Nabra Hassanen, Philando Castile, Mosul: the Week My Tears Ran Out

I went to the eye doctor yesterday for a routine eye check. He told me I wasn’t producing enough tears. I almost laughed out loud.

I wanted to tell him I’ve cried so much this week, that I must have just ran out.

The Real Reason ISIS Destroys Ancient Monuments

The al-Nuri mosque in Mosul, 1932 (Library of Congress)

It was late in Iraq yesterday when stark grey and black night-vision videos raced across social media. It was so hard to take in the news: the al-Nuri mosque and nearby al-Hadba minaret, one of the final strongholds of ISIS in the city of Mosul and iconic monuments for centuries, were destroyed in massive blasts.

BREAKING: ISIS Just Blew Up Mosque Where They Declared Their Caliphate. Four Things To Know...

Tonight, ISIS blew up the Grand al-Nuri Mosque, one of the most iconic sites in all of Iraq—and the place where ISIS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi declared his caliphate of hate nearly three years ago.

It’s difficult to convey the gravity of this loss for the people of Mosul. The al-Nuri mosque stood in Mosul’s Old City neighborhood for nearly 800 years. It’s featured on Iraq’s currency—on the 10,000 dinar note. And its destruction will leave a scar on this city and its people for years to come, long after ISIS is finally defeated.

Stop Using Tragedy to Score Partisan Political Points

It’s been a difficult few days. Between the shooting at a congressional baseball practice, the Philando Castille verdict, and the terror attack targeting Muslims in London, my heart feels heavy and tired.

When I’m overwhelmed by tragic news, I sometimes find myself getting mad and using tragedy to justify my anger toward a certain group of people.

And I’m not the only one who does this.

'Anywhere, Just Safe.' Syrian Refugees Turn Their Pain Into Art

Majd stands next to his painting at an exhibition hall in Iraq. The word “Syria” is scrawled across the portrait of his home country, in a script that mimics the heartbeat line on an EKG. The line goes flat at the end—as if to say Syria’s heartbeat has stopped. Above this image, Majd wrote three simple, heartbreaking words: 

“Anywhere, just safe.”

They Gave Up Everything to Become Refugees...For the Sake of Their Family

Hozan (left), works with his brother Mustafa (right) at one of the training sessions

Today, on World Refugee Day, we want to tell you the story of one of the many refugee families you are partnering with in Iraq.

This is how we always picture Hozan and Mustafa—brothers, working hard together. They shared a work bench during the recent aluminum and PVC training course. They worked on projects together, took turns holding pieces still while the other drilled or fastened. They are obviously close, as most Middle Eastern families are.

Empowerment Isn't a Handout—It's a Partnership

Imagine for a moment that you’re a 25-year-old guy. You had a great childhood, and even though your family lived simply, you had everything you needed.

You didn’t do very well at school, so you didn’t go on to college. You can’t find work in your rural hometown—you tried working as a shepherd, but the long months of loneliness wandering the mountains and hills near the Syrian border were just too much for you. So you move to a city where you are told work is plentiful.

Three Ways Your Love Showed Up in Syria Last Month

Syria’s civil war began in March of 2011. It’s been raging for over six years now. The refugee crisis it created is one of the largest humanitarian crises since World War II.

Roughly 11 million people—more than half of the country’s population—have been displaced from their homes. About 5 million of those are refugees living outside of Syria, while the other 6 million are displaced within their own country. Six million! That’s more than the population of Los Angeles.

The Refugee Who Risks His Life to Help Others

“Who taught you to live this life of helping others?”

“My father.”

Marwan grabbed his phone, quickly swiped his finger across the screen until he stopped at a photo of his father, Barakat—a handsome man with a thick moustache, dressed in traditional clothes.

Bringing New Life Out of Devastation in Iraq... Literally

Meet the newest member of our soapmaking family in Iraq!

The other day when I visited Faris, one of our refugee soapmaker friends, he was so excited. He and his wife just welcomed their fourth baby the night before. And this little guy is beautiful.

For These Mosul Dads, Everything is Gone—But Not Lost

Sami with his finished cabinets at the end of the training program

At the second workbench from the big bay door, Sami finished his first set of kitchen cabinets. After tightening the last screw and wiping the dust off the shiny, aluminum surface, he cried.

He was relieved and utterly overcome—proud to have made something beautiful and useful for his family.

Iraqi Christians Arrested in Detroit: What You Should Know

A Chaldean Christian girl in Iraq

Up to 100 Iraqis, mostly Christians but also some Muslims, were arrested by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) in Detroit on Sunday. They were rounded up outside churches and restaurants. Parents, siblings, and loved ones were separated from their families and now face deportation to Iraq.

An Armed Protester in Seattle Taught Me that #LoveAnyway is Messy Business

The author holds her sign during the confrontation described blelow. Photo by J. Rooney Photography

“Wait wait… hold on. She might be on our side.”

Nick, a member of the self-described “Western chauvinist” group Proud Boys, put a hand on his friend’s shoulder to stop him from screaming in my face while I held my sign and my eye contact with him. He looked me up and down, trying to figure out what my deal was.

Still Displaced, But No Longer a Refugee

“Aid organizations still come to me, but I don’t need their help.”

We’re standing in Faris’s warehouse—a large room, really—surrounded by soap. Next door is the house he shares with 14 relatives, including his wife and three children.

Faris is relaxed, confident. He smiles a lot. He’s not what comes to mind when you think about refugees.

Don't Think Your Love Makes a Difference in Iraq? Think Again.

Across Iraq, families find themselves in a variety of difficult situations.

Some are desperate to survive as Iraqi forces battle ISIS in the Old City of western Mosul. Others in Mosul are walking out of their homes freely for the first time in over two years, as their neighborhoods experience the first days of liberation. 

Three Years Since ISIS Took Mosul, the Real Battle Begins

The date June 10, 2014 is etched on our memories. 

That was the day—three years ago today—that Mosul fell to an extremist group known as ISIS. Seemingly out of nowhere, 1,500 militants repelled a 60,000-strong Iraqi force and claimed the city and its 1.5 million inhabitants as their own.

The Battle for ISIS’s Capital in Syria Has Begun. Here’s What You Should Know.

“Where… people are not getting help?”

The woman repeated the question again, and we nodded again. She’s an official whose job is to  help aid organizations begin work in northern Syria, but our request took her by surprise. She assumed we wanted to deliver aid to displacement camps, just like all the others.

Why Some Families in Mosul are Skipping Ramadan This Year

This year in Mosul, Ramadan is different. During the Islamic holy month, observant Muslims usually abstain from eating, drinking, and other activities like sex, during the day so that they can contemplate the spiritual instead. Then, when night falls, they break their daily fast with friends, family and neighbors.

But after being under ISIS rule for over two years, the people of Mosul feel the freedom to celebrate Ramadan a little differently. 

''I Saw This Video... I Have to Do Something''

Black abayas litter the ground around an evacuation truck near Mosul.

It was late, near bedtime, and I’d just sat down to an unimaginative dinner salad, all I managed to scrounge up at the end of a long day. Two bites into it, my mother called.

“I have to do something. I saw the video on the news. This video…” 

The Iran You Won't See in the News

Early today, a dozen people in Iran were murdered by ISIS. Tragically gunned down and blown up at two of the country’s most symbolic locations. But you may not have heard about it. Partially because of our relentless 24-7 news cycle. And partly because, for those of us in the United States, Iran is our enemy. 

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