Iraqi Musician finds precious artistic freedom in U.S.

T.J. Kirkpatrick McClatchy

Ahmed Abdulateef’s precious gift of music was rejected and shut off in his hometown, Baghdad, Iraq, because it made him a “target”. A passion for music led to militants threating his life and his guitar’s destruction from his own father. This musician found that his gift was too pure for the strict version of Islam.

His family’s disapproval became very clear, but he still found a chance to play though secret jam sessions. When Ahmed discovered a U.S. cultural problem, he was selected and was then brought to perform in places he’d never imagine such as California, New Mexico, and other states.

United States gave him the opportunity to freely walk up and down the street playing his guitar like Middle Eastern instrument as loudly as he wanted without anyone telling him no or have it slung across his back without it being snatched away.

“Here, for the first time, I’m Ahmed,” he said.

Ahmed’s new freedom was so glorious to him that he decided to apply for asylum in the U.S. in November where he has joined a surge of Iraqis seeking asylum since the violent group of the Islamic State has risen. Islamic State (ISIS or ISIL) is an extremist group that has taken over land in Iraq and Syria and hopes to set up its own country governed by strict Islamic law. If anyone believes they are in danger while being in their own country, they are able to apply for asylum in another country, where if accepted, have the opportunity to live there safely. Many Iraqis who have applied for asylum in the U.S. are then faced with the harsh truth… It’s a longer process than desired and can take up to many months or years for a decision to be made.

“I don’t have a plan b,” says Abdulateef. “This is a new life, a whole new life, and it’s worth fighting to stay here.”

The asylum program’s goal is to provide sanctuary, where foreigners don’t have to worry about whether or not they’re in a safe place where their well being won’t be disrupted. Many of the people accepted are usually facing serious threats in their home countries for political, religious, and artistic reasons, which is why Abdulateef believes he should easily be accepted. However, serious threats don’t automatically alead to a speedy decision. Gargfield is the representative for other Iraqis with similar cases, he is aware of how long the process is.

“It looks like they’re just sitting on the Iraqi cases,” Garfield said. “All these letters, they just don’t get responded to. There’s been no decisions — no denials, no approvals.”

Abdulateef said that he wasn’t planning to asylum when he came to the United States but learned about it through his newly American friends.

“All I want is to be safe from fear and be able to continue my musical career,” which is all about understanding different cultures and tolerating different views, Abdulateef’s affidavit says. “Unfortunately, these principles are not welcome in my country at the moment.”

Esmeralda Reyes

Staff Writer, NMHS Blue Prints

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