Tuesday, April 06, 2004

Karbala

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When I was a child I used to hear the names of the Native-American tribes Apache and Comanche in Western movies. I also used to hear the word Karbala from the grown-ups, most of the time in the month of Ramadan. To me -as any other Iranian- the word Karbala represented a holy place, to a certain degree an imaginary place related to heaven. Karbala was the place the third Shi’a Imam was martyred. It was a myth very much like the third Imam himself. To me it had nothing to do with the real world, and for sure nothing to do with the Western movies I used to watch on TV. Karbala and Comanche belonged to two different worlds, with their different mythological characters acting in two completely separate plays.
It all changed last year when I heard about a Comanche soldier being killed in Karbala.

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Today in the news I read about a soldier from El Salvador being killed in Najaf where Ali, the first “martyred” Imam of Shiite is entombed. The soldier was a 19 year-old who probably never heard the Arabic language in his entire lifetime. He didn’t know what the meaning of the word Seyyed (a descendent of Muhammad) is, and why Iraqis call Moqtada Sadr “The Seyyed”. He probably never heard of Kufa (the residence of both the martyred third Imam and Moqtada Sadr) or Najaf, and never thought of himself being seen as a soldier of Yazid -the Imam’s infidel enemy who killed him in Karbala. This morning, that soldier was not a part of the reality. In the eyes of the people walking on the other side of the street he belonged to a mythical world that justified his death.
Natividad Mendez Ramos was too young and too far from Karbala to know all this. He was just a 19 year-old soldier from El Salvador.