Elon students get unique opportunity with Iraqi reporter Ahmed Fadaamthe

By Russell Varner
October 22, 2008

Iraqi reporter and sculptor Ahmed Fadaam spoke today with the Reporting for the Public Good class in Elon’s School of Communications, giving the students the rare opportunity to hear about the War in Iraq from the perspective of an Iraqi.

Fadaam, who was in town to work on a sculpture of a Middle Eastern woman that shall be presented next week, has worked for many companies, including NPR, the New York Times and American Public Media’s “The Story”. That was until April of 2008, when he and his family were forced to leave Iraq because of death threats.

Iraq reporter and sculptor Ahmed Fadaam speaks with students Wednesday.

Iraq reporter and sculptor Ahmed Fadaam speaks with students Wednesday.

Before that though, he was a “figurative artist” who worked with clay, marble and stone. “Art was my life at that time,” Fadaam said. “I would be locked inside my own paradise of imagination…I couldn’t imagine myself as a man who would chase stories and be involved in policy and war.”

But this is exactly what would happen to Fadaam. Along with his reporting for the New York Times, he also wrote pieces for WUNC known as ‘Ahmed’s Diaries’, for which he would win five major awards in the U.S.

“In the beginning, everyone was happy to get rid of Saddam,” he said about the Iraq war. “But, after a while, it became unimportant whether you worked for the Americans or the French. Everyone is an American. If say you are working with a Western media, it is American.”

In fact, some Iraqis began to look at journalists working for the Western media as “blood traitors” and began to threaten them, which of course led to Fadaam and his family having to flee Iraq.

Fadaam himself has never been a fan of war or that is country is at war. He hates the damage it is doing, not just to the people, but to the buildings and to its history. “War means death. And death means the ignorant and the clever guy are equal. They can both die by the same bomb…Because of war, an Iraqi museum was looted and they lost 5,000 years of history. It’s a loss for all humanity.”

Fadaam also mentioned how the next generation of Iraqis will grow up in a horrible time and place, where the first thing they see is war and where they will lose their parents because of the war. Because of this, they will grow up resenting the Americans, which only hinders the attempt to repair U.S.-Iraqi relations even more.

One of the major problems with the American-Iraqi relationship, according the Fadaam, is that there is no direct communication between the two sides. No one is willing to talk to the other face to face and because of this, the media is the only way both sides learn about each other. In fact, most Iraqis believe that all Americans wanted to go to war with and destroy Iraq. They have no idea of the opposition the war faces on American soil.

“What we need to do is tell the Iraqis there is a difference between the American administration and the Americans,” said Fadaam. “There are a lot of Americans that oppose the war, who don’t want to see Iraq destroyed, who want to go to Iraq one day as tourists and have fish on the riverbanks and sit in coffee shops and enjoy walking in central Baghdad.”

The same problem exists with the Americans portray of Iraqis. The American media hasn’t done the best job of showing both sides of the situation either, according to Fadaam. Americans need to learn more about the Iraqis and their culture and talk with them and their own children about it. “Break down the wall,” as Fadaam put it.

“What the media is telling right now about the Iraqis is that they are all Ali Babas, thieves,” he said about the American media. “They are not showing the other side of the society, which is there are lots of Iraqis who are society builders, people who are smart and capable of building, not only destroy.”

“I’ve been pushing for some time now to open up a communications channel between the two people. You are open minded, and so are the Iraqis. But the Iraqis cannot see you. There is no American in Iraq explaining to Iraqis that there are Americans that oppose the war and wants to live a normal life without violence. But there is an Iraqi here in the States who is trying to do this.”

Fadaam also had tips for the future journalists in the room on what could make them better reporters in the future. “What makes a good journalist is curiosity. You want to know about what is going on and why it happened, when it happened, where it happened, who did it, things like this. Details…This is what makes the difference between the journalist and an average person. Journalists also can’t have any judgments in their articles. They can only say facts.”

Just before he left, Fadaam was asked about his switch from artist to journalist and which he plans on pursuing in the future. Fadaam smiled. “Clay is like a disease. Once it gets on you, you can’t get it out. Journalism is the same way.”

Ahmed Fadaam talking with Elon students

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1 Comment

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One response to “Elon students get unique opportunity with Iraqi reporter Ahmed Fadaamthe

  1. andersj

    A comprehensive report filed on the day it happened; that’s how journalism is done today. It is good to see the depth of reporting you have been accomplishing on your last few stories. It allows us to see your potential in the work on the page. This is quite exciting. But you’re actually a dangerous young journalist in some ways because you write smoothly but include just a few errors in each story in fact and nuance. So now you need to strive to concentrate as never before on capturing specific detail with great accuracy – this must be your key goal in your next work. You need to practice getting EVERY detail precisely right. Depth is dangerous when the accuracy is not consistent through and through because it is hard for copy editors to catch your mistakes and audiences will be misled by your errors.

    Two examples: you report that Fadaam was a translator for “one of NPR’s stations in Iraq.” NPR doesn’t have any stations in Iraq; Fadaam worked as a translator and then became a reporter for NPR, the New York Times and American Public Media’s “The Story.” He did write the stories he won awards for, but they are radio stories – you can hear them online (and you should link to them in this piece). Also, in the lead you report the sculpture is of “women”; the sculpture represents the plight of most women in the Middle East, but it portrays just one woman, struggling to escape the tyranny of her life.

    Read the background info I sent you again, and be sure of your facts on his biography so you use them correctly. Look at the photos I sent of the sculpture, so you see it before you describe it in the story.

    Remember, “when in doubt, leave it out,” and sometimes don’t even believe your ears, and definitely always use the resources you have available. You had more than two full pages of specific details about Fadaam that you could be absolutely sure to be accurate and you didn’t check them when you wrote the piece. Verify. It’s the lifeblood of reporting! Learn from this and benefit and move on to bigger and better things, because you have the talent for excellence if you verify, verify, verify!

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