Originally published on September 13th, 2011 by the editors on al-Akhbar English. [Note: Hadi al-Mahdi was assassinated the day before ‘9/9’ a national day of protest planned by civil society organizations across Iraq, which al-Mahdi had been in loud support of.]
In the old days, we would stubbornly go against the khaki country rules [in reference to Iraq] and insist on singing for freedom in silence. Together, we used to sing together in the region of Waziriyya for freedom, enlightenment, depth and beauty. We sang for freedom as our guts ached with hunger and shabbiness was emanated from all our clothing. Our books were tattered. Baghdad was drowning in the quicksand of blood hatred, olive-color [military uniforms] and the braying of the Leader and his party. Iraq, afraid and panicked, was also chanting and revolting in secret. We were singing and kept on playing the same musical scale, that of beauty. We would sing: O Freedom, you are my Qurʾan and Gospel. My childhood cradle, my school and my lantern. Freedom, you are my mother. O Freedom, kiss me on the lips. Let me get drunk with your wine that does not disappear. Take me towards the sky, for me to be a sun and a shining light.My friends, where are you now? Where is that freedom we dreamt of since we were born? Mongols, Tartars, Persians and Americans have ravaged through our land. All of them trampled on our dreams that withered on the banks of the Tigris, withered on our lips, on our hearts’ walls that turned into dark black shrines to mourn freedom. No festivity after now and no kisses. Our lips that sang in the yesteryear have hardened from waiting and deprivation. Everyone came and went, except for freedom. Did we break freedom’s heart and sadden its spirit? Did we abuse its goodwill out of how much we believed in it, prostrated ourselves and prayed to it? It deserted us and left us with monsters with the hearts of sick beasts that haughtily trample over our minds and spoil our lives.
My friends, I am left alone and have lamented alone, got drunk alone, prayed alone, chanted out loud alone and sang alone for freedom, in spite of it and whatever destiny there may be. Suddenly, I gazed at an African child that had written a poem in which she said: were the earth square-shaped, we would hide in its corners. But it is round and thus, it compels us to confront the world. To confront life…how I envied the heart of that African child and how I recalled Christ, Husayn, Gandhi, Guevara and Buddha. I recalled a warrior from an exterminated Native American tribe that was left alone and kept shouting: I will not surrender, I will not run away, for this is my land, the forest of my dreams, the cradle of my childhood, my faith and the end of my path.My friends, I will continue on my path. I will not flee; I will not quiver or be afraid. This time, I will insist, not on singing, but on chanting for freedom under the Jawad Saleem statue. Perhaps I will stumble underneath it upon my grave and sleep in peace. There, under the Liberty Monument, I want to be laid to rest and sleep. To sleep for a long time and dream of writing my name correctly on my tombstone. I dream that my son Naali, who does not speak Arabic well, will come to visit me, even if once. I dream that he will be able to read his father’s name – the lover of freedom and its martyr – correctly.
March 23, 2011, 12:43 AM
Hadi al-Mahdi fled Iraq after taking part in the 1991 revolt against Saddam’s rule and travelled between Iraqi Kurdistan, Damascus, and Beirut to finally settle in Denmark. He returned from Denmark to Baghdad in 2004 and was an active supporter of the Arab revolts that were kindled in Tunis. Al-Mahdi was a firebrand critic of the political elites ruling Iraq today.