Posted by: lcowie | October 24, 2008

Ahmed Fadaam

Iraqi journalist Ahmed Fadaam speaks to student journalists at Elon University

Calls for communication between cultures

by Lesley Cowie

Ahmed Fadaam answers questions from students about Iraqi culture.

Ahmed Fadaam answers questions from students about Iraqi culture.

Acclaimed Iraqi journalist Ahmed Fadaam spoke to Elon students Wednesday about the differences in media coverage of the Iraq War, as well as his journey to becoming a journalist.

Fadaam started his career as a figurative journalist, working with clay. He later moved on to work with marble and stone. Art, Fadaam said, was his life at the time.

“I couldn’t imagine myself as a man who would chase stories and be involved in policy and law,” Fadaam said. “I was trying to have myself locked inside my own paradise of imagination, only to do my art and enjoy it.”

Fadaam worked at the University of Baghdad until 2003. He became a translator for NPR and has worked as both a journalist and an artist ever since.

Fadaam has written for The New York Times but is most famous for his diaries, titled “Ahmed’s Diaries,” which chronicled day-to-day life in Baghdad.

Mending American-Iraqi relationships

When the Iraq War started in March 2003, Fadaam refused to leave Baghdad. He wanted to be able to experience the incident firsthand so that he could inform others about what happened.

According to Fadaam, this firsthand account is important for Americans because they have misleading representations of the Iraqi citizens. The media describe Iraqis as thieves and looters, Fadaam said.

“They [The Western media] are not showing the other side of the society,” he said. “There are lots of Iraqis who are society builders, people who are smart and capable of building as well as destroying. I think someone should do it. I chose, since I had the chance to work with the media, to do this. Even in the diaries that I used to write, I was trying to tell the American people who the Iraqis are.”

This misunderstanding of culture and values is a two-sided issue, according to Fadaam. Many Iraqis do not know that there are Americans who oppose the war. Because the Iraqis constantly see American soldiers, Fadaam said, they believe that Americans like war and fighting.

“For me as an Iraqi in the States, I know a lot about the American culture from Hollywood, Hollywood movies,” Fadaam said. “But what I know about the American culture is that it’s a violent culture because most of the American movies that I have seen talk about…people carrying guns and killing each other in the street.”

In order to mend relationships and communicate with other people, Fadaam said, people should study the opposing culture. People should be informed, in detail, about what is going on, he said.

Becoming a journalist

Fadaam described his role as a journalist as one who not only feeds his curiosity, but also one who aims to mend relationships between the Americans and Iraqis.

“I used to tell stories from Iraq to the Americans,” he said. “Now I’m going to tell stories to the Iraqis about what it’s like in America.”

Fadaam’s path to becoming a journalist was more of an accident than anything else. The passionate artist admitted that his curiosity was what led him to his current position.

“Some people believe everything they hear,” Fadaam said. “Others want to check it out. That’s the difference between the average person and a journalist.”

Fadaam made a connection between his two occupations, saying that both art and journalism require shaping a rough figure. The more a journalist works on a story, he said, the more details he or she will create.

“Clay is like a disease,” Fadaam said. “Journalism is the same. The curiosity will get you.”

With experience in both occupations, Fadaam plans to continue working as a journalist and as an artist. He is currently working on sculptures for Elon University.

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