لقد قرأنا بعض الرسائل اللتي كتبتموها عن الحياة في العراق اليوم ومن العجب أن نعرف أننا في نفس العمر و مع ذلك حياتنا مختلفة جدا. لا بد من أن يكون صعبا جدا التعامل مع هذا العدد الكبير من الامور الصعبة مثل إغلاق المدارس بسبب القتال و القنابل في الأسواق عندما تتسوقون و وفاة أو اختفاء الأصدقاء. ارجو من الناس ان يتعلمو ما يجب عمله لتحقيق استقرار الأوضاع لكم مرة أخرى.

أتساءل إذا كان لديكم انواع من الرياضة في مدرستك؟ انا ألعب كرة السلة ، والتي ربما تحبها لو كنت لا تعرف اللعبة. الى اي نوع من الموسيقى تستمع؟ أتساءل إذا كنا قد استمعنا إلى نفس الفرق الموسيقية. علمت انكم لا تستخدمون الكمبيوتر كثيرا بسبب نقص الكهرباء و ارجو ان يتغير ذلك قريبا.

اتمنى لو كان هناك شيء يمكنني القيام به لتحسين الأمور في بلدكم و اظن ان مع الرئيس الاميركي الجديد ، باراك أوباما ، هناك فرصة جيدة بأن الأمور ستتحسن.

مع اطيب التمنيات,

صديقك كرس

Water for Peace Action at Al-Ghadeer Kindergarten in Najaf

Below are some images of children at Al-Ghadeer Kindergarten in Najaf, where a small water purifier unit was recently installed by the Muslim Peacemaker Teams. 150 kids attend the school.

Thanks to the sisters at Racine Dominicans for donating the purifier unit.

I feel bad for the kids having to sit through so many pictures! (there are many more not shown here...)

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Education for Peace

Below is a recent note from Sami Rasouli, Director of Muslim Peacemaker Teams (IARP's partner in Iraq):

Dear friend,

"Schools across Iraq are crumbling as a result of a lack of government attention as well as rampant corruption, leaving many children without any means of education say observers." By Nizar Latif / Wasit


Meanwhile IARP & MPT are trying to do a positive difference toward Iraqi children's lives by reducing the violation of Human Rights, hardship of living conditions, violence & abuse applications, and improving their education system.

Please read this report:


English as a foreign language for Third graders at Iraqi schools:

The Iraqi Ministry of Education had a successful experiment of teaching English as a foreign language for Third graders in the province of Al-Muthana last schooling year (2007-2008).

IME had added the program as a new curricula for 3rd grade students at all schools across the country during current schooling year (2008-2009). English as a foreign language program begun to be taught at 5th grade in the past. The education community across the country is pleased for such positive change and development, even some educators and education experts are calling for earlier start with the program as early as 1st grade to begin with. The students are learning to listen, point, make, say words and eventually getting engaged in conversation between each other without leaning writing, reading or grammar skills at this stage of learning. The idea is to enable this group of early age kids to use a foreign language by providing them skills of active methods of communication.

MPT considers this curricula development is very important for the students at this stage of age where kids could discover other's culture through learning other's language, since MPT and IARP are engaged actively in several projects (Letters For Peace for instance) aimed to connecting children of both US and IRAQ.

Teachers, students and their parents are happy for this exciting program, but schools are lacking necessary visual aids such as flashcards, audio system and wall charts that make teacher's job easy and help students to get best results of learning process.

MPTers Mr. Ayad Khoshi, Principal of Al-Hiwariyoon Elementary and his Supervisor Mr. Abdul Khuder Abbas have suggested to MPT the possibility to provide the school with the needed VA by scanning the 42 colored pages of the newly assigned 3rd grade book-Iraq opportunity (please see photo below) and printing 21 large sizes of 2 pages together (1.2m X 80cm) as extremely helpful tool for English teachers.

This educational action was under taken by MPT 6 weeks ago as a response to Mr. Khoshi and Mr. Abbas request to show how VA for leaning a foreign language is important and also urging the officials in charge at the Iraqi Eduction Ministry to make them available for schools next year.

English teacher Mr. Anmar Jasim has reported that the experiment of using the wall charts at 2 of his English classes has improved kids learning up to 95% against 55% before using them.

There are over 16,000 elementary schools in Iraq.

Helping kids learn English will eventually help a whole Iraqi generation to understand American culture and become friends toward other people who speak English as an International language.

Thank you for your time and good work to heal our wounded world.


Sami Rasouli
Muslim Peacemaker Teams
Najaf, Iraq

Friday, May 8, 2009

"The Promise of Freedom" documentary

"The Iraqis who believed most in America are now running for their lives. Who will save them?"

Below are trailers for "The Promise of Freedom," a documentary about Kirk Johnson, an American aid worker trying to help Iraqis who are in danger because they cooperated and worked with the U.S. over the last six years.

IARP Reconciliation Report

Below is a simplified version of the second edition of IARP's new e-newsletter, the Reconciliation Report. If you would like to subscribe to the newsletter, please email with the word "subscribe" in the subject line, or leave a comment here on this blog.

IARP Reconciliation Report
Issue 2, May 2009

Art shows, water systems, and expanding outreach
By Kathy McKay, Executive Director

Greetings from the Iraqi and American Reconciliation Project! I hope this second edition of the Reconciliation Report finds you well and enjoying spring.

I want to thank you for your support for IARP. We're particularly excited about a number of art shows in the U.S. and Iraq, new water sanitation systems providing clean water for Iraqi schools and hospitals, and our expanding outreach efforts--none of which would be possible without you. This edition includes information on these activities, a note from Sami Rasouli (Director of Muslim Peacemaker Teams), and links for you to learn and act.


Art Shows

IARP believes strongly in the power of art to transform perceptions and ideas. An Iraqi artist's expression of war and occupation provides a window into her personal experience. For Americans, this window can counter the objectification of Iraqis as mere recipients of U.S. action (as depicted in photographs and media; e.g., American soldiers with guns bursting into an Iraqi home) and instead personalize Iraqi life.

A number of exciting shows are displaying Iraqi art this spring and summer. At United Theological Seminary in New Brighton, MN, the gallery show Art of War: Artists in Dialogue will be on display through June 15th. The show includes art from U.S. veterans and Iraqis. In conjunction with the gallery show, Iraq War veteran and UTS student Luke Leonard will hold a public discussion on May 6th about the situation in the Middle East. IARP hopes to see you there!

Through July 5th, the Salir a la luz gallery brings to light the interconnectedness of the world and enters "into the lives of children in war-torn Iraq." The children's art exhibit is from War Kids Relief, an organization that connects Iraqi and American youth. The Salir a la luz gallery is open Tuesday-Sunday 12-6pm or by appointment and is located in the Blair Arcade Building (lower level) at the corner of Selby and Western, St. Paul, MN.

IARP will display Iraqi art at Art-A-Whirl, the large art weekend in Northeast Minneapolis from May 15-17th. IARP's display will be at 1400 Van Buren St. IARP will also showcase Iraqi art at the Sabes Jewish Community Center and the Lanesboro Arts Center this September-November.

In Iraq, IARP's partner organization Muslim Peacemaker Teams (MPT) recently hosted an art show in Najaf for Iraqi artist Shaima'a Saad. Images from the show, which over 500 people attended, can be found on IARP's blog.


Water sanitation systems

With support from IARP and a number of American groups, Muslim Peacemaker Teams continues to install water sanitation systems at schools and hospitals in Iraq, providing clean water for Iraqis. Below are some recent photos sent by Sami Rasouli, Director of MPT.

IARP and MPT are thankful for the many people who have expressed interest in contributing to the Water for Peace project. Dr. Marcus Eriksen and Anna Cummins are currently on a 2000 mile cyclying/speaking tour on the U.S. West Coast to bring attention to two water issues: plastic waste filling the ocean and the critical need for clean water at schools around the world. Part of their mission is to raise awareness and funds for water sanitation systems in Iraq. Dr. Eriksen says, "Anna and I firmly believe that if every citizen could choose two causes (one human rights cause and one conservation cause) to know well, teach about, and defend with time and money, then the world would be a much different place. For this tour down the coast, we chose 'Plastic waste in our seas' and 'Clean water for schools.' We hope to make difference." Their website can be found here.

For teachers and others interested in the water situation in Iraq, IARP has a short synopsis of the situation here.

More pictures from the Water for Peace project can be found here.


Expanding outreach

IARP is working hard to expand its outreach, connecting with a number of groups and individuals. Our new blog provides an open place for you to explore and contribute to IARP's work. We invite you to submit activities, events, articles or other content that expresses your views on reconciliation, peace, and the relationship between Iraqis and Americans. IARP also has a Facebook group and Twitter online.

Recently, IARP Board Member Matt Gilroy visited a number of local and national organizations that support peace and human rights in the U.S. and Middle East. IARP is exploring ways to collaborate with Friends for a Non-Violent World, AMIDEAST, Global Action for Children, Friends Committee on National Legislation, the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America Washington Office, and others.

IARP also recently met with War Kids Relief to talk about collaboration and exchanged some exciting ideas. Both organizations work with kids and students in Iraq and the U.S. to build friendship and peace. What if there had been programs like the Young Ambassadors Program and Water for Peace 40 years ago, throughout the U.S. and Iraq? Would the same war have happened? It's much harder to go to war with your friends than your "enemies."


Sami Reports
A note from Sami Rasouli, Director of the Muslim Peacemaker Teams

Dear IARP and friends,

Congratulations! If there is any kind of CHANGE taking place or will take place in the US since January 20th, 2009, CHANGE of minds and hearts would be what we need in Iraq, and this is happening right now, day after day in Najaf due to your fine work of peacebuilding and extending bridges of respect and understanding between people of the US and Iraq. I would like to report to you about Water For Peace action that took place this morning at Al-Khawrnaq High School for boys (700 students) in Najaf. The School is an old teaching institution, was established in 1923. I personally had attended my 7th, 8th and 9th grades in the sixties. A large unit of 300 Gallons of drinking water production purifier has been installed at the school. Thank you!

School Principal, Staff members and students have expressed with enthusiasm their appreciation for you and the donors of the gift they have received and friendship you are offering. They also have listened with interest to MPTer Samirah (project coordinator) who graciously explained MPT & IARP plans for Minneapolis-Najaf sister city project.

More reports to come soon.

Sami Rasouli, Muslim Peacemaker Teams


Update on Najaf delegation planning

IARP continues to plan for a delegation from Najaf, Iraq to visit Minneapolis this coming September. Members of the delegation will include professors (likely a Dean and a Department Chair) from the University of Kufa, a representative from the Chamber of Commerce of Najaf, one or two members of the Najaf City Council, representatives from two or three women-focused NGO's, representative(s) from the Social Science research group AFAAQ, and a member of the writer's group currently corresponding with a group at the Loft in Minneapolis. Several of these visitors already have communicated with individuals here in the Twin Cities.

The Najaf residents are reportedly excited to meet people here that they have communicated with, to see how our city is run, and see how we live.

The delegation planning group has met once and is looking for more volunteers to make sure this is a rich, relaxing and educational visit for our friends from Iraq. Please respond to if you would like to be involved.


UNAMI Human Rights Report: the recently released report from the United Nations Assistance Mission for Iraq, covering the period from July 1 to December 31, 2008.
Peace with Justice Center (Vermont): provides some good resources for peace and justice activists.

Blogs of the Month
Preemptive Love Coalition: "Life-saving heart surgeries for Iraqi children & cooperation between communities at odds."
Checkpoint Baghdad: Newsweek's Iraq blog. Stories are usually interesting and informative.
From Baghdad to New York: "Iraq as Iraqis see it and love it."

Take Action!
The Shape of Change project is an expanded sculpture project, investigating Iraqi and American concepts of political change, independence and civic agency. People across both countries are answering questions ranging from the meaning of democracy to the importance of national identity. Answers will be collected in an open source data base and interpreted in several ways. As content evolves in response to political events, artistic renderings of the data will function as evolving representations of change. If you are interested in the project, you can read more information and fill out the questionnaire here.

Urge President Obama to support Iraqi refugees.

Minneapolis-Najaf Sister City Initiative: If you live in Minneapolis and have not yet contacted your Council Member, please consider doing so. We encourage you to have a personal conversation specifying why you think establishing a Sister City relationship between Minneapolis and Najaf, Iraq would be good for Minneapolis citizens. You can find your Council Member's email and phone number at


Iraqi and American Reconciliation Project
Join IARP's Facebook group or follow us on Twitter
Visit IARP's website or Blog
Email IARP
Donate online and help strengthen the work of IARP. Donations can also be sent by mail to:
Iraqi and American Reconciliation Project
1346 Westwood Hills Road
St. Louis Park, MN 55426

Monday, May 4, 2009

Iraqi Music

These Iraqi music artists were recommended to me by a Lebanese friend... If anyone has other suggestions of Iraqi artists they like, please let me know!

UPDATE: LNyousif at From Baghdad to New York recommended Naseer Shama. I love it! LNyousif also recommended the great Ismail al-Farwache (who lost his leg in the 1991 Gulf War) and collected the Photos of Iraq below with a few different Iraqi music pieces. Thanks!

Naseer Shama:

Ismail al-Farwache:

Iraq in Photos:

Kazem al-Saher:

Haitham Yousif:

Hatem al-Iraqi: