Thursday, February 26, 2004
I was greeted with green, red, and black banners, and an endless crowd of men in black marching to the village in parallel lines. I heard drums beating, and the sinister familiar 'chuuush' sound of chains and latum. I got really excited and I started to walk at a faster pace to catch up with the procession. Boy, it was such a humbling scene to behold. It was just so.. organized. Those guys have certainly been practicing this covertly since their childhoods, imagine two or three hundred people beating their backs with chain whips in a certain rythm all simultaneously. I was even getting to enjoy iy, but I have to admit it was scary. IP all over the place, deadly looking militia with black sunglasses looking left and right.
I almost ran to the residence to get my camera. My legs were just aching. My friend, the Christian dentist was snoring with his mouth wide open. I almost kicked him out of bed and told him to dress and come watch or he would miss the fun. He was a bit hesitant, and when I told him I was intending to take pictures he almost had a fit.
"You bloody fool! Are you out of your mind?!" he roared. I promised him that I would ask them beforehand. He was still uncertain about the whole thing but I got him interested enough to come along. Our fellow Baghdadi, the pharmacist, also wanted to go. We all set out. The pharmacist politely asked one of the Mullahs who seemed to be in charge if it was okay for his friend to take pictures. The jolly Mullah enthusiastically agreed, and I stepped forward. (He turned out to be the same Mullah that issued the subpoena for one of the doctors at the hospital a few weeks ago).
I took a few but it was getting dark and some of the photos weren't good. I ran out of batteries after a while so I stopped. Someone told us later that there would be plenty more mawakib (latum processions) everyday until the final buildup on Ashurra day. So I'll try to capture more of it later this week. I'm staying in Basrah probably until next Thursday. So I'll keep you posted on the developments. Problem is I can't upload photos from Basrah, so they'll have to wait until next week, but believe me they'll definitely be worth it.
The most comic incident was that my Christian friend got a bit dizzy and almost threw up while he was witnessing the scene. He was really freaked. "You'd better get used to it" I told him later that night. "Expect a lot of this stuff every year from now on".
Sam at Hammorabi has posted a long and very informative blog about the history of Ashurra day and the story of Al-Hussein. You should check it out if you wish to learn more about the subject.
Wednesday, February 25, 2004
umma, or nation.
Muharram is also a very special month for Shia, specifically the first ten days of it. 10th of Muharram is the day Imam Al-Hussein bin Ali bin Abi Talib (Muhammed's grandson from his daughter Fatima) was killed/ martyred by the Ummayids at Al-Taff (near present day Karbala) with several sons and brothers. Al-Hussein along with his family and a handful of followers rebelled against the Ummayid rulers to restore the
Caliphate to Ahl Al-Bait (the prophet's household). He left Medina for Iraq (Iraqis were very frustrated with the Ummayids back then) responding to a cry of help and where he naiively imagined he would garner support and man power for his cause. He was so wrong. Iraqi Arabs typically abandoned him at the first display of force by the Ummayid governor Ubaid Illah bin Zeyad who oppressed the Shia
violently (which is one of the many reasons Shi'ites hate my name ;)).
To make a long story short, Al-Hussein was slaughtered and his head sent to the Caliph Yazid bin Mu'awiyah (whose grandfather was one of the most prominent Quraish kafirs who fought against Muhammed) at Damascus along with the women and children of Bani Hashim (Muhammed's clan). A young son of Hussein (Ali Zain Al-Abidain) survived the Taff battle. He returned to Medina, and took solace in studying religion. The Ummayids watched him closely. Iraqis also tried luring him into revolting against the Caliphate, but he wisely refused (one of his sons was fooled though and headed to Iraq only to meet the same fate as his grandfather but with slightly different details). Anyway, the descendants of Imam Al-Hussein through his son Ali are the twelve infallible imams (a'ima alma'ssumeen). They are the
saints of Shi'ite Muslims. Starting from Ali bin Abi Talib (Muhammed's cousin and son-in-law), Al-Hassan and Al-Hussein (his two sons), Ali Zain Al-Abidain bin Hussein, Mohammed Al-Baqir bin Ali, Jaffar Al-Sadiq bin Muhammed, Musah Al-Kadhim bin Jaffar, Ali Al-Ridha bin Musah, Mohammed Al-Jawad bin Ali, Ali Al-Hadi bin Mohammed, Al-Hassan Al-Askari bin Ali, and the last Mohammed Al-Mahdi. Al-Mahdi allegedly dissapeared into a cave in Samarra when he was very young around the ninth century. The Shia strongly believe he will reappear one day from this cave to fill the earth with justice once again. In other words, he is their version of the Messiah. The belief in a guided saviour descending from the prophet is held by the majority of different Islamic sects, but the Shia insist that Al-Mahdi is the one. Many renown Islamic historians even deny he ever existed.
Hope all the above makes sense. So, Iraqi Shia have special rituals to perform during the first ten days of Muharram. First, tabukh (cooking), or mass feasts to feed the poor. They make qima which is a minced beef sauce served with boiled rice, harrisa, which is some kind of porridge, and zarda my favourite (a sweet dish which I have no idea about ingredients). The second ritual, latum, I'm sure most of you have seen it during Shia demonstrations, where they furiously beat on their chests and heads in unison while singing certain lamenting verses, only, during Muharram it is carried out on a much wider and systematic scale. Large spiky chains, whips, and many other items that BDSM enthusiasts would be proud of are used. It's a horrible and depressing scene to watch. If I can get away with it, I'll try to take pictures when it starts over here.
Of course all these rituals were prohibited by Saddam's regime, which is why they are fervently being followed out now. My opinion is that he should have accomodated them. I'm sure many Shi'ite Iraqis are going to read this and say: oh, a spoiled Sunni kid bashing holy Ashurra. Believe me, that's not the case, but if you were here right now witnessing the mass hysteria that I am, you would actually be ashamed to be associated with any of this. But keep the tabukh it's good!
I have to run now, but I'll write more later about the Iranian influence in Basrah, Islamic parties, opinions of people I've talked to here on many issues, smuggling, indisciplined Brits, and the latest developments at the doctors residence (where a mini civil war is about to break!). Ciao.
Wednesday, February 18, 2004
Iraqi women representing fifty five women groups and organizations from all over Iraq gathered at Fardus square this morning to sign a petition against Resolution 137, to demand equal rights, and fair unbiased representation (at least 40%) in the future Iraqi Transitional Council, governorate, and municipal councils.
The sit-in was organized by the Supreme Council of Iraqi Women, the Advisory Committee for Women Affairs, and the Iraqi Women Network. Other noted women groups were present such as the Iraqi Contemporary Women Movement, Organization for Women Freedom in Iraq, Iraqi Hope Association (Amal), Independent Women Organization, Womens Union of Kurdistan, Kurdistan Free Women Movement, Iraqi Women Revival Organization, and the Iraqi Students and Youth Union. I think AYS or Omar have a list of the groups.
Several women activists gave speeches. Yanar Mohammad, Zakiyah Khalifah, Maysun Al-Damluji, Hana Edward, and GC member Sungol Chabok also made a late appearance. Planning Minister Dr. Mahdi Al-Hafudh shyly gave a brief word of support and signed the petition.
It got interesting when a woman in a burqa showed up at the gathering with her three kids. Reporters all stormed forward trying to interview her. Her husband was imprisoned for years by the former regime for political reasons only to be executed in the end and for her to pay for the bullets. A very heartrending story. She held his death certificate as you can see in the pictures. She said "We didn't wait all these years without the most basic rights to be denied them now". An Arab reporter asked her if she was Sunni or Shi'ite. "I'm neither!" she snapped at him "I'm an Iraqi citizen first and foremost, and I refuse to be asked such a question".
AYS, and I, skulked around Fardus square and took pictures. Omar joined us later. We signed the petition against Resolution 137 and the woman offered us a rose. If you want to sign it, there is an online petition which you can find at this site, Equality in Iraq. The petitions are to be submitted to Paul Bremer, and Kofi Annan later this week. Bremer has made it known that he will veto any law that will not recognize basic civil freedoms, but Resolution 137 is yet to be vetoed.
You can find pictures of the gathering here.
Saturday, February 14, 2004
Oh believers, you shall obey Allah, his messenger, and those in charge amongst you. (Sura 4:59)
The Muslim Ulemma held a meeting at Imam Al-Khalisi's Madinat Al-Ilm university in Kadhimiyah, Baghdad on the 15th of Thi Al-Qi'da, year 1424 of the Hijri calendar. And after looking into the overall condition of Muslims in the country and the developing problems they have been through, and in the light of Allah's holy book and the Sunna of his prophet (pbuh), we have issued this obligatory fatwa for all muslims who believe in the two Shahadas to follow:
"Unity between all Muslims is a legal duty above all others, and that any statement or action which may result in weakening or dividing the Umma is absolutely prohibited legally, and that a Muslim's blood is haram (forbidden) on his brother Muslim, according to the honourable Hadith: "A Muslim is haram on a Muslim: his honour, his possessions, and his blood".
Therefore, any attacks or aggressions against Iraqis, their scientists and intellectuals, their mosques and holy places are legal sins which no true Muslim should commit. It is our legal duty as Ulemma and heralds of the Umma to emphasize the spirit of tolerance, unity, and harmony, and to warn against division and dispersion, and any statement or deed which may lead to them, not taking into consideration the interest of the Umma.
The believers are members of one family, so keep the peace within and revere Allah, that you may attain mercy. (Sura 49:10)
Oh Lord, witness that we have informed.. Witness that we have informed.
Mohammed Mahdi Al-Khalisi.
Dr. Abdul Salam Al-Kubaisi.
Harith Suleiman Al-Dhari.
Ahmad Al-Hassani Al-Baghdadi.
Ibrahim Munir Al-Mudarris.
Mohammed Ahmad Al-Rashid.
Dr. Mohammed Bashar Al-Faydhi.
Abdul Ridha Al-Jaza'iri.
15th of Thi Al-Qi'da. 1424 H.
On the other hand, an anonymous group which calls itself Jaish Al-Sahaba threatened Yanar Mohammed, an Iraqi women rights activist, with murder in a few days. The message was sent to Mrs. Mohammed on the Internet demanding her to repent or otherwise face death. The Iraqi Communist Workers party denounced the threat and considered it an attempt to wreak havoc in Iraqi society.
Yanar Mohammed organized a symposium against Resolution 137 titled (No to slavery of Iraqi women) just a few weeks ago, and particpated in several women groups demonstrations demanding an end to the oppression of women. (Via Azzaman Baghdad edition)
In the last ten days, it was the desire of predator beasts to slaughter two hundred Iraqi civilians, and to dismember and permanently disfigure over a thousand of them. In Arbil, the capital of the Kurdish region, and in the town of Al-Iskandariyah south of Baghdad, and lately at Muthanna airport in the heart of the Iraqi capital. What comes first to attention is that the nationality of the victims of all these atrocities is an Iraqi one flowing with a sense of belonging to Iraq, with love, and fear for it's future. The murderers, on the other hand, remain anonymous and unidentified, nurtured and unleashed to our streets from the factories of terrorism and Islamic extremism, the heresy of the barbaric resistance and regional smugglers, and the remnants of the dictatorship retreating from their dens to behind the borders with the funds and deposits they plundered from the Iraqi Central Bank.
One of the predators described his feelings on a website promoting the bloodshed in Iraq: "I was there. Praise Allah, I was able to participate in some missions.. The Iraqis watched me.. I hated them, and I hated their accents".
Another thing that comes to attention is that with each of these awful bombings, there is a clear message that does not require much skill or research to unravel. The latest message of the Arbil, Iskandariya, Muthanna airport atrocities was however eloquent in defining the goal of killing the greatest number of Iraqis as possible in areas that are to some extent stable and peaceful. Also within the details of this message is a sectarian mine not very much concealed from the eyes of experts. The vast majority of the victims were Kurdish and Shi'ite citizens, and that the perpetrators are attempting to stir sectarian schisms to give the impression that these attacks are carried out in the name of the Sunni population or avenging it, gambling on a reaction to be followed by a series of others which would eventually lead Iraq into a fire that no one can predict its consequences.
Also, contained in the details of the message, is an implied call to Iraqi Kurds and Shi'ites that says: the appropriate solution to provide security and safety from rigged vehicles and blind suicidal bombers is to form two independent entities, an ethnic one in the north, and a sectarian one in the south, leaving the rest to the emirate of Sheikh Bin Laden who has been exhausted from living in Afghani caves.
Yes it is truely a resistance, not to expel foreign occupiers from Iraq, but to expel Iraq from the map.
1. You originally have no Arab blood, you're either Turkish, Iranian, Assyrian, Chaldean, Kurdish, Turkomen, or Indian in origin, but somehow you're Arab!
2. When surrounded by other Arab nationalities and you speak Iraqi no one knows what the hell you're saying.
3. When talking to Egyptians your Iraqi accent turns Egyptian, when talking to Lebanese, your accent turns Lebanese, ...etc.
4. If you're a guy, all the Iraqi women already have their eyes on you and want you for their daughter.
5. If you're a girl, all the Iraqi women think their sons are too good for you.
6. When Iraqi women get together, they all compete in who's got the loudest voice, and they all talk at the same time.
7. Every Iraqi family is dysfunctional in one way or another.
8. Every Iraqi has a bit of im3aydee in them.
9. Iraqis have an extensive and exclusive swearing vocabulary ranging from 'incheb-ee', 'islayma', 'ibn al zafra', 'sarsaree', 'gawad', 'taras', 'barboog', 'thowla', 'booma', '3ama', 'quz al qurt', 'wuja3', 'ghabra', ..etc.
10. There is no such thing as elegant eating in an Iraqi household.
11. Everyone has at least one Ali in their immediate family.
12. If lunch doesn't include rice, its not considered a meal.
13. Kathem al Saher is considered handsome amongst Iraqis.
14. When Iraqi guys try to pick up girls, their approach is maybe a bit too aggressive "Hay shlown jamal ya bint al kalb", "Lich hay weyn ray7ah, ta3alee ihna, khen ger-gir?", "Shinoo hal kaykah, jawa3teenee".
15. Being romantic is foreign to Iraqis, when they try to be, it's so unsuitable that ladies prefer the true Iraqi way better.
16. Every Iraqi knows every family or clan in the entire nation of Iraq, and somehow you always know a specific story about them.
17. Every Iraqi you meet abroad was a neighbor or is a neighbor back home.
18. When Iraqis dance to 3adel 3ogla or Hatem al 3raqi, everyone returns to their im3aydee roots, everyone goes wild, and all the other non-Iraqis get scared.
19. Saying the word 'Baghdad' makes Iraqis cry hysterically.
20. During a wedding, all the young single people are checking each other out.
21. You've been beaten up to death by a Na3al (slipper) at least once in your life.
22. It is not biologically possible for Iraqis to have a small nose.
23. Sarcasm is part of Iraqi DNA, You never know whether the joke is a joke or not!
24. To be Iraqi you must drink chai (tea) five times a day.
25. Everyone owns a leather jacket, big shoulder pads and a thick belt is a MUST!
26. You have guests over for breakfast, lunch, dinner, and after midnight.
27. If an Iraqi accidentally trips on a banana peel in the street, he starts cursing and blaming the government.
28. Iraqis are all natural born faultfinders.
But all in all.....WE RULE!!!
Wednesday, February 11, 2004
Anyway, the taxi driver noticed me staring at a crowd celebrating and beating their chests in unison while a smallish fellow was singing praises on a loud speaker.
"Don't be surprised by all that", he said. "They do that all the time. I don't think it's very civilized. They should celebrate at the Mosque".
"Uh huh", I mumbled. It was pretty obvious that I was from Baghdad so I didn't want to offer my opinion.
One of the doctors at our residence turned out to be quite a fanatic. Two days ago we were watching a movie on MBC-2 and there was a brief kissing scene. He was seated in front of me and I could see his face redden. "Turn the channel!" he bellowed. Someone turned it quickly. He then proceeded to give them a sermon. I just gave him a scornful look. He was the one who put up the Khomeini poster in our living room, someone had brought it to him from Iran, on it's back was written "Dear Dr., I'm sorry but this was the best one I could find".
It's improving though. A few days ago a resident pharmacist joined us in the residence. He's a Baghdadi and from my neighbourhood! I felt more comfortable since we were three Baghdadis now. The moment he walked in, he looked at the Khomeini poster intently, and, to our amazement, he knocked it down and it fell behind the tv. My friend and I gave him a loud cheer. He's a really outgoing fellow, and he made us feel more at home than ever.
Have to go now. And I should be back in Baghdad tomorrow or the day after.
Sunday, February 08, 2004
Someone accused me of stereotyping the whole people living south of Basrah, which is ridiculous. In case you don't know, my mother descends from an Iraqi Wahhabi family very closely related to the house of Saud. Of course I taunt her all the time about it, but I wouldn't stereotype my own family, would I? The Shia Basrawis refer to them as 'our brothers', and the Wahhabi minorities respect them as well and NEVER refer to them as 'infidels'. They have been living together over here for centuries and they prove a great example of tolerance in Iraqi society.
And to those who were interested in makhlama and potata chap. Makhlama is basically an omelette with a filling that consists of finely chopped potatoes, tomatoes, onions, green peppers, and minced meat. And it makes a very hearty breakfast. potata chaps are patties made of mashed potatoes, and stuffed with spicy minced meat. Enjoy!
Saturday, February 07, 2004
The last two days were very hectic. Yesterdays bus trip was the worst I've ever experienced till now. The only empty seats we could find were in the back, and I sat in the middle which I hate. I had to fall asleep in an awkward position with my chin resting on my chest and my neck really hurt after a few hours. There were four women in front of us with a baby that cried during the whole ride.
We stopped for more than an hour at Kut because of a jam near the temporary bridge. It was a one side bridge so traffic from the other side had to wait until it was clear before crossing. Our bus driver turned out to be quite an obstinate and arrogant fellow and he just couldn't bother to wait for a couple of minutes so he stormed ahead to the bridge and the cars behind him followed and there we were stuck. Angry truck drivers from the other side crossed the bridge shaking their fists and our driver howled back at them. It almost progressed into exchanging blows but a young Mullah with horn rimmed glasses showed up and tried to mediate between the two parties. I got really bored at this point so I left the bus to watch the scene. Everyone was listening closely to the Mullah who took control and somehow managed to create a small space on our side through which the cars on the bridge could squeeze through.
We were really late at this point and we stopped very shortly for lunch at Ali Al-Gharbi. While I was in the middle of my barely edible lunch of tishrib the driver started to honk his horn urgently. This wasn't the end of it, just after we passed Qurna we had a flat tire and we were forced to stop again.
Overall, it took us more than 10 hours from Baghdad to Basrah, not to mention that we had to take a taxi to the village. And as if all that wasn't enough, I went inside the doctors' residence to find a double poster of Khomeini and Khamenei gracefully adorning one of our walls. But at this point I was totally speechless.
Wednesday, February 04, 2004
"The spirit of tolerance between different religions, political organizations, sects, and ethnicities is part of the democratic society. All Iraqi citizens are equal and free to voice their opinions. Respecting others will help make Iraqi a better place for all Iraqis".
I sighed in relief. For a short moment, after recognizing my photos, I seriously thought the leaflets had to do with something from the blog and I was a bit anxious. I then started to get amused and I told one of my neighbours that the pictures on the flyers were mine, he smiled at me as if I was raving and said "yeah, sure they are". Arrgghh. I AM OUTRAGED! hehe... Can I sue the CPA for printing my photos without permission? LOL.
Here is a scan of the leaflet and these are the original photos I took two months ago.
Tuesday, February 03, 2004
Very recently several political and press channels, particularly those from Beirut and Istanbul, have excelled in spinning yarns about all kinds of 'coordination', 'transactions', or 'contacts' between Iraqi Kurds and Israeli officials, businessmen, and intelligence officers. These stories, a large part of which have been recycled from Saddam's extinct propaganda machines, meticulously describe purported Israeli facilities at Arbil, sometimes at Suleymaniyah, and other times at remote locations high in the mountains of northern Iraq.
Some of these writings and statements even went as far as to presume that the Kurds, the whole Kurdish issue, and the option of federalism were all notions cooked in Israel as part of a grand design for the region, ignoring the fact that established archaeological evidence proves that Kurdistan was the oldest known agricultural habitat in our world, that Kurds as a people were recognized under Macedonian, Seleucid, Sassanid, and Roman empires, that Mahmud Al-Kashghri, the esteemed geographer, had placed Kurdish cities on the map of the East a thousand years before the state of Israel came into existence, and that the name Kurdistan was mentioned in documents signed by the Seljukian Sultan Sanjar in the twelfth century among fifty other nations in the area, and it did not come out of Tel Aviv.
It was definitely not Sharon who promoted Kurdish nationalism, it was the historian and geographer Al-Mustawfi who died 600 years before the state of Israel was declared (at 1349 A.D.) in his book nuzhat alqulub. The Arab voyager Ibn Hawqal wrote about Arbil and Dohuk in his book almasalik wal mamalik and described them as Kurdish cities inhabited by Kurds more than 4 centuries before Jews started to settle in Palestine.
The Kurdish people have never abandoned their nationalist rights throughout the last 15 centuries, their largest revolt was aginst the Mongols in 1279 A.D., their bloody uprising against Persian Saffawid hegemony in 1719, the revolts of Baban, Rawanduz, Prince Badr Khan, Yezdan Al-Assad, Al-Sheikh Al-Nahri, and the Kurdish republic of Mahabad in 1946 all testify to that.
Even though these alleged surreptitious Kurdish-Israeli relations are mere speculations, not to mention the fact that Kurdish leaders proposed to the Arab League to send in an investigation committee, the hypocrites who persist in marketing these fairy tales to media outlets, some of them Turks and some Arabs, are very good at dancing in the Israeli field themselves. Some of them regularly host Israeli officials and ambassadors, some strike deals with Israeli intelligence officers through third parties and proxies, some yearn for the day when Ariel Sharon sends them a greeting to reply with a better one, and others remain silent when an ally or a friend sells his country's water or face to Israelis. I say: remain silent, and I add: Silence gives consent.
We're getting bored with these not so suspensive novels even when compared with Zabiba and the King* which also contains insinuating chapters of a relation between Kurds and Israel.
* Zabiba and the King (Zabiba wa almalik) was the first of several novels attributed to Saddam Hussein.
The first, The Iraqi Agora, is a group blog with contributions from several Iraqis inside and outside Iraq. Riverbend and Salam have both published posts there, in addition to Liminal (a young Iraqi living in the US) who brings up some interesting and thoughtful posts, his cousin Torshe, and another Iraqi woman, Hurria, who seems to have 'been around'. Riverbend promises that two more Iraqis will join soon. Check it out, definitely worth your time.
The second is Liminal's personal blog Shlonkom Bakazay? Shlonkum means "how are you?" but I'm damned if I know what bakazay means. And he asks Shaku? shmaku?, which literally translates to "what's there? what isn't?" or to put it simply "tell me everything", which is a question commonly asked in Iraq after you greet someone, and as an invitation to conversation, but almost always Iraqis usually respond to it with kulshi maku "nothing".
I guess I went off at a tangent, but I'd like to tell you this joke I just remembered:
The Japanese once invented a super intelligent computer that can recognise and answer almost any spoken question. An American, a Japanese, and an Iraqi were among the first people to test it. The American asks the computer "Who was the first American president?", and the computer replies accurately. The Japanese asked the computer a question about A.I. or something like that and the computer promptly replied. The Iraqi guy searched his mind for a few seconds, then he suddenly asked loudly shaku shmaku? "what's there? what isn't there?", and the computer started to shake and beep furiously, let off a lot of sparks, and then it exploded. Poor thing.
Anyway, I'm happy to hear that more Iraqis are joining the blogosphere, and I've updated the sidebar links.
Oh, and I forgot to wish you all a happy Eid. And Kul 'am wa intu wa iraqna b'alif khair. Let us all hope that Iraq and Iraqis will be through much better and safer times next Eid.
I for one had lots of fun yesterday and absolutely no hangovers today! Well, maybe just a little fun, as we had the obligatory uninvited jerk at the ga3da, who hijacked the party, consumed most of our booze, and as we say here nach ukht almezza (I won't translate that one ;). But I guess we can put up with all of that, at least it's better than Basrah.