Iraqi Atheists Forced to Hide Their Beliefs as Shiite and Sunni Fight for Control

Atheism is rising in Iraq.

A report authored by F. Brinley Bruton working for NBC News uncovered multiple stories of Iraqi atheists being forced to hide their beliefs due to the presence of extremist Islamists. The report has an interesting bit: Ghalib al-Shahbandar, an Islamist researcher and intellectual, has warned of a “wave of atheism” formed due to Islamists using violence to get what they want. The majority of Iraqi “unbelievers” hide as religious fanatics continue to battle it out to take control of the battered nation. Iraq is a nascent democracy, trying to balance both Shiite and Sunni demands. Since the toppling of the Saddam Hussein regime in 2003 when the country was invaded by a U.S.-led international force, the theocratic Shiite state of Iran has extended its claws into Iraqi polity.

Iraqi atheists are a fearful lot. Although atheism as per law is not illegal in Iraq, Islam is enshrined in the country’s constitution as a state religion, and it is a crime to insult or slander any religion, especially Islam. The country is now home to a small but rising number of atheists and agnostics. The social media scene in Iraq mirrors this trend. A Facebook group having the name Iraq’s Agnostics and Atheists has 17,000 followers and almost 13,000 likes.

Modern Iraq is a battle zone for different religions where atheists, to their dismay, are stuck on front lines. It is natural that violence due to faith has pushed a significant number of Iraqis away from any organized religion. A few Muslims recognize the cause and blame warring Islamists for atheism’s rising popularity.

Iraq is now stumbling towards some semblance of normality after government forces defeated the terrorist Islamic State (IS) group. The IS, during its peak, had conquered and controlled vast parts of Iraq. Long repressed Sunnis, angered by Iran-backed Shiites dominating the political discourse, did not say a word when IS fighters ran their barbaric regime by killing, enslaving and raping. Shiite paramilitary groups struck back, beating the IS in 2017, and conducted a significant number of extrajudicial killings. Atheists were wry at such developments, pointing out that non-believers never organize militias, only the religious do things like setting up death squads and the like. According to an engineering student interviewed by NBC News, religious people are the ones who revel in the destruction of humanity and life.

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