Tuesday, March 06, 2007

And The Beat Goes On… But WHY?

death to Shia pilgrimsI don’t pretend to understand the practices of Islam or the differences in its various sects. But one thing that seems increasingly odd is the willingness of Shia pilgrims to permit their enemies to blow them up:

Hilla, 6 March (AKI) — Police said a double suicide bombing in the southern Iraqi town of Hilla on Tuesday killed up to 90 Shiite pilgrims heading for the holy city of Karbal for a memorial ceremony. The blasts occurred in the late afternoon local time when two bombers detonated their explosives belts in a crowd of pilgrims. The attack followed the deaths of at least seven pilgrims in car bombs in the capital and a further three in shooting in Latifiya, 30 kilometres south of Baghdad. Dozens of pilgrims were wounded in the attacks.

Earlier on Tuesday, a member of the outlawed Baath Party was killed by gunfire, south of Hilla, which lies 100 kilometres south of Baghdad, the Voices of Iraq independent news agency reported, citing unnamed police sources. The report did not give the dead man’s name.

Thousands of pilgrims are this week heading to Karbala — 70 km south of Baghdad on their way to Arbayeen, for the commemoration of the killing in battle of Imam Hussein, who is revered by Shiite Muslims as the successor to the Prophet Mohammed. The observance — one of the most solemn days in the Shiite religious calendar, falls on 10 March this year, at the end of the traditional 40-day mourning period following the anniversary of Hussein’s death, known as Ashura.

A roadside bomb struck a group of pilgrims walking along the Mohammed al-Qassim Highway in eastern Baghdad on Monday, killing at least three and wounding 10 others, according to Baghdad police. Others were shot and killed by gunmen in separate attacks in Baghdad, where many pilgrims are beginning the journey on foot from the capital to Karbala.

So that’s ninety three souls so far, and we still have until March 10th for the enemies of the Shi’ites to round up squads of suicide bombers or to lay out IEDs, etc., in order to send hundreds more to Paradise.

Yes, I realize the opposition believes their victims are headed to anywhere but Paradise. However, the Shi’ites would demur on that point, and besides, it’s not my point.

My point is this: while feelings run so high, and while the country is so unstable, why do the Shi’ites continue on their pilgrimages as though nothing will happen? Is it merely blind faith - and this behavior surely speaks to a lack of vision here - or is it determination to go on with life as usual?

This does not compute, at least on Western adding machines. To us, it seems willfully perverse. Perhaps a Shi’ite will drop by and explain this phenomenon in terms that accord with everyone’s hard-wired desire for survival. From here, it looks as though the need for these pilgrimages override the original wiring.


Advisory to commenters: please refrain from insulting these pilgrims or their faith. If you have something cogent to say, something that is actually part of furthering our understanding of this puzzle, you’re more than welcome to come aboard. In fact, you can go on at great length if you have lots of information on this phenomenon of walking oneself literally to death.

However, there will be no one-off insults or egregious comments about Islam or Muslims. These pilgrims are not terrorists. They may be blindly putting themselves in harm’s way, but that’s not terrorism.

20 comments:

unaha-closp said...

Heard on the BBC that last year the pilgrimage was conducted under the guard of the Shia militias and that as these militia are now targeted by "the surge" the pilgrims are not so well protected.

Yoel Natan said...

The million-pilgrim march to Samara was ended last year, but not because of the danger. It ended because the mosque with the golden dome there was mostly destroyed.

http://www.spiegel.de/international/0,1518,466114,00.html
One Year Later, Golden Mosque Is Still in Ruins, by Marc Santora

There has been no rebuilding and no healing; the million annual pilgrims, and the prosperity they spread, are gone.

Children stand near the remains of the Shiite Golden mosque in Samara, 96 km (60miles) north of Baghdad.
-------
Check out my book Moon-o-theism, about Allah's being a war- and moon-god. Thanks!

Ron Larson said...

Perhaps the same reason why I continue to travel and fly. I refuse to allow some hate filled nutters dictate my life or limit my choices to travel, speak, or practice my faith because they might want to kill me.

On other words, bring it on baby. I am not afraid of you. You may kill me. But you won't win.

Terrapod said...

It is far simpler than you think. Every Muslim is obliged to visit a holy site at least once during his lifetime, some do so multiple times. Going on the pilgrimage is simply what must be done, no consideration is made for dangers whatsoever as the religion is completely fatalistic. Whatever happens is what Allah wills. Nothing more, nothing less. Applying our western values and way of thinking does not work, they have no foundation within Islam.

Dymphna said...

terrapod said

Whatever happens is what Allah wills. Nothing more, nothing less. Applying our western values and way of thinking does not work, they have no foundation within Islam.

Good point, though at its root this theology is self-contradictory, as you know. Anything that erases human agency means the end of humanity. For how can anyone know what Allah wills? Does he will that I eat this sandwich or that I blow up that fellow over there, or that I simply go to bed and not get up? Talk about a recipe for quietism.

Actually, from what you say, I can infer that because only those things that Allah wills come into being, Islam itself has no foundation, because Allah has certainly left many Muslims in a fine mess, and has seemed to reward the Enemy with great prosperity... and that may be the crux of the conflict and hatred aimed in our direction.

fang said...

It boggle the mind.

mistkerl said...

Here are a few points to consider:

1. We're talking hundreds of thousands of people making this journey, so a few hundred dead is a relatively small percentage.

2. Anyone who gets killed while on pilgrimage will go straight to paradise regardless of their past deeds. So, being killed is not necessarily a bad thing, especially when you are already highly fatalistic about your future chances for survival.

3. These mass pilgrimages were not allowed during the Saddam era. So, that means a lot of people are only now able to do this religiously significant journey.

4. I think it goes straight to the heart of any 'non-rational' religious custom; which is to say any unusual action that people only do because of their religion. There are numerous examples around the world from every religion.

Snouck said...

The Iraqi State has been destroyed and there is death, destruction and enormous insecurity around ordinary Iraqis.

Due to the chaos and lack of law and order in Iraq people find refuge in their faith and its rituals.

Apart from the tribes it is all they have. If Westerners would be thrown in these circumstances most of them would become fatalistic too.

For Shia Iraqis fatalism is closer to their hearts of course.

chuck said...

Martyrdom is part of Christianity also, is it not? I met a fellow in China who had been a missionary there in the 1930's, and he was quite happy to report on the present day Chinese Christian martyrs. So I don't see why you find it odd. What I find odd is that the revenge killings have been as limited as they have.

Dymphna said...

misterkerl and snouck --

you've given me two phenomena which make sense:

1. the rebound effect (didn't know that pilgrimage was verboten in Saddam's time, though it makes perfect sense...he couldn't risk that kind of public thronging.

2. the fatalism -- also the strong thread of quietism that runs thru Islam, as it does in many religions where individual freedoms are limited or non-existent --i.e., when one believes that what you have is as good as it's ever going to get, and what one has is pretty miserable. Yeah, I'd be fatalistic, too.

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Chuck--

the martyrs in China make sense for the same reason. Christianity is radically personal. Anyone making that conversion will have the whole exisential applecart overturned...from which point martyrdom makes psychological sense.

IOW, y'all have supplied the override to our hardwiring re survival...

...Chuck's comment gives me further indications that the jihadist Islam is a modern permutation. "Young" religions in which the members feel persecuted are usually marked by zealotry. Thus, Christianity in China would tend to see martyrdom thru the same filter as the jihadists.

However, the comparison only goes so far since there's no component in Xtianity for taking people with you when you go.

As for those seeking revenge, that's a whole 'nother horse...not the same psychological pattern, though it does override the survival hardwiring too.

What is "Occupation" said...

Your not going to like my answer...

Currently Islam (and previously christianity) puts more emphasis on the next life than this one. So if you are killed when being a "moslem" you are a marytr.

For decades the using of suicide bombings against jews were encouraged IN THE ISLAMIC world. Now these same technics are being used at home against one another..

The history of Arab & Persian Islamic peoples for the last 1100 years is full of murder & death.

100,000's of thousands of normal pilgrims whould be shouting for joy if a suicide bomber had struck a Tel Aviv preschool or pizza shop.

So yes, these "innocent" pilgrims are not terrorists, but they are people who produce them, not an the rare exception, but the normal "hey dad, I want to grow up to be a ...doctor?, no, lawyer?, no a shahid for allah? yep!

So to now watch the DAILY mass murders of shia's and sunnis BY EACH other, to see the news reports of groups of workers kidnapped and murdered (with drill holes and torture evidence) just SHOWS me what these people EN MASS would do to the JEWS of the world that they together profess to ACTUALLY HATE...

Fellow Peacekeeper said...

Doubtless martyrdom and the inshallah attitude plays its part, but also it is closely linked to the nature of the Arbaeen pilgrimage.

This was the 40-day ceremony of the Ashura when Imam Hussein was murdered by rivals in Kerbala. The self-flagellation one saw on the TV news represents for some Shia their sense of guilt for having allowed Hussein to be murdered. In a way this is atonement for other guilts as well. This is a powerful event for the Shia. Why the 40th day? In that part of the world the 40th day after the funeral of a person is an important day of morning.

As a holiday of mourning (not celebration), guilt and connection to the pain and suffering of Hussein I guess they accept the risk of mayhem as all bar fitting the occasion. Certainly Ashura is a wierd and bloody event all by itself, with flagellation and the faithfull slashing their own scalps with swords or knives.

Wally Ballou said...

Dymphna - I am really surprised at the namesake of a medieval Christian not having a more sympathetic understanding of the pilgrims' motives. After all, during the period of great Christian pilgrimages, many people travelled thousands of miles to visit the holy lands - and they were exposed to extreme danger of death. Many travelled great distances on foot, by ship and then by foot again. They were at the mercy of dishoenst sea captains and guides, pirates and highwaymen, as well as the ordinary hazards of travel - disease, shipwreck, accidental injury and loss of provisions.

Those folks didn't make their pilgrimage because they didn't know it was dangerous, or because they were "fatalistic". They knew that their immortal souls were absolutely safe if they came to harm in the act of pilgrimage, and that the pilgrimage would earn them divine merit for the rest of their lives.

Is it so different?

David M said...

Trackbacked by The Thunder Run - Web Reconnaissance for 03/07/2007
A short recon of what’s out there that might draw your attention.

Jason_Pappas said...

Of course, the fatalism is for the masses. I remember reading about two early Muslim philosophers who advocated free will (I can look up their names at home.) The Caliphs had them put to death. They saw this as a threat to their authority that Allah wills that they rule as he willed that everyone submit to his messenger, MTP.

"For how can anyone know what Allah wills?" He told his messenger; and those that rightfully inherit his rule know what Allah wills. Ah, but therein lies the rub. Who rightfully rules? If you ask a Sunni and a Shiite you'll get a different answer.

There is another answer (hey, isn't there always?). "My community as a whole will never be wrong." This makes Islam a consensus religion and the individual will is negligible. But just like communism, where "the people rule", someone has to embody "will of the people" and call the shots. Now that there is no Caliph, the job is up for grabs.

Back to the question at hand: I've been wonder for years when the Shiites are going to fight back. At some point I suspect they will feel strong enough at which point we might see a Sunni bloodbath for the decades of slaughter. It's worrisome, indeed.

Dymphna said...

Excellent points.

What is occupation: why would i not like your answeer? Seemed perfectly reasonable to me. I don't agree with it, but I don't dislike it. To me, Christianity puts equal emphasis on corporeality --life here -- and the afterlife. It *does* say there are worse things than dying, however so I suppose "martyrdom" could play a role. However, as it matured and felt less threatened, that immediacy fell away. If you read the Patristics, you see the transition.

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fellowpeacekeeper: Of course... a pilgrimage of mourning. That old Shia underdog sense, too.

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jason-pappas --

I don't think the Shi'ites will ever change. It's been too long and too enculturated. OTOH, Iran's nuclear weapons may change the order of things.

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Wally B--

The Canterbury Tales long cured us of any idealism about teh Xtian Crusades. There were also sorts of political reasons for the foray into Moslem land, including the genuine belief that Christianity "owned" Jerusalem. As for Dymphna, she was a most unwilling martyr, going so far as to flee at night and make it to Belgium, where she lived unmolested until her father caught up with her by tracing the coins she used along the way. He cut off her head, but he had to travel a long way to do it -- she fought him to the end.

Wally Ballou said...

Dymphna - I am most assuredly NOT talking about Crusades. I am talking about pilgrimage. Two related, but distinct, medieval phenomena.

I know about the original Dymphna. Poor kid.

Profitsbeard said...

For people who are so professedly "iconoclastic" they sure like their places of pilgrimage (human-made structures honoring "holy" human beings) inordinately.

Enough to risk death to get to them.

Even though Mecca is the only hadj site that is required of a Muslim.

But, since Allah is the Ultimate in Irrationality, the behavior of his submissive servants makes sense within the dogmatic illogic of the entire internally-self-contradictory enterprise that is known as Islam.

Superstition is comforting when your God is Avowedly Mad.

A deity who is repetitively called "compassionate", and then, later in the same Koran, is found pouring boiling lead on the condemned in Hell ...who dared doubt his compassion.

A recipe for schizophrenia.

There's no "reason" in trying to unravel its transparent "mysteries".

Getting killed at least frees your from Islam.

A strange way to find relief, but psychologically predictable when you are given a faith that is little but endless petty harassment (what to wipe and when) and anti-instinctual torment (especially for a female) in this life.

The natural being revolts in subtle ways.

Fatalism is one.

the mad fiddler said...

It's interesting to recall that for many centuries, European Christians regarded Jerusalem as the CENTER OF THE UNIVERSE, and placed it at the center of all their maps. Devout Christians from Europe hoped to make a pilgrimage to the cities and towns where Jesus walked and spoke, and many thousands did until the Muslims who had taken Jerusalem by military force decided to close the city to "infidels."

Keep in mind that a trek from any place in Europe after the fall of Rome required a traveler to risk wolves, lions, bears, falling rocks, raging rivers, bandits, and hostile towns deeply suspicious of outlandish persons all along the thousand mile route there and back.

(It was this closure that aroused Europe to prepare for what came to be called "The Crusades.")

Of course, I'm preachin' to the choir.

But my point is that a willingness to risk personal danger in the performance of an act of religious devotion is by no means unique to Shi'ia pilgrims.

USpace said...

This is just too peaceful for words...

absurd thought -
God of the Universe says
kill the faithful...
.