Thursday, January 01, 2004

The New Year, Iraqi Christians, Alcohol, and other things

(This was supposed to be posted yesterday but I didn't have enough time to visit an Internet cafe).

First I wish everyone all the best for 2004.

The eve of the New Year for me has always been the gloomiest and most depressing time of the year. While the rest of the world celebrates till the early morning I would be sitting over drinks with friends while wearily staring at each other, cursing our lost youth, and wondering what the future will bring us. At some of these occasions we don't even notice the clock striking twelve, sometimes we just blurt out a half-hearted hurray, greet each other and sit back drinking ourselves to oblivion.

This year doesn't look any different, we already did our shopping and are getting ready for a long night of discussing boring topics such as philosophy, politics, and our faceless future.

I read today in the papers an account of the murder of Bashir Thomas Elias, an Iraqi Christian who ran a liquor store in Basrah. It was Christmas Eve and he was heading back home from the market to celebrate with his family when someone shot him in the head and walked away amid onlooking Basrawis.

There were about 200 licensed alcohol dealers in Basrah before the war, today there is none, and we were there to see for ourselves. Most of these stores were looted and burnt during the last few months and the rest were forced to close under murder threats from hardliners and Shi'ite extremist groups such as Hizb Allah (The party of Allah), Intiqam Allah (The revenge of Allah), and Munadhamat Qawa'id Al-Islam. These groups are powerful and influential in Basrah and already have many of their members in local municipal councils. Faysal Abdallah a leader of one of these groups stated that Allah will reward the virtuous who seek Shahada fighting vice in his name but he described these summary executions of Iraqi Christians as 'unacceptable behaviour'.

Basrah is populated by 100,000 Christians. About 2000 of them have already left their hometown and migrated to other cities such as Baghdad and Mosul, the rest are living in fear for their lives. Some of them are wondering if they were not better off with Saddam and the secular Ba'ath in power.

"Our daughters are persecuted in college" said Wisam Abdalahad a store owner in Basrah. "They are being intimidated by their teachers and professors and told to wear Hijab".

Of course Islam apologists respond by "No, Islam is the religion of peace and tolerance" and they cite the Quranic verse 'There is no compulsion in religion'. They always seem to forget this other verse (29) from Surat Al-Tawba: "Fight those who do not believe in Allah and the judgement day, those who do not prohibit what Allah and his messenger have prohibited, and those who do not profess the true faith from Ahl AlKitab* till they pay the Jizyah with the hand of humility".
*Christians, Jews, and Mandeans are referred to as Ahl AlKitab or Dhimmis in the Quran.

So Muslim clerics worldwide should gather and either renounce these inciting verses or issue fatwas that they are inapplicable in todays world. One cannot say that he truly believes in the holy message of peace and tolerance in the Quran and yet at the same time ignore these violent and scary verses. It would result in double talk and inconsistency in thought and behaviour which in extreme cases lead to terrorism. It has to be one way or the other. Muslim leaders should make a choice to put an end to all the bloodshed in the name of the divine Allah and his messenger.

UPDATE:This mess was what ensued of our late night drinking party.