For as long as I can remember I have been politically minded. That is to say I take an interest in national and global events and how the world’s decision makers react, enable and seize the opportunities these circumstances present.
For those who know me it will come as no surprise when I say I am a news junkie. Growing up I listened to as much BBC radio 4 as I did radio 1. As a family my parents encouraged myself and my siblings to join them in watching world events unfold on the 6pm news.
My parents brought me up in a way that means I am never frightened to ask questions and form my opinions based on the answers and data I get from them. I feel incredibly lucky that is the case. This is undoubtedly why I became a journalist and whilst I can no longer call that my profession, it is a walk of life and way of thinking that never truly leaves you.
Given that background it was always likely I would end up being politically minded but one event more than any other really set the wheels in motion to who I am today as a person and why personal politics are what they are.
Those within my circle of friends and family, and even those I work with in close quarters will attest to the fact that I can be very strong willed and passionate about the things I care about. ‘Tom’s on his soapbox again’ with a laugh, sigh or an eyeroll is something I’ve heard and felt time and again.
I am writing this post to try and explain why, not only to others but also to myself, I am the person I am.
I live in a small rural community, I am lucky to have spent a lot of my life here. This area is truly beautiful and there is a real community spirit. That being said there is a resistance to change and a fear of the unknown here I have never really felt anywhere else in the country.
Growing up in such a community the son of an Iraqi sometimes presented challenges. I learned fairly quickly to develop a thick skin and to shrug off some of the more unpleasant comments and ‘banter’. There were times when I failed and rose to things I should have looked past but as a young man tempers would often flair.
After 9/11 there was a slow and sustained dehumanisation of middle eastern people and more specifically Muslims by the British press, and to a lesser extent media. For those who don’t know, when I refer to the press I mean newspapers and magazines and media largely equates to TV, Radio and some forms of online news. In more recent times the line between the two mediums has become somewhat blurred but that’s another post for another day.
As a result of this I would often feel like the elephant in the room in social and academic spaces. There would often be a visible recoil from people when I explained my family background. This is not a sob story, I did not directly experience the pain and misery of Saddam Hussein’s cruel dictatorship nor the bombs that rained down and killed countless innocents in the Iraq War. Nor did I have to live through the power vacuum created by the west in the middle east. A vacuum that was largely occupied by terror organisations like Al Qaeda or ISIS and one that has devastated so many innocent lives.
Shortly after 9/11 I was in a class at secondary school and we were invited to say how we had felt about the situation in a sort of open forum discussion. I had naively believed I would be able to share my thoughts without being scolded. I suggested that I felt the disaster could have been avoided had there been less western interference in the middle east and that the Bush family could have been more careful about the company they had kept. I pointed out the Bush Snr had a working relationship with the Bin Laden’s. I wish I hadn’t. I was told my views were upsetting others and that I was over opinionated. I wasn’t told this by my peers but by my teacher.
In 2003 Britain on the command of the United States went to war with Iraq. There had been clear evidence that the reasons for the invasion had been ‘sexed up’ and the war was illegal and still this went ahead. Approximately 1 million people had marched to protest the war, my mother being one of them. Their protestations fell of deaf ears. Britain and America went to war on the back of false intelligence and huge numbers of innocent people died as a result.
Many of the armed forces and many more innocent Iraqis lost their lives on the back of this false intelligence. Meanwhile George W Bush, Tony Blair and others in both governments personally profited from the disaster. The landscape of the middle east was forever changed and the so called ‘war on terror’ had created a space ready made with all the fuel necessary to create decades of sustained terror. Instead of ‘bringing democracy’ to the people of Iraq, the west enacted it’s full blown brand of disaster capitalism with massive contracts being handed out to western companies in the name of ‘rebuilding the country’.
This time in my life and the injustices presented by it solidified my politicism. If I was a mildly political person before, I had become radicalized from this point on. The sense of what was right and wrong and the fact those in power could just get away with something as monumental as an illegal war created a huge fire inside me.
There are times when this fire burns out of control, I will rant on social media, draw attention to news stories I feel need to be heard and sometimes become engaged in political debates with people whom I fundamentally disagree with.
When I am sold the virtues of new labour and Tony Blair’s government’s achievements as a blanket validation of the Iraq war I cannot accept this. Whilst the Good Friday Agreement, low unemployment and a functioning welfare state represent policy and achievements I admire in government, they do not and will never excuse war crimes.
I thought long and hard about whether I should post this piece as I am aware for some the subject is taboo. Whilst dwelling on this I was taken back to a memory of my first year at university. Very early on in my time studying journalism I was invited to make a presentation on an allocated subject in the form of a group project. The subject assigned to us was ‘the relationship the bbc has with government advisors’ more specifically whether Dr David Kelly, a chemical weapons expert, had died due to his relationship with a BBC reporter.
I’ll let those who don’t know who Dr Kelly is do their own research but this subject matter was obviously very close to my heart, both as someone with Iraqi blood and as a journalist. As we made our presentation and it was my turn to speak I could see the eyes in the room wondering why I spoke so passionately about this. My lecturers asked questions that got lengthy, sometimes emotional responses.
The reason I have written this post is to answer the question of why? For every time I’ve been looked at in that way, for every comment I’ve had to choose whether to challenge or ignore and for my own peace of mind.