Commentary: Sawama, Free Iraq

By Ken Joseph Jr.

Samawa, Free Iraq (March 7, 2004) - Almas Marcos, carefully peers out her front door covered from head to foot in the islamic `Abah` a head to foot black robe which covers the whole body except part of the face. As a Christian of course she should not have to wear it but she faces imminent danger if she dares leave the house without being covered.

Just for the record it is not just a black robe - the `Abah` is a bulbous, massive, black `thing` that totally envelopes a woman and in groups of what can best be describe as `black ghosts` they move across the streets in a never ending and very strange attempt at public chastity.

Almos, her husband Bassam, Grandmother Muneera, son Stephan and daughters Muneera and Lina are all that remain of a once thriving and cosmopolitan community of Christians, Jews and others in this now all `islamic` city.

The city boasts a beautiful Jewish Temple that once served a flourishing Jewish community.

The last Christian family in Samawa, Iraq truly lives a double life. Having been born and raise in the city it is theirs too, but they clearly live in fear of the majority.

Inside they maintain a fairly, modern, `christian` atmosphere - the moment they step outside their front door they are `in hiding`.

What has changed? Not them. They have been there for generations. `islam` has changed! Formerly very tolerant, with historically large and vibrant non-islamic communities the middle east has seen its Christian population go from over 12% just a half century ago to now just under 2%. The Jewish expatriate population of over million had dwindled to a few thousand.

Most people forget the dramatic `ethnic cleansing` that has taken place in the middle east over the past decades transforming Israel or what was then known as Palestine from a 76% Christian population to today's about 2%.

A thriving Jewish community in Baghdad, for example while completely gone still reminds the careful observer of its presence in the large Jewish Communities of present Baghdad which according to some estimates had a nearly 40% Jewish community at the end of the second World War.

`What are we to do?` bemoans Mrs. Marcos. `All the others have left - emigrated. We are too old to do so too. `.

`I want to move to Baghdad and find another life`` says 23 year old LIna. `There is no future for me in Samawa`.

As a reward for many years of faithful service as a government driver Bassam Marcos was given the home he had occupied for decades days before the fall of the Sadaam Government. One piece of good news to a family surrounded with nothing but bad.

The case of the Marcos family is a microcosm for the problem that plagues the future of a free, democratic, vibrant and cosmopolitan Iraq. The two paths - the one to freedom and an open society clearly desired by most Iraqis or the path back to medieval islamic oppression.

Talking to Iraqis ranging from Sunnis to Shiites to those that dont believe, makes it clear that while Iraqis may be `muslim` they are nearly united in their fervent desire that they do not want to become an islamic country like Neighboring Iran.

Ahmed Tarik, 32, a Sunni Muslim quickly asserts `we may be muslim but we do not want an Islamic government. We just want a normal government - a democracy where we are free to choose our leaders`.

Sadek Zamel, 34, a Shiite Muslim agrees. `Nobody in Iraq wants an Islamic government. We just want to be normal!`.

Mustafa Sadaam, 23, a Shiite concurs `We believe Government and religion should be separate. This is the best way to have government. We do not want to become like Iran where they are together.`

Hayder Mousa, 33 and avowed `non-believer` concurs `I am an artist - a filmaker. I just want to be free to make films as I see fit. I want Government to do just that - government. We are tired of bad governments. We just want to be left alone.`

At the same time when asked the simple question did they pray today - a requirement of all muslms that they pray five times daily - each quickly and quietly admits that they did not - not even once!

This illustrates best the situation - while islam is presented to the world as a monolithic religion with radical adherents, in most situations as here in Iraq, just like people throughout the world most really do not `believe`.

They are, as they keep repeating just `normal` people. They just want to be like everybody else in the world! They freely admit that they do not `practice`, yet are stuck in a system that does not allow them to leave.

They are overjoyed, now that Sadaam is gone that they can surf the internet, watch 200 satellite TV Channels, talk on the telephone and with their friends - all in freedom! They are all adamant `we do not want one dictator replaced by another`!

The argument can be made that what is known today as `islam` is nothing more than a political system used to enslave nearly 1 billion people throughout the world who do not `believe` in the traditional sense of the word, but are born into a situation that shockingly they are not able to freely choose nor leave.

The `dirty little secret` about `islam` is that what is being practiced is neither according to the Koran or traditional Islamic teaching. While the Koran is clear in teaching that `religion must not be under compulsion` that is clearly what is happening on the ground.

Homes in Iraq received a notice on their doorstep immediately following the fall of Iraq in the same pattern as in post-Shah Iran that read in part `The women of this family will immediately begin to wear the Islami headdress or we will do one of the following - kill you, rape you, burn your house or kidnap you`.

`What in the world is this` even the most casual observer would ask?

Those born into `muslim` families incredibly cannot `leave` a `religion` they never even chose to join. Amazingly and without missing a beat the islamic `experts` will casually say that once a person has been born into a muslim family they cannot leave under penalty of death!

The current interpretation of `islam` practiced in most of the muslim world therefore denies legally the most important human freedom - freedom of thought.

Asked the question what would he do if his son or daughter decided to `leave` the `islam ` they had never chosen to join in the first place, 32 year old Mustafa Sadaam says without hesitation `I would kill him`.

`kill him` for simply exercising his God-given freedom of thought and belief?

Traveling north from Samawa with 23 year old Lina Marcos in the car for a week in Baghdad we see the reality that is southern Iraq.

in city after city, village after village, democracy, the rule of law, any even outward signs of a free society have collapsed.

Instead of the black/red/green flag of Iraq which should be legally there, the green flag of the Shiites flies over everything - city hall, the huge water towers, the police station - over every institution making a mockery of even the trappings of democratic principles.

The Shiite leader, Sistani himself not even an Iraqi but an Iranian, holds sway not through democratic elections he is so prone to advocate, but through his gang of `thugs` who enforce the totalitarian state that he espouses as his brand of pseudo `islam`.

How does it all function? The 20% ``tax` extorted from all citizens under his control by his religious `mafia` provides the means to support this Iranian who seems for some reason to put fear into the hearts of the American administrators of Iraq.

The solution according to a source that asked to remain anonymous? `It is easy! the Americans should simply say that Mr. Sistani is not an Iraqi - he is an Iranian and send him back to Iran where he came from - that would solve a big part of our problem! He is not an Iraqi and has no business speaking for us.`

What should the Marcos family, the last family in the city of Samawa do? What should the estimated 2.5 million other Assyrian Christians of Iraq - their homeland, as the indigenous people of Iraq and the other minorities do? Leave? Run? Try to stay?

The question remains in the American court. Did young Americans give their lives to turn the people of Iraq, against their will over to an Iranian totalitarian dictator that operates by mob rule, fear and terror or will the dictator Sadaam be replaced by a secular, `normal` constitution, fair and free elections and autonomy and government that can serve as a model for the middle east?

It is up to the American people to stand up and say that the sacrifice of their young men and women was not to create the Islamic Republic of Iraq and another wierd, terrorist, totalitarian dictatorship operating under the guise of `islam` to provide another hotbed for terrorists to operate, but to create a `normal` government for the longsuffering people of Iraq one in which the Marcos family need not be the `last Christian family in Samawa` and the millions of Assyrian Christians, Jews, and others living overseas can be assured of a future and come home to help rebuild their country.

An Iraq where the Iraqi flag - not the flag of an unelected dictator flies over the city halls and where the rule of law guarantees the basic human freedoms common to us all for all Iraqis regardless of what they do or do not believe.

That is what the Iraqi people want and that is what they should be allowed to have - not a rushed handover to the totalitarian, Iranian dictator who will plunge Iraq back into the dark ages and civil war on July 1, but a measured, careful restoration of sovereignty not to unelected, thugs but to the Iraqi people - they deserve no less!

The message to `the last Christian famly in Samawa, Iraq` should and must be `stay, you have a future!`

Rev. Ken Joseph Jr. dubbed `God`s man in Baghdad` is an Assyrian, directs and is writing a book about his experiences in Iraq entitled `I was Wrong.

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