This topic of having to define yourself is something that’s not just worth exploring but something necessary for us to explore. In a way the census is a blessing because it forces us to have conversations that otherwise get pushed to the back of the cupboard.
Conversations around: “What is this thing called identity?” Personally, this is something I’ve found extremely debilitating, the fact that you have to choose between identities. It’s debilitating in activist movements, even in liberation movements. In Algeria, we have this Berber-Arab division that has been heightened by the French occupation and it’s subject to a lot of debate there. Then you add into it the whole African dimension and the Muslim identity issue....
You have to choose: either you say that a mixed identity is a richness or it’s an impurity. Other people say: you’ve got to choose one identity or another, and if you don’t make that choice, then that means you’re weak or you’re not proud of your roots.
Ultimately this just makes the job of anyone who’s fighting for justice a lot harder because of all these red herrings all over the place.
I spent the first half of my life in Iraq, and now I’ve spent the other half of my life here in Britain. I believe in being a global citizen rather than being a British citizen or an Iraqi, but actually, when you called me, I was glued to the screen, finding out what is happening in the Arab world, as I have been for the past fortnight. The Arab side is perhaps stronger because I grew up there, and when I speak I have to think in Iraqi and then translate it into English.
By upbringing, I was brought up as a Muslim but I lost my belief at the age of 20. My mother is a Kurd, but she grew up as an Arab, she didn’t speak Kurdish. I am half Shia, half Sunni: my family is mixed.
On my last visit to Iraq in November, I felt that I am now more European, more British, than Iraqi. One of my cousins is another example. He was in Iraq and rose up in 1991 during the uprising then, because he wanted to avenge his brother’s death in one of Saddam’s prisons. After the uprising was crushed, he went to Saudi, and stayed in a desert camp for five years, then went to Canada as a refugee.
I saw him recently and he said he couldn’t live in Iraq any more. After years in Canada he feels estranged from Iraq. When I was there and saw some people following these backward mullahs, I felt estranged from that culture.
There was a day that the offices were all closed because God spoke to Muhammad on that day, 1,400 years ago, to tell him that Ali should be his successor, so today they gave a national holiday for that. I cannot believe that people believe this rubbish.
At least the tyrant Saddam wanted people to live beyond this backward rubbish of what happened 1,400 years ago. It was a secular state under Saddam, but now it is worse than Iran. The mullahs are ruling from behind the scenes, I would argue.
My family are all religious, and someone could report me for being an atheist, and they could kill me.