I read a most interesting article on CNN a couple of weeks ago. The article highlighted the experience of black Iraqis (mostly male). This is something that I (and I imagine most Americans) never hear or read anything about. We hear about religious conflict all the time, but never consider the race problems other countries can experience. The article also reflects how much people in other countries are affected by stories in America. The fact that black Iraqis see Obama’s rise to success in a foreign country and it gives them hope that their circumstances will change in their home country is amazing to me. Here are some of the highlights from the article:
BAGHDAD, Iraq (CNN) — Their faces and darker skins make them look different. They are routinely called “slave” by the majority, whatever their profession. But Iraq’s black population hopes that Barack Obama’s rise to the White House will mark a turning point for minorities not just in the United States, but also in their country.
Jalal Thiyab Thijeel, general secretary of the “Movement of Free Iraqis,” followed every detail of Obama’s election campaign. “Inspiring,” he calls it. Inspiring politically, and personally. Like Obama, Thijeel has family roots in Africa.
Thijeel’s organization estimates there are approximately 2 million black Iraqis. The country’s total population is more than 28 million, most of them ethnic Arabs. It’s impossible to verify Thijeel’s estimate, since the government does not keep statistics on race, but there is no denying there are many black Iraqis in the southern city of Basra.
Their history goes back 1,000 years to the time when Africans were brought as slaves to the south of Iraq to drain marshes and build Basra. Many Iraqis still call blacks “abed,” an Arabic word that means “slave.” Thijeel grimaces when he pronounces it. It’s demeaning, he says, and he wants the government to forbid its use. Many white Iraqis claim the word isn’t meant to offend, but Thijeel says they have no idea how hurtful it is. “I never want my son to go through this,” he says.
The Movement of Free Iraqis was founded two years ago and on January 31 it will run the first slate of black candidates in Iraq’s modern history. Thijeel hands me the party’s documents that spell out its demands. Foremost is that the government recognize blacks as an official minority in Iraq. This is key, because power in Iraq is apportioned along ethnic, religious and even tribal lines. The party also wants an apology for slavery, although it is not asking for financial reparations. The movement also wants laws to combat racial discrimination.
Full article here.