Mahmood, Serri (Sura)
Is Military Liberation from Daesh Enough to Return?
A Case Study of Christians' Non-Return to the Ninewa Plain in Iraq
Daesh's brutal regime led to the displacement of substantial parts of the Ninewa Plain population and had a disproportionate impact on Iraq's minorities. Focusing specifically on the case of Ninewa Plain Christians, this paper investigates the reasons why a significant proportion of their population is not returning to the Ninewa Plain. This paper offers a qualitative, in-depth analysis of the reasons given according to three interrelated factors:
· Conditional and insufficient remedy (compensation) for displaced Christians.
· Mistrust in the security and protection provided to residents inside Ninewa Plain.
· Migration incentives and other economic (dis)incentives.
Faced with lingering experiences of the social upheaval resulting from Daesh, the majority of non-returnees expressed a lack of trust in the Iraqi and Kurdish governments to provide protection. The combined image of Islam, Muslims, and Daesh seems to be hard to separate for Christians. It is a two-faced coin: one represents Daesh; the other is the general experience with Muslims, whether socially or politically. While a sharp distinction has to be made between Islamic extremism and Islamic religion, from the perspective of religious minorities persecuted under Daesh rule in the name of the Quran, this commonality might be perceived as threatening. The concept of 'others,' or Christians and Muslims "othering" each other, is crucial in this subject. In Iraq, there is no existing tradition of education across religions, at least under the university level. Iraqi schoolchildren are not taught about other religions than Islam, for example. Similarly, we do not see Muslims and Christians going to Church, Mosques, or a Christian attending Islamic classes in public schools, where it is also taught. This lack of a shared understanding of religions, combined with Iraq's governing practices, escalated the mistrust among multi-religious groups in Ninewa Plain. Moreover, Christians largely assume that Church leaders' essential role is supposed to be spiritual. Therefore, the idea of leaders seeking protection by getting involved in politics is confusing and causes suspicion among some Christian groups. Regardless of where religious leaders are positioned in the spectrum of political participation, it seems to affect levels of community trust and cohesion. The emergence of new powers in this context constitutes an ethnic, political, and regional threat to displaced Christians. The security forces in the Ninewa Plain and their affiliation to major political actors; and the disputes between the governments of Kurdistan and Baghdad on territories and governance inside the Ninewa Plain. Each aspect overlaps with the other and has its role in contributing to the non-return of Christians.
Finally, the immigration trend is in a state of normalcy, and the diaspora is one of the incentives that created it. Unlike stereotypical ideas of immigration, where individuals arrive in a new place, immigration for Iraqi Christians has the added nuance of instant communities—relatives waiting for them, an image of a whole concept of another home abroad. This image is created not only through existing family ties and extended relatives but also by nation states abroad. States' incentives and biases toward Christian immigrants have played a crucial factor in immigration.
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