Rise of sectarian slurs in Baghdad highlights rift between Sunnis and Shiites

Rise of sectarian slurs in Baghdad highlights rift between Sunnis and Shiites
August 12th, 2006  
Team Infidel

Topic: Rise of sectarian slurs in Baghdad highlights rift between Sunnis and Shiites

Rise of sectarian slurs in Baghdad highlights rift between Sunnis and Shiites
Media: The Associated Press
Date: 12 August 2006

BAGHDAD, Iraq_Shiite doctor Aqeel Abdul Hussein has lived in a Sunni
neighborhood for 15 years. Now he's feeling like an outcast after someone
left a poster on his door a month ago calling him a "rafida" _ a

The term is among slurs used by Sunni extremists to describe Shiites, who
have their own derogatory words for Sunnis. Many Iraqis avoid using such
insults publicly.

But with sectarian tensions rising, such terms appear more frequently in
flyers, anonymous phone calls and graffiti. They are helping drive a wedge
between Sunnis and Shiites as the government seeks to stop the slide toward
civil war.

"These words are very offensive and judgmental," Abdul Hussein said.
"Rejecting what exactly? We pray, fast and worship God and no one has the
right to call us that."

The term "rejectionist" to describe Shiites was popularized by al-Qaida in
Iraq in postings on Islamist Web sites. It refers to the Shiites rejecting
the leadership of Abu Bakr after the death of the Prophet Muhammad.

Instead, a faction of the early Muslim community gave its allegiance to
Muhammad's son-in-law Ali. The faction was the forerunner of the Shiite
sect, or "the party of Ali."

Shiite extremists refer to Sunnis as "nawasib," or enemies of the relatives
of the Prophet _ meaning Ali and his descendants.

Khaled Abbas Jassim, a Sunni who sells generator-powered electricity in the
Sunni neighborhood of Jihad, said masked gunmen approached him once and
said: "You are one of the 'nawasib.' Leave now." The threat was repeated in
a phone call.

"We had never heard such words before," Jassim said. "God only knows where
they came from! It all came after the occupation," which began when the
United States and its allies ousted Saddam Hussein regime three years ago.

Some derogatory terms feed on prejudices and stigmas that lurked beneath the
surface during the decades when Saddam's tyranny held sectarian passions in

Sunni Arabs, a minority in Iraq, dominated political and economic life in
Iraq until the collapse of Saddam's regime and they fear marginalization by
the Shiite majority. Many Shiites believe they have the right to govern
because of their majority status and fear many Sunnis want to restore
Saddam-style rule.

One new term _ "Ghirban" or crows _ is used to describe Shiites because of
the distinctive black garb worn by the Mahdi Army militia of rebel cleric
Muqtada al-Sadr. Sunnis accuse the militia of kidnapping and killing Sunnis.

Some Sunnis also call Shiites "hawasim," referring to the widespread looting
that broke out in Baghdad when Saddam's regime collapsed in April 2003.
Before the city fell, Saddam referred to the coming battle for Baghdad as
the "hassima," or final battle.

The looting occurred at the end of that battle, and many Sunnis insist it
was primarily the work of poor Shiites from Sadr City, even though members
of all communities took part.

For their part, Sunnis are sometimes branded as "Zarqawis" in reference to
Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, the al-Qaida in Iraq leader who was killed in a U.S.
airstrike June 7. Other slurs such as "Salafis" and "Wahbabis" refer to
austere brands of Islam.

Mohammed Jassim Hamad, a Sunni taxi driver, said someone defaced his house
with graffiti that read: "You 'Zarqawi,' leave here or else you'll be killed
or kidnapped."

"This is all the work of mercenaries who want to instigate a sectarian war,"
he said.

Howard Williams, a professor of applied linguistics at New York's Columbia
University, said it is "very common for adversaries to dehumanize each other
as much as possible."

"Terms of derision are often used to show that the other party is worthy of
punishment or cleansing. One of the things you need to successfully fight an
enemy is to show that the enemy doesn't have the same human qualities that
you do," he said.

It is not clear how mainstream these terms have become in the Iraqi culture
or how long they will linger. Linguists say it depends on how political
circumstances play out in different conflicts.

For example, the derogatory English words "Hun" and "jerry" to describe
Germans during the two world wars are no longer used.

Sabah Kadhim, a Shiite who sells car tires, thinks that as long as Iraqi
politicians continue squabbling, "those words are here to stay."

"It's a way of retaining their power." he said.

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