From where I sit, it’s sometimes easy to take for granted how far things have come and how much hope there is for the future. As a part of the EPIC team, I have a pretty sweet deal going for me: I get to look at pictures of the beautiful countryside and the smiling faces of participants in our Iraqi Youth Hike and I am constantly reminded of all the natural beauty and hope there is in Iraq. But every now and then, I come across something that reminds me how important it is that organizations, like EPIC and our partners, are helping to create positive opportunities and empower young people so that they can lead Iraq in a better direction. In this case, it is the unwarranted and unexplained death of another Iraqi journalist, Hadi Mehdi.
Following the American invasion of Iraq, many intellectuals who had fled the strict controls of the Ba’athist Party returned to their country in the hopes that they could build a better future in their homeland. Journalists, artists, writers, academics – all those who had been repressed and silenced under Saddam Hussein – returned with a new-found optimism and hope for the future. And they had held on to that optimism through the worst years of the war, in the face of death threats, and in spite of the arrests of many journalists who criticized the government.
Recently, that persistent and prevalent optimism has been shaken to its core by the murder of one of Iraq’s best known journalists, Hadi Mehdi, the host of a popular radio show and a voice for those disenchanted with their government. Mehdi, who had received prior death threats, knew his life was in terrible danger. He had been arrested and beaten by Iraqi security forces earlier in the year, but he feared the worst was still to come, as he revealed on his Facebook page and in a letter to friends. Three weeks ago, he was shot and killed in his home by an unidentified intruder. Mehdi is one of five journalists murdered in 2011, and the 93rd murdered in the last decade. So far, Iraqi security forces haven’t made a single arrest in any of the murders, according to the Committee to Protect Journalists. Hundreds more journalists have been arrested, beaten, and threatened with death.
In Iraq, there are many challenges ahead. As Yochi Dreazen, National Security Correspondent for the National Journal, recently tweeted: “Leaving Iraq in a few hours, after a great trip. There are more signs of hope than I’d expected, but also more reasons to fear for its future.”
Iraqis have lived with fear for too long. It’s time to create opportunities. That’s why at EPIC we’re trying to provide opportunities for Iraqi youth to meet their peers from differing communities and empower them to overcome challenges together.
a recent graduate from SUNY New Paltz where she studied Medieval Islamic and European art history and American history and foreign policy. Born and raised in New York State, she now lives in DC and is excited to be part of the EPIC team