iraqi crisis

You know what is sickening about those people who make comparisons?

They often expect non-Americans to extend solidarity to them, to reblog their issues, they often like to assume that just because we speak English we must be Americans (like one blog I follow, run by a Mexican who was reblogging more on the Mexican student murders). But they won’t do the same for us, because they will centre every foreign tragedy around the US.

They will centre the genocide enacted by ISIS into a comparison about how there are fewer videos of Americans being executed by ISIS than by the police. They will reveal their shameless, staggering first-world privilege by being incapable of grasping how ISIS’ real victims have nowhere near the amount of attention that American issues do, that they think it’s fine to reduce the threat of ISIS into the killings of Westerners and completely forget the surrounding context, forget that an entire country of millions of people is overrun by ISIS. They’ll forget that as awful as it is for the Americans killed by ISIS, this is not an American crisis the way 9/11 was. This is an Iraqi crisis. Iraq is literally fighting for its soul here. They will make this into a comparison that ends up trivialising ISIS, instead extending solidarity and raising awareness about the alarming religious cleansing and genocide enacted by ISIS.

Anything that promotes the erasure of the victims, anything that centres on someone else, anything that uses another tragedy as a cheap prop or metaphor is not solidarity. It is erasure, it only helps ISIS by erasing the victims.

I’m not going to post the actual rude reply I got because I am not going to waste my time with a clearly lost cause that exhibits so much entitlement over using other people’s tragedies as props. This kind of entitlement seems like the worst aspects of US foreign policy, which takes ownership of foreign narratives and reshapes it into an image for US consumption, which treats foreign tragedies as sideshows that are only relevant if they touch directly on American lives or can serve some sort of comparison to the US. This kind of wanton belief that you can help yourself to other people’s tragedies to prove how bad you have it is nothing less than a disgusting erasure, nothing less than being so privileged you can’t even see that you shouldn’t be making these comparisons.

IRAQ. Nineveh governorate. Mosul. March 15, 2017. Civilians line up for aid distribution in the Mamun neighbourhood. 

Even with fighting all around them, many Mosul residents have heeded the government’s requests to stay home as long they can hold out. But after months of being trapped, most are in dire need of food and water. With the fighting still heavy, international groups have been unable to reach some of the worst off.

Government aid distribution is overseen by local militia fighters. They take place irregularly and very often descend into chaos as desperate people fight for bags of rice and sugar, as prices have skyrocketed over the past four months since the offensive began.

Photograph: Ivor Prickett for The New York Times

IRAQ. Nineveh governorate. Near Khazer. October 26, 2016. A newly-displaced Iraqi woman who fled from the city of Mosul, kisses a child’s hand as she is reunited with her relatives who came two years ago to the refugee camp.

Photograph: Bulent Kilic/AFP/Getty

IRAQ. Nineveh governorate. Hamam al-Alil. November 13, 2016. Women tries to grab food supplies through a window at school used as a food distribution point.

Photograph: Zohra Bensemra/Reuters

IRAQ. Nineveh governorate. Hamam al-Alil. April 6, 2017. Ayman Mohamed Ahmed lives in the Hamam al-Alil displacement camp south of Mosul. On April 6, 2017, he answered a few questions about his recent days in this war zone. His most recent meal? Rice and beans. What does he think about at night? “I hope ISIS members do not come and blow themselves up in our house.” His favourite toy? He doesn’t have toys in the camp, but back at home it was a car. What does he want to be when he grows up? A doctor, because that’s “the best” and he wants to help people.

A war zone is no place for children, but Mosul is full of them. During a recent assignment around the Iraqi city, Italian photographer Emanuele Satolli, with Jared Malsin, TIME’s Middle East Bureau Chief, turned his lens on how the battle and its aftermath were affecting the youth. They met boys and girls in the eastern section, which was liberated by Iraqi forces in January; the western section, part of which is still held by the Islamic State; and at a displacement camp southwest of Mosul.

There was a noticeable difference in the demeanour of the children depending on where the pair met them. “The kids from the east were more relaxed,” Satolli said. “On the western side, there was a presence next to them. We met kids who two, three days before were in ISIS territory. The sounds, the hiding at home, it was a traumatic experience for them,” he added. At the camp, “they were in this tent that wasn’t their house, away from the street where they normally used to play. It was like they were suspended in time.”

Photograph: Emanuele Satolli for TIME