The real me! my thoughts, my life, my work.
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“And you will be hated by all for my name’s sake” Mark 13:13
It feels like Jesus said it now to us, and not 2,000 years ago. It seems like a prophecy gets fulfilled many times during history and not only once. Apparently it has no expiration.
First of all, I must say the following: I have been a direct beneficiary of the invasion of Iraq in the form of job opportunities as a linguist contractor. Second, I have deep respect for all the soldiers who sacrificed their lives for the “mission” in Iraq. I mean no disrespect. In fact the opposite. It is for their SAKE, and the sake of Christians who have suffered by the hands of ISIS, I am writing this blog. I feel all 10 years worth of American and Iraqi lives lost have been wasted. The American investment is bankrupted in Iraq now.
Lately, I find myself on an emotional roller coaster. I am thinking about a dictator whom I hated for 17 years, and now I feel I owe him an apology. I have a deep emotional and mental struggle inside me about this. I cannot believe myself for having feelings of guilt for hating him. I feel I owe him an apology for hating him. I used to express my hate for him publicly, and now, I am publicly saying…
I am Sorry Saddam Hussein. And, “Thank You” for doing me the biggest favor in my life…
I am saying “sorry”, because I question whether he was right on his policy in dealing with Iraq. Maybe he was the right person protecting Iraqis from the tsunami of evil that flooded Iraq. I remember back in school, I was taught that: “Iraq is the Middle Eastern Gate”. I didn’t understand it then. Now, I do!
Approximately 10 years ago in Chicago, I was involved in a big verbal fight with someone for his stand in defending Saddam’s actions and policies in Iraq. I stood my ground and I was passionately arguing against Saddam’s position. The fight was so bad, I ended up calling the FBI on him. (True Story!)
In July 2014, the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) commanded that all Christians convert to Islam, pay taxes, or leave Mosul – an Iraqi Sunni province that has collapsed. They have burned all the churches, raped Christian women, and took possession of Christian properties. They are raping women in their homes in front of their families in the name of ALLAH/God!
Sadly, my voice and feelings mirror most of the educated, elite, and many more Iraqis (Christians and Muslims). I am writing this blog from Iraq. I interact with Iraqis from different levels of society, even those from Shia’s stronghold of Sadr City. The current government’s policies, lead by PM Nori al-Maliki for the past eight years and more, have made people long for Saddam’s days. The majority of people are now comparing Saddam’s days with current days, and saying there were better off under Saddam. A nation that suffered under Saddam’s regime is now longing for his days. All in the name of the “Price of Democracy”.
The current government of Iraq has people cursing their lives and the day they born in Iraq. People have witnessed actions by Iraqi politicians far beyond Saddam’s actions. The level of corruption, bribery, and abuse of power by all Iraqi politicians has BY FAR surpassed Saddam’s level. The new “democracy” has given birth to a new breed of “politicians” that has made a dictator, an angel compare to them.
Here are a few examples, including: The son of an Iraqi minister of transportation, missed his flight in Beirut, Lebanon. His father forced the Lebanese airline to return to Lebanon from Baghdad by not allowing the plane to land in Iraq without his son. And the reason for that was: “He was late half an hour and the plane should have waited for him.”
I am extremely disappointed by the silence of Obama’s Administration on the topic of Christian persecution in Iraq. It seems Mr. Obama is more concerned about NOT offending Muslims than of defending Christians. I was expecting him at least to acknowledge it publicly. Muslims around the world have condemned such action, but NOT our President. What a disgrace!
During my work in Iraq around 2006/7, I remember informing an American Army two-star general that we (Americans) should go and ask Saddam for advice. Saddam was being held prisoner by American forces. Iraqis wanted him back to put him on trial to execute him. Iraq was at the highest level of sectarian violence and civil war.
And NOW…After 11 years, Iraq was better off during Saddam’s regime.
I can imagine Saddam alive now looking at us and saying to us: “Do you miss me now?” …”Was I right in how I handled Iraq?”
What a shame to see American weapons and Abrams tanks used by ISIS now. What a shame!..What a shame. And, probably will be used against Iraqi people.
And what was his favor to me?
It was because of his actions that I never understood before, that made me leave Iraq and go to America. Because in a million years, I will never go back and live in Iraq again. He saved me from living under this tsunami of evil. Maybe, it takes an evil man at the gate to stop the flood of evil!
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I had a child who died at the age of two and a half years. She was beautiful to me even before she was born. Since the time of inception a heroic vision in my mind of what she would be like fully grown up. What she could offer the world. She took my breath away. She became an extension of myself. She defined me. She was my identity. In fact, she was to represent an identity for a whole nation – a nation without land and beyond borders – Assyrians. She was everything for me. In her being, every yesterday was a dream of happiness, and every tomorrow a vision of hope.
Her name was “I Am Assyrian.com”.
Some of you may remember her.. I Am Assyrian was full of life with a resounding energy devoted to re-imagining our human network. Her birthday was 10 August, 2010. Perhaps she was born at the wrong time but her heart, memory and message still resonates. She was laid to rest in peace on 3 January, 2012 at the cemetery of dead startups. It was/still can be difficult for me to talk about her. I owe her an apology for writing her eulogy this late in life. Her avatar is still alive on Facebook and Youtube. Her DNA is recoded on LinkedIn as part of my resume.
She was gifted in many ways. She was very social. Some people did not understand her or her deep purpose, but I understood her very much. I was proud of her. I watched her grow for two years under my arms. I devoted all my time and resources to her. I sacrificed many things for her sake. I lost a few friends because of her. I got in many arguments defending her.
I am sorry my beloved I Am Assyrian for breaking my silence now.
I Am Assyrian was my startup. It was my first attempt at entrepreneurship but the vision meant so much more to me than just a business venture. It was the first social network aimed at connecting Assyrians around the world. Assyrians are a minority in the world; we have no land to call our own. The vision of I am Assyrian was to create a virtual land; a place to connect, to form new relationships and a platform to accentuate all the positive aspects of our cultural identity. Assyrians are in physical Diaspora, and now, immutably just as vibrant in the cyberspace Diaspora of the Internet and its parallel social domains. Unfortunately, I Am Assyrian did not become the central virtual metropolis I envisioned, but by no means did this effort pass in vein. In fact, I Am Assyrian laid a new path with even grander hopes and a more open mind-set for young aspiring Assyrians.
My feelings about privately funded startups are shared by every entrepreneur. We entrepreneurs who take risks against challenging odds to be part of something big, must be proud. We are lucky to have had a chance to try and start something. We got our chance. Many entrepreneurs don’t even get a chance to start or be part of something that defines their passion. Only a few of us are lucky enough to get a second chance and try again.
I came from a middle eastern society. Failure in those societies is a social stigma. They associate failure with being stupid. Failed entrepreneurs become socially stigmatized and morally untrusted. I truly can say that embracing failure in America is a badge of honor. When I look back to my experience with my startup, I remember some of the key mistakes and have learned from them. Failure is a good kind of knowledge – “what does not work” is an excellent teacher. In those failures, I turned negative to positive. It also helped that I could connect with like-minded entrepreneurs, and other local business people who remain excited about my ideas and musings on life, entrepreneurship, culture, etc. I treasure this unique experience. I proudly wear it as a badge of honor.
My good friend and colleague, John Karantonis and I often connect to share stories, bounce around ideas, and ask for advise– or just dream about what comes next. One of John’s recent remarks resonates with my experience:
“It’s sort of an oxymoron to say this but we often hear suggestions like “don’t get emotionally involved” with [business]; what you’re trying to build. You can’t take it personally. There’s merit to this advice but only in a matter of degrees. I also respect the LEAN methodology for doing start-ups but there’s a paradox. Without the emotional charge and passion to communicate a vision, you will fail to persuade enough customers, investors, colleagues, etc to buy into a start-up. You have to be engaged– but above all else you must never compromise your reputation. Even though we live in a global economy, we have evolved for social and business interaction on a much smaller scale. Don’t burn bridges. In a critical start-up situation, it can sometimes be challenging to separate the personal, emotional experience from the objectivity required in making sound business decisions. You become enamored with the vision and it can cause you to lose site of the fundamentals, but be careful not to undermine partners, customers or employees. Failing at a start-up obviously affects all the people who were involved; and that can be a difficult experience, but if you maintain your integrity it should not hold you back from trying again. The experience and grit you’ve gained along the way will help you..”
I cast my vote with those who call for a National Entrepreneur Day. Our heroic risk is an incentive for others. It is part of economic progress. It is what makes America. Nassim Nichoas Taleb, philosopher and author of national best sellers, writes in his book Antifragile: “In order to progress, modern society should be treating failed entrepreneurs in the same way we honor dead soldiers, perhaps not with as much honor, but using exactly the same logic….For there is no such thing as a failed soldier, dead or alive (unless he acted in a cowardly manner) – likewise, there is no such thing as a failed entrepreneur or failed scientific researcher, any more than there is a successful babbler, philosophaster, commentator, consultant, lobbyist, or business school professor who does not take personal risks. (Sorry)“.
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P.S.: If you have more minutes, then check: Are You Predestined to the Kingdom of Silicon Valley?
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“We should not give our native population cause to complain that when they had asked for bread, we had offered them a vote” – Lord Haiely (1941)
Disclaimer: I am representing the political mentality of Assyrians of Iraq. However, the mentality, in general, is the same across other ethnic group of Iraq: Assyrians, Kurds, and Arabs…
There is a nice desert breeze and a clear sky above Basrah. Looking up at the deep dark sky resembling unknowing future, I am wondering if my story could be one of those One Thousand and One Nights stories. It is such a fitting metaphor for my life. I am sitting outside my room at the U.S. Consulate writing the following blog. I have been relocated from Baghdad as part of U.S. Embassy staff. Here in the land of Sinbad the Sailor, I was born as an Assyrian Christian minority. I am reminiscing about how my life started 37 years ago here in Basrah and ended up full circle back in Basrah with the American Embassy staff.
I am pondering on the history of this nation and my life. Since I was 13 or 14 years old, I remember my father saying “things will get better”. And in the land of the fifth largest oil reserves, about 24 years ago, I used to stand in line to get gasoline, kerosene oil, and food staples. As for electricity, I remember we suffered from frequent power shutdowns.
In present day Iraq (2014), people park their cars in line for days to get gas. My relative was cursing heaven and earth for waiting 3 days to get gas in Duhok. As for electricity, some Iraqi people hope it will be fixed in the next 1000 years or so. Fixing the national electricity infrastructure is “mission impossible” in Iraq.
Political topics have become one of the main fibers of social life in Iraq due to wars, scarcity of resources, and life under a dictatorship. It is an “obsession” of the general public dialogue. Neither my father nor I were immune to this obsession. Under Saddam’s regime, Arabs, Kurds, and Assyrians lived in a stable united Iraq – stability worked under the magic of “fear”. People dealt with each other with a clear set of unwritten Ba’athist protocols like: “don’t talk against the government”, “serve the military duty”, and “join the Ba’ath party”. Following these protocols resulted in being under a “you are ok” status with the government. Things appeared in stable equilibrium!
Events that were thought to be temporary, ended up lasting years in Iraq. The Iraq-Iran war was expected to last but a few months; it lasted eight years. After a long war, we thought the Iraq war era would end and Iraq would start to prosper, but Iraq became involved in another war with Kuwait. After that ended, Iraq faced 10 years of sanctions. The 10 years of sanctions ended with another 10 years of war/liberation, started by Americans and continued on by sectarian violence. In all this, I witnessed my father echoing the voice of most Iraqi people saying, “Things will get better, Inshalla – God willing”. But again, their false “positive hope”, believing that Iraq will get better was proven wrong. A few years after the American withdrew from Iraq, in 2014 Iraqi is AGAIN in turmoil, caused by members of Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS). A few Sunni provinces have collapsed. It seems Iraq is on a 10-year-problem cycle.
I am now pondering on questions like: what happened in all these high political government meetings? As if all these high political meetings, briefs, presidential and prime minister’s press conferences, and speeches never happened. Were they all just for public consumption?…Pure rhetoric?
Just as Russians, Cubans, Iranian, and Lebanese migrated to America after their counties’ major disastrous events, Iraqi Assyrians migrated to many cities around the world. The exodus of Assyrian Christians increased during the last years to cities like Gothenburg, Sydney, Wiesbaden, Marseille, Toronto, but mostly Chicago. The number of educated people dropped below a critical level in Iraq. The brain drain from Iraq is extremely hard to reverse. In my opinion, this is one of the reasons Iraq will never get better again!
The emigrant personality has been injected with so many hyphenated complex parts like Iraqi-Assyrian-American-Christian complicated further by wars, religious beliefs, religious wars, and values of a Christian minority in an Islamic-Arab-country society of Iraq – I sometimes wonder how I am still normal!
Coffee shop politics
On the north side of Chicago, there is an Assyrian coffee shop for soccer fans. It is one of those “members only” coffee shop you see in Italian movies, but it has an Assyrian style cozy feeling. Iraq’s political events are part of the social dialogue. People in this coffee shop, and others, are some of the best consumers and producers of conspiracies. Hollywood, take note of this. So many movies could be made from their conspiracy theories. Allow me to echo the words of the philosopher Nassim Talab; the exile’s roots penetrated their personalities a bit too deeply. They have become prisoners of their memory of idyllic Iraq. They sit together with other prisoners talking about the “old days”. They eat traditional food, play cards, talk about money, payments and bills, who bought what business, while listening to Assyrian music playing in the background.
For many people, Iraq still appears more Elysian in their memory than it actually is. They keep talking about the “old days”. I never tasted pleasure in this place!
These Assyrians like almost all Iraqis everywhere talk about politics continuously running what-if scenarios. What if Saddam did not enter Kuwait? What if Saddam cooperated with Americans? What if Saddam did not threaten Israel? Some also believe that the CIA is causing all this chaos. American know everything; they plan for 30 years from now. And, everything happens in the world because of the CIA. They generate an endless stream of what-if alternative scenarios. As if the historical events could have been averted or changed if it wasn’t for this or that event. They are so well-rounded in political events to the point they keep track the tone of the politicians; who said what and in what tone. I can tell that every one of these people with their broken English sounds like a presidential adviser sitting at the White House!
High Government Politics
On the other hand, I have had the experience to meet many high officials and be part of many meetings in Iraq. Being a translator in Iraq for many years for the U.S. Army and U.S. Embassy, I was part of many meetings at various levels. I translated meetings with PM Nouri al-Maliki, former PM of England Tony Blair, former Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, Iraqi Minister of Defense, Iraqi Minister of Interior, and many U.S. Army Generals. I translated many historical decisions. I was in the midst of it. If you would’ve asked anyone of them, “What will happen next?”, his reply was always in a form of: “I don’t know what is going to happen.”
I hold firm to my opinion that from high government politicians to coffee shop theorists, nobody knows anything or what will happen. The only difference between a government politician and a coffee shop politician is that the government politician will give the listener the same story in more polished words. In reality, none of these Iraqi or American politicians know anything. Common people find that hard to believe.
Bad things happen and will continue to happen because of randomness or because of political decisions. Many people fail to understand this “history generator” machine, which compiles complex current events and produces history, extremely difficult to reverse engineer. Events don’t happen based on a script – predicting the outcome based on a few events. They try to retrospectively understand and assign value of importance to a few decisions here and there. “was it because of the open borders in Iraq?”, “was it because Americans marginalized some elements of the Iraqi people?” “was it because Paul Bremer dissolved the Iraqi Army?”
As a result from my work experience and past 30 years of following Iraq news, this is my opinion…Nobody knows what will happen next, but we know for sure, Iraq will be going in downward spiral for many long years.
The problem with this new democracy in Iraq (or other Arab nations) is not the fault of Americans passing along the fancy illusion of “Democracy” in nation-building, but those long years of Saddam’s autocracy that preceded for generations. I remember former Iraqi National Adviser Dr. Mowaffak al-Rubaie made a public statement saying “Saddam did not only destroy Iraq, but destroyed the human side of the Iraqi people”.
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P.S.: Currently, reading Heaven is for Real: A Little Boy’s Astounding Story of His Trip to Heaven and Back by Todd Burpo
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In the spirit of the 2014 FIFA World Cup victories, I am recording my emotions of happiness of making it this far in blogging and in life in general. This is my 50th blog milestone. I published my first blog titled “Hello World!” back in 2012. And I have fallen in love with blogging since then. I should’ve named it “Welcome to my world!” Earlier this year, I published a blog titled “Why do I blog for free?“, and I answered my own question with seven reasons. In this blog, I would like to share my reason of why I have fallen in love with blogging, and how I came to view personal blogging over all.
I’ve visited and read about a few arches around the world. I was inspired by them. How they lasted the test of time. Emperors and generals marked their names not only in books, but on these monuments. They recorded their victories and battles. They saved their legacy. I meditated on their accomplishments and victories and how they wanted future generation to read about them. They cared about their names and their futures beyond their deaths. They knew they would eventually die, but they wanted to be immortal, their legacies to live on!
We don’t know where the idea of building arches originated. I am assuming it could be from Ishtar Gate at the city of Babylon (575 BC) constructed by order of King Nebuchadnezzar II. The Arco di Costantino (Arch of Constantine) has stood tall and wide in Rome since the year 315 AD. It was erected in memory of Constantine’s victory over Maxentius at the Battle of Milvian Bridge near Vatican city. The Arc de Triomphe honors those who fought and died for France in the French Revolutionary and Napoleonic Wars. These two arches are examples of many arches around the world that were built to remember many historical battles and victories, memories engraved on the ancient arches that have lasted since antiquity. Even Saddam built arches for his palaces so people would remember his name.
It is now the 100-year anniversary of World War I. Mankind has long been involve in wars. I am reading about wars that took place in ca. 1177. It is almost certain that two or three countries are at war at any of several geographical location at any given time across the globe. And World War III is here already, but it is titled the “Global War on Terrorism”. Almost 19 years of my life has been in real wars. And the rest of my years are at war with life itself.
We are always at war even if our country is not. We are at war with life. Life is life; good and bad falls on the just and the unjust. And, we have to fight to survive. Some of us fight for our jobs, fight cancer, fight emotional troubles, fight for water, fight for another day to live. We win some and lose some of our wars. But, it is important to take time and record our winning and celebrate our victories in life.
Coming to American is the best accomplishment of my life. On August 7, 1995, my family and I arrived at O’Hare Airport on a KLM flight. It was on a late afternoon. It was clear sunny day. We arrived in a new land after long years of struggle in Iraq, and a long year and half in Jordan. I remember a strong feeling took me over to kneel and kiss the ground of a land I had long, long dreamed about (I was too shy to actually do it). We arrived only with our luggage. We had no money with us. We couldn’t speak English. We were separated from my mother’s side of the family. But when I arrived, a new “hope” was born in my heart. I truly understood and appreciate the meaning of the word “hope”, because I had already experienced living a hopeless life. The antithesis of hope. I knew and felt the meaning of a “new life”, of a “new beginning”. After an emotional reunion with my uncles, aunt, and extended relatives, I began my personal journey; I started to rebuild myself. Like a phoenix, or more like ninos 2.0.
If we cannot build real arches for our achievements, then we can record our history through blogging about our life. Blogging gives us the ability to record our history and save our legacy after our death. It is a snap shot of our brain. It saddens me that I cannot trace my lineage and know about grandfathers. Maybe it is unnatural to praise and boast of our accomplishments individually, but yet it is acceptable to speak about our nation and call it “national pride”. We need to tell our stories to keep the past alive for the future!
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P.S.: Currently, reading 1177 B.C.: The Year Civilization Collapsed by Eric Cline
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In the midst of World Cup excitement in Rio de Janeiro and the news of Michael Schumacher waking up from a coma, half way across the globe in Iraq I wake up to different news. In the fast turn of events over the past few days, the US Embassy decided to relocate part of its staff in fear of entering a different type of coma.
After a full day of shredding paper and the sound of helicopters removing people from the Embassy, I exit the building looking up at the American flag trying to absorb the surrealism of the day in my brain. I walk to my room,thinking about every detail rolling around in my brain and trying to find my voice. I see our Embassy full of U.S. Marines.
Upon entering my room, I see my mother had tried to call me many times on Skype. As my family was watching CNN news, my mother was freaking out more and more. I called her to ensure her that we were ok. And, we are ok!
As the rest of the world was watching a surprising and beautiful match between Germany and Portugal (4-0) in the World Cup, my TV was on in the background, and I did my laundry and prepared my “to-go bag”, ready at a minute’s notice for my re-location order to be transported somewhere safer.
As I do every night, I took my walk-and-read ritual to relax my brain. After walking for about an hour and reading 50 Shades of Grey, I sat on a sidewalk bench -the 14 date palms on each side forging an image of Roman columns lining the street. I sat enjoying the beautiful cool breeze from the Tigris River hitting me from behind, looking again at the American flag high up. Unwinding my brain in meditation of the surreal day, I am re-enacting the memory of the Fall of Saigon (1975) and U.S. Embassy crisis in Tehran(1979), Baghdaddy style.
I was meditating on the entire day’s events; I remembered a few scenes from the movie Argo where the Iranians were trying to put together back all the shredded papers using kids. (The shredders we use today will make it a lot more difficult to put the papers back together!) We (Americans), here, are living the real thing, not like Ben Affleck playing the hero in his movie Argo. He gets recognitions and makes millions of dollars. But these US Marines, and we (civilians) who stay behind serving our Nation America are the real deal.
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P.S.: Currently, reading The Opposite of Loneliness by Marina Keegan
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There are many ironies in my life. In this blog, I will share one of them. I am one of the few, of the 7 BILLION people on this planet, to be able to say the following: “70% of my life has been ruled by the Husseins”. I started to develop an allergy to the name “Hussein”. For some odd reason, of the 13.8 BILLION year life of the Universe, this same Universe has produced three “Husseins” to rule, in succession, my life. Coincidence? I think not! – is this Universe working against me?
16.5 years of my life was under the rule of Saddam HUSSEIN – In Iraq.
1.5 years of my life was under the rule of King Hussein bin Talal of Jordan.
8 years of my life has been under the rule of Hussein of America – oops, Barack HUSSEIN Obama!
I was born in a country ruled by a dictator named Saddam Hussein took me through two wars and 10 years of sanctions, living under fear. I couldn’t say anything bad about him in public for fear of being executed. I had to run away from his rule.
I ran to Jordan to face anther ruler by name Hussein who was a King. His policy did not allow me to work for a living as an Iraqi citizen residing in Jordan. And, I had to pay approximately $3 dollars per day in fees for being in his country. Under his governance, I was a beggar. My extended family in America was supporting me with money for living.
After catching a break under Clinton’s administration for six years and under Bush’s for eight, my life was really good. Under Clinton, the economy was good and I had good jobs, and under Bush (41) I made good money.
After running away from the two Husseins to America, I opened my eyes to find AGAIN, I am under the rule of a new Hussein. Fear of unemployment, loss of health benefits, and a stifling economy hit my life again in America. I exiled myself back to my original country of Iraq for a good job. With all of that being ironically unbelievable, another surprise of a possible relocation (running away) from Iraq has come. For some (humm) reason, every time I am ruled by Hussein, I have to run away – I can hear the sound of shredders in the background.
Now, of 320 million Americans, who can say this? Who has this serendipitous story in his life? Isn’t it funny? You bet my luck is!…Next time, I will run away from any country that is ruled by HUSSEIN!
U.S. Embassy in Baghdad relocates some staff
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