SHAFAQNA – “The most generous of people is the one who gives to those whom he has no hope of return” – Imam Hussain
More than most countries in the Middle East, Iraq has suffered tremendous injustices, devastation, and violence. Since war broke on the back of 2001 U.S. invasion, the nation has known but a few respites in a series of furious storms.
Caught in between the blade of foreign interventionism and the vengeful cries of Daesh militants, Iraq has seen its skies bleed lead – its people made to mourn too many losses … and yet the nation endures.
According to official statistics: The Iraq War (2001) left behind five-million Iraqi orphans, took more than 100,000 Iraqi lives, forced four- to five-million Iraqis to flee their homes and communities, displaced ancient Iraqi minority groups, and devastated much of Iraq’s infrastructure and economy.
As one war drew to a close, another, more sinister still, would come to shake Iraq so terribly that, if not for the call of its most revered cleric: Ayatollah Ali Sistani, the nation may well have lost itself to the fanaticism of Wahhabism.
For all the might nations have opposed in their push against Terror, it was Ayatollah Sistani, who, in July 2014, transformed the dynamics of war so completely, that with a few words, he inspired a nation to transcend its divisions, galvanized a grand resistance movement against sectarian-based violence, and demanded that the sanctity of human life be respected at all cost.
The world owes this cleric more than most can fathom if we consider that Daesh stood but a bullet away from conquering Iraq, and from such base assert regional control.
But if Iraq today can breathe a sigh of relief on account its many communities pulled together to oppose that tyranny which ambitioned to disappear its socio-political makeup, much ground still will need to be reclaimed before tears can truly dry up, and smiles return.
More to the point, the impact over a decade of armed conflict had on Iraq’s sovereignty and sense of national identity have yet to be fully assessed.
In an oped for the Brookings Bessma Momani addressed those scars few experts have ever pondered over. She writes: “There can be no question that the tragedy of Iraq did not end with the toppling of Saddam Hussein. Iraq is still plagued by political and social chaos. The country has been torn apart by inter-sectarian and inter-ethnic conflicts that erupted into the space created by flawed U.S. policies. The destruction of the central Iraqi government’s authority made one sectarian group the boogeyman for all of Hussein’s past atrocities, and the writing of ethnic and religious cleavages into the foreign-guided constitution entrenched political bargaining based on the lowest common denominator of Iraqi identity.”
And: “For those who may not remember, or have never known, this is not the Iraq that so many of its people knew before the war. As has been the case in so many other conflicts, ‘pure’ ethnic or religious identities were imposed on Iraqis to fit various political agendas. Many Iraqis were of mixed background before the war; having a Sunni mother, a Shiite father, and a Christian aunt by marriage was never ‘out of the ordinary’ before 2003, particularly in soon-to-become violence-ridden Baghdad. That this diversity has now been almost entirely obscured is a testament to the extent to which Iraq identity has been distorted by the war.”
Of all the many grave horrors which befell Iraq, no pain has been more brutal than that of orphans since they stand reminders of the lives that were shattered to the barrel of a gun, to serve inhumane ideologies.
Often dismissed to more dazzling or controversial headlines, Iraq’s orphans ought to be told … maybe then we would learn that wars are not geopolitical debates to be rationalised in conference rooms, but tragedies to be paid in flesh and in tears.
Iraq’s orphans matter because they are the innocent we all sacrificed to the brutality of tyranny.
Reconstruction I would personally argue will truly begin when we heal those wounds we have so far failed to acknowledge. Much of our humanity was lost in the pyres lit up by war, maybe it could be found again by taking responsibility for those lives we pried away from safety.
Responsibility is indeed what Noor Orphans Fund is calling for with its new venture: #Walk4Orphans.
Actually it is more than just responsibility Noor Orphans Fund is demanding from the community, rather, it is offering a vision of the future we all should feel compelled to participate in.
More importantly still #Walk4Orphans is not just another exercise in fundraising, it is the expression of a message we all would do well to remember, at a time when compassion and humanity are much needed indeed.
I will refer here to the words of Sheikh Mohammed Al-Hilli, Director of Islamic Education, Noor Trust, as he best encapsulates the necessity of our times.
“Our inspiration comes from Hussain ibn Ali, (grandson of the Holy Prophet Mohammed) and the universal principles of faith, freedom, peace, and justice that he stood for. We walk to Karbala, Iraq, every year to honour these very values. The Walk is actually the largest and most peaceful gathering on earth. Over 20 million people do it every year to show solidarity with and love for the man who gave his life for others. The walk is phenomenal: people of all ages and backgrounds walk for tens of kilometres, witnessing beautiful gestures of kindness and generosity. Food, water and services are offered free throughout Iraq to millions. The walk ingrains within us human principles of love, respect, brotherhood as well as kindness to others. These and much more were shown by Imam Hussain and those with him who were present during the Battle of Karbala over 1400 years ago. It also sends a powerful message to terrorists and those spreading evil: we will never be defeated or humiliated. A central concept and perhaps one of the most important in Islam is that of helping others, particularly the most vulnerable in society. As a man, Hussain, like his father and grandfather before him, spent much of his life tending to the poor and orphans in particular. It’s a responsibility for all of us.”
By Catherine Shakdam – this article was published first in the Huffington Post