“Don’t worry, Fatimah,” my father said, stroking my tear stained cheek.
“They’re only moving us to another location, Habibi.”
Even at the age of eleven, I knew it wasn’t the truth. Even more so, I knew my father didn’t trust them for a minute, but he did his best to convince us he did.
Sectarian violence, the Americans called it. We just called it kelish zift, as what transpired was no less than total disaster. Several years later, I don’t think those who invaded my country ever really understood what they were doing when the came charging through the desert like cowboys; either that, or they just didn’t care. Even more frightening, perhaps, what unfolded was exactly what they’d planned all along. Within a few months, every conceivable part of Iraqi society began to crumble. Eventually, the real message of Allah, our kind and loving God above, disappeared from the hearts of so many, slowly drifting into the empty sand dunes of loss and denial surrounding us.
We became ruthless with one another. The occupier’s simplistically naive division of Iraqi people into Sunni, Shiite and Kurd aside, we became a splintered hoard of lost and angry souls. My beautiful religion was often the biggest victim, both in my own country and abroad. Animal-like packs of madmen kidnap Islam, holding it hostage for their own destructive deeds, and we all suffer because of it. In Iraq, people began to commit the most horrible atrocities in the name of Allah, and madness soon followed us all. I can’t remember all the details about that night, but I’ll never forget.
Even with a forced smile upon his bearded face, I noticed the sweat upon my father’s brow. My mother adjusted her hijab, a nervous habit that became obsessively compulsive whenever she was anxious or afraid. My older bother Khalid walked with a swagger of defiance alongside Father, his chest out, his chin pointed upward. ”Your family will look good on camera before passing to the angels above,” said the largest man of the group.
With his AK47 assault rifle draped over his hulking shoulder, he rested his open hand upon my back. The softness of his touch surprised me.
“Take your hands off her!” ordered my father.
The mercenary scowled with intensity. My mother slapped the giant of a man across the face. “Bas! You cannot lay your hands upon my daughter… not ever!”
His icy stare seemed to look straight through her, but my mother did not retreat a single step. “I’m sorry, you’re right… ana asif,” he said.
The wry grin upon his round face said something else.
The camera man was busy preparing the tripod when we arrived in the basement. Surrounded by concrete walls, we were all asked to sit on a bench. We were then told to stand and finally, were positioned in a circle around my father – all the while the camera rolled. “All right, that looks perfect,” he said.
“Yalla, shabab! They’re ready!” he suddenly yelled.
From the next room, at least ten men with rifles walked in and took position directly in front of us. “What’s happening, Baba? Shoo tsawi, Baba? Shoo tsawi?” I asked Father again and again.
My body began to tremble.
He looked down at me with only silently regretful eyes. My mother’s grip nearly crushed my fingers. The men raised their weapons. Suddenly, I felt dizzy. Just before the room exploded with gunfire, my mother threw herself in front of me.
The next thing I remember is being rolled over onto my back by a large black boot and looking up at a savage pack on ominous faces hovering over me. “I won’t finish her off,” said one.
“She’s just a child.”
“Atlah barra! I’ll do it, you coward!” said another. “And here… take the machete and remove their heads.”
I felt a large hand wrap around my forearm and pull me to my feet. As I stood and focused my eyes for the first time since the roar of gunfire filled the room, I saw the bodies of my family. The walls were red with blood. The floor was sticky. “Allah, Akbar! Allah, Akbar!” a man yelled, as he raised a machete high in the air above my father’s lifeless corpse.
I only heard the sinking thud of the blade and never actually saw it come down. With the entire pack of animals looking on at the beheading of my family, I managed to dart up the stairs and sprint into the alleyways behind our home.
“Yalla! After her!” a voice bellowed, just as I reached the front door.
With a burnt-out urban jungle to disappear into, I quickly got away.
Four years later, I find myself living in Jordan. Two years after the murder of my family by radical Iraqi extremists, with no compulsive CNN-like need to preface the description of those bastards with the word Islamic, I was living alone on the chaotic streets of Baghdad.
At thirteen years of age I offered myself to a man, so that he would hide me in his truck and take me across the border into Jordan. It was the only form of currency available to me at the time and I did what I had to do to stay alive. Once I arrived in Amman, I was given a warm bed to sleep in at a camp for displaced Iraqis. I became one of what later reached nearly a million Iraqi refugees in the tiny Hashemite Kingdom. The people here have been kind and I’ve done my best to go on living.
I try not to remember, I never want to forget, and madness still rages in the desert.