Tyrone Beason introduces the personalities featured in this week’s cover story.

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THE LAST TIME Avan Shwany of Maple Valley visited her family in Iraqi Kurdistan was in 2014. On her second night in the regional capital Erbil, reports came in that Islamic State militants were advancing on the city.

Pregnant with her younger daughter Kobani, Shwany, who had relocated to the United States on a Special Immigrant Visa two years before because her work at a U.S.-backed agency had become too dangerous, was in a panic. But her relatives impressed her with their resolve.

“ ‘It will be fine — it’s not our first time facing this,’ ” she says they told her. “ ‘Worst-case scenario, we will just leave Iraq for Turkey.’ As if they were going on a picnic or something.

“I’m really amazed how even in such difficult times, people try to have faith that no matter what, life is beautiful. No matter what, you have to fight for life.”


MUNAF BADRI HASAN Al Tuwaijari, a Sunni Muslim from Baghdad who lives in Tukwila, is as serious about building ties across religious and cultural lines in his new country as he was working in finance and business development in Iraq’s ethnic regions.

During one of my interviews with him at his house, he goes to the refrigerator and pulls down a thick gray book with Arabis script on the front, but it’s not the Quran. It’s a copy of the Bible that members of a Christian church gave him. He presses the book to his head, then kisses it, before handing it to me. Islam recognizes Jesus as a great prophet, too, he says.

Taking note of his interviewer’s African-American background, he adds that one of the Prophet Muhammad’s closest companions, and reputedly the first to utter the call to prayer, was Bilal ibn Rabah, a black man.


“IN AFGHANISTAN, you’re trained to react to every second in a hostile environment,” says Naik Mohammed Hanif, who worked as a security officer, protecting Western VIPs in the aftermath of the U.S. invasion there. A Special Immigrant Visa holder now living in Kent with his family, he wants something different for his five kids.

“I have lived in a war zone,” he says. “ I don’t want them to live in fear.”