Saturday, January 19, 2008

The Other Frontier of Iraq

Today, Pam and I took in an opportunity to participate in the first Iraqi Cultural Week of the Iraqi Artists Association, held at Madonna University (Livonia, MI), the local Catholic University run by the Felician Sisters.

We were invited by a past film student of mine, Weam Namou -- an accomplished author, columnist, poet, and hope to be soon filmmaker —oh, yeah...and most importantly a new mom.

What is of interest about Weam, to me, is that she is an active mainstream Iraqi-American writer, who approaches the intersection of those two cultures fro
m a Chaldean (Iraqi Christian, e.g. Catholic) perspective. If you don't know, Chaldean Catholics are the minority group of Christians in Iraqi; and just as a reminder, the first Biblical characters from the books of Moses [Abraham. Adam, Even, Noah, the stories of the tower of Babel, Nineveh (Hear! Hear!) and Abraham] were Iraqi.

Today, at the event, I had the privilege to talk for a few minutes with Amer Hanna Fatuhi, a featured artist, lecturer and historian. We talked about what Americans "don't know" about Iraq. What they think they know centers around the war and the radical elements that hold the whole region hostage. The Other Frontier of Iraq (the name of the artist exhibition this past week and next at Madonna) is attempting to communicate with Americans about the richness that is the soul of Iraq and it's ancient civilization, Mesopotamia. "By sharing their visual arts, music and writing, a group of talented Iraqi descendants create a dialogue between the East and West in the hopes of improving communication and understanding." (Hint to our good Iraqi hosts: The music session today was great, and I really enjoyed myself and meeting you. But I did not understand a word you said or sang when you were speaking/singing in Arabic (?). If you want to communicate to Americans on American soil, and as many of you are American citizens, please, speak to us in English, or hand out the lyrics in English. I would have loved to have had a translation so I could have followed along. No, please don't sing your traditional music in English—that would be horrible. But an interlinear translation would be fabulous.)

I've never taken much to the minor chord based music that comes out of that region, but today a talented quintet and vocalist did a fine job of introducing us Americans to the "deep-rooted Iraqi music, which goes back more than 7,000 yeas and is part of the ancient Mesopotamian heritage. The embedded video clip (shot from the hip) will give you a taste of this fascinating music that should remind us Bible folk what Abraham listened to for enjoyment.

There's not enough room here to share all I learned today, but here are some links that I recommend following up on.

First, the two published short novels by Weam. Pam and I read aloud The Feminine Art to each other over a year ago. Great story, and wonderful metaphors about an extended family of Iraqi-Americans trying to play match-maker for a rebellious Iraqi-American young man, and the cultural challenges the whole family faces. The Mismatched Braid, Weam Namou's second novel, sits here on my desk, and Pam and I hope to read it soon. It too is about the attempts of romance, as a young man flees Iraq and Saddam's military, ends up in Greece where he attempts to win the love of his American cousin who comes to Greece for a semester, in an attempt to make it to America. Weam reminds us that "the first writer in recorded history was Enheduanna, a woman from ancient Iraq, 2,000 years before Aristotle.... and that man's most important invention, the wheel, was devised in Mesopotamia, as was plumbing, the plow, and the sailboat."

Weam is also a published poet and columnist, and president of the Iraqi Artist Association... who is too busy to blog. Our loss. I tried today to convince her otherwise.

Amer told me today -- as he took notice of Pam's small gold crucifix necklace -- of how, in Iraq, just recently, his sister-in-law was confronted by a radical Muslim who demanded that she remove the crucifix from her neck. Amer's sister-in-law said that she would not deny the love and devotion for her Lord Jesus Christ. When the man threatened to blow her head off, if she didn't comply, she told him to go ahead and shoot her, because she would never deny Christ. The man shot his sister-in-law in the head...killing her instantly. This is the fate of Iraqi Catholics today. Pray for them, and the repose of Amer's sister-in-law's soul. You can read more about Amer and his fabulous art at the Mesopotamia Art Gallery.

Now, two quick notes I can't pass up.
Madonna University is on a square mile of property that the Felician Sisters purchased who knows how many millennium ago, just a few miles from where we live. My daughter, April, proudly received her B.A. in English Literature and Early Childhood Development from Madonna. On that property is their huge mother house, a hospice, a childcare center, a major hospital with a heliport on top, a retirement community, and the large and respected Catholic University, Madonna. Now, the second story. Pam, my wife, teaches in the public school only a few miles away. One day, a 7th grade girl came up to Pam -- who had been talking to her Life Skills class about going to college and mentioning the local schools that were a possibility -- and the girl says to my wife, "What I can't understand is why the Catholic Church would name one of its universities after a rock star."

And on that note, I'm going to bed.

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