The Immigrant Mind: The Future Of Mosul

Luma Simms | July 20, 2017

My Iraqi relatives recently returned to their homes in Mosul. As expected, the furniture was destroyed, filth was everywhere, the doors from every room had been taken down and used as firewood, and even the toilets were pulled out of the walls (we are told that Islamic State militants prefer to do their business in a hole in the ground because they don’t like Western-style toilets). After seeing the state of their homes, my family members have decided to clean up, sell the houses, and move out of Mosul for good.

The city is in ruins. But I’m not worried about Mosul. Mosul – as with its still older incarnation, Nineveh – has been besieged, destroyed, and rebuilt over and again. It lies in the heart of the cradle of civilization, and for more than three millennia it has been a significant city in the region. For most of history it was a destination point in the old trade routes, and was much coveted. The city has been passed from king to pasha to sultan. Everyone has had Mosul – the old, middle, and neo-Assyrian and Babylonian empires, Medes, Persians, Macedonians, Seleucids, Parthian, Sasanian, Arabs, Turks, British – and finally it was given to the Arabs of Iraq in 1926. The city was taken by ISIS in June 2014.

On Monday, July 10, 2017, Iraq declared victory against ISIS in the fight to reclaim Mosul.

Recovering from this kind of devastation requires more than money. It takes a strong will and a stout heart to rebuild a city. Many do not have the stomach for it, especially the Christians, who because of persecution (even before ISIS) have been made to believe that this is not their city.

The Christians of Mosul and the surrounding area are similar to their Muslim counterparts in that some are educated and some are not. I don’t mean this as a disparagement; this is reality. This one fact alone is an important aspect of who returns and rebuilds. Yes, all of the displaced Christians feel a level of alienation from their city, but for the educated class, this alienation is contrasted with access to opportunities elsewhere. One can understand why many will not go back to the bleak circumstances in Mosul.

The future of Iraq as a whole, and of Mosul in particular, will be dictated by who goes back to these cities. Who rebuilds souls and stones will set the course of the future.

Tim Arango, Baghdad bureau chief of The New York Times, wrote a powerful piece about the tentacles of Iranian power inside Iraq. How Iranian infiltration and indoctrination within Iraq plays out will depend strongly on who decides to return and rebuild. Corruption is everywhere, and it has infected all communities and all classes. Heroic is the man or woman who does not succumb.

Yet another aspect of rebuilding is the social relationship between the different groups of people: the Christians, the Sunni Muslims, the Shiite Muslims, and the minority groups. Revenge seeking, intolerance, and hate will bring nothing but the fire of destruction on all; no group will be spared.

Rukmini Callimachi, a correspondent for The New York Times covering ISIS, tweeted about what she called a couple of “heart-warming stories” of Muslims helping their Christian neighbors. She mentioned a woman who was one of the few Christians who stayed after ISIS rule. After hearing on the mosque speaker that remaining Christians must either leave, pay the jizya (religious tax) or convert, this woman believed that she had to convert or die. So she went before a judge to convert and was given a certificate, and Callimachi said that although the woman continued to pray the Our Father (the Lord’s Prayer) in her house, “when ISIS came back to check on her, her Muslim neighbor covered for her: ‘She prays with us,’ they said.” Setting aside the apostasy question reminiscent of Silence, Callimachi is happy to have found two such stories. They are very rare, since I’m told a great many Christians with Muslim neighbors suffered persecution, theft, and threats of physical violence when these neighbors – sometimes neighbors of many decades – were emboldened by the Islamic State to act out in treacherous ways against them. A liberated and rebuilt Mosul will have to do better.

Lastly, even if the American government were to invest in the rebuilding – as it should, for having a hand in the making of this situation – renewal will require something thicker than entrepreneurial incentives to boost the local economy. It will require self-control, not giving in to corruption and power grabs, humility, learning from the mistakes of the past, unity rather than sectarianism and selfishness, and wisdom. In other words, it will require courageous and honorable men and women; policy alone, no matter how wisely conceived and shrewdly written, will not do the job. The coming days, months, and years in Mosul are not for the faint of heart.

Calamity has befallen Mosul, but where some see broken rocks, I see the makings of a great city. Where some see the end of an ancient civilization, I believe a renewed and faithful Christianity can blossom once more. And where some see only futility, I see the opportunity for a new beginning. Mosul should be a flourishing, pluralistic tolerant city. I am not sure if it can get there in this generation, but I am willing to do my part in working toward that end.