Riyadh Mohammed: Carrying the Passion of Journalism

Mohammed is an Iraqi-American who lived in Baghdad until 2011, when he was accepted as a refugee to the United States. He started his career in journalism in 2008, shedding light on the ways corruption destroyed Iraq. He has since covered the Iraq war, rise of ISIS and other conflicts in the Middle East for CNBC, The New York Times and others.

This story is part of a virtual exhibition, “I Am Mohammed”, produced by Narmeen Haider and Aanjalie Collure. The project aims to subvert stereotypes by showcasing the stories of people – of all ages, sexes and nationalities – that bear the name ‘Mohammed”.

“My name is Riyadh Mohammed and I am an Iraqi American investigative journalist. I was born in Baghdad in 1975, and had two degrees in cinema from the Baghdad University of Fine Arts, and another degree in english. Until the fall of the Saddam Hussein regime in 2003, I was an army deserter and could not find a job because I did not have the proper documentation that proved I was discharged from the military.

After the fall of Saddam’s regime, I worked for the ministry of justice as a media officer and a spokesperson for almost 4 years. In 2008, I joined the New York Times, and ever since, I became a journalist. I noticed that most work of foreign journalists in iraq focus on two main issues: the daily violence and political crisis based on sectarian divisions. I always thought that there is something missing from the narrative coming from Iraq through the eyes of foreign journalists, and I always thought that corruption is the main problem that Iraq suffers from.

Because of that, most of my work focuses on revealing corruption. I was involved in revealing the scandal of the fake bomb detector Iraq imported after the war, and I’ve also covered several other corruption scandals in Iraq. Of course that did not make a lot of people involved in corruption happy. I was threatened and sued, and in addition to that, my father was killed in 2006, at the peak of the sectarian war. My family and I were displaced from our home in Baghdad in the same year.

In 2008, I filed to be accepted as a refugee in the U.S, and in July 2011, after three long years, I was finally admitted into the US and I lived in New York for almost four years.
In the US, I pursued my journalism career. I reported heavily on ISIS and wrote the first study on ISIS’s decision making process in 2014.

I remember the first few days of my life in the US, I was given advice by an American Business consultant, a very successful man, and he told me “ you might be offended by what I say, but I’m giving you this advice to help you.” His advice was “ don’t put the word Mohammed as part of your legal name in the US. Put your first and last name, and leave Mohammed away.”

I didn’t really notice at that time that this is going to be a major issue. However, as the year passed, I noticed that “Mohammed” has very negative semantics in this country,. If employers would have to choose between the same two people who have exactly the same character and resume, they would choose someone without the name Mohammed. When my son was born, two years ago, I was told by my wife that I could choose the name Mohammed- my father’s name, for my son. I decided not to. I just thought that it’s enough that I had to suffer for that name.

After the election of Donald Trump, I just thought that this has become such a big issue now, and the problem is that most Americans and most people around the world don’t realize that Mohammed is the most common name in the world. I read that almost 200 million people carry that name. There’s no way that you can label them all as terrorists. And that’s why I think this exhibit is important. This needs to be changed as soon as possible. The name Mohammed does not imply that you are a terrorist or that you are a suspect of terrorism.”

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