Kim Ghattas’ book leaves a whiff of resentment


“What happened to us? The question haunts us in the Arab and Muslim world,” Kim Ghatta’s Dutch-Lebanese journalist noted for the BBC.

The issue has historical prestige as many clergymen across the Muslim world declare that the conflicts and killings between Sunnis and Shias are eternal and that there is no antidote to sectarian violence. Kim Ghattas points out that the problem of sectarian violence is not old, but rather new. “Before it was armed in the post-1979 years, the Sunni-Shia schism was largely dormant,” says an excerpt from Black Wave. It all started with the trends that set off the events of 1979. She highlighted three major events that led to unrest and terrorism in the Middle East. First, the Iranian revolution was carried out by Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini. Khomeini twisted the Iranian revolution from a people’s revolution to a theocratic revolution. The second event is the siege of holy Mecca. The Iranian Revolution and the Siege of Mecca both took place in the same year, 1979. And the third event was the Russian invasion of Afghanistan. All of these events resulted in political, economic, cultural and social vandalism unleashed in the Middle East due to the race for supremacy between Saudi Arabia and its counterpart Iran.

Khomeini drew influence for the revolution from the ideologies of Abul A’la Maududi, an Islamic scholar and ideologue, and Syed Qutb, an exponent of fierce jihad. The Saudis took the teachings of Muhammad bin Ibn Abd al-Wahab, who was influenced by the teachings of the Hanbali school of thought and believed in the absolute implementation of Quranic law or Sharia, as their exemplary teacher. Kim Ghattas draws parallels between the Saudi monarch King Ibn Saud, who took control of the Kaaba in 1926, and today’s Daesh, or ISIS. And it proves by parallels that Khomeini’s theocratic Iran is similar to today’s Hezbollah. Both countries, in their race for supremacy, have opened the doors to sectarian killings in the Arab world and beyond. Iran and Saudi Arabia mirror each other in so many different ways. Though separated by different ideologies, they both want the same thing, rulership of Mecca.

Black Wave also takes up the case of culture change for discussion. People may call it the clash of civilizations, but the Devastation of the Buddhas of Bamyan and Jannat-al-Baqi are both linked. It’s the same black wave that swept everything in its path from Egypt to Pakistan to Saudi Arabia. The assassination of Salman Taseer, then governor of Punjab in Pakistan, and the assassination of Egyptian President Anwar Sadat are fueled by the same ideologues that have tacitly supported Hezbollah and Daesh. Khomeini’s appeal to kill Salman Rushdie, the author of The Satanic Verses, in the name of blasphemy led to another deadly model in Middle Eastern history. People started sending fatwas and proclaiming their fellow Muslims as apostates because their ways were different from those who believed in themselves as more righteous. So another war began and sustained itself for years to come. Now sectarian killings were financed by the so-called democratic powers of the world.

Black Wave also takes up the case of culture change for discussion. People may call it the clash of civilizations, but the Devastation of the Buddhas of Bamyan and Jannat-al-Baqi are both linked

Kim Ghattas’ Black Wave feels like an Orwellian dystopian world, yet it is the gripping story of the Middle East. Black Wave is divided into three parts, each part telling the story of his lamentation over a civilization’s corpse. The first part examines how revolutions were manipulated and wronged by the powerful. The second part watches as a fire of anger erupted and the entire Arab world burst into flames. It’s the story of two powerhouses whose rivalry uses religion as a tool to achieve their nasty, ambitious ambitions. The third and last part is about revenge. The two still rising powers in their blind hatred of each other make a turn here. Then the religious trick has turned into nationalism and the apostate has taken on the color of the traitor in the last decade with the same goal of eliminating the “others”.

Kim Ghattas provides a detailed overview of the status of women in the Middle East. The period of almost 40 years was a time of darkness for all Muslim women. Women have been the heavy victims of the Islamization of the Middle East. From Pakistan to Saudi Arabia, after the events of 1979, women were banned from appearing on television without a veil. The cinema industry was lulled to sleep and art schools heralded as centers of immodesty. The intellectuals, clergy and politicians who stood up for their rights were violently crushed. There is a reference to an Iranian soldier whose death was glorified to oppress women. “I ask people for the sake of a martyr’s wife, a martyr’s mother and a martyr’s sister to keep their hijab,” said the widower of the soldier who was killed in a senseless war against his own people. Arabization encompassed everything, including women, as happened in Pakistan in 1989 and Iran in 1979, and still devours woman’s identity in the name of modesty.

The author of the book has also written a detailed overview of how both the Saudi and Iranian governments used religion to cover up their corruption and past bad decisions. Both countries wanted a religious monopoly. And they both came up with their interpretation of the Holy Book, proclaiming that only their way was right and evaporating everything else. Everything is observed under the lenses of Halal or Haram. The outcry of “kafir kafir, shia kafir” in Pakistan and then throughout the Arab world was a result of the Islamization of everything by rival countries Saudi Arabia and Iran. They even used religion to turn revolutions on their heads. In Muslim nations, amid economic desperation and geopolitical shifts, religion has become a tool to empower governments.

She concludes the book with a factual account of the murder of Jamal Khashogi at the Saudi consulate in Turkey. Jamal Khashogi had conducted interviews with Osama bin Laden and was very close to him during the Soviet-Afghan War. Jamal later returned to the Saudi kingdom and criticized the strategies of Muhammad bin Salman aka MbS. Kim links Jamal’s murder to the events of 1979. Though the comparison may seem ridiculous and there appears to be no connection between the two events, Kim insists yesterday’s religious ploy has been turned into nationalism.

What happened to us? And why didn’t our fathers and elders do anything about it? The book gives a foretaste of resentment towards the generations that allowed this to happen. The work of Kim Ghattas is brilliant, spanning over forty years of observance. It’s a journey through space and time. Kim Ghattas conducted extensive research to collect the data. Witty statements are used that make the text more engaging and compelling and deeply moving. The beginning of each chapter contains many allusions to what the Arab world was like before 1979 and how it was gradually changing.

The author is studying Linguistics and Literature at Bahauddin Zakariya University. He tweets @_amor_fatii and can be reached at [email protected]


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