Ashura, A Bloody 'Day of Blood' in Iran
by Charles Lemos, Sun Dec 27, 2009 at 08:18:49 AM EST
Ashura is one of the holiest days in the Shi'ite calendar. It marks the anniversary of the martyrdom of the Iman Hussein, the grandson of the Prophet Muhammad, who knowingly marched to his death at the Battle of Karbala on 10 Muharram in the year 61 AH (October 10, 680 AD). The schism between Sunnis and Shi'ites dates to this event.
The Ashura ritual is widely performed in Iran and many other countries with large populations of Shiite Muslims, such as Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Yemen and Lebanon. During the annual Ashura commemorations, mourners, generally dressed in black, take to the streets to grieve over the death of Hussein. Many engage in self-flagellation. Elias Canetti in his landmark Crowds and Power gives the most vivid and crushing description of the ritual noting that the "frenzy which seizes the mourning crowds is almost inconceivable." Also known as the "Day of Blood," marchers have been known to whip themselves into such a hysteria that they actually self-flagellate themselves to death. For Shi'ites to die in this way opens the gates of all eight paradises.
Today, the "Day of Blood" lived up to its reputation though the pain was not self-inflicted but instead inflicted by an increasing brutal and despotic regime. I have read various reports claiming between four and eight dead in violent clashes between protesters of the so-called Green Movement that has developed since the disputed elections and the security forces. Importantly, there have been reports that some members of the security forces are refusing to obey orders.
From the Times of London:
At least four Iranian protesters were reported to have been shot dead in Tehran today including a nephew of the opposition leader Mir Hossein Mousavi during the fiercest protests in the capital since the immediate aftermath of Junes hotly disputed presidential election.
The shootings mean that the confrontation between the so-called Green movement and the regime has entered a dangerous and volatile new stage, with the security forces prepared to use lethal force in an increasingly desperate effort to crush a resurgent and emboldened opposition.
A close aide to Mr Mousavi, the former Prime Minister defeated by Mahmoud Ahmadinejad in the June election, said that his 35-year-old nephew, Ali Mousavi, died in a Tehran hospital after being shot in the chest near Enghelab Square. A reliable opposition website, Parlemannews, also reported his death.
Details of the shootings were sparse, but one of the dead was said to be an elderly man and another a young woman, both killed when the security forces opened fire on the huge crowds of protesters that had gathered in central Tehran for the emotionally charged Shia festival of Ashura.
Senator John Kerry, the chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations committee and the Democratic nominee in 2004, wants to go to Tehran to engage the regime of Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmedinejad. The moment for such a visit perhaps possible in the spring is now long past. This is not a regime you engage, this is a regime you isolate. At this point with events inside the Islamic Republic in such a state of flux, a visit by such a high level US official would simply send the wrong message.
From the Wall Street Journal:
Many opponents of Tehran's regime oppose such a visit, fearing it would lend legitimacy to President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad at a time when his government is under continuing pressure from protests and opposition figures. Hundreds of thousands of demonstrators took to the streets again this week to voice their opposition to the government following the death of a reformist cleric.
"We've eschewed high-level visits to Iran for the last 30 years. I think now -- when the Iranian regime's fate is less certain than ever -- is not the best time to begin," said Karim Sadjadpour, an Iran analyst at Washington's Carnegie Endowment for International Peace.
"The wrong message would be sent to the Iranian people by such a high-level visit: The U.S. loves dictatorial regimes," said Hossein Askari, a professor at George Washington University and former adviser to Iranian governments.
In the meantime, Ahmedinejad has been ratcheting up his rhetoric as hopes for a nuclear deal fade.
Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmedinejad lashed out at the United States again in a speech Tuesday, the latest outburst in what analysts say is an attempt to regain his political stature in the wake of the popular protests that have challenged the government since the disputed presidential election. Mr. Ahmedinejad is resorting more frequently to foreign and domestic travels in what appears to be an attempt to seek relevance.
Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmedinejad spoke during a visit to the city of Shiraz, proclaiming that "Middle East nations would not let the United States dominate the region," and that the "era of domination by arrogant powers ... is now over."
He says that everybody should know the forces who are slaughtering people in Afghanistan today will have to leave Afghanistan, where they are far more humiliated than the Soviet Union and Britain.
He also called recent accusations that Iran was attempting to work on sophisticated nuclear-weapons technology "stale and tasteless," adding the United States and Israel have more weapons than Iran.
He says that the United States has nearly 8,000 nuclear warheads and must be disarmed, while Israel has about 400 nuclear warheads too, and must be disarmed. He adds that Iran and all other nations have resisted, and will resist, until the complete disarmament of America and all the arrogant powers of the world.
President Ahmedinejad has traveled widely across Iran and abroad recently in what many analysts say is a bid to reassert his legitimacy, which was tarnished after the disputed election in June. In Copenhagen, Friday, he told reporters that tyranny exists in many places, and few complain.
He says western governments are not worried about democracy and they have no concern about freedom, because many governments do not have elections and do not have freedom and they are not criticized.
Dr. Mehrdad Khonsari of the London-based Center for Arab and Iranian studies says Mr. Ahmedinejad is ratcheting up his rhetoric as hopes for a nuclear deal with the West fade. "He knows that the window of opportunity for him to come up with any kind of diplomatic breakthrough is almost up, and that is why his rhetoric is increasing, as hopes of him reaching some kind of solution is fading ...," Khonsari said.
There has been growing discussion by Iran analysts in recent weeks about how solid the Iranian president's grip on power still is, but Khonsari thinks Mr. Ahmedinejad remains in control, despite the challenges. "He has a lot of problems inside Iran. People do not recognize his legitimacy. He is not worried about that. Whether he is greeted by 5,000 people or 50,000 people, he is trying to say 'I am in charge.' The fact is, he does control all the levers of power that are up to him to control," he said.
This is a regime that is increasingly desperate. A visit by Senator Kerry would provide a legitimacy that the regime does not deserve.
The UK Guardian adds this cautionary note:
The authorities are taking a risk in using lethal force against protesters during the Islamic Moharram, during which war and bloodshed is deemed to be religiously haram, or forbidden. It raises the likelihood of a series of mourning cycles, as required by Shia tradition. It was such a mourning cycle that fatally undermined the Shah's regime when it tried to suppress demonstrations in 1978.