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Interviews (151)


A Conversation with Firas Majeed, Refugee from Iraq, of "Native Without a Nation"

Joshua: Welcome to our listeners out there. This is Joshua Brollier with Voices for Creative Nonviolence. I'm here in Syria with Firas Majeed, the founder of the Native Without A Nation project. Firas is a 34-year-old Iraqi refugee living in the Jaramana neighborhood of Damascus. Thanks for agreeing to do this interview with me, Firas.

Firas: You are welcome.

Joshua: First off, tell us a little bit of your story.

Where are you from in Iraq and how did you end up in Syria?

Firas: I'm from Baghdad. I was living quiet life. Which is, like always, I was going to work. From eight o'clock to eleven o'clock. Sometimes it takes a long time, but I'm happy with my job, and I cannot stop my job, because it's just like continual life. And when I stop and one day I feel something is different. I missed something. So I was just like my job and the regular thing I am doing everyday. And one time my sister was working as a journalist, in translation and as a fixer and stuff like that. And she asked me to go with her to Jordan because that was the first time for her to go to Jordan. On that time, I have never been outside of Iraq. I have never been outside of my country, and she asked me to be with her just for like five days. And, just do her job.  You know, in Iraq if the girls want to travel, you have to get someone from her family...

Joshua: To take a male with her...

Firas: Yeah, that's it. We call it "mahram." Yeah, and it's not just that. She is afraid to be alone. Yeah, and I did. I went with her, and I have never think before that "I am going to leave my country. I am going to travel outside of my country." I was just focused on my job, on caring for my family and my parents and just that. And when I went to Jordan for the first time, I saw the security there. That was in 2005, in the end of 2005. I saw that life is different... the security and the walking in the street over nights. We did not been in the streets in Iraq since 2003. Until now, people did not be in the streets after one o'clock, after one a.m.

Joshua: People are afraid to be outside...

Firas: Yes. And I saw all of that. I am walking the streets after two o'clock with safe place. No explosions, no shootings, no fear. And I went back to Iraq after five days, after eight days. And I keep thinking that there is something different. I keep interest in the life in Jordan. And I think I start to make balance between life in Iraq and Jordan. I tried to look at the difference between Iraq and Jordan. For everything; for the food, for the life, for the streets, for the families, people and children... all of that. I was looking for the difference between here and here. And then after two months, I was just like thinking "should I leave my country or not?" I do the looking for the difference, and in that time, it was very dangerous. I was have shop in a area, which is a very dangerous area.

Joshua: You were working in a shop?

Firas: It's my shop. It's mini-market and I am working on it. It's mine. And on that time, I was going to my shop at like eight a.m. and I saw bodies behind my shop; bodies of people who was killed. And there became danger day by day. Then someone, the militias, killed the shop near my shop... 50 meters... and they killed the owner while he working on it and the militias just kill her. And then I start to think more by reality and forced to think about myself. And it was like terrible and I felt terrible that, to decide to leave my country because I'm thinking of my parents. I'm caring for them. How can I leave them? And they're thinking about myself. And the danger became more of the people who is my age. Because in my neighborhood and in my area is a different area than my shop. Also they start to make sectarians there. Like the people who is Shias try to collect together. They did not ask people to come with them, but they did not ask directly for people to come with them. But if you don't be with them...

Joshua: They will intimidate you...

Firas: Yeah, they will just ask you, "Why you did not like us?" or "Why you did not come with us to have fun, to walking, to play dominoes..." or something like that. So by that way the threaten people who are not with us, then you are...

Joshua: Then you are against us.

Firas: Yeah, and then my friends who are Sunnis in the area they killed already by militias, by people we don't know. My mother advised me to just leave the home. You know the way, in our culture, the family is very close from each other. The mothers, they want the sons being with them even if it's danger. But on that time, it were really danger and she advised me to leave.

Joshua: So this was in 2005 and you decided to leave. Did you go to Jordan or did you go straight to Syria?

Firas: Yeah, I did go to Jordan because I have been there and I like the life there. It's the first time for me to travel and I did not see any other country, just Jordan. And I did like it because I did not stay for a long time. I stayed for eight days. And then I went to Jordan to stay. I sell my shop and give it to someone and sell it to someone. And then collect some money to live in Jordan while the situation... At that time, I was thinking the situation will be better. Like in six months... I don't know... maybe it will be okay. Then I went to Jordan to stay there. I did stay for six months in the beginning. And then my visa become expired. Then I need to go back to Iraq. I was think it's okay to visit my family and stay with them and visit them for like five or ten days and then come back to Jordan. And I did. I went to my family and stayed about ten days with them and then I went back to Jordan. But, on that time, I did not register as a refugee. It were... they were open. The UNHCR were open for the Iraqis to register as a refugees, and my friends did register, but I did not do that because I did not feel that I am a refugee here. I mean... I mean I was think that my country will be better after six months. I don't need to be a refugee.

Joshua: So how long did you end up staying in Jordan and, from there, how did you make it to Damascus or Syria?

Firas: Yeah. After I spent six months, then they said after every three months the visa will be expired. It's a new decision. And after three months, I went back to Iraq and to visit my family. And I went back to Jordan. And on the fourth one, the Jordan... the Jordanian border stopped allowing Iraqis to enter because a lot of people was enter Jordan.

Joshua: Hundreds of thousands of refugees...

Firas: It's just a small country and they care for their jobs... and I don't know... And anyway, on the fourth one, they did not let me enter. I tried many times. When they reject me, I just spend one hour and then come back to ask to enter again. And they stamped my passport by a red stamp. And they just wrote "Karama" on the red stamp, which is nothing. Just "Karama" with the name of the border, but they did not put "Karama border," the name of the border or any official stamp. It's not official.

Joshua: It wasn't an entry stamp, basically. So form there, after they rejected you at the border, is that when you left and came to Syria?

Firas: Yeah, then I made a decision on that time to not go back to Iraq because it become very danger. And on the way the car was broken, and on the way we stopped to fix it. And while we stopped to fix it, the terrorists came to us and asked each one; "Your are from where, you are from where, you are from where?" I was just think about how they are going to kill us. Because everyone they talk to them, they will kill them. But the good thing was that one of the people who was with us in the car was from the Fallujah area. Which is on the neighborhood that the car stopped in, broken. And he was just looking on their eyes like he know them, or they know him. And they leave us, but it was very danger and I felt really they are going to kill us.

Joshua: Yeah, that's very fortunate.

Firas: Yeah, and after some time, after a half hour, a car come to take our car to a safe area. And we did fix it, and we continued to go to Jordan. And that story happened to us when the Jordanians did not allow Iraqis and they sent us back. And I take a cab from Jordanian border to Syrian border, which is close, one hour or one hour and a half, not very far away. And then I entered Syria. When I just met with the first one who was at they Syrian borders, they were just smile to us and welcomed us. And we don't need to pay visa. We don't need to pay anything. They just welcome us, and they give us to enter Syria.

Joshua: So after you entered Syria, how long did it take you to receive the official refugee status... after you entered Syria?

Firas: I entered Syria in 2006 and it's around the ninth month, tenth month, 2006. And... what's you question?

Joshua: My question is once you entered the country, how long did it take you to receive the official refugee status from the United Nations.

Firas: On the 2006, the ninth month, I made the decision to be a refugee, to not going back to my country. On that time, I really feel that I'm going to be a refugee.

Joshua: This is different than the first time going to Jordan.

Firas: Yes, yes. This is different than when I went to Jordan. And, I just asked in the beginning how to get the protection letter... in the UNHCR... and how to get the refugee certificate. And then, in 2007, in the beginning of 2007, in February, I registered as a refugee in the UNHCR. I was really happy to do that; that I have protection letter. They wrote that you have our protection. And I felt, "I'm safe. I am okay here." In the beginning, that's inn the beginning. The on the time that I... every three months... in the beginning it was every six months that I had to go to the Iraqi border and take around and then come back to Syria to renew the visa. And they did write that it's tourist visa. Then I start to think why the UNHCR says that you're a refugee and the Syrians say that you're a tourist visa. I was think a lot about that. Why? Why was that? There ws a problem between the UNHCR and the Syrian government. I did went to the UNHCR after six months or something like that to ask the UNHCR, "What's my situation here?" ... to be clear. They said, "What's your question?" And I said, "What's my situation here? Am I a refugee or a tourist?" They said, "You are a refugee." And I said "but, my visa says, when I take a round the border, that I'm a tourist."

Joshua: And this is the situation that a lot of people are in right? Because there are approximately 150,000 Iraqi refugees that are registered with the UN. So this is a 150,000 registered with the UN that are living here in Syria. And some have estimated the total number of refugees, including those not registered, may be as high as 500,000 to 800,000. So, this many Iraqis living in Syria... and from what I've heard from you and what I've heard from others, that even when you get the actual refugee status, that you're not able to actually work. You're not able to travel freely. Is this true? And what is some of the difficulties you've faced and that the other refugees have faced? And how have you managed to survive here in Syria being kind of in between the status of a refugee and a tourist here in Syria.

Firas: And that's also... I did not ask the UNHCR just about my situation on that time. I asked them to have a tent. I went to them and I think it's the first Iraqi that asked them about a tent. Because, people know that the UNHCR did not give Iraqis tents. But I wanted to ask that question just to be clear. I wanted to ask that question so I can talk about it. I did went into the reception at the UNHCR, and I told the women who was under the counter to have a tent. "I have no home. I have no money. My money is finished. And I have red big stamp in passport that says 'don't allow to work.' And I can not be illegal." I like legal ways. I don't like to be illegal.

by Martha Rosenberg

When I was shark hunting, my overarching goal was to find, subdue and kill a great white shark. The NRA, pigeon shoots, corrupt politicians and corrupt corporations are my great white sharks today.
-- Steve Hindi, founding president of Showing Animals Respect and Kindness (SHARK)

Eighteen years ago, Steve Hindi would have been more likely to be behind the barrel of gun instead of in front of it.

After hunting for most of his life, Hindi turned around when he witnessed a horrific example of live pigeon shooting. From that point on, compassion, not killing, became his life goal. Martha Rosenberg interviewed Hindi about protesting, getting shot at by hunters and the cruelty of "canned hunting."

by Martha Rosenberg

Dr. Rowan Chlebowski is a lead investigator of the Women's Health Initiative. BuzzFlash contributor Martha Rosenberg spoke with him about the physical and mental costs of hormone therapy for women and the influence of Big Pharma on doctors and researchers.

Rosenberg: The Women's Heath Initiative findings about hormone therapy (HT) were definitive enough that both the estrogen and estrogen plus progestin arms of the study were terminated. Yet claims of heart and memory benefits for women, if HT is started early enough, continue in the media. Is there new information that has changed the risk/benefit ratio?

Chlebowski: The new information was a secondary analysis of WHI data which ran in JAMA in 2007 and found HT may not be as detrimental for coronary heart disease as previously thought, if started in early menopause. Risk for stroke did not change, however, and there are indications that breast cancers appeared earlier, when hormones were started earlier.

by Martha Rosenberg

Martha Rosenberg: Your new book, When Everything Changed (Little, Brown) covers the cascade of rights women won between 1964 and 1972 from equal pay and the right to their own credit rating to the right to wear martha's feminism cartoonpants and to be called by the honorific "Ms." Why was this second women's rights movement necessary fifty years after women won the right to vote?

Gail Collins: While the suffragists succeeded in getting the Nineteenth Amendment ratified in 1920, they also believed that women's role should be at home as mothers and wives. Without the economic power of participating in the workplace and positions of influence in society, women's status after getting the vote could really not change much.

Head On Radio Network's Bob Kincaid Talks to BuzzFlash About What Air America's Failure Can Teach Us About Progressive Success.

by Meg White

With the demise of liberal talk radio station Air America last month, liberals lost their voice in commercial radio. But is that really such a huge loss?

Bob Kincaid, a progressive radio host based in rural West Virginia and co-founder of The Head On Radio Network (HORN), will be the first to tell you he's not happy Air America is gone.

"It's a sad thing," Kincaid told me in a telephone interview Wednesday. "I don't want less liberal radio; I want more liberal radio."

As the host of Head On with Bob Kincaid, he welcomed left-wing competition against his online radio show, which has outlasted the recently-defunct liberal experiment of the AM airwaves. But he does have a strong opinion as to how we got to this barren landscape in progressive radio.

"I think part of the reason Air America failed was because it was set up to work on a right-wing business model," Kincaid said. "I think it's highly unlikely that [model] is going to be successful down the road."


We're headed for disaster. You'd have to be totally blind not to recognize that. So if we don't change -- if this crisis doesn't force us to change -- there will be more and more and more and more. And who knows what the ultimate outcome will be? If we continue to resist, we'll disappear. I mean, you have to be sustainable at some point don’t you, by definition?

-- John Perkins

* * *

Initially, John Perkins seems to be a character you'd love to hate. His tales of spreading exploitation and pushing World Bank loans across the planet as an "economic hit man" make him easy fodder. Perkins has been a member of a group that finds itself more and more unpopular every day since the implosion of Wall Street last year.

In his latest book, he introduces himself as one of the "'hired guns' who promote the interests of big corporations and certain sectors of the U.S. government." He adds that though he had a "fancy title" his "real job was to plunder the Third World."

This was Perkins' basic narrative in his wildly popular book, Confessions of an Economic Hit Man. But in his latest book, Hoodwinked: An Economic Hit Man Reveals Why the World Financial Markets Imploded -- and What We Need to Do to Remake Them, he connects the plundering of the last three decades to the roots of today's economic crisis.

"We were so successful in the Third World that our bosses directed us to implement similar strategies in the United States and across the rest of the planet," he writes. This is where the global economic crisis came from, and we can only fix it if we understand that.

And that's why BuzzFlash had to talk to the economic hit man himself. Turns out, the H-word that came to mind was not hate, but hope.

In this interview, Perkins explains why "economic recovery," in the mainstream sense of the word, is not desirable for our country, and that such a "return to normal" will only precipitate the next looming crisis. He also told us what he thinks about the supposed "change" as represented by the Obama Administration a year after inauguration and what it's going to take to transition from toxic, predatory capitalism to a sustainable, fair-market society.

by Meg White

The Union of Concerned Scientists estimates that Americans are exposed to 3,000 advertising messages a day. No one wants to believe that those messages have an effect on them, as we're much too savvy for that. Such assertions are part of the reason ads work so well, and also the reason Adbusters is still around after 20 years.

Adbusters Media Foundation was formed in 1989 in British Columbia, Canada by Kalle Lasn and Bill Schmalz as a non-profit organization questioning the wisdom of a culture based on consumerism. They publish three versions of their ad-free magazine, Adbusters, every two months. The group also supports or runs a large number of campaigns, from Buy Nothing Day to spoof ads to Digital Detox Week (formerly known as TV Turnoff Week).

Just think of them as Greenpeace for your brain.

"Just like a physical environment can be polluted, so can the mental environment," Adbusters contributing editor Micah White (no relation) told me. "The mental environment can be polluted by advertising."

Adbusters is credited as leading the "culture jamming movement," one that seeks to expose modern consumerism as unnatural and damaging. They have educational programs contesting the wisdom of established economic and design principles. They even, somewhat paradoxically, have their own brand of shoe.

The Blackspot Shoe is made of "hemp, recycled tires and vegan leather and produced in fair-trade or unionized factories." It's only available through Adbusters and independent retailers.

Starting at $75, the shoes represent a buy-in diametrically opposed to Nike; Adbusters says they give members a chance to "unswoosh." Yet, is this not a form of branding in and of itself? Do promotions for the shoe in their magazine count as advertising?

by Meg White

There are a lot of wild theories about what is driving Sen. Joe Lieberman (I-CT) to oppose healthcare reform. Why would a man who has recently expressed support for health insurance reform, universal healthcare, expanding Medicare and SCHIP turn around and oppose those things once they had a chance at becoming law?

Many think he's been bought off by Big Pharma and the powerful health insurance companies in his home state. Others point to his bitterness over being abandoned by the Democratic Party in his 2006 bid to keep his Senate seat, or just to his ego. Some of the wilder theories revolve around Israel, blackmail and White House involvement.

Honestly, I don't know what to think. So when I got a chance to talk to Lieberman's former roommate at Yale, writer David Wyles, I had to ask.

"I wish I knew. I think there are aspects of those theories that are true," Wyles told me (though he agreed with me that the Israel motive is far-fetched). "Certainly he holds a grudge against the Democratic Party."

And though the idea of Lieberman taking a job in the insurance or pharmaceutical industries amounts to the type of quid pro quo that would repel most of us, Wyles is pretty certain of that possibility.

"They can offer him a big job as a lobbyist or as an executive," he said. And Lieberman will take it: "He has become shameless."


I would call the GOP the ZOP -- instead of the Grand Old Party, it’s the Zombie Occupied Party. It has no ideas. It has no capacity for maneuvering on constituent concerns.  It’s just like a zombie that’s lurching towards Obama and towards all the moderate Republicans and yelling, "Brains!" And eventually, it’ll eat itself alive. However, and at the end of George Romerez’ Land of the Dead, the zombies figure out how to use guns.

-- Max Blumenthal

* * *

Max Blumenthal is an award-winning journalist and blogger whose articles and video documentaries have appeared in The New York Times, The Nation,Max Blumenthal's Republican Gomorrah The Huffington Post, Salon.com, Al Jazeera English and many other publications. He is a senior writer for The Daily Beast and a writing fellow for the Nation Institute.

But we know Max as a former night editor for BuzzFlash.com and for his fearless work in taking on right-wing zealots -- religious and otherwise -- by going to their events and challenging them.

Ever since we talked to Max last year about the hate and racial politics emanating from the 'angry white men' of talk radio, we've been looking forward to the 2009 release of his new book, Republican Gomorrah: Inside The Movement That Shattered The Party.

by Meg White

Originally, Midge and Dan Hough only went to Rep. Dan Lipinski's town hall meeting on Nov. 14 to thank him. As a somewhat conservative Democrat representing a blue-collar district in south Chicago, Lipinski had been cautious about supporting healthcare reform efforts in the House, but ultimately came out in support of the bill.

"He has a hard time there because he has these people to deal with," Midge said of Lipinski. "We went there to thank him."

Little did Midge know, it would be her and her husband having to deal with the anger of the town hall attendees. At the town hall meeting, Lipinski asked Midge to tell the heart-wrenching story of her daughter-in-law Jenny. Jenny was a healthy 24-year-old pregnant mother this summer. Now she was dead, along with her unborn child, both symbols of the failure of our country's healthcare system.

But when Midge told the story to the people gathered at the town hall meeting, she was jeered, mocked and laughed at. They didn't believe her, or didn't care.

Midge still told Jenny's story, and her bravery shines in a YouTube video of the event, which now clocks in at well over 100,000 views and functions as a symbol of what the tea party movement has become.

Telling Jenny's story

When Jenny was about seven months pregnant, she came down with severe cold/flu symptoms. Because she didn't have healthcare insurance, her husband Sean brought her to a hospital emergency room. After four hours of waiting to be seen, they told Jenny she had a cold and sent her away with a couple of prescriptions.

The next morning she was much worse, so they went to a different emergency room. Worried about being turned away, Sean lied about their insurance situation and said they forgot their card. By that night, Jenny was in an intensive care unit [ICU], diagnosed with double pneumonia, respiratory failure and septic shock.

Midge said that the medical staff at the second hospital told her there is no way Jenny could have deteriorated to such a degree in a mere 24 hours. In their cursory exam of Jenny the day before, the first hospital must have missed something.

Jenny spent the next 55 days on a respirator. She suffered through a heart attack, two collapsed lungs, partial paralysis, and the delivery of a stillborn daughter. Yet she still fought to survive, trying to talk and smile and get better. She died on Aug. 26, 2009.

Telling this story of horrifying loss was hard enough for Midge, but she was mostly astonished by the group's total lack of compassion:

"How they could not know I was devastated, I'll never know."

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