Cultural Glimpse

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Tag: Iraq

Obama Appointee Talks About the Genocide

This article was originally published by The Chaldean News

Chaldean FoundationOn Monday, March 14, the House of Representatives unanimously passed a resolution labeling the ISIS atrocities against Christian groups in Syria and Iraq “genocide.” Just a few days later, Congressman Dave Trott of Michigan and Knox Thames, appointed by President Obama as the first special adviser for religious minorities in the Near East and South/Central Asia, flew in from Washington to meet with members of the Chaldean Community Foundation.

The next steps for Iraqi Christians were addressed at the March 18 meeting in Sterling Heights.

“Chaldeans are like the Native American people of Iraq and Syria,” said Martin Manna, president of the Chaldean American Chamber of Commerce. “ISIS is not their biggest enemy. The Iraqi government is no better than ISIS and factors like property confiscation and intimidation have made us come to the reality that our people can’t live a peaceful existence with their Arab neighbors.”

Manna listed the many problems that Christians face inside and outside of Iraq, and asked, “What is the long-term solution?”

“There is a crisis for religious minorities in the Middle East, even for Muslims who want to challenge the status quo,” said Thames. “The U.S. has done a lot, is doing more than anyone else, but we need to do more. We can’t do it alone and we shouldn’t do it alone.”

Thames noted that the United States has been providing humanitarian assistance to Syrians and Iraqis, including to refugees and displaced populations, since the start of the crisis. The U.S. is also supporting resettlement as an important tool of protection for those who cannot return home or locally integrate, he said. Many of the refugees who have been resettled, or who are currently under consideration, are Christians, Yazidis and other minorities.

“But the policies have not worked so far,” said Manna. “We’ve seen a dramatic decrease in 2016 with the number of Christians coming here.”

Ismat Karmo, chairman of Nineveh Council of America, and Eman Jajonie-Daman, magistrate at the 46th District Court, said many refugees have complained that during their interviews, Muslim UN employees wrote incorrect answers that conflicted with their statements, or interpreters from Somalia or Sudan twisted or misinterpreted their words. As a result, they were denied refugee status based on misrepresentation. Many want to appeal, but in Muslim countries, how can Christians who claim that they’re discriminated against by Muslims win?

“People say, ‘Well, Iraq is a sovereign country,’” said Manna. “But we helped destroy it so we have to help fix it. Either help the Christians stay in Iraq or please help them get out.”

“We’re working on both,” said Thames and explained the ways the U.S. is doing so:

By pressuring governments to reform, so that restrictive law and policies are changed and members of religious minorities are able to practice their faith freely and peacefully.
By working to create and sustain the conditions under which religious minorities can remain in their ancestral homeland. For example, through coordinated airstrikes by the Counter-ISIL Coalition, the United States has acted to protect minority groups in imminent danger in Iraq and Syria.

By protecting everything from old manuscripts to churches.

“When cultural and religious heritages are removed to erase any history that they were there, people don’t want to stay in that land anymore,” he said. “In October, I visited with refugees in Lebanon and asked them, ‘Why did you come here?’ They told me that they have given up on Iraq.”

Salam, a 33-year-old man who has been in the U.S. for a year, was brought into the meeting to share his story of being detained for seven days by the mujahedeen and held for $15,000 ransom. As he waited for his family to raise the money, he, along with other hostages, was tortured until his wife and brother came up with $10,000. Because it was not the full amount requested, he had to endure further punishment. He sat on a chair while a religious man with a machete came next to him, prayed, read a verse from the Quran, and said that by Sharia Law, they had the right to cut off his left ear. He then cut his ear.

Salam lost consciousness and later woke up in the hospital. The mujahedeen had thrown him in the garbage and called his family to pick him up from there.

“This is heart wrenching,” said Thames. “I’m happy we’ve given him refuge here.”

“This is not a unique story,” said Jajonie-Daman. “It’s the norm. I once represented a kid whose face and body is so cut up, he looks like a map.”

“Under UN convention, these cases are hearsay until the person journeys to another country and registers his refugee status with the field office,” said Wendy Acho, director of Strategic Initiatives at the CCF. “But you should be able to get into the system from credible fear. The person shouldn’t have to illegally transport themselves to another country and endure all sorts of hardships.”

A suggestion was made to create a UN office in Iraq so that, at the least, people would not have to leave the country to come to the U.S., but could come directly from Iraq. Another idea was to hold a conference in Washington, where all political party representatives and religious leaders from Iraq could come to the table and discuss these issues.

“Seeing the U.S. government is serious about helping them would boost their morale,” said Karmo.

Thames took notes of all the recommendations and said he was looking forward to working with his new colleagues to address these challenges. But he reminded everyone that there’s no magic or silver bullet.

“Changes happen through small steps,” he said, “and through the works of such organizations as CCF and others.”

ISIS Cannot Destroy our Stories

The Feminine Art

Chaldeans are an ancient people who trace their roots to Prophet Abraham as he was from Ur, land of the Chaldees. These are my ancestors and, for thousands of years, they have contributed a great deal to the birth of civilization. They were builders then and they are still builders today, despite the hundreds of years of oppression and violence they keep enduring.

After the Islamic State attacked the Christian villages of Iraq, the birthplace of my parents and grandparents, Christian Iraqis in the United States were outraged.  They helplessly watched family, friends and relatives being forced out of their homes in the most inhumane way possible. Chaldeans, Assyrians, Yazidis and other minorities were kidnapped for ransom, or killed, and others were threatened to convert or die. Women and girls were captured, like slaves, and those who survived had nothing to their name but their identification cards. They left their homes and all their belongings and became refugees.

The leaders in our community immediately reached out to political figures in Washington to help the minorities during this dire situation. As ISIS destroyed historical sites and artifacts, artists took up their brush and rebuilt these monuments on canvas, more determined than ever to bring their history back to life. Myself, I picked up the pen and I wrote and wrote and wrote.

Aside from wanting to give our community a voice, I wanted to preserve our stories. I’ve always wanted to do that, but more today than ever. We have magnificent stories that are unheard and these stories are not necessarily about war, religion, or politics. They are about love, culture, courage, and triumph.

This weekend, my three novels are for the promotional price of $0.99 (eBook), so that they reach more readers, so that more people have the opportunity to learn about an ancient people that are not victims over their lives, but victors!

My Amazon page to order these books:

The Feminine Art

The Mismatched Braid

The Flavor of Cultures




Shamanism, Bringing This World from Darkness into Light

Healing Wisdom  (FRONT COVER) (1)

For a long time, I struggled to fit into two worlds, my birth country of Iraq and my home, America. The process made me feel like a yo-yo, and oftentimes, like I was living a double life. It was especially difficult when I had to witness the wars on Iraq, the sanctions, the suffering that these political acts created, a suffering that still trails into our lives through television sets and other media outlets, holding up mirrors on how conflict can leave such awful residue on our souls.

From the time I was in my early twenties, my priorities have been family, writing and service. Though it had its challenges, combining family and writing was something I knew I could do and do it successfully. Combining writing and service, however, was questionable, especially after the 2003 U.S. led invasion when, for the first time in my life, I doubted the work I was in. While I loved being a writer, I figured what was the use of articulating thoughts and facts on paper when women were kidnapped and raped, men slaughtered, and children orphaned?

On the radio, on TV, in newspapers, online, everyone, including myself, put their two cents in. But women were still kidnapped and raped, men slaughtered, and children orphaned, in a place that I’d visited only three years prior, during a time when a woman such as myself could step out of the house wearing her Western clothing without anyone batting an eye let alone threatening to kill her, or simply killing her, if she didn’t veil and remove her makeup. True, people were tired then because of the UN imposed sanctions and Saddam’s regime but they were safe from the senseless and random violent acts that grabbed hold of the country like coyotes attacking a chicken hen. That also grabbed hold of me.

The violence drained my creativity and led me to a dark place where I lost my literary voice. Then I met a shaman, I met Lynn Andrews. Her teachings dusted off the residue that clogged up my creativity, one by one removing the particles of fear and sadness, eventually bringing me from darkness into light. These teachings also brought me, through my writings, to a place of service.

Once someone asked, “What is shamanism?” To me, shamanism is a healing, through love, through nature, through the Creator. It’s a natural way of living which had survived harmlessly for hundreds of thousands of years, for even longer, until the agricultural revolution occurred in ancient Mesopotamia, now called Iraq, when people began to control others through food production. Shamanism opened my heart and healed my voice, to where I was able to write full-time, today publishing my eighth book. It’s an ancient teaching that works in the twenty-first century, and I believe, will continue to expand and be embraced because we’re beginning to realize the benefits it offers our world.


Healing Wisdom for a Wounded World: My Life-Changing Journey Through a Shamanic School

Growing Politically Fat with Maya

Monastary in Mosul

Visiting monasteries of Mosul in the year 2000

We were in the hotel room, getting ready to go visit the Mayan ruins in Mexico when I saw on CNN that ISIS had blown up St. Elijah’s Monastery in northern Iraq. I watched the destruction of this Christian monastery that dates back to the fourth century.

I remembered my visit to Iraq in the year 2000, when I was lucky enough to visit the sites that have become the targets of extremists in recent years. I wondered if, despite all this, the civilization of my birth country will survive so that perhaps, one day, our children and others are able to see that land’s beauty, the way people came from all over the world to visit the Mayan ruins.

Before we left our hotel room, I saw a segment about the Syrian refugees. The ongoing destruction of Iraq and the refugee crisis will continue to replay daily, holding up mirrors for us to see what we have turned our world into. We call nonviolent acts “crimes” and prosecute people. We prosecute people who committed a crime twenty years ago, or who never committed a crime but who need to be locked up in order to maintain the “Justice System” and so that the prison institutions have a greater number of residents.

But what about those who created the real, honest-to-goodness destruction? They destroyed countries and millions of lives. Because of these destroyers’ political status, we give them a pass, and then we call ourselves a democracy, a democracy which the rest of the world should adopt. If we don’t become politically fit, we will continue to grow fat with maya, illusions, and the fatter we get, the harder it will be for us to get our world back into shape.


The Truth About the Veil

The Veil

Last week, I did a radio interview with Stu Bryer of WICH in Norwich, Connecticut. We talked about several subjects, including the Syrian refugees and the veil. While I believe that veils that completely disguise people are problematic for safety purposes and unnecessary in a Western country where people choose to live, I also feel that we should explore the issue of veiling in a more historical and personal context.

During my trip to Baghdad in 2000, I visited my parents’ Christian village in Mosul and asked my cousins to find me an abayya in the souk. He found one I liked, disputed with the merchant over a few dinars, wanted to walk out, and at my plea, agreed on a price. I left with an abbaya that today still has some of the spices I’d carried in my luggage in a journey that lasted from Baghdad to Detroit three days.

What’s an abbaya? It’s a veil that reminds me of my mother and the neighborhood women who’d sometimes wear it when they went to the market. Since Saddam encouraged women to wear western clothing and he was against Islamic fundamentalists, the burka wasn’t allowed in Iraq. Usually older women wore the abbaya. They did so for religious purposes, as Islam requires women to dress modestly in order to keep the focus of beauty on spiritual and not superficial attributes. Wearing the veil was also a way to avoid harassment. But mostly, they wore it because it was part of a culture that predates Islam by many centuries.

In the Near East, Assyrian kings first introduced both the seclusion of women in royal harem and the veil. Prostitutes and slaves, however, were told not to veil, and were slashed if they disobeyed this law. This practice also appeared in classical Greece, in the Byzantine Christian world, in Persia and in India among upper caste women. It’s suggested that afterwards it spread among the Arabs.

Muslims in their first century were relaxed about female dress. As Islam reached other lands, regional practices, including the covering of women, were adopted. Yet it was only in the second Islamic century that the veil became common, first used among the powerful and rich as a status symbol. Muhammad’s wives originally dressed in veil in order for people to distinguish them from other women.

Throughout Islamic history only a part of the urban classes were veiled and secluded. Rural and nomadic women, the majority of the population, were not. The veil did not appear as a common rule to be followed until around the tenth century. In the Middle Ages numerous laws were developed which most often placed women at a greater disadvantage than in earlier times.

For 2,000 years, Catholic women have veiled themselves before entering a church or any time they are in the presence of the Blessed Sacrament (e.g., during sick calls). It was written into the 1917 Code of Canon Law, Canon 1262, that women must cover their heads – “especially when they approach the holy table”

For many centuries (until around 1175) Anglo-Saxon and then Anglo-Norman women, with the exception of young unmarried girls, wore veils that entirely covered their hair, and often their necks up to their chins. It was in the Tudor period (1485), when hoods became increasingly popular, that veils of this type became less common.

Sometimes a sheer was draped over and pinned to the bonnet or hat of a woman in mourning. They would also have been used as a simple method of hiding the identity of a woman who was travelling to meet a lover, or doing anything she didn’t want other people to find out about. Veils were also sometimes worn to protect the complexion from sun and wind damage (when un-tanned skin was fashionable), or to keep dust out of a woman’s face. Conversely, veils are often part of the stereotypical image of the courtesan and harem woman where the mysterious veil hints at sensuality and the unknown.

Among the Tuareg of West Africa, women do not traditionally wear the veil, while men do. It’s believed that the veil wards off evil spirits, but most probably relates to protection against the harsh desert sands as well. This veil is worn from 25 years of age and is never removed, even in front of family members.

What about the origin of a bride’s veil? Some say that the veil was introduced in ancient Rome to keep away the evil spirits. It’s also said that it was a symbol of purity, chastity, and modesty. Other say that the origin of the bridal veil was due to the circumstances of an arranged marriage. In days past, men bargained with an eligible young lady’s father for their hand in marriage. After the ceremony, the veil was lifted to reveal the bride’s features. This was to keep a groom from backing out of the deal if he didn’t like what he saw.

With my mother, the veil was used for convenience, when she didn’t want to change from her nightgown in order to go to the bakery and buy bread. Or when my cousin wanted to meet her lover without anyone noticing her. Or it was worn by those who found it attractive or simply liked having it flutter around their ankles.

When I was a little girl, I used my mother’s veil to play house. I couldn’t wait to grow up and have my own veil, not knowing then that one day wearing fabric in such a manner, or not wearing it, could cost women their lives.


Healing Wisdom for a Wounded World

Healing Wisdom for a Wounded World3

This is the first of a four-book memoir series – Release date February 2016

When Irina Tweedie, a British woman, met with her Sufi Master in India, he told her to keep a diary.

“One day it will become a book,” her Teacher said. “But you must write it in such a way that it should help others. People say, such things did happen thousands of years ago – we read in books about it. This book will be a proof that such things do happen today as they happened yesterday and will happen tomorrow – to the right people, in the right time, and in the right place.”

Tweedie’s diary spans five years and, published as Daughter of Fire, it records her spiritual transformation. Several times I read her book with a burning desire to have a similar teacher as hers help me toward my spiritual journey.

My concern was, do I have to go to India or other parts of the world for that? The answer was no. Throughout my life, I had different spiritual teachers (from India and Native Americans) who came to my door and helped me walk out of the fog and into my bliss. They taught me a great deal, but after we departed, I felt something was unfinished.

Then I met Lynn Andrews – through a book. As a woman from Beverly Hills, who was the bestselling author of some 20 books, I figured she’d give me a bit of literary advice. I did not expect her to change my life through her shamanic school. At that time, I had never even heard of Lynn Andrews or the word shaman.

Several factors drew me to the school, most notably its ancient teachings that also reside in my heritage, ancient Mesopotamia, now called Iraq. Although it’s not easy to image this now, once upon a time ancient Iraq was the Cradle of Civilization and its land flourished with goddesses like Inanna. Two important women are from that region: the first recorded writer in history, Enheduanna, a princess and priestess, and Kubaba, the first recorded woman ruler in history.

The Feminine Power that lived there was eventually attacked and oppressed by strict patriarchal beliefs. Little by little, due to totalitarian regimes and too many wars that were, and still are, led by unfathomable greed and ignorance, the Cradle of Civilization has turned into a frightening nightmare.

It is a blessing that my parents had the wisdom to move us to America right before the Iraq/Iran war. Here in America, with the love and support of powerful western women who have walked this path long before me, I had the opportunity to heal my wounds and to do what I could never do in Iraq – openly share my spiritual journey in a book.

Healing Wisdom for a Wounded World, the first of a four book memoir series, will be released in February 2016. The memoir is about how Lynn’s school changed my life, one year at a time. Harry Potter’s Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry could not have done a better job teaching its students the creative depth and breadths, the charms, art, divination, ancient studies, the history of magic and potions needed to transform ourselves, people, relationships and circumstances.

Counterpoint: Religious Intolerance Serves No One

Religious Tolerance

This opinion piece was originally published by The Chaldean News a few days ago

Many of our people, like Californian artist Paul Batou and Chicago attorney Wisam Naoum, have compared the genocide of the Christian Iraqis to that of the Native Americans, who recount how an estimated 80-100 million of their people were wiped out by disease, famine or warfare imported by white men carrying crosses who came here to find gold and to own new land. Those who survived were forced to convert to Christianity and to abandon their traditions and their native language.

Yet, we don’t see Native Americans protesting against our churches in the prejudiced manner we’ve protested against mosques. They keep their ancestral memory and lessons alive through storytelling and ceremonies, not hate speech.

Native Americans mainly blame politics and greed, not religion, for what happened to them. They’re not the only ones with this viewpoint. Ariel Sabar is a Kurdish Jewish author whose father was from Zakho. Currently a professor of Hebrew at UCLA, Sabar is a native speaker of Aramaic and has published more than 90 research articles about Jewish Neo-Aramaic and the folklore of the Kurdish Jews. In his book, My Father’s Paradise, he describes the old community in Zakho:

“Muslims, Jews, and Christians, Judaism, Sufi mysticism, Bahaism, and Yezidism flourished alongside one another and extremism was rare…. Muslim, Jew, and Christian suffered alike through the region’s cruel cycles of flood, famine, and Kurdish tribal bloodshed. They prospered alike when the soil yielded bumper crops of wheat, gall nuts, and fragrant tobacco. In important ways, they were Kurds first and Muslims, Christians, or Jews second.”

Sabar also blames politics and greed, not religion, on the mass exodus of 120,000 Jews from Iraq in the 1950s. Some of Sabar’s accounts are similar to what occurred last year with ISIS’ Christian genocide. If we were to research history, we would see that political greed is at the root of most invasions, massacres and occupations.

If we choose to have a one-sided memory, we will never be able to have a dialogue with other cultures, ethnicities and religions, and yet that’s what democracy is about. It’s the reason this country has such great potential and why people risk their lives to come here.

We remember the 1933 Simele Massacre but we forget the 1991 Gulf War, the unjust UN-imposed sanctions that were enforced on Iraq for more than 12 years, and the 2003 U.S.-led invasion, all which caused the deaths of millions of innocent Iraqi civilians and a refugee crisis for which the world is today paying the price. The Arab world looked upon these wars and sanctions as Christians’ war against Muslims. During that time, many in Iraq began labeling Christians “Bush’s people” and terrorists were easily able to recruit extremists.

Despite all this, Saddam did not permit Muslims to use hate speech against Christians. Batras Mansour, a refugee I once interviewed, said, “I haven’t seen a day of peace since the war. During Saddam’s regime in Iraq, we experienced much better days. Back then, no one could say a wrong word to us Christians.”

Mansour told the story of how an imam spoke against the Christians over the microphone. After he was reported to authorities, the mosque was circled by four cars. The imam was taken away and no one saw him since.

So was Saddam more intolerant of religious hate speech than we are?

Over the years, I have interviewed dozens of people from the Catholic religious order. They never blamed Islam for Iraq’s current situation. In my recent book about the lives of Iraqi American artists, most of the artists expressed nostalgia for the Iraq that was once unified.

Randa Razoky said, “I once painted a painting of mosque, churches, and Mandaean men baptizing women by the river, where the Tigris and Euphrates Rivers flow. This painting represents an Iraq of diverse religions which no longer exists. We lost that Iraq.”

Maybe We can get that Iraq back if we open our hearts and re-learn to co-exist. Otherwise, true peace will never find a home within us.

Qais Al-Sindy’s “Return to the Garden of Eden”

The Revivification of Music by Qais Al-Sindy

The Revivification of Music by Qais Al-Sindy

I’m currently working on the third book of the Iraqi Americans book series, which will be about the lives of artists. This project has been a luxury since it has introduced me to breathtaking artwork and inspiring artists, one of who is renowned Iraqi American artist Qais Al-Sindy.

I spent this morning enwrapped in Qais’ exquisite art and meaningful literature. Qais lives in San Diego, and shortly after I started this project, nearly every artist I talked to mentioned Qais’ accomplishments. They said I had to meet this artist, and last month, I had the pleasure of interviewing him over the phone. Then I received six of his books in the mail.

This morning, flipping through the pages of his books as I drank my coffee and listened to Zen music, I felt lifted in spirit by the imaginative, rhythmic, and emotional canvases that display much more than the appearance of the subject. They convey the subject’s inner mysticism. Through these paintings, one enters the dream of a “Return to the Garden of Eden” – the title of one of Qais’ books.

In the last page, he quotes the Epic of Gilgamesh, as translated by Maureen Gallery Kovacs:

“Gilgamesh goes off in search of the answer of everlasting life. When he arrives on the other side of the long darkness, he encounters “the Garden of the Gods.” But the description then turns to the precious metals and stones. “And the gold of that land is good; bdellium and onyx are there… There was a Garden of the Gods: all round him stood bushes bearing gems… fruit of hung thick with fruit, sweet to see… rare stones, agate, and pearls from the sea.”

In another book,The Struggles for Survival, Al-Sindy writes this passage called “Foothold.”

Soon after birth your search begins for a foothold on this globe. You search for your being, for a piece of land to secure your feet in. You search for a place upon which to stand on and declare “Here I am.”

The world has become overcrowded with its human inhabitants. There is traffic wherever you go. Everyone is competing for a chair to sit on. An unstoppable race to win the first positions, rather to win any position. When you don’t find that space, you hover above awaiting someone to be removed, or rather you remove somebody.

Who doesn’t want to say, “I am here!?” Who isn’t tempted by that moment of existence? Who doesn’t wish to announce his existence or prove that he exists?

In this conceptual work I invite the viewer to find his own foothold… despite the footprints overcrowding the space, the excitement of the search is not void of passion and adventure, even if that adventure is found in daydreaming to achieve harmony with the reality.

To learn more about Qais Al-Sindy, visit his website:

New York Author John Gorman Interviews Me on Paper Cut

Picture with my daughter eight years ago

Picture with my daughter eight years ago

This interview was originally published on PaperCut

JG: Today I’m sitting with my friend and fellow author Weam Namou. She is the author of the booksThe Mismatched Braid, The Feminine Art, The Flavor of Cultures, and, a poetry collection entitled I Am a Mute Iraqi With A Voice. Because of the great success of that collection, she started the Iraqi Americans book series. So far she has two books published of this series: 1) The War Generation; 2) Witnessing a Genocide. Welcome to Papercut. Thanks for taking some time to chat with me and my readers. Tell us a little about yourself.

WN: Thanks for inviting me.

JG: Your first book is The Feminine Art. Would you mind sharing your experience both the writing and the publishing aspects?

WN: It took me two years to complete The Feminine Art, and then in 1996, I attended a local writer’s conference at Oakland University where Frances Kuffel, then a literary agent at the Jean Naggar Agency, critiqued the first chapter of the novel. She loved it, asked me to send her the finished manuscript, and soon we signed a contract. Frances was my literary agent for a number of years. Her belief in my work allowed me to start and finish a second novel, The Flavor of Cultures.

Frances went on to become the vice president of the Maria Carvainis Agency in New York. She was still my agent, but then in early 2003, she published her first memoir, Passing for Thin, and left the agency. No longer having representation, I was advised by a number of friends, professors and authors, to independently publish my book. The 2003 US-led invasion had just begun and they felt that my book had a timely appeal. They were right. Within six months of publication, I did over a hundred nationwide radio interviews. I also received a number of newspaper and magazine jobs, requests for poetry submissions, speaking and reading invitations, and even my own column for a local paper.

JG: How long have you been writing? What is your earliest recollection of writing?

WN: My first attempt at writing a book started about twenty-four years ago, at age nineteen. My earliest recollection of writing a story was in fifth grade, shortly after I arrived to America. I had to write a personal story and I wrote about having to leave, in secrecy, my friends and school in Iraq and moving to a foreign land. My English teacher asked me to share my story in front of an audience of parents at a school event. This was my first “published” piece.

JG: You’ve been engaging in multiple mediums for some time now. Tell us about the articles you write.

WN: I live in the city of Sterling Heights, nicknamed “Little Baghdad,” so I’m surrounded by material which is easily translated into different types of literature. Writing articles about high profiled Iraqi Americans, mostly Chaldeans, as well as covering events about the community has introduced me to people and subjects that I would not have discovered on my own. These encounters led me to come up with the idea of the Iraqi Americans book series. Each series will include a different subject matter about the Iraqi American community.

JG: What’s it like to write a screenplay?

WN: Green Card Wedding was a short film I made for my thesis at the Motion Picture Institute of Michigan. After graduation, I spent two years turning it into a feature script. The process was entertaining because a number of people were involved. My younger brother and my nephews, who were in their early twenties, came over every week to critique the material I had written. Because the script was a light comedy, we had fun playing around with the scenarios. The creative energy in my living room was great, and it led us all (including my husband and one year old daughter) to go to L.A. in 2007, to find actors for the film. Lance Kawas, an accomplished filmmaker who was one of my instructors in film school, really believed in Green Card Wedding and worked with me to attain funding.

Then in 2010, a family approached me to write a story about their daughter, Dawn Hanna. Dawn was in federal prison at that time, accused of conspiring to broker telecom equipment to Iraq during the sanctions. Unbeknownst to her and the jury which tried her, her coconspirator was actually a CIA operative. The project was sponsored by the United States to listen in on Saddam and his men. I put the film on hold and for the next four and a half years, worked on the Dawn Hanna story, which I named The Great American Family. I completed the book last year and currently, I’m searching for a home for it.

JG: How do you organize your day?

WN: During the school year, I write once I send the kids to school. I will take breaks in the late afternoon, during which time I cook and do light housework. The evenings are for research, interviews and marketing. In the summer, my writing hours in the daytime are shorter because I like to spend time with the kids and enjoy the warm weather that does not last too long in Michigan.

JG: Have you been to writing festivals? Do you have an opinion regarding them?

WN: No, I haven’t. I feel that interacting in any literary community is healthy and inspiring for writers. However, some writers spend more time in writer’s groups and conferences than they do writing, or honing the craft of writing, and that’s not going to move the book forward.

JG: What are you reading now?

WN: Maria Theresa Asmar’s Memoirs of a Babylonian Princess
Maya Angelou’s I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings (audio)
The Paris Review Interviews Women Writers at Work

JG: What is your job as a writer? Who is your audience?

WN: I freelance, mostly for the Chaldean News and right now I’m concentrating on the Iraqi Americans book series. The next book will be about the lives of artists, and it will be released in autumn 2015. My audience is intellectuals who like to read history, politics, biography and literary fiction.

JG: You are Chaldean. Can you explain what exactly that means? How does being Chaldean inform your writing?

WN: Chaldeans are Christian Iraqis who trace their roots to Prophet Abraham since he was from Ur, the biblical land of the Chaldees. When I began to learn about my heritage, I felt empowered by the richness of my ancestral land, where writing was invented. But I was also bothered by how little the world knew of these people’s achievements. Enheduanna, the first recorded writer in history, was a woman from ancient Iraq. I came across her name by accident and I could not understand why our Chaldean churches and the general educational institutions did not highlight her achievements.
Then while covering a story in 2012, I learned that almost two hundred years ago, a woman from Telkaif (my parents’, grandparents and great-great parents’ once Christian village in northern Iraq) had written a 720 page memoir. Maria Theresa Asmar was a Chaldean woman born in 1804 when the Ottoman occupied Iraq. She ended up traveling to Europe by herself, met the Queen of England (even dedicated the book to her), and described in the book her travels through Turkey, Syria, Lebanon and Israel. She died in France. An English version of her book was published in 1844 and was well received in England. Yet very few people in our Chaldean community know about her work.

JG: You are a wonderful writer. I’m a huge fan, as you might’ve guessed. I think that you are the Chaldean equivalent of Jhumpa Lahiri. Would you agree or disagree?

WN: I’m honored. Thank you. I read Lahiri’s “Interpreter of Maladies” when it first came out, and she and other ethnic writers such as Amy Tan showed me the possibility of telling my ethnic stories through the English language. Although, as I write this, I remember my former agent, Frances, and an Iraqi American book critic, after reading The Feminine Art, had compared my writing to that of Jane Austen because of my attention to small details that are the thread of family relationships.

JG: Do you have a schedule for writing, a preferred time or place?

WN: From early morning until late afternoon, every day, unless I’m out of town.
I used to love writing at coffee shops, libraries and bookstores. When you have kids, however, it’s not easy to just get up and go. You have to depend on the schedule of those who will watch your kids, and that dependence takes away your freedom to write how much you want to write.

I live in the same house my husband and I bought ten years ago when we got married. From the start, we made the family room my office. While I loved it spaciousness, it took years for me to get used to working in an atmosphere that was either very quiet (when the kids are asleep) or very noisy (when they were up). But over the years, I renovated it to create the right writing atmosphere for myself. I began to enjoy the window view I have while writing – the squirrels, birds, cats and rabbits that visit our backyard and nibble on food that is left behind from the previous night’s dinner we had on the patio.

For some years now, this has become my favorite and preferred place to write.

JG: What does Weam do when she is not writing?

WN: When not writing, Weam is mostly taking care of the house and kids and doing various family activities. I’m also currently helping care for my mother, who lives with me. I come from a big family (six sisters and four brothers, nearly 35 nieces and nephews, etc. – not to count my husband’s side) so much time goes into extended family as well as my own family.
When I have free time, I love to spend it in physical activities such as yoga, walking, and swimming. Once in a great while, I’ll have time to go to the movies.

JG: What do you want to be when you grow up?

WN: My great-grandmother Maria was a well-known healer. My father, who headed the accounting department at Baghdad’s railway station, was also a bonesetter for family and friends and whoever needed that free service.
Since it’s in my genes, for many years I have been studying spiritual work through different teachers. I’m currently a fourth year apprentice of Lynn Andrew’s school. Lynn Andrews is the bestselling author of the Medicine Woman series. Over twenty-five years ago, she founded Lynn Andrew’s Center for Sacred Arts and Training, a four year spiritual and healing school.
I want to continue to use my storytelling abilities to do work similar to that of my great-grandmother, my father and other family members.

JG: If you were throwing a dinner party who would you invite (Living or dead)?

WN: Dead: Margaret Mitchell, Maya Angelou, Henry James, Nora Ephron, Saddam Hussein (I have a lot of questions to ask him), Layla Al Attar (a famous Iraqi artist), Maria Theresa Amar

Alive: Woody Allen, Al Pacino, Robert Di Nero, Meryl Streep, Michael Moore, Stephen King, Kahtim al Sahir (famous Iraqi singer), President Bush Sr. & President Bush Jr. (I have a lot of questions to ask them too).

JG What projects are you working on now?

WN: I’m in postproduction of The Great American Family, based on the book with the same

JG: What’s the hardest lesson you’ve learned as a writer?

WN: You are responsible for your own success.

JG: Any advice?

WN: A friend of mine once said to me that if she wanted to, she could write a book in a week. This woman had a master’s degree in business and was successful in her field, but she is a very impatient person and the one thing you need to have to write a good book, especially if you’re starting out, is patience – while writing the book, while finding an agent/publisher, and after the book is published, then when writing the next book, and so on.

Along this journey, it’s important that you keep your priorities straight and have a balance rather than obsess over your writing. What’s the use of having a great book if you have a lousy life? These days, especially, having a great life can easily translate into a great book.

JG: Opinions about MFAs?

WN: It’s a matter of preference and opportunity. If one can go, why not? If one can’t, that should not stop them from being a writer. Many famous writers never went to college. Maya Angelou never even took a writing class. William Faulkner, Mark Twain, Jack London, and H.G. Wells dropped out of high school nearly from the time they enrolled.

JG: How did you land your agent?

WN: As I mentioned earlier, I met my first agent, Frances Kuffel, at a writer’s conference at Oakland University in Michigan. I met my second agent, Cicily Janus, in 2012 at a writer’s retreat in Colorado. At that time, she worked at Folio Literary Management.

The Woman That Keeps on Giving


When I returned home from a weekend family trip, I checked my mailbox and found an envelope from Nidhal Garmo, a pharmacist known for her incredible humanitarian work in Iraq and neighboring countries. I opened the envelope and found a three-hundred dollar check. I asked Nidhal what this check was for, and she said, “You have been supportive of my work for many years. I wanted to do the same for you.”

I didn’t know what to say. Nidhal’s generosity took me by surprise, even though she is well known as “a giver.” In one of my books, The War Generation, I titled the chapter about her “The Woman That Keeps on Giving.” Yet the last time someone from the Iraqi American community was that generous was over ten years ago. At my book launch party, a Muslim man I had never met donated two-hundred dollars, because he said he was proud of my achievement.

While the Iraqi American community is established economically and generous in general, when it comes to supporting the arts – well, let’s just say that compared to the rest of the world, they have some catching up to do. But I guess that’s not the case with Nidhal. She has given me a gift as a token of appreciation for my consistent desire to dispel stereotypes by telling true life stories. She knows the enormous time, money and energy I’ve invested into these projects, and her gracious gift says to me, “Keep going.”

Thank you Nidhal!