Religious and nationalistic slogans as political tools in Iraq’s Kurdistan Region

Aras Ahmed

By Aras Ahmed Mhamad:

One of the main pillars of democracy is the existence of different political parties. The existence of leftist, nationalist, and religious parties in South Kurdistan is the indication of a growth of a democratic system, despite the fact that the opposition parties criticize the role of the government in not providing, for example, a stable economy and a better healthcare system; for failure to implement the 140 article; for the military chaos and oil smuggling; domination of natural resources; and because the education system is not fulfilling the demands of this technological era and is out-of-date; and, most importantly, because the economic infrastructure quivers.

Nowadays, elections have become the most argumentative topic among the individuals of the Kurdish society. People, publically and privately, talk about elections in parks, tea-houses, public libraries, mosques, schools, courts, hospitals, universities, etc. whenever you go you find people support or oppose a certain political party.

Election is a highly confrontational subject as it is for the majority of the population in any country. Islamic religious experts, whom we call Malla in South Kurdistan, and Islamic parties have always been accused of making use of some people’s naivety and encouraging them to vote for the same political party that they support through their firing and hypersensitive preaching in religious places; namely, the mosques.

“Mosques everywhere throughout Kurdistan are attended by people with different political affiliations. I haven’t ever sensed political campaigns in the mosques. People don’t go to mosques to hear Imams calling for political rallies. They go there to worship God and get updates on the status of Muslims nation-wide and internationally,” explained Dr. Rauf Kareem Mahmood, Teacher of Linguistics, University of Slemani.

Some writers argue that religion is a metaphysical connection between the Creator and the creation and there is no need to mingle it with politics. “Electorates are not voting for candidates to pray for them; rather, they elect them within the representative democratic system to work tirelessly on solutions to social, economic, security etc. problems at local as well as national level, hence religious affiliation would not be of great help at an institution such as parliament when dealing with modern social problems,” said Harem Karem, journalist and co-founder of the Kurdistan Tribune.

A secular party such as the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK) via its media has many times expressed their concern about using public places for election campaigns in their channels, especially their pro-magazines and newspapers. Some leaders of the PUK claim that the public places like mosques must not be used for political campaigns. Religious parties, on the other hand, claim that secular parties resort to forgery during elections and that the Higher Electoral Committee is not independent. Harem confirms that places of worship, as well as schools, hospitals and other public places should not and must not be used for election campaigns under any circumstances.

Additionally, one of the topics that usually brings about heated debate between the Islamic and secular candidates during the elections is the issue of identity and that secular candidates insist that Kurdish people are Kurds before being Muslims, whereas Islamic candidates confirm that 90% or so of the Kurdish people are Muslims and are more loyal to the doctrine of Islam than their national identity; therefore they are Muslims before being Kurds. Such claims divide Kurdish people into separate sides. “In this day and age, it is wise to consider oneself as a human being and global citizen before being a Kurd and a Kurd before being religious,” added Harem.

Jalal Hasan Mistaffa, a PhD candidate in Politics at Newcastle University, has an interesting opinion concerning the issue of one’s identity. He explains “There seems to exist a misconception, equally among the masses and some educated people, in regard to the identity of the individuals. For them any individual has to have one fixed and static identity, whereas identity is socially constructed i.e. identity is contextual, flexible, and multi-layered. In brief, any person can be, at the same time, a Kurd, a Muslim, an athlete, a male or a female, and so on.”

“An example can do the trick here, if you are invited by some Christian friends while studying in the UK, you abstain from eating pork with them because you are a Muslim (here your religious identity prevails; however it never means you are not a Kurd); whereas when asked about your nationality on the same table and on the same spot, your answer will be that you are Kurdish (here your national identity prevails; however, it never means you are not a Muslim). Therefore, I see no firm academic ground in the argument of those who think that individuals should have only one single identity.”

Kurdish society in South Kurdistan is incredibly diverse. One can find many religious doctrines including Islam, Christianity, Judaism and other ethnic minority groups. The fact is the majority of Kurdish people in South Kurdistan are Muslims. But what’s ironic is that none of these religious parties has ever won the majority of the votes. In fact, Kurdistan Islamic Union (KIU) and Kurdistan Islamic Party (KIP) came fourth and fifth in 2009 and they represent the two main Islamic parties.

“Realistically, religions and politics should be properly segregated; the former being holy and related to heaven while the latter is usually a form of mass hypnotic techniques, exploited too, by the demagogues and is related to earth. The fact is Islamic parties in Kurdistan have — to a considerable extent — failed to employ the required set of demagogic skills to deceive the ninety-plus per cent of Muslim electorates and promote their ideologies like the secular parties do,” explained Harem Karem.

The question is: if the majority of people in South Kurdistan are Muslims, why they couldn’t and seemingly in the upcoming election cannot they form the cabinet accordingly? Secular parties uphold that Kurdish people vote with a Kurdish spirit and not with a religious spirit and that they represent all the components of Kurdistan not specific groups of people.

“I think such allegations from the secular parties form an outdated attempt to accuse the Islamists of lacking something which the secularists don’t even genuinely possess and work for, that’s true positive patriotism. The Islamists in Kurdistan have practically proved to be positively patriotic to their bone morrows,” explained Dr. Rauf.

One very popular opinion is: these religious parties use Islam and its slogans to only benefit their main leaders, not those who follow and vote for them. They claim that since the expansion of Islam, Islamic religious leaders and politicians have interpreted the context of the Holy Quran the way they want to be interpreted and to only fulfill their own intense wishes and masked desires.

Dr. Rauf thinks that political parties, not religion(s), strive for winning more seats in Parliament. Islamists never claimed to be the only mouthpiece of Islam though their moderate approach, to me, can be the best manifestation of genuine Islam, the religion of peace. However, the negative role of the allegedly secular parties has never stopped on securing clean elections.

Secular writers claim that if these two opposition religious parties are really honest, why they cannot persuade people vote for them and/or disagree to participate in the elections as one list- not two or three separate lists.

Sabir Hasan, PhD student at Leeds University believes that the Islamic parties are minorities, because a. they are fairly new in the Kurdish politics in comparison to the secular parties, b. they do not have the legacy of taking part in the Kurdish military struggle and revolution, and c. they don’t have adequate basic resources such as economy, power, and powerful media.

On the other hand, Islamic parties strongly maintain that the secular political leaders did not have anything two to three decades ago when they were Peshmargas in the mountains of Kurdistan. They have become billionaires, hotel owners and occupy the most strategic touristic resorts and places and build huge palaces and malls in the heart of the big cities in Slemani, Duhok, and Hawler. They also maintain that the ruling parties decide on national matters unitarily and don’t give them equal chances to express their opinions.

They also claim that there is economic corruption in legislative institutions and the health care system is broken from top to toe because of their bureaucratic approaches in running the government. Water shortage, lack of service in the cities and providing projects in the villages are still noticeable.

In Kurdistan, there are three main religious political parties which are (KIP), (KIU), and Islamic Movement in Kurdistan (IMK). The former two parties have been on the opposition front for four years since the elections of 2009. The latter has participated in forming the sixth and seventh cabinet of the Kurdistan Parliament and has given Ministry of Endowment and Religious Affairs.

“The nature of the local religious parties; their affiliations with foreign parties – which often deemed as national enemies – and the way in which they deal with imperative national matters such as: supporting Justice and Development Party (AKP) during the last general election in Northern Kurdistan and opposing Peace and Democracy (BDP), supporting Jabha Al Nusra and opposing Democratic Union Party (PYD) in Western Kurdistan and many other cases in South Kurdistan where Kurdish Islamic politicians in Baghdad have failed to pursue energetically and conscientiously matters of national concern in the interests of their Arab Islamic counterparts,” explained Harem.

It has been said that even if these Islamic parties have won the votes and form the cabinet, they will never be able to carry on and will discriminate between Muslims and non-Muslim people of Kurdistan. They also claim that they are unpatriotic and only believe in democracy when forced and are implementing outside agendas and policies. Secular writers mention the 80 hundred years of struggle of the ‘’Muslim Brotherhood’’ in Egypt for power have gone in vain and collapsed in a year.

“The secular parties accuse the religious parties of being unpatriotic in national matters, maybe because Islam is in the first place a universal religion; it focuses on universality or humanity as a whole. I personally do not see Islam supporting nationalism as an ideology, but it does not discourage Muslims to love their nations. The religious parties accuse the secular parties of being enemies of God… Maybe not enemy of God, but accuse them of opposing the rule of Islam. This is maybe based on the principle that secularism as an ideology originally emerged in opposition to religious rules, specifically Christianity. Besides, the principles of secularism are at odds with Islamic principles,” explained Sabir.

Kurdish political discourse has to unify Kurdish people and aim at social and economic reform. Neither the secular parties should give themselves the right to isolate or threaten the Islamic parties and accuse them of being unpatriotic, nor should the Islamic parties look at the secular parties as enemies of God. This has to stop one day.

“The secular parties often overstretch the facts and divert attentions while forgetting that, they too, practice unpatriotic stances such as the Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP) and Parte Krekaren Kurdistan (PKK) and PYD relations, KDP’s secret attempts to prevent Gorran from joining Maliki’s coalition government in 2010, and Patriotic Union of Kurdistan’s (PUK) support for Maliki’s government during the 2012 standoff between the local and central governments etc. In my view, by keeping religion and politics separate (secular) doesn’t mean anti-religious or ‘enemies of God’ and it would certainly not be fair to label them as such. The vast majority of secular party supporters consider themselves as Muslims and their support for the parties driven by manifesto, loyalty, benefits etc. none of which is anti-Islam,” said Harem.

We have/had shed enough blood for our rightful and lawful national identity since World War I. Kurds want peace, togetherness, and compassion and are tired of war and conflict; otherwise, we create social and political gaps for opportunists, mercenaries, and terrorists.

We have seen displacement and ethnic cleansing of Kurdish people in Kirkuk under the role and command of Sadam Hussein; likewise, 182,000 thousand Kurdish people were exposed to genocide in Anfal campaigns in Garmyan, 8000 thousand Barzanis were murdered ruthlessly, the city of Halabja was levelled to the ground and 5000 thousand innocent children, men and women were brutally bombarded with forbidden chemical weapons, Kurdish language is banned in Iran and Turkey officially and they have been oppressed since 1920. What is more, the western power and international community turn a blind eye to the Kurdish question.

Certain political ideologies only serve particular groups of people. Kurdish people need to be together under one umbrella, with all their different political values, social conventions, cultural practices, religious rituals, and national beliefs. All the political parties should turn to a new page and learn to accept each other. Only Kurdistan can hold us all – not specific political ideas or certain ideologies – and that is the miraculous strength of Kurdistan.

Copyright © 2013

2 Responses to Religious and nationalistic slogans as political tools in Iraq’s Kurdistan Region
  1. Kuvan Bamarny
    August 23, 2013 | 14:18

    The main argument of the religious political parties to gain votes and support from the crowd ,is that they usually speaks about ethics and morals.They preach that a person who is not moral , is automatically incompetent ,has a weak will-power and often make mistakes when ruling the nation because they follow their personal egocentric temptations, such as being predjuce, or practice ,favoratis and nipotism rather than resist them and work ,equally and fairly for all regardless of their idological diffirences .Meanwhile
    relgious politcians usually drive their concept and understanding of ethics and morality from religion books as a perfect, unquestionable source of authenticity and trust to relay on.

  2. Aras Ahmed Mhamad
    August 24, 2013 | 18:21

    Thanks for reading it, it is a bit long- but worthy.

    It is so easy to put fingers at politicians and political parties and accuse them of many stuff, nowadays.

    Concerning religious parties, I think the problem is more with their leaders not the true and everlasting messages.

    Every religion share some very basic traits. But the leaders manipulate things and tend to interpret things for their own benefits.

    I have asked several people in the report to express their opinions so that the readers would see the political atmosphere in South Kurdistan from different viewpoints.

    Everyone is entitled to their own opinions.

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