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I am a public health doctor who is cynically optimistic about most things.

I have never killed. Nor have I saved

“Shlonek dektoor?” my local Iraqi barber lazily enquires as I hurry past him on the high street. “how many people have you saved today?”

Was that a mocking tone? I wondered to myself through the heat and exhaustion of a sweltering working day.  I try not to rise to the bait but ask in turn how many bad haircuts he had imposed on hapless victims…

What I should have explained was that doctors on the whole don’t regularly save people’s lives , they prolong agony and many pointless lives but illness and death was usually as a result of genetics, childhood, socio-economic status, lifestyle choices as well as divine decree. Doctors just happen to find themselves in the middle of manifest destiny and pretend to be the architects rather than in reality mere midwives of misfortune.

So the half-hearted reverence was misplaced. Iraqis tend to pile on the platitudes when it comes to the medical profession, and this drives me crazy. While I accept that the medical profession has always occupied a hallowed place in  society, it seems so much more exaggerated amongst expat Iraqis.

Some of it can be explained by migrant syndrome where the secure and well-paid professions are much sought after anchorage in an otherwise precarious translocation. I would also venture to say that the medical profession was probably the least compromised by Saddam’s regime by virtue of the fact that you could employ scientists, engineers and architects to build weapons and palaces but doctors are of little use in this regard (except maybe plastic surgery for Uday’s double or torture techniques). However the endless stream of bright young Iraqis who blindly enter the profession goaded by their parents and peers is to be lamented.

Young British Iraqis are  barely literate at the best of times (IYF’s book club is timely) and medical school puts pay to any creativity and breadth of knowledge they may otherwise pick up in further education. They are then bundled off into the human meat-factories that dot the land and end up trapped in the inexorable jostle towards consultancy and the profound emptiness that awaits.

All is not lost as the newer generations seem to be bucking the medical trend but they remain frustratingly unimaginative. Most seem to be gravitating towards politics coincidentally following the collapse of the Baath regime or towards finance and the city despite the immoral collapse and equally immoral recovery of the financial sector. IT is another dull sector that engulfs many while engineering is a lesson in professional pointlessness in an economic downturn.

Career aspirations are funny things as we are expected to make life-changing choices at a relatively young age. Most of us end up in areas that we had never dreamt of gracing and find pride, satisfaction or just regular income to continue our mundane lives. So let’s try to support our younger siblings, friends and even children make more informed choices and hopefully become pioneers in the fields of their choice be it art, literature, science or heaven forbid entrepreneurial ventures.

13 Comments on “I have never killed. Nor have I saved”

  1. Ali Rashid July 22, 2010 at 11:38 am #

    Amu: ”Haa Allawi…shdatidros hessa?”
    Ali: ”Development Studies”
    Amu (eyes glaze over): ”HAAAAAA ya’ani construction”
    Ali: ”…..eee amu, MSc bil construction”

  2. Safwan Mudhafar July 22, 2010 at 11:54 am #

    Amu: “Ha Safwan.. shdatiros hessa?”
    Safwan: “Law”
    Amu (in shock): “leish baba, You used to be so clever!?”
    Safwan: “Eee bas seret Zmal hal ayam”

    • Ali Latif July 22, 2010 at 4:11 pm #

      Amu: ”Haa Diktor…shlah titkhasas hessa?”
      Ali: ”Public Health”
      Amu (eyes glaze over X2):
      Ali: ”…..ya’ni saha aamah”
      Amu: ya’ni aamat al-jism?
      Ali: Eee (with heavy heart) ya’ni aamat al-jism

  3. Mousa Baraka July 22, 2010 at 5:41 pm #

    Amu: “Ha Mousa.. shdatidros hessa?”
    Mousa: “Falsafa amu”
    Amu: “Haha, sayir faylasoof… No seriously, what are you studying?”
    Mousa: “Philsophy, Politics and Economics”
    Amu: “Haaa..” he says while slowly turning around

  4. Mohammed Abdullah July 22, 2010 at 6:51 pm #

    Mum: “shwakit itkhalis il PhD?”
    Me: “ma khaliseh, ala 3naditch”
    Mum: “Yallah fudhheh, kafi x+y=z, inreedek tilgi job u itzawaj”

    Thankfully, I was given the freedom not to take the medical route, but the side-effect of that was to seal my siblings’ fate (lol @my siblings).

    The stuff in this blog post really needs to be said, and said loudly. The exagerated status of the medical profession in Iraqi culture is always something Ive felt is pretty damaging. Unfortunately, it has carried through to a large extent to our generation. Some have started moving away from it, but we’ve been here 30 or so years. The fact is that when I talk to my Iraqi friends about my work, inspite of the fact that they were raised here in the UK, they display the same sort of casual contempt and confusion their parents, aunts and uncles would display.

    Why is it that the economic freedoms and opportunities to “fail” and not do something medically related have not been explored, and the old mentality has remained? I put it down to the anti-intellectualism of Iraqi culture. The fact is, it’s not just an immigrant story. Take the Middle East, for example. In my area of research, unsurprisingly, it’s the Israelis who are the best in the world. Lets say that they are an anomaly, since Jews tend to be the best in anything that requires using your brain. However, the field has had a huge influx of Iranians over the last 20 years with many taking faculty positions at excellent US inversities; a lot of Turks, and recently, a respectable increase of Egyptians, Syrians and Lebs. Iraqis? Good luck finding them. I was at a conference recently, talking to a Israeli, who commented that I was the first Iraqi he had met. He was trying to be polite and find common ground, but not having had experience with Iraqis, he ended up talking about his Iranian colleagues, in the hope that I might some how be able to relate to it. That’s pretty sad, and embarrassing (for both of us).

  5. Ameer July 22, 2010 at 7:02 pm #

    LOL, you can imagine the conversations I had with various amus when I ‘decided’ to become a hairdresser.

  6. Tuga July 22, 2010 at 7:54 pm #

    Sometimes its just ignorance..

    khaleh: shdatdorseen khaleh?
    my friend: qanoon
    khaleh: sh3ajab mu tib? zen ya jami3a?
    my friend: Oxford
    khaleh: yaaaa menqibelty ib London?

  7. JAbass July 23, 2010 at 11:11 pm #

    While, you are right, the issue could be looked at it from another perspective – Guaranteeing a job post graduation?

    I’m in no way defending those who push only for medical degrees and quash talents in other areas, but the friends I’ve seen who’ve studied engineering, psychology, economics, politics and other non-medical degrees have a harder time finding a job related to their degree while those who study medical (and affiliated) degrees are pretty much guaranteed a job. However, that could be due to a poor degree classification or general laziness in looking for a job.

    Either way, true satisfaction in a career will only occur if it’s in a field one has a passion for.

  8. Sarah July 24, 2010 at 10:44 pm #

    “Some of it can be explained by migrant syndrome where the secure and well-paid professions are much sought after anchorage in an otherwise precarious translocation.”

    I think this largely explains why the medical and allied professions are regarded so highly in the Iraqi community. From what I’ve seen in my parents’ generation is that those Iraqis who are not medics, are usually scrounging on benefits and living in council accommodation, so I think this mentality is largely related to job security amongst migrants.

    I found the comments of the others on this comments board very funny…from my own experience as a lawyer working for a prestigious law firm, I always get respect and recognition from the English but from Iraqis, I see the usual bewilderment or disappointed looks on their faces….’moo jubtee kulheh A leish ma reh’tee lil tubiyeh??!’

    Ali, if you’re so damning about the medical profession, then why did you decide to go into it?

  9. JAbass July 25, 2010 at 12:34 am #

    With all due respect Sarah, but not all those who are aren’t medics or medically allied live in council accommodation and take benefits. There will always be a generalisation, but there are many people from our parents generation who have degrees in fields other than medicine and similar professions, and they earn a very good salary and live in decent privately owned housing.

    • Sarah July 25, 2010 at 11:51 am #

      True, but unfortunately this is the situation that I have seen for the majority of non-medic Iraqis of my parents’ generation. There are exceptions in everything, but I am sure you agree that this is the case for the overwhelming majority of that generation.

      • JAbass July 26, 2010 at 6:51 pm #

        I really think it depends where you look. A lot of London based Iraqis don’t seem to do much with their non-medical degrees which personally, I think is such a shame. The jobs are out there if people bother to look, but unfortunately some go for the easy option of the government paying for their living.

      • cheb July 27, 2010 at 9:27 pm #

        I am slightly insulted at the suggestion that the older non-medical Iraqis are largely dependant on the welfare state.

        Unfortunately not many UK employers appreciate a law/arts/literature degree from Iraq, and I don’t think the older generation could have predicted migrating to the UK, to have better prepared themselves.

        It’s a matter of making the most of what you have… One should not assume that they have not tried to use their skills. Perhaps if you were sent back to Iraq, you should appreciate the difficulty in securing employment.

        The issue of benefit dependancy is not one that solely of older Iraqis. It’s a much greater issue…

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