Recently young people took to the streets in Iraq to demonstrate against corruption, unemployment and poor public services. Actress and activist Zahraa Ghandour talked to DW about the protesters' motivation and demands.
Deutsche Welle: In an interview with LA Times correspondent Alice Su a young Iraqi said that one should "either interpret the Quran just as ISIS seemed to do, or live as a hypocrite, ignoring much of what the Islamic texts said." At a loss, the young Iraqi renounced religion altogether. Do you think this is the typical kind of crossroads Iraqi youths are currently standing at?
Ghandour: We have so many problems but in my opinion; corruption, tribal mentality and lack of awareness on our rights are main causes for the bad situation we have to deal with every day. In particular, corrupt people in power are negatively influencing the younger generation in order to protect their positions. They misuse technology and engage youth on topics that do not matter.
Do you believe secularism is the way to shine for Iraqi politics in the upcoming years?
I do believe secularism is much needed for a better Iraq. Separating religion from politics and having religion as something personal for people is mandatory. I would like for this to be made into law so that people get used to the idea that they cannot judge others by their personal beliefs.
Noof Assi, an Iraqi peace activist, has said it is incredible how so many different nations are fighting for their interests in Iraq and at the same time know nothing about the people actually living in Iraq.
Do you think it's the youth's mission to make the citizens of Iraq and their interests heard globally? And is social media the way to reach this goal?
It is the youth's mission to make the world hear us as we really are and not what dictatorship or corrupted politicians made us sound like for years. Currently, social media is the strongest tool impacting the people of Iraq. We've watched extremists use it, we've watched the government use it and we the youth use it as well to learn, express ourselves and to reach each other. Unfortunately, our online movement is not as effective "yet" because it takes a lot of money and work to share effective material. But I have hope that we are on the right path, even if we are few.
Your movie "Baghdad in my shadow" focuses on taboos like homosexuality, women's rights and religious extremism. Do you think that the time is right for movies like these and that society is becoming more open-minded in Iraq? If so, how can you and others support this progress towards social and cultural awareness?
The time is always right to talk about freedom, the time is always right to remind people that they deserve to live with respect and without fear. A lot of things considered shocking to hear now will be okay in the future. I can't really say that the people are more open minded at the moment because they live in fear from all that they have been through, but we insist that we don't need the dead traditions from the previous generations. We want to live the life we choose not the life they already chose for us.
Zahraa Ghandour was born in 1991. She is an actress, filmmaker and producer of documentaries. Her work is known to address social issues and taboos in Iraq like homosexuality, women's rights as well as religious extremism in the Middle East and Europe. Her breakthrough was the movie "The Journey" (2017), produced by Iraqi-Dutch film director Mohamed Al-Daradji.