What’s happening in Syria is a tragedy. But John Hannah needs to recognize that the civil war was never ours to win or lose.
BY AARON DAVID MILLER | DECEMBER 14, 2012
Syria is a tragedy. Too much blood has flowed to imagine a negotiated transition and apparently not enough to warrant an effective intervention by a divided, cautious, and self-interested international community. And it may well be that the real struggle for Syria — the one that determines its future character — has yet to begin.
But to lay this bloody mess at President Barack Obama’s doorstep, as John Hannah (a guy I respect and admire) does in his recent post for FP, is both wrong and unfair.
I write this not so much in defense of Obama’s policies as in recognition of the cruel reality and terrible choices the United States has faced with regards to the Syrian uprising and civil war.
During this entire two-year debate on what Obama should or shouldn’t have done on Syria, I have yet to hear a single military strategy that the administration could have adopted that would have been feasible, effective, and consequential in altering the bloody arc of this crisis for the better
Real game-changing moves — weeks of air and missile strikes on Syrian military assets and leadership targets, a no-fly zone, and a sustained effort to provide the fragmented opposition with lethal weapons — were rightly deemed too risky, too uncertain, and too open-ended to be viable. At the end of the day, Syria hawks simply could not assure Americans that they wouldn’t be stuck with yet another Middle East quagmire.
The less risky steps — sending in humanitarian assistance and non-lethal aid to the opposition, positioning Patriot missile batteries in Turkey, and launching political efforts to coordinate the opposition — carried little risk. Admittedly, they have not had much real consequence in altering the course of the conflict. But that doesn’t mean that taking more aggressive measures would be good for the United States. And at the end of the day, that’s what U.S. foreign policy has to be about.
We will never know about the what-ifs, of course. In the world of counterfactuals, the what-might-have-beens can never be fact checked, let alone held to any kind of empirical standard. And there are risks to everything in life — action and inaction. Some argue that trying more ambitious policies — even if they failed — would have been better than not trying at all. But they haven’t persuaded me, or too many others.
Hannah’s critique — the first of many, I suppose, in the renewed “who lost Syria” debate — is somewhat overwrought. That is perhaps consistent with the understandable and emotional urge to have prevented the thousands of lost lives, undermine Iran, and reverse America’s declining relevance in the Middle East — the most common knock on the president’s foreign policy.
But it’s no substitute for a workable plan. The critique really does lack context: Hannah blames the White House for “put[ting] its faith in Vladimir Putin” and engaging in the “indulgence” of U.N. diplomacy, but nobody I know in the administration ever believed that these steps would actually solve this thing.
There were never any good or easy options in Syria. All involved risk, and there was no guarantee any U.S. moves would stop what became a civil war — or even ameliorate the situation. What’s more, they all held the very real prospect of a slippery slope into military intervention, as failed half-measures would have required additional steps to preserve U.S. credibility.
Nor did our supposed allies in the region — the Turks in particular — seem particularly interested in a muscular response. (Turkey was always ambivalent about a more active policy, including a no-fly zone. That it’s taken the Turks this long to request Patriot missiles from NATO — for defensive purposes only — reflects that ambivalence.) Iraqis worked actively against us, and the Israelis rightly watched from the sidelines. We sell sophisticated aircraft to the Saudis and others — where were they when it came to organizing a coordinated Arab military response? I think I know the answer.
Let’s face the facts: The United States can’t determine the outcome in Syria — at least not at a cost that makes any sense. Syria isn’t Libya, where Muammar al-Qaddafi’s weakness, along with regional and international circumstances, made an effective and relatively-cost free NATO intervention possible. It also isn’t Egypt, where, even though we send a billion dollars plus a year to Cairo and enjoy a long relationship with the Egyptian military, we can’t seem to influence the course of its political future.
And thank God it isn’t Afghanistan or Iraq where, despite years of effort, billions of dollars, and thousands of lives lost, we have not achieved anything commensurate to the level of the sacrifice.
Yes, Syria is important. But like the Arab Spring itself, it was never ours to win or lose. We may yet be drawn in, but our caution and reserve there — given its complexities, the limitations of our leverage, and our own priorities — was warranted. We aren’t the world’s top cop nor its primary case worker. And it’s about time we realized it.
Aaron David Miller is a distinguished scholar at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars. His forthcoming book is titled Can America Have Another Great President?. “Reality Check,” his column for ForeignPolicy.com, runs weekly.
Matthew Feeney, the assistant editor of 24/7 blog would not agree with you but I do.
Americans, British and Indians, (East Indians) never understood the complexity of Muslim countries, I wonder why. Afghanistan history shows the world that that lawless mountainous country was never defeated, all except by Buddhism. Yet British and American Empires, not to forget, USSR, tried their best to subjugate her at a great monetary and human cost.
Muslims are a crazy bunch. They have no morals. They are extremely divided, both politically and spiritually. The religion, itself was based upon war and there is no sign that it will end in peace.
Leave them alone. I would, Oops, I do.
…and I am Sid Harth@mysistereileen.com
Conversation on FP.com
I agree that there really hasn’t been much that the US could do during the war beyond what it has done and jumping in now would only make matters worse.
Where the US could have made a difference is in the beginning by not doing so much to stir the pot in Syria. When I see articles like the one listed below I really have to wonder how much influence the US had in starting this war. There is no smoking gun but looking at US actions in other countries in the region and how fast the CIA came to be involved in Syria there is a hell of a lot of smoke. Assad is an evil man with out doubt, but I don’t think he is entirely off the mark when he says out side influences were to blame.
The other place the US can make a difference is by not doing what it does every single time in high jacking the out come and trying to imposer yet another dictator on the Syrian people. The Syrian people have paid and will continue to pay a very high price for this war. Instead of the US loosing its’ shite over the few Coptic Christians how about for once giving a damn about the 90% Muslims in the country. Rather than looking at this as strictly a way to stick it to Iran, how about looking at this as a time to build the foundation of a country that can look forward to peace.
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Shia Days of Rage
Nayef’s appointment as Saudi heir apparent doesn’t mark the start of a transition of power from the older generation to a younger, more liberal one. In fact, Nayef is more conservative than the monarch and would remain so as king.
Riyadh’s granting women the right to vote is a prime example of how it intends to respond to calls for political reform: make promises but avoid tangible change.
Shia protest in Saudi Arabia. (Courtesy Reuters)
Saudi Arabia may have at first appeared untouched by the 2011 Arab uprisings, but the apparent calm belies a simmering crisis. Shia and Sunni sectarian tensions are arguably at the highest level since the 1979 Iranian Revolution, and a harsh government crackdown is mobilizing radical elements in the Shia community and undercutting its pragmatists. The United States faces no shortage of crises in the region, but it would do well to not let this one slip too far off the radar. Aside from obvious concerns about human rights and reform, the continued unrest in the predominantly Shia Eastern Province of the Sunni-led kingdom presents a potential strategic threat to U.S. interests. Iran has historically sought to aid beleaguered Shia communities in its neighborhood, and, as evidenced by the 1996 Khobar Towers bombing and, more recently, the cyberattack on Saudi Aramco in August of this year, it has the capability and intent to hit Saudi Arabia. Currently, there is little evidence of Iranian material support of Shia groups in the Eastern Province, but continued unrest could change that. The mounting frustrations of Saudi youth could translate into a ready pool of recruits, or prompt the reincarnation of the Saudi Hezbollah.
Comprising ten to 15 percent of the kingdom’s population, Saudi Shia have long faced religious discrimination, political marginalization, and economic hardship. Although the Eastern Province contains the majority of Saudi oil reserves, the Shia population there has yet to benefit economically, especially when compared with Sunnis living in the central Najd region, the historic seat of Saudi power. It is therefore unsurprising that the 2011 revolts in Tunis and Cairo reverberated strongly in the east.
Riding on the wave of change in the region, moderate Shia activists rekindled long-dormant relationships with Sunni reformists in the Najd and Hijaz provinces and planned countrywide protests for March 11, 2011. But the so-called Day of Rage fell apart, undermined by mutual distrust among Sunnis and Shia. As the day approached, Web sites and Facebook pages appeared proclaiming uniquely Shia demands and calls for reform. A number of Web-based Sunni activists lambasted the Shia organizers for pursuing a narrowly sectarian agenda that diluted the overall movement and played into the hands of the regime. This development later proved a watershed in the fracturing of the opposition and, arguably, the demise of the Saudi Spring.
On March 9 and 10, approximately 600 to 800 Shia protesters demonstrated in the eastern, Shia-dominated city of Qatif denouncing the regime’s recent arrest of the popular Shia cleric Tawfiq al-Amer and other activists. The police responded with percussion grenades and rubber bullets, provoking further anger and demonstrations across the east. The moderate Shia Web site Rasid tried to distance itself from these Shia-specific, violent protests that overshadowed cross-sect efforts. But by the end of March, hope of a Sunni-Shia Saudi Spring had been extinguished by sectarianism.
In an attempt at reconciliation, the governor of the Eastern Province, Prince Mohammad bin Fahd, and his deputy met with a delegation of young people and clerics in late March 2011 and reportedly promised to redress Shia grievances. At the same time, however, the regime began a concerted crackdown, maintaining a near constant presence of security forces, helicopters, and armored vehicles on the streets of Qatif. On November 2, 2011, the spokesman for the Saudi Interior Ministry announced that Eastern Province police would set up a Facebook presence and assign a special team to monitor social media in the region. The alleged purpose of the Facebook page was to encourage tips and information from anonymous informants regarding outlawed activity in the region. Nearly simultaneously, the regime blocked a number of Eastern Province Web sites.
Aside from the deleterious effects on living conditions, the security and media crackdowns have had far-reaching consequences for the Shia political movement. They have hastened the declining credibility of the pragmatic, pro-dialogue approach of the Islahiyyin (“reformists”), a moderate Shia opposition movement led by Sheikh Hassan al-Saffar. These pragmatic Shia interlocutors, with whom the Saudi regime has traditionally dealt, are being replaced by something entirely new and more worrisome. Frustrated with the moderates’ failure to deliver tangible results, younger Shia activists have adopted more violent, militant tactics. In a 2012 sermon, Saffar acknowledged this rage with surprising candor, warning that, “although previous generations tolerated and adapted to problems, the current generation is different.”
Responding to this pressure, Islahiyyin leaders have made statements that are increasingly strident and critical of the regime. A longtime supporter of King Abdullah’s ten-year “national dialogue” project, which encourages communication among religious sects, Saffar has never condoned or incited violence. But younger activists have forced him into a more rigid position. For example, in one Friday prayer sermon last year, he directly attacked the Interior Ministry for its heavy-handed response to Shia rioting, arguing that the regime’s statements facilitated an atmosphere of sectarianism. In February 2012, he delivered a sermon obliquely attacking the hypocrisy of the royal al-Saud family in criticizing the bloodletting in Syria while causing civilian deaths in the Eastern Province. These statements, in turn, provoked an even sharper escalation of anti-Shia rhetoric in the press from Sunni and pro-regime voices.
The Saudi regime has long isolated radical Shia groups while at the same time painting the broader Shia movement as Iranian-backed, thus separating Shia from like-minded, pro-reform Sunnis. An October 2011 pro-regime editorial in al-Hayat, the Saudi daily newspaper, exemplifies this strategy. The piece called for the kingdom’s authorities to crush allegedly Iranian-backed Shia protests in the Eastern Province, arguing that “it is time to admit that there are fighting groups in al-Qatif that have been trained in Iran, Syria, and Lebanon, and to start liquidating and purging them from the country.” Since the article appeared last year, more than 16 protesters have been killed.
Far from isolating the radical Shia current, the security crackdown has only emboldened and popularized it. Perhaps the most significant turning point was the arrest of the popular Shia cleric Nimr al-Nimr this past summer — an event that shook the region to its core, prompting a stream of violent clashes that has yet to abate. Hailing from a clerical family with a long pedigree of anti-Saud activity, Nimr has been steadily gaining popularity since 2008. His rhetoric is unapologetically pan-Shia; he has frequently spoken of a Shia ummah (nation) and has hinted that he would advocate a separate Shia state if reforms are not forthcoming. Above all, however, he advocates for dignity and justice. These themes resonated strongly among the youth of his hometown, Awamiya, an impoverished Shia village that suffers from endemic unemployment and is now a hotbed of antigovernment sentiment.
In the summer of 2012, Nimr’s fiery sermons crossed an unofficial red line in the eyes of the Saudi regime. On June 27, he delivered a rousing tirade against the royal family, rejoicing in the recent death of the much-feared interior minister, Prince Nayef, and imploring God to take the lives of the “entire al-Saud, Khalifa, and Assad dynasties.” On July 8, Saudi security forces attempted to arrest him; a car chase and firefight ensued. Nimr was shot, wounded in the thigh, arrested, and taken into custody. Compelled to start his tenure with a firm hand, the then-newly appointed interior minister, Prince Ahmed bin Abdul al-Aziz, promptly issued a scathing statement deriding Nimr as mentally ill.
After this incident, Shia activists on Facebook called for countrywide protests, while moderate leaders encouraged calm in sermons and statements. 40 Shia clerics across the ideological spectrum — from the moderate Shiraziyyin to the pro-Iranian Khat al-Imam — implored Shia youth to remain steadfast and cease all violence to avoid playing into the hands of the regime. But the Shia clergy has appeared increasingly anemic and out of touch; social media — not the sermon — has become the ascendant channel of political communication in the Shia east.
On July 12, 2012, the Saudi oppositionist Web site al-Jazira al-Arabiya posted a statement from a hitherto unknown opposition group called the Youth of al-Qatif Revolution, which threatened to “assault police stations and blow up oil wells” if Nimr were not released. Hundreds of Shia protesters took to the streets, and clashes with security forces in Awamiya and Qatif have become an almost nightly occurrence.
Finally, the anti-Shia crackdown has not even placated the country’s Sunnis. The summer and fall of 2012 saw continuous anti-regime Sunni protests in Qassim, a longtime stronghold of conservative Salafism. This simultaneous unrest in the center and east — and what it reveals about the breadth of opposition in the country — was not lost on Saudi Arabian activists on social media. As one popular Twitter user noted: “Qassim & Qatif both having protest in such short time apart ought to be making (the Saudi government) very nervous.” Another warned: “The 2 most opposite cities in Saudi, Qassim and Qatif are both protesting. If ppl A to Z want change, current system won’t stand much longer.”
The protests may not be an imminent threat to the Saudi government, but their persistence and increasing violence show that the status quo cannot be taken for granted. By ignoring long-standing grievances, playing the sectarian card, and unequivocally treating the opposition as Iranian-backed radicals, the regime is aggravating the very situation that it would like to defuse.
Prince Nayef’s Rise And Saudi Arabia’s Step Backward
The October 22 death of Crown Prince Sultan — Saudi Arabia’s first deputy prime minister, minister of defense and aviation, and King Abdullah’s heir apparent — and his replacement days later by Prince Nayef is another minor chapter in the long saga of Saudi succession. It happened smoothly and without much drama. Abdullah apparently selected Nayef, his 78-year-old half brother, for the post himself. He did not use the Allegiance Council, which he created in 2006, to assist in the selection of the crown prince or king and only informally consulted the senior princes on the decision.
Even before Sultan’s death, Nayef, who has served as interior minister for 37 years, was the favored choice to replace him. He was named second deputy prime minister in 2009, although King Abdullah was rumored to be unenthusiastic about promoting him at the time, since Nayef and his six full brothers, who are sons of the founding king’s favorite wife, are considered a challenge to the authority of Abdullah, who is only a half brother. Still, the only other contender for crown prince was Prince Salman, the Governor of Riyadh province, who met the suitability requirements but is younger than Nayef. Salman has reportedly been selected as Defense Minister and could become second Deputy Prime Minister, the stepping stone to Crown Prince.
Nayef’s role in government will depend on how Abdullah chooses to use him — much like an American vice president. Abdullah has used the crown prince quite actively in the past, even allowing Sultan to temporarily take the reins of government when he has been incapacitated, for example, in 2010, when he travelled to the United States for surgery. There were even times when both the elderly king and crown prince were on medical leave, and Nayef held executive authority.
Nayef assumes his new seat at a time of incredible stress for the kingdom. Saudi Arabia’s elderly leadership has to cope with instability in Yemen, Iran’s risky nuclear behavior, uncertainties about who will lead Egypt, Syria, and Libya, and worries about the United States’ staying power after it withdraws from Iraq and then Afghanistan. Moreover, even after Osama bin Laden’s death in Pakistan this spring, al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula is still a danger, and no Saudi leader can be confident that he has eradicated extremism at home.
Nayef’s responses to these challenges will likely be tough, shaped in part by the decades he spent protecting the Kingdom from internal threats as interior minister, a post he retains. After 9/11, the Saudis developed deradicalization programs for al Qaeda members released from incarceration in Guantánamo. Alongside art therapy classes and financial subsidies for those who gave up terrorism, the Saudi state used all means, including capital punishment, to deal with those who did not.
Nayef, a social conservative, is almost certainly less comfortable than Sultan with Abdullah’s careful and calibrated liberalization of the social space. Abdullah has allowed mixed gender education at his flagship academic institution, the King Abdulaziz University for Science and Technology. He has permitted young women to participate in college recruitment fairs in Riyadh. And recently, he announced that women would be given the right to vote in the next municipal elections, in 2015. Nayef will not be able to roll back these initiatives, but he would be responsible for responding to any unrest they caused, and could use forces under his command to reimpose order.
Given Abdullah’s health and declining capabilities, it is not implausible that Saudi Arabia will see a King Nayef in the near future. If the succession happens while the Arab revolts are still ongoing, Nayef would likely continue the Saudi strategy of resisting at all cost any spillover effects. Some have said that reforms in Bahrain could help nudge the other Gulf monarchies to some modest liberalizations of their own. But this would not be Nayef’s inclination; his accession to the throne could slow even further the glacial palace response to citizens’ demands for more participation in national life.
Likewise, this transition does not represent the handing of the baton to a new generation — from the sons of the kingdom’s founder, including Abdullah and his brothers, to the grandsons, where more than 20,000 princes wait to climb the royal ladder. Indeed, there could be several more kings named “bin Abdul-Aziz Al Saud” before the younger generation takes over. More than a dozen sons of the late kings Faisal and Fahd, as well as sons of Abdullah, Sultan, and Nayef, are in deputy minister or provincial governor positions today. Many nervously anticipate that generational shift, but it need not be a source of trouble. The royal family has demonstrated its capacity to manage these passages with little fanfare or social unrest.
Of course, the choice of Nayef as crown prince might still lead to a turning point for Saudi Arabia, if only by forcing, eventually, a reckoning between the status quo forces and those who seek change. Still, to use a rough analogy to the Soviet era, it is important to not focus exclusively on the reshuffling of the chairs closest to the throne. One recalls the analysis of the placement of gray figures on the viewing stand in Red Square and the realization, too late, that the power struggles at the top were not the only, or the truest, determinant of the country’s future.
Why Granting Saudi Women the Vote Is An Empty Gesture
King Abdullah’s surprise announcement late last month that Riyadh would grant Saudi women a handful of the same political rights as men was a prime example of how his government intends to respond to the clamors for political reform pulsing through the Arab world: promise potentially historic moves that will occur at some point in the distant future, but avoid immediate, tangible change.
In his announcement, Abdullah said that he intends to appoint women to the 150-member Majlis al-Shura, an unelected advisory body, beginning with its next term, 18 months from now. He also promised that women would be able to run as candidates and to vote in elections for municipal councils, starting when those elections are next held, in 2015. Together, the two moves, at least in theory, give women the same political opportunities as men — limited though they may be. The Majlis has no legislative or budgetary powers. The municipal councils also have very little power, and only half of their members are elected; the rest are appointed by the government. This feebleness may be why turnout was low in many areas during the most recent elections, which were held last week.
Abdullah’s response is calibrated to achieve two goals. First, it placates the small but growing slice of the population calling on the ruling royal family to share power and to end the second-class treatment of women. The ban on women driving has become a flashpoint in Saudi society. Second, the King’s move seeks to avoid a backlash from religious conservatives, who, because of their influence among the kingdom’s population of 21 million, can agitate against the government and pose bureaucratic roadblocks to royal decrees bringing changes. The long lag before both reforms are enacted seems to be intended to give opponents time to get used to them. To be sure, whether Abdullah’s decrees are remembered as landmarks will depend on how they are implemented when the time comes. His announcement left unclear whether women would be appointed to the Majlis in equal numbers as men, and even whether they would be seated in the same room, in defiance of the country’s strict custom of gender segregation. Also up for discussion is whether women will be allowed to serve as committee chairs, and whom the government will favor in its appointments — conservatives or progressives, activists, women from the upper class, or those with ties to the royal family.
For their part, religious conservatives will lobby hard to minimize the impact of female participation. Some conservatives have suggested that women should be allowed to speak to the all-male chamber only through closed circuit television. The kingdom’s most senior religious official, Grand Mufti Sheikh Abdul Aziz Aal Al Sheikh, gave lukewarm praise to the step, saying that it has “a lot of benefit,” but it was hard to believe he had reached that conclusion without significant persuasion from the monarch. Just five years ago, Aal Al Sheikh had denounced the idea of women in the Majlis as one of the “plots of the enemies” of Islam. The pushback to the king’s announcement, however, started almost immediately: two days after he spoke, a judge in Jeddah sentenced a woman who had been caught driving to ten lashings. Because of the timing and the heavy influence of religious conservatives in the judiciary, the sentence was widely interpreted as a sign of disapproval of Abdullah’s initiative. For his part, the king voided the sentence a day later, in order to diffuse international outrage and assert some power over the conservatives.
Abdullah’s decision was certainly influenced by this spring’s events in the Arab world. As uprisings shook Tunisia, Egypt, and Libya, thousands of Saudis signed petitions for political reform, which in some cases included calls for a constitutional monarchy. Perhaps the biggest impact of the Arab spring in Saudi Arabia was on women, who were moved to use social media to voice their anger and dissent at the many restrictions on their personal autonomy. “We were surprised that [Egyptians and Tunisians] spoke out,” the Riyadh blogger Eman Al Nafjan said in a recent interview. “But it’s made us realize that we can do it too.” One group focused on an initiative called Baladi, which aimed to win women the right to vote. The liberal organizers claimed success after the king’s September 25 decrees. “Women in Saudi Arabia are leading the Saudi spring,” Hatoon al-Fassi, one of the Baladi organizers, told Bloomberg News.
Meanwhile, a larger circle of young Saudi women launched a more aggressive campaign, Women2Drive, which aimed to have the ban on female drivers lifted. In June, some 60 women defied the ban and drove themselves on errands. Many posted videos of their civil disobedience on Facebook and tweeted about what they had done. The campaign, which is widely supported in the kingdom — even women from traditional families have voiced their support to end the ban — and drew international attention, undoubtedly pushed the king toward making his recent announcement.
Yet it is telling that Abdullah did not lift the driving ban outright. Such a move would have been the kind of immediate, tangible change that, while attractive to many young Saudis, would likely trigger major protest from the conservatives who view female driving as a Rubicon leading to social disorder.
Saudi Arabia is one of the few countries in the world in which the population is generally more conservative than the government. Its conservative majority means that protests from the far right are more dangerous to the regime than those from the sizeable (but still minority) left. For now, half steps, such as granting women the right to vote, will probably appease most Saudi women, who appear willing to accept gradual emancipation.
Riyadh is aware that the driving ban makes the kingdom look foolish in the eyes of the rest of the world, so knows it has to end it at some point. And it has already started preparing the public. First, most of the women caught driving as part of the anti-ban campaign were treated with leniency, often let off with a verbal reprimand. The lashing sentence was unusual — more a protest against Abdullah’s speech than women driving. Second, government-employed clerics have increasingly issued religious opinions saying that the ban is based on tradition and custom, not on Islam. Just last week, the chairman of the Majlis al-Shura’s human rights committee told the Saudi Gazette that the matter of women driving would be discussed by the Majlis.
Actual women’s empowerment — including the right to drive — will come to Saudi Arabia. Even gradual change is change, and young women are increasingly becoming more vocal about their plight. But when all this might happen is unclear. In the meantime, Saudi women are left with what the blogger Eman Al Nafjan described in The Guardian as “another illogical milestone in Saudi history.” That illogical milestone is perhaps best summed up by a cartoon making its way around the Internet. Entitled “Saudi Arabia: 2015,” it shows two Saudi women, their faces fully veiled, talking to each other.
“Did you vote?” one asks.
“No — my husband wouldn’t drive me,” her friend replies.
How Egypt’s Revolution Has Dialed Back Women’s Rights
(Mosa’aberising / flickr)
This past week was a pivotal moment for the struggle for women’s rights in Egypt. In response to more protests in Cairo’s Tahrir Square, police and government security forces beat and stripped several female demonstrators. One moment captured by a photographer ricocheted around the country, and seemingly just as fast, around the world: A woman, her black abaya yanked over her head to expose her naked torso and blue bra, was dragged by helmeted security forces over the pavement. One of them stood over her, hurling his foot down at her bare stomach. Days later, an estimated 10,000 women struck back in a mass rally in central Cairo declaring, “the daughters of Egypt are a red line” that cannot be crossed.
But the abuse of female protesters in Tahrir Square is just the latest in a series of challenges to women’s rights since the overthrow of Hosni Mubarak. Soon after his regime fell, many quarters of Egyptian society started fighting to dial back many of the gains women have made in recent years. And, the success of the Muslim Brotherhood and the Salafis in the first two rounds of elections suggests that the new parliament may in fact push restrictions into policy. The revolution may have come to Egypt, but for women, it may mean anything but progress.
Fearing the rollback of some women’s rights, the United States may consider supporting the Egyptian military’s bid to maintain control in the hope that that the generals will protect women’s position. But given the military’s own atrocious record on women’s rights — as its treatment of female protesters makes clear — Washington should avoid this temptation at all costs.
Women began complaining about their lack of representation in positions of policy within days of Mubarak’s departure, when the SCAF appointed an all-male committee to write constitutional principles for a March referendum. Things only got worse after that. On March 9, soldiers subjected at least 20 female protesters to electric shocks and beatings and inflicted so-called virginity checks on seven of them. An Egyptian officer justified the abuse by claiming that “the girls who were detained were not like your daughter or mine. These were girls who had camped out in tents with male protesters in Tahrir Square.” Virginity checks were necessary, he said, because “we didn’t want them to say we had sexually assaulted or raped them, so we wanted to prove that they weren’t virgins in the first place. None of them were (virgins).”
Despite their responsibility for violence against women, military officials regularly invoke their concern for the safety of female activists as a reason to exclude them from government and to maintain emergency law. After the Minister of Local Development said that he would consider appointing women to head some of Egypt’s 26 governorates for the first time in Egyptian history, the government announced that women could not hold these positions because the lack of security made it too dangerous for them to go into the streets to monitor citizens’ problems. In early October, SCAF head Hussein Tantawi argued that emergency law, the removal of which was a key demand of the revolution, had to be maintained because of the current lawless conditions, saying that “no one would believe that a man should see his wife kidnapped in front of him and raped.” The military has also launched an assault on civil society organizations and human rights groups, including one that collected the testimony of the victims of the virginity checks, accusing them of illegally receiving foreign aid and of “grand treason.”
Over the last decade, the battle for women’s rights in Egypt has centered on personal status laws (PSLs), which govern marriage, divorce, and child custody issues based on prevailing interpretations of sharia (Coptic Church law determines PSLs for Christians). A series of laws passed by the parliament in 2000 have made progress in the intervening years. For example, the new guidelines created a form of divorce, khula, which gave women the power to request a divorce without having to prove maltreatment. The legislation also gave mothers custody of their children until the age of 15, replacing earlier laws that awarded them custody of sons until the age of 10 and daughters until 12. It granted women the ability to obtain birth certificates for their children and permitted mothers who had custody of children after a divorce to make educational decisions for them. In several ways, for the first time these laws granted mothers similar parental rights as fathers.
After the revolution, conservative forces argued that women’s rights laws passed under Mubarak, like all remnants of his regime, were illegitimate and should be repudiated. For example, several thousand Salafis demonstrated outside of al-Azhar University in Cairo in May, demanding the return of educational authority solely to fathers. The general secretary of the High Council of Islamic Affairs, a government body, called for lowering maternal custody ages from the current age of 15 to age six for boys and nine for girls. Challenges came from supposedly liberal forces as well. In April, the Freedoms Committee of the Journalists’ Syndicate held a conference condemning the current women’s rights standards in Egypt. Three months later, Judge Abdallah al Baga, president of the Family Court of Appeal, submitted a draft bill to the prime minister that called for abolishing khula divorce and reinstating, under some conditions, a practice in which husbands can forcibly return “disobedient” wives to their homes – a practice that has been outlawed since the 1960s.
Women’s rights activists have fought back. Several organizations strongly condemned al Baga’s proposal. After arguing that abolishing khula divorce would equal “a return to slavery,” Nihad Abu al Qumsan, director of the Egyptian Center for Women’s Rights, reported receiving a death threat from a group called the “Northern Region of the Committee for the Promotion of Virtue and Prevention of Vice.”
Going forward, the most important decider on women’s rights will probably be the Muslim Brotherhood and its Freedom and Justice Party (FJP), whose victory in Egypt’s elections seems assured. Accordingly, women’s activists have cause for concern. The FJP platform calls for reassessing existing women’s and children’s rights laws to rid them of provisions “destructive to the family.” One female FJP candidate said that she would work to overturn “women’s and children’s laws that . . . violate sharia and human nature.” Brotherhood representatives have criticized women’s rights provisions in the past. In 2008, several Brotherhood parliamentarians fought against allowing mothers to obtain birth certificates for their children, arguing that it would encourage female promiscuity (on the assumption that children for whom fathers refused to obtain birth certificates must be illegitimate).
And the Brotherhood will also have to account for forces further to the right — namely, the hardline conservative Salafi al-Nour party, which won 24 percent of the vote in the first round of elections and 35 percent in the second. Two months before their protest outside of al-Azhar in May, Salafis hung posters in Alexandria criticizing “indecently dressed women” and showing an unveiled woman encircled by insects. Although it is unclear whether al-Nour officially supported these activities, at the party’s first conference for women in October — entitled “Women’s Role in Political Life” and attended by 700 female party supporters — not a single woman was among the speakers. And one of al-Nour’s key activists, Yasser Burhami, criticized female journalists covering the event for not wearing proper Islamic dress, calling them “clothed yet naked,” and claimed that it was “incumbent” on him to criticize such women because those who fail to wear proper clothing “will not enter heaven.”
Opposition to women’s rights extends beyond the Islamists as well. When khula divorce passed in 2000, the head of the largest secular party, the Wafd, called it a “crime against Egyptian society.” This past March, the Wafd party’s newspaper published a lengthy attack on women’s rights laws, such as those allowing women to obtain passports and travel abroad without the permission of their fathers or husbands.
The United States has a role to play, mainly by encouraging a rapid transition to a fully empowered civilian government and conditioning continued aid to the military on its withdrawal from politics. But if the newly elected government restricts women’s rights, Washington would be wise to avoid advocating particular outcomes. Such intervention would likely backfire, strengthening the argument of social conservatives and Islamists that the West is attempting to impose its own social norms.
Egyptian women’s activists and their international supporters understand this well. A project manager for an international NGO in Cairo described to me how international donors agreed not to put their logos on materials for campaigns against female genital mutilation in Egyptian villages, lest they lend credence to the widespread presumption that the project is a Western effort to encourage female promiscuity.
In addition, Washington should oppose the army’s attempts to limit civil society groups’ freedom of operation. Existing human rights organizations, and new ones that may emerge, are ultimately best positioned to protect women’s rights in the new Egypt. The actions of the 10,000 female protesters that took to the streets this week against military abuse of women — and the commitment of the men that formed a protective cordon around them — demonstrated the bravery and determination of civil society advocates, who are ultimately best positioned to protect women’s rights in the new Egypt.
Culture vs. Islam
Many Muslims when they come from overseas they leave Islam back in their
I mean they bring their traditions, they bring their culture
But their traditions have nothing to do with Islam!
For example the idea of a forced marriage where a woman gets married without
Islam doesn’t allow that!
Plus it’s totally messed up man!
Islam liberated people from this ignorant way of thinking
But some Muslims they love their culture more than they love Islam
And that’s why they’re willing to compromise their religion for the sake of
Now I m not saying that all culture’s bad
There’s a lot of great things we can learn from different cultures
There’s tasty food
And so much more!
But I am referring to the parts of the culture that conflict with Islam
You know one of the things that confuses a non-Muslim
Its when they see a Muslim take part of Islam and part of their culture, put
It all together and label the whole thing Islam
Not only are you giving Islam a bad name, but you’re confusing everybody
You see if you add or subtract anything from Islam, its not Islam anymore!
And there’s so many Muslims who try customize Islam just so it meets their
Alhamdulilah i found Islam before i met these type of Muslims
As a convert i can tell you that Islam is a very beautiful religion
This is why i feel bad for a child who grows up in a family where Islam is
not given to them properly
You know who I am talking about, the parents who purposely teach only parts of
Islam, the parts that benefit them
The child grows up misunderstanding Islam because he sees his parents
You know what I am talking about man!
How about the father who occasionally closes up his liquor store so he can
go to Jum’ah prayers
“Oh brother it’s not halal to have business open during Jum’ah!”
Bro, it’s a liquor store, your business isn’t even halal!!!
How about the mother who tells her daughter to put on hijab on the masjid
stairs but then tells her to take it off for the interview
What’s up with that?!!!
This is why your kid grows up all confused
They can’t tell the difference between what is culture and what is Islam
But you don’t take it seriously you’re like “aaaaaaaahhhhh”
Until the day you wake up
The day i wake up?
The day you wake up and you find out your kids are not kids anymore
They’re teenagers!Hahahahahahaha!They’re teenagers!
You know that’s when their hormones start going crazy and you start losing
Your daughter starts asking you questions about having a boyfriend
And what type of plastic surgery are you “cool” with dad?
You freak out and tell her to go talk to her mom
But then your son wants to talk to you about tattoos
And what parts of his body he wants to get pierced
So you try to talk to him
But since you never talked to him
You lost the channels of communication a long time ago
Basically you have no idea what the boy is saying anymore
It goes something like this
“Yo, yo, yo, yo pops! Ims abouts go bounce and play some b-ball so if my
homies call me tell them to call me on my cell, i’ll catch you laters”
“What, what are you saying? Where are you going?”
“Loves to hang out and chill but i gotsa go pops and the other 411 i told
you to keep on the DL you gotta keep down the hush hush baby, anyways I m
outtie like a Saudi, I gotsta go PEACE OUT! Later pops”
“411, outtie, Saudi, What, what are you saying? Where are you going? Where
are you going?”
Now you’re really worried and you don’t know what to do
But it gets worse
You find out that your kids have those not-so-Islamic pictures on their
Myspace account,tsk tsk tsk tsk
Now your son has chosen the career of gangster rapper for himself
And your daughter wants to be a part time model, part time feminist
Actually her whole feminist movement is because of you
You see throughout of her life she’s been watching they way you’ve been
unjustly treating her mother
You brought your back home mentality where you thought you’re the king and
she’s your slave
And since you didn’t treat your wife properly the way Islam teaches you to
Your daughter’s now rebelling against you and your backwards way of thinking
You see Islam teaches us “That the best of you is who’s best to his wife”
But apparently you didn’t take that part of Islam seriously
And now you’re paying for it
And right when you think that the relationship between you and your daughter
can’t get any worse
You hear those four words that make you wanna cringe
“But I Love Him!”
At this point you start to panic
You look at your wife and say
“What, what are we going to do? What are we going to do?”
You see you brought all this drama upon yourself because you didn’t teach
your kids Islam
Instead you raised them with customs that conflicted with the teachings of
As little kids they followed those customs
But guess what they’re young adults now and they’re thinking on their own
Because they see the errors in the backwards customs that they were raised
Here’s a reality check for you
Many kids have no intention to practice the culture of their parents
So instead they picked up their own culture
Not that it’s any better than your culture, sometimes it’s actually worse
So instead of picking up your culture they decide to pick up their own
By the way don’t you wish you tell them about Islam right about now
You see in this new culture that your kids have just picked up, its cool to
So they don’t listen to you
And since you never gave them role-models or you were never role-models for
them, they decide to pick up their own role-models
People they can look up to, people they can imitate
Society teaches them what is cool and what is not
Everything from the way they dress
To the way they act
To even the slang they use
Didn’t you see the signs?
Remember last Eid
“Boy what do you want for Eid?”
“Yo pops, how about some of that bling-bling?”
“Ok bling-bling, we get him bling-bling….wha-what is bling-bling?”
Now you tried everything you can- as a last resort you drop off your kids at
the Sunday class
You know thats the weekly Sunday class for young kids at the masjid
The one you never took to?
So you drop them off at the masjid hoping the volunteer staff perform some
type of miracle
But your kids don’t even give the class a chance
Everything goes in one ear and out the other
Now your kids think you’re a hypocrite because you tell them to do something
that you don’t do yourself
If you were praying and fasting and doing all the other things that you tell
your children to do, maybe they would’ve done it
It’s like someone telling you (inhales) cough cough “Don’t be a smoker
(inhales) they’ll kill you” cough cough
How do you respect that?
So many kids go away from Islam, because Islam was not presented correctly
They get taught the modified version
Where parents mix the culture with Islam and package the whole thing under
the label of Islam
And then they see the errors in the culture
Yes, parents have rights in Islam
But your children have rights too
If you know Islam, teach it to your kids
Don’t just tell them how to be a good Muslim
Be a role-model
That means you have to do it too
If we practice Islam the way the Prophet (S.A.W) taught us to practice it
We wouldn’t be in this mess
But as long as we love our customs more than we love ALLAH SWT
We will continue to suffer
You know what im saying?
This is Ali reminding you just in case you forgot
This is Ali reminding you just in case you forgot
This is Ali reminding you just in case you forgot
Ashura Violence Kills 36 Iraqis and Wounds 121 More
Monday: 36 Iraqis Killed, 121 Wounded
An expected surge in violence accompanying a major Shi’ite religious observance this week began early this morning. Hilla and Baghdad were the hardest hit cities. Across the country, at least 36 people were killed and 121 more were wounded in all reported attacks. Also, the Iraqi government said that a former top diplomat under Saddam Hussein will be executed next year. Meanwhile, security for American diplomats has been tightened.
Because it honors the martyrdom of Imam Hussein, Ashura has long been a target for sectarian attacks. It had been banned during the Saddam regime. In 2007 and 2008, two, almost cult-like, sects in the south produced a large volume of holiday-related violence. The Imam was the Prophet Mohammad’s grandson, and his death was a major influence in the schism between Shi’ites and Sunnis. His shrine is in Karbala; observances culminate tomorrow. It is possible, that reports tomorrow will be somewhat muted because of the holy day.
Iraqi officials say that Tariq Aziz, who has served as both deputy prime minister and foreign minister, will be executed next year after U.S. troops leave Iraq. Aziz, who is a Chaldean Catholic, was given the death sentence in connection with a Shi’ite uprising, but many still believe that that he had no role in the crackdown. His death sentence has brought international condemnation, and one of Aziz’s lawyers warned that this would undermine reconciliation.
The Naqshabandiya Army promised to continue attacks on U.S. personnel who remain in Iraq after the withdrawal of military forces at the end of this month. Separately, American diplomats learned of a serious kidnapping threat.
In Hilla, a car bomb targeting pilgrims killed 16 and wounded 46 more at a mosque in the al-Nil district. Women and children were among the victims. An attack involving two roadside bombs killed six pilgrims and wounded 15 more at a separate procession in al-Taghmaziya. Babel province imposed a curfew.
In Baghdad, at least eight people were killed in and 18 more were wounded during Ashuraa-related attacks in Ur. Three people were killed and eight more were wounded during a blast in Mashtal. In Qahira, a blast wounded six. Two more people were wounded in Sleikh. Four more people were wounded in Zaafaraniya.Four people were wounded in a bombing in Shabb. In Ilam and Amil, five people were wounded in another blast.
A blast in Mahmoudiya left one person killed and three more wounded.
Two people were killed and four were wounded during a bombing in Latifiya.
A student was kidnapped in Kirkuk.
A bomb in al-Zaab damaged a car.
Yazidi Iraqis in Duquq province have intensified security after Kurdistan leader Massoud Barzani said recent riots in Kurdistan focused on Yazidis and Christians. Christian leaders also condemned the attacks against their businesses.
Diyala implemented a curfew and increased security for the Ashuraa observances.
Read more by Margaret Griffis
- Iranian Pilgrims Among 14 Killed in Iraq – December 14th, 2012
- Twelve Killed Across Iraq – December 13th, 2012
- Security Personnel and Students Among 17 Killed in Iraq – December 12th, 2012
- Six Security Personnel Killed in Iraq – December 10th, 2012
- Deadly Attack at Family Home Near Baghdad – December 9th, 2012
Copyright © Antiwar.com 2012
- »News»Photographs document Shia Muslims marking Ashura with violent self flagellation
Photographs document Shia Muslims marking Ashura with violent self flagellation
Photographs of devout Muslims mourning the martyrdom of the Prophet Muhammad’s grandson Imam Hussein, with a solemn mass flagellation ceremony have been released online. Mark Roche of The Daily Shift reports…
- Links to nsfw photographs below -
The ritual, known as Ashura is celebrated on the tenth day of the Islamic month of Muharram (the first month of the lunar calendar). Ashura marks the death of the grandson of the Holy prophet, Muhammad in 680 AD at the battle of Karbala, near Baghdad in Iraq; killed by political rivals along with 72 companions, Imam’s body was then mutilated, leading to his martyrdom.
Part of the traditional mourning emulates the suffering of Hussein through self-flagellation, known as ‘the flowing of blood’ accompanied by walking on hot coals and carrying a ‘Tazia’ - a replica of Hussein’s coffin. Furthermore, it is a time of sorrow and solemn contemplative thought and self-reflection; music is refrained from and weddings, parties or any celebration are never scheduled for this time. The death of Hussein split Islam between two sects, Shia Muslims and Sunni Muslims; in the past the event has highlighted the schism and provoked violence from extremists, in 2011 a suicide attack killed 63 people, critically wounding 160 at a shrine in Kabul, Afghanistan.
BBC reported: “Some Shia leaders and groups discourage the bloodletting, saying it creates a backward and negative image of Shia Muslims. Such leaders encourage people to donate blood.”
The Huffington Post disclosed that Afghanistan’s second vice president, Muhammad Karim Khalili issued a statement yesterday imploring Ashura mourners to donate blood known as “Quame Zani”; the vice president was joined by current President, Hamid Karzai in this moderated ritual.
“I request those who mourn at Ashura time to donate their blood under the process of blood donation, instead of flagellating and losing their blood at mosques, Tekias, and on the roads, so that they could save a life of their people besides donating their blood for the love of Imam Hussein.” – Muhammad Karim Khalili – Huffington Post
While this event can be seen as a gruesome act of self-harm, it is conducted through respect and can be seen by Shia as an absolution of sin; “a single tear shed for Husayn washes away a hundred sins”. Children as young as nine-years old can be seen whipping themselves with razor blades and sharp knives attached to chains (“Talwar Zani”); more shocking are the photographs of incisions made to tearful babies which may ask questions of how extreme the mourning ceremony must be to mark respect. The participation of mature adults is perhaps understandable however, the agony thrust upon an innocent body in the name of an imperceptible notion thus far seems to have led to criticism of the practice.
Such displays of devotion are not uncommon in other religions; flagellation is also carried out by some Catholics, although it is no longer as widespread. Pope John Paul II was known to whip himself, as a form of penance. In a similar release, photographs of Filipino men crucifying themselves were posted online earlier this week; the photo’s depict a man nailed through the palm, to a crucifix in an effort to ‘prove his faith’. Church leaders have discouraged this, however, the practice remains a yearly rite.
In one of the most controversial happenings of the 20th century, a Buddhist monk, Thich Quang Duc burned himself to death during busy traffic in Saigon, in an act of self-immolation in order to protest the persecution of Buddhists by the Southern Vietnamese government led by Ngo Dinh Diem. This was not an unprecedented act and although it differs as an act of protest, the martyrdom and self-mutilation in the name of a greater power remains the same.
In many other world religions rituals such as scarification, blood initiation, lashes, ‘land diving’ and even dental chiseling are considered to be a mark of respect and have been documented extensively.
Such vivid photography has perhaps provoked a reaction unworthy of the event; to condemn any religion would be a wrongdoing and the simple documentation of an ancient ritual is not an inherently bad thing. Those depicted have been referred to as heretics, conducting barbaric or fierce acts; sociologically, one would have to remove themselves from their cultural context to find an objective conclusion. The documentation of The Mourning of Muharram is simply that and is to be appreciated as such; an indiscriminate insight documenting a ritual far predating the technology which allows the uneducated to pass judgement.
About Mark Roche
KABUL — Last year we were late, so we were there when the bomb went off in the Afghan capital.
Suddenly I was nearly thrown off my feet by crowds of men running away, from the Ashura Shia holy day rites, some screaming “Ya Hussein!” I thought about running, took cover behind a car, then considered following dozens of others who had jumped down a retaining wall and were wading across the filthy Kabul River.
Then I realized I had not seen Joel, a photographer friend of mine, for a few minutes and that I needed to capture what was going on. I fought my way through the terrified crowd only to find the street slick with blood and dozens and dozens of bodies laid out, blown out into a near perfect semi-circle.
I wrote then that it was, “as if a giant scythe had reached out, cutting people down like wheat in its sweep.” The image of the perfect geometry stays with me today. So does the memory of the feeling of being walled in by blood.
It has taken me a year to be able to write this without choking up. I still do, from time to time. Sometimes I have problems with what I saw. Mostly, though, it is a memory – or something not to be touched (see photos, some graphic, from Ashura 2012 here.)
This year it was hard, but different. On the night before this Ashura, I sent Joel a text, asking him what he would be doing on Saturday. We had talked around the topic, but had not come up with any plan. He said he would go back down to the river. I was anxious and had doubts, but told him I’d meet him the next morning.
I met him early this Saturday morning. I dropped off my bike and we started walking down towards the river. We walked through the diplomatic quarter of the city – the area’s high gray blast walls just starting to be tipped by the orange of the morning light. The snow-capped peaks around Kabul glowed with the same color.
As we walked, we talked about last year. Part of the reason for going back down to the river, to photograph the men flagellating themselves, was to overcome fear. “If you don’t go, you’ll just get more afraid,” he told me. Part of the reason, on my end, was to see if security had improved. So, we were not just going to photograph a news event – it was also some sort of way to help ourselves.
This year security was much tighter. Ropes were strung out, blocking off one quadrant of the square in front of the Central Bank, while others blocked off roads heading towards the river. A big man walked over and asked us who we were and where did we think we were going. I made a few jokes in Russian and the big guy answered.
For all of the security – and there was a lot – all it took was to have a shared foreign language to get us through. After 15 minutes, we were finally down on the strip of road running between the Abul Faz Mosque and the Kabul River.
We stood joking with a couple other journalists who had come down early. Groups of women in chadors – black or colorful as rainbows – streamed into the mosque to pray. Later, groups of men began to arrive.
The crowds came through a gate some 300 feet away and were frisked by armed police. The crowds were orderly – and the police professional – almost resembling the gates at the Afghan Premier League soccer finals a few weeks before – though much more somber.
In a three-story house still under construction and overlooking the normally busy road, a policeman was stationed with a machinegun. He wore belts of machinegun rounds wrapped around his belly in a shimmering gold cummerbund and drank tea from a golden teapot, but seemed aware enough. Trucks with machineguns mounted in their beds were parked along the edges of the road and police and border police were stationed every few meters along the top of the river’s retaining wall.
Indeed, the only frenzy, the only disorder of the day, was when the flagellations and chanting started. Drops of blood flew through the air, spattering onlookers and flagellants alike, as everyone from young boys to old men beat themselves. The crowd thumped the rhythm of the chants on their chests. Dozens and dozens of onlookers had a mobile phone out, filming the event.
After a few hours, the rite had finished, all of the different mosque delegations had come through, and the square emptied. We walked home down the same road we had walked down the year before – this time through two police checkpoints. There was the familiar feeling of having put in a good day’s work – but also a lot of relief that things had changed this year.
Wednesday, November 28, 2012Sectarian Violence Over Ashura Kills 1 at Kabul UniversityIt’s Ashura(aka Ashoura) time, when Shiite Muslims commemorate the martyrdom ofProphet Mohammed’s grandson, Imam Hussein, through self-flagellation byusing big sharp knives, and literally making a bloody mess ofthemselves. I’m sure you’ve seen those photos of men holding their youngkids with blood dripping down both their heads. Not a pretty sight.Apparently, this is one of the many things that turn off their MuslimSunni brothers, and understandably so; and this antipathy between them,and their obvious inability to respect each other in spite of theirdiffering beliefs, is the root of the escalating sectarian violence.They’re not satisfied with telling each other “we think you suck, butyou have a right to your own beliefs, as bizarre as they might be”, nothey have to instigate fights, and better yet blow each other up. TheTaliban were foiled in this plot, but Afghan police were not so lucky last year when around 60 were killed.However, one university student at Kabul University was killed this year, and eight wounded, after fighting broke out Saturday, on campus.The clash began Saturday evening as Sunni Muslim students tried toprevent their Shiite counterparts from observing Ashura inside adormitory mosque. The holiday commemorates the martyrdom of Hussein, agrandson of the Prophet Muhammad and a revered figure in Shiite Islam.The confrontation escalated during the night, with students throwingstones at one another. University officials eventually sent in thepolice to break up the melee.Some police officers said that as many as three people might havebeen killed, but only one death was confirmed as of Saturday night.University officials evacuated the school and canceled classes for thenext 10 days.I suppose I might not want my mosque bloodied up either, but couldn’tthey just have said, clean it up, or else? And these are educateduniversity students, not ignorant poppy farmers out in the boonies.I’ve said this before, but if Muslims can’t even get along with eachother, how on earth do we expect them to get along with people of otherfaiths.
…and I am Sid Harth@elcidharth.com
Washington Post, November 21KABUL — A pair of suicide bombers in Afghan military uniforms penetrated the most heavily guarded district in Kabul early Wednesday, killing two Afghan security guards and wounding five civilians in blasts at a checkpoint near the main U.S. military headquarters and half a dozen other international facilities.
Day of Ashura
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|Day of Ashura|
Shi’a Muslims of Hardoi, Northern India, strike their chests during the mourning of Ashura 2011
|Official name||Arabic: عاشوراء (ʻĀshūrā’); Turkish: Aşure Günü|
|Also called||Hosay, Tabuik, Tabot|
|Observed by||Shi’a Muslims|
|Type||Islamic and national (In some countries such as Iran, Turkey, Azerbaijan, Lebanon, Pakistan, Iraq, and India)|
|Significance||Marks the martyrdom of Husayn ibn Ali (Shi’a Islam); The day that Moses fasted as gratitude for the liberation of the Israelites (Sunni Islam)|
|2012 date||November 25|
|2013 date||November 14|
|Observances||Mourn and derive messages from Husayn’s Sacrifice(Shi’a Islam); Fasting (Sunni Islam)|
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The Day of Ashura (Arabic: عاشوراء ʻĀshūrā’; Urdu: عاشورہ; Persian: عاشورا; Turkish: Aşure Günü) is on the 10th day of Muharram in the Islamic calendar and marks the climax of the Mourning of Muharram.
It is commemorated by Shi’a Muslims as a day of mourning for the martyrdom of Husayn ibn Ali, the grandson of Muhammad at the Battle of Karbala on 10 Muharram in the year 61 AH (in AHc: October 9, and in AHt: October 10, 680 CE). According to Sunni Muslim tradition, Ibn Abbas narrates that Muhammad came to Madeenah and saw the Jews fasting on the day of ‘Ashoora’. He said, “What is this?” They said, “This is a good day, this is the day when Allah saved the Children of Israel from their enemy and Moosa fasted on this day.” He said, “We are closer to Moosa than you.” So he fasted on this day and told the people to fast. 
In some Shi’a regions of Muslim countries such as Afghanistan, Iran, Iraq, Turkey, Azerbaijan, Pakistan, Lebanon, and Bahrain, the Commemoration of Husayn ibn Ali has become a national holiday and most ethnic and religious communities participate in it. Even in predominantly Hindu majority but secular country like India, Ashura (10th day in the month of Muharram) is a public holiday.
Etymology of Ashura
The root for the word ashura has the meaning of tenth in Semitic languages; hence the name of the remembrance, literally translated, means “the tenth day”. According to the orientalist A.J. Wensinck, the name is derived from the Hebrew ʿāsōr, with the Aramaic determinative ending. The day is indeed the tenth day of the month, although some Islamic scholars offer up different etymologies.
In his book Ghuniyatut Talibin, Sheikh Abdul Qadir Jilani writes that the Islamic scholars have a difference of opinion as to why this day is known as Ashura, with some scholars suggesting that this day is the tenth most important day that God has blessed Muslims with.
Commemoration of the martyrdom of Husayn ibn Ali
History of the commemoration by Shi’a
This day is well-known because of mourning for the martyrdom of Husayn ibn Ali, the grandson of Muhammad and the third Shia Imam, along with members of his family and close friends at the Battle of Karbala in the year 61 AH (680 AD). Yazid I was in power then and wanted the Bay’ah (allegiance) of Husayn ibn Ali. Muslims[neutrality is disputed] believe Yazid was openly going against the teachings of Islam in public and changing the sunnah of Muhammad.
Husayn in his path toward Kufa encountered the army of Ubayd-Allah ibn Ziyad, the governor of Kufa. On October 10, 680 (Muharram 10, 61 AH), he and his small group of companions and family members (in total who were around 72 men and few ladies and children) fought with a large army of perhaps more than 100,000 men under the command of Umar ibn Sa’ad, son of the founder of Kufa. Husayn and all of his men were killed while being thirsty. The nearby river (Euphrates) was also blocked by Ubayd-Allah ibn Ziyad men and Husayn and his companions were not allowed to get any water from it. Before being killed, Husayn said “if the religion of Mohammad was not going to live on except with me dead, let the swords tear me to pieces.”[unreliable source?]. Some of the bodies of the dead, including that of Husayn, were then mutilated.
Commemoration for Husayn ibn Ali began after the Battle of Karbala. After the massacre, the Umayyad army looted Husayn’s camp and set off with his women and children for the court of Ibn Ziyad. A moving oration delivered by Zaynab in Kufa is recorded in some sources. The prisoners were next sent to the court of Yazid, Umayyad caliph, in Damascus, where one of his Syrian followers asked for Husayn’s daughter Faṭimah al-Kubra, and once again it was Zaynab[disambiguation needed] who came to the rescue and protected her honour. The family remained in Yazid’s prison for a time. The first assembly (majlis) of Commemoration of Husayn ibn Ali is said to have been held by Zaynab in prison. In Damascus, too, she is reported to have delivered a poignant oration. The prison sentence ended when Husayn’s 3 year old daughter, Janabe Rukaiyya, died in captivity. She often cried in prison to be allowed to see her father. She is believed to have died when she saw her fathers mutilated head. Her death caused an uproar in the city, and Yazid, fearful of a potential resulting revolution, freed the captives.
|“Zaynab bint Ali quoted as she passed the prostrate body of her brother, Husayn. ” O Muhammad! O Muhammad! May the angels of heaven bless you. Here is Husayn in the open, stained with blood and with limbs torn off. O Muhammad! Your daughters are prisoners, your progeny are killed, and the east wind blows dust over them.” By God! She made every enemy and friend weep.”|
|Tabari, History of the Prophets and Kings, Volume XIX The Caliphate of Yazid.|
Husayn’s grave became a pilgrimage site among Shi’a only a few years after his death. A tradition of pilgrimage to the Imam Husayn Shrine and the other Karbala martyrs quickly developed, which is known as Ziarat Ashura. The Umayyad and Abbasid caliphs tried to prevent construction of the shrines and discouraged pilgrimage to the sites. The tomb and its annexes were destroyed by the Abbasid caliph Al-Mutawakkil in 850–851 and Shi’a pilgrimage was prohibited, but shrines in Karbala and Najaf were built by the Buwayhid emir ‘Adud al-Daula in 979-80.
Public rites of remembrance for Husayn’s martyrdom developed from the early pilgrimages. Under the Buyid dynasty, Mu’izz ad-Dawla officiated at public commemoration of Ashura in Baghdad. These commemorations were also encouraged in Egypt by the Fatimid caliph al-’Aziz. From Seljuq times, Ashura rituals began to attract participants from a variety of backgrounds, including Sunnis. With the recognition of Twelvers as the official religion by the Safavids, Mourning of Muharram extended throughout the first ten days of Muharram.
Significance of Ashura for Shi’a Muslims
Shi’as make pilgrimages on Ashura, as they do forty days later on Arba’een, to the Mashhad al-Husayn, the shrine in Karbala, Iraq that is traditionally held to be Husayn’s tomb. On this day Shi’a are in remembrance, and mourning attire is worn. They refrain from music, since Arabic culture generally considers music impolite during death rituals. It is a time for sorrow and respect of the person’s passing, and it is also a time for self-reflection, when one commits oneself to the mourning of the Husayn completely. Weddings and parties are also never planned on this date by Shi’as. Shi’as also express mourning by crying and listening to poems about the tragedy and sermons on how Husayn and his family were martyred. This is intended to connect them with Husayn’s suffering and martyrdom, and the sacrifices he made to keep Islam alive. Husayn’s martyrdom is widely interpreted by Shi’a as a symbol of the struggle against injustice, tyranny, and oppression. Shi’as believe the Battle of Karbala was between the forces of good and evil with Husayn representing good while Yazid represented evil. Shi’as also believe the Battle of Karbala was fought to keep the Muslim religion untainted of any corruptions and they believed the path that Yazid was directing Islam was definitely for his own personal greed.
Shia Imams strongly insist that the day of Ashura should not be taken as a day of joy and festivity. According to a hadith which is reported from Ali claiming it was on that day the God forgave Adam, Noah‘s Ark rested on dry land, The Israelites were saved from Pharaoh’s army, etc.[clarification needed] The day of Ashura, according to Eighth Shia Imam, Ali al-Rida, must be observed as a day of inactivity, sorrow and total disregard of worldly cares.
As suffering and cutting the body with knives or chains (matam) have been prohibited by Shi’a marjas like Ali Khamenei, Supreme Leader of Iran, some Shi’a observe mourning with blood donation which is called “Qame Zani” and flailing. Yet some Shi’ite men and boys, considered heretics by some Muslim scholars, slash themselves with chains(zanjeer) or swords (talwar) and allow their blood to run freely.
Certain rituals like the traditional flagellation ritual called Talwar zani (talwar ka matam or sometimes tatbir) using a sword or zanjeer zani or zanjeer matam, involving the use of a zanjeer (a chain with blades) are also performed. These are religious customs that show solidarity with Husayn and his family. People mourn the fact that they were not present at the battle to fight and save Husayn and his family.
For Shi’as, commemoration of Ashura is not a festival, but rather a sad event, while Sunni Muslims view it as a victory God has given to his prophet, Moses . This victory is the very reason, as Sunni Muslims believe, Muhammad mentioned when recommending fasting on this day.Sunnis also commemorate this day as the day of victory for Islam. The martyrdom of Hussain, gave new life to the message of Islam. Sunnis gather at the mosques, to remember the noble sacrifice made by Hussain and his companions, hold seminars and take out procession in the remembrance of this great martyr of Islam. For Shi’as, it is a period of intense grief and mourning. Mourners, congregate at a Mosque for sorrowful, poetic recitations such as marsiya, noha, latmiya and soaz performed in memory of the martyrdom of Husayn, lamenting and grieving to the tune of beating drums and chants of “Ya Hussain.” Also Ulamas give sermons with themes of Husayn’s personality and position in Islam, and the history of his uprising. The Sheikh of the mosque retells the Battle of Karbala to allow the listeners to relive the pain and sorrow endured by Husayn and his family. In Arab countries like Iraq and Lebanon they read Maqtal Al-Husayn. In some places, such as Iran, Iraq and the Arab states of the Persian Gulf, Ta’zieh, passion plays, are also performed reenacting the Battle of Karbala and the suffering and martyrdom of Husayn at the hands of Yazid. 
For the duration of the remembrance, it is customary for mosques and some people to provide free meals (Niazz) on certain nights of the month to all people. People donate food and Middle Eastern sweets to the mosque. These meals are viewed as being special and holy, as they have been consecrated in the name of Husayn, and thus partaking of them is considered an act of communion with God, Hussain, and humanity.
Participants congregate in public processions for ceremonial chest beating (matham/latmiya) as a display of their devotion to Husayn, in remembrance of his suffering and to preach that oppression will not last in the face of truth and justice. Others pay tribute to the time period by holding a Majilis, Surahs from the Quran and Maqtal Al-Husayn are read.
Today in Indonesia, the event is known as Tabuik (Minangkabau language) or Tabut (Indonesian). Tabuik is the local manifestation of the Shi’a Muslim Mourning of Muharram among the Minangkabau people in the coastal regions of West Sumatra, particularly in the city of Pariaman. The festival includes reenactments of the Battle of Karbala, and the playing of tassa and dhol drums.
Commemoration of Husayn ibn Ali by non-Muslims
In some countries other religious communities commemorate this event.
Significance of Ashura for Sunni Muslims
Not related to Ashura and Karbala, some Sunni Muslims fast on this day of Ashura based on narrations attributed to Muhammad. The fasting is to commemorate the day when Moses and his followers were saved from Pharaoh by Allah (SWT) by creating a path in the Red Sea. According to Muslim tradition, the Jews used to fast on the tenth day. So Muhammad recommended to be different from the Jews and recommended fasting two days instead of one. 9th and 10th or the 10th and 11th day of Muharram.
According to Hadith record in Sahih Bukhari, Ashura was already known as a commemorative day during which some Makkah residents used to observe customary fasting. Muhammad used to fast on the day of Ashura, 10th Muharram, in Makkah. When fasting the month of Ramadhan became obligatory, the fast of Ashura was made non compulsory. This has been narrated by Aisha, Sahih Muslim,Hadith-2499. In hijrah event when Muhammad led his followers to Medina, he found the Jews of that area likewise observing fasts on the day of Ashura. At this, Muhammad affirmed the Islamic claim to the fast, and from then the Muslims have fasted on combinations of two or three consecutive days including the 10th of Muharram (e.g. 9th and 10th or 10th and 11th).
A companion of Muhammed, Ibn Abas reports Muhammed went to Madina and found the Jews fasting on the tenth of Muharram. Muhammed inquired of them, “What is the significance of this day on which you fast?” They replied, “This is a good day, the day on which God rescued the children of Israel from their enemy. So, Moses fasted this day.” Muhammed said, “We have more claim over Moses than you.” Muhammed then fasted on that day and ordered Muslims too.
The narrations of Muhammad mentioning the Children of Israel being saved from Pharaoh are indeed confimed by authentic hadith in Sahih Bukhari and Sahih Muslim.
Muhammad’s tribe, the Quraish, fasted on the 10th of Muharram. Though optional, Muhammad retained this pre-Islamic practice too. Below is details from the Hadith:
Narrated ‘Aisha: ‘Ashura’ (i.e. the tenth day of Muharram) was a day on which the tribe of Quraish used to fast in the pre-lslamic period of ignorance. The Prophet also used to fast on this day. So when he migrated to Medina, he fasted on it and ordered (the Muslims) to fast on it. When the fasting of Ramadan was enjoined, it became optional for the people to fast or not to fast on the day of Ashura.
Egyptian Muslims customarily eat a pudding (also known as Ashura) after dinner on the Day of Ashura; it is a wheat pudding with nuts, raisins, and rose water, and it is also known in Turkish as Aşure.
Commemoration of Ashura has great socio-political value for the Shi’a, who have been a minority throughout their history. “Al-Amd” asserts that the Shi’a transference of Al-Husayn and Karbala ‘ from the framework of history to the domain of ideology and everlasting legend reflects their marginal and dissenting status in Arab-Islamic society.[original research?] According to the prevailing conditions at the time of the commemoration, such reminiscences may become a framework for implicit dissent or explicit protest. It was, for instance, used during the Islamic Revolution of Iran, the Lebanese Civil War, the Lebanese resistance against the Israeli military presence and in the 1990s Uprising in Bahrain. Sometimes the `Ashura’ celebrations associate the memory of Al-Husayn’s martyrdom with the conditions of Islam and Muslims in reference to Husayn’s famous quote on the day of Ashura: “Every day is Ashura, every land is Karbala”.
From the period of the Iranian Constitutional Revolution (1905–1911) onward, mourning gatherings increasingly assumed a political aspect. Following an old established tradition, preachers compared the oppressors of the time with Imam Hosayn’s enemies, the umayyads.
The political function of commemoration was very marked in the years leading up to the Islamic Revolution of 1978–79, as well as during the revolution itself. In addition, the implicit self-identification of the Muslim revolutionaries with Imam Hosayn led to a blossoming of the cult of the martyr, expressed most vividly, perhaps, in the vast cemetery of Behesht-e Zahra, to the south of Tehran, where the martyrs of the revolution and the war against Iraq are buried.
On the other hand some governments have banned this commemoration. In 1930s Reza Shah forbade it in Iran. The regime of Saddam Hussein saw this as a potential threat and banned Ashura commemorations for many years. In the 1884 Hosay massacre, 22 people were killed in Trinidad and Tobago when civilians attempted to carry out the Ashura rites, locally known as Hosay, in defiance of the British colonial authorities.
Violence during Ashura
The Sunni and Shi’a schism is highlighted by the difference in observance by Sunni and Shi’a Muslims. The violence is perpetrated by extremists. In countries that have significant populations of both sects, there is often violence during the holiday.
On June 20, 1994 the explosion of a bomb in a prayer hall of Imam Reza shrine in Mashhad killed at least 25 people. The Iranian government officially blamed Mujahedin-e-Khalq for the incident to avoid sectarian conflict between Shias and Sunnis. However, the Pakistani daily The News International reported on March 27, 1995, “Pakistani investigators have identified a 24-year-old religious fanatic Abdul Shakoor residing in Lyari in Karachi, as an important Pakistani associate of Ramzi Yousef. Abdul Shakoor had intimate contacts with Ramzi Ahmed Yousef and was responsible for the June 20, 1994, massive bomb explosion at the shrine Imam Ali Reza in Mashhad.”
On January 19, 2008, 7 million Iraqi Shia pilgrims marched through Karbala city, Iraq to commemorate Ashura. 20,000 Iraqi troops and police guarded the event amid tensions due to clashes between Iraqi troops and members of a Shia cult, the Soldiers of Heaven, which left around 263 people dead (in Basra and Nasiriya).
On December 27, 2009, tens of thousands of opposition protesters in Iran demonstrated in conjunction with the day of Ashura. Clashes between anti-riot forces and demonstrators occurred in several Iranian cities. Among others, the nephew of the opposition leader Mir-Hossein Mousavi was killed.
On December 28, 2009, dozens of people were killed and hundreds injured (including both Shia and Sunni commemorators) during the Ashura procession when a massive bomb exploded at the procession in Karachi, Pakistan (See: 2009 Karachi bombing). Reuters
On December 15, 2010, 200 Shia followers were detained by the Selangor Islamic Department (JAIS) in a raid at a shop house in Sri Gombak known as Hauzah Imam Ali ar-Ridha (Hauzah ArRidha). This was because of a fatwa by a Salafi Selangor mufti, who had declared the Shias to be heritics. Khusrin said all the Shias mourners who were detained were to be charged under Section 12 of the Selangor Syariah Criminal Enactment 1995 which are insulting, rejecting, or dispute the violation of the instructions set out and given a fatwa by the Salafi religious authorities. ABNA
On December 5, 2011, thirty Shia pilgrims participating in Ashura processions were killed by a series of bomb attacks in Hilla and Baghdad, Iraq.
On December 6, 2011, a suicide attack killed 63 people and critically wounded 160 at a shrine in Kabul, Afghanistan where a crowd of hundreds had gathered for the day of Ashura observation.
Ashura in the Gregorian calendar
While Ashura is always on the same day of the Islamic calendar, the date on the Gregorian calendar varies from year to year due to differences between the two calendars, since the Islamic calendar is a lunar calendar and the Gregorian calendar is a solar calendar. Furthermore, the crescent appearance to determine when each Islamic month begins varies from country to country due to obvious geographical reasons.
- 1430 AH
- 2009 January 6, in Middle East and Iran
- 2009 January 7, in South Asia (i.e. Afghanistan, Bangladesh, India, Pakistan, etc.)
- 1431 AH
- 2009 December 28, in India, Pakistan, Iran, N.America, Europe and Middle East and December
- 2009 December 29, in Far-East
- 1432 AH
- 2010 December 16, in part of Middle East and Iran
- 2010 December 17, in Iraq and South Asia (i.e. Afghanistan, Bangladesh, India, Pakistan, etc.)
- 1433 AH
- 2011 December 5, in part of Middle East and Asia
- 2011 December 6, in Lebanon, Iraq, and North America
- ^ عاشورا سهشنبه بود، ۲۰ مهر ۵۹ هجری شمسی
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- ^ a b Sahih Bukhari Book 31 Hadith 222, Book 55 Hadith 609, and Book 58 Hadith 279, ; Sahih Muslim Book 6 Hadith 2518, 2519, 2520 
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- ^ The history of Al-Tabari, Volume XIX The Caliphate of Yazid, translated by I. K. A. Howard, p:164
- ^ a b “HOSAYN B. ALI in Popular Shiism”. Encyclopedia of Iranica. Archived from the original on January 17, 2008. Retrieved December 16, 2010.
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- ^ Ayoub, Shiʻism (1988), pp. 258 and 259
- ^ a b Akramulla Syed (2009-02-20). “Zanjeer Or Qama Zani On Ashura During Muharram”. Ezsoftech.com. Retrieved 2012-06-30.
- ^ a b “Ashura observed with blood streams to mark Karbala tragedy”. Jafariya News Network. Retrieved December 28, 2010.
- ^ “Scars on the backs of the young”. New Statesman. UK. June 6, 2005. Retrieved December 28, 2010.
- ^ Bird, Steve (August 28, 2008). “Devout Muslim guilty of making boys beat themselves during Shia ceremony”. The Times (London). Retrieved May 1, 2010.
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- ^ “www.ashura.com.au”. www.ashura.com.au. Retrieved 2012-06-30.
- ^ Korom, Frank J. (2003). Hosay Trinidad: Muharram Performances in an Indo-Caribbean Diaspora. University of Pennsylvania Press, Philadelphia. ISBN 0-8122-3683-1.
- ^ Shankar, Guha (2003) Imagining India(ns): Cultural Performances and Diaspora Politics in Jamaica. PhD Dissertation, University of Texas, Austin pdf
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- Litvak, Meir (1998). Shi’i Scholars of Nineteenth-Century Iraq: The Ulama of Najaf and Karbala. Cambridge University Press. ISBN 0-521-89296-1
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Why is Islam so retarded?
Squinting ahead into the 21st Century, most people are looking to China or the Far East generally or Europe (ha!) or Russia (ha! ha!) to be the next big player. My money’s on India. They’re big, they’re clever, they’re charming and they make excellent 1950s Hollywood musicals. It’s a country not without problems, but I’m betting she has the stuff to pull herself together and kick world ass.
So it’s worth noting that, genetically, they’re the same people as the Pakistanis. And Pakistan is a shithole.
The difference is, Pakistan is Islamic. And India — well, it’s not truly in the Anglosphere, but it was blessed with a period of British colonial rule and absorbed the lesson. Ipso facto it is not race that maketh a shithole. It is ideas.
Sure, being a colony is a drag, but the combination of Capitalism + English common law has been an unbeatable formula for prosperity, growth and invention wherever it has been applied, from Hong Kong to Rhodesia. Even when applied at the ass-end of a gun. The purer the tincture, the surer the cure.
Don’t give me that shit about Islam and algebra or medicine or whatever. That was hundreds and hundreds of years ago and it takes credit for stuff filched from the better cultures it absorbed. The few real Muslim innovators skated close to the edge with their own religious leadership. Purist Islam is conformist, repressive, hierarchical, intolerant, dogmatic. Innovation needs flexibility, tolerance for eccentricity and the willingness to absorb insult without riots or sawing off heads.
In the end, I have no worries who will win the argument. Everybody wants to live in a world with antibiotics and television. Even Osama luv him sat-phone. A caliphate could limp along at a frozen level of technology for a while (the Soviet Union made it almost a century, after all). But the nerds will win the long game, because they have allllll the mana points. This is why the “demographics is destiny” argument falls flat for me — I believe a thousand strong, stupid young men will lose a prolonged fight to ten geeks.
The question is the body count.
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