Sunday, 22 January 2017

The Longest Road (2016): A Journey To Help Yazidi Refugees

The Longest Road

In a world completely desensitised to images of violence and suffering, I suddenly realise that despite knowing about it, I haven’t seen much of what is actually going on in ISIS controlled territories. I’m watching The Longest Road, a documentary by Matthew Charles Hall and Jennifer Salcido, and a painter is showing his artwork to the camera. He has created incredibly detailed scenes of unimaginable horror and violence and somehow, perhaps because it has come from his memory and not a camera lens, it is all the more horrifying with the removal of that artificial barrier.

The Longest Road details the project that Matthew Charles Hall and Jennifer Salcido embarked on with a group of American veterans living on the other side of the world. Iraq War veteran Richard Campos had served in Iraq, trusting that he was working for the greater good without actually being able to see the fruits of his work. Now retired, he has committed himself to returning to Iraq and actually making a visible difference.

Gold Star father Kevin Graves joined him on his mission. Head of Some Gave All: The Joey Graves Foundation, he lost his son on a mission just outside of Baghdad. Desperate to see the land where his son paid the ultimate sacrifice, Kevin agreed to join Richard on his project.

What started as a basic mission to fund a hospital in Iraq turned into so much more when the team travelled to the frontlines and were able to witness the atrocities committed by ISIS. There they meet a Catholic nun and Dr Nemam Ghafouri, a Muslim heart surgeon, as well as scores of Kurdish and Yazidi refugees.


Filmed over a period of three years, on two continents and in four languages, The Longest Road documents encounters and conversations with individuals who have stared evil in the face and the efforts of the team to make the smallest difference in their lives. We witness the transformation that the team went through and the manner in which their project grew into a major humanitarian effort.

The Longest Road is incredibly powerful. For so long, politicians have hijacked the refugee crisis for their own means and the continuing atrocities in Syria and ISIS-controlled territories somewhat distract us from the fact that human beings, men, women and children, are suffering under appalling conditions in Kurdistan, Iraq and Syria. This documentary breaks through the disaster-fatigue to remind us that why we need to continue fighting. It couldn’t have come at a better time.

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The Longest Road posterScreening

The Longest Road will have its UK and Europe premiere at the Dalston Rio in London on Saturday 18th February at noon. There will also be a Q&A afterwards with the directors and Dr Nemam Ghafouri, a medic who helped the American veterans in their mission to aid the two million refugees trapped in camps in Kurdistan and who is featured heavily in the film.

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Sunday, 1 January 2017

Book Review: Islam and Democracy After the Arab Spring by John Esposito, Tamara Sonn & John Voll

Islam and Democracy - John Esposito

In the aftermath of the Arab Spring and the descent into war in Syria, one question that arises time and again is this: is Islam compatible with democracy? It is a question that John Esposito, Tamara Sonn and John Voll promise to answer in their book Islam and Democracy After the Arab Spring

It is difficult to review a book and to rate it when it clearly doesn't do what it promises to do on the cover and while this book has a lot to do with Islam and democracy, it has little to do with the Arab Spring (with the exception of the final two chapters). One of the questions that most interests me is the events leading up to the Arab Spring, some of which I attempted to explore in the series Before the Spring

Events such as the Iraq war and the Second Intifada were pivotal in the development of a shared Arab consciousness that transcended national borders as was the rise of Al Jazeera and social media. 

In focusing on countries such as Pakistan, Turkey, Iran and Senegal, I was hoping that Islam and Democracy After the Arab Spring would continue in a similar vein - picking up those similarities and exploring whether those countries were also ripe for a Spring-like uprising. Or at least exploring similar factors in the various countries that so emboldened the Arab Spring protestors to take action and topple governments. 

Islam and Democracy After the Arab SpringIt doesn't quite manage that but what this book does do is take an in-depth look at the rise of Islamic governments in seven countries and how issues such as equality, democratic participation and the economy were shaped by world events and the relationship of each country to outside forces. 

The book includes a fascinating profile of Iran and the lasting impacts of US interference, such as in the 1953 coup. Likewise, the chapter on Turkey provides an insight into current political events and gives some background to Erdogan's political motives. 

As a series of essays on the rise of Islamic governments, it would have been more accurate had the book been titled A Political History of Islam in the 20th Century. Judging it on that basis, it's quite interesting and the difference in writing styles between the various authors keeps it so. 

As a resource further exploring the roots and enduring consequences of the Arab Spring, there are better volumes, such as Lin Noueihed and Alex Warren's The Battle for the Arab Spring.

© A Passion to Understand

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