By Jawed Naqvi, Edited By Adam Rizvi: CURSING the enemy is a heritage of many belief systems, designed as a hex in some and simply venting the spleen in. In countless legends, men have turned into stone, usually with a mantra to also free them of the curse. Given its irrationality, a curse shouldn’t work in bringing the downfall of any quarry.
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By a fluke, however, cursing did seem to do the trick for Iran on two key occasions, giving its pursuit a new lease of life. Israel, a former ally of Iran, has its own quota of cursing cultures as part of an ancient tradition.
Three days before the Hamas raid inflicted unconscionable terror on Israel, . The Haaretz expressed its anguish thus: “Although the phenomenon by Ashkenazi Jews of spitting near a church or priests isn’t new, it has become an act of public defiance and humiliation of believers who belong to a minority group. The most important development in recent years has been its spread to the Muslim Quarter.”
For right-wing Israelis, cursing Palestinians goes hand in hand with the violent stealing of their lands, in both instances contributing to the calamitous toll of innocent lives the Hamas-Israel conflict is taking. ‘Yimakh shemo’ the Hebrew curse literally means ‘may his name be erased’.
It’s said to be placed after the name of specific enemies of the Jewish people, who at different points included Josef Stalin and Yasser Arafat. In some Jewish traditions, Jesus too has not been spared bilious insults, and while the Pope offered earnest help to rein in the irrationality during a landmark visit to Israel in 2000, orthodox Jews continue to see the hand of friendship as a trap.
Through most of the 1980s, Hashemi Rafsanjani, then Speaker of the Iranian Majlis, would address milling congregations at Tehran University on Fridays. The cleric-politician almost always held a Kalashnikov in his left hand while addressing the relatively new institution of Friday prayers in Iran. With his right hand, the cleric-politician waved beatifically to the crowd, a well-rehearsed pause in the weekly khutba.
It was a signal for a wild eruption of curses from the crowd. Using the interludes, of which there were several in the course of an address, he would spur the followers to let out four shouts in unison.
To an untutored ear it seemed like an alliterated Persian verse piercing the charged air, but the crowds were calling for the death of four listed enemies of the Islamic revolution: America, Israel, Saddam Hussein and the USSR, if memory serves, in that order.
As the world would soon discover, two of those curses hit their target with astounding accuracy. Saddam was hanged by a kangaroo court in Baghdad, and the Soviet Union collapsed after running out of steam in the Afghan campaign. In both instances, however, the two countries that evaded the Iranian curse were themselves instrumental in fulfilling Rafsanjani’s hex on the other two.
Israel and the US colluded secretly in Afghanistan against Soviet troops, and they were together again in the project to dismantle Baathist rule in Iraq. In both cases, Saudi Arabia, Iran’s arch foe at the time, was the financier.
To believe that Rafsanjani’s crowds were remotely involved in the fateful turn of events would be, of course, shorn of reason. What about the curses that have apparently missed the targets in Israel and the US?
Both countries showcase their military clout as a foil to such an eventuality. On the other hand, it’s worth remembering that the USSR did not collapse for want of military muscle. Which leads to a mostly unasked but a handy question, nevertheless.
Many in this world, far too many, in fact, see it as perfectly normal to celebrate the demise of the USSR, which they point out fell under its own weight of unwieldy contradictions, and for the greater good of peace. Similarly, others see the breakup of Yugoslavia with Nato’s military might as equally logical.
Cheering choruses thus proclaimed the birth of new nation states from the wombs of the fallen behemoths as something to rejoice in. In the Arab world, colonial powers, chiefly British and French representatives, carved out new sovereign borders from the ruins of the Turkish empire through a historical perfidy known as the Sykes-Picot secret pact, and where straight lines were often marked in sand to grant claims of sovereignty.
Why is it then heavy weather to ponder the Israeli state being restructured peacefully to accord with the politics of multiculturalism, which, by the way, its own powerful patrons see as appropriate for themselves? A black man can adorn the predominantly white United States as its president.
A self-confessed practicing Hindu man could become prime minister of a country whose king acquires his legitimacy from the Church of England. Then why is it difficult to accept the idea of, say, someone called Mustafa Arafat as prime minister of a multi-religious nation that can be known simultaneously as Israel and Palestine, for example, as India is also known as Bharat? And why does India, in any case, support a two-state solution for Palestine and Israel, based on a religious split, when its secular rulers opposed a similar partition of India in 1947?
As history knows it, Iran and Israel are both modern constructs, one evolving from an imperial legacy, the other finding a less temporal route, leaning on the scriptures for its violent birth. A wider aperture could help dilate on the exigencies of recent politics.
In the old days, empires would grow from scratch and expand limitlessly before disappearing for good. On the other hand, hundreds of big and small principalities from across a multicultural and multilingual Indian subcontinent were bundled into a nation state, which fashioned itself into an agreeable democracy. New nations are born on the ruins of the old, and that’s not a curse.
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Curated and Compiled by Humra Kidwai
First Published in Dawn, November 14th, 2023
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