The following anthology brings together voices from around the world in solidarity with the citizens of Mosul against all forms of violence. To Mosul with Love is a year-long project that aims to gather submissions throughout 2017, inspired by the people and culture of Mosul.
Please get in touch if you would like to submit something written, spoken, musical, visual, animated, or in the form of film.
You are a love story that I did not choose. You are the people that I hold close to my heart. You are my childhood.
I admit my love for you is a slightly complicated one. When I left you, I cried for days and months and begged for a miracle that could keep me under your beautiful clear sky to smell your clean air and enjoy your two springs.
You were never an accessible city for people with disabilities, but you gave me more than your capability could provide. You managed to do what even many parents failed to do for their own children. You embraced everyone regardless of religion and ethnicity. The way you survived years of sanctions, wars and instability taught me that one must improvise, and that life never stops just because of a lack of equipment or facilities. These are lessons that I use in my everyday life.
Today, I hear and read now about your destruction, your struggles and how you have become a ‘deadly ground,’ a city of fear, and I refuse to believe what I read and see. But when I hear the trembling voices of my family and I learn of how their life has been turned into a never ending nightmare, I realize the Mosul I have always loved, has been replaced with another city, one that is alien to me.
In Mosul, when someone travels, others pour water behind them as a way to wish them safe travels. I think about the thousands that have been forced to leave. Did anyone pour water behind them? When we left Mosul for the final time, no one poured water behind us. Maybe that’s why we never returned.
But, I know that you will return to us, and we will celebrate across the city like we used to during the spring season festival. We will listen to ‘Ya Erdeli,’ and the smell of your delicious cuisine will spread everywhere — Pacha, Dolma, Kibbet Mosul and A’aroug.
Until then, I love you endlessly and eternally.
Dear Mosul, land of my forefathers.
I was never borne of you but I am forever your son. You bathed me in your springtime brilliance, cooled me during summer dawns from the rooftops, and secured me in your cold winters. I played among your children in the streets and gardens, and listened to the wisdom of your elders. I ate from your bounty – fruit unrivaled and past compare. You are my first love and I worry about thee.
Stay safe and strong for I hope one day to return and sleep in your embrace.
Baghdad was always the focus of my life; I found solace in its manifestations across aspects of culture, food, songs, sports and painful politics. Baghdad was always there in the background as I navigated my Dubai and Sharjah, and battled with belonging and exile.
I was often told as a child that I was Iraqi as a matter of a fact. It did not matter that I did not live there, or was born somewhere else. Being born to parents born in Iraq made me one. It was simple; an ‘indoctrinated’ knowledge of Iraqi culture and, by virtue, its politics came as a natural result of parental influence, and a sense of peripheral existence that was only heightened by my temporality at “home.”
This Iraqiness was never unexamined, it was never in the background playing its role as an “identity.” On the contrary, it was always interrupted by the tensions created by the impossibility of return. This cognitive Iraqiness was intimate, familiar and painful; and it made perfect sense.
My Iraqiness was always centered around Baghdad. It sounded better to belong to the capital of the world as it was once named. To Harun Al Rasheed and Salima Murad. It was always ‘nicer’ to write about Al Mutannabi street and obsess over the fall of Baghdad.
And then it happened, my dream of a return to Iraq was shattered. Instead, a pedophile state claimed my home theirs. Beyond the fall of Baghdad, I lost my ancestral history in Mosul along with my family and the house that my parents built with their youth and my childhood. I was harshly reminded that all the time I spent negotiating with Baghdad for my right to return, I had taken Mosul for granted. Its cedar trees, its beautiful river, its two-springs and the bricks that housed my father and his stories.
I was so taken by the lure of Baghdad that I forgot to mention to myself and others that my cognitive Iraqiness was actually Maslawi; with a dialect so beautiful in its complete denial of the existence of the letter “R” and a history so rich with diversity and spirituality, it puts the world to shame. I forgot that I was Maslawi all these years fixating on images of burned palm trees on the eve of the fall of Baghdad, dismissing the fires in my ancestral home.
After 2003, I lost most my right to return to Iraq, but after 2014 I lost Iraq. I look at Baghdad now with pain, and pray that it reconciles with Mosul again, I pray it remembers it and us so that I can dream of it again and spend the next 10 years or so writing about its music, culture and history. I pray I can take Mosul for granted again; my father’s house, my sister’s grave, my grandmother’s orange tree, I want them back in the background, playing a safe game of waiting for my return.
From Gaza to Mosul with love.
I watched my mother hand the driver Dinars,
Knowing we were in for five hours in the buses,
Sitting through the unbearable heat and noise,
But I never uttered a complaint, we were going to Mosul
Eagerly running through the heat streets
Cousins, neighbours, even the homeless dogs
Running and riding on bikes so red
It was the only thing that matched the vibrancy
Of your beautiful ancient history on our beloved
Showing all walks of Iraq’s diversity,
You hold the oldest Assyrian’s monastery
A city so beautiful it beholds the homes
Of every beloved religion in this Dunya
I know when liberation befalls you
Will mourn those who are left orphaned
But persevere we must,
You will plant seeds in what were once grenades
Set out to destroy and kill the lives you love
Show that no matter what is done, life will grow
And teach the world what it means to be Mosul
To Mosul with Love,
I have no idea what emotions you’re going through right now. I have never had to live through war and I certainly have never had to live under criminals like ISIS. I can no longer tell whether what I am watching is news or reality TV. I don’t even know why I am watching anymore. Am I learning anything? Is it normal to be so desensitized to the bloody images I see? Only later, do I realize they haunt me when I close my eyes and try to sleep.
We are just spectators, watching videos, as if they are entertainment.
Have you boarded up your windows so that they don’t shatter and fall? Have you got enough food to last you through the winter? Are the kids and elderly alright? Have you packed your bags in case you need to flee? What did you take with you?
I see images of tanks rolling in. It’s as if I am in 2003 and watching the invasion again. Minus the shock & awe. The same glossy words are still being used though. “Liberation.” “Freedom.”
Lots of images, but not much context. No one really knows what happening. We don’t spend that much time trying to understand. Flares and bright colors and men in uniform remind me of the video games I grew up playing. But these men are grown up already and their joysticks fire real rockets into real people. There are no multiple lives. There is no restart button.
People will die. They will be displaced if they’re lucky. And then what? One side will celebrate and fly their flag, and the other side will mourn.
Recently, a mortar shell fell on my cousin’s house in an area that the government of Iraq boasts has been liberated from ISIS. Fearing for their lives, his family fled to a neighbor’s house. For ten days, they hid out at the neighbors, but decided to return home, and face the onset of winter in a house with broken windows. Shortly after their return, a second shell fell, sending shards of glass into everyone there.
A local nurse came to treat them, equipped with nothing more than olive oil, a consequence of having the city besieged for more than two years by ISIS. Despite the valiant efforts of the nurse, my cousin died.
His son put his father’s body in a cart, and pushed him through the streets to find a place to bury him, in his own city, but only found a place, 45 minutes away, in a neighboring village, to bury him. I have so many questions about how something like this could happen, but who will answer any of my questions?
I am not from Mosul but from Amadiya, a town in the very north of Iraqi Kurdistan. In the summer of this year, I was sitting with some relatives in Amadiya when one of them received a call from Medya, a relative of ours who was still in Mosul.
She could not flee. She had an unmarried sister, whose marital status and use of a wheelchair made it impossible to leave ISIS rule. With an initial start in Kurdish, the conversation easily switched to Arabic, in their distinct Maslawi accent. As we listened, we learnt what had happened to her that day:
“The car with fruit and vegetables came around the neighborhood. I rushed off to buy them. I realized I wasn’t covered. I forgot to wear my Abaya when I was standing at the car, choosing some good cucumbers. I was only wearing my dishdasha, the colorful one. Patrolling men saw this and walked straight towards me. Two other men, my neighbors, stepped outside the door to thwart them. Thank God for giving me courageous Maslawi neighbours. May God protect them. They came and stood with me. They argued with those wanting to take me. And they succeeded. Had it been anywhere else, I would not know if I would have survived this. But I have trust in the Maslawi people. I knew these men from long before. Because of them, I was able to return to my house.”
The situation in Mosul is harsh, ruled by violence, killing and the loss of intercommunal trust. However, at the same time, this story is part of that reality too. It is one of the remarkable stories I witnessed about trust and solidarity in a dire and unreal situation where people come to care for each other.
Where does this trust come from when the media’s coverage of Mosul with its live war footage presents Mosul as a battlefield with different Iraqi militias fighting for Mosul?
Concentrating on the Iraqi militias without taking into consideration the international context or Iraqi history, international media coverage nourishes an Orientalist picture of an inherently violent Middle East where people are incapable to rule themselves. This becomes more evident when it comes to the representation of the US as one of the main international actors in the ‘Mosul operation’. Thereby, the US is mostly presented as a neutral political force overseeing and mediating between different Iraqi factions. It is these discourses that have legitimized past wars. In the end, the US, with a direct responsibility for today’s situation in Iraq, is completely relieved of its responsibility for today’s violence in Mosul.
Not only in the international media but also in the Iraqi media, futile discourses seem to be enforced on the people.
I am following Iraqi Kurdish media, mostly TV, and it is preoccupied with questions of division: “Which are the disputed territories? Will Mosul be under federal control? Should parts of it be under KRG control? Will this bring independence for Iraqi Kurdistan? Will we have a state of our own?” How are these the right questions? For the sake of justice in a future Mosul, better questions need to be asked. This requires listening to people from Mosul.
After we heard what happened to Medya that day, I was talking with my relatives about Mosul. Different stories came up about how life was in Mosul. A schoolteacher in her 60s now, my aunt was not surprised by the solidarity shown to Medya at that fateful moment:
“I was maybe 13 when we went into a shop. Mosul had the best bazaar at the time. We were speaking in Kurdish, but the Maslawi Arab shop owner understood us. He would ask us questions in Arabic and we answered back in Kurdish. Yes, this was how we communicated always. It seems strange to me that this is no longer possible today.”
The names in this story have been changed to respect my family’s privacy.
A fly falls into an Istikaan of Chai; the Baghdadi picks the fly out and drinks the tea, the Basrawi throws the tea away and pours himself a fresh cup, the Maslawi squeezes the fly as he demands: ‘zitti li-shribteenu!’ (Spit out what you drank!)
This grossly inaccurate yet largely harmless stereotype of Maslawis was the first conception I had of the city’s residents. That and a childhood family trip to the Mosul Dam in the 1980s. Other than that, my knowledge of the place and people remained limited, something unfortunately true to this day.
How can we learn about a city so heavily, yet narrowly, covered by world media? And when we are introduced to new people and cultures through this coverage, can we ever detach them from the images of cruelty and horror we see in our first impressions?
Having recently moved to the US, I find I’m filled with a mix of dread and curiosity when I need to share my place of origin. If I can, I hide behind my English accent. If I can’t, I put on my friendliest smile and with a light and cheery note, I, almost apologetically, singsong: Iraq!
It’s not because I’m not proud of being Iraqi. I am. I just dread the response, the atmosphere afterwards, heavy with repressed questions, or worse, guilt and pity from Americans, who feel responsible for the destruction of Iraq.
Now, I wonder if Maslawis feel the same way when they meet anyone themselves, even other Iraqis.
“Let me drop you off on my way,” my friend offered me after a university exam. It was the final week of studies for students at the College of Engineering at the University of Mansour on Al Nidal Street, a major Baghdad thoroughfare. It was a hot afternoon, and we were struggling to get the air conditioning in the old blue Mitsubishi to work properly.
“Let’s wait for the car to cool down,” my friend said to me, as he rolled down the window to counter the stifling heat. We threw our school papers on the back seat. We turned the radio on, to hear about the horrible news that has been suffocating the skies of Baghdad since the early morning.
“Haven’t you heard? Mosul has been lost to ISIS,” my friend said to me, noticing the look of bewilderment on my face. I was too busy with my exams the night before, and I hadn’t heard the news all day.
“Yes mom, I heard this morning, the Iraqi army withdrew and left the city alone,” he said to his mom, who was calling to see how well he had done on his exams.
I felt empty. Silence took over me.
A year earlier, my Maslawi friend, had invited me to visit him in Mosul, a city that had always captured my imagination. I didn’t go, and now I wondered if that was a decision that I will regret for the rest of my life.