Six Days of Waiting For A Voice

Rami Ismail
9 min readFeb 28, 2021

Six Days in Fallujah is an upcoming video-game about the Second Siege of Fallujah during the unjustified US invasion of Iraq in 2003. The game is developed by Highwire Games, of which leadership has former ties or collaborations with the US military. It presents a, in polite words, strongly sanitized version of the battle, omitting any war crimes and atrocities committed during the titular conflict. My criticism of the game and messaging itself is available elsewhere.

Six Days in Fallujah isn’t a unique game, or even a remarkable piece of media. Throughout the years, Middle Eastern, Arab, and Muslim people have raised concerns about military propaganda in media, and the dehumanisation and erasure of our cultures and our people in popular culture. In games, conversations about the stereotyping and treatment of Middle Eastern, Arab, and Muslim folks have come up around Call of Duty, Medal of Honor, Battlefield, and many other military and strategic games.

In the days after the initial press push by developer Highwire Games, I voiced concern about the lack of Iraqi, Middle Eastern, Arab, and Muslim voices in news coverage of the title. Now, almost two weeks later, I believe that every platform that did not have an Iraqi voice— and if not an Iraqi, a Muslim, Middle Eastern, or Arab one — speak on day one of their coverage of Six Days in Fallujah failed to give the people affected an immediate voice. That just happens to be most of the major press that covered the game so far, with the notable exception of the UK-based GamingBible.

If the press is not monolithic, that just underscores that despite the wide variety of approaches, as far as I can tell, no major platform’s first response was to talk to an Iraqi, Middle Eastern, Muslim, or Arab game developer — arguably the most logical choices to discuss the intersection between games, media, and the long history of aggression in both reality and entertainment against the Iraqi, Middle Eastern, Arab, and Muslim people.

Instead, we were subjected to Six Days in Fallujah’s trailer about a unjust war of war crimes without any word about war crimes or injustice. After that, we spent a week reading various interviews with Peter Tamte, the project’s lead, denying our humanity, our existence, our hurt, our deaths, and the war crimes against us. We even got a nice subtle history rewrite of the Battle of Fallujah, and the reasons for the battle.

Many great writers and incredible interviewers in the press fought back against some of the horrifying assertions made by Tamte in those interviews, and they diligently corrected some of the inaccuracies in the trailer. Yet I can’t help but be concerned that the fact remains that two weeks after the first posts, as far as I can tell, most articles/interviews I have come across on the largest platforms in media have not involved any Iraqi, Middle Eastern, Muslim, or Arab voices.

The coverage of Six Days in Fallujah is the Western press talking to Western specialists about the Western objections and Western critiques to the Western portrayal of a Western atrocity against some other people. (If we get lucky, there’s a Western paywall at Western-appropriate prices that can only be paid through Western-sanctioned creditcards from Western-approved nations — so we don’t only not get to speak, but we can’t even read the discourse around our people’s deaths.)

In these first two months of 2021 alone, thousands of Arabs and Muslims have died from Western-instigated violence and other harms in their own countries. US military imperialism has continuously and structurally destabilized large parts of the Arab and Muslim world, and much of the people and lands continue to be destabilized by Western involvement. Whether it is the situation in Iraq, the lingering threat of extremist forces left in the power vacuum of an unjust US invasion, the US-backed war in Yemen, the sanctions against a US-installed government in Iran, or the slow recovery and fight towards freedom from the after-effects of Western-inflicted colonialism — we die. This is not an abstract to me. I live this life. My friends live these lives. My family lives these lives. I have lost people to these injustices. Undoubtedly, I will lose more.

The two largest superpowers of our day seem to mostly disagree about whether they’ll destroy Muslims inside or outside of their borders, and otherwise both force us to fight each other in already unstable lands over the crumbs of resources and power left to us. In the meanwhile, the West aggressively limits the rights of anyone with a vaguely Arab or Muslim name or background to “combat the islamisation of the Western worldin a response to refugees from the countries they shred to pieces, much of the Arab and Muslim world has been bombed or destabilized far enough away from prosperity to ensure that the Western world can continue to steal or buy our lands’ resources cheap.

I was a young teenager at the start of the invasion of Iraq in 2003, and I sat watching the TV in horror as my freedoms were stripped away. I watched in horror as war crimes were brought to lands that looked like my own over something that even back then was clearly a lie or exaggeration. I watched in horror as innocent people that looked like me disappeared into torture prisons built by the countries saying they were liberating us. The war was broadcast with great spectacle, bombings televised straight from the bombers themselves as if they were some absurd future of video games, and the world watched in near-real time as the largest bombardment in the history of mankind destroy Baghdad for uncounted amounts of damage and killing killing uncounted amounts of civilians. As the war progressed, Western journalists were threatened with loss of access in case they spoke against the Western militaries. Non-Western and regional journalists were simply bombed or had their headquarters destroyed.

But nowhere in Western coverage did I hear anyone speak the Arabic language I had been raised with. Nowhere in the West did I see the same atrocities that I saw on Arabic television.

In my shock, I recognized my elders’ lack of shock at this revelation. In my adolescent anger to want to speak up against this injustice, I only found my elders’ calls for silence.

They had seen and lived the wars before, just like their parents had lived those before that. They knew how this worked. Our lands are battlefields for proxy wars, our people are pawns to be used and discarded, overthrown and overruled through coups and invasions, and our resources were treasures to be stolen — and in the end, we would be blamed for all of it. Then they watched decades of US propaganda about the war heroes that supposedly brought our lands freedom and democracy erase the truth of what happened and set the board for repetition. Even some of these direct victims of this violence, somewhat forgot just how unjust these wars were under the relentless propaganda of Hollywood, the “international” press, and the influence of English as the language through which most global thought is filtered.

The West destabilized our lands, called it stability, and blamed us for the instability. It blamed the horrors of the instability they caused on our “savagery” and “barbarity” and “backwards cultures” and “hateful religion”. If it ever paused their intentional destabilisation of the Middle East even as it blamed us for the results thereof, it was temporarily until its ‘interests abroad’ were once again threatened.

My elders knew that speaking up -even among ourselves- would endanger us. That it would make bad, worse. That there were secret watchlists and disappearances and harassment and intimidation on every level of life. That opportunity is tied to access, and access is easily taken away if you don’t count as human anyway.

My elders knew that we were the lucky ones, in that we were harder to kill away because we lived in the Western world. While we are far from protected by common law, and face hate and discrimination from the day we are born to the day we die, we are at least counted as a civilian, rather than as the modern designations for regional civilians — insurgent or even terrorist if they oppose the occupation of their lands, or collateral if they can no longer.

To this day, even the most influential Arabs and Muslims know that speaking up comes with real risks. If we can be denied access to our own rights over having someone else send us an image on WhatsApp, then we can surely be denied access over speaking up against the US military with our full voice. When I first took inventory of which Iraqi developers would want to be connected to interview opportunities about Six Days in Fallujah, I found very few willing to do so with their own voice, and even less so as they saw the way the press spoke of the game. They are wiser than to risk their visas for future employment abroad, or further endangering their already minimal chances of access to events like GDC and PAX are at risk.

What can one voice do, if every day we are invited to watch a US-produced movie in which a superhero, played by a woman who vocally supported a war that killed four innocent Arab children playing soccer outside with a missile, rides a missile to save four innocent Arab children playing soccer?

What can we truly believe to change is we are shown a week of propaganda for “historical” games “telling true stories” in which we fight for the freedom of innocent Iraqis from Al Qaeda by leveling their cities, while the reality is the very fights that are portrayed enabled Al Qaeda to install its horrific reign over those very cities.

What faith can we have in being heard if we see our proud cities portrayed as sandy villages with rickety jeeps with machineguns, our proudest monuments turned into a fantasy battleground without a speaking role for any of us, and our stories and culture and scientific contributions to the world today erased entirely in favour for sanitized versions that minimize or nullify our achievements.

How can we have hope to be treated fairly when, even in 2021, it is not uncommon to see Arabic written backwards or disconnected even from the most global corporations. Footage of our cities are colour-corrected to look sandy and poor and sickly until the skies are yellow instead of blue. The lies and indifference about our lands and language and religion and culture and people are so blatant that they even tarnish the mundane.

How can we believe that we have a place in games when a polished game that opts to intentionally erase real-life war crimes is going to launch under freedom of speech, but a vague and simple 2D game made by a Palestinian father about the destruction of his city gets banned from the App Store for being political.

Everyone I know is scared to speak.

Everyone is right to be scared to speak.

I am not a teenager anymore, and now I watch the teenagers of our people go through the same shock at the destruction and de-humanisation of Arabs and Muslims everywhere, cultures and languages and countries apart. And I wish I could let them know that their shock is valid, but for most days I have grown numb to it. I am terrified of how numb I have grown to it.

I write this as a man who is scared that there are Arab and Muslim kids watching us, just like I was as a teenager, and wondering why nobody is speaking up. Why no one is shocked. Why no one will fight for our voices. Every day, Arabs and Muslims die in violence supported by our lack of voice. Every day, vulnerable kids are radicalized by the sheer injustice weighing on our people and the lack of positive role models afforded us. Every day, another kid is desensitized to our killing and accepts their role in life as the fodder to another culture’s stories of heroism. Every day, we face harassment and suspicion and hatred and death. Every day, politicians around the world try to spectacularly out-bid each other speaking of how harsh they will treat us if they get elected.

How can I, with my platform, justify waiting another day before demanding our voices be heard from the very first news beat that dehumanizes us? There should have not been a single day -no, not a minute- between the first media interview with Peter Tamte about Six Days in Fallujah and the loud voices of any Iraqi, Middle Eastern, Arab, or Muslim on those same platforms.

We do not need the West to argue about whether our portrayal is fair. We don’t need foreign analysts to describe the collateral damage done to us in statistics and procedures. We don’t need Western historians to tell the stories of the poverty and wars brought to our lands. We should not have to wait for the diverse approaches of a press that across the field failed to let us speak equally immediately.

I understand finding the people that have the privilege to speak might be hard. I understand that translating from other languages might be hard. I understand that these are complicated questions. But we can’t wait for this. People are being murdered. People are dying. People are suffering. People are silenced.

If there is going to be entertainment made out of our suffering, we need to get the microphone first.

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Rami Ismail

Gamedev. ED of gamedev.world. presskit() creator. Public speaker, consultant, helps global gamedev. Traveler. Was 50% of Vlambeer. He/Him. Dutch-Egyptian.