Thursday, July 31, 2008

Joining The Joker Jubliancy and The Baathist Superman

I hate anything that stirs a public sensation, based on my faith in humanity, the humanity that keeps asking me to add pointless Facebook applications and internet memes, the object of the ever-shifting public adoration tend to be some cutesy sold-out simplistic dumb-down, my childhood role has always been to root for the number two, PC vs Playstation, adventure games vs First Person Shooters, and of course Batman against Superman.
Batman was my favorite superhero when I was a kid, while comics were nowhere prominent in Iraq (although everybody knew who Batman is) I discovered the Caped Jihadist [Crusader is frowned upon here] at about 8, he was black-and-white in the Iraqi rip-off version of the Lebanese licensed DC Comics magazine, it was called Al-Rajul al-Khariq (lit. The Amazing Man) and they pretended Superman's name was Khariq, thankfully, Batman was spared from Saddam's Lookalike Campaign, the lesser-known campaign that was overshadowed by the Saddam-Mural-For-Every-Iraqi Campaign, this obscure fiasco consisted of making every Iraqi look like Saddam Hussein, while the Greatest Detective hid in the shadows from the Baath, the brazen Man of Steel didn't, thus Khariq sported a Thmanniya Shbaat bush (February, 8th, Iraqi slang for Baathist – from the revolution of 8 February 1963) that curiously disappeared in his Clark Kent alter-ego. I couldn't find any mention of it on the web so I approximated the effect:

(note: only the cover was colored)
Wonder Woman: Superman!?!?
Superman: Something's controlling me! I can only say: Bil Rooh! Bil Dam! Nifdik Ya Saddam!!!

Batman is awesome in many ways, his costume isn't ridiculously bright, he is scary and dark but not evil, and he has satanic horns. His stories have some sort of serious edge to them, which is why he is the only one who could receive this mature treatment. My favorite Batman was the beady-eyed long-horned one in the late 70s/early 80s.

With all that in mind, I've long ago stopped reading comics (except for a nostalgia period earlier this year invoked by political comics), and have never found anything special in any of the movies at this point to rekindle my interest, when I heard about the big fuss, I suspected it was capitalizing over the death of that Ledger guy who plays the Joker, a character I furiously disliked, I've never heard of Heath Ledger before, and when I heard he starred in a film about gay cowboys eating pudding, I wasn't really that eager about him – I'm okay with the gay thing, but keep it out of every other movie/story please, so you can imagine my surprise when I found myself walking out of the The Dark Knight totally blown away.
Simply put, if it wasn't for Ledger, this whole film wouldn't have registered as anything but a regular superhero outfit with some grandiose thinking-man philosophical aspirations for the sake of coloring (which is what Batman Begins was). Heath blows the big con known as Jack Nicholson's acting, which consists of simply standing there and plugging his natural charisma through every other movie (except About Schmidt, okay), Nicholson's Joker consisted of Nicholson in make-up, he was painfully unfunny, and very predictable. From this perspective, the entire Burton film is very predictable. To be fair, the comparison is a bit criminal, the 1989 film had to the horrid comic-book camp of the 60s Batman to compete against in the perception of the audience, so the dull predictability may have registered very differently back then. In fact, the presence of a stereotypical, theatrical performance of The Joker such as Nicholson's is one of the reasons why Heath's ironical Joker, which is a corruption of the norm, is so very effective; when you think of the Joker, you have a very clear idea of this high-energy clown with a persistent smile who jumps around like a lethal Daffy Duck, this is why it's so frightening to watch this sarcastic anarchist, with a red clown smile painted widely on his face, an outline that he never bothers to fill with an actual smile, only a knowing glare emitting from him, his "jokes" are intentionally unfunny, as if mocking you to think of him as a clown, the whole aura is left-of-center disturbing. Everything else is solid in the film, the visuals are admittedly stunning, the action sequences are good, but at the end of the day, everything is brought to life by the presence of that core character, delivering the sort of visceral film that assaults your senses so that when it's over, you end up walking back home lamenting the fact that the world is so drab and colorless.

Many people have hailed this film as the first really 'real' story featuring superheroes, comparing it to crime dramas such as Heat, and they're right. This is not just a 'superhero' film.

Monday, July 28, 2008

Yousif Chahine : Another One Bites The Dust

I must not be the only one who thought Hiyya Fudha was a major suck-ball convention. Our lord and savior, Allah Most High, blissfully smites another overrated director. After seeing so many deaths to render 'death' virtually meaningless, I won't fake caring, I don't think highly of Egyptian cinema, it's overstocked with commercial comedies and is on a notable downhill, that's why I thought I was seeing something worthy when I gambled on seeing Hiyya Fudha, fat chance.
(Hina Maysara, by Chahine's portege, is worth your attention though.)

Saturday, July 26, 2008

Baghdad Muralists Resist Push for Sectarian Themes

To coincide with this recent Yahoo news story (below), I decided to upload all the mural photos I could find, they're not as easy to find as before, the fifth one is my favorite.

(click to enlarge any picture)

BAGHDAD - It's art ornamenting life: murals of soothing landscapes and historical heroes covering the blast walls that are now as much a part of Baghdad's cityscape as date palms and desert dust. The idea took off last year when Iraqi aid groups sought to provide work for young artists — and offer a bit of hope and a splash of color to a city whose signature hue is oatmeal brown.

But fully rising above Iraq's sectarian suspicions has proved a challenge.

Many members in the founding group of artists are putting down their brushes to protest requests from neighborhood councils to depict politically charged sectarian themes such as Sunni shrines in Sunni districts or Shiite saints in Shiite areas.

"We'd rather refuse the work than do that," said Ali Saleem Badran, one of the original crew of muralists in the Jamaat al-Jidaar, or the Wall Group. "That is not what this work is supposed to say."

But that is what Baghdad has become: a quilt of Sunni and Shiite enclaves after years of sectarian killings and threats. While some displaced families are crossing the lines and returning to their old neighborhoods as violence ebbs, the capital may never fully regain its place as a true mixing ground for Iraq's religious and ethnic groups.

The mural project began in early 2007 when Iraqi civic groups approached aspiring and student artists, including Badran who was then in his last year of art school.

Hundreds of concrete slabs — each about 12-by-6-feet and designed to shield against car bombs and other threats — were gradually turned into an open air art gallery meant to boost spirits and kindle optimism.

It's a bit like the Baghdad version of other acts of art in the face of adversity, such as the New Deal-funded murals during the Depression or the tangle of messages and figures on the western face of the Berlin Wall.

But rumbles started a few months ago, Badran said, when the program was transferred from loose government oversight to neighborhood councils that began suggesting sectarian images.

Many of the original artists have refused to take part. Local dabblers have often taken up the slack with less refined — but still potent — references to either Sunni or Shiite roots.

"They want to take an idea that was supposed to unite the city and express the things that divide us," said Badran, now a professor at the Fine Arts College in northern Baghdad.

City officials have tried to clamp down on overt sectarian symbols, but watching over the miles of blast walls borders on impossible. The best they can do is appeal for reconciliation.

"This is the year of reconstruction. This is the year of building," said Tahseen al-Sheikhly, civilian spokesman for Baghdad security operations.

For now, most of the paintings on blast walls are apolitical, portraying themes on the region's past as Mesopotamia, the Sumarian and Assyrian cultures, Baghdad's place as an intellectual heart of the medieval Islamic world.

Others show the fabled Hanging Gardens of Babylon, one of the seven wonders of the ancient world, and ziggurats, the terraced temple towers that once dotted the Mesopotamian valley.

Still others depict stylized scenes from Arab myths and literature — Scheherazad's tales is a favorite subject — or wild nature like galloping Arabian horses or boats on the Tigris River.

Remarkably, none of the murals appears to have suffered any significant vandalism or the type of graffiti seen on naked blast walls, such as the scrawled slogans and advertisements for businesses hidden behind the concrete barriers.

One barber tried to lure customers with a ditty that rhymes in Arabic: "Jump and you will find me."

The hands-off aura around the murals could be fear of the Iraqi security patrols or America's aerial surveillance. Badran likes to think it's respect.

"People know these murals represent a kind of hope," he said. "So why would they ruin them? That's like saying they don't want things to improve."

Qasim Sabti, who runs one of Baghdad's best-known art galleries, said he encouraged about 20 young artists to join the mural effort in the early stages, and he denounces the attempt to push sectarian images.

"It is absolutely rejected by any respectful artist," Sabti said. "We, as a community of artists, refuse this."


This is the barber graffiti, it's really clever:

In comparison, here's some other apartheid wall murals, this is Dansky's, a British artist on the Palestinian-Israeli wall:

Monday, July 21, 2008

Memoirs of Ahmed al-Katib -4-

The moment we stepped foot in Iran, we realized the diversity of opinion and movements, we took note in the fact that the official Iranian position during the reign of Mr. Mahdi Bazragan's government favored normalized relations with Iraq, affirming the 1975 Algiers agreement. Iranian foreign minister Mr. Ibrahim Yazdi went to the Iraqi embassy on the 17th of July to congratulate them in the anniversary of the "Revolution", as the Iraqi opposition, we wanted Iran to support us and to form the launch point of our revolution in Iraq, and so we needed to re-educate the Iranian public opinion, which held a positive view of the Ba'ath regime, considering that it was the only country that sheltered revolution's leader Imam Khomeini for fifteen years, and lending the opposition a Persian-speaking radio station, in spite of the fact that the regime pressured the Imam in his last months there which led to his departure. To achieve our goal we wrote articles against dictatorship in Iraq, we launched protests on the anniversary of the 17th of July Revolution, all this caused Saddam Hussein to complain to the Iranian foreign minister Yazdi upon meeting him at the Non-Aligned Conference in Havana, he requested the execution of the editor-in-chief of the Martyr Magazine which published a caricature of Saddam when he assumed his new post, Yazdi apologized and said that the magazine is not controlled by the government in light of new democratic atmosphere in Iran.
In cooperation with our friends at the Revolutionary Guard, we started to install military bases on the borders, to ease the entry of our elements from/into Iraq, a fellow fighter (martyr Talib al-Ulayli) insisted on launching military activity within Iraq, we haven't made our decision yet, but he went without our consultation or notification. He attacked Ba'ath Party cadres in Kerbala on the night of Ashoura, and then others in the military branch attempted to assassinate Tariq Aziz in al-Mustansiriya University. A certain "Khalid" attacked the ceremony they made for the victims of the explosion, under orders from leadership of the Islamic Labour, we adopted the two operations from Tehran(?). I read from reports that came from our friends in Iraq, that this "Khalid" was exceptionally brave, he was good at impersonating security men, once he went to a hall where Taha Yassin Ramadhan was supposed to be present, and he began bossing the personnel around like a true commander, he stood behind the podium awaiting the minister, but he didn't show up. Everyone thought Khalid was a hero, however, I suspected that he was a regime infiltrator in our midst, and he surely served the regime greatly when he attacked the mourners in the name of the Islamic Labor and/or Iran.
All this led the Iraqi regime to wage war and prepare for it by deporting Iraqis of Iranian origin, who were suspected of being loyal to the Iranian Revolution, about 50,000 were deported from all around Iraq. Mohammed al-Shirazi called to form an army out of these deported youth and to attack Iraq, thus was "The Islamic Revolutionary Army for Iraq's Liberation" was formed, causing furhter arrests on part of the Iraqi regime.
The Iraqi Revolutionary Army was formed in coordination with the Iranian Revolutionary Guard, I became a member of its political leadership, which was formed out of all sorts of opposition Iraqi parties in Iran, as representive of the Islamic Labor Organization, the army was supervised by Sayyid Mahdi al-Hashimi, alongside Sheikh Mohammed al-Muntadhiri.
The Iraqi regime attacked Iran in the 22nd of September, 1980.
We found in war a new opportunity to topple the Iraqi regime that we couldn't shake through media, we expected that the Iraqi army would revolt against Saddam who put him through a meaningless war against their brothers in the Shi'i Islamic Iran. We even began to pack and prepare to return. As the war turned fiercer, the Iranians achieved victories, Imam Khomeini insisted on going the whole nine yards and topple Saddam, refusing all sorts of international dialog. Our hopes were furhter soaring, and we intensified our cooperation with the Iranian army, some even went to fight alongside the Iranians against the Iraqi army, as it is a war in defense of "Islam and the Revolution" against the "Infidel Baathist" regime.
I wrote at the time a book in which I attempted to criticize the Iraqi Islamic movement and the religious Marja'iyya, in particular al-Shirazi's peaceful movement, identifying its strengths and weaknesses, and hoping for the support of the Marja'iyya and Vilayet-e-Faqih in Iraq in the future.


By 1982, the Iraqi-Iranian war took on a terrible, bloody meaninglessness. Sayyid Shirazi rallied to stop it, saying it's a dead-end, he urged movement members to get out of Iran. I preferred to leave the movement and to finish my religious studies, neglected since I left out of Iraq.
in 1985, Sayyid al-Mudarrisi invited me to teach in the Hawza of al-Imam al-Qa'im, which included students from the Gulf, Iraq, Afghanistan, and elsewhere, it was more like an activist school and not a traditional hawza, as students mixed jurisprudence and legal teachings with party activity and various tasks and duties.
after the fall of Jafar al-Numairi's regime in Sudan, we decided to open a branch of our movement in Sudan, I travelled to Khartom via Syria and Cairo, I studied for forty days there, during which I managed to get into contact with a number of college students, some of which I managed to convert into Shi'ism. Those invited me to hold dialog with their Salafist Wahhabi friends, I went there and talked through the night, by morning I managed to convert some of them.
Having formed a Shi'i nucleus we bought some of them to the Qa'immiya Hawza so that they may form the beginning of a Shi'i movement in Sudan, the Iranian government had nothing to do with any of this.


Sunday, July 20, 2008

How Osama Bin Laden Influenced Architecture

Six months ago, I entered a music shop asking for an oud, the nice old owner with a not-so-nice mouth hygiene asked:
"What kind of oud?"
"The cheapest."
He pointed at some wretched instrument hung above his head in an array of other ouds, it wasn't that bad actually, but the ones next to it rendered it in an abysmal light.
"So how much is this?"
"oh, about 100 dollars"
"and this is made where?"
I was surprised. "What about the Iraqi ones?"
"Oh, those are really expensive."
That was one of the best things I heard this year and probably the few ones to come. as an Iraqi born in 1985, it's common sense that engaging the word 'Iraqi' in any sort of product = usually rear-end results. That Iraqis are actually world-class at something gave me a sense of power and fulfillment I seldom felt, for a brief second I wondered what Americans must feel like having their brands plastered all over the world.
Aside from Oud crafstmanship, world-famous Iraqi architect Zaha Hadid is also one of the very few things in any number of parallel universes that could make me honestly beam in pride. and she ain't the regular by-the-numbers architect either, she is possessed with one nasty Djinni. Her ideas are zany and impossible, and make you feel futuristic albeit soulful.
Looking at this upcoming project of hers in Dubai, I was fascinated for a few moments by the sheer boldness of this concept before bursting out laughing. She's calling them "Dancing Towers" - as if they were influenced by some Pixar kiddie musical number! yeah, right. For Ali's sake, it even has room for your occasional hijacked plane to pass through - Try and blow this up, Ossy! This idea wouldn't have existed had it not been for the inspiration of that crazy man in Taliban, they should write his name on a plaque nearby. Maybe he'd attend the ceremony and use it to test drive any future engagements that might involve airplanes.

NOTE: This is a real project. Walla.

Friday, July 18, 2008

Memoirs of Ahmed al-Katib -3-

in fact, the religious tide felt defeated in the face of the Communist, Nationalist, Pan-Arab and "Atheist" currents that engulfed Iraq in the 50s and 60s, especially attracting young and educated youth, therefore, leaders of the newborn Islamic movement worked for the distant future, laying foundations for upcoming decades, active members came into conflict regarding an important topic, the legality of the Marja'iyya and the extent of its power and efficiency in leading the Shi'i street. As many clerics held Iranian nationalities, thus avowing political work, especially since the deportation and exile of a number of leading clerics in the aftermath of the failure of the 1920 revolution and the Marja'iyya self-imposed isolation. the youthful Islamic movement, led by the Dawa Party, attempted to appraoch the problem of the clerics' disavowal of politics, they attempted to cut corners around the Marji'yya, more precisely, Dawa felt pressured to exhibit its leadership and political thoery as a vanguard of Islamic activity, however, the clergy of Sayyid Muhsin al-Hakim in Najaf and Sayyid Mohammed al-Shirazi in Kerbala stood in opposition, al-Hakim issued a fatwa banning all clandestine activity, while al-Shirazi mounted a cultural campaign against the party's principle of Islamic labor, classifiying it as an "imported Western theory" that opposes the rightful leadership (Marji'yya) which is an extension of the Occulted Imam.
The major accusation we made against the Dawa Party was that they are "Khalisites," in reference to Sheikh Mahdi al-Khalisi, son of a 1920 Revolution Leader Sheikh Mohammed al-Khalisi, who was exiled to Iran along with his father, Iraqi authorities only allowed him to return after the end of World War II, he pressed for Pan-Islamic Unity and was critical of many Shi'i practices, especially their abandonement of Friday Prayers, he was met with boycott if not campaigning by Najafi clerics, in particular Sayyid al-Shirazi of Kerbala who tended to strengthen all distinctly-Shi'i practices such as Husseini ceremonies and swords-and-chains flagellations, he also refused to hold Friday Prayers, because members of the Dawa Party supported Friday Prayers, al-Shirazi labelled them "Khalisites" (Sunni-like), an accusation enough to discredit them.

The Shirazi was an active current since the early 50s, only it rejected the idea of party structure and organization, however, after the arrest of Sayyid Hasan al-Shirazi it realized the opportunities of such organization, and so the current heads such as Mohammed al-Shirazi, Kazim al-Qazwini and Mohammed Taqi al-Mudarrisi began to organize the youth, I was a member of the movement even before it was fully realized, having already been a member of the circles of the Marji'yya movement, I officially started in 1969, my mission was to write Islamic books, I began to introduce new patterns into our traditional ideas, emphasizing the revolutionary aspects of Hussein's revolution and his noble railing against injustice and inequality, instead of reiterating the traditional motifts of passive mourning per se.
We began to have political courses that spoke about the upcoming Islamic revolution, this spirit spilled onto the slogans of the Husseini processions in the neighborhood, introducing terms such as the "Husseini Revolution", which replaced the specifically mournful lamenting that was the stock-in-trade of most Husseini processions. Albeit we endorsed a strong Imami Shi'i ideology, we kept an open mind to the more mainstream Sunni thought, in particular the writings of the Muslim Brotherhood leadership such as Sayyid Qutb, Mohammed Jalal Kashk and others.
Meanwhile our relationship with the Khomeinist (League of Active Clerics in Iran) strengthened after a visit by Sayyid Mustafa al-Khomeini, they began to give us copies of Imam Khomeini's lectures of Vilayet-e-Faqih, in which we saw a compatability with our own views, this played a role in the future of the relationship between our movement and the Iranian Revolution 10 years later.
As soon as Grand Ayatollah Sayyid Muhsin al-Hakim died in Baghdad at the end of 1970, a revolutionary spirit spread against the Baathist regime all over Iraq, the Shia organized a massive rally for al-Hakim's funeral, carrying his coffin the entire distance between Baghdad and Najaf, when president Ahmed Hasan al-Bakr attended, cries such as "Listen, President, the Sayyid is Not a Spy...Listen, Traitor, The Sayyid is not a Spy!", after al-Hakim died, the Baathist conducted a massive deportation of the large Iranian diaspora in Iraq, especially in the cities of Najaf, Kerbala, Kadhimiya and Basra, about 50,000 citizens who were born, alongside their fathers, in Iraq - but did not get the Iraqi nationality - were deported, they used to form a base for the religious Marji'iyya opposition, and so by deporting them the regime sought to drain the lake the Marji'yya moved about in, even though the Iranians who stayed in Iraq were generally isolated from Iraqi political discourse, which partly explains the distance kept by the Shii religious movement against direct involvement in Iraqi political affairs, but they formed a fundamental backbone for the clergy, thus the deportation of this massive number of people uprooted the social structure of the rising Islamic movement in Iraq.
Facing lack of support, Sayyid Mohammed al-Shirazi found himself pressured and left Iraq at the end of 1971, thus I was promoted at the end of 1972 and we formed a five-man committee led by Hajj Ali Mohammed. In the next year the Baathist regime led massive arrests against prominent movement members such as Sayyid Kazim al-Qazwini, Sheikh Abdilzahra al-Ka'bi, Sheikh Dhiyaa al-Zubaydi and Sheikh Abdilhamid al-Muhajir, I was among the wanted but I managed to dodge the eyes of Mukhabarat. Thinking of a way out of Iraq, I first left to Bahrain in September 1973.

As mentioned, we kept close ties with the Khomeinist current in Iran, which shares our Vilayet-e-Faqih ideology, no sooner than fifteen days after the revolution succeeded I found myself traveling from Kuwait to Tehran as part of a delegation congratulating Imam Khomeini.
I went with a number of friends to meet old friend Sheikh Mohammed al-Muntadhiri, who became a member of the Revolution Leadership Council, we asked him to allow us to reopen the Arabic section of the Iranian radio channel, we perceived the Iraqi regime as a "paper-mache tiger" that manipulates the world with its effective media, should we manage to uncover its fragility, Iraqis would soon revolt, and so I started writing political punditry every day after the news, highlighting the weakness of the Iraqi rgeime. We worked as Iraqi volunteers for free, and we did manage to stir some controversy, such as with our Revolution-minded Muharram special "Iraq is Seeking Its Modern-Day Hussein" (ABBAS: This was BEFORE the war broke out)
the Iranian ambassador in Baghdad once asked us to tone things down, while an employee reported that the Iranian culture minister objected to our broadcasting, I also knew through a contact that Imam Khomeini himself rejected our campaign, however, we exploited the administrative confusion at the outset of the revolution and paid heed to nobody. We attmpted to stir the Iraqi people into revolution, Sayyid Mohammed al-Shirazi who came to Iran joined our campaign and began to issue repeated statements against the regime. It was obvious that our broadcasting had some impact on the bewildered Iraqi regime, which tried to respond to what we said on a day-to-day basis. Some analysts even considered the Arabic-language broadcastings as a reason for the outbreak of war.
Soon our broadcast attracted the attention of the Dawa Party, whose members began migrating to Iran. Competition broke out between members of Dawa and Islamic Labor, which led to my withdrawal a year after I first started. By that time a young Iraqi conducted a telephone interview with al-Sadr I, which was followed by Khomeini issuing an open statement to Sadr I, demanding for him to stay in Iraq after news reached him that Sadr intends to leave Iraq to Iran, this statement shocked everyone, including Sadr, as it signified Khomeini prepping up Sadr to lead the revolution in Iraq, which scared the Iraqi regime into action, leading to Sadr's prompt arrest and execution.


كيفما تكونوا يول عليكم

I think the reason July in Iraq has had so many revolutions is because it's so insanely hot that it drives people ape-crazy. Just look at this, now I don't know what these guys did to the Iraqis at the time, but I'd bet it'd be only a fraction of what Saddam and his boys did, so you can imagine the pulp he'd have been if THIS is the fate of the comparatively-civil Hashemites and their minister al-Said, the only thing that escaped Saddam Sahil Carnival was...the presence of the Americans, and to top it off, the lucky bastard had a fantastic execution he could only dream of thanks to sectarian stupidity. These are from Zeyad's, but he was a gentleman at the time and did not publish them in the post itself, linking to an outside source while warning you that they are gruesome, I'm posting them full-on, you need to see this and appreciate the work of God's creation, it's nice to know the world isn't so nice.
Looking at this, I must say that Saddam was indeed a product of his environment.

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Memoirs of Ahmed al-Katib -2-

When I was seven I joined another school, and I was moved directly into third grade because of my previous studying, this school was purely religious, it offered syllabus in Quran, exegesis, Islamic history, ethics, jurisprudence and [artihmetic?], the school had no knowledge of modern material such as English, Geography and sciences, it did try to incorporate those subjects so as to apply as a school eligible for the official statewide examinations, but it failed to achieve that status and was shut down when the Ba'ath Party assumed power.
Most of the students did not need to pass the exam and they didn't seek employment at the Iraqi government, they were either anti-Shah Iranian diaspora, or devout Iraqis who - as my father - adhered to the legal sharia ruling and refused to enlist their sons for governmental schooling.
My father would often take me to the large Husseini ceremonies, the topics addressed by the orators revolved around the story of Imam Hussein and the story of his life, in addition to the issues of the Caliphate, the Sakifa and the struggles of the other Imams with the Caliphs of their times. I had no need for additional reading to understand the topic, as the child grew in those surroundings to be indoctrinaed to an extremist, concentrated Shi'i education. He would be aware of his sectarian identity over any other national, social or tribal identity. On top of that, my devout father was keen on instructing me with the speeches of Imam Ali, in particular the one known as al-Shaqshaqiya, he gave me my first book when I was 12, al-Muraja'at by Abdilhussein Sharaf al-Din, which is a Sunni-Shi'i debate between him and al-Azhar Sheikh at the time Salim al-Bushri, it concluded by al-Bushri's admittance to the validity of the [Shi'i] sect as an Islamic mode. Other books I read were "Why Did I Choose The Sect of Ahl al-Bait" by Shii convert Sheikh Mohammed al-Antaaki, there was also a teacher in our school named Mohammed al-Ta'ie from Mosul, who converted to Shiism during a visit to Kerbala, all this served to convince me that my Twelever Jaafri Imami Shii sect is the true path and it represents perfect Islam. Thus I was often puzzled, looking with a mixture of bewilderment and fury at a Sunni neighbor of ours from Ein-Tamur, wondering why is he blind to the acceptance of Ahl al-Bait.

In the 60s, Kerbala strove to combat the Communist, Nationalist, Atheist and Western tides that invaded Iraq, I recall accompanying my father to a lecture by Sayyid Mohammed Kazim al-Qazwini in the house of a friend, he held weekly seminars for young people that moved from house to house, I was eleven at the time, and the preacher suggested the allocation of a son to study jurisprudence and spread Islam in Europe and America, without saying anything to me I warmed up to the idea and intended to be that in the future, something undoubtedly welcomed by my father and mother. I believe that Sayyid al-Qazwini was a major influence on my life at the time, he often urged the residents of Kerbala on well manners with pilgrims, to observe the hijab of women, to propagate virtue and prevent vice, and I used to carry out his instructions literally, demanding from women who bought from our shop or who walked the streets or sat in shops, exposing locks of their hair, to adhere to Islamic teachings and cover their hair appropriately, I found no embarrasment in addressing women as I was little boy, although I was almost whipped once by the husband of one of the women I advised, who reproached me and told me to mind my own sisters.
When I was 14, the head Imam of Kerbala, Sayyid Mohammed al-Shirazi suggested that I don the clergy clothing of a turban and a jubba. I managed to convince a few similar-minded friends and we used to stroll the streets of Kerbala in 1967, looking very strange in our turbans but without any facial hair.
One morning, to be exact July 17th, 1968, while I walking from my house to the school, I heard a voice crackling from a radio in one of the shops, many men were crowded there, the broadcaster was officer Hardan al-Tikriti, one of the Revolutionary Leadership council, he was issuing the statement for the July 17th coup d'etat, I hurried to school and told my teacher and the colleagues, as it was unusual for anyone in our religious schools to keep a radio or a television, two devices banned in the devout community at the time.
The Hawza and the Islamic movement paid scarce attention to political developments in Baghdad, devout people in Kerbala lived in another age that rang centuries past, with the first men [of Islam], the culture that proliferated in councils, books, neighborhoods and lectures was all about Islamic history, the story of Sakifa and the Six-Man Council, and the injustice inflicted upon Ahl al-Bait, Fatima al-Zahra, the Battle of Kerbala, and the stories of the other 12 Imams with the Umayyad and Abbasid caliphs, in addition to exegesis of Quranic verses and interpretation of the narrations of Ahl al-Bait, however, some of the famous orators of the days would often allude to criticism of the government very subtly, or as we say: "drive in nails."
Perhaps some leaders of the Islamic movement were up to speed with political developments, but they did not speak in public engagements or Husseini ceremonies about any of it, [for example], Sayyid Shirazi in particular was engaged in a heated discussion with members of the upstart Islamic Dawa Party, regarding [issues such as] Tatbeer (i.e. headsplitting, this), and other Husseini processions, Shiari himself organized a special tatbeer convoys for students of the Hawza in order to validate this Husseini activity and to silence the opposition of intellects and others. Sayyid Kazim al-Qazwini went to India in 1956, he saw a special Husseini ceremony there where Indians would ran barefoot over burning coal, and he carried this peculiar cereomony to Kerbala aided by Shirazi, which stirred the condemnation of intellectuals who sought the aid of the Grand Ayatollah Muhsin al-Hakim to issue a fatwa banning this kind of masochism.
In 1966 there was a clash between the Shirazi following I was a part of and the Dawa Party or the supporters of the (Islamic Charity Society) which some of my uncles joined, the clash was also about tatbeer, as a party member issued a lecture attacking tatbeer, causing Shirazi members to orchestrate a rally that ended in attacking the society's headquarters and destroying it, although the incident ended with no injuries or victims, it left a deep rift between the newborn Islamic movement and the traditional devout class.

Certainly we were in a planet and politics was on another...

NOTES: the issue of Tatbeer is still unresolved until today. the Sayyid Shirazi al-Katib speaks of here is known to be a more hardline, extremist cleric and is traditionally its most active supporter, on the other hand, Iran's Khamenei had outlawed it,and I think that Sistani had sent mixed signals about the issue.

Friday, July 11, 2008

Memoirs of Ahmed al-Katib -1-

Ahmed al-Katib [real name: Abdilrasool Lari], is a controversial Iraqi Shii author, he started as your regular run-of-the-mill hardcore Islamist, and then suddenly did a 180 from supporter of Khomeinist Vilayet-e-Faqih into declaring that Imam Mahdi does not exist, thus incurring the displeasure of many a Shii scholar, in fact, when I asked my Badr-inclined friend in Najaf about him, he replied curtly that "his blood has been declared halal by the clergy." His viewpoint regarding theological matters does not concern me here, but his biography is pretty exciting, it puts a personal face and sheds illuminating insight regarding several things I've previously only heard in passing and without this sort of first-hand confirmation. Those include :

a ) Shii atmosphere (in Kerbala at least) in the early 1960s was still continuing on the road of traditional Shii political negligement, and it tended to discourage enagagement in even public schools, they scarcely cared about the turmoil in Baghdad.

b ) The formation of secret cells preaching Shii belief in Sunni countries during the expansionist days of the Islamic revolution.

I've translated things I find interesting, you can read the original Arabic on his website, he also runs an Arabic blog (listed on IBC) here.


I was born in June 13th, 1953 in the Iraqi city of Kerbala, the royal regime in Iraq was dying, while the Iraqi opposition was riding on a Leftist communist wave, or so did the regime portray for the people, particularly the devout of them. While the religiously-themed Kerbala stood in opposition regarding the royal regime which was installed following the aftermath of the 1920 Revolution led by religious cleric Mohammed Taqi al-Shirazi, who took Kerbala as his base of operations, Kerbala was nevertheless the birthplace of an Islamic movement that stood to challenge the "Atheist" wave, it was led by a group of religious clerics, with Sayyid al-Shirazi at the helm. My father was a young member of that movement, he was only 20 years old when he married, and he pledged to my mother that their firstborn would be devoted to religious life.

The city of Kerbala was built around the grave of Imam Hussein bin Ali, who was killed at the hands of the Umayyad Army during the reign of Yazid bin Muawiya. It started as a small village that grew into a city that accomodates about 50,000 Arabs and Persians who emigrated during previous centuries, the city is overwhelmingly Twelver Shi'i, and has about 200 mosques, all Shi'i save one or two Sunni mosques, one of which lies in The Carpenters Street, and is exclusive to government employees and a few Sunni individuals, the mosque was easily recognized through the different time and composition of the adhan (call to prayer).

At the early age of five, my mother taught me the alphabet and Qur'an recital, and when I was seven my father took me to a new private Islamic school administered, as some devout people, including my father, still adhered to the ruling issued by the religious clergy at the foundation of modern Iraq to boycott governmental schools which they viewed as a corruption of youth in order to distance them from religion and the authority of the clergy eventually. The boycott also involved the Iraqi state, its boards and its job positions.
Anyone living in Kerbala would be introduced with the story of Imam Hussein martyrdom spontaneously, wherever you would go there were Husseini convoys held in each mosque, each street and each neighborhood and inside houses too, all through the months of Muharram and Safar and in many other occasionas and observations, such as the death anniversary of any of the Imams.

one night I saw in my sleep the battle of Kerbala, and I saw Imam Hussein crying famously for people to come to his aid, and I found myself joining Imam Hussein's army against Yazid's, I told my mother about my dream, she was visibly happy, she encouraged me and wished me paradise alongside the Lord of Paradise's Youth (i.e. Hussein), my mother would tell me that we hail from Habib bin Mudhahir al-Assadi, who was a leader of Kufa and who urged Imam Hussein to come to Iraq, he held steadfast and was killed while protecting The Imam from arrow strikes as the Imam prayed on the day of battle. Thus he was buried in a special coffin, and there still is a special box in front of the tomb of Imam Hussein to the left of the entrance, I used to have a special spiritual bond between me and him as I visited Imam Hussein every week, I used to be inspired by standing there and pledging him to follow his example in supporting Imam Hussein during the eternal battle.
but if Imam Hussein was killed 14 centuries ago, then another battle awaits us, and there is still an Occulted Imam to look for, the Hidden 12th Imam, my mother was preparing me to be one of his soldiers, one of the 313 Disciples, whose presence is a necessary condition for his re-emergence." (now that's some cool *stuff*!), she used to tell me that I must adhere to the most upright morals and behavior so as to be one of the disciples and to meet Imam Mahdi, who is soon to emerge and fill the Earth with justice and harmony after it has become filled with cruelty and injustice.
My mother would tell me stories of how Imam Mahdi would reach out to the loyal Shia of the highest religious standard and upbringing in their times of trouble, I rememer in particualar the story of the Pomegranate, (for a detailed account of this story, click here) The story - which contained neither names nor dates - bolstered my faith in the Imam, to whom I was raised to be a faithful soldier.
In those early years, perhaps before I became 10 years old, we travelled once to the city of Samarra to visit the shrines of Ali al-Hadi and Hasan al-Askari, as well as the occultation basement of al-Mahdi, we would normally rent a room in one of Samarra's residents' houses, who were Sunni, I remember that the housewife who sat chatting to my mother wanted to tease me and offered to marry me her daughter, but I quickly refused, I replied innocently: because your daughter is a Sunni like you! My mother was embarrased, and I lost a beautiful wife as the people of Samarra are known for their marvelous beauty.


Thursday, July 10, 2008

Iraqi Refugees in Jordan, Syria, and Lebanon *EDIT*

I'm staying in bed today due to a mild fever, so expect a post or two.
Here's the new Crisis Group detailed report about Iraqi refugees in Jordan, Syria, and Lebanon(PDF, but click here for overview)

Okay, so I read the report, it's a very extensive and detailed description of refugee status, but it's also quite long, so here are a few interesting tidbits for the less patient:

* While the report finds excuses for the host countries [Syria and Jordan], it is very condemning of the Iraqi government, describing it as neglectful, if not outright hostile to the refugee population, not hearing any of its admittedly lame excuses "No doubt there are senior former regime figures among the refugees, but this does not excuse callous neglect of overwhelmingly non-political people who loyally served Iraq rather than any particular regime."
Next up the bat is the International community, the focus naturally goes to the "country whose policies caused this chaos", blaming the US for "downplaying the issue, providing far less assistance to host countries than needed and admitting to its own shores merely a trickle of refugees and only after unprecedented security checks to which asylum seekers from other nations are not subjected."

* When it comes to estimating the number of refugees, the host governments tend to bluff a lot, often raising or lowering the number depending on the circumstances (when they need to ask for money, or when pressured for taking care of more refugees), for instance, when the Norwegian NGO FAFO estimated the number of Iraqis last year, it came with the astonishing figure of 150,000, the Jordanian government fiddled around a bit and came up with the figure 450,000-500,000 (and before that, the Iraqis in Jordan were estimated to be 750,000 - 1 mil)

* The governments of both Jordan and Syria have imposed restrictions on charity organizations civil action and NGOs that can help Iraqis, this is because (a) Jordanian politics tend to frown on most associational work and (b) in Syria, they just don't know nor trust NGOs.

* The Syrian regime seemed to have a hard time figuring Iraq and was largely unfamiliar as to how to approach it, this is expalined because "of the historic rift between the Iraqi and Syrian Baath branches."

Other than that, the report in general is pretty solid and is a treasure trove of information, tracing the refugee status in each country and how it developed and why.

Wednesday, July 09, 2008

MBC Persia

None of the bloggers I normally follow seem to have written about this. the Saudi MBC Group has released a Persian-speaking movie channel, MBC Persia, it was officially launched today today, after being on the air for almost a week now, the aim of the channel is simple: I got the privilege to witness George Clooney and The Soggy Bottom Boys singing "Man With Constant Sorrow" with Farsi subtitles. MBC Persia is the latest addition to the MBC channels, which include regular MBC, (mostly Arab talk shows, serials and movies), MBC-2 (American movies), MBC-4 (American news, talk shows and TV shows, al-Arabiya (The Saudi answer to al-Jazeera) and the recent MBC-Action (focusing on American Action movies and TV shows).
To me, the launch of this channel is very puzzling, sure, everybody loves American movies, and they are shown in even the most US-hostile territories (in 2000, we had to listen to a lengthy criticism of the Sahaf variety about the moral degradation of American society before viewing a pirated copy of American Beauty on Baathist state television) but this is a very concentrated dose of something else. why, under any circumstances, would the fiercely anti-Shi'i Wahabi Saudis look at Iranians as a target audience? The launch of this channel renders the intents and purposes of their sister channels, and their group in general, into the too obvious category. I still remember the way they marketed US news programs and talk shows with the launch of MBC-4 as "See what they see," why, exactly, do we need to see that? They are all part of a not-so-subtle marketing campaign of American culture into hostile territory. Don't hold your breath for the soft-power propagadnda of Farsi-subtitled Saving Private Ryan, it's just around the corner.