In the Arena

The Ashura Massacre

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Ashura is a holiday for the celebration of martyrs: it commemorates the death of Mohammed’s grandson Hussein during the battle of Karbala in 680, which led to the Sunni-Shi’a split. Martyrdom is the signal condition at the heart of Shi’a Islam, and on this Ashura Iran’s military dictatorship is recreating the Karbala massacre in the streets of Tehran. Today’s violence is not only disgraceful, it is also deeply symbolic. I suspect this government-sponsored brutality will resonate with, and disgust, the increasingly skeptical religious community in Qum. The only real hope for an end to the Revolutionary Guards’ dictatorship is broad opposition by the mullahs. No one knows whether that is possible, but today’s violence surely makes the current regime’s moral standing less tenable.