Another idea of homeland

by Kadhem Khanjar

Talking about a revolution (Issue II/2020)


The poet and performer Kadhem Khanjar. Photo: private

On 25 October 2019 young Iraqis called for revolution. Since then, they've taken a stand against a democratically elected government. They want to change the religious system of proportional representation, saying they can no longer put up with the system whereby political offices are assigned according to religious denomination.

A generation that is active in social networks and grew up playing computer games, that was unemployed and whiled away the hours in cafes, has decided to fundamentally change society. It rejects religion as an instrument of domination and thus is making a radical break with the older generations.

The ongoing revolution of October 2019 represents a first step towards a new understanding of the term “resistance”. The protesting Iraqi women and men who are spending their days on the streets, were born during the last forty years of disorder. First came the eight-year war against Iran from 1980, then the invasion of Kuwait and the second Gulf War in 1990. This was followed by 13 years of economic embargo, the American invasion in 2003, a five-year sectarian war between Sunnis and Shiites and the emergence of the so-called Islamic state, which took six years to combat. All these years, filled with death, emigration, hunger, fear and unemployment, led nowhere.

Any resistance first and foremost targets Islam as a political and social practice

In Iraq, as in other Islamic-influenced countries in the region, religious beliefs are frequently in conflict with citizens' right to a free life. The existence of the individual and his political destiny were always explained with the teachings of Islam. That is why any resistance first and foremost targets Islam as a political and social practice.

Since its foundation at the beginning of the 20th century, Iraq has failed to put forward any kind of idea of a “homeland”. All concepts were founded either on Arab nationalism or in Islam, and left no room for the Iraqis and their history which reaches back to the Sumerians. Outdated ideas of "homeland" prevented people from recognising themselves or expressing their identity, which is why not one of the struggles and movements in modern history of Iraq amounted to real resistance. All collective protests have always served to defend ideological, nationalistic, and religious positions.

The jihad is exactly the opposite of resistance

Perhaps we Iraqis have not yet fully understood what the word “resistance” means. As in every society dominated by Islam, we have to deal with the term jihad, that most dangerous concept on which the religion is based. But jihad is exactly the opposite of resistance: To resist is to fight for life and truth, whereas jihad strives for death and illusion. Following its logic, justice can only be found in the life beyond, and the path to paradise involves devastating earth and killing those of other faiths. But young people in Iraq now see the need for resistance. They want to fight for the dignity of every individual. The big value of the current protests is that they are a first step in turning on their own state.

What is a state,
when political decisions are based on
the opinion of religious authorities?

What is a state,
when laws are decreed
by militias and tribal networks?

What is a state,
when the safety of its citizens is not guaranteed,
even for one second?

What is a state,
when its religious and ethnic minorities
are destroyed or forced into exile without exception?

What is a state,
when millions of its children become corpses or orphans
just to clarify which sort of Islamism - the
Shiite or Sunni - is the right one?

What is a state,
when half the population is homeless, while it does everything
in its power to help Iran
overcome its economic crisis?

What is a state,
whose political parties and groups,
without exception, were founded on the basis of confessional,
nationalistic or regionalist ideas?

What is a state,
when all political terms - law, future,
freedom, justice, unity, citizenship,
independence and democracy - have become
empty phrases?

What is a state,
whose citizens can no longer distinguish
between demands, rights and needs?

What is a state,
when its institutions are corrupt
and its visions are gnawed away by hate?
What is a state,
that has no meaning?

That is the state of Iraq today. A state that one feels ashamed to be associated with. Any state where oppression and humiliation take the place of a sense of national belonging, should be disposed of at the nearest landfill, rather than adorning it with slogans and illusions. A functioning democracy needs more than simply holding regular elections, otherwise the Iraqi opposition wouldn't be doing so badly. The constant power shifts in Iraq are a sedative, every single one of them acts like a big gulp of democracy, which washes down all the reasons we should refuse the current system of rule. Since there is no real opposition, the legitimacy of the ruling class is absolute.

Any society that sells votes for a few dollars, deserves what it gets

Politics has never been by definition a dirty business, rather, its principles are among the noblest that human society has ever produced. But any society that bases its election decisions on nationalistic or confessional foundations or even sells votes for a few dollars, deserves what it gets. It shouldn't be talking of dreaming of clean politics, because it has produced its own dirt.

Nevertheless, the October Revolution happened. It teaches us a lesson about having a homeland and shows us a new way of thinking about the state. This revolution taught us that “homeland” is not a bunch of slogans or empty words, but rather is the eternal search for an answer to the question of who we are - and who we want to be.

Translated by Mirko Vogel and Jess Smee

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