Questions persist throughout Iraq regarding whether ISIS is truly defeated or will rise again, perhaps under the banner of another terrorist organization. For Iraqi Christians, the question is often not if, but when. Though defeated militarily, the ideology of ISIS remains victorious in Iraq. Nowhere is this undercurrent more apparent than in the educational curriculum.
Last month, Iraq's Ministry of Education released its new curriculum which immediately received heavy condemnation from Iraq's Christians. Cardinal Louis Raphael Sako, the Chaldean Patriarchate of Babylon, issued a statement condemning the curriculum's content.
He said, "In a book of Islamic curriculum for the first and fifth grades, I read inaccurate, inappropriate and offensives statements that incite hatred and division, which are far from the values of tolerance and the principles of citizenship and coexistence."
"The role of the Ministry of Education is to raise children properly," Cardinal Sako continued. He added that they should "raise children and teach them (how to) accept others in humanity and as citizens. Not as an enemy who should be eliminated."
The textbooks in question are intended for children of the ages 6 and 11. Christians were specifically outraged about a section of the fifth grade curriculum which says that "the woman who is not covered (veiled) is sick." Concerns quickly arose that the curriculum was encouraging violence against Christian women, as they do not wear the hijab (veil).
"Here we would've explained our opinion as a religious and national department which cares about dialogue between different (religious) components and say: the hijab is something further than a piece of fabric. The hijab is something related to the mind to keep our ethics properly. There are a lot of uncovered Muslim women. But they have good ethics and behave in a proper way and vice versa. The hijab is something that should be done with freedom," said Cardinal Sako.
Iraqi Christians were quick to point out that the Ministry of Education's decision to include this kind of statement in the curriculum was unsurprising. "The problem is not only with the curriculum," said Marin, who has 10 children. "The parents come and ask for the hijab for their daughters only during the Islamic class. That's another disaster."
Marin also points to the recent resignation of Shaima al-Hayali just days after her appointment as Iraq's Education Minister. She is an academic from Mosul and resigned after allegations arose that her brother, Laith al-Hayali, was a senior ISIS member.
She claimed on Twitter that "ISIS forced everyone in Mosul to work for them, threatening those who refused to join." She further stated that her brother worked for ISIS under duress. However, the former governor of Nineveh Province, which includes Mosul, says that he has evidence proving her brother's involvement with ISIS. Local media also reported security sources saying that she had two cousins who belonged to ISIS.
The situation underscores the concern that many Christians have about whom to trust. "Can you imagine that the brother of a minister of education is one of the main leaders for ISIS?!" asked Marin. "I can say that I am not surprised about the curriculum, even its effect is wide."
Ayda, a Christian private school principal, is also concerned about the widespread consequences of the curriculum. "The school system in Iraq is bad," he said. "The government stands against those who want to improve it. You know, private schools MUST teach the government's curriculum, in addition to international private curriculums."
This includes the obligation that private schools must teach Islamic classes for Muslim students. "We have the Islamic curriculum from the first grade. I think it should be religious curriculum, instead of only Islam and probably not from the very beginning," added Ayda.
Ayda has much frustration that the quality of education has been compromised for the sake of promoting an Islamic religious curriculum. "We are burdening children with the government's curriculum, which is useless. It is taking most of the children's energy... If children focused [instead] on music or art, those people could not take the terrorism and violence direction when they grow up."
For years, Iraqi Christians have warned against the curriculum as a significant contributor to the persecution they face. Nothing has been accomplished. Meanwhile, the Ministry of Education remains weighed down by a scandal that reminds Christians of something they already knew: ISIS is defeated, but not yet gone.