Imagine yourself at work one day when the boss comes to you, hands you a shovel, a gun, and says “the invasion is starting, you must defend your workplace.” It may sound implausible but that is exactly what happened to my guest on the program today.
Ali Al Shouk was your average working chemist when the invasion of Iraq began in 2003. It was then that a series of traumatic events and coincidences would begin, eventually leading him to a career in journalism and a place he did not expect to end up.
In between my taxi interviews Ali and I sat down together in Dubai to talk about his amazing experiences that made him who he is today.
Lamija Tanovic grew up in a Yugoslavia with a quality of life that makes today’s Bosnia look like another planet. A time where values such as education, cooperation, and participation were essential. An era that would later give way to a terrible war and a dysfunctional plan to create a new nation in its aftermath. Through it all, Lamija explains, everyone always wished to come home and make a life in this beautiful place. The problem is, today’s Bosnia makes it quite difficult for anyone to have a decent life and as a result, people have left and will continue to leave.
Today on the podcast, I spend an hour in the home of Lamija Tanovi?; educator, human rights activist, politician, and someone with a tremendous amount of life experience, to help explain what Bosnia was then and how it became what it is today.
“People here are a whole lot more rational than they give themselves credit for. They all think they are more moderate than the norm; they don’t realize they are the norm.”
Kurt Bassuener has been working on the issue of Bosnia for over 15 years and in that time has figured out what many people inside and outside the country have not – what is wrong and what can be done about it. That is, in fact, one of the key lessons to take home from this Bosnia 101 conversation; there is hope, there are things that can be done, if specific actors would be willing to change the status quo.
“If the external actors would recognize in their own interests, that with very little change in their approach… they could actually end up with a durable solution.”
At a time where Bosnia seems plagued by corruption and stagnation, Kurt sees things as politically and economically going backwards. Creating a scenario that will do further harm to people inside the country, in the region, and across Europe.
“People saw the social fabric unravel once, and it was bad enough the first time, they don’t want to go there again.”
What is different about Bosnia-Herzegovina in 2013 compared to 1995? Who makes up this complex nation today and what do they think of the traumatic past, the frustrating present and dour future?
“It took a lot of engineering to destroy this country, it was not something that just happened one day… There was a lot of effort to create a sense of inevitability and a sense of fear.”
Deir ez-Zor in April 2013, photo credit Karam Jamal.
In 2011 Ahmad and Karam, two university students from Deir ez-Zor took to the streets as part of the mass protest movement demanding an end to the regime of President Bashar Al-Assad. Their protest was met by violent reprisals, mass arrests, and soon war broke out and the government undertook a full siege of the city. Since that time, these two friends have become a reporting team, collecting videos and still images as their families and their community have been decimated by war.
Destruction in Deir ez-Zor, April 2013. Photo courtesy of Ahmad Mhidi and Karam Jamal
Last month I had the pleasure of spending time with Ahmad and Karam in Turkey, as they briefly came over the border to participate in a media workshop. Over the course of several days, they explained in painful detail, the reality of life in Syria today. The tragedy, the struggle, and the absurdity of the war zone that their home has become. Despite grave danger and personal injuries they have already suffered, they two men remain dedicated to their mission as reporters with a message about their country, in the hope that people around the world are listening.