Karbala: The never-ending battle
by: Tahereh Ghanaati.
Source: http://www.presstv.ir/detail/155545.html [Wed Dec 15, 2010]

A cool river sparkled temptingly in the distance, but for the little band of trapped travelers, it was as unreachable as the moon. Days earlier, the vast army, which had interrupted their journey, had cut them off from the life-giving river. And the carefully-rationed water they had brought with them had long since run out.

The worst affected were the children. One child, in particular, a six-month old baby, was at death's door. Its whimper that had once been the cry of a healthy baby was now as soft and weak as that of a newborn kitten. The group's commander gazed down at it in compassionate sorrow. The plump, rosy infant of a mere week ago had been transformed into a tiny, listless skeleton, its ashy skin stretched tautly over its delicate little bones. Its lustrous black eyes appeared enormous in its tiny, shrunken face. As the man stooped to pick it up, he noticed how feebly the flame of life was flickering in the little form. The baby could not live for many more hours without water.

Tenderly cradling the child against his chest, the man then held it up before the opposing army, asking them out of human kindness to spare a cup of water for this tiny innocent.

Their answer was swift in coming. One of the soldiers casually unslung his bow, fitted it with an arrow and took careful aim. Whistling through the air, the projectile found its target - the baby's neck. That little child would never be thirsty again.

The man and his band of followers looked in disbelieving horror at the bloodstained bundle that had a moment ago been a living child. And that was when they knew that no quarter would be given. That was the moment when the mask was ripped off and they beheld the true face of the enemy.

Before the day had ended 72 members of that group, including the man, who led them, joined the child in death. The men, who were young enough -- and strong enough -- to bear arms fell in battle, but numbers of women, children and the elderly were methodically slaughtered by the victorious opposing forces.

The event, known to history as the 'Battle of Karbala,' took place in October, 680 C.E., on the 10th day of the Muslim holy month of Muharram, which is, ironically one of the months in which fighting is prohibited.

The man was Imam Hussein (PBUH), the third Shia Imam, and the baby was his six-month-old son, Ali Asghar.

The place, of course, was Karbala in Iraq. Thus, Muharram is a particularly significant time for Shia Muslims, who turn their attention during that month to the part of the world in which the tragedy occurred.

For Shias Muharram is a time of lamentation and remembrance in which processions of black-clad mourners wind through the streets recalling and symbolically participating in the sufferings of Imam Hussein (PBUH).

For the past few years, however, pro-al-Qaeda insurgents in Iraq have given participants in the ceremonies other reasons to mourn, launching strings of attacks on the Shia community during that particular month.

Last January, during Muharram (which occurs at a different time each year due to the nature of Islam's lunar calendar,) a bomb blast at one of Iraq's holiest Shia shrines violently ended the lives of at least 40 people, 16 of whom were Iranian pilgrims. And an additional 72 mourners were injured in the incident according to the New York Times, which went on to say that witnesses and security officers believed that the bomber had purposefully “singled out a procession of Iranian pilgrims visiting the shrine of Imams Musa al-Kadhim (PBUH) and Mohammed al-Jawad (PBUH) in Baghdad's northern Kadhimiya district.“

Nor were those the only Shias targeted. Earlier that same day, Iraqi police reported that a roadside bomb in Diyala Province northeast of Baghdad hit a bus carrying Iranian pilgrims to Kadhimiya. Fortunately, there were no casualties, but five people sustained injuries. The New York Times article went on to say that Shias in Iraq are often attacked during religious holidays - particularly, during Muharram, which helps us understand why Iraqi security is so worried this year.

On December 2, a few days prior to the beginning of this year's month of mourning (which began on December 7,) Iraq Business News' warned that the holy month would “most likely see a rise in attacks on the Shia community, particularly pilgrims, including Iranians, traveling to the 'Atabat (holy cities) of Kadhimiyah, Karbala, Najaf and Samarra.“

Despite Baghdad's deployment of large numbers of police and security forces -- 30,000 have been sent to form a human cordon around Karbala, alone, the warning proved to be well-founded.

The Aswat al-Iraq news outlet reported that on Sunday, December 12, a bomber in Diyala province killed a Shia pilgrim and his son, who were leading a mourning procession. Three others were injured in the attack.

The incident was followed by another explosion in the same area, which according to Diyala police spokesman Major Ghalib al-Karkhi, injured eight people, including six policemen. Karkhi added that Raghib al-Mamouri , the director of the federal police in Diyala province, was injured in the blast as was a provincial councilman, Muthana al-Timimi.

Approximately 24 hours later, on Monday, December 13, a security source informed Aswat al-Iraq news agency that five people were injured when a mortar shell hit a Shia gathering in al-Mashtal, east of Baghdad.

That same day, Diyala Province was rocked by still another bombing that according to Iraq's Interior Ministry, killed four people and injured an additional 17. Major Ghaleb al-Atiya, police spokesman in Diyala Province, said that the bomber had targeted a group of Shias in the town of Balad Ruz.

Even more disturbing was the recent Iraqi police announcement that they had arrested 60 gunmen in Karbala, who admitted to having planned attacks on Shia pilgrims visiting the city on Ashura (the anniversary of the Battle of Karbala.) That news is unsettling due to the probability that a sting operation, which resulted in the detention of 60 terrorists, most likely did not find them all.

And that brings us full circle. The carnage, which Karbala witnessed over 1300 years ago, has occurred time and again. The soil, which was soaked with the blood of Imam Hussein (PBUH) has been, over the years, drenched in the blood of a host of his followers.

Despite the passage of centuries, the battle rages on - but why? What was Karbala all about in the first place? That question is important because the main reason why it was initially fought still exists.

Firstly, despite surface appearances, the battle was never about sectarianism. True, one group fought under the banner, Shiism, and the other under Sunnism, but that was not the real reason for the conflict. Nor was it, as many western historians believe, a power struggle over control of the caliphate.

Was it a contest between two views of the purpose of religion? In other words, Imam Hussein's view, which was religion as a discipline in one's life to enable one to become a better person and create a better society, as opposed to Yazid's (the ruler, who fought against Imam Hussein,) view - religion as a useful tool to expand one's base of power and control one's people.

Actually, the difference between those two views of religion did constitute part of the reason for the battle, but only part.

The rest of the reason could be found in the way Yazid's men treated the child, Ali Asghar. Despite Imam Hussein's appeal, they had no sympathy for an innocent child - not even enough to allow it a glass of water. And their action, their callous killing of a six-month-old baby, who posed no threat to them, showed their lack of regard for human life, in general.

That attitude can be seen again and again in acts of terrorism - not only in Iraq, but throughout the world. When terrorists plant a roadside bomb, target a busy marketplace, office building or shopping mall, we see the spirit of Yazid's army at work. When extremists kidnap someone and cut off his head, bomb a school full of children, or target a group of worshipers, we see the Battle of Karbala reenacted.

That ancient conflict was not about sectarianism, nor was it really about power (though Yazid most probably believed that it was.) And it was not about theological differences such as the number of names God possesses, or how many angels can dance on the head of a pin.

It was, instead, about the importance of human life. One side held it in high regard. The other dismissed it as unimportant. That was the underlying reason for the carnage at Karbala. And it is a primary trait marking terrorists today. It is the main characteristic that separates them from the rest of humanity. Extremist groups, like Yazid's forces 1300 years ago, and al-Qaeda today, have little regard for human life, which they demonstrate by attacking and killing innocent civilians.

Thus the Battle of Karbala rages on - never to be resolved until mankind sheds its last vestiges of bestiality and becomes completely human.