The genesis of the Shia community’s persecution goes back to October 1979, when the Iranian revolution occurred. The impact of the revolution was far-reaching. Certain Middle Eastern kingdoms and caliphates panicked. They didn’t want to see Iran undergo an Islamic revolution, thinking that other Muslim countries in the region might follow suit and cause Arab kingdoms and caliphates to fall like a house of cards. So, they started hatching intrigues against Iran.
In September 1980, barely 11 months after Iran’s Islamic revolution, its neighbour Iraq invaded it. Iraq had the full blessing of its Arab neighbours, plus some superpowers in the West who stoked the fire through provision of war supplies. For eight years, Iran bled — but it did not bleed to death. The irrepressible nation survived. But in the eight-year battle, both nations suffered the demise of millions of people, mostly innocent civilians. Like Iran, Iraq has an overwhelming population of Shias — between 65 and 70 per cent of the total population.
According to some, this revolution was confined to Iran’s geographical limits and the war prevented the revolution from spreading to Kuwait, Bahrain and the eastern province of Saudi Arabia. Some more Arab states entered the USSR-Afghan War with their cryptic strategy to help the extremists in Pakistan and Afghanistan. The Anjuman Sipah-e-Sahaba was formed in the early 1980s.
Bahrain acquired independence from the UK in 1971. Two-thirds of its population had close ties with Iran and hence, Iran laid claim on Bahrain. In February 2011, a protest was held in Manama, which ended in police brutality. Some 80 people were killed and nearly 3,000 arrested, of whom five were killed in police custody. Police brutality was on the rise.
In the 1960s, the Shia community of southern Lebanon lived very quietly, as it had been for centuries. They were so peaceful that they were denigrated to the extent of being termed the Mitawalis (mausoleum caretakers). Most of them were from the middle and lower-middle classes.
An avant-garde Iranian cleric, Imam Musa Sadr, emerged in Lebanon and began organising the marginalised Shia community to rebel against the community’s domination by a handful of feudal families. The Imam felt that his task was to struggle against the feudals and awaken the oppressed community out of its deep slumber. While the Shias were 35 per cent of the population demographically in Lebanon, each government discriminated against and disfranchised them to unfairly show them to be 10 to 15 per cent population-wise. Then, their land of south Lebanon became occupied by the Palestinians and then the Israelis. The Shias of southern Lebanon tolerated that. However, on March 17, 1974, in Baalbek, Bekaa valley, Imam Musa delivered an important speech:
“Starting from today, we will no longer complain nor cry. Our name is no longer the Mitwalis; our name is ‘men of refusal’. ‘Men of vengeance’. ‘Men who revolt against tyranny’ even though this costs us our blood and our lives.”
Some 50,000 rifles fired at once to greet the Imam’s prophetic words. The firing was so intense that in the hail of the falling bullets, nearby trees were stripped of their greenery. Imam Musa was followed by Hasan Nasrullah, who is the head of Hezbollah. However, the community’s resolve has remained unchanged.
Sadly, while the Shia populations of south Lebanon may be accommodated, the Shia populations in Pakistan face difficulty.
Published in The Express Tribune, March 19th, 2013.