Tag Archives: Iraq

Becoming the world’s first human camera

8 Feb

What a headache: Bilal's camera implant (Image copyright 3rdi)

Dalila Mahdawi

NEW YORK, 7 Feb (IPS) – Wafaa Bilal hasn’t had a decent night’s sleep in about two months. After becoming the first person to have a camera surgically implanted into the back of his head, the Iraqi- American artist is learning the hard way just how much of a headache modern technology can be.

“It’s still painful,” he tells IPS, pointing to the three titanium bolts that have been inserted into his cranium to hold the camera in place.

Bilal undertook the dramatic operation as part of a year- long project entitled 3rdi. The camera takes photographs every minute of the view behind Bilal’s head. The images, comprising everything from uninspiring shots of his kitchen cupboards to unnerving angles of objects and passers-by, are then uploaded onto the 3rdi website and streamed to Qatar’s newly inaugurated contemporary art museum, Mathaf.

3rdi is, in many ways, a reflection of Bilal’s own traumatic experiences of loss. Having been raised in a conservative family under Saddam Hussein’s tyrannical rule, the soft- spoken artist was forced to flee during the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait after publicly rejecting his conscription into the army. He spent two years living in a makeshift refugee camp in the Saudi Arabian desert before being granted asylum in the United States.

“It was one of the toughest experiences of my life,” recalls Bilal, who is also an assistant professor of photography at New York University’s Tisch School of The Arts. In the camp, “We were subjected to very harsh treatment by Saudi soldiers and many people lost their lives. Art became a way to remind myself I was still alive.”

With little to remind him of the places and faces he had to abandon so abruptly, 3rdi has become Bilal’s way of recording chaotic, poignant and yet often banal moments of departure. “Individually, they might not look significant,” he says of the images, but when taken together, they form “quite a nice mosaic of someone’s life.”

Since unveiling the project, 3rdi has evolved to speak about many other aspects of modern life, such as government surveillance of its citizens (the camera tracks Bilal’s whereabouts via GPS) and the aggressive intrusion of technology.

“There is no such thing as a private life anymore,” says Bilal. “Instead of creating something to serve us, these machines have enslaved us.”

Although the camera’s physical presence leaves the artist susceptible to infection and sleepless nights, he insists the pain is an integral part of the 3rdi project. “Performance is about endurance,” he explains. “It’s a physical reminder of what you are doing.”

It’s not the first time Bilal has used his own body as his canvas. Physical intervention has been a central, and often controversial, feature of much of his work.

In 2010, Bilal held a 24-hour performance in which he had the names of Iraqi cities tattooed on his back. More than 100,000 dots marking Iraqi casualties were also tattooed on with invisible ink, symbolising the anonymous victims of a war that most Americans feel so far removed from. Bilal also has plans to tattoo on some 5,000 dots in homage to the U.S. soldiers also killed in the U.S.-led war.

For an earlier project, called “Shoot an Iraqi/Domestic Tension”, Bilal confined himself in a prison-like cell for 30 days and was subjected to the whims of his audience, who could shoot a remote-controlled paintball gun at him from the internet or gallery. Following newspaper articles about the project, hackers infiltrated the software and programmed the gun to shoot at Bilal once every minute.

“The hope is you build a platform not to engage those already engaged in political dialogue,” but to attract those who typically shy away, he says. It seemed he succeeded in that attempt: by the end of the exhibition, over 65,000 people from more than 130 countries had fired at Bilal.

His work became more overtly political following the killing of his younger brother by a U.S. drone missile in Iraq in 2004. Bilal says he wanted to bring people living in “the comfort zone” into the realm of the “conflict zone”, Iraq.

With that goal in mind, the artist has also subjected himself to water boarding, the simulated-drowning torture technique former U.S. president George W. Bush notoriously admitted to using in Iraq.

“My work is driven from within as a concerned person, as someone who has been directly affected by his surroundings,” Bilal says. “My job has to become a mirror to reflect that social condition.”

It may be another 10 months before Bilal can enjoy a proper night’s rest again, but if having eyes at the back of his head has taught the artist anything, it is to savour the present more.

“Most of the time we don’t exist in the present, and I think in the process we fail to exist in the place we are in,” he says. “I think this is a call to slow down, look at these corners of our lives and live in the moment we are in.”

3rdi is online until December 2011.

http://www.3rdi.me/ and http://wafaabilal.com/

Eyes on the back of his head (Image copyright 3rdi)

Workshop aims to help displaced Iraqi professionals in Lebanon find jobs

22 Dec
By Dalila Mahdawi 

Monday, December 22, 2008

BEIRUT: Inaam is one of an estimated 50,000 Iraqis who have sought refuge in Lebanon, a fraction of the 2 million scattered across the Middle East, mostly in Syria and Jordan. Although she possesses a Masters in chemistry and is keen to find work, she is not entitled to that right.

According to a 2007 survey by the Danish Refugee Council, 77.5 percent of Iraqis in Lebanon arrived illegally, usually via Syria. As Lebanon has not signed the 1951 UN Convention on the Status of Refugees, many Iraqi refugees could face arrest or deportation if discovered, let alone found working.

As a result, Inaam said most of her days were “wasted” at home. “If you don’t have a job, you get bored and start to feel as though you are less [valuable] than other people. You get depressed.” With no income, Inaam survives off aid and her rapidly diminishing savings.

There are thousands of highly educated Iraqis in Lebanon like Inaam facing the humiliation of being barred from pursuing a career or being forced to take casual jobs completely unrelated to their professional training.

Last week, the plight of Iraqi professionals was addressed by the international nongovernmental organization (NGO) International Medical Corps (IMC). On Wednesday it launched the “Continuing Medical Education and Continuing Professional Development Program,” comprising 10 workshops aimed at strengthening and developing the professional skills of Iraq’s educated elite. By the end of the program, some 200 Iraqi professionals will have benefited.

The workshops, developed and implemented by the American University of Beirut’s (AUB) office of Regional External Programs (REP) and funded by the US State Department, were providing a much-needed lifeline to Lebanon’s population of Iraqi professionals, said IMC medical director Haidar Sahib. “There is a thirst for these kinds of activities,” he said.

A dozen Iraqis participated in the first three-day workshop, “Finance for non-Financial Officers,” taught by AUB professors. While the issues covered in the first workshop were relatively broad, REP assistant vice president George Farag said the other workshops would be more tailored to professions such as medicine, business, teaching or engineering.

Inaam, who has cancer in her salivary gland, was so keen to participate that she came straight to the workshop after having a session of radiotherapy. “This is the first time in Lebanon the [Iraqi] intellectual community is being addressed,” she said. In fact, the IMC program is the first of its kind in the Middle East.


The goal of the workshops, said Sahib, was not only to upgrade the skills of long-idle Iraqi professionals, but to provide them with the expertise to ensure they found jobs upon resettlement or return to Iraq. According to Sahib, an IMC assessment of critical needs indicated that “one of the biggest gaps [in service provision] not only in Lebanon but across the region,” was in capacity-building.

The “huge displacement of professional Iraqis” meant the war-afflicted country was suffering from a shortage of skilled professionals at a time when they were needed most, he added. “Iraq is keeping up with the rest of the world in terms of technology – there are more than 14 million cell-phone lines and 1 million internet users,” Sahib said. “All this requires human resources.”

The program was also addressing the mental health and psychosocial needs of Iraqi refugees in Lebanon. Many of the participants said the workshop helped to restore their lost dignity, morale and self-esteem.

Haidar, who has an advanced degree in mathematics, lost his job as a day laborer because of his attendance. “I don’t care because I didn’t want to miss this course,” he laughed. “We have all had to work in fields inappropriate to our expertise, work that has humiliated us.” 

Suha, a social researcher who lives with her two sisters near Qana, just outside Tyre, said the Iraqi population in Lebanon was “keen to update their professional knowledge and pursue careers,” and hoped she would be able to join IMC’s future workshops. “It makes you feel as if your degree has value,” she said, wishing the workshops were longer.

“For a few hours at least, they feel as though they are not refugees but real professionals,” Sahib said of the participants.

“I don’t have the proper words to express my gratitude to the organizers,” Inaam said. “We are thankful to know there are people out there who care about helping us develop our skills and find careers when we go back to Iraq.”

Although IMC had limited funding for the workshop program, support officer Michelle Kayaleh said the NGO was hoping to expand its partnerships to continue providing capacity-building programs to Iraqi professionals and to create partnerships with Iraqi universities.


For more information, check out the IMC website at www.imcworldwide.org

Iraq’s biggest victims are women

29 Apr

Barbaric ‘honour killings’ become the weapon to subjugate women in Iraq:
Murder of a girl who became infatuated with a British soldier highlights a disturbing new trend

By Terri JuddMonday, 28 April 2008
Article available from the Independent.

At first glance Shawbo Ali Rauf appears to be slumbering on the grass, her pale brown curls framing her face, her summer skirt spread about her. But the awkward position of her limbs and the splattered blood reveal the true horror of the scene.
The 19-year-old Iraqi was, according to her father, murdered by her own in-laws, who took her to a picnic area in Dokan and shot her seven times. Her crime was to have an unknown number on her mobile phone. Her “honour killing” is just one in a grotesque series emerging from Iraq, where activists speak of a “genocide” against women in the name of religion.
In the latest such case, it was reported yesterday that a 17-year-old girl, Rand Abdel-Qader, was stabbed to death last month by her father for becoming infatuated with a British soldier serving in southern Iraq.
In Basra alone, police acknowledge that 15 women a month are murdered for breaching Islamic dress codes. Campaigners insist it is a conservative figure.
Violence against women is rampant, rising every day with the power of the militias. Beheadings, rapes, beatings, suicides through self-immolation, genital mutilation, trafficking and child abuse masquerading as marriage of girls as young as nine are all on the increase.
Du’a Khalil Aswad, 17, from Nineveh, was executed by stoning in front of mob of 2,000 men for falling in love with a boy outside her Yazidi tribe. Mobile phone images of her broken body transmitted on the internet led to sectarian violence, international outrage and calls for reform. Her father, Khalil Aswad, speaking one year after her death in April last year, has revealed that none of those responsible had been prosecuted and his family remained “outcasts” in their own tribe.
“My daughter did nothing wrong,” he said. “She fell in love with a Muslim and there is nothing wrong with that. I couldn’t protect her because I got threats from my brother, the whole tribe. They insisted they were gong to kill us all, not only Du’a, if she was not killed. She was mutilated, her body dumped like rubbish.
“I want those who committed this act to be punished but so far they have not, they are free. Honour killing is murder. This is a barbaric act.”
Despite the outrage, recent calls by the Kurdish MP Narmin Osman to outlaw honour killings have been blocked by fundamentalists. “Honour killings are not actually a crime in the eyes of the government,” said Houzan Mahmoud, who has had a fatwa on her head since raising a petition against the introduction of sharia law in Kurdistan. “If before there was one dictator persecuting people, now almost everyone is persecuting women.
“In the past five years it is has got [much] worse. It is difficult to described how terrible it is, how badly we have been pushed back to the dark ages. Women are being beheaded for taking their veil off. Self immolation is rising – women are left with no choice. There is no government body or institution to provide any sort of support. Sharia law is being used to underpin government rule, denying women their most basic human rights.”
In August last year, the body of 11-year-old Sara Jaffar Nimat was found in Khanaqin, Kurdistan, after she had been stoned and burnt to death. Earlier this month, two brothers and a sister were kidnapped from their home near Kirkuk by gunmen in police uniforms. The brothers were beaten to death and the woman left in a critical condition after being informed that she must obey the rules of an “Islamic state”. One week ago, a journalist, Begard Huseein, was murdered in her home in Arbil, northern Iraq. Her husband, Mohammed Mustafa, stabbed her because she was in love with another man, according to local reports.
The stoning death of Ms Aswad led to the establishment of an Internal Ministry unit in Kurdistan to combat violence against women. It reported that last year in Sulaymaniyah, a city of 1 million people, there were 407 reported offences, beheadings, beatings, deaths through “family problems”, and threats of honour killings. Rape is not included as most women are too fearful to report it for fear of retribution. Nevertheless, police in Karbala recently revealed 25 reports of rape.
The new Iraqi constitution, according to Mrs Mahmoud, is a mass of confusing contradictions. While it states that men and women are equal under law it also decrees that sharia law – which considers one male witness worth two females – must be observed. The days when women could hold down key jobs or enjoy any freedom of movement are long gone. The fundamentalists have sent out too many chilling messages. In Mosul two years ago, eight women were beheaded in a terror campaign.
“It was really, really horrifying,” said Mrs Mahmoud. “Honour killings and murder are widespread. Thousands [of people] … have become victims of murder, violence and rape – all backed by laws, tribal customs and religious rules. We urge the international community, the government to condemn this barbaric practice, and help the women of Iraq.”