Tuesday, May 18, 2004

"Holy city" 

Iraq's Shi'ite leader, Grand Ayatollah Ali al Sistani, has asked the U.S. military and Shi'ite fighters to leave the "holy cities" of Najaf and Karbala.

"It's permissible...to demand the withdrawal of all military vestiges from the two cities and allow the police and tribal forces to perform their role in preserving security and order," Sistani said in a rare statement released by his office in Najaf on Tuesday.
If the local police can preserve security and order, then Sistani's demand is worth thinking about. I doubt, however, that Muqtada al Sadr is willing to entertain the idea of withdrawing from the two cities.

But the main point that I want to address is the entire notion of a "holy city." I've been thinking about this lately, and sure enough, when I Googled the term to find a jumping-off point for this post, I found several news articles from today.

I don't know where the idea of a "holy city" came from, although I understand the reasons for Najaf and Karbala being considered as such. It seems to me a purely Islamic construct--the holy city of Najaf, the holy city of Karbala, the holy cities of Mecca and Medina, etc. It also strikes me as rather dishonest.

The reason I say it's dishonest is because several of the so-called holy cities have been the scenes of Muslim-vs-Muslim battles at varying points in history. If they're so holy, then fighting in them should be out of the question. Unfortunately, it hasn't been, as history--even recent history--shows. One of the holiest of Shi'ite cities is Qom, in Iran. But in 1988 during the Iran-Iraq war, the Iraqi military, a majority-Shi'ite force, had no problem launching Scud missiles at the "holy city" of Qom. Not at military targets or government facilities, but just in the general direction of the city. Most of the casualties were civilians, and any one of the scores of Scud missiles striking Qom could have hit the holy shrine of Hazrate Masomeh. None did, but it still shows how the idea of a "holy city" is only applied when it's convenient.

And that's not to mention the Saudi holy cities, which are totally off-limits to non-Muslims. Can you imagine Christians decrying the "occupation" of the "holy cities" of Bethlehem and Nazareth by Muslims? How about Jerusalem, the city in which Christ--a far more important figure to Christians than Imam Hussein is to Shi'ites--died? No, you can't imagine that, because it's a ridiculous idea.

And it's just as ridiculous when Muslims claim an entire area as "holy," especially when they make that claim only when it suits their purposes.
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