The IBBlog

by Translator Momen Muhanad

Before telling you who I am and why what I do matters, let me introduce you to the silver lining of my cloud. For three years, I lived under ISIS control in Mosul. Those three years made me forget who I am and how the outside world looks. At that time, I worked 15 hours a day, 7 days a week, just to help my family make ends meet. All I did was work during the day and sleep at night. I had no future plans whatsoever; I didn’t even think I would be able to make it out alive. However, In 2017, after fierce battles that left my beloved city in ruins, Mosul was liberated. Having gone through all of this, I was thirsty for learning. I was dreaming of going back to school and doing my homework. I started appreciating what it actually means to have a normal life, potable water, and stable electricity. Most importantly, I finally realized that knowledge with no doubt is the most influential weapon against evil.

My name is Momen. I am a translation student at the University of Mosul, and I am currently working as a translator for Bayt Al-Hikma 2.0 project.

We live in a world where media is a dominant force, which can easily shape people’s perspectives. Over recent years, people have had countless misconceptions about Mosul. Unfortunately, this is due to the fact that Mosul is mentioned whenever terrorism and war are brought to the table. But, in fact, it’s a city of peace, kindness, and hospitality. A city that struggled and sacrificed greatly just to see the light again.

Mosul has always been known for being the cradle of leading experts and high quality of education. People used to come from other cities and countries to study at the University of Mosul, which was one of the top universities in Iraq. Nevertheless, after education was suspended by ISIS, it fell behind. Mosul bled so much that it went dry. It lost many of its cultural sites including the Central Library which was burned to the ground along with thousands of treasured books.

Now, Mosul is getting back on its feet. It’s changing the false images and stereotypes depicted by the media. Hopefully, everything will be better than before, thanks to the young generation. None of this would happen if it were not for the awareness that came from education and enlightenment.

By transferring knowledge into Arabic, I want to prove that we, as Iraqis, are able to make the world a better place. I hope to show the world that we are capable. We have dreams and ambitions like everyone else. I am aware that what I do is really small compared to the chaotic world we live in, but there is no way that is going to stop me. I will be grateful if only one person benefits from my works. I truly believe that a tiny act can have profound effects.

“We can not win our fight with Covid 19 when our doctors and medical staff are not protected." —Dr. Jassim Al-Meamari, Head of the Iraqi Medical Association, Mosul

Before purchasing the medical-grade N-95 masks required for this initiative, IBB made sure to cooperate with the Iraqi Ministry of Health and Iraqi Medical Association. We sent samples with the required quality and manufacturing certifications to the Ministry, which quickly approved them within 48 hours. Only then did IBB complete the purchase.

IBB’s team included Dr. Khalid (acknowledged here) and a humanitarian army of 75 volunteers (mostly doctors) and 242 students. They came from across the country, and from every region served by the Initiative. They packed the masks and food baskets, distributed fliers featuring basic health information on preventing COVID-19 transmission, drove the trucks, delivered the masks to hospitals, and delivered food and masks to homes in five provinces.

As of today, IBB provided 144,500 Masks and 756,000 Meals.

Thank you Iraq Medical Association for the letter and your continuous assistance to Iraq and IBB.

Covid19 Mission Video

Updated: Sep 9

The COVID-19 pandemic has taught us that when the majority of a population becomes immune to an infectious disease, it indirectly protects those who are not immune.

This scientific effect, called herd immunity, occurs when approximately 80% of a population is immune. It prevents the disease from spreading widely.

Recently, we held a panel on combating extremism and disinformation during the pandemic with Jesse Morton, a former jihadist propagandist and cofounder of Parallel Networks, Faisal Saeed Mutar, an Iraqi American social entrepreneur and founder of Ideas Beyond Borders, Abdul Aziz Al-Hamza, a Syrian asylee and founder of Raqqa is Being Slaughtered Silently, and John Belluomini, founder for the Center for Greater Good.  

We found ourselves exploring what the equivalent of herd immunity could be to protect the citizens of our world, particularly in the Middle East, where nearly half of the population is between ages 0 and 24. Basically, how can we, collectively, offer a positive alternative to extremism, authoritarianism, violence, and continual disinformation, so we can empower eager, smart-phone savvy young people looking for change?

There is no one answer, since achieving the herd immunity equivalent will be a multi-pronged effort, but we are outlining the problem and potential solutions via seven important examples.

#1 – Increase Available Content in Arabic – The Arabic language is the sixth most spoken language in the world, yet just 3% of the Internet today is available for 240 million Arabic speakers. Our goal is to increase the wealth and diversity of Arabic content that aligns with the number of people accessing information.

Those who repress, disinform or censor information prefer a lack of positive content, so we think of this solution as achieving herd immunity via broader access to content.

#2 – Teach Critical Thinking vs. Being Critical of Thinking – literacy goes beyond the ability to read. We can provide tools and education to help people think for themselves, to make it easier to define logical fallacies and to understand how to uncover facts vs. conspiracies or misinformation. We don’t want to tell people what to think, but how to think.

Basically, we realize fact checkers are not as important as understanding how to think about facts. It’s a new style of education that is required.

#3 – Empower and Elevate Emerging Voices – we can all provide platforms for emerging leaders to have the floor and gain confidence. Let’s hear from women scientists and engineers. Let’s also share inspiring stories of women who have made a difference in our world. If we are to reach herd immunity, it is a team effort by both men and women of all ages. We have many great examples, such as Manal al-Sharif, a Saudi Arabian women's rights activist, who helped start a women's right to drive campaign in 2011. Manal said in a speech that "the American activist (Rosa Parks) in the civil rights movement best known for her pivotal role in the Montgomery bus boycott" was one of her main inspirations in creating the women driving campaign.

Herd immunity requires thousands of these stories to be heard. Let’s provide more places to listen and learn.

#4 – Teach and Reach Youth in New Platforms, e.g. Gaming – the modification of a popular video game can lead to an opportunity to teach youth how to protect themselves against those who disinform. Imagine if we modified a version of Grand Theft Auto and added transformative narratives, such as those from former extremists or those who have suffered under authoritarianism and extremism (Like Faisal and Aziz) and created a narrative that defines clear heroes and villains and connects to a quest, a broader movement or network established on principles antithetical to hate.

With nearly three billion people gaming in the world today, this is the most important platform for us to reach youth in a fun and educational manner.

#5 – Embrace and Mentor Grassroots Journalism – the next generation of journalists are growing up during decades of war and unrest. This is leading to the rise of citizen-based journalism that helps provide necessary insight into areas of the region that are often hard to reach for a variety of reasons. Rather than be dismissive of the next generation, we should embrace their efforts, teach them journalistic principles and help them narrate life as accurately as one can. We believe current media organizations can serve a mentorship role, in this regard. Raqqa is Being Slaughtered Silently is a good example of an effort to provide non-partisan and independent news updates. The best journalistic networks will need grassroots partners now and in the future.

#6 – Re-Evaluate How We Deliver Our Messages – when one lives during a time of unrest and/or war, a condition called complex post-traumatic stress syndrome (PTSD) can emerge, which is different than PTSD, often triggered by a single incident. Complex trauma is typically the result of Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACE’s), which have been shown to have tremendous impact on future violence victimization and perpetration, and lifelong health and opportunity. Those that suffer from complex PTSD are predisposed to accept extremist narratives.

Messaging, under normal circumstances, is processed by our prefrontal cortex. With complex PTSD, it occurs in the amygdala, which makes us highly susceptible to emotional narratives. Extremists realize that you can start here, then, over time, move towards more rational thinking that occurs in the prefrontal cortex.

And yet counter messaging has often targeted the prefrontal cortex, which does not reach the most vulnerable successfully. The approach to take is clear for future messaging.

#7 – Remember We Can All Change – Jesse Morton was a jihadist who is now dedicating his life’s work to helping people battle extremism. It shows that we are all capable of changing. If Jesse can move away from extremism, we can all move away from our biases and do more to help our friends and colleagues protect themselves day to day. The question is how do we accelerate this type of change?

We believe that unity is power. And unity of approach can lead to an inner power that leads to a new type of herd immunity, which we believe, increases the chance for peace.

Jesse Morton, Faisal Saeed Mutar, Abdul Aziz Al-Hamza, John Belluomini and Bob Pearson


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