Interview: Dahlia Wasfi
Dahlia Wasfi is a Blogger, Public Speaker, Peace and Anti war Activist, recently she talked with Al-Rasub about her life and experience:
Al-Rasub: Tell us about your early life, schooling and college university studies.
Dahlia Wasfi: I was born in New York, New York, USA in December 1971, the same year that my father finished his PhD in inorganic chemistry at Georgetown University in Washington, DC, USA. He studied on an Iraqi government scholarship, and to repay that scholarship, he needed to return to Iraq to teach for five years (the same amount of time that he studied in the US). So, the first five years of my life were spent in Basrah, Iraq, (with some visits to the US to see my mother’s family) while my father taught at Basrah University. I was very lucky to have this time in Iraq as a child in the 1970s. Unfortunately, though, my parents spoke English at home. That made English my first language, and I refused to learn Arabic while we lived there, even though I went to Rahabat.
We moved back to the US in 1977, and I began first grade in the American school system. I graduated from high school in 1989 and began studies in biology at Swarthmore College (in Swarthmore, Pennsylvania, USA). I knew that both of my parents wanted their children to be doctors (I have an older sister and younger brother), so I planned for medical school. I was fortunate to be accepted to University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine (Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, USA), and I earned my medical degree in 1997. I began my residency training in general surgery later that same year, and then switched to anaesthesiology in the year 2000. I left my training program in September 2002 during the time that my government was preparing to attack Iraq (again) in the Shock and Awe invasion of 2003.
Al-Rasub: You visited Iraq recently i think in 2006/7, tell us your experience being there after Saddam regime and presence of American forces.
Dahlia Wasfi: My last visit to Iraq was from December 25, 2005 through March 26, 2006. Although I was able to travel from Amman, Jordan to Baghdad and Basrah during my first trip in February/March 2004, the occupation had made that route too dangerous by 2005. The US military had conducted two sieges of the city of Fallujah in western Iraq in 2004. The road from Amman to Baghdad was in control of US forces and my family thought it was too dangerous to travel. So, for my second trip, I went by way of Kuwait, taking a taxi from the airport to Al Abdily, and then crossing the border by bus to Saffwan, Iraq. I only visited my Basrah relatives during this trip. At that time, the British were still occupying southern Iraq. While Basrah was still controlled by a hostile military occupation, Basrah had less violence than Baghdad, where the Americans were in charge.
Basrah had so much poverty, so many destroyed buildings, and so many destroyed roads. There was poor electricity (power only randomly coming to houses a few hours a day), and access to drinkable water was limited (I had the luxury of drinking bottled water). But the greatest difficulty was the lack of security. Since the removal of Saddam Hussein, and no law and order from the occupiers (as required by international law), criminal gangs were roaming the streets. Various militias were forming and taking control of neighbourhoods. Also, because US/UK military forces failed to protect Iraq’s borders, many religious groups and their militias were crossing into Iraq from Iran and gaining influence over the south.
Al-Rasub: Many people say that Saddam was good for Iraq what is your opinion.
Dahlia Wasfi: I have my opinion, but I think that only Iraqis can say if Saddam Hussein was good for Iraq; only Iraqis can say if the price they paid was worth the benefits. Under Saddam Hussein, Iraq nationalized its oil and used the profits to build infrastructure and incredible healthcare and educational systems, which were free for Iraqis. But the political repression was severe. Then, with tacit support from the US, Saddam Hussein began the Iran-Iraq War, which lasted for eight years and incurred over 1,000,000 casualties. The US armed both sides, benefitting from these two nations warring against one another.
Saddam Hussein’s defiance of US hypocrisy in dealing with the occupation of Kuwait (as compared to Israeli occupation of Syria/Lebanon/Egypt/Palestine) was profound. However, the Iraqi people paid a tremendous price for that, with the 1991 Gulf War, the destruction of infrastructure, and the 13 years of sanctions that followed. The US and UK have the blood of more than one million Iraqis on their hands for these policies. I think that the US intended to destroy Iraq and used the occupation of Kuwait as a reason to do it. I believe any strong nationalist, anti-Zionist government in that region that opposes Western domination is a potential target for US/NATO aggression (as we have seen with Libya and now Syria).
Life in Iraq was so difficult and full of struggle under Saddam Hussein, but it was better than life for Iraqis under American occupation. That really says a lot about the horror of US occupation—that American rule made the brutality of the Hussein regime look like “the good old days.” As an American, I speak to my government’s guilt in all of these crimes.
Al-Rasub: People says that American forces divided Iraq in two groups on base of religion difference you think its true ?
Dahlia Wasfi: Yes, absolutely. This is the old tactic of empires, to divide and conquer. The occupiers established sectarian death squads and divided Baghdad into sectarian ghettos with massive walls. Before 2003, Iraqis did not identify their religious differences. Even the term of “mixed family” used to describe a Sunni-Shia marriage was unheard of before 2003, though the divisions are deeply set today.
Al-Rasub: What you think about current Government, are the capable to solve the problems of country.
Dahlia Wasfi: If you mean the current Iraqi government, they have not shown that they are providing for the Iraqi people. Many of them came into Iraq on the backs of the occupiers, and they have very little contact (if any) with how the majority of Iraqis are suffering outside of the Green Zone. If you mean the Obama government, I think these people are incapable of solving the problems of either Iraq or the United States. They only help the bankers on Wall Street and the corporations, including those who made a lot of money off of war and occupation.
Al-Rasub: As you are herself belong to a medical field , what kind of health problems as a whole Iraqi people are facing due the prevailing condition of Iraq.
Dahlia Wasfi: This is a very sad question for me to answer because of the tremendous suffering of the people of Iraq due to my government’s crimes. Since 1991, there has been an enormous increase in both Iraq’s infant mortality rate and incidence of paediatric (children’s) leukaemia and lymphomas, particularly in southern Iraq, which was bombed heavily during the 1991 Gulf War. Since 2005, increased cancer rates have been documented in several more Iraqi cities, including Baghdad. The greatest increase in births defects is being documented in the city of Fallujah, which was bombed so heavily during the April and November 2004 sieges led by the US military. It is strongly believed that all of these cancers and birth defects are today resulting from the weapons used by the US and UK in Iraq.
The Iraqi people still live with the effects of economic sanctions during the 1990’s, which left many children severely malnourished. Today, after decades of war, bombings, and occupation, significant mental health issues are prevalent among Iraqis inside and outside of their country. Post-traumatic stress disorder is taking its toll on Iraqis who have endured physical and psychological trauma, including the loss of friends, family, and neighbourhoods (for example those who have been internally displaced or become refugees). Though the number of patients has increased with the occupation, the healthcare system has been destroyed, and it can be difficult to get adequate treatment in Iraqi hospitals. Many of Iraq’s doctors were killed; many more fled the country.
Al-Rasub: You see any affect of Arab Spring on Iraq ?
Dahlia Wasfi: Yes. Of course, the Iraqi resistance was working hard for self-determination prior to the revolutions in Tunisia and Egypt. But in the wake of those massive demonstrations, Iraqis came to the streets to demand better services and better representation in the government. These peaceful demonstrators were met with great violence and repression from state security.
Al-Rasub: Mostly intellectual in Muslims countries and many in west too denying the holocaust or they saying Israeli Government and some Jewish groups telling lots of fiction rather facts and use this card to get sympathy from west and hide their crime, as your mother was a Jewish-American , will you share your thoughts or opinion about this issue ?
Dahlia Wasfi: My mother’s parents were 1940s Holocaust survivors, and I don’t deny their suffering or the suffering of so many others, not only Jews but gypsies, communists, the disabled, homosexuals…anyone who did not fit Hitler’s ideal of a master race. That being said, I have a problem with the way the European Holocaust is used to cover up the crimes of the US-Israeli holocaust of Western Asia (from the Nile to the Euphrates) of the 20th and 21st centuries. There are many similarities between what the Nazis did in Europe and what the Israelis have done and are doing in Palestine, Egypt, Syria, Lebanon, and Iraq, such as collective punishment, destruction of agriculture, destruction of economic means, establishment of ghettos, denial of self-determination. Zionism is a bigoted political movement. To me, there is no greater hypocrisy than the victims of one genocide using their suffering as an excuse to commit another one.
Al-Rasub: We see in many countries Anti war moments from years but they are not getting the same capacity of importance from main stream media and from people too , what you think what is lacking in these moments or there is a some kind of conspiracy that media is not giving them importance or coverage ?
Dahlia Wasfi: In the West, there is a great deal of corporate control of the media. The corporations who pay TV channels advertising fees keep the TV channels in business. For example, CNN has been paid to play advertisements for Boeing and Lockheed Martin, two of the largest weapons manufacturers in the world. Since CNN would like to keep getting money from these companies, which make money from war, selling war on their station is good business. It was the same thing during the 1991 Gulf War. General Electric (GE), another big defense contractor, owned NBC in 1991. NBC’s pro-war slant helped make profits for the channel’s parent company, GE. We get a very distorted sense of what is happening in the world—especially the Arab world—from Western media.
Al-Rasub: What inspired you that being a medical student you involved yourself in anti war moments and become a peace activist?
Dahlia Wasfi: This is a long story, but the short story is that I was never really happy in medicine. I had some great experiences, and there were patients whom I felt I really helped, but there are issues with the American medical system (that I don’t think exist everywhere) that made taking care of patients more difficult. I was not passionate about my work the way I have always felt passionate about fighting for justice. After the US invaded Afghanistan in 2001 and was preparing to invade Iraq, I began to consider for the first time what my tax dollars were paying for.
On March 16, 2003, I read about the murder of Rachel Corrie in Rafah, who was crushed to death by an American-made Caterpillar bulldozer driven by Israeli soldiers. She was trying to prevent the demolition of a house belonging to a Palestinian pharmacist and his family. I never knew Rachel, but I was struck by her incredible courage. In the months following her death, I decided that if Rachel could go to Gaza, and take such a brave stand for what she believed in, then I could at least go visit my relatives in Iraq whom I hadn’t seen in twenty-seven years. Once I reconnected with my family, I wanted to use my American privilege to try to end the suffering my government was bringing them. That is how my activism started.
Al-Rasub: How you spend your free time?
Dahlia Wasfi: Because my work is about so much tragedy and hardship, I like to watch silly TV shows and movies. I like Will Ferrell movies, and I like Judge Judy (do you have Judge Judy?). Judge Judy is not shy about telling crooks that they have done things wrong, and they need to do better. I have the same message for my government officials. One day, I will yell at them like Judge Judy yells at the criminals.
Al-Rasub: You have any plan to write a book about your life experience ?
Dahlia Wasfi: YES! Thank you for asking. I am working on a book now, and I hope I will be finished in 2013, insha’allah. The message of the book is that we all have our humanity in common, and that is more than enough for us to survive alongside one another.
Al-Rasub: Your message for the world?
Dahlia Wasfi : “No justice, no peace.”
Dahlia Wasfi can be reached at: