As we were preparing this week's show, we wondered - what happened to the Iraqi fixers who we spoke to almost seven years ago? Brooke speaks to Ayub Nuri, Zeyad Kasim and Ali Fadhil about where their lives have taken them since we spoke to them in 2006.
Abdeslam Khaloufi - Mazen Dha Nahar el Youm
BROOKE GLADSTONE: That piece was recorded seven years ago. After finishing his studies here, Kurdish journalist Ayub Nuri returned to Iraq and traveled across the region for a wide variety of outlets. Now he's the managing editor for a news website called rudaw.net.
AYUB NURI: Our main focus of coverage is the four parts of Kurdistan, Iraq, Iran, Turkey and Syria.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: And where are you based?
AYUB NURI: I am most of the time based in Toronto, Canada.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: How come?
AYUB NURI: Because - this is a faraway and quiet and peaceful place. [LAUGHS]
BROOKE GLADSTONE: [LAUGHS] Do you feel like you've retired?
AYUB NURI: Yes, I, I feel like I've retired at the age of – I am now 34 but I was 30 years old when I came here. Yes, I mean, one year in Iraq is equal to five years in another country. [LAUGHS]
BROOKE GLADSTONE: [LAUGHS]
AYUB NURI: I love nature and I love big countries. I came here in the hope of slowly exploring this country and seeing the beautiful nature. Besides, it’s – it’s a much more peaceful country than many places I have visited, including the US. [LAUGHS]
BROOKE GLADSTONE: So you don't miss being in the - in the heart of the action?
AYUB NURI: I actually do, but Iraq is still dangerous and you could lose your life at any moment. Today, this morning, before you called, I was listening to the radio, and there have been a series of bombings in Baghdad. I realized I had done my share, my part of covering the war in Iraq. But I still miss being there and being in touch with people and right, because stories are still coming out. Every time you sit down with someone on a bus or in a tea shop anywhere in Iraq, you would hear many stories that they haven't told anyone. I miss that part.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: Ayub, thank you very much.
AYUB NURI: You are welcome. Thank you for calling me.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: Ayub Nuri is the managing editor for rudaw.net, and he lives in Toronto. We found Zeyad Kasim, the young Iraqi dentist who blogged for Healing Iraq in San Antonio. When we spoke to him back in 2006, he was studying journalism at the City University of New York and he was deeply conflicted.
ZEYAD KASIM: I was very worried about my family because they were still all in Baghdad, and I was the only one who had left. And here I was, reporting about noise pollution and stuff like that, and it didn’t seem right to me. It was [LAUGHS] – and I was still consumed with worry all the time, until my family safely left, and that was when I could finally breathe.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: When I last spoke to you –
ZEYAD KASIM: Mm-hmm?
BROOKE GLADSTONE: - you were writing Healing Iraq, still wanting to be a dentist.
ZEYAD KASIM: Well, I’m still working to be a dentist. I already took the qualifying exam and I’m waiting for – to take, take a second exam. In a couple of years I should be ready to go. But it’s not that I want to do dentistry, it’s just that my family arrived here and they’re having problems adjusting to life here. So I feel I have a responsibility to support them, and journalism just didn’t do that for me.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: You’re still doing Healing Iraq?
ZEYAD KASIM: Yeah, on and off. I try to keep it alive. [LAUGHS]
BROOKE GLADSTONE: You know, I started my piece with the epigraph from –
ZEYAD KASIM: Yeah?
BROOKE GLADSTONE: Healing Iraq, that quote from Jonathan Swift that says it is useless to attempt to reason a man out of what he was never reasoned into.
ZEYAD KASIM: [LAUGHS]
BROOKE GLADSTONE: That’s almost an argument against communicating at all.
ZEYAD KASIM: [LAUGHS] I did a lot of posts about religion. I thought that the conflict had some side of it that was really connected to religion and sectarianism. It was just my general view of how people thought about it. They were just raised that way and it was really hard for them to, to give it up. And that’s what we’re seeing right now in Iraq. People have forgotten the worst years of 2006 and 2007 and there’s some return of sectarian killings and assassinations.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: But do you believe that you can reason people out of it?
ZEYAD KASIM: Well, we try all the time, it’s just at, at some point you really give up.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: Zeyad, thanks a lot.
ZEYAD KASIM: No problem at all.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: Zeyad Kasim blogs, still, at Healing Iraq.
When Ali Fadhil, the doctor turned “rock star fixer” finished his studies at NYU, he had the very American experience of not finding a job, partly because of the economic crash and partly because his usual clients had less interest in the war. So he applied for political asylum in the US. Anyway, he says journalism died in Iraq after the American forces left. The authorities bear down hard on reporters there.
ALI FADHIL: It could besecurity, the police, the army, friends of mine who are still there quit journalism because it’s becoming really dangerous. And not only dangerous, it’s useless because you can't really move around and do what you want to do, as we were used to before, when the streets were, you know, not controlled by anybody.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: What you’re saying is that you preferred, as a journalist, the, the chaos in the street.
ALI FADHIL: No, absolutely not. I’d rather have the country stabilized. But this is not stabilization. When you get the country back point zero, you know, to square one, after all the bloodshed, it’s very important to keep democracy alive, if it was really meant to be.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: And that's not what you see.
ALI FADHIL: No, that’s not what I see. Unfortunately, Iraq is not a country with democracy right now. The street is not really as peaceful as it looks. Basic life services are still not available.
I remember a lot of these press conferences in the Green Zone, they’re saying, oh come and see Iraq, after 10 years it’ll be different, and you can see that things are not really different. There is lots of money there, that’s true, but there’s no life.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: Any regrets?
ALI FADHIL: Regrets about my ventures in – into the media, no, absolutely not. It’s actually – were one of the best years of my life. And I look forward to relive that experience, maybe not in Iraq, maybe somewhere else.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: Have you become more skeptical of the power of journalism to change things?
ALI FADHIL: I’m really convinced that journalism is a very powerful tool. It’s – it’s a – it’s a dangerous tool, at the same time. That’s why I’m frustrated that it’s in the hands of the Iraqi government right now.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: Thank you very much.
ALI FADHIL: Thank you.
[MUSIC UP AND UNDER]
BROOKE GLADSTONE: Ali, how do you want to be identified?
ALI FADHIL: As Ali Fadhil, the journalist.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: A journalist?
ALI FADHIL: Uh huh. [AFFIRMATIVE]
BROOKE GLADSTONE: Ali Fadhil, Iraqi journalist and medical resident, now living in Atlanta.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: That's it for this week's show. On the Media was produced by Jamie York, Alex Goldman, PJ Vogt, Sarah Abdurrahman and Chris Neary. We had more help from Khrista Rypl, Ravenna Koenig and Alex Hall. Our technical director is Jennifer Munson, and our engineer this week was Rick Kwan. Katya Rogers is our senior producer. Jim Schachter is WNYC’s Vice President for News, and our boss. Bassist composer Ben Allison wrote our theme. On the Media is produced by WNYC and distributed by NPR. Bob Garfield will be back next week. I’m Brooke Gladstone.