Iraqi Youth Shape Peaceful Future with Reality TV

Salam

Some may squirm with dread when they hear about reality TV, but now a group of youths in Iraq are showing that it can be used for more than a platform for celebuspawn to strut their stuff – it can be used to shape a new future of peace and equality.

Iraq is a country made up of variety of different races, religions and geographical backgrounds. Travelling between provinces is limited and most of the youth have never interacted with people from different regions, in fact some have never left their hometowns. Considering this, it can come as no big surprise that there is a distinct lack of cultural understanding.

Enter Salam Shabab

Salam Shabab is Iraq’s first youth reality TV show and it’s certainly not a trivial one. It sees contestants between the ages of 14 and 18 compete on teams for the title of becoming an “Ambassador of Peace”. This “ambassador” would serve the TV shows goal of uniting Iraq through peace building.

One contestant of the shows first season last year was an 18 year old girl named Nareen. While she and her team didn’t make it past the second round of the show, Nareen says that Salam Shabab changed her and empowered her to focus on her dreams: becoming a lawyer and defending human rights.

The Increasing Role of Social Media

The second season of the show kicks off in June and this time round it will be with an ever growing support base on social media site, Facebook.

Among this following are season one’s contestants who turned to social media after the show aired to continue their discussions on peace and the political landscape. These youths, and those who simply watched the show, are eager to create a better future for the next generation of Iraqi leaders and, according to Nareen, it’s thanks to the “openness” to the rest of the world that they’re able to enjoy through social media.

Social media is being used more and more in Iraq. In a study conducted by IREX in 2011, Facebook was found to be the most popular social media network in the country with more than 80% of survey respondents having an account. The majority of those people were 18 – 34 years old.

U.S. Funding and the Shift of the Youth

In recent years, the U.S. Institute of Peace conducted research which found that the Iraqi youth are eager to be heard but they feel they aren’t. Along with the U.S. desire to promote democracy in Iraq, you begin to understand just two of the many reasons the Institute of Peace decided to fund the show.

Salam Shabab is funded by the Institute of Peace; however, it was created by Magic Carpet Media Production, an Iraqi owned production company based in Jordan. All of the crew members employed for the show are Iraqi, including the producer of the show, Hussam A. Hadi.

Hadi has led a life filled with turmoil: He was chased out of Iraq by Uday Saddam Hussein for his refusal to work for AlShabab TV and later, he was kidnapped by extremists. “This encouraged me to be more involved in a peace campaign because I don’t want my children to suffer from those people. I get a chance to work for Salam Shabab; this show represents hope to rebuild Iraq and to make it better now,” Hadi said.

According to Hadi and Nareen, the show is making an impact on the youth. They’re participating more than ever and their views on diversity are being challenged and shifting which will help lead to peace for future generations.

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