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you’re next
campaign to make dead iraqis more than a number

Mustafa Habib
A group of young Iraqis mourning deaths after a popular Baghdad café was bombed are taking matters into their own hands. They want Iraqis to stop simply counting bodies and start feeling the human toll of…
2.05.2013  |  Baghdad
Young Iraqis from the You\'re Next campaign light candles in honour of Iraqis killed.
Young Iraqis from the You\'re Next campaign light candles in honour of Iraqis killed.

“You’re Next”. This is the somewhat chilling slogan that is being used by a new youth organization to promote their campaign.

“But we didn’t choose this slogan to make anyone feel insecure,” they insist. “We just want to alert people to the sad future that awaits if we all keep silent. It’s a fate that awaits all victimized Iraqis and it’s a future that nourishes political greed and corruption.”

The group behind the You’re Next campaign was founded as a reaction to the ongoing violence and resulting deaths in Iraq, and in particular, as a reaction to the April 19 bombing of a café in the Amiriya neighbourhood of Baghdad. The café was one popular with local youth. The You’re Next campaigners not only condemn those who planted the bombs but also those who have adapted to a life full of bombings and similar acts.

“We’re just shocked at how many people are numb to the killings that occur almost daily and who have forgotten the human impact of these acts,” Nouf al-Assi, one of the five young people who started the campaign told NIQASH. “For them, these kinds of things are just part of daily life. We’re also frightened by what we see as the spread of sectarian-based publications and sectarian debates.”

The campaign began after al-Assi and her friends had a conversation on Facebook about the café bombing and people’s reactions to it: they didn’t seem to care that much. But the people who died there were more than just numbers in a newspaper story, they said. After two hours of an online discussion, those involved suggested that they all gather in Baghdad’s central Firdous Square, where the statue of former Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein had once stood, to light candles for those who had died in the bombing.

To their surprise, the five young people who initiated the conversation discovered they were not alone. Around 30 more youths were also at the square with candles. The youths all wrote You’re Next on their own T-shirts in an attempt to encourage passers-by to think about victims as people rather than on any sectarian basis or as numbers in a newspaper.

The campaigners then launched their own Facebook page and began to organise field visits to Baghdad colleges to further raise awareness. Last week the young campaigners visited Baghdad’s Mutanabi street, famous for being a hub of bookshops and intellectuals. They brought candles with them and distributed T-shirts and stickers. They also brought a prop - a device that Iraq’s security forces use to detect bombs – because they wanted to demonstrate just how useless those devices were.

“We want people to regain their humanity and to abandon their sectarian way of thinking about the victims,” al-Assi explained. “The death of any Iraqi, regardless of his sect or ethnic origin, is a loss to all of us. We want Iraqis to raise their voices: they need to speak up about how security forces always fail to protect them. Being silent will make them the next victims,” she concluded.

“It’s unfortunate that Iraqis cope so well with these scenes of death and devastation,” says another campaign member, Karrar Ketawi. “Because behind every victim there’s the story of a family, a family that has wept. Sometimes it feels as though the Iraqi people have lost their humanity and their empathy. We want them to remember these feelings.”

“Everyone should protest on the streets to condemn killings,” another member added. “Everyone should remember the forgotten victims. Because this vicious cycle of violence could affect any of us, at any time, in any place.”

In the future, another of the campaign’s members, Zain Mohammed, said they planned to try and broaden support for You’re Next, reaching out to as many ordinary Iraqis as they possibly could.

“I could easily become one of the victims,” Mohammed concluded. “I might die or I might lose a member of my family, a friend or a neighbour. Then, as many others have done, I would just become a number on the evening news. I’d be nothing more than a number in Iraq’s daily body count.”

To read more about the campaign, please click here.