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AP: Shiites And Sunnis Call Each Other Names

From the DNC's Associated Press:

Sectarian slurs on the rise in Baghdad

By RAWYA RAGEH, Associated Press Writer Sat Aug 12

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 rejectionist.

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 check.

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.

Tsk, tsk.

This article was posted by Steve on Saturday, August 12th, 2006. Comments are currently closed.

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