When I moved to the US and came closer to the start of maternity, I knew I’d have time on my hands to start a new project. Something that has always been close to my heart, women’s rights, just seemed to be the best choice in terms of where I could put my energy into.
I can’t claim I fully understand or see through the changes Iraq has gone through. But by just looking at the changes my mother has navigated through, it’s undeniable, that a lot of people rediscovered religion or went back to a more traditional way of doing things. I’ve always wondered, why that was. This really applies to the whole region. One of the questions that came up as well was why hadn’t I heard much about Iraqi feminists? Where were they? What did they care about? I asked a contact in Iraq who seems empowered and who pretty much is walking her own way. Not completely free, but within the well-known confinements. I do realise now, that my questions weren’t posed in an open enough way. So really, I need to learn to ask better questions. Her response was not very satisfying still. It all seemed to be centred on whether Islam was applied the right way. And I was looking for a movement outside of religion. Feminism cannot be confined to what religion allows.
And so, I had time on my hands to do my own research. We’re celebrating feminism in the West. Well, mostly. Of course, there are men and women who don’t think feminism is still necessary, but that’s a topic for a separate blog post really. We’re celebrating how far it has come and what it has achieved. Feminism in the Middle East is muted by the West. But I knew it existed and I wanted to find out more about it. Google nowadays makes research so easy. There are quite a lot of names that come up. Nawal El-Saadawi, Fatema Mernissi, Inaam Kachachi, Hanan Al-Shaykh, Mona Eltahawy, Zainab Salbi and Manal Al-Sharif to only name a few.
In my journey, I’ve discovered and interacted with strong women and learned more about what fights women in the Middle East face. What I didn’t know was how much it would also enable me to understand society as a whole much better. Before I started my research, I had a general feeling, like most people probably do, that politics and governments are flawed and don’t really represent the people, they claim to represent. With an insight of how sexism, racism and classism are structural and run not just through our lives, but also through our societies, it’s much easier to see through the flaws and also come up with action plans. My research obviously took me from the Middle East to writings by minority groups in the US and UK. We tend to be attracted to what we can relate to. And I can really relate to marginalized groups, because I am part of them.
A lot of it boils down to what feelings and experiences I went through growing up between cultures. As a woman. As a Muslim. As someone, who never felt home. Everyone has somewhat of an identity crisis growing up. Just imagine how that’s amplified, when you have different cultures to choose from, but none of them fit 100%. So really, this journey has led me to understand what type of people I can identify with. It has led me to understand, why London feels like home. I know now, what kind of environment I need to thrive and be me. I also understand better, what kind of environments hide the better of me. Make me feel strangled.
I’ve learned so much, and I have yet so much to learn. And that excites me. It’s no secret, I love books. And when I think of the books I’m going to read soon, the thought of learning something else, whether it’s about me, about feminism or about something, that’s completely new and out of my comfort zone, I literally can’t wait to get on with it then. This feeling of having a better understanding of the world, is nice. It has replaced the feeling of being chased or chasing. Often enough blindly for something, that is almost impossible to get to, when you can’t pinpoint at what it is. But that feeling of belonging can be temporary, there’s always the risk of feeling lost again. I know I haven’t gone deep enough yet. This is, why I can’t wait to see what’s next.
Another question, I’m facing is how much do we have to compromise? Balance between our dreams, wishes and fears. I’d normally say, just go for your dream. But when you’re also responsible for someone else, is it not necessary to make sure they’re comfortable, too?
My next step is to finally read some of the Iraqi literature that I’ve neglected, because there is so much exciting stuff out there. This will help me to understand my family and ancestry better. Their choices and struggles. But also, why are they headed to where they seem to be headed to? In my identity, a lot is shaped by my German socialisation, my Arab roots in general and my travel and living abroad experiences. What I can’t differentiate yet is what is Iraqi about me? What is Iraqi, what’s Muslim and what’s Arabic? Some of it was covered by reading a bit of Zainab Salbi. But she is a world citizen, too. So, I’m finding I’m relating to that side again.
And also, how do we change our environment? How do we get the best out of ourselves? How do we challenge ourselves? Push ourselves? The danger of getting stuck and comfortable is imminent. I want to fight it as much as possible. I want to be fearless in my quest for knowledge.
I felt like reassessing my aims, since it’s been a bit more than a year now, that I’ve been working on this blog. I’ve only started publishing last year, but really the study started just after I moved to the US. I honestly can’t wait to see, what this year will bring. I’m so scared of getting too comfortable, but I’m also scared of not being uncomfortable enough.