We read about advances and setbacks in the ongoing struggle against ISIS all the time, whether they are committed above ground, through airstrikes, or on the ground, through suicide bombers and the like. However, there is also an underground war, between those who continue to deem Iraq's culture synonymous to extremism and those, many of whom are Iraqi, who seek to cherish the culture that lies beyond internal violence. Thanks to the recent 2015 Miss Iraq Beauty Pageant, it looks like Iraq has just had scored a victory in this war.
The success of the Miss Iraq 2015 competition and the subsequent crowning of Shaima Qassim as its winner symbolizes the victory of a culture of preservation over a culture of destruction. In studying hostilities in Iraq, it is important to look at human casualties. It is important to stand against the killing and mistreatment of innocent civilians. Still, it is also important to look at the cultural casualties, which can be seen not only in the destruction of some of Iraq's earliest artifacts, but within our own country.
Extremist incidents continue to taint the American view of Iraqi culture. The San Bernardino shooting, whose shooters were alleged to have ties to jihadism, produced a spark in hate crimes throughout the United States.
The shooting also sparked urgency in the Republican Party to deny the admittance of refugees to the United States, many of which would come from regions in Iraq.
After this shooting, the extremists prevailed in the underground war, as they have many times in this country since September 11th, 2001. Nevertheless, the 2015 Miss Iraq competition proves not only that there is potential for an Iraq that is above violence but that there are already Iraqi women promoting and working towards this goal, by representing their country even amidst threats of death. There are people beyond government leaders who are seeking to defeat ISIS, not with bombs, but with smiles of Iraqi pride -- smiles of stronger caliber than any AK-47.
Iraqi pride is hard to pinpoint, not in a world where Iraq is tied so closely to Islam and Islamic extremism that it is hard to fathom Iraqi nationalism. As a second-year pursuant of a Bachelors' degree in history, the ties are evident in my studies.
Iraqi culture is often placed under the larger umbrella of Islamic culture, as if because Iraq is under religious control, it fails to exist as a national entity. While Islam is a facet of Iraqi culture, it is not all there is to Iraq. Similarly, though Islamic extremism may be prevalent in Iraq, so is cultural pride. In coverage of the pageant, both The Guardian and Yahoo News cited that one of the uniquely Iraqi aspects of the pageant included a guard carrying a Kalashnikov, a type of gun, at the door. Violence does not embody Iraqi culture, regardless of what extremists may purport. In explaining what message she sought to get across about Iraq through her participation in the pageant, eighteen-year-old pageant competitor Hasma Khalid expressed the embodiment of Iraqi culture best: peace. There are many that seek to promote that peace is possible in Iraq, and as the success of this pageant proves, they are a force to be reckoned with.
We still have work to do in the fight against extremism and the cultural diminishment it causes. Nevertheless, the success of this pageant, which prevailed amidst death threats, proves that in the underground war between clashing cultures -- a culture of violence versus a culture of preservation -- there is hope for preservation after all.