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article imageOp-Ed: The defilement of Iraq's secular society

By Paul Iddon     Jul 19, 2014 in Politics
The Islamic States assault on the centuries old Christian community in the Iraqi city of Mosul also constitutes a wider assault on Iraq's secular society.
Why do they hate us?
That was the question former U.S President George W. Bush felt fitting to answer with the state, “Because of our freedom.”
While many have pointed to a litany of accusations to that million dollar question ranging from support for Israel to past interventions those are not the topic I wish to discuss. But the question is one I wish to ask about the Islamic State group with the “us” being broader Iraqi society.
Iraq of course is a country essentially carved by the famous historical British and French dividing of the region which the Islamic State proudly declared it had dismantled. But bar being an imperial invention Iraq has been resounding secular in many regards. Which is why one would argue that the foul nature of the Islamic State groups attack on Mosul's Christian community also constitutes an attack on Iraq's secular nature which itself is the reason they despise the Iraqi state and its diverse ethnic and religious citizenry so much.
Many wishing to explain the group's rapid advances across the north last June often pointed to Sunni disenchantment with the predominately Shia government of Nouri al-Maliki, who has counter-productively used his political power to marginalize the Sunni and Kurdish, who are predominately Sunni also, minorities in the political process.
Disenchantment among those communities and disaffection were, I think it's more accurate to say, exploited by Islamic State who capitalized on the instability that stemmed from that discontentment and the poor governance from Baghdad to make their territorial gains. This was done in a manner not unlike how the Al Qaeda in the Magreb capitalized on the Tuareg rebellion against the Malian government in order to take over two-thirds of that country and impose a strict Islamist regime there. This saw them desecrate and destroy the ancient and beautiful heritage sites of Timbuktu in a manner reminiscent of what the Islamic State has just done to the centuries-old Christian architecture of Mosul. In both cases many of those buildings and relics were UNESCO world heritage sites. A shameful pillaging of culture and heritage among other things.
Many have looked at this present instability in Iraq and used it rather opportunistically to once again condemn the 2003 overthrow of the Saddam Hussein regime. But in the face of ill governance by a sectarian-minded leader in Baghdad, we have overlooked and even distorted other things. Such as the fact that the leading cleric of the country's largest religious group, the Shia Muslims, has used his influence to call for the upholding of the secular values of interfaith concordance and civil unity instead of stoking sectarian discord in the wake of this threat to Iraq's very existence.
The brute sectarian thugs of Islamic State on the other hand aren't concerned about the sectarian policies of the Baghdad government. They despise the very existence of the Shia and the of a society that has for well over a thousand years had a large Christian community living harmoniously with it. That is changing with hundreds of Christians now fleeing as Islamic State warlords said they would either have to convert, pay a “tribute” or leave. With no one to defend them and no way to fight these guys many are indeed leaving since as the Islamic State themselves have said there is “nothing for them but the sword” if they don't comply to the sectarian rule of their “caliphate”.
The patriarch of Iraq's largest Christian community, Louis Sako, summed up the situation as follows, “For the first time in the history of Iraq, Mosul is now empty of Christians.”
Human Rights Watch added to the direness of the situation by pointing out that Islamic State “seems intent on wiping out all traces of minority groups from areas it now controls in Iraq.”
Aside from some violence against the Jews (exemplified in the nasty 1941 Baghdad pogrom) in the 1940s and their mass-exodus from Iraq after the establishment of the State of Israel Iraq has had a relatively secular order and society. Not perfect and not completely harmonious in many respects but certainly and conspicuously notable for the Middle East. Especially when contrasted to the likes of Saudi Arabia whose sectarianism is essentially outright religious apartheid.
This is another reason to lament the disgusting defilement and rape of Mosul's ancient Christian community. It wasn't just a religious minority that had its community sacked and suffered displacement. It was also symbolic of this groups hatred for what Iraqi society embodies in its imperfect form. Something that is not only worth defending but something which must be defended.
This opinion article was written by an independent writer. The opinions and views expressed herein are those of the author and are not necessarily intended to reflect those of
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