Posted by: rcieri | October 24, 2008

Iraqi journalist Ahmed Fadaam shares experiences with Elon University students

Ahmed Fadaam sculpts a representation of the struggle for women in Middle East as a gift to Elon University.

Ahmed Fadaam sculpts a representation of the struggle for women in Middle East as a gift to Elon University. (Photo by Tom Arcaro.)

By Rachel Cieri

Oct. 24, 2008

It’s no great secret that American journalists are not popular people in Iraq, and neither are Iraqis like Ahmed Fadaam, who works for the American media.

Fadaam visited an Elon University classroom Wednesday to answer student questions about his experience as a journalist in Iraq. As students found out, Fadaam’s occupation made him unpopular to the point of receiving death threats for both himself and his family.

Fadaam never intended to become a journalist at an early age. He studied art at Baghdad University, receiving his doctorate of fine arts in 2003. A sculptor by trade, he worked mainly with marble to create works of art, and he taught fine arts at Baghdad University until the U.S. invasion began.

“Art was my life at the time. I couldn’t imagine myself as a man who would chase stories that involved policy and war. I was trying to hide myself, locked inside my own paradise of imagination,” Fadaam said. “War means death, and death means the ignorant and the clever guy are equal; both can die by the same bomb.”

Changing Careers in a Dangerous Time

When the bombing started, his studio was destroyed by looters, and the university closed, leading him to take a job as a translator for NPR’s “The Connection,” hosted by Dick Gordon. He simultaneously worked as a reporter for a French wire service, the Agence France Presse, for which he continued to work even after “The Connection” left Iraq.

Working for the French agency got Fadaam much less criticism than his current job. In 2006, Fadaam began working with Dick Gordon again for “The Story” on UNC North Carolina Public Radio, writing “Ahmed’s Diary,” a window into the life of the average Iraqi, and in 2007, he became the Baghdad bureau newsroom supervisor for “The New York Times.”

When he worked for the AFP, people were more willing to cooperate with him because his agency was not connected to an organization with an army in Iraq. Iraqis, Fadaam explained, see Americans only as the soldiers who occupy their country, and they are wary of anyone connected to the U.S.

The Iraqi Perspective

What the Iraqis don’t realize, Fadaam told students, is that there is a difference between Americans and the American administration. They do not know that there are many Americans who oppose the war and would like to see peace in Iraq.

“There is not a person explaining to Iraqis that Americans want to live normal lives away from violence,” he said.

Some even view Iraqis in the western media as spies, traitors and “blood traders” who make money off of the violence going on around them. Fadaam, however, sees a purpose to his work, despite the reactions he receives.

“As long as you are doing the job and you believe in it, it doesn’t matter,” he said. “Someone needs to tell the stories.”

Fadaam knows from experience that the future of the U.S. – Iraq relationship is going to be difficult to rekindle. The children of this time period lost parents and family members during the war, and they have been taught that it happened because of the U.S. invasion. To them, the reign of Saddam Husein was undoubtedly bad, but now conditions are much worse. All thought is anti-occupation and anti-American.

The only way for this relationship to improve, Fadaam said, is to open channels of communication so that Americans and Iraqis can better understand one another. Journalism could play a key role, but it depends on the ways journalists behave. Partisan news sources in Iraq could continue to divide the country, or objective news could help people to unite and discover the whole story.

Finding the Elusive Truth

Iraq’s media is not viewed with the same hatred as the American media. Rather, there are so many versions of stories coming from newspapers and television stations that Iraqis don’t know what or who to believe.

“Some say ‘terrorists,’ some say ‘insurgents.’ Some say ‘friendly forces,’ some say ‘occupation forces.’ It’s confusing for them because they don’t know who is telling the truth,” Fadaam said.

The 70 to 80 television stations and approximately 150 newspapers are each owned by one of the political parties. The only exceptions are two independent television stations called Al Sharqiya and Al Zamman, which have been targeted by sectarian violence.

Fadaam, whose family has been threatened as well, is currently in the U.S. as a visiting scholar for the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and Elon University, and his family is in Syria for their protection.

Despite the dangers Fadaam says that he will continue his career in journalism.
“Journalism is like a disease,” he said. “You can’t get rid of it.”

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Responses

  1. Photo credit to Tom Arcaro – don’t forget! Also, you really need to add subheadlines throughout, to keep readers following your story. They are important, write them with good details and strong verbs and they will give your audience reinforcement and lead through to read much longer than they would otherwise! Your storytelling is well done. You should add attribution (he said) in the middle of the last quote you use. It is part of the rhythm of a print story like this one to include it.


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