by Laura Smith,
Six years ago on March 19, Elon University junior Ahmed Hassan’s life changed in ways he never thought possible.
Hassan, a current digital arts major and Iraqi native, was there when the United States invaded Iraq and bombs fell on Baghdad.
In memory of the anniversary, Hassan spoke at Thursday’s College Chapel in Whitley Auditorium and shared his story.
Interviewed by Phil Smith, assistant chaplain and director of religious life, Hassan explained his tumultuous experience and the road that led him to Elon.
“For 13 years of my life, I never though I’d end up here (America),” Hassan said. “It’s a dream for a lot of Iraqis.”
In an interview with the Pendulum, Hassan spoke of how it all started.
After buying a outlawed satellite dish, Hassan and his family followed the developing story of the possibility of the U.S. invading Iraq through the BBC news network. At the time, there were only two channels the government allowed to air and on them, the reports were denied.
The Iraqi Information Minister, known as “Baghdad Bob,” told citizens there was nothing to worry about. This all changed on March 19 at around 4 a.m. in the morning when Hassan and his family woke to the sound of bombs. It began far off in the distance but by the third day of bombing, it was “the closest you could get to the bombs without dying,” Hassan said.
Hassan and his family sat in the corner of their house for six hours straight, praying and listening to the bombs falling only yards away while the ground shook.
“The emergency sound (siren) still haunts me to this day,” Hassan said. “ Because as soon as that goes on, the bombing starts.” The violence came to be commonplace for Hassan and his family.
After the eventual fall of Saddam, there was six months of peace, Hassan said.
“We lived a very hopeful life.”
The story changed after those six months, however, when a temporary Iraqi government was formed. It was then religious sects began battling for power and the borders were open. The government used Islam as a cover to get what it wanted, which was money and power, Hassan said.
“It was all kinds of different hordes of people trying to play the war game to get a seat in the government,” Hassan said. “There was no security; that’s how the insurgency started.”
During this time, Hassan saw violence he never thought he would ever experience. His friend’s brother was kidnapped and his father began receiving threats. Eventually, Hassan was going to school with three bodyguards and carried a gun to protect himself on the way there.
Hassan decided to get out and applied for a U.S. exchange program, where he ended up living in South Carolina for 9th and 10th grade.
“It was a very life changing year in my life,” he said. “I realized I could be free.”
Hassan moved to Egypt for his freshman year of college but quickly realized he wanted to be somewhere else.
After searching CollegeBoard.com, a non-for-profit college admissions examination board, Hassan found Elon on the Internet. He knew he wanted to be close to where he was in South Carolina.
Hassan applied and got accepted to Duke University, North Carolina State, University College of Charleston, George Mason University, Richmond University in London and Elon. He picked Elon because of its small size and loves it here, he said.
Hassan is hoping to go into advertisement possibly and works with international students as well as work for University Relations.
His parents, after living in Egypt since 2004, are moving in new directions in the next few weeks. His father is going back to Baghdad and his mother is moving to Washington D.C. the 26th of March.
Hassan said he will probably not go back to Iraq any time soon.
“The lifestyle, the community is all gone,” he said. “There’s no point.”
Hassan believes the only way Iraq will see peace is for the borders to be locked up and the Muslim radicalism to end.
While he misses Iraq, Hassan said he is grateful for his experience.
“I feel like this is what makes you who you are,” he said. “You gotta go through the bad to get to the good.”