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Thursday, June 18, 2009

The Repetoires of Protest

Juan Cole writes:

Mourning the martyr is as central to Iranian Shiite religious culture as it was to strains of medieval Catholicism in Europe, and Mousavi's camp is tapping into a powerful set of images and myths here. The archetypal Shiite martyr is Imam Husayn, the grandson of the Prophet Muhammad, who championed oppressed Muslims in Iraq and was cut down by the then Umayyad Muslim Empire. Recognition that a Muslim state might commit the ultimate in sacrilege by beheading a person who had been dangled on the Prophet's knee has imbued modern political Shiism with a distrust of the state. When Husayn's head was brought to the Umayyad caliph Yazid and deposited before his throne, older companions of the Prophet are said to have wept and remarked, "I saw the Prophet's lips on those cheeks." Shiites ritually march, flagellate, and chant in honor of the martyred Imam or divinely-appointed leader.

Today's protesters are wearing green, which symbolizes Mousavi's descent from the Prophet Muhammad. (Mousavi's family name refers to the Seventh Imam (descendant of the Prophet with claims to divine knowledge), Musa Kazim, whose tomb is in Kazimiya, north Baghdad. Sayyid families, those claiming descent from the Prophet, often take one of the Imams' names as a family name to honor them, though of course they are also claiming descent from the previous Imams right back to the Prophet.) The repertoires of protest the reformists are using echo those of the 1978-79 Islamic Revolution-- they are chanting "God is Great," mourning pious fallen martyrs, etc.-- another sign that this movement is not just alienated secularized elites.

link: Informed Comment: Day of Mourning, Protests, Called by Mousavi on Thursday


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