Turning Truth into Fiction
Today’s guest post comes from author Mojgan Azar, whose debut novel A Lullaby in the Desert, is available TODAY from ArkBound.
MOJGAN AZAR was born in Iran and lived most of her adult life in Iraq. She was living in Iraqi Kurdistan in 2014 when the Islamic State of Iraq and ash-Sham (ISIS) swept through the area, displacing millions and trapping many, including Mojgan, in Iraqi Kurdistan’s capital city Erbil. Her harrowing experiences have inspired her writings, revealed to the world now for the first time.
Since 2014, ISIS has killed and enslaved thousands of women in the Middle East, particularly in Syria and Iraq. The world watched as the numbers of dead ticked by on their televisions, seeing digits instead of faces, not knowing the tragedies those women have faced and continue to face, even at this very moment.
Imagine being born without rights. From bicycle bans and compulsory clothing to mandatory beliefs, what could be worse than being born in a society where your gender alone is a crime? Millions of women are held captive, whether behind bars or behind barriers, for what they believe, what they wear, and what they say. They are suffering at this very moment.
Some of those women, such as Susan, the protagonist in my novel, decided they wouldn’t tolerate being held in the grip of society’s invisible hands any longer. Some, like Susan, decided to stand up despite the possibility of paying with their lives.
Freedom is their fundamental right, their dream, their destination. Like so many others, Susan’s freedom was stolen from her, the shackles thrown over her, covering her body, pushing her down. For Susan, the forces of evil and slavery could be easily seen in the black flags of the Islamic States of Iraq and al-Sham, who some call ISIS, covering her life in a shadow. However, for millions of women, those dark forces are not so obvious, but they are deadly nonetheless.
What those dark forces don’t realize is that fear won’t stop someone who has nothing to lose. In A Lullaby in the Desert, Susan finds herself homeless, penniless, and alone in Iraq, a country on the brink of disaster. When standing on the edge of the abyss, Susan stepped forward, just like the other refugees beside her taking this journey to the point of no return.
For a long time, I wondered how I could speak for those who could not, for those who had already died, for those who were still enslaved. When the idea first entered my mind, I had to take a step back. Even the thought of telling the world of our plight made me shudder as I remembered my own trauma that began from my earliest days. I remembered the nine-year-old girls sold for fifty dollars in the street to marry strange old men, I remembered a singer assassinated for speaking up about people’s rights, I remembered seeing a woman shot in the head because she wanted to be free. And I thought shame on me if I remain silent.
When I close my eyes I feel no pain because I cannot see anything around me. But my beliefs remain, my story remains. I had to stand in front of my trauma, confront it, release it, because I didn’t choose this life but this is what I know.
When I decided to write Lullaby, one thing pushed me forward: pain. Pain may stop some, may slow some down, may force some down a different path. For me, I allowed it to open my eyes. Everything I see fills me with responsibility to women everywhere, even from different places and different backgrounds. I don’t want other humans to suffer what I’ve suffered.
I’ve always believed that we are alive for others. We exist for each other. We can’t survive alone. We all look up at the stars and wish we could be in space, looking down at the earth. However, the moment we were really up there, smothered in cold and dark, we’d realize how alone we felt, and we’d wish to be back among humanity.
Just like those places between the stars, our earth would be frozen and empty, sad and lonely, if people lived without regard for those with less than them, those with a different belief, a different gender, a different ability. Yes, you read that right: it’s our earth. They’ve separated us, they’ve painted us with identities and made us into “us” and “them.” They’ve made some of us human and some of us less than human.
Well I have something to say to “them.” They’ve underestimated women everywhere for far too long. It hurts to be seen as less than someone else, but our world was built on pain and struggle. It was also built on hope. We women have given birth to the leaders, the teachers, the world changers. A Lullaby in the Desert shows that just like Susan, we need to reject the idea of being weak that is imposed on us, and instead be ready to be strong. They should never underestimate us.
A Lullaby in the Desert isn’t just Susan’s story; it’s the chorus of millions of women, their voices carrying forcefully over the empty sands. Their silent melody can be heard from Iran to Syria, from Indonesia to Morocco. Indeed, their voices ring all over the world. Slavery as we read about it in the history books may be fading into the past, but another kind of slavery lives in the present and threatens to persist into the future if we choose to ignore it.
To learn more about Mojgan’s work, visit her website.
You can also follow her on Instagram.