Thursday, November 25, 2004

No Falafel at the Abu Hanifa Mosque: What if it were Your Church?

I started writing a piece on the Abu Hanifa Mosque in Baghdad. I had found a picture of a very impressive minaret with an equally impressive hole in the side of it. Then I found an article from a year ago where someone was complaining about the mosque merely being sprayed with bullets. I thought that I would contrast the two and make some snide comment about how the Bush administration was doing in its second term. Then I started reading a little more about it.

The Common Dreams News Center gives some background on the Abu Hanifa Mosque in Aadhamiya in Baghdad,

Built around the tomb of Abu Hanifa, the founder of the moderate Hanifa school of Islamist jurisprudence and one of the most important figures in the history of Sunni Islam, the mosque is 1250 years old. Although Umm al-Marek is bigger, Abu Hanifa is probably the most important Sunni mosque in Baghdad, and a site of pilgrimage for Muslims around the world.

So it's not just some mosque. It's on par with a Westminster Abbey or St. Patrick's Cathedral in New York City. Instead of substituting "just some mosque," try to substitute one of those other, more familiar places of worship every time you read Abu Hanifa to try and get some perspective on the kinds of things that this foreign army is carrying out in "liberated Iraq."

On April 16th, 2003, John F. Burns of the New York Times wrote about Saddam Hussein's last appearance outside the Abu Hanifa Mosque,
BAGHDAD, Iraq, April 15 — He was here, and then, like a shadow, he
was gone.

At the Adhamiya Mosque in northern Baghdad, people have made a legend of the half hour last Wednesday, around the time of the noon prayers, when they say Saddam Hussein appeared in public, in the square outside the mosque, and offered what may prove to have been his last promise, or his last deceit, to the people of Iraq.

"I am fighting alongside you in the same trenches," he told a cheering crowd in the square outside the mosque.

And then, people who were in the square at the time said today, the Iraqi leader and a small group of loyalists climbed back into their cars and drove off. Within 12 hours, American aircraft bombed the neighborhood, destroying part of a cemetery behind the mosque. American troops followed up with an assault on the mosque in which the minaret took a direct hit from a tank round and a shoulder-fired rocket was used to blast open the door to the catafalque containing the body of Abu Hanifa, an eighth-century Muslim saint, apparently in the belief that Mr. Hussein might be hiding somewhere in the darkness within.

But he was not.

I imagine they used a shoulder-fired rocket instead of say, an ax, because they were a little rushed for time and since they had never been in a mosque before they didn't know what the important bits were and it all looked pretty much like garbage to them anyway.

Near the end of Mr. Burns' article we learn that Saddam Hussein never really hung out much in that neighborhood. He just famously disappeared there and caused them no end of trouble,

In the streets and alleyways of Adhamiya today, nobody could remember any previous occasion, before his sudden appearance outside the mosque last week, when Mr. Hussein had visited the district, other than to disappear inside the high walls of one his many palaces, built in the district about 15 years ago.

In his, This is What Occupation Looks Like, Rahul Mahajan describes a raid on April 11th of this year,
Later on, as we saw when we were in Fallujah, there was a massive exodus of refugees from Fallujah, many of whom were taken into people's homes in Aadhamiyah.

The U.S. military has many suspicions that mujaheddin are leaving Fallujah and that guns and fighters are being smuggled in through the relief program for Fallujah. So they paid a visit to the mosque in Aadhamiyah on Sunday.

An Iraqi child stands at the damaged gate of Abu Hanifa mosque in Baghdad April 11, 2004 after witnesses said U.S. troops stormed the premises in search of gunmen. Abu Hanifa is probably the most important Sunni mosque in Baghdad, and a site of pilgrimage for Muslims around the world.

We talked with Issam Rashid, the chief of security for the mosque. He told us the story. At 3:30 am on Sunday morning, 100 American troops raided the mosque. They were looking for weapons and mujaheddin. They started the raid the way they virtually always do -- by smashing in the gates with tanks and then driving Hummer in. The Hummers ran over and destroyed some of the stored relief goods.

On April 18th, Pepe Escobar of the Asia Times also mentions the mosque, if only in passing,

Chardagh Street in Adhamiya was the scene of a fierce battle that started in the square facing the Abu Hanifa Mosque. The whole Abu Hanifa square has been converted into a ghastly wasteland: civilian homes, banks, pharmacies, bakeries have been hit, shelled, burned. A woman in front of the only functioning bakery in Chardagh says, "George Bush is the enemy of God. He killed the Iraqi people. What I say? You see around for yourself."

On May 15th of this year, Dahr Jamail of the New Standard wrote about the mosque and it's treatment by occupation forces,
At roughly 5 PM today, US soldiers used tanks, Bradley fighting vehicles, Humvees and dogs to seal off Abu Hanifa Mosque in the Al-Adhamiya district of Baghdad. They held an estimated 200 Muslims at gunpoint for the duration of the raid and kicked in the door to Imam Muad Al-Adhamy's office, as well as two more doors in the mosque's inner Haram. Witnesses said the soldiers emptied a bookshelf of Qur'ans, spilling the holy books across the floor.

"They say they are searching for a killer in the mosque," said Hassam Aziz Abdul, while glaring at soldiers who walked dogs into the mosque. "But they want to destroy every holy place in my country."

Barely a month ago, on April 13, the US Army raided this important Sunni mosque during a weapons search, smashing several doors inside the adjacent college and shooting holes in walls and ceilings. They found no contraband. Today's incident constitutes the fourth time Abu Hanifa Mosque has been raided by the occupation forces since the April 2003 invasion.

The latest chapter in the recent history of the mosque came last Friday, November 19th, 2004. Just as Friday prayers were ending 50 American soldiers and 20 Iraqi National guardsmen stormed in, killed 4 people, wounded up to another 20 more and led away 30 or 40 people in black hoods. I wonder if these are the same black hoods that they're not supposed to use during interrogations anymore.

Many believe that the latest raid on the mosque has dramatically increased the levels of violence in Baghdad. On November 22nd Hamza Hendawi wrote an article for AP titled, Baghdad in turmoil after raid on mosque,
A U.S.-Iraqi raid on the Abu Hanifa mosque – one of the most revered sites for Sunni Muslims – spawned a weekend of street battles, assassinations and bombings that changed Baghdad. The capital, for months a city of unrelenting but sporadic violence, has taken on the look of a battlefield.

So to recap, the Abu Hanifa Mosque in Baghdad, which is 1250 years old and houses the bones of a very important (and moderate) saint, has been shot at with tanks, rockets and bullets, the minaret has been blasted, the case housing the saint's body has been damaged when the door was opened with a rocket while they were looking for Saddam, tanks have been used on several occasions to open the doors, Humvees have been driven inside, dogs have been taken inside, soldiers with their boots on the carpets, walls and ceilings and doors have been sprayed with bullets, copies of the Koran shot and scattered on the floor, relief donations of food run over and destroyed, stun grenades have been lobbed inside, children held at gunpoint, worshippers have been taken out handcuffed and hooded, people have been shot and killed while praying and human brains have been splattered across the floors and walls.

Can you imagine that happening at your local place of worship? In the past two years, can you imagine this having happened at Westminster Abbey or St. Patrick's?

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