Iraqi journalist and sculptor shares insights on Iraqi-American relations

Ahmed Abdullah Fadaam speaks to an Elon reporting class about his experiences as an Iraqi journalist during the war.

Ahmed Abdullah Fadaam speaks to an Elon reporting class about his experiences as an Iraqi journalist during the war.

Miriam Williamson

The relationship between Iraqis and Americans has been seriously damaged. Unless the two cultures can develop an understanding of each other, it will likely be impossible to mend.

“If you don’t understand how they think, how can you deal with them?” Iraqi journalist Ahmed Abdullah Fadaam asked a class of student journalists Wednesday.

Fadaam has a rare advantage few have. He has had the opportunity to view the war from both angles and see the feelings and opinions of people from both societies.

Changing art forms

Before the war, Fadaam was a sculptor. He had a Ph. D. in fine arts, and was a professor of arts at the University of Baghdad.

“Art was my life at the time,” he said. “I couldn’t imagine myself as a man who would chase stories and be involved in policy and war.”

But once the war started, he became a translator for a documentary news program that aired on NPR stations across the US. This eventually led to a job as a reporter for different American media.

“We began to be looked at as spies, as blood traders, as traitors,” Fadaam said of himself and other journalists.

Iraqis called those who associated with the Western press blood traders because they got money from stories, and stories from death. But Fadaam saw his work as a favor to his country.

“If you like your country, you want people to know the facts,” he said.

Regardless of the challenges he faced as a reporter, Fadaam has been a successful journalist. He worked for news organizations such as Agence France-Presse, National Public Radio, American Public Media and The New York Times, and received numerous prestigious awards, particularly for his series of personal anecdotes, “Ahmed’s Diary.”

“I don’t know if it’s growing up in Iraq,” he said of what makes his writing powerful. “What makes a good journalist is pure curiousity.”

Fadaam contributes much of his talent to his other craft, sculpting. For him, the relationship between the two is in the details.

“The more you work, the more details you get,” he said. “Clay is like a disease… and journalism is the same. Once you get it you won’t be getting rid of it for a long time.”

Facing the consequences of war

As conditions worsened in Iraq, the situation became dangerous for Fadaam, his wife and his two children.

After receiving a death threat in Dec. 2007 for his work as a reporter, Fadaam decided to move his family to Syria. He also received a visitor’s visa to the U.S. where he can safely practice journalism.

Meanwhile, he is sharing stories from Iraq with Americans.

“They’re [the Western media] not showing the other side of this society [Iraq],” Fadaam said. “That they’re capable of building something. Not just destroying.”

While here, he has had the chance to learn more about Americans’ viewpoints of Iraq, the war and the U.S. administration.

“I used to tell stories from Iraq to the Americans,” he said. “Now I’m going to tell stories to the Iraqis about what I saw in America.”

Connecting Cultures

Fadaam’s efforts to share both sides of the story is intended to establish friendly relations between the U.S. and Iraq.

Iraqis have seen much loss and bloodshed in their country since the beginning of the U.S. occupation. Young children are taught that this is caused by Americans, so hatred is bred from a young age.

“You have children now that open their eyes and see their country is under fire,” he said.

Among most Iraqis, it is common belief that all Americans are aggressive, are violent and like war, because the troops are all they see. But Fadaam has seen that this is not true, and said he thinks Americans should reach out to the Iraqis.

“The problem is there is no direct contact between people,” he said. “Try talking to each other away from government, away from policy, away from war. Just people to people. You’re open-minded; so are Iraqis.”

But Fadaam said talking is not enough. He pointed out that few Americans know much about the Iraqi culture.

“I’m not trying to underestimate your knowledge,” he said. “But this is the truth.”

With Iraq in shambles, there is still work the U.S. administration needs to do before anything can truly be healed.

“You have started something, and you should finish it,” he said. “At the same time, you have broken something and you should fix it.”

The main thing average Americans can do to mend the relationship between the two countries is learn about Iraq – its people, their culture, their history.

“Break these walls between you,” he said.

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2 Comments on “Iraqi journalist and sculptor shares insights on Iraqi-American relations”

  1. andersj Says:

    Good work. I’ll send more comments later, but one quick note is that your subheds should not be larger than your main headline. I love it that you have the subheds, but see if you can size them down a bit. Even just using the body type in boldface will work as a subhed.

  2. andersj Says:

    Yours is one of the best reports on this story. Extremely well done. Your synthesis of the content and your presentation of the key elements is what makes it stand out.

    You should have done a more thorough paragraph with Fadaam’s impressive background as a journalist though – you glossed over it and that expertise makes his words of wisdom carry more authority. You need to note that he has worked for Agence France-Presse, National Public Radio, American Public Media and The New York Times.

    This passage is not correct: he became a translator for an American radio station
    He was a translator for a documentary news program that aired on National Public Radio stations across the United States.

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