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Ali is an economist and political analyst, working at a private UK-based company. He worked previously at the World Health Organisation and has an MSc in Development Studies from SOAS. You can follow him on Twitter (@alialsaffar).

Imam Hussein’s views on oil refining

And then Hussein (AS) said to the usurper Yazeed: “the righteous demand that we turn the riches of this land into higher value export commodities by refining the crude into gasoline, fuels oils and distillates. Your continued insistence on the production of lead based petrol has destroyed the Ummah of my grandfather. Today, we make a stand in Karbala against you and against all proponents of your backward policy.”

No, he didn’t really say that…Karbala wasn’t about oil refining. Which is why I was so surprised to see a qraya, with full-on latmiya (لطمية), at the Midlands Refinery Company (a state-owned company charged with developing Iraq’s refineries).

It is a well established fact that Iraq’s Shia were banned from the traditional Ashura processions by the Ba’ath regime. The removal of Saddam in 2003 paved the way for a long-pent up, and quite understandable, backlash. But it is now almost nine years since, and what started off as being partly a reaction, has now become well and truly institutionalised.

Parliament, for example, also goes on a recess for Muharram. This year, it meant that simmering, crucial issues like the worsening political crisis and the passage of the budget could not be addressed. I am not sure that under these circumstances in particular, that taking time any time off can be justified.

The more it happens, the greater the argument for the complete secularisation of public offices. I can see the need for giving the 10th of Muharram off as a public holiday, given that it is so important to so many Iraqis. Whether employees of the state chose to walk to Karbala or have a lie in on their day off is then their choice. But to bring these events  into government institutions not only means the loss of millions of work-hours, but can also become a source of tension, disagreement and discontent…and we hardly need any more of that. Huge parts of the country are brought to a complete stand still for dozens of days a year to commemorate or celebrate births and deaths of prophets and imams, but at what expense? The crippling of government institutions that are already supposed to be making up for decades of lost time?

I’m not calling for an Ataturk-style axe to all public signs of religiosity or piety; but I do think that some pretty drastic changes need to happen sooner rather than later.

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6 Comments on “Imam Hussein’s views on oil refining”

  1. Lion of Babylone January 18, 2012 at 12:04 pm #

    Not that I am satisfied with the work of any Iraqi public office, but people in western country do celebrate birthday parties in the office or even do sometimes Christmas celebrations. This doesn’t mean that birthdays and Christmas is institutionalized.

    And even if this poses a problem, it is a minor one. You have left off many, many big ones. In my opinion, it is not about the off time, as much as it is about working efficiently and good performance at normal working days.

    Thanks.

  2. Lion of Babylone January 18, 2012 at 12:13 pm #

    It also would be nice if the information about you would be written with a light font because currently it is hardly readable.

    Thanks.

  3. Ali Al-Saffar January 18, 2012 at 2:12 pm #

    Hi LoB,
    Thanks for your comment. I agree that there are huge problems that we have’t addressed, unfortunately these are the limitations of the blog, but we all hope to write more so we hope we can tackle some of them.

    I think the situation with the holidays in Iraq is far worse than anything we see in the UK. Not only because of the frequency, but also the impact…everything slows to a halt. At the same time, Iraq doesn’t have the luxury that the UK. The government and even businesses can shut down here because there are institutions that mean that things don’t fall apart. In Iraq, problems need to be solved urgently, and so taking a month off for what is, ultimately, non-essential, can’t really be justified in my opinion.

    As for the profiles, sorry about that, oversight on our part, should be fixed now.

    All the best,
    Ali

  4. Lion of Babylone January 19, 2012 at 8:13 pm #

    Thank you for replying Ali.

    Well I think if at least more than 10 million people (this year’s statistic reached 16 million people) from Baghdad down the South start walking 10-15 days before the 20th of Safar to Karbala, then life stands still anyways at least half of Iraq. So not hat much people to serve in the public offices. On the other hand the government is asked to provide services to those who are walking to and back from Karbala.So to be realistic, It is something that can’t be changed, and the government will have to adapt to this more or less.

    Look at it from this side: At least public offices are not celebrating the birthday of a nasty dictator or the day he took over.

    I don’t think that a celebration here or there might be a big deal. I think that the problem you are referring to needs to be dealt with from a broader context. In Iraq there is a problem called too many vacations, regardless of whether they are personal or religious. Many employees simply take too much time off. There is this “slacker” mentality in public offices that there is not work anyways and the government has to pay us, regardless of whether we work or not.

    My opinion is this: let these be the “Easter” holidays of Iraq, however the government should start to deal with the discipline issues in public offices.

    You also talked something about the Shia Issue in Iraq. You are right. It has been 9 years since Saddam is gone. But put one thing in your mind please: Shia have been prevented this not for 35 years, but for more than 1400 years. This is the first time in history that Shia in Iraq are allowed to express their feelings in such a way. Nevertheless the terror campaigns against the Shiite pilgrims never stopped. These have more or less sectarian roots and even if they are not conducted by Iraqis.

    So even if another 1400 year pass with Shia allowed to do all that, it won’t fade.

    The amazing thing about the issue of Imam Hussein’s case is that this special “glow”, as it is reffered to, in the hearts of Shia, that never stops. I’m not being emotional here; talking about it subjectively: The world should really inspect this phenomenon because it is unprecedented. And you will see how this will accelerate in the future. So these Ziyarah’s will become a fact about Iraq. Something unique that you can’t see in sucha an magnitude elsewhere.

    So I think the world should deal with it. Shia respect others in general and do not use these occasions to show off or threaten other groups in Iraq. There are peaceful celebrations. If other groups feel threatened or offended by that it is because there is an misunderstanding or lack or understanding about the whole thing.

    Thanks

  5. Lion of Babylone January 19, 2012 at 8:17 pm #

    By they way, not the forum looks really neat and professional. Good job on that guys.

  6. Sara January 25, 2012 at 7:57 pm #

    With all my respects, but is it really necessary to have a public holiday for Muharam?

    I’m not asking this question on the bases of sectarian intentions, I just really want to know why.

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