Geography of Shia Killing
This report aims to cast a quick glance at a few examples of countries where Shia minorities or even majorities are target of massacre, restrictions and acts of violence.
*Saudi Arabia: A suppressed minority
Shias in Saudi Arabia have been suppressed for years. However, during recent years, they have been able to make their protesting voice heard by media and have been frequently vociferous against acts of violence and other kinds of assaults against them. On the other hand, human rights organizations have time and again protested to violation of the rights of Shias and the suppression of Shia minority in this country, and have issued warnings against this problem. Preachers of hate in Saudi Arabia have been the source and origin of many cases of attacks against Shias in this country and elsewhere across the region.
Killing Shias in Saudi Arabia has been promoted by the government of Saudi Arabia for years through textbooks taught at schools, and young people in this country are systematically learning hatful viewpoints about Shias. Since 2011, protests have started to rise in the eastern part of Saudi Arabia, which is inhabited mostly by the country’s Shia Muslims. Sheikh Nimr al-Nimr, a Shia jurist and leader to those protests, however, was arrested by Saudi officials in 2012 and has been sentenced to “execution with sword and crucifixion in public” for acting against the national security and trying to overthrow the government. Al-Nimr was executed on or shortly before 2 January 2016. Shias make up more than 2 million of Saudi Arabia’s population, but for years, they have been living under discriminatory conditions and all kinds of pressure have been exerted on them by the country’s government. Although they live in the oil-rich part of Saudi Arabia, they have been suffering the worse economic conditions. No Shia Muslim in Saudi Arabia can occupy important administrative or military posts as a result of their religious denomination.
Daesh is following suit with Saudi Arabia’s muftis in massacring Shias. Sa’d bin Atiq al-Atiq, is a mufti, who is close to Saudi government and is an example of those hatemongers, who appeared on the state-run television of Saudi Arabia quite recently, describing Shias as people whose existence defiles the earth.
*Nigeria: Massacre amid media silence
Nigerian Shias are the most populous Shia group in Africa. At present, nobody knows where Sheikh Ibrahim Zakzaky, the leader of the Nigerian Shias, whose bloody pictures were published by media after his arrest by Nigerian forces, is being kept. Now that various dimensions of the killing of Shias in Nigeria have been relatively clarified, even international media like the New York Times have described this incident as the massacre of Shias.
Ibrahim Zakzaky has lost almost all his family members simply because of being a Shia Muslim. His wife and one son were killed in the recent bloody crackdown while his other three sons had been killed by the Nigerian army during last year’s Quds demonstrations in the country.
The problem, however, is not only the Nigerian army because Shias in this West African country are regular targets for Boko Haram Takfiri extremist group. It is said that Ibrahim Zakzaky has followers, who have never taken up arms and this is why they have been described as the weaponless army. With only their empty hands, Shias following Zakzaky have tried to block the onslaught by Nigerian army, but they were answered with hot lead and heavy weapons. The fact, however, is that the number of Shias in Nigeria has increased manifold during the past 30 years.
*Pakistan: Shias a regular target
An attack on Pakistani Shias in Parachinar region, which happened quite recently, was the latest instance in which the country’s Shia population has been massacred. Lashkar-e-Jhangvi, an extremist group which has made massacring Shias part of its regular agenda, has assumed responsibility for this incident in which at least 25 people lost their lives. According to figures released so far, Shias account for 15-20 percent of Pakistan’s population of 176 million, and bloody attacks on them have a long record. One of the biggest examples of the massacre of Pakistani Shias took place in 1988 under the former Pakistani president, Muhammad Zia-ul-Haq. In that pogrom, more than 80,000 Sunni extremists attack Shia-inhabited villages, razed them to the ground and massacred the Shia population there.
For this reason, religious ceremonies held by Shias, especially on the day of Ashura, have been regularly marked with suicide attacks in such Shia-dwelling regions as Parachinar, Kashmir, and Quetta. International human rights institutions have frequently accused the Pakistani government with indifferences and oversight in this regard. Even the Human Rights Watch has urged the government in Islamabad to take serious measures to curb massacre of Shias by Wahhabi groups. Most leaders of anti-Shia terrorist groups such as Sipah-e-Sahaba, Lashkar-e-Jhangvi, Taliban officials, and Lashkar-e-Taiba have studied in Dewbandi religious schools, which have powerful anti-Shia roots.
*Afghanistan: Protest to killing of Hazara people
Over a month ago, Afghanistan was scene of street protests for several days in which demonstrators voiced their protest at the killing of the country’s Shias. What triggered these protests, which were also held in front of Afghanistan’s presidential palace, was the beheading of seven Hazara Shias, who were said to have been beheaded by forces affiliated with Daesh terrorist group after being taken into captivity. Their beheaded bodies were found by people a while later. About 99 percent of people in Afghanistan are Muslim of whom about 70-75 percent is comprised of Hanafi Sunnis and 30-35 percent is Shias. Hazara Shias, however, have been regular targets for various extremist groups. Now, it seems that it is turn for Daesh terror group to kill Shias in Afghanistan. The forces of Daesh terrorist group have now made the country’s Shias one of their main targets in Afghanistan. Shias maintain that the government of Afghanistan is not taking necessary measures in order to protect them against such attacks.
*Bahrain: Shias who don’t die
How much blood must be shed for a revolution to be suppressed and for protesters in a country to be silenced? How many people must be tortured, arrested and killed until popular protests are quelled? The answers to these questions are not clear, at least, for the officials of Bahrain’s Al Khalifa regime when it comes to the country’s Shias, who make up the majority of Bahrain’s population. Threat, arrest, torture, exile, incarceration and massacre have never been able to reduce the intensity of protests by Shias in this tiny Persian Gulf country. Shias account for 70 percent of the population in Bahrain, but they have been subject to discriminatory treatment of the Sunni Al Khalifa ruling family. A people that make up the majority of the population in the country say that for years, they have been dealt with as second-degree citizens.
Such discriminatory treatment of Shias has caused many analysts to describe Bahrain as a country of apartheid. Al Khalifa regime does not allow Shias to occupy key posts or become members of the police force or join the army. According to a report by Bahrain Center for Human Rights, although Shias account for 70 percent of the population in the country, they only occupy 18 percent of government positions.
*Iraq: Shias, main goal of Daesh (ISIL)
They say that every time Daesh faces a setback in Iraq and Syria, it takes it out on Shia civilians. In Iraq, Shias account for 65 percent of the population, making the country’s biggest religious group. Iraq is home to many sacred cities of Shias, including Najaf and Karbala, which host shrines that are visited by millions of Shias every year. However, the country’s Shia population has been regular target of terrorist groups in Iraq in past years and is now considered as the foremost target of Daesh terror group.
Some human rights groups have warned that Daesh is targeting Shias in Iraq with various kinds of explosive attacks with the final goal of purging the country from Shia Muslims. It was only through Iran's assistance that religious ceremonies held by Shias in the lunar month of Muharram have been made secure for Shia pilgrims.
*Yemen: Shias under Saudi Arabia’s bombardment
Saudi Arabia is one of the biggest customers of arms and advanced bombs in the world. The main use of these bombs in recent months has been in air raids against Shias in Yemen, which has left thousands of civilians dead in the impoverished county. In addition, millions of Yemeni Shias have been forced to flee their homes as a result of Saudi attacks while Saudi blockade of its southern neighbor has faced people with many difficulties for meeting such primary needs as access to potable water.
According to available figures, 55 percent of the country’s population is made up of Shias who have constantly lived under suppression. Even before the beginning of the ongoing unrest in Yemen, the country’s army carried out frequent bombardment missions against Shia-inhabited regions. Yemen’s former dictator, Ali Abdullah Saleh, had also suppressed Shias in 2004 through support of Saudi Arabia.
By: Mohammad Karbasi
Middle East Analyst
The views expressed in this article are the author's opinion and do not necessarily reflect the views of the ODVV.