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An Interview with Houzan Mahmoud, M.A. (Part Three)


Author(s): Scott Douglas Jacobsen

Publication (Outlet/Website): In-Sight: Independent Interview-Based Journal

Publication Date (yyyy/mm/dd): 2017/12/22


An Interview with Houzan Mahmoud, M.A. She discusses: Kurdish artists and authors; pretexts for war; feminist activism; dictators and religious fundamentalists being mostly men; inspiration from religious belief, or not; religious authorities in line with herself; love and death; middle of life; and Western interventions in the Middle East. 

Keywords: Culture Project, feminism, Houzan Mahmoud, Iraq, Kurdistan, Kurds.

An Interview with Houzan Mahmoud, M.A.: Co-Founder, Culture Project (Part Three)[1],[2],[3],[4]

1. Scott Douglas Jacobsen: When it comes to the catastrophes and tragic consequences of war, literature and poetry provide windows through the confusion and misunderstanding around the horrors and miseries, and misinformation and disinformation, around war.

Any Kurdish artists or authors who speak of war?

Houzan Mahmoud: Well, I think wars always existed from the ancient times until today, in different times and under different pretexts: be it tribal, religious, nationalistic, or imperialistic. Different people relate to war in different ways.

Women, men, poets, writers, activists, victims, and soldiers have their own stories to tell us. Literature and poetry also at times play a role in either promoting war, or depicting its causes and consequences in a way that people relate to it, or it shows the suffering and sorrows experienced during the war.

Due to the many ordeals Kurds have suffered and continue to suffer, various poets and novelists, both men and women narrated the war and its aftermath.

2. Jacobsen: Pain and misery are inevitable parts of life, but they can be mitigated. At times, war becomes necessary. What pretexts seem reasonable for war? Obviously, many wars barely meet minimal standards and violate so many things.

Mahmoud: Well, most wars are really useless and baseless with the consequences of the killing of ordinary civilians and sending soldiers to battlefields to destroy lives and lands, which are crimes that do not deserve legitimisation.

Resistance is necessary only when you are invaded. You have no other option apart from resisting and defending your life and land. The latest example is an ISIS attack on Kurdistan, where people women, men, old and young all took up arms to defend their cities and lives.

ISIS could not be stopped through negotiations, as they view Kurds as infidels, and, therefore, their lands, possessions, and women are spoils of war. It’s a jihad in their eyes.  With such an abhorrent collective religious attitude, what else one can do apart from resisting?

It is in such cases when I see resistance as a must and essential to survival.

3. Jacobsen: What do you value more coming out of the trauma of war? How does feminist activism embolden you?

Mahmoud: The fact that I am still alive and can experience life itself is an achievement. I grew up in a war zone, as I explained in other parts of this interview, because I was living in Kurdistan-Iraq. We were under the dictatorship too. One war after another, there was a constant atmosphere of fear, anxiety, and worry.

Not knowing what will happen next, where will we end up? How will we be killed? Even, how soon?

In addition to this, I grew up in a political family, who were involved in armed struggle against Saddam’s dictatorship. I grew up in a house where political activists would always come and discuss politics, Left perspectives on social issues, secularism, Marxism, and so on.

My best time was when summer holidays would come around for us. I would go to visit my brothers and their comrades in the mountains. We had to go to see them, secretly, without the regime knowing; otherwise, we would have been arrested.

Everything was dangerous. I could see all these partisans; wonderful comrades who were so dedicated to a noble cause for ordinary people.  I loved being around them.

I was very little. As years passed by, I experienced all of these wars and the dictatorship. It didn’t feel like anything; it became part of our lives. In other words, it became a way of life.

One thing I remember is, I felt numb. I couldn’t really think or figure out what was going on and why; there was no time to reflect on that or to discuss it, even think about what was happening.

One thing, which probably saved me, was to be surrounded by my revolutionary family, who had hope for a better future, who fought for it, but sadly in this process we lost our beloved brother.

He was assassinated by the regime. I was only fifteen when he was assassinated near our house, I could hear the shooting, when we went out we saw our brother killed. This is when the war, dictatorship, revolution, sacrifices, and politics all became real.

Before this, I felt I was in a cloud, or in a bubble maybe, but the horror was so real at that moment. I feel the shock to this day. I realised that someone whom I loved and learnt so much from is no longer among us.

This is the biggest loss. I always remember him, not a day is passed without thinking about him, his ideals, hopes, and dreams. I long to see him all the time. He had an immense influence on me, my thinking, and upbringing.

The level of oppression and state terror were so visible in our country. If you didn’t have a hope and vision for future, you could not survive. This is why we cannot be passive witnesses of wars, dictatorships, and injustice; we need to act and resist.

Feminism is my saviour. It connected me back with myself as a woman. I can relate to the world as me and as a woman. That’s why keeping women’s rights on top of every agenda is my priority. Feminism makes you strong. There is no doubt about it.

4. Jacobsen: Many of the dictators and religious fundamentalist leaders causing problems are men. It seems like a simple observation, almost a truism of history. Why?

Mahmoud: The problem: if we trace all these movements, politics, religions, and ideology, we realise they were initially only male domains. Women only made their way into them by long struggles for recognition.

This is why these movements are patriarchal, and religions, in essence, are man-made, masculine, and misogynist. This is why they are male dominated and, unfortunately, even if women join such fundamental groups they are treated as inferior or are used for (Jihad al Nikah) i.e. Jihad Marriage.

Let’s not forget dictators and systems of power are all patriarchal in nature.

5. Jacobsen: What strands of religious belief inspire you? By which I mean, even though you hold no formal doctrine, scripture, religious patriarch or matriarch, or leaders in unquestionably high esteem, there must be some that seem ordinary, lovely, and integrated into advanced notions of ethics, such as those found in The Golden Rule and its derivations.

Mahmoud: As you know, I am not religious. I don’t admire any religions. The imaginary gods and religions are all man made. Therefore, they are patriarchal. However, there are many wonderful people who practice religions. They are amazing people. One such person was my own mother.

From an early age, she was taught to pray and follow Islam, so she was a devout Muslim, as you know we are Kurdish, so she didn’t speak a word of Arabic. All her praying was in Arabic, though. She kept on praying and reciting Quranic verses and so on.

Although, I left Islam at an early age. I didn’t really think it was a religion that fits my ideals, but my mother who practiced Islam symbolised a person of high hopes, kindness, and a heart of gold.

She had so many good values. She cared so much about others. She would share anything she had with other people. If there is any religious matriarch, then I would choose my mother to be my Goddess.

Because she was beautiful in nature and always reminded us that we don’t stay in this world forever. It is better to do good, to be remembered for our good doing. Despite the fact that my mother followed religion, and practiced it, she had a set of values and norms that were so humane and universal.

6. Jacobsen: Who is a religious authority that seems in line with your own social, political, and ethical intuitions, convictions, and sentiments?

Mahmoud: There is none. I have organised my life around secular values, I do not aspire to any religions and their sentiments. I think I can do better without it. You don’t need a god or religious figure to tell you what to do; we can think, decide, and act on issues related to our lives, relations, and aspiration in life.

7. Jacobsen: In life, love remains profound. Its loss a revelation to most of their absolute fragility to the world, to others and themselves. Death and love at once become unifiers for everyone. I witnessed a death of a close one, recently.

Someone transitioning from life to death in an instant in front of me. I do not talk about these topics, personal things, in public often, but I wanted to touch on this with you. Someone I loved and cared for, deeply, died.

Love gives meaning, depth, and a seeming long-term narrative to a transitory existence. Any life tips for those undergoing the pain of loss with the privilege to mourn the loss rather than having to run and never properly mourn the death of loved ones in war zones?

Mahmoud: I am so sorry to hear that you have lost a loved one recently. One thing I learnt in life, is when someone close to us dies, it really is very difficult specially if they are killed, or if they die before you see them.

When my mother was ill, I was informed by my family that she was not well. I was arranging to go back to see her for one last time. Unfortunately, by the time I got there, she was dead already. It was really very difficult.

I was very sad and kept telling myself, “Why are we so scattered and uprooted? Why does this have to happen to me? I wish I was beside my mother’s bed when she died.”

People in our countries that are torn by war and conflict. They don’t live and die in peace. I believe that our loved ones even when they depart that they will remain with us. It is important to remember them and keep them in our hearts.

It is important to mourn and grief; it is a humane thing, but it is also important to carry on living and be positive about life. No matter what happens life is beautiful and while we are here we should try to enjoy it.

Death is a very difficult subject to talk about, as individuals we all relate to it differently, and to various extent we are all afraid of it. I think we want to live long, or perhaps we think we are immortal.

8. Jacobsen: You are in the middle of life. What gives you meaning now that did not before? What used to give you meaning that does not now?

Mahmoud: Of course, there are so many things that I did when I was young I thought they were great, but now when I think about it. I laugh. I think it was childish to do that. One thing that gives my life meaning is my struggle for freedom and justice.

This has not changed. Instead, I become more determined with age. Ok let me tell you this, when I was young, I would fall in love, dramatically. Yet on the same speed, I would fall out of it dramatically too.

Again, I laugh at those days now. With age again, you become more strong and stable. Perhaps, more rational in matters to do with life, I think we should take it easy and see everything as a product of its time.

Humans are not fixed categories. We change with time, with age, and with changing our environment. We should let ourselves be, and experience situations as they come. We have to be relaxed and content with ourselves.

9. Jacobsen: What did the US-UK-Canada, and others, do right in their various wars in the Middle East within your lifetime?

Mahmoud: To be honest I have never seen anything good coming out from Western intervention in the Middle East; let’s not forget, every intervention they make under the name of human rights, getting rid of a dictator, or bringing democracy for the common people are simply different excuses to keep military presence in this region of the world.

Their presence has nothing to do with people’s lives, rights, freedoms, or democracy, but it has everything to do with their political and economic interests in addition to asserting their supremacy or hegemony.

All they brought was different weapons. It was all used and tried on ordinary civilians. Casualties of these wars are endless. They damaged these countries forever in every aspect.


  1. Fantappie, M. (2011, January 30). Houzan Mahmoud of Owfi Tells Us About Her Role in the Struggle for Equality in Iraq and Kurdistan. Retrieved from
  2. IHEU. (2008, September 31). Volunteer of the month: Houzan Mahmoud. Retrieved from
  3. Jacobsen, S.D. (2017, December 8). An Interview with Houzan Mahmoud, M.A. (Part One). Retrieved from
  4. Jacobsen, S.D. (2017, December 15). An Interview with Houzan Mahmoud, M.A. (Part Two). Retrieved from
  5. Jacobsen, S.D (2017, July 4). Interview with Houzan Mahmoud – Co-Founder, The Culture Project. Retrieved from
  6. Jacobsen, S.D. (2017, June 24). An Interview with Houzan Mahmoud — Co-Founder, Culture Project. Retrieved from
  7. Mahmoud, H. (2006, September 27). A dark anniversary. Retrieved from
  8. Mahmoud, H. (2006, June 12). A symptom of Iraq’s tragedy. Retrieved from
  9. Mahmoud, H. (2004, March 8). An empty sort of freedom. Retrieved from
  10. Mahmoud, H. (2005, August 14). Houzan Mahmoud: Iraq must reject a constitution that enslaves women. Retrieved from
  11. Mahmoud, H. (2005, January 28). Houzan Mahmoud: Why I Am Not Taking Part in These Phoney Elections. Retrieved from
  12. Mahmoud, H. (2007, May 2). Human chattel. Retrieved from
  13. Mahmoud, H. (2006, October 7). It’s not a matter of choice. Retrieved from
  14. Mahmoud, H. (2014, October 10). Kobane Experience Will Live On. Retrieved from
  15. Mahmoud, H. (2014, October 7). Kurdish Female Fighters and Kobanê Style Revolution. Retrieved from
  16. Mahmoud, H. (2016, November 1). Mosul And The Plight Of Women. Retrieved from
  17. Mahmoud, H. (2006, October 17). The price of freedom. Retrieved from
  18. Mahmoud, H. (2007, April 13). We say no to a medieval Kurdistan. Retrieved from
  19. Mahmoud, H. (2007, December 21). What honour in killing?. Retrieved from

Appendix I: Footnotes

[1] Co-Founder, Culture Project.

[2] Individual Publication Date: December 22, 2017 at; Full Issue Publication Date: January 1, 2018 at

[3] MA, Gender Studies, SOAS-University of London.

[4] Photographs courtesy of Houzan Mahmoud.


In-Sight Publishing by Scott Douglas Jacobsen is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License. Based on a work at


© Scott Douglas Jacobsen and In-Sight Publishing 2012-Present. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this site’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Scott Douglas Jacobsen and In-Sight Publishing with appropriate and specific direction to the original content. All interviewees and authors co-copyright their material and may disseminate for their independent purposes.

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