February 28, 2006

the Dome in samarra

What’s a new millennium without an atrocity to match up a millennial cause?

It’s been a week since that most barbaric of acts in Samarra, but one is yet to find a way to a calm rational word -or temper- about it. Perhaps there is no sane or rational way about all of this. No middle cooled-off ground between the two protagonists. A community in maddening love with some of the finest men and women this Peninsula had millennially produced, and a stock of people who are almost genetically engineered for hate and gore. An idea of sacrificing one’s neck for the right to a saintly no of dignity, versus a creed that bows to every victorious sword, no matter how unjust or depraved.

But if the evil of that black Wednesday was not sordid enough, the registered reaction to it could not have sunk to a lower base. It spoke volumes about the state of morality in Arab lands, and shakes your trust in it to the core.

Take al-Qaradhawi Friday’s sermon for instance. In a moment of forensic brilliance, he pronounced the wahabis innocent, as they would have gone after the tomb not the dome. Did he see the pictures? But the august sheikh hastened to categorically declare the Shia as the transgressor party in all of this. He was furious at the Sistani’s call for demonstration that day, as this only flared passions and caused Shia “mobs” to commit their savageries, to which the Sunnis are in their full right to respond in kind. Apparently, the Shia should have taken it all in sporty stride, in whispers, indoors.

Close by, on air and on message, was al-Jazeera. The credibility of its correspondent outstripping Fox news by miles and bounds, inflating the toll of number of Sunni mosques by the second, and declaring the 47 Shia killed in cold blood in Diyala as Sunni casualties, even though the footage demonstrated otherwise. Joined by Baghdad TV, ANB and others, the story of the day soon shifted to Sunnis besieged and under attack. Shrine bombed? What Shrine?

But perhaps far more telling was the attitude of the leading newspaper in the Eastern Province of Saudi Arabia, home to the largest Shia community south of Basra and the longest uninterrupted historical presence of theirs. Al-Yaum went out of the presses on Thursday with not a single word on the story, from cover to cover. Sloppy Guardian may have it front and centre, but perhaps al-Yaum needed more time to corraborate the story by a second source.

If al-Qaradhawi asked the Shia to be angles, other leading figures of the association of Sunni scholars in Iraq were busy labeling them the vilest of the vile. The Shia organizations after all, suggested Al-Dhari and al-Faydhi, were the very ones who carried out the bombing for political advantage. National unity anyone?

Closer to home, the same group that brought you the notorious full page ad of “balagha al-sayl al-zuba” last December, and this time with Islah’s Minbar back in fold, paid for another ad, half-page this time, stating that desecrating Sunni Mosques was by far the most atrocious of the acts, since this involved houses of God and not merely tombs of slaves of God as was the case in Samarra. Reflection and Ijtihad must have went into full gear here. It all leaves you with the impression that what happened to the dome in Samarra was a man-made punishment for sacrilegious acts, along the lines of what befell others like Sodom and Gomorra.

We were even treated to the unique spectacle of Wahabis turning into pure humanists, as some notables of theirs wrote that the blood of each soul is worth countless of golden domes. In contrast to the almost pro-forma condemnation of the act of Shrine bombing (but not of the groups committing these acts), the revulsion and horror over Sunni victims was genuine and palpable across the Sunni world. Which makes you wonder, what about the toll of Shia casualties, in their dozens and hundreds, almost on daily basis, over the last three years? Didn’t anyone see the picture of that odious fuel tanker that burnt a Hussainiya south of Baghdad only recently? Or is it only Sunni blood that measures and counts, and the rest are merely statistics?

Other media and political outlets all exhibited concern for the much feared civil war. With all due respect, there is – to borrow from the Lebanese lexicon- much takadhub (mutual insincerities) at work here. There is a low intensity single back-burner civil war going on for sometime now, with its own army of generals, soldiers and regional financiers. The question is whether it will flare up into a high-intensity twin front-burner warfare. The bombing and its aftermath have now squared the circle towards that doom’s day.

February 17, 2006

dangerous liaisons

For two small nations of the East, one February fourteen will go in memory as one of the most heartrending days of the calendar; an anniversary of the cruel ending of a pulsating relationship by anti-Cupid's arrow, lanced from within in one instance, and from without in the other.

Even for non relationship counselors like us, some underlying problems were plain for all to see. There was too much hope pinned on one man. True, he was difficult not to like or even to fall for, one with charming, dashing optimism, but the hopes on his ability to pull it all from the brink were just raised to mythical proportions. There was too much trust placed in one piece of engagement paper (a charter/an accord), all the while underestimating the role played by the immediate family and neighbours of the groom, and their entrenched interests/old habits. You could argue that in the former instance, the arrangements were too quick and hasty for solid mutual understanding to develop (mere 5 days from an initial yes to a family’s yes), or that a pledge undertaken in a romantic situation could easily be reversed in a later, more mindful stage. You could see that in the other instance, the neighbours, who introduced the groom to the family in the first place, had already set very strict conditions for the living arrangement itself. But it is all too easy to lay blame with hindsight now. Mothers and fathers of the neighborhood were after for the slightest prospect of safe streets, safe return, and safe future for their children.

But fate, and staunch counsel of powerful men, was of opposite heart. In both countries, a “tough love” operational team was set up and was already months into secret preparation. It is still a matter of speculations as to the exact timing of the initial decision to torpedo the relationship, or how high that decision and foreknowledge reached. With a militarily appreciative sense of a crucial element of surprise, the schemers were of unshakable confidence that their labour of love will meet complete success.

And so, when the ultimate moment arrived, a vehicle lurking in the background (thought to be a white Mitsubishi in one case, a white non-lying pledge in another) moved with devastating stealth and speed to claim its target. The impact was so powerful, its intended victims were ripped apart, much steel and trust melted, and a gaping crater was left in its destructive wake.

One is mindful of course that the disparities between the two situations far outweigh the similarities, none more so than the contrast of the two collective reactions to the event.

In one case, the reaction was so swift; it moved with the thrust of a gathering storm. And a storm it was. A sea of flags took to the streets demanding the “Truth”. The neighbours should be out of it. And out of it, they did. In the other case, the very first evening saw an edgy crowd of few thousands converging on one sport arena, only to be instructed by a leading young cleric to stay calm and indoors, as the leadership will take care of it. The streets following next day’s Friday prayers were indeed calm. Perhaps the leadership didn’t read much of it or in it by then. There was not a single reminder in the form of a sign bearing a photocopy of that newspaper’s front page with the famous “Pledge” to be seen. No outright rejections of the new matrimonial contract. A year later, the groom insists on consummating the marriage, even though the dowry and other conditions have been changed at will. Personal law experts, he insists, are on his side. Four saga years later, some family members of the bride are preparing to oblige. And that will be, in one's celebrated words, one of the most beautiful days yet to arrive.

February 08, 2006

a river called Hussain

If you’re lost in the jungle, the adage says, then look for the river.

Getting lost in the jungle is all too easy of course. It’s all green and it all looks the same. If you are all alone and rescue is beyond reach, then “pick a direction and walk until you hit a stream. Follow the watercourse downstream until you hit a river. Once you get to a sizeable river, follow it downstream until you find someone. The bigger the river, the more chance of finding civilization.”

(Caveat potor: avoid streams of sluggish water, or you may need to boil the water first as you go further down from the upstream).


February 04, 2006

a love fest for yezid

It may be Muharram and all black-draped to you, but the mood is unusually upbeat in whitely but shortly-draped circles around the island. The reason for celebrations? Yet another first for the Kingdom, as the Ministry of Islamic Affairs launches the first of its henceforth annual Call (Daa’wi) Forum, an 11-day event this year, held to propitiously coincide, according to the head of the Sunni Endowment Department, with the start of each Hijri year.

So just as the Royal Court was giving out its annual royal red and white (sheep & two bags of rice) favour to ma’atms caring to register before receiving it, the Ministry of IA, in the spirit of even handedness, was handing ticket, lodging, and fee expenses to the six invited guests, all from outside the country and of that anything but sheepish hue of Islam.

This year’s carefully selected luminaries are a dream team for the mosque tour, comprising: sheikh Uthman Al-Khamees, sheikh Adnan 3ar3oor, sheikh Mohammed Hassaan, sheikh Saeed bin Misfir, Abdul-Adheem Badawi, and Omar Abdul Kafi.

The first two enjoy instant name recognition as the superstars of the leave-no-stone-unturned-on-Shia-disgraces reality show, also known as the Sunni-Shiite dialogue on Al-Mustaqillah TV. Armed with a laptop in the studio and the wonder of interactive real time contributions from rigorous researchers across the salafite world, the two succeeded in demonstrating, to heart-throbbing audiences everywhere, the extent of Shia wickedness, as well as impressive distributed processing skills. The third is an authority in the emerging sub-specialty of “The Shia and Quran”, a field under which he authored two critically acclaimed tomes, plus an opus in the basic science of “ The Shia and the Sunna” in four condensed volumes. The fourth is a born-again preacher with a cult status (treading on the tantalizing contour of women degeneracy and hellfire) who made news in February of last year as a result of speaking engagement at Teacher Training College in Dammam organized in response to the mounting security incidents there. He chose instead to focus on the far graver threat represented by hell-bound sects, starting logically with al-Rafidha, sparking a noisy protest by attending rafidhite Shias. The fifth is the editor in chief of Al-Tawheed magazine, the organ of Ansar Al-Sunna Al-Mohammedia (ASM), the prime Egyptian salafite movement with a tough mission -and luck- to rid Egypt of its long history of polytheistic practices. And last, and possibly least in terms of anti-Shia credentials, is an amiable, eloquent lecturer and a proud husband of a grand daughter of Muheb-aldeen Al-Khateeb, for long the gold medalist of the anti-Shia track and field.

Some biased sectarian souls may view this as an officially-sponsored flame-stoking exercise, one that goes against the grain of "national unity" and respect for more than half the population, on the part of a ministry that misses the knowledgeable and reasonable Sunni Islam, and instead seeks and hosts and publicize these most distinguishable faces of rabid anti-Shiism in the region, whom even Al-Zarqawi would be proud to draw upon for theological support, but of course this couldn’t be further from reality. Freedom of opinion and unfettered flow of ideas aside, it is merely a a step to shore-up the morale and moral high ground for a community endangered by its own wobbly and friendly attitude toward Yezid-bashing rituals in broad daylight. If the ideological streets were one-sided in the past, they no longer shall be. And as the island inches ever closer towards that magical moment of 50-plus-one turn-around, there is no point in keeping the newcomers without their ideological mat, pillow and rain-proof cover.

(If you were unable to attend, you may enlighten yourself with the gist of it, courtesy of the newspaper of the new Sarai, which is volunteering as the (non)-official media sponsor of the event).

P.S. In a move carefully designed to keep the merry mood up and exclusively one-sided this season, the papers of today are carrying the news that half of the housing and pension debts will be waived for military personnel ( an avid target audience for the new event).

February 02, 2006

a death in Sitra

While our “parliamentarians” were busy entertaining themselves with the news on the Danish front, the very first day of the Hijri year broke a heartbreaking tragedy to a Bahraini family. Their young daughter of 13 years has died electrocuted. Fatima Jaffar, who went to the washroom shortly after midnight on Tuesday night, was found by her mother lying on the floor fifteen minutes later, but was still breathing. A relative called for an ambulance which took too long to arrive, and when it finally did, it was too late to save the young girl’s life.

A tragic accident? An accident it is not.

Fatima’s mother told Al-Wasat reporter that her sons and daughters had suffered frequent electric shocks in the past due to the wearing-off and the bad shape of the electrical wirings in their house. The family didn’t have the money for electrical repairs, as the father had a disability. The mother said she always hoped and prayed that nothing sinister will happen before help arrive. But help didn’t arrive and a sinister thing did. Al-Wasat reporter who printed the story in the lower corner of the first page - an upper corner headline was about the upcoming IPO in Al-Salam Bank- said the family’s home in Abu-alaysh village in Sitra was a wreck of a house.

And perhaps Sitra explains it all; an island hard hit by successful exclusionary policy, that almost guaranteed that this island, brimming with poverty, misery and crammed humanity as it is, saw nothing of oil wealth over decades, in good surplus years or bad. But who really knows of an island so neglected, it has no public transport service for its 60,000 inhabitants? Who whould care enough about Sitra to hear the pleas of Fatima’s mother before it was too late? A government busy redressing Sitra’s wrong sectarian imbalance with gradual ethnic in-sourcing? A pseudo-political class busy angling for an election year? Or a clerical establishment with more immediate concern for a cover on every girl’s head rather than a safe ceiling over her family?

" أحد يعرف رخيوت وحوف؟

فما تلك من الأفلاك السيارة والمكتشفات

ولكن وطنا عربيا

مملكة للجوع والأوبئة الجلدية

وللثورة أيضا"

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