Af­ter IS, Mo­sul re­builds mosques and mon­u­ments

China Daily (Hong Kong) - - WORLD -

MO­SUL, Iraq — Faisal Je­ber ar­rested and in­ter­ro­gated sus­pected Is­lamic State mil­i­tants dur­ing the bat­tle for Mo­sul. Now he is tak­ing up a new fight that could be just as cru­cial to the city’s fu­ture.

The 47-year-old ge­ol­o­gist is try­ing to re­store his­tor­i­cal sites dam­aged dur­ing the ex­trem­ist group’s bru­tal three­year rule over the north­ern Iraqi city.

By piec­ing back to­gether build­ings which he says gave Mo­sul its soul and iden­tity be­fore the war, Je­ber hopes also to help re­build its so­cial fab­ric.

But the city’s re­nais­sance could take a gen­er­a­tion, if it hap­pens at all, he says, and it is un­cer­tain how Mo­sul and other Iraqi towns and cities re­cap­tured by gov­ern­ment forces will look af­ter­ward.

How Mo­sul’s iden­tity is re­con­sti­tuted will help de­ter­mine whether Iraqi lead­ers can pacify a coun­try dogged by ex­trem­ists for the past decade.

“The IS tried hard to de­stroy Mo­sul’s iden­tity by de­mol­ish­ing ev­ery­thing and mak­ing it monochrome,” Faisal said. “I am us­ing this to unite my city and then maybe the whole coun­try.”

Be­fore the war, Mo­sul was Iraq’s sec­ond-largest city, known for its di­ver­sity, re­li­gious con­ser­vatism and na­tion­al­ism. Af­ter the US-led in­va­sion that top­pled Sad­dam Hus­sein in 2003, it be­came a base for al-Qaida and the in­sur­gency.

Since IS seized Mo­sul in 2014 in the face of the Iraqi army’s col­lapse, the mil­i­tants have blown up mon­u­ments, evicted com­mu­ni­ties that had lived to­gether for cen­turies and turned neigh­bors against each other.

Fol­low­ing the group’s de­feat in Mo­sul this month in a US-backed of­fen­sive, bill­boards have gone up on a main road hail­ing the city as the cra­dle of civ­i­liza­tion and show­ing land­marks dat­ing back to the days of Me­sopotamia.

It is, Je­ber says, a unique mo­ment to re­build Mo­sul’s mul­ti­cul­tural iden­tity and com­bat rad­i­cal Is­lamism.

“It’s an op­por­tu­nity and it’s just the right time to do it be­cause if you talked to any Mo­su­lawi about that be­fore (IS), no­body would ac­cept it. But now peo­ple came out of a rad­i­cal Mus­lim ex­pe­ri­ence, they are in shock,” he said.

“Ei­ther we do it this year and we use this op­por­tu­nity or else we lose it for­ever. We have a very nar­row win­dow.”

The IS tried hard to de­stroy Mo­sul’s iden­tity by de­mol­ish­ing ev­ery­thing and mak­ing it monochrome.” Faisal Je­ber, ge­ol­o­gist

Je­ber wants to start re­build­ing at the site of the Mosque of the Prophet Jonah, which was con­structed on top of a Chris­tian monastery. The site marks Jonah’s myth­i­cal burial place and also con­tains the re­mains of a Zoroas­trian tem­ple and an Assyr­ian palace.

“The site is four lev­els of civ­i­liza­tion,” he ex­plained dur­ing a visit to the site this month.

IS blew up the mosque and dug tun­nels in search of valu­able an­tiq­ui­ties, desta­bi­liz­ing the base.

Mus­lim cler­ics want to re­build the site as a mosque. One has al­ready set a corner­stone but Je­ber says that restor­ing it as a her­itage site hon­or­ing its mul­ti­ple his­tor­i­cal iden­ti­ties would do much more to turn the page on IS.

There is, how­ever, no guar­an­tee Mo­sul will be the same as it was be­fore IS ar­rived.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from China

© PressReader. All rights reserved.