Building a Life that Can't Be Stolen

From the moment Dakhil was born, there was always someone to play with.

Born into a close-knit family in the mountain region of Sinjar in northern Iraq, he was immersed into the kind of life so many rural families treasure for their children. There was space to explore—neighborhoods, mountains and wide skies. 

Standing Between Neo-Nazis and Anti-Fascists in Portland

Photos and video by Gary Christenson

There was a woman on one side of the street shouting into a megaphone about racism and murder, while a man on the other side, dressed like Captain America, stood flipping her off and making other vulgar gestures. In between them was a line of riot police. A lot of riot police. Law enforcement was clearly expecting the worst.

The First Step to Rebuilding After ISIS

We roll down streets pocked with airstrike craters big enough to swallow our car whole, lurching back and forth between lanes. Sometimes it’s hard to find enough level pavement to keep moving forward.

We’ve gotten used to the bombed-out landscapes that flash by as we criss-cross the northern part of Iraq, visiting families who need emergency aid, help getting back to work, and medical care at medical clinics.

How to Push Back Violence with Water

There’s no more basic need than water, and there’s no more basic equation, either. Water = Life.

There’s a beautiful story tucked away inside each water droplet. Water molecules don’t want to separate. They cling to each other. Especially at the surface—where there's no molecule on the other side to grab onto—they hold tight, creating a network able to resist forces pushing against them.

Here is how you are holding onto the people of Mosul, helping them resist the forces pushing against them:

ISIS Prepares for its Last Battle in Mosul at the Mosque Where It All Began

The Great Al-Nuri Mosque in Mosul seen through a sniper hole. Photo by Quentin Bruno. CC BY-NC-ND 2.0.

ISIS is preparing for defeat in Mosul. And it will come at the same mosque where it all began.

Almost three years ago, in July 2014, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi stood on the steps of the Great al-Nuri Mosque in west Mosul and announced the creation of the so-called Islamic caliphate.

Now, on the grounds of the same historic mosque, in the heart of the old city, ISIS is preparing for a final battle and imminent defeat.

Baghdad, Kabul, Portland, Manchester: The Frontlines Are Where We Live

People mourn at a memorial service for a suicide bombing in Baghdad last year

I heard the news as I was going to bed. A suicide bombing in Baghdad, targeting an ice cream shop full of children and families as they were ending their daily Ramadan fast.

Then two more attacks—one hitting a neighborhood of elderly retirees and another near a school west of Baghdad.

None of this is normal.

He Fought ISIS to Save His Family—“I knew I was going to die, but they needed time to escape”

The dust cloud sped off toward the mountain.

They only had one car to escape in, and Zido stood watching it drive away, his pregnant wife and five children inside. Some of the other people in villages and towns weren’t sure what to do—some even thought running from ISIS was foolish.

5 Ways Teachers Can Help Muslim Students Succeed During Ramadan

When teachers entered their classrooms this week, Ramadan was already underway. This year, Ramadan falls at the end of the school year. This holiest season for Muslim students—a time for prayer, fasting, and intentionally drawing closer to God—will be peppered with completing assignments, writing exams, and snack-filled end-of-year parties.

For many students, fasting from all food and drink from sunup until sundown, particularly during warm months, can have a real impact on energy levels and concentration. But there are things every teacher can do to make Ramadan a positive experience for their students. 

Mercy in Baghdad

Images via Twitter / @rejectaahx

They planned out every detail in advance.

Selected each component as they shopped and as they fashioned their bombs. Last night, they packed a car with those explosives and drove through the city streets, through the Baghdad neighborhood of Karrada—and chose a spot full of families.

Chose a spot full of families enjoying ice cream after a long, hot day of fasting for Ramadan. Parked the car. Set off the explosives.

If You Tell Your Kids Just One Thing This Memorial Day...

Sgt. Titus Fields places an American flag in front of a gravestone in Arlington National Cemetery. U.S. Army Photo by Sgt. Jose A. Torres Jr.

American flags, red poppies, and decorated gravestones only tell half the story of Memorial Day. Few people know that the holiday emerged from the ashes of the Civil War. It was the product of an America gutted and broken by violence...

Decoration Day, which later became Memorial Day, was a refusal to accept a country divided.

This Memorial Day, I'll Honor Those Who Served by Wearing the Label of Peacemaker

Army Spc. Arturo Barajas provides security for Iraqi army soldiers in southern Mosul, Iraq. Department of Defense. Photo by Spc. Christa Martin, U.S. Army.

The first time I heard about the city of Mosul, I was a soldier in Iraq.

A rocket had hit a military mess hall near there and ripped through the Tuesday lunch crowd. The mess hall was the one place we gathered together. The one place where we took off our flak vests, laid down our weapons, and ate together. Sixty-six people—some military, some civilian—were wounded before anyone knew what happened. That was the cost those soldiers paid that day. Many others pay an even steeper price.

Today is the day that we sit with that. Today is the day we remember all a soldier leaves behind when they die.

3 Ways to Support Your Muslim Neighbors This Ramadan

Ramadan candle (photo by Ibrahim.ID / CC-BY-SA 3.0)

It’s easy to fear the unknown. It’s easy to fear those who are different from us, who practice different religions or represent different cultures.

Our 24-hour news cycle feeds into these fears. What we know about Islam and the Middle East—or think we know—often comes from those who have a vested interest in sharing only the most sensational and fear-based stories.

But it doesn’t have to be this way. 

Ramadan: 4 Things Every Non-Muslim Should Know

The appearance of the crescent moon against the night sky signals the beginning of Ramadan, the Muslim holy month.

The literal translation of the word Ramadan is "to be burnt, scorched." This ninth month on the Islamic calendar is set apart for observant Muslims to engage in disciplined practices intended to "burn off the bad" accumulations from the previous year.

Here are three things every non-Muslim should know about this season...

''We Want Peace, Safety, Work.'' One Man's Audacious Vision for Post-ISIS Mosul

We knew it the minute we rolled up in west Mosul: this was bad news.

Some food deliveries are orderly and organized. On others, you can feel the desperation, the barely controlled chaos. We sometimes refer to these as “the desperate situation.” 

Faces of Hunger and Hope in Aleppo

6,000 families. 600,000 hot meals every month. 

Since December, we've maintained an emergency feeding center near Aleppo, serving 25,000 to 30,000 displaced families. Many have lost everything to Syria's civil war.

In the Middle of Syria’s Civil War, One Kitchen Is Sustaining 30,000 People

Ever since families poured out of Aleppo, fleeing the destruction of everything they knew, you've met them nearby with hot meals to sustain them on their darkest days. A lot of hot meals.

Much of the world has moved on. But the need here in the Aleppo province—it isn't going away.

Your Love Keeps Showing Up in West Mosul

Enormous need requires an enormous response.

That’s why you’re sending truck after truck of food, water, and basic supplies into west Mosul. Into the neighborhoods with the greatest need.

Girls Only: New Market For Female Entrepreneurs Launches In Northern Iraq

Women in our empowerment program sell their products at a similar market

In the northern Iraqi city of Halabja, "women’s work" has recently taken on a different dimension. Every Wednesday the city holds a special “women’s market” where local women can sell goods and foods they produce themselves.

This Month, You Helped Refugee Families Take a Step Toward Wholeness

You know that families need more than just emergency food and minimal shelter in order to have a complete life.

There are times when families fleeing violence in Iraq and Syria need food, urgent medical care, and short-term shelter more than anything else. But after that—after we’ve met their immediate needs—what’s next?

Fighting Hate with... Dinner Parties?

Photo Courtesy of

You know those internet videos and memes about Muslims that are meant to generate fear?

Whenever I saw one, I always found myself yelling at my computer—“Go meet a Muslim! Ask them about their religion! I’m sure Muslims aren’t as bad as you think they are!”

Then one day it hit me: I don’t actually know any Muslims. Not one. That needed to be remedied. 

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