By Robert Leitner
When the lights dimmed in the Sweigart Auditorium, students and faculty could see the words “We Are Not ISIS” as Dr. Abdulhussein Kadhim Reishaan began discussing how Muslims and Islam are clearly distinguished from the terrorist group.
This fact can be brought to people’s attention through dialogue between students in Iraq and the U.S., said Reishaan, an Iraqi professor who spoke at Rider’s International Day on Feb. 25.
“When we talk about things related to the eastern and western world, it is not an easy discussion,” said Reishaan. “It is difficult to find where to begin because there seem to be more differences than similarities. The kind of thing I want to talk about is the relationship made between Rider University and the University of Kufa and the program of Global Village.”
Rider’s Global Village allows Iraqi students from the University of Kufa to have discussions with Rider students. The Global Village has been holding 10 to 12 video conferences a year for about seven years, and the conferences usually last around 90 minutes.
“At Kufa, the interest in these conversations continues to increase, and there is a kind of love for this experience because we feel that we are building something,” said Reishaan. “We feel in a way it can benefit students, and therefore the number of students has increased. We went from convincing seven students to partake in the conversation to selecting 17 students to partake in this conversation.”
A motivation behind the Global Village is to correct the misrepresentations that both Iraqi and American students have developed. There is a common misunderstanding of American culture abroad. What Iraqis know of American culture is from the U.S. government, armed forces, political leaders and media, Reishaan explained.
“The entire process of invading Iraq, and bad actions of killing and violence that the U.S. army did, put the Americans in a critical situation because the Iraqis can’t understand Americans,” said Reishaan. “These actions gave my people a false representation of Americans.”
On the other hand, some people have developed the false understanding that ISIS is a form of Islam, said Reishaan. He showed the audience a global map covered in red dots that tracked the ISIS narrative. He argued that the map shows the spread of hatred towards Muslims in the world.
“ISIS is a new kind of religion and has nothing to do with Islam,” said Reishaan. “When we talk about Muslims of the East, it could not be clearer that ISIS is not Islam.”
One of the main reasons for the crisis in the Middle East is the different beliefs across the ethnic groups in Iraq, Reishaan explained. There are three main groups: Sunni, Shiite and Kurds. For thousands of years, these groups were able to coexist in Iraq.
“We lived peacefully and recognized each other as brothers, sisters and friends,” said Reishaan. “Only after 2003 [when the U.S. invaded Iraq] did every one of these ethnic groups look for its own rights, even at the expense of the others. We feel that there is a kind of interference that happened.”
Reishaan mentioned how Iraq is a rather small country, and the countries that surround Iraq play different roles in the relationships the ethnic groups have with each other.
“In this kind of atmosphere, Iraq happened to be kind of a haven for ISIS,” he said. “ISIS is a catastrophe that happened in the Middle East. Unfortunately it’s not only the East, and people all over the world are suffering from ISIS.”
Iraq has been feeling the negative effects of ISIS. Mosul, a large city in Iraq, fell in June 2014, and is now occupied by ISIS. Following this incident, two of Iraq’s largest cities were nearly destroyed by ISIS.
“People were killed in mass graves,” said Reishaan. “Women, especially non-Muslim women, were taken by force. They were kidnapped, some were killed, and some were sold on the market. Iraqi heritage was either knocked down, destroyed, or taken to be sold.”
Some political leaders suggest the best move for Iraq is to separate into ethnic groups. The Shiites, however, believe that Iraq is one and should not be divided into separate parts, explained Reishaan.
“As an Iraqi, I say no to dividing the country because simply the difference between Sunnis and Shiites is a political one,” said Reishaan. “As one kind of people, we lived thousands of years peacefully. The difference between Sunnis and the Shiites in Iraq is a difference that makes no difference at all. There are places in Iraq where both Sunni and Shiite live peacefully together.”