I’m almost certain it was the 2011 visit, when I was 14. My two sisters, mother and I went to visit my maternal grandmother and our hometown Baghdad for the second time since our settlement in America. We were at Uncle Fahad’s house, the one adjacent to my grandmother’s (they shared a wall). All the adults were in the guest room drinking the late afternoon tea with biscuits and catching up. My budding introversion compelled me to get away from the noise for a little bit, so I was watching television in the living room. For about an hour, I was staring absentmindedly at the 20 inch screen, the oddity of my two passport identity consuming my thoughts.
I was brought back by a phrase I heard coming from the TV; “I didn’t have a morsel of bread to feed my kids.”
Suddenly I realized what I had been looking at – a captured female terrorist being questioned on live television. It struck me in a way that has immortalized her face in my memory. In a way, her testimony chipped at the Good versus Evil worldview we all have as children. There she was.. a bad person. A terrorist. Someone I should hate, despise. Her kind drove me out of my country, killed my relatives, destroyed my school building and my beautiful neighborhood. Over and over and over for 14 years of my life.
Yet I couldn’t help but feel sorry for her. She spoke my beautiful dialect. I saw widowed mothers and orphaned children everywhere on the streets of Baghdad, and she was just one of them. They had kidnapped her children and blackmailed and bribed her into becoming a conspirator and planting explosives. For every widow who’s blackmailed for joining terrorism, there’s at least 5 who are forced into it financially.
They prostitute their soul.
After her, there were other testimonies. Mostly male. I must have stayed in that room for several hours. I had lost track of time when one of my relatives peeked in and told me to join the party. But the face from the television stuck with me.
On July 10th of 2017, the prime minister of Iraq, Haider Al-Abadi officially announced the victory of Iraqi militia over Daa’ish forces in the northern city of Mosul. Mosul has been the main front of the Iraqi offensive against the cancer that is Daa’ish since November of last year. I can only liken the celebrations in Baghdad to the day we finally were certain that Saddam was gone. Or to our 2007 Asian Cup victory. We had suffered enough, and we finally had reason to be happy. Even Iraqis in London were out in the street, dancing. Say what you want about Arabs, but no one can deny that we are an expressive people.
In the coming days we can expect the horrors of what has been happening in the heart of Daa’ish strongholds to surface. Just this past Ramadan, MBC (Middle East Broadcasting Center), the leading television channel in Arabia aired a fictional special series called Gharabeeb Sood (Black Crows) that tackled the realities of the so-called “Islamic State.” Party to the human trafficking, drug exportation, child sacrifices, and live burials were women.
Brainwashed women, twisted women, complicit women.
The show unsurprisingly drew a lot of attention, both critical and positive. Dramatizing the very real and ongoing suffering of almost a million people undoubtedly leaves one with a bitter taste, especially given the often profit-driven venture of media. However, one cannot deny that the television, for all its vices, has always been and still is a very powerful tool for molding public opinion. The reality of Daa’ish is not religious extremism, and fighting that narrative is difficult because the group’s recruitment thrives only as long as its “religious” front does. The drug selling, the hypocrisy, and the perverted leadership peeking through the blinds to forbidden “women’s quarters” foil the theocratic fundamentalism they’re trying to sell. Daa’ish’s worst fear is becoming a joke in the eyes of the world. The reality is, they are a joke in terms of their “mission.” The end result of their actions, however, is anything but.
Among the female terrorists was The Biter. She was nicknamed as such for her habit of biting the edge of captured womens’ ears to “mark” and distinguish herself from them. Her vicious brutality is not unparalleled among women in history, or unique to Daa’ish itself. The infamous Irma Grese was a Nazi guard that served at Ravensbrück and Auschwitz, nicknamed the Hyena of Auschwitz. Her penchant for violence is mirrored in the unnamed Biter.
The terrorism of the post-Saddam regimen era is not the terrorism of now.
The woman I saw on that television set is a terrorist, and upon reflection (and modest life experience) her acts are inexcusable. Understandable, but inexcusable. She did not deserve my pity. The Biter is a whole other set of human being. To my bitter disappointment, what so many individuals in the West seem to forget is that as ideological excuses for human greed, power hunger, and violence, Daa’ish, and its historical predecessors (the Nazi party, the Khmer Rouge, Batista of Cuba, and the Baa’th control of Iraq to name a few) are one and the same. Sick human beings flock to them like moths to a flame. There is no “evil” to political parties, religions, or ideas. While the bait of doctrine gives us a pattern we can call a cancer, only human teeth can sink into the savagery that manifests from a diseased soul.