Wednesday, May 31, 2006

7th Century Baghdad

Baghdadis are reporting that radical Islamists have taken control over the Dora, Amiriya and Ghazaliya districts of Baghdad, where they operate in broad daylight. They have near full control of Saidiya, Jihad, Jami’a, Khadhraa’ and Adil. And their area of influence has spread over the last few weeks to Mansour, Yarmouk, Harthiya, and very recently, to Adhamiya.

All of these districts, with the exception of Adhamiya, are more or less mixed or Sunni majority areas. They make up the western part of the capital, or what is known as the Karkh sector (the eastern half of Baghdad is called Rusafa). These areas also witnessed an influx of families displaced by the violence in the Anbar governorate, since many residents of the western part of Baghdad have roots in western areas of the country, such as Fallujah and Ramadi.

People who live in the mentioned districts claim that unknown groups have distributed leaflets (often handwritten), warning residents of several practices, ranging from instructions on dress codes to the prohibition of selling or dealing with certain goods.

The instructions vary between neighbourhoods. Amiriya and Ghazaliya have the full menu, while others stress only 2 or more of them. So far, enforcing the hijab for women and a ban on shorts for men are consistent in most districts of western Baghdad. In other areas, women are not allowed to drive, to go out without a chaperone, and to use cell phones in public; men are not allowed to dress in jeans, shave their beards, wear goatees, put styling hair gel, or to wear necklaces; it is forbidden to sell ice, to sell cigarettes at street stands, to sell Iranian merchandise, to sell newspapers, and to sell ring tones, CDs, and DVDs. Butchers are not allowed to slaughter during certain religious anniversaries. Municipality workers will be killed if they try to collect garbage from certain areas. Private neighbourhood generators are banned in a few areas. And the last I heard is that they are threatening Internet cafés and wireless providers.

As a result, the remaining Iraqi women who haven’t yet covered their heads are now buying veils and more moderate dress. My sister now covers her head when she goes out to college, as do most of my female relatives. Trousers and short skirts have long been abandoned. Guys are now either wearing Bermuda shorts that cover their knees or just plain trousers. Me? I have insisted so far to keep my hairy legs exposed.

Other Iraqi bloggers who have posted about this phenomenon: here, here, here, here, here, and here.

I will try to get hold of one of these fliers, but so far no one has produced any.
And while the fliers may be a rumour, the killings of those who failed to observe the guidelines are not.

The capital is rife with all kinds of morbid rumours. Some examples below:

- An armed group stopped a minibus full of high school female students. 2 girls, who had their hair exposed, had their heads shaven clean as an example for others.

- 4 young men wearing shorts near a local bakery at Mansour were all shot in the legs.

- A young high school student at Ma’moun was shot twice in the head with a notice saying that he was killed for wearing jeans.

- A lady was forced out of her car and stripped naked near the Nida’ mosque in Adhamiya.

Why don’t they just blow up the city and erect tents instead? It would make life much easier. We could go to school or work riding on camels. We could sit at the mosque all day, stroking and scratching our filthy beards and waiving flies away, while our women recline in their harems.

In short, they are trying to take us back to the 7th century, so we can experience the simple life of the prophet and his pious companions. We should abandon everything and anything that was not available at the time of the prophet in order to be true Muslims.

Yet the followers of this simplistic, backwards ideology have no problem with using hi-tech explosives, IEDs, machine guns and RPGs. According to their sick creed, it is not against Islam to detonate a car bomb at a bustling market or to shoot a kid twice in the head because he had gel on his hair. No, that is okay in Islam.