The dramatic story of the Crusades seen through Arab eyes. In this first of a four-part series, we look at the background to the holy wars and the First Crusade’s conquest of Jerusalem, a holy city for Jews, Christians and Muslims.
Arab prisoners from left: Hadi Rashedi, Mohammad-Ali Amori, Rahman Asakera, Mokhtar Alboshokeh, Hashem Shabani, Jaber Alboshokeh
Thursday 19 July 2012
Five Arab minority prisoners in Iran are at imminent risk of execution after being sentenced to death on terrorism charges
Iran has stepped up its crackdown against its Arab minority with mass arrests of activists and death sentences passed in closed-door courts.
At least five Arab prisoners who are currently kept at Karoun prison in the southern city of Ahwaz are at imminent risk of execution, activists have warned.
The men, Hadi Rashedi, 38, Hashem Shabani, 32, and Mohammad-Ali Amouri, 34, and two brothers Seyed Mokhtar Alboshokeh, 25, and Seyed Jaber Alboshokeh, 27, have been sentenced to death following trials described by activists as grossly unfair.
According to Human Rights Watch, the five were arrested by security forces in February 2011.
They have all been found guilty of being linked to a terrorist organisation and involvement in shootings that authorities say occurred in and around the town of Ramshir (also known as Khalafabad) in Khuzestan province.
“The judiciary has put forth no public evidence suggesting that these men should spend one more day in prison, let alone hang from the gallows,” said Sarah Leah Whitson, Middle East director at Human Rights Watch. “The lack of transparency surrounding these men’s convictions and sentences is just one more reason why these execution orders should be quashed.”
Ahwazi Arabs in Iran often face state discrimination in spheres including education, employment politics and culture. In recent years, many members of the community have taken to the streets to protest at the discrimination against them. Groups advocating a separate Arab state have also been demonstrating, but not all protesters have been separatists.
In June, three members of Iran’s Ahwazi Arab minority, Abd al-Rahman Heidarian, Taha Heidarian and Jamshid Heidarian, were executed in connection with killing of a law enforcement official. The activists said the charges might have been trumped up and politically motivated because of the secrecy surrounding their trials and the fact that they have had poor legal representation.
Several other Arab activists have also been arrested in recent years and sentenced to lengthy prison terms, including Rahman Asakereh, 34, who has been sentenced to 20 years and Esmaeel Abiat, 29, who has received five years in jail. Ali Badri, 31, has got 6 years, and Shahid Amouri, 42, one year, according to Human Rights Watch.
“The source told Human Rights Watch that the nine men are among at least a dozen Iranian-Arab activists from Khalafabad arrested by security forces since February 2011,” the HRW said. “Authorities have since released several others on bail, but Human Rights Watch has no specific information regarding the status of their cases.”
In the face of recent crackdowns, Justice for Iran, a non-profit human rights organisation, has called on the European Union to impose sanction on Iranian officials involved in the persecution of the country’s Arab minority.
The group has accused Morteza Kiasati and Seyed Mohamad Bagher Moussavi of Ahwaz’s revolutionary court of being responsible for the persecutions against the minority. Justice for Iran also pointed its finger at Iran’s state-run English language television, Press TV, for broadcasting the “force false confessions” of the men on television.
“January and February 2012 saw the start of a wave of arrests of Arab activists in Iran,” said Justice for Iran. “In the city of Shush alone, agents of the Ministry of Intelligence arrested over 30 people who were actively supporting and advertising the boycotting of the March 2012 parliamentary elections.”
It added: “Shortly after these arrests, which resulted in the detention of over 60 people in the province of Khuzestan, sources close to the families of some of the detainees reported that at least two of the protesters were killed under torture while in custody at the detention centres.”
Here in Palestine, we face a relentless assault not only on us and our lands
but on truth, on decency, on nature, on dignity, and, dare I say, on God.
Israeli authorities are working overtime to transform the Holy City of
Jerusalem from a multi-ethnic and multi-religious city to a distorted vision
of what Zionists think Judaism is about (supremacy, ethnic purity, tribalism
They will be debating in the next few days a project for an additional
1400 “housing units” near Gilo colony. The land targeted belongs to the
village of Al-Walaja and the Town of Beit Jala. The Negev village of
Al-Araqib was also just demolished for the 9th time*. More home and business
demolitions were carried out in Jerusalem and the Jordan valley.
lands from Christians and Muslims, destroying over 2 million trees and
countless homes and businesses are not just war crimes but crimes against
humanity. We must continue to challenge these destructive policies and
demand the international community bring those responsible to justice.
Please write to media, politicians, and all others (the internet allows you
to get hundred of emails very quickly for decision makers).**
I think the empire’s hold on the Arab World has begun to unravel and I think
we see in Tunisia the first spark of a revolution that will reshape the Arab
world for the better and spell the end of repression. In 1948, the insertion
of Israel in the Middle of the Arab world was designed to dominate the area,
keep the people disjointed, disunited and ruled by (Western-appointed)
dictators. In 1953, the US and Britain engineered the coup that removed the
democratically elected government of Mousaddeq and placed the brutal Shah in
power in Iran.
These moves worked for many years because people in the Arab
world let them happen and offered limited resistance. Things have been
changing. In retrospect, the year 1973 was pivotal as for the first time
two Arab countries decided to fight to take back their stolen lands.
Unfortunately, the US chose to save its monstrous creation from having to
return all the stolen lands (and Sadat was willing to walk a separate line).
Then came the nonviolent people’s revolution in Iran which got rid of the
Shah in 1979.
Since then Israel and its benefactor has attempted in vain to
crush any Arab resistance by might. Fom their invasion and occupation of
Lebanon to invasion and occupation of Iraq, these evil forces attempted to
keep the lid on Arab democracy and keep their hegemony. Arab dictators were
useful tools in implementing these destructive policies. But many of us
have long argued that these shenanigans will and must come to an end.
As people around the world evolved beyond dictatorship and racism, we in the
Arab world will too. After all, why should people in Latin America (some
that used to be called banana republics) be able to say NO to the
neo-liberal and neo-colonial systems while we in the Arab world could not?
Why should Iran and Turkey be able to say NO to violations of International
law and NO to hegemony while we in the rich Arab world stay silent? The
directions may be coming from Tunisia. I have visited Tunisia twice and
have many colleagues and friends that hail from Tunisia’s beautiful towns
and villages. My single largest scientific collaborator is a Tunisian
scientist living in Paris.
I have commented on the similarity that
Palestine and Tunisia has in geography, topography, climate, and village
life. Tunisians used popular resistance methods I discussed in my recent
book on Palestine to get rid of a corrupt leader who had hung on to power
for over 23 years.
But there are other Arab leaders who have been in power
even longer. It is time for real change, a change not to replace one face
with another but to begin to form truly democratic institutions throughout
the Arab world. Our demands include democracy, transparency (including
totally free and critical press), plurality, and justice.
We have enough natural and human resources to build new vibrant societies.
All we have to
do is muster the will to free our minds. Those of us who have done so and
shed their inhibitions should also begin to discuss and ORGANIZE for the day
after (after Zionism and after imperialism). We have to begin to examine
how we may repair the damage caused by the corrupt systems and build a
Arabs of the world, we are along the same line as Ibn Rushd-Averroes,
the Emir Abd el Kader, Ibn Arabi, Ibn Sina-Avicenna, personalities
whose contribution to the world is undisputable. If we are Arabs, it
is neither by blood nor by ethnicity, but by the culture and
civilization, by the universal dimension that is held by this part of
We are attached to the universal ideals and we are working
relentlessly for their promotion. Thus, we are involved in all the
fights for the realization of democratic aspirations of people, and
the preservation of human rights.
Arabs of the world; citizens of Europe, America or Africa, we are
taking part in life, the progress and the blooming of the societies we
We are standing out for our mosques and our churches, for our
rationalist trends, our ancient cultures and for the original
languages that constitute today’s Arab world.
This civilization has been a leading one for Humanity. It can still
contribute further to its development and progress.
We can not imagine the world of tomorrow cut from its Arab dimension.
We can not imagine that tomorrow, the Arab countries could be nothing
more than an issue at stake between dominating powers.
Iraq is dismembered. Palestine is dying. Lebanon is regularly
assaulted by its Israeli neighbours. Great Arab countries are reduced
to act as supporting roles, unable to define their own strategy and to
conduct it in the interest of their people.
We are in favour of peace all over the world. We are making the wish
that is for the young people of the world to free themselves from war,
meet, know and speak to each other. In short, we are making the wish
that they fulfill the society we dream of.
To make this dream possible, injustice has to end. It is necessary to
bring back to reason those who think that they are entitled to own all
the resources of this land and who treat those who live in it as
inappropriate occupants that need to be chased away and even killed.
This is not a fatality. The Arab world is not cut out to be the
permanent battlefield of powers aiming to appropriate its resources.
We are rising up against this disgraceful situation and we are calling
upon good-willing men and women, aiming to ensure a future of peace
and stability, to join us in the firm support in favor of the Arab
resistance in Lebanon, Palestine, Iraq…
We are expressing our strong support, by visiting these countries so
we can salute the women and men who are on the field of struggles.
Arabs of the world for a world of justice, we think this fight is a
fight for everyone. The fair and quick settlement of the current
issues is serving the entire community, a preventative mine clearance,
the guarantee of a pacified world for our future.
Imagine an American TV network deciding to take the American Idol format and apply it to poetry; lining up poets to read their poems in front of temperamental judges while the nation gets out its mobile phones to vote for its favorite poet. One can be sure the show would not survive the first commercial break before the chastened executives pull the plug on it and replace it with yet another series on the Life and Times of Nicole Ritchie. Yet, that was exactly the formula for the latest TV sensation to take Arab countries by storm.
Perhaps the only thing that is as hard as translating Arab poetry to other languages is trying to explain to non-Arabs the extent of poetry’s popularity, importance and Arabs’ strong attachment to it. Whereas poetry in America has been largely reduced to a ceremonial eccentricity that survives thanks to grants and subsidies from fanatics who care about it too much, in the Arab world it remains amongst the most popular forms of both literature and entertainment. Whereas America’s top poets may struggle to fill a small Barnes & Noble store for a reading, Palestine’s Mahmoud Darwish has filled football stadiums with thousands of fans eager to hear his unique recital of his powerful poems. And while in America a good poetry collection can expect to sell some 2,000 copies, in the Arab world the poems of pre-Islamic era poets are still widely read today in their original words, as are those from the different Islamic eras leading to the present. The late Syrian poet Nizar Qabbani had a cult following across the Arab world, and his romantic poems have for decades constituted standard covert currency between lovers.
The Arab World has had its own enormously successful pop music answer to American Idol in Superstar which has concluded its fourth season with resounding success, unearthing some real stars of today’s thriving Arabic cheesy pop scene. But a few months ago, the governors of the Emirate of Abu Dhabi took a bold move by organizing a similar contest for poets. This comes as another step in Abu Dhabi’s ambitious attempts to use its petro-dollars to transform itself into the capital of Arab culture, and one of the world’s leading cultural centers; a Florence to Dubai’s London.
The show, named Prince of Poets, was an enormous success. Some 4,000 poets from across the Arab world sent in submissions to be considered. 35 were chosen for the show, and millions of viewers from across the Arab world tuned in to watch them recite their poetry, get criticized by Arab poetry’s answer to Simon Cowell, Paula Abdul and Randy Jackson (5 older poets and professors), improvise verses on the spot, and address wide-ranging issues from women’s rights, Iraq, love, democratization, Palestine and the old staple of Arab poetry: self-aggrandization. The winner would not only gain fame, but also a grand prize of 1,000,000 UAE Dirhams ($270,000).
The success of the show was wilder than anyone could’ve expected. The Arab press has had reports about how it has achieved the highest ratings in its spot, overtaking football matches and reality-TV; and millions have paid for text messages to vote for their favorite poet.
The turning point in the show’s popularity, many have speculated, came when young Palestinian poet, Tamim Al-Barghouti, read his poem “In Jerusalem“. Tamim, who is a distant cousin and close friend of mine, is the son of famous Palestinian poet and writer Mourid Al-Barghouti (author of the excellent I Saw Ramallah) and Egyptian novelist Radwa Ashour. Tamim’s charisma, poetry, personality and politics captured the imagination of the Arab world. A veteran of years of student political activism in Palestine and Egypt, Tamim was once deported from Egypt by the authorities after engaging in one too many anti-Iraq War protests for the liking of Egypt’s regime. He then moved to America where he completed a Ph.D. in Political Science at Boston University in only three years, before working for the United Nations in Sudan. Through all of this, he has managed to publish four collections of poetry that have received critical acclaim and is expanding his Ph.D. thesis into a book on political identity in the Middle East to be published in 2008. He is now headed to Germany to become a fellow at the Berlin Institute for Advanced Study.
While many contestants opted away from talking about politics in their poems, hoping to not cause any grievance to the generous leaders of the United Arab Emirates who are hosting this show, or to any of the other Arab leaders, Tamim’s poetry was almost entirely political. Whether it was about Palestine, Iraq, or Arab dictatorships, Tamim was as courageous as he was eloquent, raising a few eyebrows in the quiet Emirate where discussing regional politics is not considered the wisest choice of discussion topic.
“In Jerusalem” is a poetic diary of Tamim’s last visit to his land’s occupied capital; a sad traverse through its occupied streets defiled by the occupation soldiers and the illegal settlers living on stolen Palestinian land, and around the apartheid walls choking the city with their racist denial of Palestinians’ basic freedoms and rights. Nonetheless, the poem ends on a cheery and optimistic tone, leading to the jubilant excitement with which the Arab world enjoyed the poem.
Palestinian newspapers have dubbed Tamim The Poet of Al-Aqsa; his posters hang on the streets of Jerusalem and other Palestinian cities, where key-chains are being sold with his picture on them. Sections of the poem have even become ring-tones blaring out from mobile phones across the Arab World, and 10-year-old kids compete in memorizing and reciting it. Hundreds of thousands of people have seen Tamim’s poems on Youtube and other video websites.
But perhaps Tamim’s most amazing feat was how he has galvanized all Palestinians into following him and supporting him. After all of the troubles that Palestine has been through recently, and all the divisions that have been spawned within the Palestinian people, it was very refreshing to finally find something that unequivocally unites all Palestinians, and rouses millions of Arabs behind the cause that was tarred recently by the actions of some Palestinians.
This unifying effect was most glaringly captured when the TV stations of both Hamas and Fatah threw their support behind the unsuspecting Tamim, broadcasting his poems repeatedly, and urging people to vote for him, catapulting him from a little known young poet into a symbol of national resistance and unity. Finally, after months of divisions amongst Palestinians, there was something uniting them: a reminder of the true essence of the cause of the Palestinians, of the real problem, the real enemies and the real need for unity to face these challenges for the sake of Palestinian people and their just cause.
All of which made the final result of the contest most surprising. After having consistently received the highest ranking from the viewers’ votes and the unanimous flattery of the judges, and after a barn-storming flawless last poem that had the judges gushing, Tamim ended up in fifth place out of the five finalists. The poetess that was expected to most strongly challenge Tamim, the Sudanese Rawda Al-Hajj, who had focused her poems on women’s empowerment, finished fourth. The winner, perhaps unsurprisingly, was Abdulkareem Maatouk, a poet from the host country, the United Arab Emirates, whose poems had steered clear of anything political or controversial.
Though Tamim refused to comment, speculation was rife that the results were rigged. That Tamim and Rawda, widely viewed as the two best poets, would finish bottom of the finalists was certainly implausible, and one could not help but imagine that politics came into play. Abu Dhabi may want to fashion itself as the capital of culture, but it probably values its political stability more than any cultural pretenses. Arab regimes may have behaved like warring tribes with narrow self-interest over the past century, but there is one thing in which their cooperation was always exemplary: the effective suppression of all voices of dissent. As the contest became more popular, and the crown of the Prince of Poets more prestigious, it may have become too hard for the organizers to accept giving the trophy to a Palestinian rabble-rouser who in one of his poems bemoaned the times that have “degraded the free amongst us, and made scoundrels into our rulers.”
Nonetheless, there is no doubt who the real winner was; it was not just Tamim and his poetry which will now rival Mahmoud Darwish’s as the voice of the Palestinians, but also the Palestinian people who were reminded of the meaning of their unity, and their cause, which has found its best advertisement that has strengthened the mutual affection, dedication and support of millions of Arabs in the midst of one of its darkest hours.