Iraq’s trial of dead caliph is out of this world

Sadly, these stunts have become a normal part of Iraqi politics since Iran-backed Shia Islamists rose to power.
Sunday 11/03/2018
Shia clerics talk at a religious school in Iraq’s holy city of Najaf.(Reuters)
Sectarian politicking. Shia clerics talk at a religious school in Iraq’s holy city of Najaf. (Reuters)

A video has emerged on social media that reignited discussion on the sorry state of sectarianism in Iraq and how it is used to distract the people from real issues that affect their day-to-day lives with sectarian theatrics and asinine antics.

The video appears to show the lawyers’ syndicate in the Iraqi Shia holy city of Najaf putting a formerly powerful caliph on trial for murder and sentencing him to death. This caliph is, of course, not the pretender caliph of the Islamic State, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi. No, they decided to put on trial Hisham ibn Abd al-Malik, an Umayyad caliph who has been dead for almost 1,300 years.

Imagine the scene: A roomful of some of the legal profession’s supposedly most educated men gathered witnesses to give testimony against the alleged murder of Zayd ibn Ali, an important figure in Shia Islam, that happened well over a millennium ago.

After much careful deliberation about a man who, in effect, ruled from Damascus and therefore fell outside Iraqi jurisdiction (let alone modern Iraq’s historical era), the judicial panel decided to sentence Caliph Hisham to death. This can only be described as peak live-action role-playing, or LARPing as it is known among its highly imaginative proponents.

I am certain that, had Caliph Hisham’s soul been able to stand in the dock, it would be crying with hysterical laughter.

The trial involved witnesses, including a journalist who, presumably, would have either been alive in the early half of the eighth century and witnessed the events or gone through a wormhole and turned up in the 21st century to help throw the book at the caliph. The trial was so ridiculous that the Iraqi judiciary had to issue a statement distancing itself from it and arguing that the “court” was acting only symbolically and not trying to offer judicial opinions on events from the very distant past.

Clearly, putting an ancient ruler on trial for murder in the modern day is going even beyond revisionism and is just plain ridiculous. However, and as is usually the case in Iraq, the reason why these practising lawyers decided to put on a show is for sectarian and political reasons. Partisanship has become extremely common in Iraq and, despite a show of a democracy, many people vote along ethno-sectarian lines.

Whenever an election is coming, Shia Islamist parties and their supporters have a penchant for whipping up hatred against the Sunni population. By putting the Sunni Umayyad caliph on trial, for example, they were making him answer for crimes against a Shia saint.

This is no different from how former Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki described peaceful and unarmed Iraqi demonstrators in 2013 as being “from the camp of Yazid,” another Sunni Umayyad caliph, versus his government, which was from the camp of Hussein ibn Ali, another major figure in Shia Islam.

Such rhetoric is designed to stir hatred within their voter base so pro-Iran Shia Islamists like Maliki and his successors can disguise the real issues affecting Iraqis and how these politicians are responsible for them.

Iraq ranks among the most corrupt countries in Transparency International’s 2017 “Corruption Perceptions Index.” That is, of course, not to mention its political persecution of minorities, sexual violence against female detainees and war crimes perpetrated by state-sponsored militias who serve Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) and not Iraq as a sovereign, free country.

Sadly, these stunts have become a normal part of Iraqi politics since Iran-backed Shia Islamists rose to power and imported Tehran-style sectarian politicking, where almost every political or economic issue is somehow related to some tragedy that may or may not have occurred a millennium ago.

It is time for these political dinosaurs to either evolve and deal with the issues affecting Iraqis or go extinct and spare us their deadly and divisive theatrics.