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Posts Tagged ‘Hassan Nasrallah

 

Shiite Ritual Draws Historic Parallels: Bloody. And belittled

The blood oozing from the cuts in the top of Ali Rassoul’s head on Tuesday had crusted in streaks around his eyes and ears and soaked the front of his long, white gown.

But his wounds had nothing to do with the car bombs and urban battles that have torn Iraq apart:  they were his way of commemorating a much older battle: that of Karbala, where in the year 680, the army of  Omayyad Caliph Yazid slaughtered Hussein, a grandson of the Prophet Muhammad, and cut off his head.

Baghdad- For many Iraqi Shiites who commemorated the death of Hussein on Tuesday in an event called Ashura, the current threat against their community from the extremists of the Islamic State, also known as ISIS, has profound historical parallels.

“This year Ashura is more important because of the threat against us from ISIS,” said Mr. Rassoul, who runs a woman’s shoe store and had a long dagger in a shiny scabbard hanging from his shoulder. “They have come to kill us, just like Yazid came to kill Hussein.”

Photo

Shiites in Baghdad bled Tuesday to commemorate the slaying of Hussein, the grandson of the Prophet Muhammad, in 680. Credit Thaier Al-Sudani/Reuters

Mr. Rassoul spoke from a street in the Kadhimiya district of northwest Baghdad, in front of an ornate mosque that houses the tomb of a martyred Shiite leader.

While millions of Shiites across the world observe Ashura, Kadhimiya is one place where a minority pays homage to Hussein through the contentious practice of self-cutting called tatbir.

As the sun rose, hundreds of mostly young men gathered in a street here dressed in white robes.

While a few beat drums, the crowd chanted, “Haidar! Haidar!” invoking Hussein’s father, Ali. Some waved colored flags. Others carried long knives brought specifically for tatbir.

When the time came for the procession to start, Amer Matrouk, the leader of one group, drew his blade and the men, some of whom had shaved their heads, knelt before him so he could give them swift blows to their scalps, just enough to open the skin and start the bleeding.

“Not everyone knows how to do it,” said Mr. Matrouk, 63, who said he has been practicing tatbir since he was a child and had a row of straight scars on his scalp to show for it.

He rejected the idea that it could seriously hurt anyone.

“We have never had any accidents,” he said. “Sometimes there are those who are not very strong and they get dizzy from all the blood, but they are fine in the end.”

The practice of tatbir is debated among Shiites and many respected clerics have spoken against it.

Some argue that it is a form of self-harm, which is religiously forbidden.

Others have written it off as a folk practice, that may have seeped into Islam from Christian Passion plays about the crucifixion or from indigenous mourning rites that communities brought with them when they became Shiites.

Still others have argued that it makes Shiites look bad, which is reason enough to avoid it in a region where they are a minority and often looked on with suspicion by Sunnis.

These practices used to be limited and no one paid attention to them, but they have started to spread and defame the image of the event in a huge way,” said Abbas Shams al-Din, a Shiite cleric and writer during an interview in his book-lined Baghdad home. “If you search for pictures on Google and type ‘Ashura’ or ‘Shia Muslim,’ you won’t see anything but blood. It’s terrible!”

Ayatollah Khomeini went on record against tatbir, and it has become punishable by law in Iran, although some still do it in secret.

Hassan Nasrallah, the leader of Hezbollah in Lebanon, too, has criticized it, and his movement has sought to channel the fervor in a more productive direction by holding Ashura blood drives. But other Shiite groups in Lebanon still do it.

And it persists in Iraq, where clerics who have spoken against it have faced popular criticism, Mr. Shams al-Din said.

“There are some who do not want to issue a fatwa because they know that people will do it anyway,” said Abbas Kadhim, a senior foreign policy fellow at Johns Hopkins University who has studied Shiite theology. “If you do this, you set them up to be sinners.”

But those arguments meant little to the hundreds of men marching in Kadhimiya, blood dripping from their heads, soaking their white robes and pooling in the street.

A woman who gave her name as Um Salah sat with two friends on the sidewalk, thumping her hand rhythmically on her chest as the procession passed.

“Yesterday, there were attacks and explosions, but we are still here,” she said, saying that the event showed the steadfastness of the community.

Two of her sons were serving in the Iraqi Army, she said. They never told her much about what they saw, other than calling to say they were fine and making progress “in the fight against the terrorists,” she said.

A short drive away at the Kadhimiya Blood Donation Center, an employee said that many people had come to donate.

“It can help the wounded person or the soldier,” the employee said, giving only his first name, Jassim.

But when a visitor observed that the clinic was deserted, he shrugged his shoulders and said, “People come.”

Others wish tatbir would go away.

“Why do they do it?” said Haidar Abu Yassir, a taxi driver, screwing up his face in disgust. “Did Hussein do that? No! He was cut into pieces!”

Mr. Abu Yasser said that he felt that donating was better than “letting all that blood drip off your head for nothing.”

But when asked if he knew anyone who had donated, he paused to consider the question.

“Nope,” he said. “They all want to do tatbir.”

Do you need to change anything in Lebanon? Are Lebanon’s youth in political parties waiving off reforms?

Who needs change?

Are Lebanon’s youth in political parties waiving off reforms within their parties?

For decades, Lebanese politics has been ruled by a small group of men.  The obvious question is “why not get some fresh faces in government”?

How can you bring fresh faces in government if the political parties have no incentives for bringing fresh faces within their ranks?

This seemed to be the underlying subtext of a United Nations report on youth in politics, released earlier this week to a small audience at Parliament’s third floor auditorium.
Though many youth are active in parties, few are given decison-making positions, the report found.

The political parties also lack transparency, with budgets and political platforms either secret or nonexistent.

Perhaps most interesting of all, the report found most Lebanese political parties do not even hold elections.

 posted:
The report, which was carried about on behalf of the UNDP by governance consultants Beyond Development and Reform, recommended term limits for party leaders as a possible way to see new faces in leadership positions–and to chart a path toward future growth.

“What will happen when the leader is gone,” posed BRD consultant Carmen Geha.
But many of those in attendance, including youth representatives from Lebanon’s dominant parities, balked at the suggestion of term limits for their leaders.

Tashnag’s Bakradonian

“Who are you to force a change in leadership,” asked Ashod Bakradonian, representative from the Armenian Tashnag party.

“This is an internal issue. We should be able to keep our leaders for as long as we want.”
“You are so right,” said the representative from Hezbollah. “We want the Sayyed,” he added, in a reference to Hezbollah Secretary General, Sayer Hassan Nasrallah. (Time to split the political leader from the spiritual leader?)

If someone has a problem with the leadership, they should change parties, he explained– a comment echoed by the others.

Youssef Bassam from Hezbollah’s youth delegation

It was one of the few moments of agreement among the partisan youth representatives, who frequently mocked one another throughout the two hour session.
Another recommendation called for a free access to information law. Following the civil war, television licensing had been restricted largely to groups associated with the parties in power, thus leaving a gap in objective reporting on government and party affairs.

When the question of transparency came up, some joked about seeing transparency in Hezbollah’s military wing. The Hezbollah member answered: “We are all the military wing.”
When the moderator explained some parties didn’t respect the rights of women–others suggested there were parties that didn’t respect rights of the army.

The report also revealed that some parties have not even been officially registered with the government.
“Raise your hand Youssef,” a delegate who did not identify himself sitting with the March 14 members shouted out, pointing at the Hezbollah representative.
“We were registered in 1992,” Youssef shot back.

Despite this penchant for rules, the accuser spent most of the time playing games on his phone, pausing for the occasional snicker.

Other representatives, such as those from the Kateab party, argued that Lebanon lacked political culture and identity– impediments to reform. But the same participants also rejected a recommendation to  mandate all Lebanese parties have a minimum 1% membership in every qada (district/county), which could force the factions to be more inclusive and less territorial.

“Look at him,” one pointed toward the Armenian delegate. “He’s not Arab, why should we force him to be Arab?”
“Are you guys joking or speaking seriously,” Gilbert Doumit a consultant with BRD asked the delegates, urging a return to the study recommendations.
“Power corrupts. There should be a ceiling for power,” he said.

Others in the room rejected dealing with Lebanese parties altogether.
“We cannot build a political future on a false foundations,” a representative from Min Ajel El Joumhouryia (For the Sake of the Republic) commented. The new political group was part of efforts to occupy downtown Beirut earlier this year, protesting the postponement of elections and the lack of accountability for MPs.

A delegate from Min Ajal El Joumouriya rejects the party system

But a Syrian Baath party representative countered, warning the new movements not to sideline official parties, “who had sacrificed many martyrs for this country.”
I guess we’ll need martyrs to get recognized,” the Joumhouriya member murmured quietly.

Of all the incumbent parties present only one conceded the need for change.
“I would like better youth representation in my party,” Marada representative Rebecca Hosary said, to applause from the audience.

But after we wrapped up, one of the UN delegates felt ill about the general atmosphere. “It makes you want to cry,” the representative said of the constant bickering and rude interruptions–the general lack of listening to the other side.

Moderator Carmen Geha had at one point noted that the room served as a microcosm of the political atmosphere at large. Rather than focus on local representation, the delegates argued fiercely over foreign policy issues.
Perhaps this hints at the heart of the matter.

The study had found that many youth join parties based on family or sectarian ties, rather than actual policies or positions on issues that affect the citizenry.
I would add existential fears to that.

How does one reconcile with a mindset perpetually at fear of the other–enough to support the same leader indefinitely (and cynically so), to avoid the perceived danger of appearing divided and weak before the enemy?
Is it even possible to work with an existing system that uses fear of your fellow citizens as political currency?

Note: From my experience, elections within political parties for leaders are done by consensus. Otherwise, the current leader is re-elected. It does not matter how fair and convoluted the election laws are, the end result is to bring back old faces, and in few instances “a la Poutine and his side kick”… I was amazed lately that one of the oldest and most historic political parties re-elected its 95 year-old leader…

Lebanese kidnapped in Syria: What kinds of retaliations?

Many Syrian workers are virtually trapped in Lebanon because their Syrian home cities are war zones. Syrian workers are the backbone of Lebanon Real Estates development: When they have to flee back to Syria or go on vacation for the Eid of Adha or Ramadan or…, construction simply stops, and the Lebanese engaged in civil works also take the opportunity to take a vacation…

For example, Egyptian workers mane the gas stations and the health care in hospital and private homes for the elderly

On May 22, news broke of the kidnapping of 11 Lebanese men in Aleppo , of the Moslem Shia sect returning from pilgrimage in Iraq, by a Syrian opposition group. Scores of angry Lebanese men took to the streets, intent on revenge, and they were looking for handy simple Syrian workers in the vicinity.

Fortunately, Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah intervened with a speech saying, “The Syrian nationals in Lebanon are our people and attacking them is an offense.” Nasrallah’s words hold much sway among followers and fans, and he saved many from being beaten, or worse.

Moe Ali Nayel published on July 29, 2012 under “Syrian Workers in Lebanon: No Time is Safe...”

 

One of the Syrian workers (Photo: Haitham Moussawi)

That incident of mutual kidnapping activities and retaliations is not unique in Lebanon’s history with its Syrian labor force. Whenever Syria-related political unrest threatens Lebanon, the Syrian workers are the first to suffer. As if they were official representatives of the Syrian regime, the workers are an easy first target.

“It’s becoming dangerous for Syrians working in Lebanon,” Jihad, a 29 year-old Syrian worker from Daraa told me.

“My friends were stopped in Ouzai [Beirut suburbs] by thugs who erected a checkpoint in the middle of the street.” Jihad expressed relief at Nasrallah’s appeal: “I was relieved when Nasrallah came out and asked the masses to leave us alone. His call saved us.”

Jihad, who has worked in Beirut for many years, does menial jobs that many Lebanese consider beneath them. This attitude holds true for the vast number of foreign workers in Lebanon — many of them Syrians, Egyptians, Ethiopians,… — who come to work as cleaners, domestic help, construction and agricultural workers.

Lebanon’s labor laws provide a further incentive for Syrians to emigrate here. The interpretation of these laws make it easy for businesses to import foreign labor, thereby avoiding minimum wage regulations and calls by local workers to improve working conditions.

Itani says he would rather have ten Syrian workers than five Lebanese. 

Jihad the foreign workers like him have a continuing sense of instability. For example:

Following the 2005 assassination of former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri — in which Syria was accused of involvement — there were violent attacks on Syrians throughout Lebanon and many were forced to flee. Today, Jihad explains, “It’s ironic, I’ve been working here in Ras Beirut for 20 years. When Hariri was killed we were attacked by the residents… We had to flee back to Syria. We returned after the hate against us lessened and the Lebanese realized that they need us to get things done.”

Many Syrian workers are virtually trapped in Lebanon because their Syrian home cities are war zones. There has been much focus on the safety of Syrian activists taking refuge in Lebanon, while the safety of Syrian workers has been overlooked. Activists have made their stories heard while a multitude of workers’ stories have gone unnoticed.

Ali Atiyeh a 34-year-old Syrian who has worked in Lebanon for 15 years as an electrician, has experienced daily racism. “Any interaction with the Lebanese people always brings the possibility of a racist encounter. It’s all good until they ask me where I’m from, and when I say I’m from Syria their faces change.”

Atiyeh who speaks the Lebanese dialect adds that he feels slightly different from most Syrian workers. “I have been integrated into the Lebanese way of life. I spend money, go out, and always buy new clothes”. But even with his integration he never feels totally safe. “For example if I’m coming back home from work late at night and there is a police checkpoint and I get stopped, I’m automatically a suspect because I’m Syrian.”

“The latest trend is men driving around at night stopping Syrian workers. The men claim that they are security forces. They mug the worker and drive away,” Atiyeh says.

Racism doesn’t stop there either. According to Atiyeh, “Now that the Syrian revolution is fashionable it has become cool for some Lebanese girls to go out with Syrian activists, while two years ago this was out of the question. I once loved a Lebanese girl and we went out in secret. I knew her family and they treated me as one of them. I decided to propose and asked her father if he agreed to us getting married. After that I was outcast from the family — the mother told me that she would never let her daughter marry a Syrian.”

Many Syrian workers live in extreme poverty; several may share small apartments while others live in tents, shacks, or outdoors on the construction sites where they work. They are therefore visible and an easy target for attacks by Lebanese.

Raed, 17, a Syrian shoe shiner and freelance worker in Beirut — his many other jobs include washing stairs in apartment buildings and delivering food and gas — is scared of being attacked. “Now, since the news about the kidnapped Lebanese, people have warned me not leave this neighborhood because they fear for my safety.”

He speaks about an incident in a stronghold of the Amal Movement. “The other day I was in Hay al-Lija and felt that I was not welcome…A man marched up to me and asked me where I’m from in Syria. I told him Aleppo. I did not dare say I’m from Daraa. Then men gathered and showered me with insults about my sister and mother. I was getting scared and a slap to my face came from nowhere. I pushed them and ran away.”

Raed’s story is not unusual, he says: “Workers can never feel secure in Lebanon. Here, where I live now, our burden is a bit easier than before the Syrian revolution. Now people in this area are seeing us as the sons of one sect. They see us now as Sunnis more than Syrians.” The area that Raed is talking about is traditionally a Sunni neighborhood.

Attacks against Syrians have always crossed sectarian lines. All Lebanese sects have at times been hostile towards Syrians. However, the recent uprising has made old enemies into new comrades.

Supporters of Saad Hariri, the son of Rafik, support the Syrian opposition. “Now,” Jihad says, “these same Lebanese greet us, smile and seem to be fond of us. It makes one wonder what this sudden love for the Syrians is — from the same Lebanese who just a few years ago insulted and looked down on us, as if we were not human.”


adonis49

adonis49

adonis49

July 2021
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