Cultural Glimpse

Enjoying diversity

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Iraqi Americans: The War Generation

Iraqi Americans the War Generation FRONT ONLY (2)

The War Generation, the first of the Iraqi Americans book series, was published today. It is a collection of 36 articles that I wrote over the years which paint a picture of Iraqi Americans’ political and social situation and their struggles. The views that leaders, politicians and activists I interviewed had about Iraq and the United States fascinated me, especially since their views largely differed from, or were not found in, mainstream media. Given these people’s direct connection to both countries, I felt it was important that their stories and perspectives be heard.

The War Generation has a large focus on Christianity and the biblical city of Nineveh because, after the 2003 US-led invasion, Christians were heavily targeted by fundamentalists. Many leaders foresaw the genocide that began in June 2014 against this group of people and tried for over a decade to establish an autonomous region in Nineveh for Christians and other minorities in Iraq. Their efforts were in vain.

The Iraqi Americans book series will not only focus on this community’s political issues but will also highlight its writers and artists, traditions, celebrations and ethnic cooking. Hopefully it will develop critical, aesthetic and creative sensibilities necessary for Iraqis and Americans to become better acquainted, and, as a result, motivate individuals to end the destructive acts that have, politically and economically, terrorized both the East and the West.

The book is available in print and eBook

I Am a Mute Iraqi With a Voice

I Am a Mute Iraqi With a Voice FRONT1

I studied poetry through the University of New Orleans summer program in Prague. Over the years I wrote over a hundred poems, many which were published in various national and international publications. This year, 90 of these poems will be published in my first poetry book, I Am a Mute Iraqi with a Voice. The book will be released later this month.

I dedicated this book to my ancestors, particularly Enheduanna, the world’s first recorded writer. She was the daughter of the great Mesopotamian king Sargon of Akkad and the high priestess of the temple of Nanna, the Akkadian moon god, in the center of her father’s empire, the city state of Ur. She had a considerable political and religious role in Ur. She wrote during the rise of the agricultural civilization when gathering territory and wealth, warfare, and patriarchy were making their marks. She offers a first-person perspective on the last times women in western society held religious and civil power. After her father’s death, the new ruler of Ur removed her from her position as high priestess. She turned to the goddess Inanna to regain her position, through a poem that mentions her carrying the ritual basket:

“It was in your service that I first entered the holy temple,
I, Enheduanna, the highest priestess. I carried the ritual basket,
I chanted your praise.
Now I have been cast out to the place of lepers.
Day comes and the brightness is hidden around me.
Shadows cover the light, drape it in sandstorms.
My beautiful mouth knows only confusion.
Even my sex is dust.”

Al Mutanabbi Street

Iraqi poet Ahmed Abdel Sara recites a po

My friend Emily Porter is an artist, author and human rights activist who during the Baath regime worked for over a decade at the Iraq Museum. She recently returned to her home in England from a two week trip to Iraq. She told me that what most impressed her about Iraq was Al Mutanabi Street.

“I loved it there,” she said. “I would call it the free republic of Iraq. It’s a republic of its own.”

She was incredibly touched by the lovely and warm hearted people who kissed and hugged her when she arrived there, although they had never met her before. She described the beautiful coffee shops along with the loads of cultural respect, free expressions, and poetry recitals that filled the street.

“It was like Hyde Park of London,” she said. “I wish all of Baghdad would be like Al Mutanabbi Street. Maybe that virus will soon spread throughout Iraq.”

Baghdad’s Al-Mutanabbi Street is the historic center of the city’s intellectual and literary community where books have been sold for centuries. When a car bomb exploded there in 2007, printers and artists around the world responded. For years, letterpress printers created broadsides to share their grief of this event.

In honor of Baghdad’s Al-Mutanabbi Street, the Arab American National Museum in Dearborn is having an exhibition from March 6-July 12, 2015 to showcase a selection of broadsides and artist-made books that make up the Al Mutanabbi Street Starts Here collection, founded by San Francisco poet and bookseller Beau Beausoleil.

Last night at the museum, there was a special event which included several short films produced during poetry translation workshops in Iraq by the U.K. arts organization Highlight Arts. As I watched the powerful poets highlighted in the short films, I remembered more of Emily’s words.

“There’s an old building in Al Mutannabi Street that was built in the early 1920s,” she told me. “Now it stands with no roof, no doors, walls or windows and the presence of smoke and fire still lingers. People placed cloth on the floor and used it for plays or to recite poetry.  They turned a skeleton of a building into a positive thing.”

TV Orient – Having a Voice in the Media

Interview airs Monday at 10pm -- Comcast Channel 90

Interview airs Monday at 10pm — Comcast Channel 90

The first television interview I did was in 2004 by TV Orient, a cable programming channel that catered to the local Arab and Chaldean community. This was during the release of my first book, The Feminine Art. Later that year TV Orient named my book one of 2004’s greatest accomplishments by a Chaldean American. So understandably, I’ve always had a fondness for this television station.

TV Orient started in 1986 when a reputable business man in the community, Norman Kiminaia, found a need and helped fulfill it. This was the first and only daily TV station in the country that catered to the Arab and Chaldean community. In 1999, Kiminaia left TV Orient to venture into other businesses. Last year, with the growing Arab and Chaldean community in Metro Detroit, he felt that it’s time to bring TV Orient back to life.

According to the U.S. census, there are about a quarter million Michiganders with roots in the Middle East. The city of Dearborn has the largest concentration of Arabs outside the Middle East and Sterling Heights is nicknamed “Little Iraq.”

“There are already hundreds of satellite television channels that cater to non-English speaking Arabs and Chaldeans,” said Kiminaia. “What’s needed is a local cable channel that caters to the new generation as well as the general American public who are interested to learn more about the Arab and Chaldean culture.”

His station currently airs on Comcast’s channel 90 seven days a week, from 10pm-midnight. His goal is to slowly increase it one hour at a time, to where it’ll ultimately be from 7pm-midnight. Channel 90 broadcasts to one million homes in Oakland, Macomb, Wayne and Washtenaw counties.

“Even if we don’t have a million viewers, we go into a million homes,” he said.

Recently some colleagues and I were interviewed on TV Orient about an upcoming cultural event at Wayne State University. The segment aired last week and will air again tonight at 10pm. As my colleagues and I discussed our artistic and humanitarian work, I felt much pride to see our community moving into a powerful place of creativity where we are able to have an English speaking voice in the media – not have others define us.

Every Rock Has a Story


Last week Cranbrook Institute of Science and Schuchard teamed up to provide a family science night. We enjoyed visiting the different centers and watching various experiments, observing stunning crystals, beetles and butterflies under a microscope, making oobleck and having a giant cockroach walk on our arms (well, I did not volunteer to have that experience). My favorite part was listening to the rock stories.

Rocks change, transform and have cycles. The process is slow and sometimes takes millions of years and that’s why most people assume that the rock is just sitting there doing nothing. We’re usually long gone by the time sand particles form into sedimentary rocks and then the rock either breaks up by weather and turns into sand again or if transforms into magma.

Native Americans honor not only the process of the rock’s outer formation but the sacredness of its existence. Chief Seattle addresses this relationship to rocks in his original speech of 1854, as reported by Henry Smith in 1887:

“Every part of this soil is sacred in the estimation of my people. Every hillside, every valley, every plain and grove, has been hallowed by some sad or happy event in days long vanished. Even the rocks, which seem to be dumb and dead as the swelter in the sun along the silent shore, thrill with memories of stirring events connected with the lives of my people.”

Much mind opening information was shared during the two hour event. My children had fun and I learned quite a bit, including the fact that the Statute of Liberty was made of copper but that it has rusted over time and turned into a green coating. But I also felt a little sad. The earth deserves more than those few hours of recognition and honor. The environment provides us with everything we need to survive and thrive, and yet oftentimes we take nature for granted. This negligence on our part has not served us one bit, and actually it has done the exact opposite.

It’s a great effort and generous gesture of institutions like Cranbrook and Schuchard to bring this knowledge to our doors, but ultimately it’s our jobs to make the connection between spirit, man and nature a natural part of our daily lives.

Detroit 1967 Project

Detroit 1967

At last week’s National Association of Black Journalists, guests from the Detroit Historical Society introduced the launch of the Detroit 1967 Project. For the next nine months, Detroit 67 will collect stories and images relating to conditions in Detroit prior to 1967, as well as the events of that summer, and explore how those factors have affected our past and present – and, very likely, our future. This research, along with personal accounts, media reports and artifacts, will culminate in a groundbreaking exhibition about Detroit’s struggles with racial and cultural diversity.

The Detroit Race Riot in Detroit was one of the most violent urban revolts in the 20th century. Early morning Sunday, July 23, the Detroit Police Vice Squad officers raided an after-hours bar on the corner of 12th Street and Clairmount Avenue in the center of the city’s oldest and poorest black neighborhood. People inside were celebrating the return of two black servicemen from Vietnam. Although officers had expected a few would be inside they found and arrested all 82 people at the party. As they were being transported from the scene by police, a crowd of about 200 people gathered outside agitated by rumors that police used excessive force during the 12th Street bar raid. For the next couple of days the violence escalated to the point where Governor George W. Romney ordered the Michigan National Guard into Detroit, and President Lyndon B. Johnson sent in Army troops.

“We lived close to the 6th precinct,” said one of the NABJ members. “I remember tanks coming down the street and literally crushing people. We regularly had to hit the floor because of gun shots. You saw rifles sitting at the corner of people’s homes, to defend themselves.”

In the five days and nights of violence during the riots, 33 blacks and 10 whites were killed, 1,189 were injured and over 7,200 people were arrested. Approximately 2,500 stores were looted and the total property damage was estimated at $32 million. Until the riots following the death of Dr. Martin Luther King in April 1968, the Detroit Race Riot stood as the largest urban uprising of the 1960s.

“You have to understand your history so you don’t repeat your history,” said Vicki Thomas, award winning reporter at WWJ/CBS radio in Detroit. “This is a timely conversation and a timely topic.”

Detroit 1967 Project invites anyone who was in Detroit during the riots to contact the Detroit Historical Society and share their story.

“A lot of people tell stories for us, but we want to tell our stories by Detroiters,” said Kate Baker, Managing Director at the Detroit Historical Society.

Those interested in participating in the Detroit 1967 Project or in sharing hteir story can visit the project website at and click on “Get Involved” or call the project’s dedicated phone line at (313) 885-1967 and leave a message.

The World Celebrates Women Through Murder, Displacement and Captivity

Iraqi Police Women

This morning I received a letter written by Alyaa Al Ansari, the executive director of Bent Al Rafedain Organization (BROB), a women’s organization in Babylon, Iraq. She wants everyone to hear her message, so I’m publishing her letter here.

Every year, on the 8th of March, the world celebrates women; honoring them, reminding the importance of their rights, the vitality of a respectful life for them, and encouraging all those who neglect women to revaluate their ideas and consider them as a person with equal rights even if from a different gender.

But I wonder, how would the world celebrate women this year? And which woman will the world celebrate? The Iraqi woman? The Syrian woman? The Yemeni woman? The Lebanese woman? The Egyptian woman? The Libyan woman? The Burmese woman?

These women have been celebrated through preparations and assemblies to murder them and their husbands, to captivate, displace and kidnap them. Isn’t it the world which assembled ISIS and Alkayida, financed them and provided them with weapons, political power and media and paved the way for all this to happen?

Didn’t the silence of this world against what is happening in our country and other countries, against the violation of human rights, contribute to the violation of the women’s rights and destruction of their lives? For what crime should the Burmese woman and her children be burned alive or hanged because they are Muslims? Where do the international human rights foundations and United Nation stand against the murder and displacement happening in Burma? For no reason other than their religion?

Don’t we believe in the freedom of belief, opinion and speech in this era? Would the world keep this silence if the Burmese women had any religion other than Islam?

Who would the world celebrate for? For these women? Or for itself, to justify that it supports human rights and democracy and that women deserve more?

I am not against celebrating this day. On the contrary, I would be a part of this celebration. But what I demand is for it to be a real, honest celebration arising from the women’s misery; I want it to be celebrating their bleeding wound, their futile rights

, their ever vulnerable gender, their homeless children with no shelter or future, their ever anticipating eyes, which fear that the future will take away what is left from the past.

Let us celebrate this day by visiting the camps of the displaced women along the borders of our Arabic world, celebrate by financially supporting women through job opportunities, hope opportunities. Let us celebrate this day by putting a smile on their exhausted faces through a kind word or sympathy.

Let our celebration this year be solidarity with all the agonized women who are mourning their families, their countries, their dignity, and themselves, the women who are mourning their birth in this part of the world.

Bent Alrafedain Org. (BROB)  ***  Babylon City, Iraq ***  Mobile: + 964 07810072762  ***

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God is the Recipe


“God is not an ingredient in your life,” said Pastor Aaron. “He is the recipe.”

Pastor Aaron talked about how people love God and get spiritual when life is rough and they’re having problems. But during good times, they forget about God. God gets put on the wayside.

“If you want to add God into your life, you have to subtract something from it,” he said. “In order to bring God into my life I have to remove what’s offensive to him.”

He took a glass of water and poured it into a full pitcher of water.

“We overflow the boundaries of life, and everything spills over and becomes saturated by what we add,” he said. “We end up making a mess.”

The pastor implored us not to waste time on this earth by waiting for something to happen. He also talked about the importance of prayer without ceasing, which means a continuous attitude and communication with God without being unproductive.

“Oftentimes we look at the enemy and say [confrontationally] let’s go,” he said. “We should focus on God rather than the enemy.”

To do that, he prays, “God, you got a problem here (whether in the church, the community, the neighborhood). How do You want me to help?”

“That prayer keeps your eyes on God and not on yourself,” He said.

I thought, it will also help us clean the mess we’ve made on this earth and replace it with a beautiful and delicious Recipe.

Is Yoga Dangerous for Christians?


I was picking up food from McDonald’s when I heard a conservative evangelical Christian radio host say, “I would not touch yoga with a ten foot pole.” He and his guest host then went in depth about the the spiritual dangers of yoga for Christians. I thought, “Oh my! I’ve been in involved in a dangerous practice for over ten years.”

I remembered an article I wrote about yoga and Christianity. It was originally published by The Chaldean News.

Here’s a reprint of the article:

Staying Centered

An unfounded belief that yoga is against the Catholic faith persists, though experts say it’s not true.

“Since the term yoga is used in Hindu, it conjures up images in people’s mind,” said Fr. Peter Fennessy, one of six Jesuit priests at Manresa Jesuit Retreat Center in West Bloomfield. “But there are different ways of approaching yoga, one of which focuses on the physical. On that level, it is not religious. It’s a way to relax and become centered. It is then a nice way to pray, because praying without words is a much deeper form of prayer than praying with words.”

For the past eight years, Manresa has offered Christian yoga classes that today are held every Monday from 5:30-6:45 p.m. at a fee of $12 per class. Instructor Grace Seroka, who has been practicing yoga for 40 years, helped start the class when she found she couldn’t relate to other classes’ Indian, vocal music or new-age reflections that were played during the relaxation periods.

“That type of music was not where my heart and spirit were at,” she said. “It was not of my culture.”

Instead, Seroka uses spiritual and sacred Christian music, scripture readings, and weekly Christian themes.

“Yoga is a prelude to meditation,” she said. “On a personal level, over the years it has helped me to slow down, focus, deeply stretch my muscles, and gradually bring me to a stillness.”

Janice Bahura, whose father is Chaldean and mother is American, has been doing yoga since she was 13. She has been teaching classes at Lifetime Fitness in Troy for more than 11 years and also runs classes at the Wellness Training Institute in Sterling Heights. There she works therapeutically by integrating yoga and meditation with elderly, post-surgery patients or those with injuries, to get them to live a healthy lifestyle.

Bahura is impressed by Seroka’s classes. “During meditation, Grace played a tape of Assyrian chanting, the type you hear when you go into church.”

“In my class, I’m paralleling breathing and posture with Christianity,” said Seroka. “That has helped me see the gospel for today, not 2,000 years ago.”

The yoga instructors and the priests at Manresa agree that yoga is healthy to the mind, body and spirit and is not in conflict with Christianity or its belief system.

Where then does the conflict come in?

“Long ago higher-ups in the church would meditate, but politically they tried to keep the regular people from meditating for fear that they would lose respect and power and would no longer be needed,” Bahura said.

Those who are against yoga are an isolated group, but nonetheless, that group does exist.

“I’ve heard some Christians say they don’t believe it is right for a person to connect to God through meditation rather than through Jesus,” said Bahura.

To that, Fr. Fennessy responded, “We say ‘Our Father’ three times a day without mentioning Jesus. We go directly to God.”

Some fear each posture in yoga is specific to some Hindu god, such as when one is standing with arms over their head or sleeping with arms by their side.

“Well, right now, I’m sitting with my legs crossed,” said Fr. Fennessy, “and my arms are on the desk. Does that mean I’m invoking a certain god?”

“I’ve spoken to women who say their church does not allow it and so they’re going to follow orders,” said Bahura. “But they won’t know what’s dangerous about it because they’ll never ever try it.”

Her mother was not such a woman. A Catholic, Bahura’s mother was a practitioner of transcendental meditation. One day the priest at her church questioned whether that contradicted with Christianity, to which she replied, “It has actually strengthened my Christian faith.”

“People are afraid that yoga will lead them into a different religion or away from Christianity,” said Seroka. “But what they fail to realize is that as Christians we meditate too.”

“Christians can profit, can learn from, various Eastern disciplines,” said Fr. Fennessy, but added that one should be careful not to practice syncretism – the combining of different beliefs. “Yoga is a spiritual practice. If it works, use it. If it doesn’t work, don’t use it.”

Fr. Fennessy also noted an interesting contradiction. Hindus don’t believe that the body is real, that it is in fact an illusion, and one must transcend it to the spiritual to get enlightened. Yet though they think the world is an illusion, they put enormous time into the body through yoga, bodily cleansing, eating and breathing.

“We Christians say God created the material world and we focus on the body, yet the only thing we do about it is kneel and stand,” Fr. Fennessy said. “We neglect the body so much and yet theologically we say it’s important. For Christians, the body, the incarnation of Christ, should be very important.”

The official documents of the Catholic Church contain just two references to yoga. They allow that methods of prayer deriving from non-Christian religions can help Christians in their prayer, but warn that discretion needs to be exercised to avoid syncretism and to see that elements do not creep in that are contrary to the fundamental nature of Christian prayer and practice.

“Spirituality is universal and that’s what I bring to my classes,” said Bahura. “It’s where all speak the same language, just using different words. This is the key to getting along and understanding people.”

The Great American Family

In 2010, a family approached me to write a story about their daughter, Dawn Hanna, who was locked up in a federal prison for breaking the Iraqi embargo. She and her brother were accused of conspiring with Emad, a man of Iraqi origin with U.K. citizenship, to send telecommunication equipment to Iraq. The Hannas always maintained that they thought the equipment was going to Turkey. In the end, while Dawn’s brother was found innocent, Dawn received a 72-month sentence and $1.1 million fine, one of the harshest sentences in history for an export violation.

Emad, the so-called “co-conspirator” turned out to be a CIA operative, and the telecom project was funded by the U.S. government, to help eavesdrop on Saddam and his men. In an attempt to correct this injustice and free Dawn, Emad and another CIA operative blew their own covers. They were astonished when, in response, the court simply said that this new evidence would not have made a difference in the jury’s verdict.

The last thing I wanted to do was take on a political story. But the Dawn Hanna case continued to follow my conscience as I wondered, what happens if we can’t stop our government from breaking the laws? I was a child when my family and I fled Iraq over 30 years ago because of Iraq’s totalitarian government. We came here for America’s freedoms. As an immigrant, I saw through the Dawn Hanna case how we are losing the very things we came here for. I felt it was my responsibility to write this story, because among other things, I did not want my children to have to endure in the United States the same political climate my parents endured in Iraq. So I wrote a book and made a documentary about this case, which is currently in post-production.

The justice system prosecutes over 60,000 people a year. While courts discovered thousands of cases in which prosecutors had engaged in “outrageous” or “flagrant” misconduct, an examination of state bar records in USA Today revealed that few received any discipline, and the disciplines were petty, like being ordered to attend a one-day ethics workshop.

An article by the Huffington Post, The Untouchables: America’s Misbehaving Prosecutors and the System that Protects Them, mentions that critics have long claimed that people are up against a prosecutorial climate that value convictions over all else, one that saw a death sentence as the profession’s brass ring. The New York Times reported in 2003 that prosecutors in Louisiana often threw parties after winning death sentences. Assistant District Attorney James Williams told the Los Angeles Times in 2007, “There was no thrill for me unless there was a chance for the death penalty.”

“Over-incarceration in America destabilizes families and communities,” writes Piper Kerman, in Orange is the New Black. “We have a racially biased justice system that over punishes, fails to rehabilitate and does not make us safer.” Books like Uncompromised, Fair Game, The Spy who Tried to Stop a War, Blowing My Cover, Actual Innocence and The Central Park Five, remind us of the importance of honoring the fact that the power of the government comes from the people, and not the other way around.

For more information, visit

Dawn Hanna