Admitting that this was a freedom not usually afforded to most Iraqis because of the strong patriarchal culture, Hasan explained it was the liberal environment in which he grew up that contributed greatly to his outlook on life today.
“In other families there are ‘bad’ traditions,” said the Baghdad native.
“The father rules everything from education to family and even marriage for most families in Baghdad. Choosing your religion, it was not because you liked it, it was because you father said so. There are also many restrictions on daughters.”
That being the cultural norm, Hasan indicated that life in Baghdad before the U.S. lead invasion was “very ordinary” for everyone.
In fact, the sectarian divide that inundates today’s media cycle and that has created most of the country’s instability today was never a felt reality before 2003.
“I never knew much about the differences between Sunnis and Shias before I was eight years old,” admitted Hasan. “A friend told me about it,” he revealed, his family comprising both Shias and Sunnis.
Unaware of the Islamic divide then, Hasan believes now, that sectarian dynamics had long played a divisive role throughout Iraqi’s political history.
“It is sectarian beliefs that every government in Iraq’s history has used to control each sect’s leaders and as a result control the entire country.”
Coming to this realisation, Hasan made the argument, void of any passion that would indicate fanaticism, for prohibition of religious ceremonies, rites and practices in public.
“These should be in the privacy of one’s own home,” he stated. “I am not against religion,” he continued. “Just its misuse.”
Keeping his views on religion private, but not denying them to family and close friends, it was in a series of innocent posts on Facebook to friends that inadvertently revealed his views.
Even in peaceful times: the pluralistic and inclusive Saddam era, these views would most likely have been shunned in Iraq. But in an era in which efforts of extremists groups like ISIS to establish a Sunni Islamic Caliphate dominate, it had become a potential threat to life.
It did not help that he lived in a predominantly Shia neighbourhood and as a result found himself a loner.
Hasan left Iraq 18 months ago, explaining that his exodus was a decision not made easy, calling it a “very complex” one, indicative of a gradual conclusion.
“I hated to have a duality in my life. I could not deal with that,” said Hasan, his reasons for leaving still elusive.
To the definitively posed question, ‘Why did you leave Iraq?’ he revealed it- unaware that he had kept it hidden.
Without any indication of anomaly, in a nonchalant, unwavering voice, he stated,
“I am an atheist.”