Hoshang Waziri is a researcher at Artis International. He is the author of a collection of essays, Between Two Iraqs (2014), and several plays, and was the executive producer of the documentary A Syrian Love Story (2015). (October 2017)
For a time, Iraq’s northern region, Kurdistan, tried to disassociate itself from the rest of the country and represent itself as a new country, promoting itself as “The Other Iraq.” Kurdistan politicians spent tens of millions of dollars on lobbying to project an image of their region as a place of peaceful coexistence and democracy. But the face of Kurdish oppression has changed; it’s closer to home, more familiar. Today, the Kurds’ oppressors are themselves Kurdish and that new “Other Iraq” is more and more coming to resemble the old Iraq of Saddam Hussein, a one-party totalitarian state ruled by terror.
The purpose of documentaries is often to bring us a step closer to understanding distant or alien realities, to give us a nuanced sense of what is going on in some particularly knotted human relations and complicated unfolding events. But Nowhere to Hide does more than that, pulling its viewers into the war, making us stumble over burned body parts. It’s not an explanatory lesson about war, it does not provide answers; rather, it deepens the questions.
Our research team has been working on the front lines of the fight with ISIS since the beginning of 2015 to enhance policymakers’ access to field-based social science. We found that although ISIS has lost control of almost all majority-Sunni territory in Iraq, the group has imbued a generation of young Sunni Arabs with a strict belief in Sharia law as the only way to govern society; and this is a value they are willing to fight and die for. The people we interviewed and tested almost invariably associated democracy with human weakness and perfidy.