khalil murrell grew up in Camden, NJ, wedged between a meat factory, Walt Whitman’s house and the county jail. He has an MFA from Sarah Lawrence College and ran programs for the Dodge Poetry Festival & Program for many years. He now works in educational leadership, and writes poetry and essays on race, racism and masculinity. khalil currently lives in Newark, where he’s improving his Spanish and dreams of South America.
Ahmed Al Mamoori is an archaeologist and is the Director of Basrah Museum, housed in a former palace of Saddam Hussein. Ahmed is the inspector of antiquities responsible for relations and negotiations with landowners and other interested parties. He oversees the survey and inspections of sites and monuments in preparation of the new Basrah Museum.
He received his education at Babylon University with a BA in Ancient Archeology. In 2019, he became director of Basrah Cultural Museum. His publications include The Architectural Styles of the Church of Mar Gurgis, Erbil published in the Daily Newspaper in 2018. Ahmed has received additional training for the maintenance of cultural heritage during a course in Beijing, and he has participated in several archaeological fieldworks at the University of Manchester, the University of Wales, and other institutions.
Tina Ramirez is the Founder and President of Hardwired Global, a non-profit organization that specializes in human rights education and training to promote peace and pluralism worldwide. Tina brings to Hardwired more than 20 years of experience as an educator, policy advisor, and expert on international human rights and religious freedom. She has worked in more than 30 countries and travels regularly to the Middle East and Africa. She has spoken before the United Nations and the African Union and testified before the U.S. Congress.
Tina’s educational programs, which have been published in several journals, have provided significant evidence of successful methods to help children overcome hate and intolerance, build resiliency against extremist thinking, reduce violent responses toward minority groups, and improve treatment of women and girls. She is the author of Iraq: Hope in the Midst of Darkness (2017), a contributing author/editor of Human Rights in the United States: A Dictionary and Documents (2010 and 2017), and author/editor of Human Rights: Great Events From History (2019). Previously, she served as a foreign policy advisor for the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom and the U.S. Congress, where she founded the bi-partisan International Religious Freedom Caucus. She is the former Director of Government Relations and International Programs at Becket Law. She holds a certificate from the International Institute for Human Rights in Strasbourg, France, a MA in Education from Vanguard University, and a MA in International Human Rights from the University of Essex, UK. Tina now lives in the suburbs of Richmond, VA with her daughter, Abigail. In 2020, Tina was a candidate for the U.S. Congress (VA-07).
Kathleen McBroom is a docent with the Detroit Institute of Arts. She enjoys working with all kinds of audiences to share amazing pieces of art drawn from the museum’s extensive holdings. Kathleen is also a librarian and an educator. She’s worked with pre-schoolers, graduate students, and just about every level in between. In addition to being an instructor at the University of Michigan and Wayne State, Kathleen has also worked at the Baldwin Public Library in Birmingham, Lawrence Technological University, and the Dearborn Public Schools.
Paula Drewek, a past president of WISDOM, is a retired professor of humanities at Macomb Community College where she taught courses in the Arts and Comparative Religions for 39 years. She was a Fulbright Scholar to China in 2005, expanding her interest in Eastern Religions. Paula has been a Baha’i since her teen years and has spoken to many types of audiences about her Faith, both here and abroad.
Sameena Basha holds a B.S. in Mechanical Engineering from U. of M. and a Juris Doctorate from the U. of Chicago. She has been involved in many outreach projects in Arizona, Illinois and Detroit. She has a keen interest in interfaith work and has served on the Interfaith-Outreach Committee of the Islamic Foundation Mosque in Illinois.
Teri Weingarden is the current President of WISDOM and the treasurer of West Bloomfield Township. She formerly has sat on the boards of her local Chamber of Commerce, her temple Sisterhood, Green Hope and for victims of war and poverty. She practices Judaism and is deeply passionate about her job and her community work.
Delores Lyons is a former Social Worker at State of Michigan Department of Human Services. Previously, she worked for WDIV Local 4 / ClickOnDetroit and WBFS-TV. She studied Sociology/Psychology at Saginaw Valley State University. Born and raised a Baptist, she started practicing Buddhism in her adult life.
Sami Rasouli is an Iraqi-American who grew up in Iraq and lived in Minnesota as an adult until 2004. He returned to Iraq after the 2003 U.S. invasion of his country, hoping to bring reconciliation between his country of origin and his country of choice. For the past 12 years Sami has worked in Iraq with the Muslim Peacemaker Teams (MPT), a group dedicated to the principles of nonviolence. He returns to the U.S. each year to educate Americans about the situation in the Middle East and to help build people-to-people relationships.
On September 19 of 2020, a bomb placed at the entrance to The American Institute for English in Najaf, Iraq, founded by Sami Rasouli, went off at about midnight. No one was present or injured but the building and school were destroyed. His friends and colleagues are helping him rebuild the school. If you want to help, visit https://gf.me/u/za9rqb
Professor Geoffrey Khan is a Semitic Language Linguist, Researcher and Lecturer at the University of Cambridge. He studied for a B.A. degree in Semitic Languages (Hebrew, Aramaic, Arabic, Akkadian, Ethiopic) at School of Oriental and African Studies, University of London, which he completed in 1980. Thereafter he went on to graduate studies in the same institution and was awarded a Ph.D. degree in 1984 for a thesis entitled Extraposition and Pronominal Agreement in Semitic languages, which concerned form and function of various syntactic structures in Arabic, Hebrew, Aramaic, Akkadian and Amharic (subsequently published as Studies in Semitic Syntax, 1988). In 1983 he moved to Cambridge, where he was employed as a researcher on the Cairo Genizah manuscripts in the Taylor-Schechter Genizah Research group at Cambridge University Library.
In 1993, Professor Khan was appointed as Lecturer in Hebrew and Aramaic at the University of Cambridge. He has subsequently remained in Cambridge, being promoted to Reader in Semitic Philology (1999-2002) and Professor of Semitic Philology (2002-2012). In 2012 he was elected as Regius Professor of Hebrew, which is his current position. Some of his honors include election as Fellow of the British Academy (1998), election as Honorary Fellow of the Academy of the Hebrew Language (2011), election as Fellow of Academia Europea (2014), election as Honorary Member of the American Oriental Society (2015), election as Extraordinary Professor (Honorary) by the University of Stellenbosch (2016), the award of the Lidzbarski Gold Medal for Semitic philology by the Deutsche Morgenländische Gesellschaft (2004) and the award of honorary doctorates by the Hebrew University of Jerusalem (2017) and the University of Uppsala (2018).
Visit this website in the near future to view the Aramaic archives nena.ames.cam.ac.uk
Dr. Jaafar Jotheri holds a PhD in Geoarchaeology from Durham University. He has over 15 years of experience in conducting archaeological excavations and surveys about the landscape of ancient Iraq and the ancient paths that rivers and canals followed in the past. He has published more than 15 articles in some of the world’s most prestigious journals.
Dr. Jaafar is currently an Assistant Professor and Vice-Dean in the Faculty of Archeology, University of Al-Qadissiyah, Iraq, where he teaches and supervises both undergraduate and postgraduate students. He has been involved in many international archaeological and heritage projects carried out in Iraq, with partners including Manchester University, Durham University, Sapienza University of Rome, and Tokushima University. He has been awarded research funding from international organizations such as the British Institute for the Study of Iraq (London), the Academic Research Institute in Iraq (USA), and the British Academy, as well as the Nahrein Network.
Written by: Weam Namou
Paul Batou was born in 1959 in a tiny village on the border between Iraq and Turkey. When he was two years old, the Kurds destroyed his village in an act they called “ethnic cleansing.” This forced his family to migrate to Mosul and eventually to Baghdad, where he lived among Arabs. His family rented a room with six other families. Almost forty people shared one small kitchen, bath, and toilet. He described his home as “more like a prison.” Even though his family spoke a different language, Aramaic, they managed to survive. Batou’s mother was forced to work like a slave in a hotel while his father traveled back and forth from Baghdad to the north in order to restore their land. He could not imagine working in a city while others stole his land.
None of Batou’s siblings completed their education, but thanks to his aunt’s generosity, he was enrolled in a Catholic school. He performed very well, especially in art and science. At first, he drew simple Disney characters, and then graduated to Western wild west-style pictures. At the age of twelve, he wrote his first short story, which was a love story based in the city of Kremat, where he grew up. His journey as an artist continued throughout high school.
In 1989, Batou traveled to Italy to study art, but his father refused to finance his studies. He returned to Baghdad and was accepted in a pharmacy school, so he followed that direction. Luckily, the school had a studio for the arts. One of the protocols in Iraq was that each college must have a music and art department to be used for students’ hobbies.
The following is an excerpt from the book Iraqi Americans: The Lives of the Artists
WN: Why didn’t you study art in Baghdad?
BATOU: The College of Fine Arts was exclusive to the Baath Party. I didn’t even bother to apply because I had no desire to become one of their members. I was fortunate that the director of the studio in the pharmacy school was one of the most famous Iraqi artists, named Abdul Ellah Yassin. That’s how I practiced and learned art in a more professional fashion. It was as if I’d missed something and then found it. I was hungry to absorb all the knowledge I could in art.
WN: While living in Iraq, did you have any serious encounters with the Baath Party?
BATOU: My problems with the Baath Party began after I received my bachelor’s degree. I was accepted to continue my master’s degree in toxicology. However, because of my friendship with Abdul Salman, a Shia Muslim student who was disliked by the Baath Party, my art teacher told me that, like my friend, I would not have a chance. My friend and I took our case to the minister of education and eventually to the minister of health, who refused to help us. When we asked him why his daughter was going to England for the master’s degree when her scores were lower than ours, he replied, “She is my daughter and I want the best for her.” The minister’s final advice was for us to join the army.
One of my classmates from elementary school had become a powerful person in the Iraqi intelligence agency, the Mukhabart. I had helped him in his academic study in pharmacy school and we used to play together during childhood. He offered me the opportunity to study nuclear pharmacy in Sweden. In return, I would receive an excellent pay and my family would be provided with a nice home and a comfortable life. It was either the army or studying abroad and joining the Mukhabarat. It was like having to choose between heaven and hell. I chose hell.
I served in the army five years during the Iraq-Iran war. The first few months, I was on the front line, and every night I asked myself if I had made the right or the wrong decision. I played by my principles, and my principle was not to give up my freedom. I later wrote a poetry book, My Last Thoughts About Iraq, which is based on the notes and soldiers’ quotes I jotted down during the time I served in the war, from 1983 to 1988.
Matters changed when I was placed in the medical unit and began focusing on helping as many people as I could. We were in a city that bordered Iran, where there was shelling and wounded men every day. That’s when I forgot my doubts and questions. God gave me peace in my heart, and I ended up staying in order to help the people who needed me. I stopped feeling like I made a bad decision and I felt happy to be a pharmacist. I’m helping more people now.
WN: What was the driving force behind leaving Iraq and coming to America?
BATOU: Freedom. The turning point in my search for freedom was when I started reading and painting the Epic of Gilgamesh. That story had a major impact on my thinking as a human and as an artist. Gilgamesh and his long journey and search for life, love, and freedom opened my mind and caused me to look back at my roots as a Mesopotamian. I became more determined to love my land and my people and to fully understand that this is my Iraq, not owned by Shiites, Sunnis, or Kurds. The Christians of Iraq are the natives of Iraq. They carry the heritage of Iraq.
Seeing my friends, mostly artists, writers, and poets whose thinking was in opposition to that of Saddam’s ideas, taken by Baath Intelligence or put in prison or disappearing from the university affected my thinking. I realized I am not free. If you search for freedom while under the dictator rule, either you think to exit Iraq, or if you can’t do that, your alternative is connecting to whatever makes you feel free. To me, the gypsy culture, writing poems, painting, and playing classical guitar provided me with the ideals that I live by and the freedom to express myself among the people who fear God and pray all day.
In 1989 I moved with my family, a wife and a son, to Athens and eventually to the United States. Although it was difficult in the beginning, the image of America being the land of freedom and opportunity lived up to its name. I found American people very helpful. They assisted me as best as they could. One person who played a big role in my success was a friend and pharmacist by the name of Ira Freeman. He offered me a job in his pharmacy even though I had no experience with computers and I didn’t know the name of the drugs since they were different than what I had learned in Iraq. He even provided me with financial assistance to get me through.
One thing you learn in America is that you have full freedom. Humans with freedom will have more powerful production than humans under oppression. I’m happy in America, but I miss the friends I left behind in Iraq. I’ve written many times that I can’t feel joyful and happy when my friends in Iraq are sad and worried.
One day my father told me Iraq is my homeland. It was called Mesopotamia before, the land of two rivers. My mom said any land that gives you freedom is your land. I ask myself one question. Could I have done all this in Iraq? Would I get the same support to express myself freely, with no restrictions? The answer is no. Only true freedom will make you a professional pharmacist, artist, writer, and musician. How many people living in Iraq now missed that opportunity? Freedom is what makes a country and its people great. Finally, this is my land. I lost my home in Iraq. I don’t want to lose my home here. The way to keep my home is to restore the world to peace.
WN: Why do you think that America is not very familiar with Iraq’s art?
BATOU: Everyone agrees there was a big arts movement in Iraq long before Saddam came into power. Many artists had traveled to Europe and accomplished such extraordinary work there that they were very well-known there. While American professional observers who deal with art know about the high standards of art and music in Iraq, the general public does not know. The United States and Iraq did not have good enough relations to create programs where Americans can come to Iraq and witness, for themselves, Iraq’s culture or people, or for Iraqis to come to the United States and do art exhibits.
Since there was no cultural interference or exchange with Iraq, Americans didn’t know anything about Iraq’s history, culture, and heritage. That’s the one reason that the US failed with Operation Iraqi Freedom.
Yet our cultures are similar in a way. It’s about new invaders who came in with a different culture and changed Iraq to what we see now. This is a repeat of what happened to the Native Americans, when Europeans invaded the Natives’ land and changed their beliefs, religions, and way of life.
WN: Have you visited Iraq since you left?
BATOU: I once felt that even if I visited Iraq for one or two weeks, that would mean I would have to give up my freedom for one or two weeks, which I didn’t want to do. Then, in 2014, I finally visited the northern part of Iraq for two weeks. It was the first time I was there since I left in 1989. Things were stable and people were generally happy when I visited. I told them, “It can’t be sustained. Things will not end happily.”
WN: What made you say that?
BATOU: The government offices were unorganized and corrupt. You can’t maintain a society with poor politicians and poor thinkers.
Everyone focuses on the Islamic State, but the war in Iraq has been ongoing since 2003. I believe Saddam was only one person and we, the Iraqis, gave him his power. We became his hands and eyes, his army and secret police. We the Iraqis created the dictator. Iraq for the Christians was not a paradise before his rule. We lived among a lack of knowledge and education. Iraq was always a land of fear and discrimination. Maybe the Islamic State did something good. It brought the world’s attention to us. Before then, no one knew or cared about the minorities in Iraq.
The Islamic State has a positive presence in the Middle East. They cause people to examine their thoughts and beliefs about killing others, which were happening even before they entered the picture. Saddam also tried to destroy our identity and culture, but not in this way.
WN: Can you tell us about Minor Dreams and Confessions, two of your paintings?
I painted Minor Dream in the 1990s during the sanctions against Iraq. I used to have family there and you could feel the pain and suffering of the people during that time. I thought about the kids, especially after what Madeline Albright said in regards to half a million Iraqi children dying due to the sanctions that made it difficult to access milk and prohibited other basic foods and medicine items. When asked by the TV anchor if the price is worth it, Albright said, “We think the price is worth it.”
I also painted Confessions in the 1990s, and this relates more so to the Christians of Iraq, when the Arabs conquered Mesopotamia. You know how you confess your sins to the priest and the sins will go away? I confessed so that I can wash away all the sins of Iraq. I shouted and cried, but I am tied up. I cannot reverse the history of Iraq. It’s God’s Will that it falls. After reading the Bible many times, I found that God insulted Babylon repeatedly for having enslaved the Jewish people. The wars, the sanctions, the invasion— they are punishments from God. They are consequences of the past.
WN: How do you plan to restore the world to peace?
BATOU: The way to make a change is through what I do with art and what you do by writing books. We become a voice for the people who cannot express what is in their minds and hearts. Our job is to explore the world through beautiful art. Our job is not to condemn Islam, Christianity, or any other religion, but to provide people with a vision.
For me, art has a universal message. Part of art’s universal message is to deliver beautiful pieces with nice colors, logic, and philosophy for all humans. My colors reflect the tone of the Earth, the language of the universe, the cry and pain of the oppressed people.
As an artist, I go back to that civilization, that beauty, and ask myself, why do I need to restore that Iraq? It’s because it represents the great civilization, the beauty, the knowledge about all humans. My love for the US plays an important role in my art. Since 9/11 there has been less freedom in the US, affecting the way people live and think. One of my goals is to restore that freedom.
Usually artists, whether they are American, Iraqi, or from any other country, don’t like war. Our concern is mostly for the innocent people who will suffer, whether those people are the citizens of Iraq or our troops and their families in America.
This interview was hosted by the Chaldean Cultural Center and UofM Detroit Center. http://www.ChaldeanCulturalCenter.org
Recently I was asked what some of my favorite books and resources were when I created my very first vision board and during the time of major changes in my life. I was asked this during my recent Vision Board presentation at the Path of Consciousness Conference and Retreatand my Envision Your Author Success workshop at the Detroit Working Writers Conference.There are so many different resources available but only what resonates with us personally will be helpful in our growth. I have had – and continue to have – many wonderful mentors that have helped me on my path. We are forever growing, changing, and evolving. It’s such a beautiful process.
You Are the Placebo by Dr. Joe Dispenza to overcome major pain issues, his meditation was very helpful and life changing, then used at a later time to work on personal growth and development. Dr. Dispenza offers the science behind neuroplasticity in his book for those with inquiring minds.
The 7 Secrets of the Prolific: How to Overcome Procrastination, Perfectionism, and Writer’s Block by Hilary Rettig to overcome perfectionism and free self to create. As a previous perfectionist, this was a huge game changer. Highly recommended.
You Can Heal Your Life by Louise L. Hay to work with pain and difficulty. Insightful and helpful in removing blocks.
The Four Agreements: A Practical Guide to Personal Freedom by Don Miguel Ruiz reveals the source of self-limiting beliefs that rob us of joy and create needless suffering. This book offers a powerful code of conduct that can rapidly transform our lives to a new experience of freedom, true happiness, and love.
Marie Kondo “The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up” is a book that truly changes how we manage our space. A great way to think about all the baggage we hang onto and how to clean up our energy and physical spaces to move our life forward.
Tim Ferriss and The 4-Hour Workweek A highly useful book for finding new ways to think about living life. Step out of the old paradigms and systems and look at the world in a brand-new way.
Edgar Cayce An excellent resource for many decades. This website offers trustworthy and quality tools for astrology and access to the akashic records.
Hayhouse Podcasts and any podcast that helped me to learn more about my path were helpful including anything about entrepreneurship, blogging and writing, and lifestyles.
Big Magic: Creative Living Beyond Fear by Elizabeth Gilbert – With profound empathy and radiant generosity, she offers potent insights into the mysterious nature of inspiration. She asks us to embrace our curiosity and let go of needless suffering. She shows us how to tackle what we most love, and how to face down what we most fear.
A Course in Miracles by the Foundation for Inner Peace
The Tapping Solution by Nick Ortner is a well written resource about Tapping, also known as EFT, the practice of combining intent with the energetic body. Or jump right in with my favorite Brad Yates who describes his YouTube channel as “Tapping videos to help you move through limiting beliefs and enjoy an ever-greater abundance of health, wealth and happiness, which you deserve. Create the life of your dreams!”
Thoughtless Magic and Manifestations by Richard Dotts is similar in concept to Dr. Joe Dispenza’s work in regards to neuroplasticity. A great resource for creating your vision.
Take Time for Your Life by Cheryl Richardson Packed with useful exercises, checklists, personal stories, and a wealth of resources, Cheryl Richardson’s program will show you how to step back, regain control, and make conscious decisions about the future you’d like to create.
Writing Spirit by Lynn V Andrews is a book that shows us how to channel our own spiritual and intellectual energy and balance the need for love with the desire for power.
Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life by Anne Lamott is a classic that offers valuable writing advice.
I would love to hear about your favorite resources and how they changed your life – please comment and share!
Recently I was asked what some of my favorite books and resources were when I created my very first vision board and during the time of major changes in my life. I was asked this during my recent Vision Board presentation at the Path of Consciousness Conference and Retreat and my Envision Your Author Success workshop at the Detroit Working Writers Conference.
There are so many different resources available but only what resonates with us personally will be helpful in our growth. I have had – and continue to have – many wonderful mentors that have helped me on my path. We are forever growing, changing, and evolving. It’s such a beautiful process.
You Are the Placebo by Dr. Joe Dispenza to overcome major pain issues, his meditation was very helpful and life changing, then used at a later time to work on personal growth and development. Dr…
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