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Jassim Al-Roubaie now lives in Nixa, but was born to a Kurdish family in the heart of Iraq.
“I grew up in a beautiful city called Baghdad. Or, it used to be beautiful,” Al-Roubaie said. “It didn’t matter if you were Sunni, or Shiite, or Kurdish, or Arabic. Unfortunately, now it does.”
His dad wanted him to go to college in America. So, he found himself in a Catholic college in Kansas City.
“I couldn’t say words like, ‘Oh my God.’ That was really hard. I grew up saying, ‘I swear to God, I swear to God,’ and they’d say, ‘No, you cannot say that,’” he recalls.
Despite that he was a Shiite Muslim, he says he was warmly welcomed at the Catholic school.
His father’s dream was for his son to take over his business, but he had a premonition that something terrible was going to happen. So he asked Jassim not to come back.
“I was actually in what you call ‘double jeapordy.’ I was Kurdish and Shiite,” Al-Roubaie said.
So, in the eyes of former Iraqi president Saddam Hussein, whose Baathist party was almost completely Sunni and Arab, Al-Roubaie had two strikes against him.
“I lost at least, as far as I know, 17 of my immediate family. They were executed, including my father, three of my uncles, two of my brothers-in-law. And one of my brothers-in-law was my best friend. He was absolutely like a soulmate to me. And he was Arab. The only reason he was executed is because he was married to my sister,” Al-Roubaie said.
In a way, he says, his father’s premonition was correct.
Al-Roubaie says he witnessed Saddam Hussein shoot two men in the Baghdad street because they were having an argument.
Kurdish people are scattered throughout four dominant countries: Iran, Iraq, Syria and Turkey. They do not have their own state, although Kurds in northern Iraq are given a considerable degree of autonomy.
“The Kurdish people have been struggling for the past 5,000 years to establish their own automony. I don’t think I’ll live that long to see it happen. Because the northern part of Iraq [where Kurds live] is very rich in oil. So is that part of Turkey, and Iran [where Kurds live]. And no one wants to give autonomy to us, because most of the money comes from there ,” he said.
Al-Roubaie said the US-led 2003 invasion of Iraq got rid of a dictator, but also cost 5,000 American lives and hundreds of thousands of Iraqi deaths. Also, he said, it created sectarian war in Iraq.
“Too much democracy back home creates friction,” he said. “In my opinion, we’re asking an orange tree to produce figs. The Middle Eastern people, they tolerate some kind of dictatorship. They need someone with an iron fist to dictate to them.”
Al-Roubaie acknowledges that “a lot of educated people with disagree” with him about this, but he points to the chaos and hardships that have arisen since dictators fell in several Arab countries.
“A lot of Americans take for granted the freedoms they have,” he said. “There is so much freedom in this country. Some people don’t understand that, and don’t appreciate it.”
He says he feels the courts have interpreted the First Amendment too liberally by allowing Americans to burn the US flag; there should be laws against that, he said.
“It symbolizes this country; you have no idea how many soldiers have been killed, or sacrificed their lives, to save that flag,” Al-Roubaie said.
Jassim Al-Roubaie hopes he can one day return to Iraq and give his late father a proper burial; right now, his father’s body rests in a mass grave in a Sunni territory in Iraq.
Al-Roubaie works at the meat counter at Price Cutter in Nixa. His children are American citizens, too: he made sure all of them have Kurdish names. This has been Around the World, Here at Home on KSMU. I’m Jennifer Davidson.