Friday, May 05, 2006

What is in a name?

The Chicago Tribune:
"I started to feel frightened after hearing stories that they are killing people named Omar and that there are checkpoints where they arrest people named Omar," said Mashhadani, a 32-year-old electronics engineer who lives in western Baghdad. "Then two of my friends named Omar from the mosque and one from work changed their names. I decided it was best to be on the safe side."

So Mashhadani became Ammar, a name that unlike Omar could be either Sunni or Shiite. "It sounds like Omar, and if someone calls you, you will remember that it's you," he said.

As the number of sectarian killings in Iraq soars, and Iraqis on both sides of the Sunni-Shiite divide feel increasingly nervous about mingling with the opposite sect, name-changing is on the rise.

But perhaps no one feels as threatened as those called Omar, a name that is both commonplace and exclusively Sunni. At registry offices in Baghdad, lawyers and clerks report a surge of inquiries by Omars seeking to change their names, usually to the similar-sounding and religiously neutral Ammar.

"We hear so many reports of people being killed or arrested just because their name is Omar," said Omar al-Jibouri, who heads the human-rights department of the Sunni Islamic Party. "In some areas, especially where there's a Shiite majority, we are advising people to change their names in order to protect their lives."


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