photo: Eddy van Wessel


Thursday, February 13, 2014

A guard with a mission

“Are you Muslim or Christian?” the guard at the checkpoint into Erbil asks me. Behind me the lines of cars are long, it has taken me a quarter of an hour to reach him.

He is looking at my iqama, or residency card, and has already asked where I come from and where I live. This latest question does not shock me anymore, as it might have done a couple of years ago.

In the secular country of the Netherlands where I spent most of my life, religion is a private matter. Whether you are Christian, and whatever sect, is not public knowledge, unless the person involved chooses it should be.

Of many of my acquaintances I do not know what their faith is. It is not an issue people discuss, unless there is a reason for that. If someone has left the church is an equally private matter. Our passports and identity cards therefore do not mention the religion of the bearer.

In Kurdistan, that is different. When you register with the asaish, the security police, for your residency, the question about your faith pops up almost immediately. And although I still feel it is none of the business of the police or the state, I have no choice but to answer that I am a Christian.

In Kurdistan you need to have a religion, as without it you are considered a kafar, someone without a faith, and considered as worthless. Of course I’d rather be a member of the ‘people of the book’, the title for Christians in the Qur'an, than a kafar.

The guard at the checkpoint smiles when I say that I am a Christian. I think he will let me go now, but he has a mission. “Why are you not a Muslim?” he asks. I point out that in my country most people are Christians. “But Islam is better!” he exclaims. “Don’t you think?”

The conversation strains my little knowledge of Kurdish, but I understand him perfectly well. I swallow my answer that as far as I know not even extremist Christians will explode bombs and think this will get them to heaven, so why would being a Christian be a bad thing? I smile instead. He hands me back my iqama. “You should be Muslim!”
When I drive away, all the concerns I discussed recently with equally concerned friends flood back to me. About the fact that many young people are more conservatively religious than the older generation. That most of the girls at university now wear scarves, and all over Kurdistan. About the TV channels that bring in conservative imams, without anyone daring to question their words even if they are out of line and endangering the fabric of the society.

And I cannot stop wondering, how someone like this guard will ever be able to stop his comrades in faith bringing in explosives. Are his bosses aware of it? Can someone point them to this danger? Please?

This blog was first published in Kurdish in the Kurdish daily Kurdistani Nwe

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