End of ISIS control? Now is the time to liberate minds

Dina al-Shibeeb

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Karrar Noshi, an aspiring young actor and a visual arts student, was recently stabbed to death in the Iraqi capital of Baghdad, apparently because his style was very flamboyant and he wore “tight clothes.”

This kind of violence – perpetrated to suppress a human being’s choice of wardrobe – is not new. They have happened way before the rise of the malicious and immoral ISIS and its so-called Caliphate in 2014.

Way back in March 2012, I remember reporting about the stoning to death of dozens of Iraqi teenagers with “emo appearance.” They were reportedly killed by some form of moral police in a violent crackdown soon after the Iraqi interior ministry at the time declared them as “devil worshippers.”

And even before the brutal killing of those “emo” teenagers in Iraq, the Iraqi Ministry of Education in 2010 tried to ban theater and music classes in Baghdad’s Fine Arts Institute, and ordered the removal of statues showcased at the entrance of the institute.

However, this didn’t materialize due to Baghdad’s somehow vibrant civil society movement, which had people protesting: “We are not Qandahar,” in reference to Baghdad’s more progressive culture.

Rise of extremism

Several reasons could be attributed to the rise of extremism in Iraq – be it Shiite or Sunni – following the US-led invasion of Iraq in 2003. It began with the intention to localize the global “war on terror” in Iraq.

Iraq’s borders were kept porous with no protection against the region’s radical and frustrated people who entered a country plagued by virtual absence of institutions such as the Iraqi Army. Special mention should be made about Paul Bremer, the head of Coalition Provisional Authority, who dismantled the army amid simmering anger against occupation.

This region definitely has some conservative hues but the constant instability it has experienced has heightened these tendencies. Iraq is a prime example of this phenomenon despite the efforts made by the US to bring democracy to the country.

In a region so complex in sectarian, religious, ethnic and tribal identities transcending borders and governments, there is a dire need to strengthen trust and egalitarianism

Dina Al-Shibeeb

Picking up the pieces

Stifled by the regular occurrence of deadly bombing incidents, Iraqis have tried hard to pick up whatever pieces they could find to make their country feel normal again.

They held beauty pageants to celebrate life. They launched an “I am Iraqi, I read” campaign to further enrich themselves or took to the streets to rejoice the Iraqi National Football team winning a match.

Most importantly, they continued their protests against electricity cuts and corruption in a country that saw its budget deficit worsen despite oil sales ballooning after 2003. However, the country has always tried to hit back collectively.

There were some MPs who hold conservative views and try to re-introduce an already rejected bill, to reduce marriage age for girls from 18 to 9. As the Iraqi government is getting ready to announce officially the liberation of the country’s second largest city of Mosul from ISIS control, the plague of this group’s ideology lurk in the background.

In a recent interview with the Turkish-owned TRT World, actual imam of the Great Al-Nuri Mosque – where ISIS Chief Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi announced his Caliphate in 2014 – said he was initially “optimistic” when ISIS took over as he was looking forward for an Islamic rule.

But Imam Hamoud Omar soon felt disillusioned when he saw the bloodshed. However, during the interview the imam reiterated his support for Shariah rulings such as cutting fingers of thieves and stoning of adulterers.

Killing innocents

Is it possible that following this war against ISIS, and the imminent liberation of Mosul, we witness killings of an innocent person such as Noshi and find an imam still romanticizing about a “Caliphate”?

Iraqi parliament Speaker Salim al-Jabouri is right when he said last week that “liberating minds from extremist ideology” is far more important than just freeing territories seized by ISIS.

We can always liberate a place but liberating minds isn’t as simple. There needs to be a full economic vision to employ the youth and put a plan in place to prevent ideology of extremism from taking roots.

In a region so complex in sectarian, religious, ethnic and tribal identities transcending borders and governments, there is a dire need to strengthen trust and egalitarianism.

Let those who love beauty and art like Noshi live.
Dina al-Shibeeb is a Dubai-based senior journalist at Al Arabiya News and a former Knight-Wallace Fellow. She specializes in political affairs coverage on Iraq and Syria and is a former business reporter. She also writes different topics including lifestyle, features and offbeat picks.

Disclaimer: Views expressed by writers in this section are their own and do not reflect Al Arabiya English's point-of-view.
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