Baghdad Blues #2

To begin, I must beg your forgiveness for a silly error in the previous piece, Baghdad Blues – the coup that I referred to that “dethroned” King Farook, was not accurate – that is, it was King Faisal II that was snuffed out. Thank you, ZB.

And in reference to questions of how alcohol is gotten into Baghdad – I still don’t know, Doc Holliday (and others). I do know this, however. I just returned from a little run into the Christian section of town (yes, there are Christians here, and churches and monasteries, believe it or not) where I got a six-pack of Heineken. It was extremely dodgy.

The driver pulled up in a dingy part of town, in front of a “store” that was clearly engaged in nefarious activity. Two or three alcohol-starved Muslims were there, waving dinars in front of a 12×12 metal “window” that opened ever so briefly and produced black plastic bags of, presumably, beer, in exchange for the dinars. Across the street, another opening in a larger metal door did the same thing. Business is brisk in Baghdad, even during Ashoura, but more on that later.

I sauntered up, sheepishly, because it was clear to me that everyone was on edge and looking out for the po-po, who cruised by shortly after I arrived, forcing the small metal window to close up for a few, torturous minutes. Eventually, I produced the cash, ordered the six brews and dashed back to the driver and the yellow car with my prize.

Which brings me to that which I intended to make this installment about, primarily: Muslim back-sliding.

It is the time of Ashoura, a forty-day “commemoration” of the slaughter of Imam Hussein and his family in or around Karbala, while on their way to pledge fealty to the followers of Mohammed. It’s a sordid, stupid tale that deserves nothing more than ridicule, but it does merit some further description, culture-wise, as I find it exceedingly bizarre.

On every street and thoroughfare in Baghdad, during Ashoura, are innumerable banners, or flags, as it were, depicting Imam Hussein wearing a decidedly feminine visage. He has a muscular upper body and holds a fearsome-looking weapon, but he looks really gay. It’s just plain frigging weird, to say the least, but makes perfect sense when one considers the so-called Sotadic Zone of scholars of the past (you’ll have to look that one up – this isn’t a history lesson).

A much more intriguing aspect of Ashoura is the music associated with it. It is a dreadful but mesmerizing thing to behold with the ears. It consists of a solo singer accompanied by only a solitary deep drum and “clapping sounds”, which are, in reality (I’m told) the collective retort of the slapping of the stomach in sync with the drum. The effect is devilish. The words are a retelling of the slaughter of Hussein and family, over and over. The individual pieces go on and on – up to thirty minutes – ad  nauseam. My driver/bodyguard likes to play them on the radio on the way home from work.

Anyway, Muslim back-sliding, in the form of alcohol is alive and “well” in Baghdad, the underbelly of Shiite Islam.

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