Written by: Scott Ellis, World Relief Seattle Volunteer Coordinator
Captain America, Smokey, Sub-Zero, Money, and Bob. These are all nicknames young US soldiers in Iraq assign their Iraqi interpreters embedded in their units. They do this for two reasons. The first reason is because they have trouble pronouncing their real names. I met Manther (the combination of Mad and Panther) at SeaTac airport when he arrived late on a Friday night. I introduced myself to him as his caseworker, but when I called him by his given Arabic name, he stopped me… He told me that he would like me to call him by his nickname. I told him this wasn’t necessary and I would try to pronounce his real name. He asked me not to because of the second reason Iraqi interpreters are given nicknames. Interpreters are assigned nicknames to protect their identity. It’s the reason they often have to flee Iraq. If certain groups in Iraq know their real names they might use that information to hurt them or their families. After a month and a half in the US I called Manther on the phone to tell him that he had an appointment the next day. He said okay, then paused, and told me that it was okay for me to call him by his given Arabic name. He felt safe that he didn’t need to use the nickname anymore.
For more information on how you can support Iraqi’s interpreters and their families in danger please visit http://thelistproject.org/