Today is Arbaeen, the annual commemoration of the martyrdom of Imam Hussein, the Prophet Muhammad’s grandson. During the past decade an estimated twenty to thirty million people (with outlier estimates closer to fifty million) have been making the pilgrimage to Karbala each year. Wikipedia’s list of “largest peaceful gatherings” is dominated by recent Arbaeen pilgrimages.
It seems rather miraculous that Iraq—the nation most devastated by the 9/11-triggered Zionist-incited scorched-earth operations—should be hosting a pilgrimage five to ten times as big as the much better known canonical Muslim Pilgrimage, the Hajj. The Saudis, with all their Western protection and oil wealth, have been forced to cap the number of Hajjis at slightly over 3 million. At that rate it would take 581 years to get all the world’s Muslims to Mecca. But despite the fact that the Hajj is obligatory, the Saudis just can’t handle much more than 3 million per year. How can the war-devastated Iraqis, with zero help from the West, host tens of millions every Arbaeen?
The answer is that the Iraqi government doesn’t have to organize Arbaeen. It is largely self-organizing. In many ways Arbaeen is more of a spontaneous act of mournful protest than an officially-sanctioned state-organized event. And it works so well, and attracts so many people, because it resonates so beautifully with the spirit of the age. We live at a time of unparalleled injustice and oppression. And all of the world’s injustice and oppression has never been more visible, thanks to communications technology. So the natural human thirst for justice arises in response. Arbaeen is about mourning the triumph of injustice—and vowing to atone by pursuing justice even to the extreme of self sacrifice should that be necessary.
Now THAT is a protest gathering! It makes iconic Western protests like Woodstock, the women’s march against Trump, various global warming protests, and so on seem rather petty by comparison.
No wonder Arbaeen thrives in Iraq, a nation crushed under the weight of so many accumulated layers of injustice: British colonialism, American neocolonialism, Saddam’s fascism, Zio-American occupation, ISIS’s madness. Dr. Gideon Polya, a leading expert on avoidable mortality, writes:
Iraqi deaths from violence (1.7 million) or war-imposed deprivation (2.9 million) since 1990 total 4.6 million …The appalling legacy of a quarter of a century of Western violence against Iraq (1990-2015) – for oil, US hegemony and Apartheid Israeli hegemony – is summarized below, with much of the data being found in “Iraqi Holocaust Iraqi Genocide” , “Genocide in Iraq” volumes I and II by Iraqi scholars Dr Abdul-Haq Al-Ani & Tariq Al-Ani and reviews of these works [18-21] and noting that about half of the Iraqi population of 30 million are children :
(1). 1.7 million Iraqi violent deaths.
(2). 2.9 million Iraqi avoidable deaths from violently -imposed deprivation.
(3). 2 million under-5 year old Iraqi infant deaths, 90% avoidable and due to gross violation of the Geneva Convention by the US Alliance.
(4). 7,700,000 Iraqi refugees.
(5). 5,000,000 Iraqi orphans.
(6). 3,000,000 Iraqi widows.
(7). 1,000,0000 Iraqis missing.
(8). 4,000 Iraqi women (20% under 18) missing and presumed “trafficked”.
(9). 3.5 million Iraqi children living in dire poverty.
(10). 1.5 million Iraqi children are undernourished.
(11). Iraqi cancer cases in cases per 100,000 people were 40 (1990), 800 (1995) and 1,600 (2005).
(12). 40% of Iraqi professionals have left since 2003.
(13). 34,000 doctors (1990) declined to 16,000 doctors (2008).
(14). More than 2,200 doctors and nurses killed.
(15). The Iraqi health budget dropped from $450 million pa (1980-1991) to $22 million (2002),
(16). Most of Iraqi children are traumatized by war.
(17). From high literacy pre-1990 to 74% illiteracy in 2011.
Iraq has become a nation of martyrs and survivors…and generous hosts. Arbaeen pilgrims report that the magnanimity of Iraqis is “off the charts.” If you’re an Arbaeen pilgrim folks feed you, take care of you, and generally don’t ask for a penny. To say this compares favorably with the way Saudis host the Hajj would risk belaboring the obvious.
Though Arbaeen is identified with Shia Islam, it has always attracted a fair number of Sunni Muslims, who like Shia Muslims revere Imam Hussein and mourn his tragedy at Karbala. In recent years this Sunni participation has increased, and more and more Christians have been joining as well. Observing Arbaeen may symbolize rejection of the fanatical anti-Shia sectarianism of ISIS, which could account for its increasingly broad -based appeal in places like Iraq. But ultimately the appeal of Arbaeen rests on its message: The martyrdom of saints and heroes like Hussein is emblematic of the world’s domination by tyrannical Yazids. Until enough of us vow to stand with the Husseins against the Yazids, even unto death, the tragedy of Karbala will continue.