A New Face for War News Radio

Carol Brevart-Demm
Abdullah Mizead
Abdullah Mizead

A New Face for War News Radio

by Carol Brévart-Demm
09/08/2008

This summer, the College community welcomed Abdulla Mizead as journalist-in-residence at War News Radio (WNR), the award-winning, student-run radio show that reports on daily life in war-torn Iraq and Afghanistan. He succeeds Ayub Nuri, who returned to Iraq in the spring. A former staff member in National Public Radio's (NPR) Baghdad bureau, Mizead was honored with the 2007 Alfred I. Du Pont Columbia University Award for NPR's coverage of the Iraq War.

Seated in front of a large map of Afghanistan, Mizead already appears to be quite at home in WNR's campus headquarters. Occasionally, he has to leap up to chase down his lively 18-month-old son, Mahmood, who, he says, "goes everywhere I go." They live in the Morganwood section of Swarthmore with Mizead's physician wife, Raghad; 5-year-old daughter Danya; and 4-month son Ahmed.

A citizen of Iraq, Mizead had an international upbringing as the son of an Iraqi diplomat whose assignments took him to Washington, D.C.; Mozambique; London; and Tanzania. "It was in London that I learned English," Mizead says, with no trace of a foreign accent.

Having spent half his life abroad, Mizead returned to Iraq with his family in 1990, after the invasion of Kuwait, and remained there when his father applied for early retirement in 1994. "We lived through the embargo and the sanctions," Mizead says. "They were really hard times for us. Then, the United States invaded us."

After graduating from high school in his home country, Mizead obtained a bachelor's and master's degree in English literature from the University of Baghdad. When the government of Saddam Hussein was toppled in 2003, Mizead joined NPR as a producer and translator, working alongside NPR Director of Operations Charlie Mayer '98, now a good friend.

"I picked up journalism at NPR," Mizead says. Four years later, some of the NPR journalists helped him to obtain a scholarship at the Columbia University School of Journalism. After Mizead's graduation this spring, Mayer alerted him to the position with WNR. Mizead spoke with CBS News executive producer and WNR founder David Gelber '63, who, he says, "got me very excited about it."

"It's Iraq. It's an area I know about and have covered for four years," Mizead says. He is pleased that WNR focuses on the people rather than the politics. "When I worked for NPR, I didn't do much politics," he says. "I was a street guy. I'd roam the streets of Baghdad, go into the provinces, talk to the people. I went to rural places that nobody had ever heard of, places nobody would ever cover. I wrote human stories-that's what I love. And this is what War News Radio does every day. It's just Iraqis and Afghans talking about their lives and the way the wars have affected them. None of the big news organizations cover this aspect of the wars."

Mizead has several ideas that he believes will contribute to the show, which is now in its third year. "This is not my radio station," he says, "but I would like to help the students develop what they have already achieved, and I think they should be enabled to pay more attention to newscasts from the regions that aren't accessible via the U.S. stations such as CNN and Fox." To assist them with this, he has already spoken with Joy Charlton, director of the Lang Center for Civic and Social Responsibility, about the possibility of purchasing a satellite dish for the roof the WNR headquarters in Lodge 6, so students will be able to view full-length newscasts from Middle Eastern broadcasting organizations such as Al Jazeera and Iraqia.

Mizead also plans to hang a map of Baghdad in the WNR office. "Maps are very important, especially if you're covering a place from thousands of miles away," he says. "You need to know the neighborhoods-and there are so many of them-which are Shi'ia, which are Sunni, Christian, upscale, middle class, or slums. Because of the war, some of the neighborhoods have changed drastically. Some that were formerly half Shi'ia, half Sunni are now completely one or the other. With all the talk of reconciliation and Iraq becoming unified, there are many neighborhoods that are still split, people struggling with mixed marriages, fighting sectarian violence, and division. And that's a story in itself."