by Tayyaba Bukhari

This summer I met a variety of Iraqi Americans, born and nurtured from all different parts of the world now residing in the U.S., who came together to educate and discuss the growing controversial issue of the Islamic State of Syria and Iraq (ISIS) in Washington, DC. One of the main things I learned from meeting this impressive group of intellectual scholars is that everyone wants political freedom and a sense of social protection through national security.

Among the Iraqi Americans I had the pleasure to speak with and listen to their stories of personal struggles growing up with a complex identity and defending their political beliefs on Iraq’s current hardships include AIC Executive Director Zainab Al-Suwaij, Program Coordinator Taameem Al-Maliki, Ambassador Lukman Faily, social activist Kadhim Al-Waeli, and pollster Dr. Munqith Al-Dagher.

Amidst the chaos of ISIS media coverage, a few common questions Iraqis continuously asked are whether they are Sunni or Shi’a, if they have Kurdish relatives, and whom they voted for in the last election. Having spoken to a diverse group of Iraqi Americans, I can confidently say these questions do not hold any significance in better understanding the individual or how to attain peace in a struggling nation.

On the other hand, the questions  of significance consist of asking whether to attain political freedom and economy stability through international aid, domestic revolution, whether to approach it from a social or military strategy, and how to better represent the multiple religious minorities spread across Iraq. Iraq is currently facing multiple layers of diversity and struggles, and therefore it is critical to approach the solution with the same mindset and similar techniques.

It is with experience and an open mind that I encourage others to approach not only Iraqi Americans but those of different nationality, religion, culture or upbringing with sensitivity. Do not be quick to categorize them with labels based upon their differences, as “Sunni” or “Kurdish”, simply to understand them better. For by doing so, you have already pigeon holed yourself into gaining any perspective. Instead, let them tell you their stories and keep in mind those sharing their stories with an open mind and heart simply want to attain peace and a solution that is beneficial to all.

Disclaimer: The views, opinions and positions expressed by the authors and those providing comments on these blogs are theirs alone, and do not necessarily reflect the views, opinions or positions of American Islamic Congress or any employee thereof.