Sayyed Hani Fahs speaks about Ramadan in Iraq during an event at the Iraqi cultural center in Beirut, Thursday, July 3, 2014. (The Daily Star/HO)
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Sayyed Hani Fahs remembers the city of Najaf fondly as a place where atheists and believers engaged in regular, friendly debate and religious education was not considered an antidote to humor.Strengthened by its gains in Syria, ISIS recently captured huge swaths of northern Iraq and announced the establishment of a caliphate headed by Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi. The success of their military offensive took many observers by surprise, although Iraqis in Lebanon who spoke to The Daily Star considered it the inevitable result of accumulated political and military failures, especially the American invasion and its aftermath. Fahs lamented the loss of Iraq's diversity and tolerance in recent years, although he did not speak directly to either the American invasion or ISIS' recent gains. Instead, he told stories of the Iraq he knew in the 1960's, a cultural melting pot where secularism and faith lived side by side and students from all over the Arab and Muslim world came to study. "Something could happen, but as Iraqis we are used to this," said Khalisi, who works for a human rights organization. She and her family have lived in Lebanon for three years and still plan to return to Iraq.
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