Coexistence in Iraq as a form of resistance
To develop and, above all, to share and respect the meaning of the word “coexistence” in Iraq, is like trying to save a drowning man who in the past was a sovereign, without knowing exactly how to do so in a stormy sea. Today this word is systematically evoked whenever one wants to contrast it to its opposite, sectarianism. But it always arises in negative phrases such as: “Coexistence is compromised” in Iraq; “Sectarian mentality makes coexistence impossible”, “the presence of Isis will eliminate co-existence.” Unfortunately there is never any trace of the fact that coexistence was present in Iraq for centuries and is still present, at least from Baghdad down and from Kirkuk up. It is even more rare to find its opposite, the concept of sectarianism, except in the increasingly rampant, unique and obvious phrase: “the sectarian division between Sunnis and Shia,” which then spread like wildfire throughout the Islamic world, even among non-Arabs.
It would therefore be worth remembering some things past and present and, on the basis of them, explain why today in Iraq we once again need coexistence but declining it and identifying it with a political attitude. In the past, the Assyrian-Babylonian kingdom incorporated everything, person and belief, provided the supremacy of the kingdom was recognized. The laws and writing and customs were accepted. The coexistence was such that Jews from the Samarra Diaspora found in Iraq a fertile ground for settling in a different land than the promised one and their settlement was so effective and based on the definition of a new assimilated identity, that when they reappeared in Jerusalem they were considered dangerous antagonists and too different from those who had remained.
So-called “co-existence” could work well again today. According to the constitution, welcoming foreigners or minorities is not encouraged; but it aims to make these categories as civil and political individuals disconnected from the majority of the population, those who govern, who determine the present and the future of the country, giving them a strong identity in theory but, in fact, and with the excuse of preserving their identities, they force isolation or separation from the rest of the population. Coexistence in Iraq, therefore, formally exists but it is like a love story between goldfish which live in different bowls. They can see each other, they open their mouths, but they don’t understand the others, because they don’t live in the same bowl and the others don’t want to share their food with them. If you think that the Iraqi constitution is the concretization (the new constitution was written in 2006) of systematic sectarianism, it is easy to understand how, if we give to the word co-existence, it is not enough to identify it with territorial contiguity. Basically, being neighbors or living in the same place does not mean a form of coexistence. It would be better to call it forbearance and / or division of an assigned space.
Coexistence is, first of all, questioning and negotiating about what is mine and yours and asking why this or that is mine or yours. And, after this operation, based on dialogue, coexistence is set up as a human need to preserve all species and as a civil necessity to promote a plural identity. Coexistence, in fact, is a single body in a, more or less complex, plural civil identity. Realizing that this is coexistence means automatically providing an alternative concept and an alternative to the new Iraqi State of the 2006 Constitution where plural identity does not exist simply because the State’s identity can not be comprised in a single body but remains detached like tiles in a mosaic.
Thinking, acting and operating in Iraq today in terms of plural identities and, therefore, culturally and politically civil pluralism, is a profoundly revolutionary act, which strikes at the heart of any rooted sectarianism. Practicing this concept of co-existence is already representing an act of civil and cultural resistance. At this moment, it is necessary as reality has made a further decisive step towards the development of the sectarian system, already widely represented by ‘military use of the service to the party’s militias: the self-proclaimed (Islamic) State Caliphate.
Today the city that best of all in Iraq seems to have started a form of cultural resistance calling it “circulation of co-existence”, is Basra. Due to its location by the sea, encouraging mixtures, and the confluence of the Tigris and Euphrates (Shatt al Arab), Basra is producing a generation of young people who want to put the concept of co-existence in the system so that it embodies active citizenship. Through some associations ( “Pax”, “We are all citizens”, etc.) Basra promotes public initiatives regarding religious and cultural differences through the recovery of the historical traditions of each ethnic group and museum exhibits of pre-existing civilizations. Above all, it is one of a large number of realities of Iraqi civil society that are pushing the government to ensure that Article 16 of the new constitution is concretely enacted. Despite the sectarian reality of the country, the article states: “Iraqis are equal before the law without discrimination based on gender, race, ethnicity, nationality, origin, color, religion, sect, belief or opinion, or economic or social status”. If the article were actually applied, Iraq would be the mosaic of cultures and ethnicities that it has always been, until the late twentieth century.