[Published here March 18, 2014]
ON MARCH 8th, while the world celebrated International Women’s Day to recognise progress in women’s rights, two women in Iraqi Kurdistan set themselves on fire. Self-immolation as a dramatic and deadly form of protest by women is known across the Middle East, from Egypt to Pakistan. But it has become alarmingly common in the Kurdish region of northern Iraq. By some estimates self-burning has claimed the lives of as many as 10,000 women, including girls as young as 13, since the region gained autonomy in 1991.
Men chant ‘Ya Hussein’ as they beat their heads. Image by James Haines-Young
[Published here November 18, 2013]
KFAR RUMMAN — THE excruciating wail could be heard without the microphones. On November 14th, thousands of women clad in black abayas and children watched the army of the caliph Yazid slaughter Hussein, a grandson and would-be heir of the Prophet Muhammad, in a theatrical recreation of the battle in 680 AD that split Islam into its Sunni and Shia branches.
Below the stage in this town in southern Lebanon, groups of young men prepared themselves for a bloodier part of Ashura, as the day of mourning for Hussein’s death is known. Men used razors to carve small incisions on the scalps of the men and boys, some as young as two-years-old. Cries of “Ya Hussein, Ya Hussein” echoed through the streets as men pounded their foreheads, blood streaming down their faces.