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.