“Every time I [see] ‘breaking news,’ I am afraid that there is going to be a war”
Over the course of a few days, the world’s attention has turned to two countries in the Middle East — Iran and Iraq. Although the fear of an all-out war seems to have subdued, many were worried that it was imminent as tensions rose between Iran and the United States.
While many students in Canada can look at the situation in Iran and Iraq as political, some students also see it as personal — and have family still living in those areas. The Martlet sat down with three UVic students from the Middle East to talk about the recent news, and how it’s been affecting them.
On January 3, 2020, the U.S. government killed a top Iranian military figure, General Qassem Solemani in a drone strike near Baghdad International Airport. An enormous funeral procession followed, with many people dying in a stampede. In acts of retaliation, the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad was attacked and Iran sent missiles toward key U.S. military bases in Iraq — where Canadians were also stationed.
On January 8, Ukrainian Airlines Flight 752 was mistakenly shot down by Iran. All of the passengers on board passed away, including 57 Canadians and one student from UVic — Roja Omidbakhsh.
Protests for regime change have been going on in Iran for several months, but now have increased media attention and support amid escalating tensions with the U.S. and in the aftermath of the plane crash.
Tuqa Al-Musawi, a second-year biology student at UVic, is from Baghdad, Iraq. In 2000, her family moved to Libya until 2014 when they had to move to Lebanon due to the Libyan Civil War. She studied medicine for two years in Libya, but wasn’t able to continue her studies because of the conflict. She came to Victoria in August 2018 through the World University Service of Canada’s (WUSC) Student Refugee Program. Al-Musawi plans to stay in Canada and become a doctor.
“I was so stressed I wasn’t focusing a lot, even on my lectures,” Al-Musawi said. “Everytime I see ‘breaking news,’ I’m afraid that there is going to be a war starting.”
Al-Musawi’s parents are currently in Lebanon. Some of her relatives are still in Iraq, but she said they have been thinking about leaving for a few months if things get worse.
“Even though I’m in Canada and studying, part of me is there in Iraq,” she said. “It makes everything more hard. I feel bad enjoying my life, especially with all my relatives living in Iraq and Baghdad … even though I wanted to focus on what courses I needed to take, I wasn’t able to find time for it because I was browsing and reading all the news.”
Al-Musawi spoke of how welcoming Canadians are, but said that she’s noticed their perception of the Middle East reflects only what is shown in the media.
“I feel Iraq is just being pictured as a war zone. We have a huge history that’s really important, and people still want to do great things but because we are going through — war after war — we are pictured as a country of war … The people there want to improve their country,” said Al-Musawi.
“We still have a lot of people that are really intelligent. It’s just the situation, everything that surrounds us is just against us and media doesn’t show the real Iraqis.”
Al-Musawi has friends that are Iranian, even though there has been conflict between the two countries in the past. Neither the people in Iran nor Iraq, Al-Musawi said, want to go to war with each other. Most people want peace in the region.
“I would like Canadians to see that we don’t want another war, we’ve had enough… my mother’s whole memories are war,” Al-Musawi said. “We don’t want the new generation to go through this. We don’t want our kids to feel the same.”
Adel Alkhashab recently graduated from UVic with a degree in Computer Science. He is originally from Iraq and moved here in 2012.
“I was glued to the news,” Alkhashab said. “I was scared, in general, because I thought something big was going to happen. I thought the U.S. would retaliate in a strong way … and I was very concerned for my family and friends.”
His parents have moved to the United Arab Emirates. He lived in Iraq for 14 years, and still has grandparents, relatives, and friends in Iraq. Adel’s sister was trying to fly out of Dubai to Seattle when the situation worsened, and her flight was cancelled.
Over in Iraq, his friends and family were scared and, because of the protests, have experienced continuous issues with utilities and power outages. Alkhashab has been trying to get his parents a visa to come visit Canada and leave the country for a bit.
He says people have been asking him inappropriate questions, such as asking if he’s going to go fight if a war was to break out.
“I basically tell them that I live here now, and I hope everything is well here,” he said. “I’m still a Canadian … I identify more with Canada.”
When asked what makes Canada feel like home, and he spoke about a sense of belonging.
“I’m glad that there’s a lot of people on campus and in Victoria in general that still make you feel welcome, even though you are different from them,” Alkhashab said. “We celebrate difference, we don’t pretend it doesn’t exist.”
Hasan has yet to declare a major, but hopes to study Engineering next year. He was born and raised in Aleppo, Syria and still has family there. He studied Computer Engineering in Aleppo but had to stop his degree due to the ongoing issues and conflict there.
Because of the political nature of this article, the Martlet has agreed not to publish his last name.
He usually tries to avoid watching the news. But these past few weeks, he hasn’t been able to stop watching — with questions and fears running through his head.
“Are we actually on the brink of World War III? Are my parents safe? Is my family there safe?” he said, recounting some of the thoughts he’d had over the past few days.
Like Al-Musawi and Alkhashab, Hasan stressed that people in Syria do not want another war to break out and just wish they could live their lives in peace, without worrying about conflict.
“People are sick from being in a war and don’t want to start another one …There’s a lot of people who just want to live, they want their kids to go to school and they want to have clean water to drink,” Hasan said. “Why do we have to keep fighting? There’s other stuff that we need to be worried about, like climate change.”
Hassan continues to pray, and living through war solidified his belief in God.
“I half-cheated death many times.” Hasan said. “Each time something happens, whether it is a mortar shell or a missile … if I had a GoPro … no one would believe that I actually survived. It’s scary … but that means something. I was given another opportunity.”
Needless to say, Hasan feels grateful to be living and studying in Canada. In fact, all of these students stressed how grateful they felt to be in Canada and attending classes at UVic. They also expressed how welcomed they feel here.
While they continue to worry for those back home amid escalating political tensions between American and Iran, these students expressed how much they appreciated feeling at home in Canada.