As an Iraqi immigrant and refugee, I watched last week’s historic inauguration of President Joe Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris with a renewed faith in this country and our democracy. The next day, I woke up to the news of two suicide bombing attacks that rocked my home city of Baghdad, leaving dozens dead and hundreds injured.
The words of Amanda Gorman’s “The Hill We Climb” returned to me: “When day comes we ask ourselves, where can we find light in this never-ending shade?” Born and raised in Baghdad, I have had many events in my life that made me ask that very same question.
One of these events happened just a couple weeks ago, right here in the United States, when a group of insurrectionists attacked and took control of the U.S. Capitol Building—the temple of our democracy. Last time I witnessed similar events in person was in April 2003, immediately after Baghdad fell during the U.S. invasion of Iraq.
As the situation was unfolding, media outlets and elected officials kept saying that what was happening in the U.S. Capitol only happens in third-world countries. Former President George W. Bush described the insurrection as a dispute of election results that only happens in a “banana republic—not our democratic republic.” Other leaders followed suit.
I assume that terms such as “banana republic” are being used to describe countries such as Iraq, countries that we see as less “democratic” and “fair” and “peaceful” than the United States. That did not sit well with me, because it seems like we live in a bubble that is so disconnected from reality— a bubble that lacks accountability, ignores history, and emboldens extremism. In this bubble, we have convinced ourselves that acts of violence and extremism can never take place right here in the United States.
It seems like we live in a bubble that is so disconnected from reality— a bubble that lacks accountability, ignores history, and emboldens extremism. In this bubble, we have convinced ourselves that acts of violence and extremism can never take place right here in the United States.
That narrative is not only false, but also dangerous; and we all witnessed how the truth manifested itself during the insurrection of the Capitol Building, desecrating the very best of our American ideals.
The majority of people around the world, but specifically in America, would view the insurrection of the Capitol Building and the bombings in Baghdad as two separate, completely unrelated events. For me, I see a thread that ties not just these two events together, but also the future of how we move forward as a collective. That common thread is a lack of accountability.
The Capitol Building riots did not happen in a vacuum. They were explicitly the result of lack of accountability for an administration that fueled xenophobia, violence, and extremism. Similarly in Iraq, the bombings of Baghdad occurred due to a lack of accountability for a government that is detached from reality and has refused for years to acknowledge the needs of the Iraqi people.
Throughout his inaugural address, President Joe Biden emphasized the importance of accountability and coming together to carve out the next chapter of the American story, a “ story of hope, not fear. Of unity, not division. Of light, not darkness.” For that to happen, we do not need to demonize other countries in order to protect our sense of “exceptionalism,” that we are better than everyone else.
We do not need to demonize other countries in order to protect our sense of “exceptionalism,” that we are better than everyone else.
Instead, we need to look internally, dig deep, and begin to deal with the many problems that are infesting our communities and threatening our democracy and our future. This process begins with two essential steps. First, we need to be humble and brutally honest. We have to take ourselves off the pedestal and begin to look back and analyze our systemic failures throughout history that have led us to this point. We have to acknowledge that racism exists, actively fight it, and elect leaders who can reform policies that reinforce structural injustice.
Second, we must hold those we elected to serve in public office accountable for their actions. The insurrection in the U.S. Capitol Building was a direct result of President Trump’s incitement of his supporters to use violence as a tool to show “strength,” empower white extremists, and threaten anyone who might oppose his leadership.
Our democracy is powerful, but fragile at the same time. We believe this to be true in other countries; we must know it to be true here. We all have to do our part to protect it, nurture it, and grow with it.
Our democracy is powerful, but fragile at the same time. We believe this to be true in other countries; we must know it to be true here. We all have to do our part to protect it, nurture it, and grow with it. The eyes of the world are watching—just as our eyes watch the rest of the world.