Dr. Hedieh Mirahmadi, JD
National Review, December 13, 2002
Under the false pretenses of implementing “Islamic” law, Ansar al-Islam, a radical Islamist group of the Salafi/Wahhabi strain, recently moved into the rugged mountains of northern Iraq and has taken control of the region. These jihadists have forcefully imposed their harsh Wahhabi version of Islamic law on villages in the Hawraman Mountain region, along the border with Iran. As part of this campaign, Ansar al-Islam vandalized the graves of classical Islamic scholars who are revered throughout the region as spiritual guides who promoted traditional Islam and Islamic mysticism.
On September 10, 2001, as al Qaeda members prepared to launch their cowardly attacks against innocent American citizens, Ansar al-Islam was busy establishing their new base in northeastern Iraq. Recent reports indicate that the “Afghan Arabs” fleeing the U.S.-led Operation Anaconda in Afghanistan are strengthening the numbers of these militants. The al Qaeda fighters allegedly made their way to join Ansar al-Islam, arriving in new Toyota Land Cruisers, sporting camouflage and carrying large quantities of artillery and weapons. They swiftly imposed their hegemony over a dozen or so villages in the region, prompting locals to dub the region “Kurdish Tora Bora.”
The jihadists have not only destroyed the centuries-old tombs: They have stolen the corpses and decapitated them in the streets as a show of defiance of local traditions and beliefs. Ironically, these atrocities took place near the town of Halabja, infamous as the site where Saddam Hussein launched his chemical- and biological-warfare attacks against Iraqi Kurds in 1988. Sheikh Muhammad Masum, a U.S. resident and the grandson of one of the scholars whose remains were violated, has issued a worldwide appeal to prevent the further destruction of the holy sites.
Such atrocities are absolutely forbidden according to the teachings of traditional Islam, yet they are the hallmark of the Wahhabi/Salafi sect. Similar acts were carried out when the Salafis first began to spread in the 18th century, emerging from the desert of Najd to attack the holy cities of Mecca and Medina and to eventually conquer what is now known as Saudi Arabia. They defiled the graves of the Prophet Muhammad’s family, as well as those of his close companions. If not for the public outrage against these actions, they would have destroyed the tomb of the Prophet himself.
Thus, it is no surprise to see the jihadists of the same Salafi/Wahhabi ideology — together with al Qaeda, who are scrambling to relocate after evacuating Afghanistan — commit these atrocities in northeastern Iraq. The tomb raiding of jihadists has been the hallmark of their arrival in the Arabian peninsula, Bosnia, Kosovo, and Afghanistan. In fact, these extremists follow a 200-year-old radical doctrine that has brought only injustice, oppression, and violence to those brought under its sway.
In August 2000, it was reported that jihadists in Kosovo were knocking down all the Ottoman-era gravestones in the cemetery of the Hadum Mosque. Harvard University’s Andras Riedlmayer described the perpetrators as “an extremist interpretation of Islam at odds with the practice of most of the Muslim world.”
The recent attacks on traditional Muslims in northern Iraq are again a warning. Jihadists who twist Islam for their own narrow political agendas are testing the U.S. and the world. If the West remains silent while these militants conquer centuries-old communities of devout yet moderate Muslims, then they will continue to spread. Their bloody fingerprints already mark America’s landscape. Just as they toppled “heretical” gravestones in Kosovo and demolished the Buddhist statues of the “unbelievers” in Afghanistan, they destroyed the World Trade Center, which for them was an “idolatrous” symbol of freedom and Western civilization.
If politicians and policymakers are cowed by the cynical rhetoric of the Wahhabi apologists and fail to stop the persecution of traditional Muslims, then I fear not only for the future of tolerance in Islam, but also for the security of the civilized world. Jihadists do not speak for Islam. The greatest danger to the freedoms of Muslims everywhere in the world, including the U.S., is not the war on terror, but the oppression and intolerance of radicals who continue to commit atrocities in the name of religion.
If we unite against the promulgation of such a culture of hatred, we can successfully root out the violence jihadists inflict on all of humanity, including the majority of peaceful Muslims who repeatedly suffer from their brutality.