It's becoming something of a habit for Karim Wasfi, cellist and conductor with the Iraqi National Symphony Orchestra. In the days following a bombing in Baghdad Wasfi has been going to the site of the damage or of other violent incidents and playing his cello in the ruins. On May 20, he was at it again.
“The message I want to deliver is that the sound of music and of life is louder than destruction, killing , displacement and looting,” Wasfi explained. “I am just one of the people in this country who is suffering everyday. But we also all love life and art. I feel so happy when I play in the aftermath of a bomb because I feel that music has the potential to build the place up again. Music helps people strive to build things up again, it revives hopes and it assures them that there is a future.”
“Cleaning the site of a bombing up isn't enough,” Wasfi concludes. “We need music because this is the sound of life and of peace, it reminds people of the beauty that is possible in life and expels the ugliness.”
Wasfi even made it to the site of recent riots in Baghdad. On May 13, Shiite Muslim pilgrims were heading through the mostly Sunni-Muslim neighbourhood of Adhamiya to visit a nearby shrine when alarm spread through the crowd; rumour had it there was a Sunni suicide bomber in their midst. This set off panic and then calls for revenge, which were then acted out upon homes and locals in the Sunni neighbourhood. Houses were torched, locals were injured and a building belonging to the Sunni endowment, the body that manages funding for Sunni religious organisations and mosques, was damaged. Yet, somewhat surprisingly considering the roads were all blocked, shortly after the riots stopped, Wasfi managed to get there and he began playing his cello again.
He sat and played next to a burned house while the house's owners looked on, smiling despite their misfortune.
Meanwhile on the main street in Adhamiya, which connects the two sides of the city, a bus full of volunteers had arrived. The young men and women who disembarked were all dressed alike and locals were surprised when the group began cleaning up the damage on the streets. Relax, one of the young men told some curious neighbours, we volunteer every day to clean up bomb sites.
These kinds of campaigns and this kind of activism has become increasingly common over the past few months and the work of volunteers like this has had a big impact. Some of the campaigners, who are mostly younger iraqis, want to encourage peaceful coexistence but the majority, such as the Ansam Bloggers' Network, are focussed on helping other Iraqis in need.
“Our campaign had no other aim except to emphasise what we all have in common, our love of life and our rejection of extremism,” says Elaf Mohammed al-Hijazi, a medical doctor and member of the volunteers in Adhamiya, who is actually partially responsible for starting this particular campaign. Al-Hijazi is one of the founders of the almost-two-year-old group, Iraqi Builders, who put out calls for volunteer action over Facebook and who do things like help people re-build their damaged homes. Most of their members are university graduates and include dentists, pilots and engineers, all of whom have volunteered for projects like this one as well as collected money on the streets for those Iraqis less fortunate than themselves.
“The tools for this campaign were funded by a charity marketwe organised,” Mohammed notes.
“I think that the people here were happy to see us helping,” one of the volunteers, Huda al-Farati, who is also a doctor - a specialist in inherited blood disease - told NIQASH. “We believe that this kind of work strengthens the relationships between different Iraqi communities. None of the other volunteers know the ethnic or sectarian affiliations of any of the others. The only thing that brings us all together is Iraq. We know that we cannot exist without Iraq existing and we know that nothing can ever help us if we lose our homeland.”