Faisal Saeed Al Mutar: A Secular Humanist Speaks

In a heartfelt personal story that emphasizes pushing beyond borders to value human life, Faisal Saeed Al Mutar does his best to help people in closed societies. He shares his journey as an Iraqi refugee to being a global human rights activist in the United States. This story was recorded in partnership with MALA and StoryCorps.


My name is Faisal Saaed Al Mutar. I’m from Iraq. I’m twenty four years old. I was born right after the first Gulf War to the south of Baghdad in the province of Babylon. The year I ended up with elementary school was when the U.S. invasion of Iraq happened. I would say the most impactful day of my life was when I came back from school and saw my parents, especially so nervous on the lunch table. I asked them about what’s going on and what they have been hiding from us for a while. They said “Your brother’s been kidnapped.” I was in kind of a weird mood. It’s really hard to describe because there’s a part of me that was kind of expecting it because I go to school every day and I see dead bodies around, and I see people killed. I see people getting kidnapped in front of my eyes, and there’s like a part of me that was expecting either me or one of my brothers or my sister to have suffered from that, but it is something that I didn’t want to happen. It is like kind of a mixed feeling like when I visit my mom until today  like a month or two ago she was still like holding his picture and crying. My story of activism started here.

I was already very cautious of the environment around me. That led me to create a huge network of activists within Iraq and across the region. Many people shared a common narrative, a common goal: they wanted to achieve a safer world, a civil society, equality for women, equality for minorities. Sometimes, I fear that many people in my country have reached to a point of hopelessness where it is like “OK. It is what it is” and “we get used to it.” Statements like that, I would say, make me angry the most because things like suicide bombing is not a good thing to get used to. You have to value your life to the point in which you say that this is unacceptable.

When I moved to the West, I started feeling that there were some freedoms that I was not able to have in my childhood and growing up, but I see many people here take it for granted. Having lived in these two worlds, I started appreciating what is this concept of being able to speak your mind, and I am trying to do my best to help those in the closed societies to have the same privileges as we do here. I would say that I’ve been working more than I expected to. Many people think of immigration as probably one of the most difficult things in life, changing culture, changing language, difficulty in finding a job for many people, but for me I would say I’ve had a lot of people who, say, connected to me because of the cause that I care about.

I want people to know more about the human story and try to understand more of other cultures, and try to create a solidarity movement in which people share the same goals about civil society, equality for women, equality for minorities, all working together beyond borders and just think human about these things: the values we share and work together to achieve here in the United States and around the world.”

Listen to Faisal’s full story here: 

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