This deceptively simple question soon entangles itself in the realms of culture, history, religion, duty, self-interest, and before you know it, starts threatening your ever-fragile identity. You may try to dismiss this temporary meltdown as some unprocessed teenage angst but the truth is the question insidiously infects a whole community regardless of all ages or gender. What’s more, when the carefully constructed narrative of Return meets sobering Reality, the fallout is clearly going to be messy. Denial is a desperate fall-back option that battles to keeps the two currents apart, a strategy the Iraqi community in the UK has adopted to the point of delusion.
On the 6th of July Innovative Muslim Minds held an open debate asking second-generation Iraqis living in the UK where they belong. It had an open, non-panel format that aimed to place the discussion amongst the audience and it was complemented by a lively twitterfall projected on the day. So as the debate started, what surprised me the most was that there was a debate at all; having long assumed that most had outgrown the pull of return when it finally became achievable in 2003. Just like opening presents, the anticipation is always more enjoyable than the reality, the romanticised Iraq we grew up with (IPad3) became the brutalised alien reality (pair of socks) it is today.
We heard some good points on either side of the debate, the proponents of the return pointing to the greater need of the ancestral homeland, the kinship and the religious duty while their opponents highlighted the socio-economic reality that keeps us here, questioned the religious facade of nationalism and noted the ambivalence from the Iraqi government to the diaspora strewn across the World. There was a myriad of other points crisscrossing the hall, some good, some fanciful that escape me now but you can watch full the debate here.
The have-your-cake-and-eat-it brigade spoke up too, arguing that we can keep the option of return open as well as consolidating our position here as a community. A reasonable view, but what they were unclear about was how exactly this strategy differed from the ‘in limbo’phase the community is currently in. For others, the in-limbo mentality itself was the most damaging to the evolution of the British Iraqi community, as it paralysed any long-term and strategic planning, condemning us to further aimless drifting.
The debate was comfortable while it focused on abstract notions of duty and identity but, despite the attempts of our chairing duo, it never really veered towards analysing the practical implications of a stay in the UK nor the concrete steps required to reform the failed Iraqi institutions that blight our diasporatic landscape.
Emerging from our ghettoised existence and actually interacting with society at a grassroots level is key to a positive, sustainable future for our community. Regardless of what personal decision is taken in terms of return or a permanent stay, if at a community level, we lack clarity about our future then we risk our future being decided for us rather than with us as conscious participants. We’re not here to decide people’s choices for them but let’s at least be aware that there is a choice to be made in the first place.
It’s not all doom and gloom, a public debate did take place, and it hopefully represents a first collective step in the mental journey we must all tread as the transitional generation. But don’t think you’ve been let of the hook that easily as IMM are concocting a whole series of topics designed for open debate to shake us out of our collective slumber, whether we like it or not.