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What the Eyes Don't See summary

Mona Hanna-Attisha

A Story of Crisis, Resistance, and Hope in an American City

33 mins
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    What the Eyes Don't See
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    Mona Hanna-Attisha’s family has a long tradition of activism and resilience.

    This is a story about Flint, Michigan. But it's also a story about Dr. Mona Hanna-Attisha, who was born in Sheffield, England in 1976. Her parents had moved there shortly before she was born, and throughout her childhood they always hoped that one day they’d be able to return to their home in Iraq.

    Throughout history, Iraq had been a hub of enlightenment. Baghdad was a progressive capital city where world-changing advances were made in mathematics, medicine, and astronomy. Its scholarly community produced one of history’s foundational medical textbooks, The Canon of Medicine, completed in the eleventh century.

    This was the Baghdad that Mona heard about in stories told to her by her parents. But unfortunately, by the late 1970s, Iraq was being taken over by the militant, fascist Ba’ath Party, led by Sadaam Hussein. 

    The key message here is: Mona Hanna-Attisha’s family has a long tradition of activism and resilience.

    While her parents have always been outspoken, progressive-minded people who opposed the Ba’athist regime, it is perhaps Mona’s grandfather, Haji, and her grandfather’s cousin, Nuri, who best represent the family’s ongoing commitment to fighting injustice and never giving up.

    Haji was one of those relatives family members love to tell stories about. He had a great love for all people, whether Muslim, Christian, or Jewish; it didn’t matter. Haji also had many business ventures over the years – including a perfume factory that tragically burned to the ground one day.

    Haji was devastated. But one by one, people came from all over Baghdad to tell him that he had to rebuild. At first he thought it would be impossible. But then they started giving him money! They believed in Haji, and so he began to believe in himself.

    One of Haji’s big inspirations was his cousin Nuri. In 1935, Nuri had been one of the founders of the Association Against Imperialism and Fascism, an organization that had got him in trouble with what was then the Iraqi monarchy, and caused him to flee to Paris in 1937. There, he became involved with the pre-war French Resistance movement before joining the International Brigades and fighting on behalf of the Spanish Republic in the Battle of Ebro, one of the first battles of World War II.

    Though Spain would succumb to fascism under the rule of Francisco Franco, Nuri never stopped fighting. Sadly, by the time of his death in 1980, Nuri had spent half his life either hiding or in jail, but to his relatives he will forever remain a hero.

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    What is What the Eyes Don't See about?

    What the Eyes Don’t See (2018) is a gripping and revealing look at how the public drinking water crisis in Flint, Michigan captured the nation’s attention in late 2015. It also tells the story of how Mona Hanna-Attisha’s family came from Iraq to America and how their history of activism has been carried on in their new home. 

    Best quote from What the Eyes Don't See

    We knew how lucky we were. And we knew how bad things could be. Challenging injustice means standing up for the weak. . . .

    —Mona Hanna-Attisha
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    Who should read What the Eyes Don't See?

    • Activists and people committed to public service
    • People who like stories of perseverance and overcoming the odds 
    • Anyone who likes a good fight-the-system story

    About the Author

    Dr. Mona Hanna-Attisha is a scientist and physician who heads the pediatric residency program at the Hurley Medical Center. She is also a public health advocate who founded Flint, Michigan’s Pediatric Public Health Initiative. She has been listed in the Time 100, and honored with the PEN America Freedom of Expression Courage Award.

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