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Michael Jansen: On the inside
December 29, 2017
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On December 23rd, Mosul Eye, the voice of the city during three terrible years of Daesh rule, called upon all its minorities — Christians, Yezidis, and Shabaks to return and celebrate their holy days at home. He told Christians that churches have been cleared of the debris of war, Christmas trees have been decorated and children were singing carols. The Chaldean Catholic Patriarch Luis Rafael Sako performed the Christmas mass at the Church of our Lady in Mosul where church bells and calls to prayer from the mosques are once again mingling. The byline on the news story was Omar.

Omar Muhammad has only recently revealed his identity after more than three years of keeping strict secrecy while blogging as Mosul Eye, risking his life to describe Daesh’s cruelty and cupidity. He made his announcement in an interview with the Associated Press beginning, humorously, “I can’t be anonymous anymore. This is to say that I defeated [Daesh]. You can see me now, and you can know me now.. My name is Omar Muhammad, and I am a scholar.”

 Born in 1986, during the Iraq-Iran war, Omar survived the other two wars waged on his country by the US Bush presidents, father and son. At 17, he visited a mosque where militant Salafis spoke of fighting the US “crusaders,” harking back to the medieval invasions launched the Roman Catholic Church with the aim of occupying Palestine, Syria and Lebanon, then ruled by Muslims. At university, Omar studied history and had just qualified as a teacher when, in June 2014, the cult’s fighters entered his hometown. He promptly began to record their activities on his personal facebook page but was warned by friends he could be caught and killed.  

 On June 18th, “Mosul Eye” appeared, author unknown. The cult arrived in Mosul with a plan. Daesh took over banks and state institutions and called a meeting of professors and teachers to instruct them to follow a new curriculum. Omar grew his hair and beard and dressed in ankle-length trousers like a Daesh fighter and roamed the city. He spoke to shopkeepers, hospital staff, friends, and Daesh recruits to gather information. He attended trials by judges versed in the ideology of the cult. He went to executions by beheading and stoning and memorised the names of victims. He took notes covertly and, once in his safe room, confided what he had seen and heard to “Mosul Eye.” He told no one, neither family nor friends. His slogan was, “Trust no one, document everything.” He insisted he was neither a “spy” nor a journalist but was both witness and historian. He told his readers they could freely use the information he posted. Omar invented facebook and twitter accounts to carry information not on Mosul Eye.

He wrote, “My job as a historian requires an unbiased approach which I am going to adhere to and keep my personal opinions to myself. I will only communicate the facts I see.” He wrote in both Arabic and English. Mosul Eye became one of the chief sources of information about the transformation of pluralistic Mosul into a war-ridden, terrified sectarian city. Daesh fighters “were organised as a killing machine. They are thirsty [for] blood and money and women.” He attended mosque prayers, listened to Friday sermons preached by Daesha clerics, and posted the cult’s propaganda leaflets, including the one in which the cult’s leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi claimed he was the new “caliph,” a ruler blessed by God. Omar was horrified by the sight of a cult fighter cutting off the hand of a child accused of theft.               

As the Daesh occupation continued and Mosul suffered, Omar decided to court arrest, risking death. He cut his hair, shaved his beard, put on a red sweater, and drove in a car blasting music — all prohibited — to the banks of the Tigris River where he and a friend took tea and smoked. He was not detained. He re-grew his hair and beard and donned his cult-length trousers and blogged. He unwisely wrote that an airstrike had killed several high-level cult commanders and destroyed a weapons cache after learning of the attack from a friend who had joined the cult. Omar feared he would be discovered and closed down Mosul Eye for a week. He carefully listed cult killings and wrote about high security when Baghdadi was in the city. 

Solitary and afraid, Omar decided to leave and hired a smuggler for $1,000 (Dhs3,670) to take him to Turkey. He put all the material on his computer into the hard drive, put it and his notebook into his bag, told his mother he was leaving and departed on December 15th, 2015. In Turkey he continued Mosul Eye, using material gleaned from friends and relations. He also documented the deadly and destructive Iraqi army campaign, backed by US-led airstrikes that have devastated large areas of Mosul. He warned that the history and culture of this multi-ethinic, multi-religious city was being destroyed. In February 2017, he received asylum in Europe and from there has continued his mission to record events in Mosul.

 While the war continued to take its toll, he learned about the liberation of the university and promptly launched a campaign restock the library where all the books had been burned by Daesh. The response shocked him: thousands of people donated books and Mosul Eye “reached its goals very quickly.”

Omar was not alone in reporting Daesh atrocities in his hometown. Raqqa is being Slaughtered Silently began reporting on the cult’s crucifixions and beheadings after it took over the Syrian city in April 2014 and proclaimed it the Daesh capital. The blog began as the work of 17 young people who were repeatedly threatened by Daesh preachers in Friday sermons. Members and friends of the group were caught and executed in Raqqa itself and leading activists were murdered by Daesh in Turkey. Fatalities were higher than even organisers had foreseen. The group was honoured with the International Press Freedom Award in 2015 presented by the Committee to Protect Journalists. Omar Muhammad deserves the same.
 
___________________________________________
The author, a well-respected observer of Middle East
affairs, has three books on the Arab-Israeli conflict

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