Revolutions, being upheavals of the most radical form, require changes to take place at the root of a society's value system. Given that Iraq was decidedly ruined on every conceivable level by the former Baath regime, the political corruption gripping the nation, as well as the unspeakable genocideries of ISIS, undoing all of the damage requires a moral transfiguration.
So away from the lenses of sensationalist tabloid media began a revolution of another, more authentic kind. One that would restore values long buried under the smoldering rubble of vice and immorality. Called Arbaeen, this revolution is having a tremendous ripple effect in the corridors of power as well as the lives of millions around the globe.
The immediate political impact of Arbaeen can be gauged by the fact that it represents the greatest act of defiance against ISIS and other terrorists. Last year 24 million pilgrims swarmed into Karbala over a period of two weeks, creating the world's biggest annual pilgrimage. A human avalanche that leaves analysts stunned and governments paralyzed.
Contrary to popular belief, Arbaeen did not commence after the fall of Saddam. Rather, this monumental ritual has existed for hundreds of years and grew in magnitude after the first gulf war when the feeble regime relaxed its crackdown on Shia rituals to focus on more pressing matters. Immediately millions of Iraqis revived the ancient practice and filled the horizon as they walked afoot for hundreds of miles to salute their spiritual commander. Soon enough the dictator realized that he had made a mistake. By lifting the ban, Saddam had unleashed a movement too powerful to contain. Still, he struck with an iron fist, arresting anyone found walking and shooting those trying to stealthily make the forbidden voyage. Nevertheless, the avalanche couldn't be stopped and the pilgrimage continued in solid defiance, eventually crippling and abating the ancien régime in time for the final blow which came in the form of the 2003 war. The U.S. led invasion brought down an already hollow structure which had been eviscerated by popular resistance for years.
Now, with terror gripping the world, and with so many 'solutions' on the table, I posit there is only one real, viable antidote to the venom; the legend of Hussein, and Arbaeen as the syringe. Below are some features of this colossal pilgrimage which makes it uniquely placed to do just that;
1. All social and ethnic barriers come crumpling down in Arbaeen. Nowhere else in the world is harmony and cohesion more tangible than during this pilgrimage, where the sense of fraternity is most salient. No other assembly is nearly as congruous or melodious. Despite the inhospitable environment and lack of basic services, the overriding feeling in Karbala is that of unconditional love. The kind of love that makes total strangers extend gratis services fit only for kings.
2. After the fall of Mosul, Iraq's second largest and heavily fortified city fell to ISIS overnight, another standoff later stunned observers. The location was a tiny village north west of the country called Amerli. Cordoned off from the rest of the country by ISIS forces, Amerli resisted for over three months. Men as well as women turned out to fight and eventually pushed back against ISIS, achieving liberty. How could Mosul fall in a matter of hours while tiny Amerli stands tall and defeats the enemy? The difference lies in the fact that Amerli is an ethnically Turkmen, religiously Shia village. It was the legend of Hussein which inspired them to persevere, while Mosul practically embraced ISIS. Shias are all too familiar with the menace of hewed off heads, murdered children, hacked throats, and captive women. We have been abominating these acts to which Hussein and his camp were subjected to for over a millennium. That is what has turned the Shia into the staunchly non-conformist global community of devotees, willing to battle terror at the merest beck and call of our religious leaders.
3. In a world grappling with a sharp rise in people fleeing wars as refugees, Arbaeen pilgrims and their Iraqi hosts exhibit such generosity that must serve as an example to the West. In this crisis, let the world look at the inclusive policy vis-à-vis Arbaeen pilgrims and the unparalleled embrace of foreigners, as an emancipatory defiance of the borders in the North, ever immobilizing victims of capitalist expansionism and imperial militarism. Isn't it ironic that members of non-Muslim minorities, including Christians, Assyrians, Yazidis, and Sabean Mandaeans, who were viciously exposed to the ethnic cleansing campaign launched by ISIS, have long participated in and contributed to this annual march?
The war with ISIS is not an internal conflict. Despite the wishes of some pundits and politicians, it cannot be dismissed as a mere civil war. It is a battle between the genuine Islam embodied in its founder and appointed heirs, versus a counterfeit Islam in the form of Salafi militancy. An Islam that takes the appearance of the real thing, adopting its slogans and insignia, but is devoid of its original values. An Islam that refers to the greatest and most recurring Quranic verse "In the name of God the beneficent, the merciful" yet they exhibit anything but beneficence and mercy.
This is the truest manifestation of an autoimmune disorder, where the body attacks itself; to destroy Islam by using Islam itself. This, of course, isn't exclusive to our faith. Anything of value will inevitably have counterfeits emerge at the hands of opportunistic impostors. But in our case, the antagonists are an apocalyptic movement that began in the time of the Prophet Mohammad himself, when he warned about "hypocrites" who appear like the true adherents of the faith, but harbor no faith internally. An entire chapter of the Quran was revealed about the hidden dangers of these duplicitous liars who wreak havoc under the guise of being Muslim.
Why should the world take notice? Because what happened in Paris was a small glimpse of what these monstrous beasts are capable of. If they get their way, they will slaughter your infants and carry their tiny heads on spikes. They will butcher your men and enslave your women. How do we know this? Because their ideological ancestors have committed these same gruesome atrocities against none other than the family of the Prophet. They murdered his grandson Hussein in cold blood while chanting 'Allah Akbar', an Islamic slogan hijacked for a sinister cause. They severed the head of his infant son as they cheered in mad hysteria!
It was Saladdin, the twelfth-century Tikrit-born Sunni warrior who conquered Jerusalem, yet before marching toward the Roman enclave, he massacred hundreds of thousands of Shias in both Fatimid Egypt as well as Abbasid Syria. Much like today, the road to the Christian West, must cut through Muslim blood.
By risking death, Arbaeen pilgrims are exposing this menace. The millions who march are echoing calls we have been making for centuries; that Wahhabism is a ominous evil which attempts to conquer and control in the name of Islam. If left unchecked, it will burn the world to the ground without so much as blinking. No matter how much serpentine Western politicians tell us they are "our allies", they are nothing but raving wolves in sheep's skin. The banner of Islam needs to be re-appropriated to its rightful bearers and these impostors must be held to account.
The gravitational pull of Hussein, a man killed 1400 years ago, is so strong that it travels along the earth's axis. From Auckland, New Zealand to Vancouver, Canada, and in every nation in between.. Pockets of people commemorate his tragedy and travel to one of the world's most dangerous countries to reconnect with Hussein and visit his mausoleum.
They do so to reclaim the black attire, which for long has been worn to sympathize with the oppressed, not to intimidate them. To relieve the trauma of loss, not to cause them. Which is why, the grimmer the threat of ISIS, the more crowded became the paths towards Karbala. "If it rains Da'esh (ISIS), we will still visit Hussein," reads a signpost installed by pilgrims.
The pilgrims walk in their millions on the same path, towards the same destination, motivated by the same cause; to defeat immorality and hate, even if it costs them their lives. Just like Hussein.
This is how I know ISIS will never win.