In this episode of ‘Behind the Headline,’ Mnar Muhawesh dives into the 1,300-year history of Arbaeen, a Muslim tradition steeped in resistance and sacrifice, and explains how the continued observance of this tradition is a direct defiance of groups like ISIS.
MINNEAPOLIS — We hear it every day: “Why aren’t Muslims speaking up against terrorism?” “Where are the Muslims denouncing ISIS?”
The people asking these questions tend to ignore a major fact: Muslims are the primary victims of terrorism driven by Wahhabism, an extremist, politically motivated perversion of Islam held by groups like ISIS.
From 2007 to 2011, 97% of terrorism-related fatalities were Muslims, according to the U.S. National Counterterrorism Center. The United Nations found that from January 2014 to October 2015, nearly 19,000 civilians were killed in Iraq — a country that is 99% Muslim — many of them victims of ISIS.
Still, the U.N. says its figures likely fall short because they don’t include casualties resulting from the “secondary effects of violence,” like how many people are dying because they don’t have access to food, water, or medicine, which are also directly caused by groups like ISIS.
No one wants to see ISIS defeated more than Muslims.
Yet so-called “experts” and those who claim terrorism is a tenant of the Islamic faith disregard the victims through orientalist generalizations. “Muslims have been killing each other for thousands of years,” they say. “Let them kill each other.”
This “Civilization Jihad” caricature has been carefully manufactured by those on the right in both media and government. And while it might be the political bread and butter of the right, the left has folks like Bill Maher, who has made associating Islam with violence, barbarism, and female oppression a hallmark of his career.
But, somewhere in the stream of Islamophobic sentiment flowing from people on both sides, they manage to get one thing right: Muslims have long been victims of extremist violence perpetrated by those who claim to share their faith.
Muslims by the millions have converged in Karbala, Iraq, for the past 1,300 years to mourn the death of the grandson of the Prophet Muhammad, who died at the hands of the ISIS of his time.
The 40-day religious commemoration known as “Arbaeen,” the Arabic word meaning “40,” culminates in the Largest peaceful gathering of people in the world, and for many Muslims, it’s steeped in a spirit of resistance.
With attacks on the pilgrims by ISIS and other terror groups becoming both frequent and deadly, this spirit of resistance has taken on particular significance in recent years.
When someone asks, “Where are the Muslims denouncing extremism?” they should be advised to look no further than the 20 million people who risked their lives to commemorate Arbaeen in Karbala this year.
But if you think the mainstream media would cover this as an important story, think again. In fact, outlets like BuzzFeed and Snopes went as far as to accuse anyone saying the march was against ISIS as spreading fake news.
Earlier this month, MintPress re-published an article from the American Herald Tribune headlined “Media Blackout: Millions Of Muslims March Against ISIS.”
The story explained the history of the annual pilgrimage, noting that millions of Muslims continue to make this journey despite the threat posed by terrorists like ISIS.
It quickly went viral, eventually becoming a Trending topic on Facebook.
Muslims were shown in an honest, positive light. The narrative challenged the establishment’s carefully crafted sectarian, violent, jihadi culture caricature — a falsification used to justify endless wars in the Middle East and Africa. And it’s a vicious cycle: these endless wars, supposedly meant to target terrorists, give rise to the terrorism that Muslims become victim to.
Of course, it wasn’t long before the mainstream media chimed it. Buzzfeed did what it does best: It bended a positive story showing Muslims united in a force of peaceful resistance to parrot Cold War rhetoric. Buzzfeed dismissed it as “Another False Story” that should have never gone viral.
The story’s author, Craig Silverman, argued that the headline was misleading — the march was not, in fact, organized in direct response to ISIS. And, citing reports from the Washington Post and International Business Times, he argued that there wasn’t even a media blackout. He even went on to say that it was just Russian propaganda since RT was one of the only outlets that reported it as a march against ISIS.
Ultimately, he used the story, and MintPress’ decision to reprint it, as an example of why Facebook needs to be more cautious about what appears in its Trending section. Yet much of his “proof” lies in reports by mainstream media outlets that can’t differentiate between ISIS inspired terrorism and Islam which ultimately helps push foreign wars and funnel weapons to extremist rebel forces that leads to more terrorism.
In attempting to address the “spread of misinformation” plaguing Facebook, Buzzfeed missed the point at the heart of the story: Participating in the Arbaeen march is marching against ISIS.
For those claiming this is a false story, here’s a little history lesson:
Arbaeen pays tribute to the sacrifices of Imam Hussein, the grandson of the Prophet Muhammad. He and his followers were massacred in 680 by the tyrant or ISIS of their time, Yazid Ibn Mu’awiyah.
An influential ruler from the Umayyad Dynasty, Yazid ruled over many parts of the Middle East with an iron fist. He descended from the “1%” that ruled Arabia when the Prophet Muhammad revealed his message, challenging the economic heavyweights who profited from exploiting the impoverished population through idol worship.
Generations of the “1%” carried on these attempts to silence and undermine the Prophet Muhammad, his family, and his followers.
Hussein repeatedly refused to pledge allegiance to Yazid, a power-hungry tyrant who a so called Islamic Caliphate that was the antithesis of Muhammad’s teaching. And this refusal eventually led to a standoff between Yazid’s 50,000-man army and Hussein and his 72 family members in Karbala. Even in the face of certain death, Hussein refused to fight and he refused to back down.
His refusal to accept oppression and tyranny echoes even today as an example of non-violent resistance against tyranny even by revolutionary leaders like Ghandi. And because groups like ISIS take their lessons from tyrannical leaders like Yazid instead of Hussein, the annual march in Karbala remains a symbol of the Muslim struggle against those who purport to use their faith in the pursuit of wealth, power, and colonialism.
While Arbaeen is a religious procession that’s considered a Shiite Muslim event, it’s pluralistic in nature. Sunni Muslims, as well as Jewish and Christian leaders, also take part in the march in a show of solidarity against injustice.
It’s honoring the legacy of a man who died hundreds of years ago when he wouldn’t kowtow to the same brand of tyranny that ISIS wants to inflict upon people today.
So Buzzfeed and Mr. Silverman: Marching in Arbaeen is taking a stand against ISIS and terrorism. It’s refusing to live in fear. It’s denouncing everything that ISIS stands for, and celebrating everything ISIS hates most.
Now that’s a real news history lesson worth reporting on.
Learn more about millions of Muslims march against ISIS, the Flint water crisis & life in prison for pot on the full episode of the Behind The Headline: