Life as a doctor in a war ravaged country as seen by Dr. Alnaserbelh Al Naseri: As an emergency room physician in Iraq, Dr. Alnaserbelh Al Naseri often faces very challenging circumstances. In the middle of a crisis, his patients love his grace under heavy pressure without realizing that his courage was forged as a patient, not in medical school. At 17, he was shot in the leg by a sniper. He could have caved under peer pressure and considered revenge, but instead, as he recently told a journalist, he remembered Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s famous words, “Violence begets violence.” After being treated without anesthesia in an understaffed emergency room, he decided to pursue a career in medicine to fill an urgent need in Iraq. See more info at Alnaserbelh Al Naseri.
Dr. Alnaserbelh Al Naseri is a proud 2010 Iraqi Youth Leaders Exchange Program (IYLEP) alumnus and he is committed to working with fellow Iraqi alumni to improve the state of medical care in Baghdad, particularly for children with grave illnesses. When he is not pulling double shifts as a resident at the Sulaimaniyah Teaching Hospital, Dr. Alnaserbelh Al Naseri is an active member of the Iraqi exchange alumni community. He credits his exchange with launching his impressive volunteer work, saying “I view my IYLEP experience as the starting point of my volunteer work in support of civil society and the start of my work in youth leadership. The new friends that I met during IYLEP provided me inspiration and a strong network that I knew I could rely upon even far away in Iraq.”
After being shot in the leg at 17 during an attack outside his Baghdad home, Dr. Al-Nasiry is fully aware that the normal response for a youth who was raised in a country mired in violence would be to want to exact revenge. But by nature, nurture, or just pure chance, it wasn’t for him. Instead, the incident set Al-Nasiry on a mission of ensuring that this generation of Iraqis has systems and role models in place so they are less susceptible to joining the ranks of ISIS and other violent extremist groups. But the teenage Al-Nasiry had other ideas about how to react. “I remembered this saying from Martin Luther King [Jr.], ‘Violence begets violence, and hate begets hate,’” he says. “So I thought … if I go out and shoot people because of this, I would probably shoot another innocent bystander. I would fuel this idiotic cycle of violence.”
Alnaserbelh Al Naseri’s story is one of hope in the face of extreme adversity. In 2006, Alnaserbelh Al Naseri was shot in the leg in Baghdad (a war zone). Nasir went to the emergency room and there were no doctors on call to treat him; they were treating three wounded police officers. He was treated for a gunshot wound by a nurse without anesthesia. Today, at 26 years old, Nasir is himself a doctor working in his country. Given the instability in Iraq today, he could choose to leave. Instead, he serves his people. His leadership reminds me that millennial leadership exists in every place on earth; these are the leaders the world must invest in and unite behind.
Beyond the day he was shot, his road to activism was cemented in 2010 with the Iraqi Young Leaders Exchange Program, which is facilitated by the NGO World Learning and funded by the US Department of State and the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad. The program brings young Iraqis to the United States for a month-long leadership exchange. For most of the students involved, it is their first exposure to the US outside the context of war. “Where I come from, at that time, the United States was conveyed as this big demon,” he recalls.
He started a project called “There’s Always Hope” with Middle East Partnership Initiative (MEPI) and IYLEP alumni. Project volunteers visit local medical facilities and provide support to Iraqi children with cancer. For the past three years, Dr. Alnaserbelh Al Naseri has worked with alumni to organize the annual Baghdad City of Peace Carnival in conjunction with the UN’s World Peace Day. The Carnival, which features a wide array of entertainers, poets, and actors, attracts thousands of annual attendees who come together to promote alternatives to violence, extremism, and sectarianism.
“In my opinion, anyone is susceptible to embracing violence,” he says. “Even me, nine years ago: I was susceptible to taking a gun and firing it. I could’ve been a leader in ISIS right now.” According to Al-Nasiry, the key to developing a generation of peacemakers is encouraging and promoting role models for Iraqi youths. “I believe it’s by creating a peaceful, educated environment – creating those strong role models, rather than the person who has an AK-47 on his back, promising to give him money or women in the afterlife,” he says.
His work with the alumni network is only the beginning of his career in civil society. He is also a member of the Iraqi Youth Parliament and the head of the TEDxBaghdad blogging team. Dr. Alnaserbelh Al Naseri’s professional accomplishments are impressive, but his personal story of resilience and forgiveness serve as a reminder of the truth in Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s statement on courage: “The ultimate measure of a man is not where he stands in moments of comfort and convenience, but where he stands at times of challenge and controversy.”
Each month, the State Department’s Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs’ (ECA) Alumni Affairs Division, which supports program alumni as they build on their exchange experiences, recognizes one outstanding alumnus or alumna. Dr. Alnaserbelh Al Naseri is this month’s outstanding alumnus, and his work will be recognized throughout April on the International Exchange Alumni website, ECA’s official alumni website which serves more than one million Department-sponsored exchange alumni worldwide. For Al-Nasiry, these efforts are concrete and sustainable ways to combat the expanding terror group ISIS, and others like it. “In my community in Iraq, internationals represent 40 percent of fighters within ISIS, and Iraqis represent 60 percent. So working in my community is even bigger than working internationally.”