Wednesday, August 29, 2007

The Passion of Hussein

"I have many scores with the enemy
Not only one, is that which I desire

Your back, your little finger, your liver

your grey hairs which in blood had been soaked

Your chest, your thirsty heart

Your body, My master, that which was crucified

Before you there was not a tragedy

a slaughter from the back to the back

and a head sheathed
up on the spear
From a land to another

your head, O the willful, goes round and round"

- Bassim al-Karbali'e, lamenting Imam Hussein' death in Bil Taff Lu Chinit Mawjood

I have been avoiding this post for almost a year now, for fear of meddling into a big sectarian mess that shuold be treaded carefully to say the least. However, my recent re-viewing of South Park's infamous The Passion of The Jew episode convinced me of its importance.

When I first watched The Passion of The Christ back when it was just released, like many others, I was in complete awe of the film. Deeply moved, and compounded by explicit hatred at the jews. At the time, like any good-loving Muslim, I didn't give any extra thought into the innate, inherent evil of anything Jewish.
I watched the film again about a month ago, and found that there is little more in the film that actually makes it something above a simple 'snuff film', the only significane it served is the fact that the man being killed, unlike millions others killed in a similar fashion, is the principle focus of a major world religion. The Passion itself is a medieval performance piece whose only purpose is to incite anti-semitism. Discussions into the film's possible and unintended (or intended) inciting of similar sentiments have been dead and done, but the myriad similarity between the centrality of the crucification and the Shiite's Flagellation processions is what forced me to criticise it here.

For a year, I have been pondering over and over about what Shi'ism is about. In Sunni Islam, the history of the Arab/Islamic Nation is basically: everybody lived happily ever after until very recently, the bulk of wars between people deemed companions to the prophet are often ignored or passed in silence. This amazing discovery forced me to read and re-examine my beliefs, and since then it has been an endless fascination for me to read about the history and origins of the endless Sunni-Shiite conflict.

The first thing that struck me odd in Shiism is that, while it tries hard to claim that its ideology is derived from reason and logic, it's present spiritual force is exactly the same force that grips you when you see the Messiah being whipped by Roman Soldiers until his ribs poke out, unreasoning raw sympathy for another human being compounded a million times by the perceived saintly stature of the man in your consciousness, a force so emotionally terrible that strips you of any thinking, so strong that your heart eventually convince yourself it must be true, the problem with such gushing sensations is that the heart is often an unreliable conductor To quote the late leader of Badr/SCIRI (now SIIC) Mohammed Baqir al-Hakim: "Shiism was kept alive in two things and two things only: the focus on the plight of Hussein and his mother, Fatima al-Zahraa."
There is no better example of this logic-less method of persuasion that the story of Fatima al-Zahraa's Rib, supposedly, before the death of the prophet, he appointed his cousin, Ali, as his successor, but the first caliph was Abu Bakr al-Siddiq, when Ali refused to extend allegiance, Omar ibn al-Khataab, one of the most important companions in Sunni Islam, went to his house and started shouting and threatening to burn it even though Fatima, Ali's wife and Prophet Mohammed's only daughter, is inside, eventually, Omar (sometimes not him, but a minor slaved called Qunfudh) crushed Fatima using the door of the house, that her rib was broken, and she was forced into a miscarriage of the third child Muhsin, before dying six months later, in a notorious day Shiites uphold as 'Zahraa's Martyrdom' Amazingly, Imam Ali, easily the most self-righterous, strongest and most courageous figure in Islam, did absolutely nothing for the death of his wife and child. and went to 'grudgingly' accept the caliphate of Abu Bakr and Omar, even advising the latter on certain matters, for fear over the unity of Islam!!!! This is the same Ali whose self-imposed puritanical approach to life and refusal to compromise on anything led him, knownigly, to his defeat by the more wily and persuasive Muawiya. In fact, first act on the first day of his caliphate some 30 years later was chasing Ubaidullah bin Omar, who killed a Persian without any charges after the second caliph was killed, such is his stubborn adherence to the principles, that it is seems ridiculous, even hugely insulting to his character, that he would contend with 'accepting the unity of Islam' when such grave sins were committed not only under the tent of Islam, but to his personal family and wife.

When I asked a very devout Shiite friend of mine from Najaf about Ali's actions, his simple explanation was that 'it was told to Ali that he have to act this way by the Prophet', an even more puzzling mystical solution, as the prophet could have easily dispensed of his two companions, both of which belonging to minor tribes who pose no real threat to him, when he was alive.

Unfortuantely, this illogical story is a foundation for the Shiite faith ; A neutral person, with no previous knoweldge of Ali and Omar, would have trouble not being affected by the yearly wealth of poems and latmiyas, set to heart-piercing melodies, telling in horrible detail the wounds and injuries suffering the saintly lady by the 'oppressors and criminals'. If Laughing is infections, then crying is terminal. Even though Abu Bakr and Omar had differences with Fatima, their latter actions when they assumed the caliphate were unlike those of the following tyrannical kings such as Muawiya or Yazid, or even those like Omar's successor Uthman ; they remained as poor as they were before ruling, their clothes and food remained as rough as the Prophet (and Ali's), and their actions were in the interest of the Islamic State overall. Some Shiite scholars like Mohammed Fadhulallah, Hezbollah's spiritual leader, tried to negate this story, but he was ruthlessly and harshly denounced by both the common and the other Ayatollahs such as Iraq's Ali Sistani, quoting: 'The tragedy of Zahraa is essential to our sect, and without it, our sect would become quite simply the same as the other sect.' This is correct, because to Shiism the whole idea is of a single , continous tapestry of suffering and pain since the death of the Prophet Mohammed until today, and to break a crucial pillar of that fragment would ultimately lead to the downfall of the whole sect.

That is not to say that Shiism is devoid of any positive principles, like the countless other revolutions throughout history, such as communism and pan-Arab nationalism, Shiism started with a noble true cause that throughout history was shortened to nothing more than rituals and beliefs which are recognized as more important than its true spirit, the spirit of revolution against the rulers who descended into wordly pleasures and mixed religious rule with that of a king. Open any Shiite website and you would find the larger section of the site dedicated to the Shiite Opus Dei-like hymns of flagellation, wailing over the ethereal Battle of Kerbala and all the time asking for the venegance and revenge, which easily replaced the spirit of corrective revolution as the driving force of inspiration for the creed, thankfully, that revenge is postponed until the day when Imam Mahdi (GHA) will rise up, and whose first act shall be to to resurrect Abu Bakr, Omar, Uthman, Aisha, Muawiya, Yazid, Harun, and probably Saddam, to punish them for the deaths of Ali, Fatima, Hasan, Hussein, Musa al-Kazim, Ali al-Ridha and other reverred figures. Imam Mahdi serves as the simple opium found in the cultures of many oppressed folks by which their little dreams of getting a shot at the oppression of state comes true and accomplishes what they failed to do. It is actually that story which led me to drop my belief in both the Sunni and Shiite versions of the Mahdi, the only form of Mahdi I believe in now is the Second Coming of Christ, which exists in Islam as well.

My study of Shiism also changed my view of the Umayyid and Abbasid rulers, for it is apparent as the sun that Muawiya bin Abu Sufayan and his son Yazid have played a great deal in the dissolution of the puritanical principles of religion, perhaps they were only instruments for the unavoidable current of human nature, which abandoned Ali's tight adherence to religion and sought a freer, more joyous interpretation of life, nevertheless, it clarified my vision and opened up my mind as the history of our nation, and i have to thank Shiism for that.
The following passage in the book Sultan's Preachers, by the secular Shiite Ali al-Wardi, helped me in a great way formulate the ideas I expressed above:

We have said earlier that the Saffavids have tamed the prinicples of Shiism, reducing it into a 'slumbering revolution', a dormant volcano with only a few smokes signifiying its earlier destructive capabilites. Shiism still has in its folds innate residues of its old revolutionary spirit, extensions whose original function was exhausted and has since then functioned in a harmful, not useful manner. An objective examiner of Shiism will find mysterious social activities which deserves amazement and further observation. Rituals which would stun some of its origins, bringing others to revile in disgust at its myths and exaggerations. Nevertheless, we cannot purposefully explain those mysterious patterns but as artifacts of the past centuries where Shiism was the brinstorm of revolution in the Islamic world.
Those artifacts could be summed down in such:

1. The Imamate: Shiites today look upon their old Imams, the descendants of Ali, in a strong holy fashion, considering them infallible, and bringing them to a level above humanity, as well as seeking their tombs for intercession in every plight. The principle behind the act of glorifying Imams used to be revolutionary, an indirect criticism of the decadence of the Muslim rulers, in a fashion simliar to Plato and Farabi's Utopian society solutions.
2. The Mahdi : This belief is the principle upon which many revolutions were based, socially speaking, the Mahdi is a rebel, many rebels in the past were named Mahdi even though they themsleves did not claim to be so. Researchers were puzzled over the origin of the term in Islam, but it is clear that al-Mahdi is an arabization of Torah's Messiah, the heroic savior of divine guidance. Anyone reading Ezekiel will find a curious resemblance between the chapter and Shiism's Mahdi.Simply put, the dreams of the oppressed is the same everywhere, everytime. As the oppressed who cannot avenge his prosecution seeks a dream-like future prophecy, and builds towering castles of hope. Sociologists found that the oppressed society often tends to create myths to fight its unjust rulers, those myths are called 'Social myths'.
Thus, we can say that modern-day Shiism lost the social concepts of the Mahdi and retained the mythical shell of ideological dictum.
3. The third is Dissimuilation (taqqiya), a social pattern that accompanies revolution when it begins, old Shiites sought taqqiya to be free from the state's chase. Today, Taqqiya lost that revolutionary status and become embedded in the new religious, political and social system that the Shiites follow, a mere relic from older times.
4. The fourth is the what is today termed 'Hussein's Cememoration', which was in its earlier form a slogan for anti-state propaganda, eventually developing with the passage of time into meaningless rituals. Shiites of yore would gather in the cellars to cememorate the huge injustice on Hussein, implicity discussing state oppression on various fields, in a move simliar to today's underground rebellion movements. Today, Shiites forgot the principles for which Hussein revolted, and they would even engage against those prinicples just the same, as long as they cry and mourn him, as if this was the final intended destination. Today, Shiites visit Hussein's grave by the thousands each year, and then return like they went, doing nothing but screaming and yelling. Today, they are dormant rebels drugged by their own authority, turning the swords they fought the authority with into chains and spears.

Mel Gibson:You can't say my movie sucked, or else you're saying Christianity sucked!
Stan:No, dude, if you wanna be Christian, that's cool, but, you should follow what Jesus taught instead of how he got killed. Focusing on how he got killed is what people did in the Dark Ages and it ends up with really bad results.
Jack:You know, he's right, Elise. We shouldn't focus our faith on the torture and execution of Christ.
Shlomo:Yeah. Lots of people got crucified in those times. We shouldn't rely on violence to inspire faith.
Cartman:Aw, aw, no, come on, people, we're so close to completing my final solution!

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

Shiqaqnifaq and Lot

the recent two posts by Iraqi bloggers describing their experiences at the Jordanian airport has caused a flurry of activity little seen in the Arab blogosphere,the first post was by Omar at Iraq The Model, and the second and more detailed one involves Last of Iraqis as he tries to spend a little vacation there with his wife, both posts revolve around the rejection, but most importantly humilitation, they receive as they spend the day waiting for a flight back in a room Iraqis dub 'the jail' (pictures available at LastIraqis's post, as well as a video on Zeyad's).
This was soon followed by all sorts of reactions from both sides of the British Sykos-Picot divide, in addition to others from the Arab world, ranging everywhere from apologetic to extreme far-right, I have collected the ones I could find here, there might be others:
Arguing for Iraq: Catholic Sunni Shia, Silly Bahraini
Arguing for Jordan: Black Iris( has the most interesting discussions in its comments),
Moey , Bakkouz(now removed).
Balanced: Mkilany , Qwaider,

Interestingly, further research revealed a Jordanian Facebook group called We Hate Iraqis.
Aimed at expelling the '1)smelly, 2)suddenly rich Iraqis 3)who've been less than 10 years in Jordan', I constitutionally violate the 2nd clause, but obviously i am (3) and I am sure as shit smelly, I'm sorry folks but I sweat a lot and your water is scarce. So i thought i'd save it to you and rot for the sake of keeping your natural resources.

All jokes aside, the treatment of Iraqis in Jordanian airport is certainly unacceptable as a lot of Jordanians have pointed out, but some Jordanians (and Iraqis) have quickly descended into a name game, let us look at some of the arguments:

Jordanian: If you don't like it, get out. This happens everywhere...
Iraqis: We're giving you oil for (10, 20, 100) years and this is how you repay us? We built you.
Jordanian: Who killed Saddam Hussein? You bastards! (few Pan-Arab tears shed here)
Iraqi: You traitors! We are all Arab (national pan-Arab anthem plays here, but the happy commercial does not end on good terms...)
Jordanian: Shut up, ya balad al-Shiqaq wa Nifaq (Land of Discord & Hypocrisy, the favorite Arab slander of Iraqis, thank you Mr. Hajaj)
Iraqi: Shut up, Qawm Lot (the infamous anicent butt-sex freaks people of the Prophet Lot, unfortunately situated near the Dead Sea.)

The thing is, while abuse of Iraqis in Jordan is an issue, I don't think Iraqis have that much of a right to complain, considering the complaints issued by the blogs i listed above, and the soccer-celebration incident I posted about before, one fact must be emphasized:

a) WE ARE ALL ARAB. and most importantly

Yes, it's a mighty true shame ; but it's true, if Jordanians were in Iraq, I'm sure we'd kick their asses if they were celebaring the national team winning in our country and causing massive traffic jams we don't need. Maybe if Saddam Hussein was in power, he'd make use of the event to showcase his prowess as a Pan-Arab leader, but the people themselves wouldn't feel that happy, to quote the saying "A crow tells a crow, your face is black."
We're not much better than Jordanians, even before I got into Jordan, I was warned by many friends that Jordanians 'hate our guts', judging from personal experience, my homeland (and all Arabs, as I found out) exaggerate in terms of racism, so while I tried hard to shrug this off, I nevertheless embraced Jordan with a huge feeling of self-conciousness, eventually I found out that you basically can get your way around here pretty much okay in terms of day-to-day interaction if you respect people and be pleasant with them. It's hard to exactly describe the love-hate relationship between Arabs of different countries, but it's best summarized by the Bedouin saying: 'Me and my brother on my cousin, me and my cousin on the enemy.', sure, there are stone-faced racists who will never change the way they think, and it is my regret that I actually managed to make friends with one, but there are a lot of decent and generous people as well, the last time I entered Jordan was September 2006 with my grandparents, for the first time I was nervous because of the many rejection stories I have heard, amazingly, it wasn't me who was the problem but my 84-year old grandfather, who had a FAKE passport, my grandfather's passport was done in Iraq through a connection, who brought it to him with somebody else's fingerprints on it, being a stalwart man of principle, Grandpa insisted that he get a clean passport so he can put his own print on it, sure enough, the passport comes a week later, what we didn't know is that the man who did it (either the connection or the passport officer) had simply ripped the page and replaced it with a new one. Anyway, after being held by intelligence officers for about 15 minutes, they gave him a two-weeks admission notice based on his old age, another thing which might have helped was his serving in the Palestine 1948 war, anyway, my grandfather said that the Jordanian officials were 'very respectful' and a few months later he said that they were 'doing a very good job.' My grandmother, a naturally racist person like many others, stranglely agreed.

There is a sizable amount of unjustified racism and blame, but it's hard for me to point any finger because both sides are equally selective in perceiving each other's *virtues*, and this is my way of trying to show Jordanians that there are some Iraqis like me who are certainly thankful for all that they are doing but equally hopeful that they can accept criticism with an open heart. I know some of the words posted at those blogs are needlessly harsh but I would suppose that under the circumstances they were projected to it's somewhat reasonable, have a bad experience with a country at its borders, you're going to label the whole country altogether...we are not asking to be received by open arms, and we are aware of the economic problems caused by a sizable refugee group, but there are also benefits in exchange for those.

While those words are somehow unrelalistic given the circumstances, but in the larger world, we are all insignificant if we continue to squabble like this. I hope there would be one improbable day when Iraqis, Jordanians, Kuwaitis, Palestinians and all realize that those phony classifications are drawn by a map based on a British-French treaty held in 1916.

Wednesday, August 01, 2007

A Faith Restored

ANYONE who's been following this blog would have no difficulty finding out that I am as optimistic about Iraq as a dead skunk on the side-road, all the books that I read, all the things I see and hear everyday, from friends, from TV, from parents, all serves to confirm my deductions about the future of the country-to-have-been. You could only imagine my own shock as I found myself trying hard as a I can to resist swelling tears as I was watching the Iraqi team win the semifinal on a penalty shot against South Korea, looking up, I realized something, none of the players were smiling...

They were all crying too.

It was magical, as if they were all thinking the same thing as I am. This is not a regular victory, this is a bittersweet one, a deeper, more meaningful one. To me, that was a 'born-again' movie moment, something which definitely was one of those moments that make life worth living. I did not even care if they won the final, as that moment had singlehadedly convinced me in a very practical manner of something I was dilligently trying to shed my skin away from all this past period : that one can love his country with no strings attached whatsoever - but they did win the final in a historic match.
If you do recall correctly, A similar event presented itself when Iraqi singer Shadha Hasoon won the StarAcademy contest, another event that was trumpeted up our helpless asses as a figure that Iraq was still strong, my reaction was audibly toilety. As a matter of fact, I was not basking alone in my cave of contempt but a great portion of people felt the same way, so why should football, yet another leisure-time concept imported from the infidel West, trigger such emotions? While both singing and football are universal delights, football is too embedded in the national consciousness to be regarded as a 'western import' now, even though some half-brained clerics occasionally try to voice that idea, football has nothing that could be considered as in explicit violation of religious decrees, and it found its die-hard audience as the number 1 sport in most of the world countries, including Iraq.

Here's something interesting: I went out after the game to the commercial Rabia district, where scores of Iraqis gathered shouting and chanting in front of the most popular Iraqi restaurant, Qassim Abu il-Kass, I even shared a bit into the 'mosh-pit' of people jumping up and down and it was all fine for about 10 or 15 minutes, and that's when this black 4x4 came in out of nowhere, somebody was standing on top of it, and he was holding a picture of Saddam Hussein, he was shouting at the top of his voice only for one thing: "our blood, our soul, we sacrifice to you Saddam" (which is hugely ironic, since "we" are still alive and chanting), a few chimed in this, but i believe most did not, and in fact it generated a counter-chant (our blood, our soul, we give to you Iraq), I was revelling with disgust and I really considered hurling a shoe at the picture of the man who was the only one sacrificed so far, but it didn't last long, since the Jordanian security guards came, very angry and rugged, and started dispersing the crowds, they took about a dozen young men for charges ranging from holding the Iraqi flag, talking back, and beating a daff (tambourine like thingie), they may have had a right to disperse us, as the street was a major commercial one and it was clogged bad, but their most violent, uncouth method of doing so was certainly reflective of the solidarity of the Arab nations, and it is really nice if compared to this picture taken in Sweden, where the people there are perhaps 1/10 of the ones in Jordan but the celerbation there was 10 times as bigger, allegedly WITH the help of the police, who closed the place for them (click to enlarge):

Yes, I do realize that probably it may have no effect on the bloodbath back home, and things could be darker than one would ever imagine, but what this thing did for me, and hopefully for many other Iraqis, is that it reminded us that there is indeed something that is common between all of us that is real and genuine, a deep chord that is resonating still inside, whether it was already present and we lost it, or whether we are all hoping for that could transpire practically in the future, in any case, for the first time in my life, I believe in Iraq with conviction, and that is certainly enough.

NOTE: This seminal Zeyad post includes a lot of pictures about worldwide Iraqi celebrations , the ones in Jordan feature the Saddam picture i was talking about as well as a hazy YouTube video of the Jordanian security episode.