Imagine being born without rights. From bicycle bans and compulsory clothing to mandatory beliefs, what’s 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, like Susan, decided they wouldn’t take being held in the grip of a society’s invisible hands any longer. Some, like Susan, decided to stand up despite the possibility of paying with their lives.
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.
Some use fear as a weapon to keep others down, forcing entire societies into silence. In some countries, those in power would prefer to destroy the identities of millions of innocent people so long as their grip on power remains intact.
What they don’t know 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. They all had the same goal: freedom.
Freedom is their fundamental right, their dream, their destination. Like the 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.
Since 2014, ISIS killed and enslaved thousands of women in the Middle East, especially in Syria and Iraq. The world watched as the numbers of the 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.
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. Shame on me if I remained 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: the 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 live 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.