Wanton killing in Nineveh plains

By Fawaz Turki, Special to Gulf News
Published: August 18, 2007, 00:05

The American invasion of Iraq has unlocked many social contradictions in that sad land, but surely the most goulish of these must be the emergence of that type of individual who would kill you, your wife and your children, with no hint of remorse, because he objects to your religion, ethnicity, skin colour, class, sect, even political views.

Only men with twisted minds, you will agree, could descend to such a sinister level of dehumanisation. But the cruelty of these men is manifest in how they roam the streets of urban centres, and the remote provinces of the countryside, looking to hound their putative enemy to destruction.

Tolerance of minorities, tolerance of the Other in our midst, is not a virtue but a duty. That is why the news a few days ago of the killing of well over 200 men, women and children, Iraqis belonging to the Yazidi sect, in a remote area west of Mosul, is all the more shocking.

The suicide attackers, who are yet to be identified, drove fuel tankers to strike the densely populated area in the Nineveh Plains where the Yazidis, a community of impoverished farmers and herdsmen, lived.

Gut-wrenching television images showed badly burned and screaming survivors, and rescue workers searching for bodies in the rubble of dozens of mud huts and clay houses destroyed in the attack.

There was a time when Iraq had a mosaic of diverse minorities that lived peacefully together. The country’s melting pot included Chaldean Christians, Turkemen, Armenians, Mandaeans, Assyrians, Bahais and Palestinians, among others.

Today, however, because these groups, unlike Sunnis, Shiites and Kurds, have no private militias to protect them, they are easy prey.

Christian Iraqis, for example, who fear for their lives and have thus joined the two million-plus refugee exodus to the surrounding countries over the last three years, are targeted as “followers of a Western religion”, in the online words of a spokesman for Al Qaida in Iraq.

It is a measure of this spokesman’s ignorance that he was unaware that Christianity is not a “Western religion” but a faith that was born in the heartland of our world.

It equally escaped this worthy that Iraqi Christians are descendants of ancient Iraqis who simply opted not to convert to Islam in the 7th century.

Not spared

Even Palestinians, predominantly Sunni Arabs but not ethnically Iraqi, thus a minority nevertheless, have not been spared.

In August 2003, Paula Constable, foreign correspondent of the Washington Post, filed a story from Baghdad about a new, makeshift refugee camp of canvas tents “baking like ovens in the searing midday heat”, to which roughly 2,000 of the estimated 70,000 Palestinians living in Iraq, were dispatched after being evicted from their government-subsidised homes by irate Iraqi landlords.

And these were Palestinians who were born, grew up or had lived in the country since 1948.

There is no state protection for minorities in Iraq today because effectively Iraq has ceased to be a state. Sunni insurgents, Shiite death squads, Al Qaida in Iraq, Kurdish nationalists, Islamist militants, gangsters, kidnappers and common criminals assert their own brand of law and order.

The country, with Dodge City for its capital, has imploded. And lost in the shuffle are the rights of minorities, including their right to live free of retribution by thugs who hold their minority status against them.

It is ironic that all this is happening in Iraq, which at the peak of its Abbasid glory included a population made up of Sunnis and Shiites, Persians and Arabs, Christians and Muslims, along with sundry others, all living side by side in a land that became a central force in creating much of the finest of Arab literature, science and art.

This intellectual effusion was made all the more possible precisely because of the multicultural and pluralistic bent of mind that the country evinced at the time towards those who were “different”.

It is only in intolerant societies, that insist on ethnic purity where the ultimate code of the bully will inevitably emerge and prevail. Note how Nazi Germany, throughout its ascendancy, never inspired a single great work of the literary imagination.

That is because, in a human community, intolerance of the Other, embraced as a view of the world, is too vile, too constricting, too scurrilous, to produce those charities of the imagination essential to literate minds.

No one can ascribe rhyme or reason to the wanton killing of well over 200 innocent Yazidi men, women and children early this week.

Nor can anyone attribute the mayhem to, say, the chaos left in Iraq by social dislocation and civil war, or to how times like these can effect in men a dissociation from personal identity, moral values and human decency. That, in my book is too facile an explanation.

The faith of Muslims is embodied in the Quran, which most emphatically forbids such an outrage. Those Muslims who choose not to be mindful of its teachings, who choose not to hear the echo of its compassionate voice around every corner of their sensibility, are beyond the pale.

Fawaz Turki is a veteran journalist, lecturer and author of several books, including The Disinherited: Journal of a Palestinian Exile. He lives in Washington D.C.