On their last stop in a national tour, Ahood al-Fadhal, one of the first women elected to public office in Iraq, and recent University of Richmond graduate Scott Erwin highlighted the emergence of democracy in Iraq before about 40 students at a Silliman College Master’s Tea Tuesday.
Ahood said she came to the United States for her first visit to describe conditions in present-day Iraq, which she said have been distorted by the media.
“I want to say how we are grateful for freedom and liberation,” Ahood said. “I am here to say the real picture of my country. The media shows only the negative, but there is a good side in my country.”
Ahood said she has spent her last few years working toward improving Iraq by serving on the Al-Tahsinniyya district council in Basra. She also publishes a biweekly newsletter on women affairs called “The Iraqi Women’s Echo” and co-founded the Al Ata society, which helps to educate women in rural areas.
“The majority of people, they have hope to build my country,” Ahood said, noting that she speaks for the people of southern Iraq, where she resides. “We want to put an end to terrorism in my country. But, you know, the situation is too complicated — you move, and there is a bomb. This is what it is like in my country.”
Erwin himself is a victim of violence in Iraq. While in the country educating university students on the practical applications of democracy, Erwin was shot four times while riding in a car with two Iraqi policeman, both of whom were killed, he said. He said he was pulled to safety by a nearby Iraqi translator and underwent a series of “lifesaving” surgeries.
“The solution to anything in Iraq is violence because that is what the people have been brought up in,” Erwin said.
But Erwin said the “real story” is that of Ahood.
Ahood offered her perspective on women’s issues throughout the Master’s Tea, answering questions about the power of women in Iraq, their ability to get involved in rebuilding the country and the opportunity for them to vote in the January election.
“The women under Saddam [Hussein], if you are not a part of the Baath party, you have no rights under the regime,” Ahood said.
After Iraq’s liberation from Hussein, Ahood said, both the Al Ata society and her newsletter formed specific goals for women, including a goal to train women in health and education.
Ahood said she is grateful for America’s involvement in Iraq, which gave her the opportunity to publish her newsletter.
“This was my dream, but I can’t dream under the Saddam [Hussein] regime,” Ahood said.
It was under the Hussein regime that Ahood, her husband and three children, now 16, 14 and 6, were forced to spend time in jail after it was discovered that her husband’s mother was of Iranian descent.
“I can’t describe [it] for you,” Ahood said. “You can’t imagine — lots of family in one room. They punish the ladies — they didn’t give us anything. And now I have two kids suffering from many diseases.”
Ahood said her children helped motivate her to rebuild Iraq.
“I want to build my country for the new generation and for my kids’ generation,” she said.
During the Master’s Tea, several students asked questions to clarify what they characterized as a flawed American perspective on Iraq.
“I wanted to see what the perspective was from Iraq because the American perspective can be a bit skewed,” Maria Muller ’05 said.